The Anti-tradition of Modern Art


Those acquainted with Tom Wolfe’s essay “The Invisible Artist” or Solzhenitsyn’s “Playing On The Strings Of Emptiness” will find a familiar theme in this recent New English Review piece by poet Mark Signorelli and mathematician-architect Nikos Salingaros. Advising fellow artists to “use the accumulated wisdom of discovered knowledge to finally move forward”, the authors point out that

This is not about aesthetics but civilization itself. We are watching the increasingly rapid dissolution of civil society on all sides of us — the failure of our schools, a breakdown of the family, the degradation of language, the abandonment of polite manners, the rape of the environment, and the replacement of a stable economy with a torrent of dangerous speculation. We do not give sufficient consideration to how far the depravity of contemporary art may be implicated in this catastrophic decline. Nothing is so important to the spiritual and mental flourishing of a people as its art. The stories they tell, the buildings they inhabit, the public spaces in which they gather, the songs they sing, the fashioned images they gaze upon — these things shape their souls more permanently and effectively than anything else. We live in a time when the art all around us accustoms men to, and insinuates into their souls, the most erroneous and degrading ideas imaginable about themselves and their world. A humane society can hardly be expected to grow out of such an adverse cultural environment.

Naturally I agree with their condemnation of modernism — and with their call for artistic renewal, a call which leads to many more practical questions than I have time to articulate, much less address.  It seems to me that somehow the “reactionary” artist must dismiss artistic modernism rather than war against it; he must simply “turn his gaze away from the disastrous wasteland”, as Salingaros and Signorelli put it, and toward the true sources of creative power. 

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