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Ideological art

Ideological art June 3, 2015

David Goldman (It’s Not the End of the World, It’s Just the End of You) argues that “modern art is ideological, as its proponents are the first to admit. It was the ideologues, namely the critics, who made the reputation of the abstract impressionists, the most famous example being Clement Greenberg’s sponsorship of Pollock.” 

He thinks that the audience for modern art is somewhat like the Western intellectuals’ inclination to communism: “They were happy to admire communism from a distance, but very few chose to live under communism.” Modernist painting can be kept at a similar distance, unlike modernist music. With painting, “you can keep it at a safe distance when it hangs on the wall, but you can’t escape it when it crawls into your ears.” What Goldman calls “spontaneous, visceral hatred of atonal music” is a sign of health. We don’t react the same way to painting only because we don’t have to look at it very long (114–5).

Why would people subject themselves to modern if they secretly hate it. Goldman’s answer is that “you pretend to like modern art because you want to be creative. At least, you want to reserve the possibility of being creative, or of knowing someone who is creative.” And behind this Goldman spots an ancient motivation: “You have set your heart on being creative because you want to worship yourself, your children, or some pretentious impostor rather than the god of the Bible. Absence of faith has not made you more rational. On the contrary, it has made you ridiculous in your adoration of clownish little deities, of you the silliest is yourself.”

Paraphrasing Chesterton, he concludes, “You have stopped believing in God, and as a result you do not believe nothing, but you will believe in anything” (116–7).


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