Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Google's Random Honorifics

Yesterday I saw Karen Edmisten's post commemorating Mozart's birthday--and wondering why Google didn't have a logo change in honor of the great composer.

Today, of course, Google's logo commemorates the birthday of abstract artist Jackson Pollock, whose paintings tend to polarize art critics, some of whom see them as deep expressive works of pure emotion, and others of whom tend to think of them as little better than these--or maybe not better, considering what these artists have to work with.

Now, I realize that Google may not have chosen to honor Mozart for many reasons--after all, there are so many notable people of the past whose birthdays pass by each day that Google can't possible feature them all. But I have noticed a tendency by the Internet giant to honor the recent, the modern, the non-Christian or non-Western, while avoiding honoring the ancient and venerable, the traditional, the Christian or Western.

And that's too bad, because without the ancient and venerable and traditional and Christian and Western we wouldn't have much of a civilization, would we?

Consider Norman Rockwell's painting.

As a wise person pointed out, we can see that Norman Rockwell could paint a Pollock--but could Jackson Pollock paint a Rockwell?

By unmooring itself from the artistic traditions of the past, modern art in all its forms sought freedom. Man yearns to be free; it's a powerful desire, and in art this desire led to abstract painting and interpretive dance and modern musical composition and modern drama and all the many other things that self-consciously threw off the perceived shackles of the rules of previous ages.

But it was the discipline of previous ages that led the modern artist to this place of seeking such freedom; modern art was rebellion, and rebellion is always a negative. One must rebel against something; one may not rebel toward something. And so modern art always falls back against itself, exhausted with its own importance, just in time to realize that it has sown the seeds of its own destruction--for without that crucial aspect of rebellion modern art becomes a greater and slicker commercial cliche than all the traditional art against which it ranted for being too conformist.

Worse, as the new forms are so divorced from the tradition of art, there comes a time when the philistine critique of modern art--"anybody can do that!"--becomes quite literally true. Anybody can paint a few stripes of color across a canvas, or even drip layers of paint onto it; and the customer can ask this anybody artist that the stripes or the drips match a mass-produced sofa or compliment a shelf full of kitsch in porcelain or glass.

And Google's honoring of Pollock reinforces the notion that Pollock's importance was as a liberator, a person who made art something that anybody can do. But if that is the purpose of modern art, then its purpose is so small, compared to the great and noble ability of the art of the past to convey universal truth, to uplift and inspire, and to reflect, just a little, that Divinity in Whose image man is made.


Since we're on the topic of art, do have a look at Timothy Jones' art--this page shows some of his paintings, and this link takes you to his Etsy store. The artwork is beautiful! Unfortunately the artist is soon to be out of a job, so if you're looking to buy a painting that is a departure from the chaos of modern art, please consider buying one of these incredible works.

Update: Hatchick's comment, on seeing the Google logo: "That's not art. That's just a mess."



JimmyV said...

This is awesome.

Rebecca said...

Aristotle says that art is an imitation of nature (this includes all artisanship, not just "fine art".) It seems like the old masters looked at their art as such. The modern artists tend to talk about art as "self-expression" and don't see it as necessarily tied to nature at all. What I find interesting is that you tend to get a genuine glimpse at the personality of the old artists in their art, even though this was not their primary purpose. The modern artists, in their quest for self-expression, seem only able to give us masks.

It sort of reminds me of sexual ethics. When you recognize the primary end of sexuality, as being ordered towards procreation, that is when the unitive end is most beautifully fulfilled, whereas if you deliberately try to cut off the procreative end, the unitive end becomes a sham.

Dawn said...

I love this post. I feel a little more cultured just reading it. Thank you! I remember being in high school and noticing for the first time how people can be very busy conforming themselves to non-conformity. I always thought that the rebelling is still a function of/dependent on whatever someone is rebelling against. (Did a bit of my own rebelling, too, though. I'm a similar shade of black as the kettle, I suppose.)

Pauli said...

Good post. Pollock sux.

Maclin said...

Not being a visual-arts-typea-guy at all, I really don't have a strong opinion about Pollock, or a sense of whether or not there's really anything worthwhile there. "It don't do nuthin for me" is about as far as I'll go.

However, I'll go to the wall for the proposition that Mozart is orders of magnitude greater. So I think you're right, Google's honoring of Pollock but not Mozart is at best tragically hip.

Tim J. said...

Wow, thanks for the mention, Red.

We were out of power for several days, so I missed it.

Yeah, Pollock's a hack. But he was a tortured soul and an alcoholic, so that qualifies him as a saint of the modern art world.