Saturday, August 22, 2009

Modern Love

At the Guggenheim there is an exhibit about Frank Lloyd Wright. One thing that is frustrating about going to the big museums in the city to see a show is that they are often maddeningly crowded. Then, you are forced to peer over some middle aged woman’s Chico’s clad shoulder to see something that was at one time groundbreaking and still may be presently moving. But to hear the talk is the worst. I didnt come hear to hear your banal adjectives and humdrum analogies. I didnt come to hear you praise novel thinking that now sits quaintly and safely in the past.

I came to see the work. and it got me thinking about the movement of Modernism in all of its forms. In art, literature, architecture, design, science and in thought:

So naturally I looked it up on wikipedia first. {The term encompasses the activities and output of those who felt the “traditional” forms of art, architecture, literature, religious faith, social organization and daily life were becoming outdated in the new economic, social and political conditions of an emerging fully industrialized world.}

and technically Frank Lloyd Wright was part of the Praire School, which is considered a prelude to Modernism and related to the Arts and Crafts Movement of the 1930s.

But mostly, Modernism in all of its manifestations was a rejection of tradition. And because the tradition prior to Modernism seemed to encompass more ornate, fussy and formal forms and ideas-Modernism was by rebellion, more spare and unaffected. and of course not only did Modernism mean that roofs were flat and so were canvases-but the prose of James Joyce and the ideas of Darwin were also part of the movement (at the bookstore at the Whitney they even sell a small paperback about Darwin!)

At the core, it begins with the idea of questioning what is, that then spreads wildly throughout many disciplines. It is part of our Zeitgeist so much today that its hard to recognize it as a cohesive set of shifts. but in retrospect, I guess it kind of was. Without Modernism there would be no graphic design and no primate evolutionary genetics!

what does Modernism mean to you?

{image of Guggenheim taken from The New Yorker, click on the first Frank Lloyd Wright for a link to the article}


  1. Anything with "ism" at the end is dangerous to freedom and harmony. No less in design and art than in politics.

  2. So HERE'S where you come for banal adjectives and humdrum analogies!!

    As you're aware, no one has heard more inane and / or bombastic prattling in a museum gallery than I have. 8 years of leaning, reading, gazing and pondering have taught me one thing; there are no experts. I'd rather hear "I don't get it!" than the laundry-list of art school vocab terms. At least the "I don't get it" people can admit that they can still be taught! Art is impulse. When we over-intellectualize it, we can no longer see it.

  3. Jeff-Yes, I see your point and I like it.

    but what do the “I dont get it” people have to learn then? that there is nothing to learn?

  4. On the highest level, art and design offer insight, understanding and comfort to the society. At that level, as Jung pointed out, the artist is mostly a conduit for something therapeutic and balancing arising from the collective unconscious and entering the world to meet a deficiency of the zeitgeist.
    Most of the contemporary art in the museums is the product of selfish "self-expression" - the stupid, childish preoccupation of modern artists. The natural and proper reaction of the audience is "I don't get it." People should realize that a handful of art pieces which they do "get" are enough for a lifetime.

  5. Precisely. They can be taught to feel, or rather that, in art, to feel is to be educated.

    They will often dismiss abstract work, because the academics make them feel like there's something to be found in art that you need a degree to comprehend. That's the biggest lie in art, but it certainly creates a lot of jobs! An education is important, but it needn't be formal... and a good vocabulary is helpful to aid one in expressing what they feel, when looking at (or listening to) art.... but it's no substitute for the honest expression of a passionate viewer, regardless of a $75,000 pedigree.

  6. My above post is a response to Jules.

    YAM, I have to disagree with you here:

    "Most of the contemporary art in the museums is the product of selfish "self-expression" - the stupid, childish preoccupation of modern artists. The natural and proper reaction of the audience is "I don't get it." People should realize that a handful of art pieces which they do "get" are enough for a lifetime."

    "Selfishness" is the most fundamental quality in art, for without it, how on earth would we see the expression of the individual? Van Gogh was probably the most "selfish" all painters.... Would we want to live in a world filled with Leroy Neimans, and no Van Goghs?

    The "I don't get it" response is an expression of embarrassment, birthed by a half-century of being told that there's something to GET. Fact is, when you're looking at an abstract wash of color and form... the real question is the simplest one; "Do you LIKE it?". Answer that, before you begin trying to understand it, and you're home free. So-called "naive" reactions like "It's pretty" are the most valid.

  7. Of course, this is beginning to sound more political than it should....

    I'm smelling a Objectivist vs. Socialist clash of thought brewing.

  8. youngryman-How does one really reject modern art and at the same time uphold a reverence for design=the two are certainly connected-if not in function, then surely in form and means of communication-color, texture, space. The impulse one gets from “getting” or “liking” a design object is not all hinged on its function-there is an undercurrent of other qualities that compel the viewer, that enable the piece to communicate. and I think at the very basic level-some modern, abstract painters are using the same vernacular to communicate something, its just not always written out in words on a poster.

    {in art, to feel is to be educated.}