The Thinking 

An Oath against Modernism in Art

August 19, 2012


IF you haven’t yet read  “The Tyranny of Artistic Modernism” by Mark Anthony Signorelli and Nikos A. Salingaros at The New English Review, I highly recommend it. The authors describe modern art as a totalitarian cult of ugliness. They write:

Whereas earlier traditions of artistic creation embraced symmetry within complexity, modernism has embraced extreme simplicity, dislocation, and imbalance. Whereas earlier traditions sought to bring pleasure to an audience — “to teach and delight,” as Horace’s famous dictum would have it — modern art attempts to “nauseate” or “brutalize” an audience (the terms are from Jacques Barzun’s The Use and Abuse of Art). Whereas pre-modern architecture employed scale and ornament, modern architecture aggressively promotes gigantisms and barrenness. Whereas classical literature was grounded in regular grammar and public imagery, modern literature routinely resorts to distortions of syntax and esotericism.

Artists, the authors say, have no choice but to view themselves as cultural liberators or revolutionaries. For appreciators of art, the task is to despise much of what surrounds us and to engage in “a Gandhian refusal to participate in and be manipulated by the corrupt system, and a willingness to mistrust ‘experts’ who have for years promoted creations that disdain life and human sensibilities.”

The essay is a manifesto against sterile concrete and glass buildings, repulsive paintings and literature that rejects traditional narrative and common imagery. The authors write:

This is not about aesthetics but civilization itself. We are watching the increasingly rapid dissolution of civil society on all sides of us — the failure of our schools, a breakdown of the family, the degradation of language, the abandonment of polite manners, the rape of the environment, and the replacement of a stable economy with a torrent of dangerous speculation. We do not give sufficient consideration to how far the depravity of contemporary art may be implicated in this catastrophic decline. Nothing is so important to the spiritual and mental flourishing of a people as its art. The stories they tell, the buildings they inhabit, the public spaces in which they gather, the songs they sing, the fashioned images they gaze upon — these things shape their souls more permanently and effectively than anything else. We live in a time when the art all around us accustoms men to, and insinuates into their souls, the most erroneous and degrading ideas imaginable about themselves and their world. A humane society can hardly be expected to grow out of such an adverse cultural environment.

I highly recommend the comments after the article, and the responses from Signorelli and Salingaros.


—– Comments —–

Hannon writes:

Especially noteworthy in this article for me was the authors’ reference to the fact that “post-modern” art continues to flourish only by the broad imprimatur of established institutions; otherwise the public would drop their deformed projects like a rock. It struck me that liberalism is much the same. Both are strong (by short-term historic dominance) but they are also brittle.

Alissa writes:

A few of the comments following the article speak about how retrogade the article is and how one should embrace progress and reason. This type of reaction reminded me of a study that highlighted that conservatives do a better impression of liberals and understand liberalism, but how liberals don’t understand conservatives.

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