Art, schmart

Occasionally I run into the complaint that without the influence of religious culture, art suffers. Modern art, apparently, is the inevitable result of a civilization that has lost interest in God; it is the sort of ugly, purposeless, offensive stuff you get when art loses track of transcendent ideals.

I guess if you believe in Beauty with a capital B, and that art (should that be Art?) should be about reaching into the higher Platonic realms to nourish the soul or whatever, some of this might make sense. But somehow, with me I find this sort of complaint doesn’t resonate at all. And not just because you need too many implicitly Capitalized assumptions to turn this into some sort of argument. It’s because I like modern art.

Sure, there is plenty of stuff out there that just isn’t to my taste. I’ll never get performance art, for one thing. Still, I find that in art museums, I gravitate toward the recent material. Possibly because I don’t come from a religious cultural background, I don’t miss it when it’s not overtly present. But really, I like modern stuff. Maybe I look for an “ooh, that’s interesting” kind of feeling rather than whatever response more soul-affirming art is supposed to provoke. Whatever the reason, though, complaints about modern, secular art leave me bewildered.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07724096266805744174 The (Parenthetical) Atheist

    I studies military history (European) in college and my career involves interpreting modern labor, industrial, economic and social history. When I’m at a museum, I tend to gravitate to the artwork of battles (some of which is good, some pretentious, some precious and some just plain odd).

    That said, I have also heard the theory that without religion, art becomes dehumanized. The same cliche could be used in referrence to war. Oddly, (to me, at least) though war is, if anything, more a part of our (American) culture now, why has war art also disappeared?

    If the secularization of America has led to art without “transcendent ideals,” then why has the militarization of America NOT led to modern art with military themes? This is why I tend to dismiss the argument (made by some (usually conservative and religious) that you stated in the first paragraph.

    I, also, like modern art. My favourite artist of all time is Georgia O’Keefe. I don’t mind the older stuff, but the religious themes escape me — give me a Napoleaonic Cavalry charge over yet another passion or nativity.

    Great post.


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