Weekend Arts: Ideological art


Here is a brief article on the nature of modern art, and an attempt at an explanation as to how it manages not to die.  The first thing which needs to be understood about modern art is that it does not flow organically from the soul of the artist onto the canvass, the page or the screen, but passes through an ideological filter.

This article hints at this, and points out that, far from signalling one’s Philistinism,  a “spontaneous, visceral hatred of atonal music is a sign of health.”

This article from firstthings.com is an introduction to what will be a series of Weekend Arts essays exploring the source of modern art’s malaise, and what can be done to restore its health and its popularity.


  • Greg Sobey

    In part, it’s hard to disagree with that assessment on Modernity, and how it has shaped a particular ideology.

    Speaking as an artist myself, I realise that much of modern art is thoroughly nihilistic at root level. Along with this of course comes the rest of what’s become so predictable within the art scene — radical leftism, “alternative spirituality” and other cliches associated with the bohemian lifestyle. There is a type of social illness in all this, and it’s one that makes it easy to overlook the tiny flip side of the discipline.

    It is true, many people seem pressured into pretending to understand contemporary art when they clearly don’t. These days especially, so much of middle-class urbanised society anxiously wears the appearance of cultural sophistication, in which they see the appreciation and understanding of modern art as crucial.

    This falsity is crippling and cheapening the contemporary art scene, as it throws open what was once considered esoteric into the public domain in an attempt to make ‘modern art’ the art of the people–where everybody’s an artist at heart, or other such bullshit.

    Apart from these ills though, we should be careful not to overlook creative nuance that can still forge true originality and fresh thinking among some. Which is why I see the blurb on David Goldman’s book as one that doesn’t quite do justice to the potential of modern art for the good of society.

  • I will be writing on this topic more in future, so thank you for your comments, Greg. You make some excellent points, your last point especially. There are exceptions of course, and despite the dross there is some true genius.

    I specialise in music, and I see a similar dynamic at play- some true genius rising above the painful adherence to atonality amongst modern ‘classical’ composers.

    I have only come to the conclusion, that much modern ‘classical’ music is a giant con, just recently. I tried for years to like it, thinking it would grow on me in the same way that the Impressionists, or Russians such as Prokofiev and Stravinsky did, but to no avail.

    And the music world in general I think feels the same way, despite admitting it rarely.

    What really sunk it for me was revisiting what Serialist composers wrote about their own music- they actually said that they wanted to eliminate all joy from music, in order to transform society into one in which Socialism could succeed.

  • Konstantin

    The man is mainly social and political being; whatever he’s doing, he is trying to send a message. If we consider that each “conscious” man wants to live in the best society then is understandable that art goes through “ideological” filter.

  • David Hiscox

    True, Konstantin. Let’s cut to the chase then.

    Most modern art goes through a socialist filter. Even when artists themselves have no desire to live under socialism, the intellectual and aesthetic framework they work under are the legacy of socialist ideology applied to music. And its effects on art are similar to those on the economy and society.

    • Greg Sobey

      The ideological filter is indeed hard to avoid. I remember the scorn from lecturers that budding artists at art school could expect if their work reflected the “wrong” ideology. The tertiary arts environment is very much about indoctrination. Sure, students are encouraged to find their own path, but most of whichever path they trod has been pre-paved by the ideologues.

  • Konstantin

    Now came to me an old proverb that fits the story: “Man is a communist until he gets rich”. 

  • If there’s a picture under ‘Ideological Art’ in the dictionary it ought to feature the ‘art’ I spotted in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art – an elephant turd wrapped in a chain.