"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Birthdays Today - Where the Regular Guy Thinks Deep Thoughts About Modern Art

Two birthdays today of visual artists whose work is immediately recognizable and iconic, but, to me anyway, unappealing and unsatisfying.

First,  Richard Avedon, the photographer, was born today in 1923.   Avedon branched out from fashion photography into portraiture in the 1950s; his most famous photographs are probably of Audrey Hepburn, and his work with her became the inspiration for the Fred Astaire-Hepburn movie, Funny Face.   He was known for capturing his subjects' personalities in his pictures.   Here is one of his classic portraits of a different Hepburn:

And here is another Avedon, this time of Marilyn Monroe:

I don't know.   I like these photographs, but I can't help thinking that what makes them interesting is not the skill or talent of the photographer but the fame of the subject.   Avedon seems to me like a one-trick pony, who managed to ingratiate himself with the famous, and then having an "Avedon" taken of you became the thing to do.   He made a name for himself by taking pictures of people caught slightly off-guard.   Interesting, but... did he make great art?  I can't say yes.

Also born today, in 1930, was the painter, Jasper Johns.   Of all 20th Century American painters, Johns is probably the most famous, and, to the Regular Guy, controversially so, because his work, more than most, requires the overlay of art criticism to be even marginally comprehensible as art.  Call me a Philistine, but I don't think you ought to need to footnote your work if you're going to be a great artist; it ought to please without exegesis all men at all times; it ought to be beautiful in a way that touches the human eye and mind without having to have an Associate Professor of Art History tell you why it should.  

I can't help thinking that much of modern art is really a matter of self-promotion to the guardians of elite opinion in academia.   Maybe it has always been thus.  But I suspect that there's a reason that, as of 2011, I can't name a single living contemporary visual artist or a single living contemporary poet.   I am an educated, literate and affluent person, but those "artists" have chosen to stop speaking to me.   If they can't speak to people like me, I submit that they won't pass the test of time.   If they won't pass the test of time, I submit that they aren't making art in any real sense.  

Compare and contrast:

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