Who’s Afraid of Modern Art? by Daniel Siedell

Chapter 5, “The Art” (all quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the book)

Modern Art Book CoverFrom the previous discussion:

“In her description of her lecture, “Ending Things” at the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth, O’Neill writes: ‘Endings can be inconclusive, but yet are still called ‘endings.’ They are also starting points; things must end so that something else will happen. In order to be reborn, one must first die.’ What O’Neill’s work reveals is that ‘death’ isot just an aesthetic phenomenon, or a ccreative device, something that an artist ses to get someplace else, leaving his or her self fully intact, firmlyl in control. In other words ‘death’ cannot come from within the narrative; it cannot be brought about the subject. Indeed, it is something that the artist suffers passively, from the outside, and it must destabilize that self, perhaps even in some way destroy it. And this death cannot be anticipated and the pain softened. It can only be appreciated and understood retrospectively, on the other side ofdeath. There is hope after all in O’Neill’s ten-year-project. But it came first by way of despair. There is life after The End. But it comes only by way of death and destruction. This seems to be the way of art. And one of the ways it can ‘plough and harrow’ one’s soul – the artist’s and the viewers.” pp118-119

Question: How can something so abstract do so much “damage”?


Siedell then writes about a novel he read, Dostyevsky’s – The Brothers Karamazov – and a sermon he heard in church about the killing of the “Holy Innocents”; the children two years and younger killed by King Herod recounted in the Christian New Testament. He then relates his thoughts on this subject to an artist he discovered while working as a curator in Nebraska – Claudia Alvarez.


“Children elicit our strongest emotions, our most passionate responses to the desires for this world. They embody our hope that the world really is, deep down, good. It is the world of Christmas morning. But Alvarez’s work offers us something else, what C.S. Lewis wrote about Narnia under the rule of the White Witch – it is always winter but never Christmas. This is what we want to protect our children from – from our fear that there really isn’t Christmas, or that the enchantment we experienced as children will never be relived. But Alvarez’s work refuses to play along.”

“Her work reminds us that children are not born into Disneyland. They are often born into Ethiopia, into ER incubators, into crack houses – into murder, starvation, and suffering. They are also born into comfortable and stable two-parent homes int he suburbs full of love that nevertheless cannot prevent them from experiencing deep wounds. Alvarez’s work forces me to ask, where is God in the suffering of children…How can God create such beautiful larks that cannot sing, larks that that bear such dreadful wounds?” pp122-123


“But beauty…is disinterested. It has no agenda. Beauty can sail under the radar of our anxious contention over what is true and what is good, carrying along its beam a ray of the beautific vision. Beauty can pierce the heart, wounding us with the transcendent glory of God…Beauty tends to elicit in us a type of shock. We draw a breath in. Why? If beauty tells us about the eternal verities, whence the surprise? Ezra Pound once said that the artist’s task is to ‘make it new.’ The ‘it’ is the truth of the world. A work of art doesn’t invent truth, but it does make it accessible to us in ways that are not normally available because words and images have been tarnished by overuse or neglect. Art fails when it merely tells us what we already know in the ways that we already know it.” “The Wound of Beauty” by Gregory Wolfe