Tougaw: When did modern art get so bad?

Taylor Tougaw

I truly believe that modern art is really, really bad.

Now I know what you’re thinking: Probably something along the lines of “You cant just say art is bad, art’s beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Its different for everybody based on their interpretation of it.” You would be completely correct in saying that. Everyone is allowed to have their own opinion and interpretation about art. My interpretation is that it is awful.


Now that that’s out of the way, lets move forward. When I say the word ‘art,’ for most people it conjures up images of beautiful masterpieces; the Mona Lisa, David, Starry Night, etc. These works of art, however, have not occurred in the last 100 years. In fact, most pieces that we would consider ‘masterpieces,’ or at least ones well known by the public, have not occurred in the last 100 years. Did we just get really stupid in the last millennium and forget how to paint? Something tells me we haven’t forgotten how to draw beautiful mountains, starry skies, and furious thunderstorms. If I had to guess, we just stopped caring.

Artists used to aspire to produce the most aesthetically pleasing, soul-stirring pieces of their time. Think about Michelangelo’s ceiling in the Sistine Chapel, or the statue of David. These took years upon years to make and feature some of the most iconic statements known to man. David, showing the true, aesthetically perfect form of the human body is known as the absolute pinnacle of sculpture. The Sistine Chapel also depicts beautiful, awe inspiring images of human religion that brought church goers to their knees.

Images and subjects of art used to be impressive, profound, and above all, respectable. It could be religious, historical, or mythological. Think of the Dying Gaul or Napoleon on his majestic White Horse. Now compare those pieces with Petra, the pissing police officer. Seriously, google it on your phone. Petra is a silicone, ultra-realistic statue of a German police woman in riot gear, squatting and taking a piss on the floor. That is what we call high art now.

It seems that art is no longer about pleasing the people, but as a form of self expression. And more often than not, it seems to me, that form of self expression is used for terrible shock value and crass political statements. Take a look at a piece entitled “Artist’s Shit.” It’s literally feces put in a tin can and sold north of $150,000. How about “Piss Christ,” which is a crucifix in a jar of urine that sold for $15,000. These aren’t works of art, they are political statements. Obviously, this represents the worst and often unnoticed side of modern art, but more of the commonly accepted ‘art’ also falls under this category.

How often do you see a scribbly, chaotic painting on the wall, that literally looks like it was drawn by a four year old, going for thousands of dollars? If you don’t know what I mean, you can either go look at (some of) the art up on the walls in the Lory Student Center, or you can just google search Peinture (Le Chien) by Joan Miro, which sold for $2.2 million, to see what I mean.

It seems like art students are being trained to think this way. In a video for Prager University, Artist and Illustrator Robert Florczak tells us that at the beginning of every art class he teaches, he tells his students to analyze a painting. This painting looks remarkably like chaotic brush strokes with no real purpose. Only after his students call it ‘bold’ and ‘daring’ does he reveal that the painting is actually just a close up of his dirty painting smock.

This rebellion against the ‘old’ and stuffy isn’t new. The impressionists, a term some may remember from art class in high school, rebelled against the standard of their day as well in the late 19th century. However, these impressionists still maintained a level of beauty and poise in their art. Some of these impressionists include Monet and Degas. If you look at their art, I think you’ll notice a big difference between their ‘rebellion’ and today’s. They painted beautiful pictures of dancers, bridges, flowers, and happy people. These weren’t shock value political statements, but rather beautiful pieces that, while still rebellious, maintained a certain level of dignity; something lacking today.