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The Emptiness of Modern "Art"

Updated on February 17, 2009

Sylvette by Picasso

The oil on canvas, named Sylvette, depicts a 19-year-old woman in bright colours and semi-abstract, geometric forms.    Sylvette was painted by Picasso when he was in his 80s and living on the Cote d'Azur in south-eastern France.
The oil on canvas, named Sylvette, depicts a 19-year-old woman in bright colours and semi-abstract, geometric forms. Sylvette was painted by Picasso when he was in his 80s and living on the Cote d'Azur in south-eastern France.

In one of my hubs, "Sex and the City for Real", I mention that one of my favorite pastimes is to enjoy the art openings in Chelsea on Thursday evenings. Although my primary motive for attending has nothing to do with art per se, I do have some thoughts on the creations (amalgams?) that fill these spaces. Don't get me wrong--the works I see are often interesting... not, however, from an artistic point of view by rather as indices of the climate of modern life. It is a climate that finds its highest meaning in a crude activism in which true value and meaning are reduced to those of a revolt and dissolution. Modern art, and particularly postmodernism, is a REACTION, a nay-saying anarchism. It is not sufficient unto itself, but seeks to undermine, directly or indirectly, any idealism, to deride any principles, to attack venerated institutions, to reduce ethical values--the just, the noble, and the dignified--to mere words and disjointed images. It gives rise to nothing constructive, permanent, or durable. It places on a pedestal the banal and gift wraps it with unintellgible interpretative verbiage, and smugly calls it "art" or "poetry" which the "ignorant masses" could never "understand"! In reality, this so-called art clumsily fills an empty spiritual space.

Ara Pacis Divi Augusti

The Ara Pacis Augustae is an altar to Peace, envisioned as a Roman goddess. It was commissioned by the Roman Senate on 4 July 13 BC to honor the triumphal return from Hispania and Gaul of the Roman emperor Augustus, and was consecrated by the Senate to celebrate the peace established in the Empire after Augustus's victories. It sought to portray the peace and fertile prosperity enjoyed as a result of the Pax Augusta brought about by the organizational supremacy of the Roman empire. The Ara Pacis is seen to embody without conscious effort the deep-rooted connections among cosmic sovereignty, military force and fertility, which are attested in early Roman culture and more broadly, in the substructure of Indo-European culture at large.

 In a different epoch, it is precisely in that space that a new "objective" art might have taken shape, in that "grand style" to which Nietzsche referred:  "the greatness of an artist is not measured by the beautiful sentiments that he arouses--only girls can think along those lines--but by the degree to which he approaches the grand style....he forgets to persuade, rather he wills...To make himself master of the chaos that one is, to force his own chaos to become form, mathematics, law--that is the grand ambition.  Around such despotic men a silence is born, a fear, similar to what is felt at a great sacrilege."

Alas, to think this way in the present world is absurd: our epoch lacks any center, any meaning, any objective symbols that could give soul, content and power to this "grand style."  Art in a traditional and organic civilization never occupied the central "spiritual" position that humanism and liberalism accords it today.  Before the modern era when art had a true, higher meaning, this was thanks to its pre-existing contents, superior and prior to it, neither revealed nor "created" by it as art.

The "art" that I see in these galleries serves as a looking glass which reflects a fracture of an ontological character, wherein human life has lost any real reference to Transcendence.


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    • Evan Zerhusen profile image

      Evan Zerhusen 

      7 years ago

      nice hub, man, you're on to something...

    • Nickny79 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from New York, New York

      Well said.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      It is a important observation that art was not always fetishized as Art, in the sterile manner of our alienated modernity, but was once an organic part of the general picture of cultural activity. I visited a cathedral once, to admire its old artwork and the design and craftsmanship of its architecture, and was struck by the sense of the art comprising a coherent whole with the rest of the interior. Where does the art end and the decoration begin? The answer came to me almost immediately: the separation of art and ornament is hardly the point here, for the art is an integral part of the building, and the architectural ornamentation an extension of the art.

    • Nickny79 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from New York, New York

      So then you must agree that pornography is art so long as someone takes pleasure in it (and many do). One thing you should consider, is that although it is true all things change, things don't necessarily change for the better--sometimes there are upward spirals and sometimes there are downward spirals. I opine that we're are currently experiencing the latter. Furthermore some things mellow with age, other things rot. So the bottom line is time will tell.

    • Juliet Christie profile image

      Juliet Christie Murray 

      9 years ago from Sandy Bay Jamaica

      This article is a little out of my league but you have to remember that nothing remains the same things keep on changing. This thing of art is something that is dynamic and whatver for it evolves into there are individuals who will appreciate it.Art is something that ones finds pleasure in. some of the great masters works were ones seen in the same light as you now view modern art now I suppose they have to mellow with age.

    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 

      9 years ago from The Ozarks

      Nickny79, interesting quote for Nietzsche. In what sense did he mean "despotic" in that quote?


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