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An Exhibition of Conservative Paranoia

Exhibit 86: Standing Athwart Modern Art

Columnists for WorldNetDaily and Newsmax complain about art being too abstract and non-representational, with one arguing that art is only "good" if it advances "Western heritage."

By Terry Krepel
Posted 8/28/2023

Patrice Lewis

Over the past year or so, there has been a mini-trend of ConWeb writers complaining about modern art for being abstract and non-representational.

Jerry Newcombe complained in a June 2022 WorldNetDaily column:

A recent visit to a museum of modern art got me thinking about how much of it is meaningless.

Ecclesiastes begins with these famous words: "Vanity of vanities ... All is vanity." All is meaningless.

As a book in the Bible, Ecclesiastes is a terrific precursor to the Gospel of Christ. It shows us how life apart from God has no ultimate purpose. Ecclesiastes shows our great need for Jesus, who by His broken body and shed blood has purchased peace with God and everlasting life, which He has made available to all who believe.

But, alas, much of modern art today reflects a nihilistic worldview. Much of art today is just "vanity of vanities."

Some modern art is interesting, but how is a painting with an eye over here and a leg over there and a grotesque uglifying of the human form "art"?

Every time I see eyesores that pass for modern art – for instance, the weird sculptures prominently displayed at some airports – I think, "That artist must be laughing all the way to the bank." My wife adds, "Why should they call it art when a 3-year-old could create it?"

Dr. Jeff Myers, president of Summit Ministries, which teaches a Christian worldview to youth, has written an upcoming book, "Truth Changes Everything." For this article, he gave me a sneak peek of the art chapter and permission to quote him.

Myers writes: "I appreciate many works of modern art, but often I'm left wondering what it was about that previous age that give us Michelangelo's David, while our age's 'famous' works include Marcel Duchamp's 1917 display of a urinal, entitled 'Fountain,' symbolizing that everything is waste to be flushed away. It is impossible not to notice the difference. Today's attention-getting art exhibits often feature blank canvases or galleries scattered with random objects. According to postmodern author Glenn Ward, this is not a lack of skill, but an intentional effort to 'disrupt bourgeois fantasies about art.'"

Because our elite class has rejected God, they are left with a purposeless, absurd universe – and their art and writings reek of despair. Such a worldview isn't creative – it's anti-creative.

Newcombe then seemed to be arguing that directly representational art is the only acceptable form of art:

The New England Primer sold 120 million copies and was used as a textbook for several decades. This little book taught many of our Founding Fathers how to read and even taught them theology. It included the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which is used to this day in many Presbyterian and Reformed churches.

The opening of that catechism famously says: "Q. What is the chief end of man? A. Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever."

Life with God has meaning. Life without God is meaningless.

Newcombe seems to have forgotten what happened the last time a leader openly despised modern art ("degenerate art," one might call it) and championed classical representations of the human form.

Alexandra York served up her own anti-art-I-don't like rant in an August 2022 Newsmax column:

What is "bad" art? In order to answer this question, we must first define what is good art.

Taking this article as a jumping off point, we can understand the values that can be expressed in established western art forms. This is not to infer that eastern art has no value — it most certainly can — but to emphasize how meaningful art in general has the ability to enrich our lives if it is intelligible and communicates life-serving values.

It follows, then, that "bad" art communicates life-harming values. How does it do this? Let us count the ways:

In order to communicate anything the themes or subjects of art forms must be intelligible, so objects rendered in painting and sculpture must be discernable, sounds in music must have tonal development, words in literature must have meaning, and so on.

Splashes of paint on canvas (or worse) and piles of bricks (or worse) communicate nothing intelligible. The same can be said of sounds emitted by the strumming of piano strings which is not music, or the tossing together of useless salad-words which is not literature, so why should these be labeled "bad" art, and why are they "harmful"?

Firstly, non-objective art is not "art" at all. It is not even a valid "craft" like decorative art— tile and rug design, for example — which requires a defined skill set.

But since non-art is presented as art in exhibits, galleries and museums, we need to label it "bad" art because it does not meet the primary criteria of communicative intelligibility.

And lastly, these sorts of "art" presentations are harmful in that — if taken seriously and find acceptance on the part of viewers, listeners, and readers — they can cause sloppy cognitive and psychological habits that, in turn, can inhibit the rational thought processes necessary to live a successful and happily fulfilled life.

In short: abstract art or any other art that is not directly representational is "bad." She continued in this vein:

Good art is a perceptually beautiful physical manifestation of life-enriching values, and life-enriching values are selected via reason, and reason entails judgment to determine the validity of values in order to select those that are most beneficial as life-serving principles. Bad art repudiates the very mental processes required to live a fruitful and joyful human life.

Ergo: As we avoid poisoned food to maintain the life and health of our bodies, so we should avoid "art" poisoned by deleterious ideas or lack thereof to enter our minds and pollute our souls.

Good art dramatizes the beauties and complexities of nature and human nature.

It empathizes with our sorrows and celebrates our joys.

It is food for the soul and can nurture our mental wellbeing while, at the same time, confirming our rationally achieved value system and inspiring us onward and upward to the best within us.

Not only is bad art bad for us in the cognitive and psychological ways heretofore delineated, but legitimatizing any so-called "art" that degrades the splendors and the possibilities of humankind becomes an act of spiritual suicide.

The "article" York referred to early was actually her own 2018 Newsmax column in which she explicitly argued that the only"good" art is that which is explicitly representational and advances "Western heritage":

Driven underground by academics, critics, and artists of modernist and post-modern art for decades and largely still untaught in learning institutions, the crafts of representationalism in painting and sculpture have continued to be taught by a handful of artist-teachers who refused to let their art forms perish. We owe these men and women — now in their seventies, eighties, and even nineties — a debt of gratitude for safeguarding the techniques passed down from Greece through the Italian Renaissance to nineteenth-century Europe and then on to America in the early twentieth. It is their students — now professional artists and teachers in their own right — who are presently of an age to lead the resurgence of interest in these art forms based in established Western art traditions. Novelists, poets, and composers, too, are consulting the past for techniques to help them contemporize the everlasting verities of life with bracing relevance to our own time and place in history.

So the crafts of the great arts of Western civilization are surfacing again. But what of ideas? Many artists, today, succeed in capturing reality, but how many create a heightened reality that not only brings into sharper focus selected aspects of life through compelling aesthetics but also communicates ideas? Without authentic relevance to the fundamentals of the contemporary human condition, art becomes either decorative or banal. Without ideas informing it, art becomes a pretty pastime.

Most artists are not philosophers; they are, rather, more sensitive souls who intuitively incorporate value premises into their work. Great artists, however, whose work reverberates with lasting significance are fully conscious of the underlying themes expressed through their work; they, in fact, use form and aesthetics for the express purpose of communicating — beautifully — the ideational content of their art. For these superlative artists, nothing is accidental; they select and include in their art only the requisite essentials necessary to communicate inner meaning. Such artists distill the quintessence of one image or one fleeting moment (or in literature and music, one finite time-experience) for their own sake first; they make it “stand still” so they can experience and return at will to the burning center of their creation for rousing renewal. Then they pass their vision on to us for further contemplation of the beauty and values inherent in the work.


A landscape painting made of morning light arching into the colors of a rainbow that hovers over an apple-green orchard may guide our vision the next time we tarry in the countryside. A flower painting of scintillating colors and luscious textures can whet our senses to appreciate the fragility and translucent wonder of petals soft and fragrant, not to mention give us pause to consider the transience of all life, including our own. A depiction of a hero or heroine can encourage us to rise to our own best self.

York did acknowledge that "A nude male or female sculpture can cause us to marvel at the inherent splendor of the human body — the temple of our soul," so apparently she's not a total prude.

Patrice Lewis offered her contribution in a Jan. 6 WND column, which began by recalling an incident in a childhood art class in which a student who drew a "startlingly realistic" portrait who supposedly criticized by the instructor:

I never took an art class again. If art was so subjective that a highly talented student was in danger of failing because he didn't conform to the instructor's preference for abstract, then I wanted nothing to do with the art world. (Also, I finally recognized my artistic talent had plateaued around age 12.) Still, I felt very sorry for that student and hoped he wasn't too discouraged to continue practicing his skill.

This is a suitable junction to admit I'm a cultural cretin. The subtleties and nuances of art that send critics into raptures and turn investors into collectors absolutely baffles me. I have a few art books among our vast library, but any art fancier will scoff at my preferences (Maxfield Parrish? Norman Rockwell? Walter Brightwell?).

All of this is a lead-up to an opinion piece by Matt Margolis I read a few months ago entitled "Can't We Just Admit That Modern Art Is Garbage?"

That led to a rant bashing modern art as nonrepresentational and mostly lazy:

The verbiage used to describe modern art has long been mocked for its absurdity. Phrases such as "juxtaposing against the geometric perspective" and "representing the angst and energy oscillating through a metropolis" are thrown about in an effort to convince the viewer that the canvas in front of them is something more than squiggles, blotches, lines, or other output frequently executed by kindergartners.

While I don't care for the work of such modern artists as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, or Andy Warhol, at least these artists put some effort into their works. But click on the link to see Joseph Marioni's masterpiece "Yellow Painting." Yes, this is considered a serious work of art. Must have taken him five whole minutes to execute it.

The "plasticity" of modern art is such that hoaxes are not uncommon. In 1964, for example, Swedish journalist Åke Axelsson introduced a series of paintings by an unknown French avant-garde artist called Pierre Brassau that created a buzz among critics. The pieces were described as "painted with powerful, determined strokes" that yet "had the delicacy of a ballet dancer." However, these critics were forced to defend their assessments after learning "Pierre Brassau" was a 4-year-old chimpanzee.

Or how about the two teenagers in 2016 who, while visiting the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, spontaneously placed a pair of eyeglasses on an empty patch of floor? The new "exhibit" drew visitors who stared at, admired, and photographed the glasses as if they were witnessing something marvelous.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, tells you everything you need to know about modern art. It's neither "intense" nor "plastic." It's stupid.

"Modern art can be pretty much anything that consists of two ingredients," concludes Matt Margolis. "1) Zero talent and 2) a gullible audience convinced of its value." I'm forced to agree with him.


On the other hand, consider this: One of Piet Mondrian's abstract paintings (described as possessing a "serene sense of compositional balance and spatial order, and with superb provenance") just sold for $51 million, setting a new auction record for the Dutch artist's work. I guess P.T. Barnum had it right when he purportedly said there's a sucker born every minute.

If nothing else, this is arguably more benign than previous attempts at commentaries from Lewis, which include suggesting that President Biden is running around burning down food manufacturing plants and fearmongering about (nonexistent) digital "Biden bucks."

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