Tag Archive: Dada

In Defense of Art

Aleksandr Rodchenko, Non-Objective Painting, 1919.  Oil on canvas.

Aleksandr Rodchenko, Non-Objective Painting, 1919. Oil on canvas.

I’ve seen an image circulating online lately showing a painting from 1907 saying the artist was rejected from art school, then one from 2012 that won a prize. The implication being that the rejected art from 1907 is better than the prizewinning art from 2012. Things like this annoy me. It’s perfectly fine to have personal preferences when it comes to art and what you find enjoyable. But it really bothers me when people say something isn’t good, or isn’t art just because they don’t like it.

Art, and the goals of art, is constantly changing. During the Renaissance they were focused on mastering perspective and capturing the world as true to life as they could because that was the only way they had to record visually what was around them. And it was made possible by the new scientific thinking of the age. Once perspective had been mastered, artists could move on to other projects, like the Impressionists working to capture light. After photography came around paintings did not need to be so true-to-life because there were photographs for that now. Some art worked on questioning what constituted art (Dada for example); some deconstructed art to try and take it down to its bare essentials. Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of Modern art, but I still appreciate it for what it is.

There’s also the fact that all major art movements have been influenced by the political and social environment they arose from. So perhaps if you don’t like the art, instead of just calling it bad you should take a look at the world around it. Question why you don’t like it instead of just making a snap judgment based on how it looks. Obviously a large part of art is to make you feel, question, and think. Some of it is meant to be unappealing on purpose. That doesn’t mean it’s bad.

And yes, certainly there is a lot of bad art out there. I’m not going to deny that. My point is simply that just because you don’t like or understand something doesn’t mean it’s bad or not art. You can dislike something all you want, but to deny it its place in the art world is doing the piece and yourself a great disservice. Perhaps I sound a bit defensive. But you know what? I am. I’m defensive of art because it’s what I’ve spent the last few years of my life studying, and what I hope to spend my life working with. Art can be an incredibly subjective and emotional thing. And a lot can be learned about a culture or time by looking at its art. So it makes me sad when people make such snap judgments about art or discount it as unimportant. Just think of what a plain, boring place the man-made world would be without art.

(Yes, I realize another aspect of this is that the painting from 1907 is supposedly a painting Hitler did, and that opens a whole other can of worms. But really it was just the judgmental comparison of art from the early 1900s to contemporary art that got to me, since it’s not the first time I’ve seen or heard things like that. Also, it’s important to keep in mind, this was also painted in 1907).


A lot of people have strong opinions about Duchamp’s readymade The Fountain.  I personally cannot stand it.  I appreciate that by taking a urinal out of its natural setting and placing it in a gallery it makes one question what is art, and what a urinal is if it’s not functional and things like that.  But I do not believe that was Duchamp’s intent.  So I guess perhaps that it’s Duchamp himself that bothers me in this situation.  He doesn’t always, there’s work of his that I like, just not The Fountain.  Danto said that the show The Fountain was in was un-juried, but I could have sworn that I read somewhere it was juried and that Duchamp himself was in the jury.  Maybe it was just that he was there.  Either way, he went around telling everyone how great this piece was while not letting on that it was his piece.  By not signing his name, to me it shows that he did not find it beautiful.  To me it seems The Fountain was more about what he could get away with than what he really considered art/beauty.  He wanted to see if he could convince people that this urinal was art and get away with it.

            That is why I prefer Warhol.  I believe Warhol really did see the whole world as art.  I think Warhol connects back to one of the first readings we did in class (On Beauty and Being Wrong), where Elaine Scarry talks about how when one sees beauty, they want to replicate it.  That’s why Warhol replicated soup cans, Brillo boxes, celebrities and even death; he found it all beautiful.  This is also another point against Duchamp in my book.  Duchamp didn’t replicate a urinal.  He just took it and signed a fake name to it.  This also indicates to me that he did not actually find it beautiful.  Perhaps I just relate more to Warhol, since too find beauty in the everyday objects around us.  I think my own photography expresses that, since I often try to capture things other people might just walk by.  Maybe that’s why I love photography so much.  I can capture and replicate the every day, like Warhol.  The world is fascinating, Warhol saw that.  I think Duchamp and the Dadaists saw the world as bizarre and not in the same positive light Warhol did.  I think the world can be both, bizarre and fascinating.