The Anti-tradition of Modern Art

by Jerry Salyer on August 8, 2012 · 6 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Short

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. 

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar j. blum August 9, 2012 at 2:12 pm

What, may I ask, do you see as the threshold of “modern art?” Baudelaire, Wagner and the Inmpressionists? Earlier, later?

avatar love the girls August 10, 2012 at 6:57 pm

From the article : “Architects who employ the design vocabulary of pre-modern traditions are dismissed as “reactionaries.””

But none the less, most architecture continues to use those same pre-modern traditions. Including most modern architecture. Whether it be symmetry and balance, or tripartite separation, or rhythmic diminution, and all the others, they can all be found if one looks.

Unlike the fine arts such as painting or sculpture, architecture is at root practical, and must conform to human scale because they must finally be buildable and usable by men. Architecture is not unlike the natural law and men’s social nature, not matter how man may strain against them, they remain that which forms him down to his very being.

The fine arts, on the other hand are a window into the soul of a society because they are not constrained by the practical.

avatar robert m. peters August 17, 2012 at 10:32 pm

Hundreds of little Southern towns with quaint cores are dying or are already dead even though “living” people spook around in them, not quite, at least not yet, ghosts. Most of the quaint cores contain decaying homes and estates built between 1880 and 1920, even in their time, harkening back to an even earlier era. In decay and collapse, these space-defining places still exude a beauty and draw with an ambiance which suggests a soul in their essence, not unlike a stooping grandmother, frail and bent in her final years but still illuminated by a beauty that comes from having been a good daughter, a good wife, a good mother, a good neighbor. Beyond the quaint cores is shanty modernity in its rot, including the boarded up fast-food joints and the brick-veneer suburbs, not unlike many, although not all, of the persons who frequented and inhabited them.

Just down the road from me is a school, built in the 1960′s, quite utilitarian, and I am sure, very practical with symmetry and balance, or tripartite separation, or rhythmic diminution. It is now abandoned and exudes no beauty and gives no notice that anyone ever learned anything there. Just over the river from my house is another abandoned school, one of the many which dot and blot our landscape. It was built in the early 1920′s, again harkening back to an even earlier time. It’s roof is long collapse. Small trees, mostly pines and gums, have replaced the students in the old auditorium, whispering to one another, prompted by gentle breeze, not unlike students who might have whispered at some unseen prompt. Vines tangle out of window openings; yet, one knows that learning went on there. One is drawn to learn still. On a cool fall day, it is my aim to take some students there and read the poetry of Archibald Rutledge.

Out in the long-rowed fields of the Red River Delta there still sit the pine and cypress houses, long abandoned, collapsed and overgrown, of tenant farmers, of sharecroppers, and even of slaves. It some cases, it is but the weed beset chimney, the lone sentinel among the rows of a home and hearth which once gave harbor to a family. Yet, the chimney which once drew as good chimneys should smoke and heat still draw – anticipation and imagination. One wound not be surprised to see a smoke rising, betraying not only a good oak or pecan fire but also the smell of sweet potatoes baking, of pork chops frying and of turnip greens simmering. Just down the road, but close to the road and not in the field is a rundown and dilapidated brick house, likely all electric at one time. Nothing exudes from it but emptiness.

Buildings like people bare their souls as they decay and die. The soullessness of modernity is evident in both.

avatar love the girls August 18, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Mr. Peters,

Thank you for your very nice and poetic reply, I found myself persuaded by it because I too would not want the world you describe. But upon further musing about it, I do have a few comments. Which are unfortunately long, so I’ve written them out on my blog so as to not clutter up this one.

http://catholiccultureandsociety.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-front-porch-its-use-and-lack-there.html

avatar robert m. peters August 18, 2012 at 7:57 pm

love the girls,

Thank you very much for your considered response. I appreciate it. Your blog suggests that one who is easily offended might not wish to venture there or, if having thereto ventured, tarry their. I am neither easily offended, nor am I easily persuaded. Your considered response deserves my considered response, and the realities of Saturday evening thwart that. As General MacArthur said, “I shall return!” Let us hope that it is not as it was in his case over two years. My intentions, hopefully not paving the road to hell, are to return to this topic on the morrow, our Lord’s Day, the first day of the New Creation.

avatar robert m. peters August 19, 2012 at 2:17 pm

I Love the Girls,

I posted a comment on your link supra.

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