Modern Art at MOCA Lacks Meaning

Photo courtesy of Elon Schoenholz

I recently visited the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Los Angeles and found myself, I confess, utterly baffled. The other museum-goers, dressed head-to-toe in black and clutching Moleskine notebooks, stood next to me and observed the same installations as I did, but would nod sagely and make remarks like “Crushed soda cans to critique of capitalism” and “This lone blue streak, so suggestive of a tortured mind.” I felt as if I had entered a massive inside joke where everyone was privy to the punchline except me. Did they truly see something that I did not, or were they as mystified as I, only better at hiding it?

I believe it is the latter. Here are three reasons why modern art cannot be considered true art, on par with the works of genuine geniuses.

  1. The value of modern art is determined by the renown of the artist

Leonardo da Vinci’s scribble on a paper napkin will fetch billions of dollars simply because it’s a scribble by Leonardo da Vinci. In the same vein, the work of a contemporary artist who is “established” will sell, no matter how outlandish and ridiculous it is. Take, for example, Jeff Koons’ “Balloon Dog,” which fetched a staggering $58.4 million. Fact: If an artist of lesser prominence had created the exact same orange chrome sculpture, it would not rake in such a hefty sum, I assure you. The difference between Koons and da Vinci is that Koons consciously produced a sculpture with the intent of calling it art and expecting it to pay his bills, while da Vinci had no intention of auctioning off his stray pencil marks at a ridiculous price by the grace of his reputation.

  1. Modern art is effortless

Why are the classical paintings considered to be so? Because it is immediately evident to the viewer that they are drenched in the blood, sweat and tears of the artist. Each brushstroke is an exercise in patience, and a single painting can take months, even years to complete.  Whereas modern art, well, one could dash off five completed works per day, if all it takes is splattering paint around a canvas (cough Pollock cough). A couple centuries from now, I doubt a silkscreen print of Marilyn Monroe will be hanging next to Monet’s Water Lilies. The detail, the thought, the quality of each is simply incomparable.

  1. Modern art is devoid of meaning

Modern artists are looking for shock value, nothing more. They want to inspire “thought,” which is such a vague and ephemeral term — what even is “thought”? The creators can argue all they want about the significance of negative space and the depth of feeling behind tri-colored squares, but absolutely no one is taken in except aging billionaires looking to feel “trendy” and “current.” Real paintings elicit emotional responses; the viewer can connect with the images in front of them. Something twinges in their chest. That’s because the classical painters painted with the audience in mind, wanting to send a message with their work. Modern artists don’t give a damn about spectators. They’re absolutely elitist, in that they cater towards academics and like-minded creators, not the general public. Modern art has become so far removed from the masses. Why don’t people visit museums anymore? Because why would they want to spend a day feeling like an idiot?

Real art is evocative and thought-provoking. It can inspire feelings of awe, wonder, reverence. There’s nothing captivating about a pile of bricks or a canvas splashed with paint. Perhaps it is “creative,” but the creativity is misplaced and could be channeled into so many other, worthier pursuits. Classical art and the modern art installations I witnessed operate on such different planes that they cannot both fall under the category of “art.” One is art, and one is pretention to the highest degree.

1 reply
  1. Howard Bosler
    Howard Bosler says:

    Your comment about art being removed from the general public is quite right. Most people could not tell one who is the latest and greatest artist currently, nor would they recognize excrement in a can or a messed up bed as art or anything creative, for that matter. I remember taking a course at a college–I have a degree in art, bytheway–just for the discipline and to be around people, when we all went to a museum for some forgotten reason. We were met by a museum curator and treated like children at the zoo. This curator had all the spiel worked out and declared that we must read about a work so we would know what it meant. We were not only talked down to, but also humiliated as if we were ignorant savages. I felt like a political prisoner facing reindoctrination. This museum had some wonderful works by Gilbert Stuart, Audubon, Ryder and others who she referred to derisively. At any rate, this visit seemed to sum up all that was wrong with art today.

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