You won’t know it, because I’ve already changed it, but that header image was far too dark. There’s an enlivening brightness out there today, the clouds having disappeared for now, and I logged in here to see a dreary picture from our snow day, all filtered down to mute sadness because I thought it made a point or something. No, no, not that. Never that. Never making a point. I rarely use art, especially photos, to make a point. I take pictures recreationally, and if I enhance them in any way, it is literally ONLY because I think they look better that way.
This is not a thing a modernist would admit to. Indeed, a modernist would actually have to negate it first, and then deny it. In other words, she would have to say “No, I swear I didn’t change that image ONLY because I think it looks worse that way.” Modernists are boring, though the early ones manage alright. I can get excited about Picasso and Duchamp and Braque for about 5 or 10 minutes, because for a while they actually look good.
But then the messes and bicycle wheels just start looking like themselves again, and its not because I don’t get it. It’s because they just didn’t do it. And who could blame them? The impressionists beat them to the treasure, and put together the last beautiful moment in the visual arts. What could Picasso do after Monet vacated the stage for him, except to barely hold it together?
As for the writing. Gerard Manley Hopkins, technically a Victorian, wrote some invigorating poetry and left it trailing behind him while fled apace from the Victorians and the Romantics:
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
How fun is that? And so far Virginia Woolf is also a good time. A small departure from the rigid, staid structure of earlier periods. She flows and rambles and loves the words, but never forgets to say what she has to say. The modernist period, as it moves forward from there, gets so much more enraptured with itself at the expense of the meaning that they simply give in and say, as if in coy secret knowledge, “You find the meaning, reader.” But not because the meaning is in there, rather, because the writer couldn’t be bothered. I read as much of “Ulysses” as I thought I was obligated to do, then recognized that I was no longer willing to give Joyce the satisfaction of my attention. There’s the sense, at least, that Joyce put his back into it a little bit. The painter just sought the easy path – the Pollock and the Rothko – and found it cleared of obstacles by a public who was tired of things being important. The public could form no bond with the important, and so they asked for, and received, something that looked as messy and meaningless as they felt. “We are not permanent. Please do not speak to us of permanent things.”
But they’re up against it from the start. If you’re a modernist, or a post-modernist, or doing anything which rests its meaning in negation, then it’s only useful once. By 1920 it was pretty much spent, and after that it was all just one kind of pooping in cans or another. Beauty is permanent. Reaction decays.
I don’t hate modern art. I hate that we give it space. But by its nature, modern art chased off everyone that wasn’t willing to clean up after it, and so it gained total control of its own momentum. And now there’s a huge rock in Los Angeles that we’re supposed to “appreciate,” once we’re properly told how to look at it.