One of the customary criticisms of what we may generically call “modern” art is that the bizarre distortions of the figures in the works – even music, e.g., the works of John Cage – render the art inaccessible to any but the most sophisticated tastes and temperaments. Such critics point to, e.g., Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” and Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase” as examples of modern art’s alienation from the public. (The late evangelical Christian writer Francis Schaeffer even went so far as to argue that “Nude” was actually evil and sinful, because it was a form of pornography in that it encouraged the viewer to search the image for a picture of a naked woman!) Compare Picasso and Duchamp, et al., with, e.g., the great landscape artists of the Hudson River School and
Every several years or so, perhaps every decade or so, a work of art captures my emotions and imagination, and sticks in my memory, even though it may be several years between viewings – assuming I ever see the original of the work at all. One such is Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party; another is Rembrandt’s Slaughtered Ox; another, Picasso’s Guernica; still another, Edouard Manet’s The Old Musician. I have never seen the originals of the Rembrandt and the Picasso. I know them only from reproductions. But they haunt me. I recently discovered another such image while visiting the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC: Patricia Cronin’s Memorial to a Marriage (hereafter Memorial ).
Memorial is a bronze sculpture, cast from a marble original, depicting two women lovers,
Would someone please answer the following question for me: Why do Americans – actually, I think Westerners generally, but I will stick with Americans – believe art is something that must be approached so … well … seriously? With most art, most Americans seem to believe that, when looking at a painting or a piece of sculpture or seeing a play or listening to a piece of music, they are obligated, on pain of being branded as culture-phobic philistines, to wear a facial expression that announces to the world Pity me! I am dying of terminal hemorrhoids!
Well, before anyone makes any cracks about that remark, I will back up a step or two and say that, yes, to be sure, some works of art are explicitly intended to evoke play, laughter, and light-hearted dalliance. A good example is