Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Modern Art and Misunderstandings

September 3, 2010 · 4 Comments

I first have to state that this is a blog about people watching, not art or museums.  My trip to the Tate Modern confirmed something I’ve suspected for a long time:  I just don’t get modern art.  I don’t get the art itself or the the people who do.  For the most part (there is some modern art I find appealing), I found that what I saw was trying too hard to say something and in the end, was communicating no message whatsoever to me.  Yes, paint splatter looks interesting, but to quote the seven-year-old girl who walked by me, “Daddy, I can do one of these!”  One exhibit, a series of pieces by Agnes Martin felt as if the artist looked as if someone had taken a bunch of American Apparel t-shirts, made them very large, and put them on a wall.  I just could not get a sense of “euphoria, contentment and memories of past happiness” (for more go here) from a series of stripes.

Taken from the Tate Modern Website

Once I had realized that I was not going to be spending my afternoon sunk into an emotional pit inspired by paint splatter and lumpy statues, I turned to people watching.  This activity confirmed what I’ve long suspected:  modern art officianados are the same no matter where you are.  There seem to be two breeds: those who actually know what they are talking about and those who do not but wish to appear like they do.  The first is a fairly respectable bunch.  They tend to be middle aged (with some exceptions, of course), upper middle class, educated, and most of all, unpretentious.  The other category is much more fun to watch: those who wish to seem cultured.  They tend to be young adults adhering to the “hipster trend” (the men are over groomed and the women are disheveled) and have a number of behaviors: there is the intellectual pose (involves leaning slightly back with a hand on one’s chin and staring intensely to the corner of a piece of “art”), and the catch phrase (a hurried “yeah, yeah, yeah” followed by some inane and impossible to understand comment about the power of a poka-dot).  This is not an exclusively English symptom — it transcends borders and appears in almost every single modern art museum I’ve ever been to.  I’m not quite sure what this says about modern art or humanity in general, but I do find a strange comfort in knowing that across nations people experience the same insecurities and behaviors.

Categories: 2010 Amy · Museums

4 responses so far ↓

  •   guya // Sep 3rd 2010 at 16:45

    This is a funny observation of people walking around a modern art museum. I find myself a lot of times in places such as this trying to look more informed than I am, so its good to see I am not alone. I would say that there are were quite a few pieces in the Tate Modern that did strike me, but certainly not all of them.

  •   mikey // Sep 3rd 2010 at 17:00

    “I’m not quite sure what this says about modern art or humanity in general”

    Probably that it is idiotic and that they are idiots.

  •   Elizabeth Barr // Sep 3rd 2010 at 18:04

    Personally, I think the great French and Saunders portray the oddities of an art museum/snooty critics to perfection:

    The confusion inspired by the Tate- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UkunQmpvkh0

    Art critics- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=heGnAfzj7ZU

  •   mattg // Sep 3rd 2010 at 19:46

    Modern art is about a lot of different things, and it isn’t just one genre. I agree, that painting and paintings just featuring a dots or lines are more about challenging what is “art” rather than just being art itself. Modern artists can be very self indulgent without getting panned by critics too badly. The thing is when you discredit modern it, it also means Van Gogh, Seurat, Dali, Miro, Kahlo, Rivera, and many more of the most talented and creative people of the 20th century.

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