Modern Art: A Very Short Introduction, by David
Rather mucked up here by reading this book concurrently with Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction so
I've not ended up with a terrifically clear idea of which is which, especially
since this book talks about postmodernism too.
There is some interesting stuff in here about how the modern art movement
started, and what it was about - "partly as a reaction against that very
collapse of art's values into spectacle and commerce that characterised
19th-century academicism" [p11]. But having read it, I don't think I've
changed my views about a lot of what passes for "modern art" - maybe has some
transitive novelty value, but a lot of it is just tosh. Anyway, here are some
things I marked in the text:
- When Manet's Le
Dejeuner sur l'Herbe was first exhibited, it drew "bigger crowds and more
mockery than any other exhibit" [p11]. Looking at this picture, I think it
has some artistic merit (although it's so famous it's hard to be entirely
objective), and so the thought that perhaps we're missing the artistic merit
of Tracy Emin by laughing at her tent is
an uncomfortable one. But not for long: I really don't think that the tent is
as artistically worthwhile as the Manet painting.
- "Claes Oldenburg rented a shop in 1960..in which he offered for sale
little paster-and-chicken-wire mock-ups of sandwiches, shoes and other goods
(nobody bought a thing), and staged performances or 'happenings' that were
equally unsaleable".[p25]. Reminds me of Grot.
Maybe this is a way of commenting on art, but I don't think it's art.
- "modernists painting's common denominator, though most of the 20th
century, was a recognition that a picture was not a window onto the world but
a constructed image of it, one that used devices and conventions or
representation...whose meanings were no longer as secure as they were once
thought to be" [p47]
- "if [creating images] could be done by machine...then what made a work of
art was no longer this craft work, but the intellectual work of
conceiving it" [p51].
- Robert Rauschenberg created Monogram consisting of "a stuffed goat
in a car tyre [in which] the removal of the painting from the plane of the
wall to that of the floor signified a more than witty play on the idea of a
'colour field' for the goat to roam in" [p63]. There's a picture of this
work. It's a goat in an old tyre standing on an abstract painting. I'm sorry
but I can't see any artistic merit in this.
- Quote from "Situationist Guy Debord" which I thought was good: "The entire
life of societies in which modern conditions of productions reign announces
itself as an immense accululation of spectacles. Everything that was
directly lived has moved away into a representation...The first phase of the
dominaton of the economy over social life had brought into the definition of
all human realisation an ovious degredation of being into
having. The present phase of total occupation of social life by the
accumulated results of the economy leads to a generalised sliding of
having into appearing... The spectacle subjugates living men to
itself to t he extent that the economy has totally subjugated them. t is no
more than the economy developing for itself."[p112]
- On postmodernism.. "'Pleasure' was now at the top of the agenda in place
of 'purity', and accessibility seemed more important than reflexivity. The
sense of a break with a modernism whose principles seemed out of step with the
contemporary (Western) world was expressed in the coining of a term
'postmodernism', that from the late 1970s to the present has gained in
currency with every year that has passed, its meaning becoming steadily more
blurred as it has done so." [p114]
- "earlier developments in modern art overthrew established ideas about what
art was, who could make it, what and whom it was for. In place of a narrow
range of accepted materials and practices - oil or watercolour; bronze or
marble; painting, printing or sculpting - it enabled artists to make use of
whatever means they chose for the purposes of self-expression. It replaced a
carefully guarded middle-class profession with an occupation open to anyone
with creative imagination and ambition" [p125]. So he does think "expression"
is an important factor in "art" then.
- but..."It is still within the museum that we experience most modern and
contemporary art, and ... it is on the museum's terms that we understand it"
- "Art as art still has power to move, enchant, and enlighten us as
viewers. And against the claims, and the current, of assertions that the
vocabulary of contemporary art is that of our everyday experience, we can
insist that, on the contrary, it is the difference from the everyday
that makes much modern art so rewarding and enriching" [p140]. Well, I think
that a lot of the reward and enrichment we get from modern art is simply a
result of visiting museums to see it: anything you look at that's been put on
display in a space like Tate Modern is going to gain some power, simply by
virtue of having been put there and annointed as "art".