img_6974 Who’s Afraid of Modern Art? by Daniel Siedell

Chapter 4, “The Artist” (all quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the book)

From a previous discussion:

“My art is self confession. Through it I seek to clarify my relationship to the world.”

Edvard Munch, quoted from Who’s Afraid of Modern Art? p. xviii


“A painting occupies an awkward position in the world. A scrap of canvas with smelly oil paint smeared across it is difficult to justify as useful in this conditional, transactional world. Paintings are thus weak and vulnerable things…What makes matters worse is that no one knows what makes a great work of art great anyway, or if that work or this work is great…And so curators, critics, and dealers are desperately looking for markers other than the painting itself to assuage the collector’s insecurity.” p86

“Yet for an artist to make a living, these smeared canvases need to be shown, written about, and purchased. In short, these precarious, vulnerable, useless artifacts, which no one is really sure have any ‘objective’ value, or are any good, need to operate as currency in a conditional world, a transactional economy. Yet the work that the artist produces operate in direct contradiction to this reality.” p86

“Beauty must include three qualities: integrity or completeness – since things that lack something are thereby ugly; right proportion or harmony; and brightness – we call things bright in colour beautiful.”  Aquinas, Summa Theologica


How do you define a great piece of art? How is the work of an artist in contradiction to the culture Siedell says we live in?


“Artists feel this precarious situation, even if they are not entirely conscious of it or its origin. It is they who realize, consciously or not, that the works they produce in their studios are vulnerable out in the world, and they who wonder whether the work they do is any good or possesses any lasting value. And this is especially so for those artists whose work is represented by the world’s top dealers…Their work needs help to survive. And so many artists cultivate a certain kind of behavior – craft a social role – that simultaneously justifies their work in this context while it protects its integrity…” pp86-87

“So, when you are tempted to dismiss the contemporary art world as irrelevant because of the strange behavior of its artists, remember that their behavior is an admission that their work – what they spend their lives making and to which they are profoundly devoted and committed – is weak and vulnerable. And their persons are not only masks, but also armor and weaponry that they are using in this suffocating art world.” p88


Is this defense enough to dismiss the contemporary art world’s condition?