The Truth About Modern Art

Opinions and views expressed by Xianru Shen at 3752 Blogs

"Even I can draw better than that! That can't possibly be called art."

I hear this all the time, at museums, on the street, or during casual talks with friends. And usually, I have to bite back my tongue not to leap up in retaliation to such statements, take a deep breath, and remind myself of what's going on here.

We've all seen the political cartoons, the comic strips, the satirical references on late-night TV shows: "modern" art is, to many people, not much more than a splat of paint on a canvas, sold at millions of dollars for no good reason, and fussed over without real basis. Indeed, it wouldn't surprise me if most people think art reached its peak during the realism-infested Classical period of the 1800's, or the light-dappled style of the Impressionists in late nineteenth century. Some might even go so far as to praise the unique brush strokes and skewed perspective of Van Gogh, but many would be reluctant to offer the same appreciation for Piet Mondrian's works that seem to be little more than coloured rectangles from only a few decades later. Has art slowly deteriorated over the ages? Have artists, tired of imitating life, started toying with the general public by trying to make us believe dumping a paint on a canvas is now sufficient to display at museums?

That is not the case.

There are many interpretations out there, but modern art, in my opinion, has tried to capture the abstracts in life. And to capture that which has to definite shape, and no definite image, it makes sense for artists to use only the most basic of the elements and principles of art to convey these concepts. Colours and simple shapes are not meant to encapsulate still life, but rather invoke emotions, thoughts, and memories. It's true that the same can be achieved through an intricate, realistic picture. But the appeal in modern art is that for the first time, artist are trying to call forth the same impact art has always had on people by using another route, another method, and another style.

It's not art because someone smacked a paintbrush against a canvas. It's art because it was done deliberately; because the artist felt that that was the most effective way to capture, in as tangible a way as possible, what is not only intangible, but fleeting. A feeling, a message, or an experience. The goal of art has, and should be, to communicate. Furthermore, modern art isn't just cubism and minimalism, which seem to be the only ones ever referenced. There are other styles that also define this era, such as surrealism and abstract expressionism that are worth closer looks.

I can't argue that even the most veteran of artists can convince everyone that a paper with nothing but coloured strips drawn onto it or a sculpture that doesn't seem to represent any recognizable image is the most impressive of artistic legacies, but I think it's important for people to at least recognize their merits as art.

That brings up another point: why are most people today so out of tune with the artistic world, and its movements? Why is the average person so quick to criticize? One reason might simply be the way modern society works. Millions of people tune in to watch the Academy Awards, keep up with the latest TV shows, or read fashion magazines, but how often is world of art and its slow revolution ever discussed within earshot, unless you go looking for it? Art awards are given out frequently without any big public notice, museums are hardly ever as crowded as movie theatres, and people simply are not informed. So is it any surprise that without proper knowledge, once they were faced with something that isn't their traditional idea of "art", many people wrinkle their noses and consider it trash? This has happened many times in the past, through art history, and it continues today.

Maybe the flaw lies in our educational system. Maybe it's a larger societal problem. Maybe it's not a thing to be worried over at all. But to me, it seems that there needs to be an effort in educating most people at least in the basics of art, what's going on with art revolutions, and how to look at different kinds of art, because art has always been, and always should be, an important part to life, culture, and how we view the world.

For more in-depth discussions about modern art, and recent art happenings, visit: