The art of Norman Rockwell is experiencing a revival in popularity, having been exhibited lately in many museums. A noteworthy cause of this revival has been the praisers of modern “art.” That ilk of critics and college professors who had always regarded Rockwell as an inferior artists but now celebrate him.
While these modernists had relegated Rockwell’s work to the art world’s basement, on its main floor they displayed everything from the distorted faces of Pablo Picasso’s portraits to Marcel Duchamp’s urinal to Jackson Pollack’s paint-splattered canvases.
And as if Pollack hadn’t already plumbed the depths of modern “art,” along came those who dipped worms into colored paint and had them wriggle on a canvas to produce a “painting”; or simply covered a canvas in black paint alone1; or dotted a painting with blobs of elephant dung.2 The former two “paintings” won thousand dollar prizes at art shows; the latter won the Turner Prize, Britain’s top art award.
The praisers of such “art” used language that is equally incomprehensible to describe it. A critic once said that a canvas messed with smears of paint had “plastic disintegration of rhythmic essence.” A painting that had the technical skill of a child was praised as “having a phenomenal degree of micro-cosmic synthesis of three-dimensional entity.”3
Although the practitioners and praisers of modern “art” have posed as individualists, the nonconformity they embody is as socially-oriented as any conformist. Just as the conformist accepts the standards of others as his own without validating them rationally against reality’s facts, so does the modernist operate by the standards of others — the opposite of anything others uphold as poetic, beautiful, melodic, logical.
Because they opposed objectivity, the modernists could preach that there are to be no objective standards in art, such as comprehensible representations or clarity. By opposing definitions and standards as “restrictive,” they could preach that the artists must be “free” to “create” anything he desires. These falsehoods remain their primary means of destroying art, and thereby makes their deliberately nonrepresentational, incomprehensible “art” anti-art.
A tactic they used to manipulate people into believing that what they upheld was “art” was to evaluate it as worthy of comparison and inclusion in museums with the work of masters, such as Da Vinci or Rembrandt. Thus, Jackson Pollack’s paint-splatters are now largely accepted as art alongside Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa.” Yet although at a certain level Rockwell’s work is as technically skillful and comprehensible as that of the masters, the modernists regarded it as unworthy of display in museums alongside the work of their ilk.
The modernists certainly opposed Rockwell for creating intelligible subjects with great clarity — that is, practicing objective standards in art, as did the masters. What they primarily rejected in Rockwell, and that was absent in the work of the masters, was his “square” American subjects and sentimental themes, such as a family gathering happily around a table for Thanksgiving dinner. But if the intent of the “art” of yesterday’s modernists was meant to both destroy objective standards in art and promote their bleak view of the “real” world, dominated by cynicism, angst, nausea, pain, and suffering, why then are their successors celebrating Rockwell?
Writes art critic Deborah Solomon: “By now, avant-garde art is so accepted that even Duchamp’s urinal looks classical, which helps explain why nothing seems more outrageous than middlebrow art and the sort of pictures your grandmother savored — the art, in short, of 100 percent normal Norman Rockwell.”4
The modernists’ modus operandi of upholding anything as art is now pass
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