Meredith Stafford, staff writer

Have you ever stood in front of the modern art collection in an art museum, scoffed, and said “I could do that?” I grew up with a great appreciation for art and found myself offering the same criticism many times, but now I have a changed perspective on the value of modern and contemporary works. 

Modern art began in the mid- to- late 19th century and stretched until the late 1960s, while contemporary art encompasses works after this time. These eras of art include movements such as Cubism, Abstract Expressionism, Conceptualism and Minimalism. The art world has been historically elitist and both modern and postmodern art have challenged and examined the confines of what art is. 

When discussing modern art, Jackson Pollock’s name is one that is frequently brought up and he is famous for his chaotic canvases filled with paint drips and splatters. At first glance, it seems like a complete mess. You might think, “My five year old brother could do that.” I think that to fully appreciate the value of his work, we have to consider his process. Pollock poured and dripped different kinds of paint across a canvas on the floor, giving the art vigor. This movement-infused technique makes his work unique, showing the viewer that art is not just the finished work you see in a museum, but also the days of innovative work it took to make it. 

Not only should you consider the techniques of a piece but also its context. Take the 1991 piece “Untitled (Perfect Lovers)” by Félix González- Torres, two identical clocks hanging side by side. It may be mistaken as simply wall decor or a lazy attempt at art. I find this piece to be profound once you consider that it represents lovers eventually dying one at a time in the same way the clocks fall out of sync. This interpretation deepens when you learn that González-Torres’s partner was diagnosed with and eventually died of AIDS in the midst of the epidemic. In this piece, as well as many other modern and postmodern works, the reasoning behind the piece is integral to the viewer’s experience. 

The value of an art piece is entirely dependent on the viewer’s reaction to it. I like to think of it as a transaction between what the art piece provides for the viewer and what the viewer interprets in the piece. If a painting is of an empty chair, the viewer may interpret it as being about feelings of grief. The art never explicitly said what it was about, but the viewer worked with what they were given in order to fully experience the piece. 

Modern and contemporary art specifically make the viewer rely on their interpretation more than what is provided for them to see. Particularly mundane or abstract pieces force the viewer to rethink what their definition of art is. In this way, I think that the inquiries that an artwork can draw out of you are more important than traditional aesthetic appeal. The impression of the art matters as much as the artwork itself. To me, this is the beauty of art: to push boundaries and force us to think. 

So, the next time you write off a modern piece as being overrated or lacking value, stop and reflect on its creation and what it makes you question. You still may not like the piece, but at least it will have succeeded in its goal: introspection. 

Posted by Campus Carrier

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