Who’s Afraid of Modern Art? by Daniel Siedell

Chapter Six, “The Poetics of Modern Art” (all quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the book)

IMG_7302From previous discussion:

“The relationship of the modern artist to the past begins…with the experience of rupture and loss, with an intuition of the deep discontinuity between the past and the present…But what is now required are new artistic forms that come from experience of the present. This approach contradicted the nineteenth-century academic establishment, which saw the art of the past as an ideal that normed all art…For the modern artist, however, art was, and is, not merely the transmission of technique and subject matter, form and content – it also consists of the artist’s own sensibility, which necessarily includes an attunement to the age in which one lives.” p128


“Everyone is an artist until 3rd grade. Then people start to convince us otherwise and we eventually believe them.” Makoto Fujimura, Facebook status February 28th

“‘My kid can do that’ is a common accusation leveled against modern artists whose paintings look nothing like the Mona Lisa, the Sistine Chapel ceiling, or a Thomas Kinkade print. Modern Art frustrates our expectations of what art should look like, how it should behave…And so when we happen upon a painting of colors and lines, or a composition of simple lines and distorted shapes, a painting that doesn’t amaze us immediately with the artist’s technical proficiency, we become offended, dismiss it as the work of a charlatan and condemn it as childish, not worthy of being called art. And so, often curators and critics who have devoted their lives to studying art usually respond to such accusations by (rightly) demonstrating the remarkable skill of the artist or (rightly) stressing certain philosophical and theoretical frameworks necessary to understand the significance of those seemingly fraudulent gestures…my response to those who claim ‘my kid can do that’ has been different. I respond, ‘Well, that was the point.'” p132

“Why were so many modern artists…attracted to children’s drawings? One reason is the child’s capacity to represent the world is not capable of interpreting their experience of the world, which overwhelms them with wonder and awe. We are drawn to their honest and unself-conscious struggle to render the complexity of the world and their experience of it through their inferior skills. It is this gap between their technological competency and the vastness of their subject that attracts us to these drawings they are great because they cannot represent the world. And yet, each line is a sincere one, each figure a vital attempt to capture something that they not only see but hear and feel as well. Their beauty is in their failure.” p134

Questions: Is “childishness” enough to explain modern art? Where are its limitations as an explanation? When does seeing the “failure” as beauty actually cross the line to failure? Is there a line?


“Duchamp suggests that in the creative act the artist transfers his primitive feelings into his material, which becomes the medium through which they are transferred to the spectator…creating a work of art becomes a kind of self-analysis for the artist. Each particular work of art represents a self-encounter…in which the artist re-experiences and re-orders his feelings through the medium of his material…The artist reflexively invests his feelings in the dead material, bringing it to artistic life, but that does not mean he understands their raison d’etre, which would indicate preliminary mastery of them. Simply put, it does not mean that making art gives the artists insight into what he makes art about – into his feelings about his subject matter. He may be acting them out – repeating and rehearsing them – through the material rather than reflecting on them. It is not clear to what extent the act of making is an act of reflecting…” Donald Kuspit, The End of Art, pg15-17


How does Kuspit’s quote engage Seidell’s thoughts here? Where might they agree? Or disagree?