Wednesday 10 June 2009

Modern Art and Modern Literature

I have been following with the usual mix of interest and hilarity the latest offerings from the Venice Biennale. If you are out of touch with Modern Art, then I suggest you take a quick virtual tour on the web and check out some of the works of art displayed this year, ranging from a raindrop on a snail's horns to pine kitchen units to a pounding 'Nazi disco'.

More than ten years ago I wrote in my Ars Poetastrica (lines 481–510):

Throwing the various artforms all together
gives a farrago that’s not worth the bother,
a monstrous hybrid that is false and dumb,
all sheer perplexity without a theme:
the artist’s but a road, a path, a way:
art cannot be imposed: it comes per se.

In times of decadence, like our own age,
a wild syncretism is all the rage;
and so today we see the one attempt
is to force who cares what ingredient
into art’s crucible, without a care
whether the ways are narrow, steep, obscure.

There’s talk of virtual reality,
of total art and interactivity,
of global villages and atmospherics,
of multimedia trials and hysterics.
Poor people! Names alone inspire them so
they are bewildered: why, they do not know.

Two madmen have a sort of pillow-fight,
leaping about a bed: is that a sight
made for a gallery, or a mental home?
And is this worth the least encomium:
a canvas where some doggerel is smeared
and which is all besickled and sunflowered?

This artistic decay only gets worse
with every effort that is made to press
such disparate materials into one.
At every instant a fresh blunder’s born,
and every blunder lives to aggravate
the shame of galleries of modern art.

[translation by JG Nichols – click here for the original]

Now I take a more cautious approach, and I am at least as intrigued as I am amused by Modern Art, often asking myself: "Why is it that Modern Art today tries to challenge thought and experience, whereas Modern Literature doesn't, and is content to play safe and serve the taste of the masses?" And I think about what two of our authors, Tom McCarthy and Sean Ashton, both deeply involved in the visual arts, once told me: that the real discussion of ideas has moved from the field of literature to that of art, and that most of modern fiction is not literature, but simply "production". I'm starting to believe in this more and more – for all the excesses and childishness of Modern Art.


1 comment:

  1. I just skimmed it, saw "The British artist Liam Gillick has filled the German pavillion with pine kitchen units", and gave up. You can't lump everything together, but I find in a lot of the modern galleries there's a vacuous, hysterical "look at me!" which you find in advertising (not surprising considering Mr Saatchi's inglorious past) which really makes me not want to look at many things at all... plus there's the art-banter to endure. Modern cinema, on the other hand, is doing very well I think. I liked "Synechdoche, New York" a lot, but not the man mumbling as he walked out "That was amazing, I really think it captured..."


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