Why is the right so afraid of modern art?



Art is a weird industry. It’s one of the few disciplines where people get absolutely infuriated that they might not know everything about it, even if they have no real interest in it.

People will argue that a particular work of art is pointless, pretentious or stupid, with all the confidence of someone approaching an orthopedic surgeon and saying it’s silly that there are so many different names for the bones. “Hand bones, leg bones, what’s the difference?” they are crying. “The bones are just sticks that keep our meat from sloshing around. Why do you eggheads always complicate things? »

Nothing pisses people off more than modern art, and no one pisses off modern art more than conservatives. It feels like every few weeks some right-wing influencer will have a hot spot over a piece of abstract expressionism or a ready-made sculpture, declaring that they’ve got it, that they’ve cracked the code. Modern art is a rip off, and they’re great at realizing it.

More recently, it was Daily Wire commentator Michael Knowles who committed the Art Twitter equivalent of putting water on a frying pan fire in Tweeter an example of Picasso’s earlier, more realistic work next to an example of his later Cubism and asking “Why would a guy who could paint the picture on the left choose to paint the picture on the right?”

Knowles was just riding the ponytails of a similar series of tweets went viral a few days earlier, in which a “classic educator” criticized the speech of Marcel DuchampFountain (1917) – essentially a urinal turned on its side and signed with a pseudonym – declaring it was not “real art” and saying it was “time to take culture back from the degenerates”.

This one in particular upset people, not least because the use of the word “degenerate” was reminiscent of the famous 1937 Degenerate Art Exhibition organized by the Nazi Party to mock similar works.

About a week earlier, Prince William found himself at the center of a related debate after claiming that although he loved the Italian Renaissance, modern art deterred him from taking his art history degree, often falling asleep during conferences on the subject. You can probably go to Reddit right now and find five or six threads full of armchair experts congratulating each other on “discovering” that the art industry is a money laundering conspiracy for the rich.

In fact, I sympathize with the right-wing position on this, at least to some extent. My PhD examines the parallels between literature and examples of what you would call “modern art“, and I spent several years teaching and lecturing on the subject, but when I was younger I was a cardholder of “my four-year-old could paint this “society”. I only forced myself into art in college because I started dating an art student. who was much smarter than me, and I had a bit of a complex about it.

During this time, as I did my best to educate myself on a subject that hadn’t really interested me before, I learned three things that made me change my approach to modern art. The first was that “modern art” is kind of a useless term and people use it to refer to works that span over a hundred years. There is a real irony in the fact that when some conservatives say we should reject modernism and return to the ideals of the past, they are often talking about pre-WWI work. It’s also quite satisfying to know that artists like Marcel Duchamp are still the same people they were in the 1910s.

Second, what people call “modern art” is largely conceptual. The reason so much of it is hard to parse is that most of it is really just proof of concept for an idea. Most artists don’t try to create something that is visually pleasing or true to life, because why would they? We understood these techniques hundreds of years ago, plus we have the internet now. If you want to see what a naked person looks like, you can just google it.

Rather, it’s easier to think of a supposedly modern work of art the same way you would a Petri dish under a microscope, or a data readout, or the prototype of an invention. It won’t mean much to you unless you do the legwork first.

And that brings me to my third, and perhaps most crucial, point: no one is asking you to learn – or talk about – art. It’s okay not to understand something, without resorting to calling that thing fake, or a scam, or illegitimate in some way. It’s a new concept in the information age, but no one expects you to be an expert or even have an opinion on everything.

I think that’s part of the reason why modern art is such a talking point for curators. Understanding modern art requires going against your instincts and realizing that even though this supposed “sculpture” looks like a urinal, there’s actually so much more to it. But to understand this, you must first go out, read a few books, and put aside your initial disgust. Would you rather do that, or would you just follow your instincts and hate it instead?

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Conservatism is mired in this need for supposedly “common sense” solutions to complex problems. This is why the central Brexit message was on a bus. This is why the anti-trans movement is so hard to counter. That’s why Trump absolutely killed it on Twitter. Modern conceptual art is emblematic of this need for nuance and depth of thought that modern conservatism rejects. “We’ve had enough of the experts”, remember?

Likewise, conservatism is deeply suspicious of ‘modernity’ as a concept, even when this so-called modernity predates the creation of Northern Ireland. He fetishizes more traditional art forms, just as he fetishizes anything from the past (even when their nostalgic understanding of the past doesn’t quite fit with history as it unfolded). Modernity is a threat to these traditions; sign of an evolving tomorrow instead of a perfectly preserved yesterday.

Art is difficult. You can take it or leave it, but if you want to take it, at least try to take it seriously. Rather than relying on the idea that an entire industry full of experts is trying to fool you for some as yet unexplained reason, maybe take a second longer to entertain the idea that there may be things in this world that you don’t fully understand. figure it out yet, and that instead of getting upset about it, it might be fun to try and find out.

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