Who’s Afraid of Modern Art by Daniel Siedell – Chapter 4, “The Artist” (all quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the book)

Modern Art Book CoverQuote:

“What is the relationship of the work of art to the artist? Is it simply the sum of the artist’s intentions – an aesthetic extension of the artist’s emotions, thoughts, worldview? Can the artist’s life (his beliefs or actions) invalidate or destroy the integrity of the work he makes? Or does the work of art bear no relation to the artist’s biography whatsoever?” p66

Question: Engage and discuss Siedell’s questions.


“In ‘Good Art, Bad People,’ Charles McGrath focuses his attention on writers who have produced great art but have done so at the expense of their loved ones. He reflects on this disjunction and asks, how can we appreciate the great work of greatly flawed men and women?”              pp66-67

“…does the production of a great work of art demand human sacrifice? And, perhaps even more horrifying, a sacrifice taken from the artist’s own family and circle of friends?” p67

Question: Add McGrath’s & Siedell’s questions to the discussion.


“…let’s explore in more depth the relationship of an artist’s intention to the works of art she produces. A common assumption…presumes that a work of art is a direct extension, or causal result, of the artist’s thoughts, emotions, and/or beliefs…it is presumed to be so causally determined – that we are able to discern the artist’s worldview from her poem, novel, or painting. As an artist’s beliefs go, so goes the work of art.”        pp67-68

Questions: Agree/Disagree? Why/Why not?


“We want the artists to tell us, once and for all, ‘what that painting means,’ yet this is contrary to how artists understand their work. Art fights against this causality…the artist brings all she has to the production of a particular work – emotions, thoughts, ideas, both conscious and unconscious – but the work then faces the world and moves toward the viewer, reader, listener.”                p68

“When we read a poem or look at a painting, it is not the artist but the work of art that is working on us, and what it offers to us is therefore much broader and deeper than the artist’s intentions and beliefs, many of which she is only barely aware of, if at all.”   p68

“This gap…between the work of art and the artist is crucial to maintain, not only for aesthetic but for theological reasons. It is based on the artist’s unfree will. We are trained to believe that art is about the expression of freedom. Although few would put it quite this way, artists intuitively recognize that they possess a radically unfree will. If my will is not free, my intentions, desires, and thoughts cannot be transparent to me, much less to anyone else. And artists, through their own studio practices, recognize this. Artists make paintings, poems, stories, and music not to express what they already know and feel (celebration of a free will) but to try to discover something about themselves they do not know. The work of art thus encompasses more of the artist than he or she is even consciously aware. Indeed their work is an attempt to search those unfathomable and mysterious depths – both conscious and unconscious – of their own hearts and their own understanding.”   p69