Magazine article Insight on the News

An Appreciation of Fine Art

Magazine article Insight on the News

An Appreciation of Fine Art

Article excerpt

Conservatives grieve for our culture of decadence, our culture of death. We blame the rock and rap lyrics for images of violence and sexuality, the movies that turn murder into robotic massacres and sex into an athletic contest, the TV shows that bring obscenity into our family rooms and the Internet, where pornography is only a password away.

Such arguments engage us easily. We've rediscovered outrage. Thank you, Bill Bennett.

But we're less thoughtful and insightful when it comes to higher culture, finding it difficult to discriminate between what's good and bad in the fine arts. It's easier to make fun of an abstract painting by Jackson Pollack with the phrase "my 3-year-old could have done that," although that's untrue and uninformed. It's understandable how a huge sculpture of painted sheet metal by Alexander Calder is intimidating. So we ask sarcastically, "What's that supposed to mean?" But that's the wrong question. As Calder himself would tell you, "I want to make things that are fun to look at, that have no propaganda value whatsoever."

Fine art in the 20th century has been hard on cultural conservatives who crave the realism that grows out of traditional art, but that's no reason to lump it all together as irrelevant or awful (although a lot of it is mediocre and some of it is awful). It's especially important to help our children make creative distinctions in fine art and to inspire them to do something better if they can.

Those were my thoughts at the new National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, just opened on The Mall in the nation's capital. Its presence offers the opportunity for all of us to sift through what contemporary artists are doing and what our museums are collecting and why.

It has been a well-kept secret that Washington has become almost as much an art town as a political town. The new sculpture garden actually was designed as a garden 200 years ago, though the original designers could not have foreseen the kind of sculpture that is placed there today.

The new garden, with its 17 huge pieces of sculpture from this century, includes several challenging shapes and forms but in its totality more resembles the design for a miniature-golf course than a museum-quality sculpture garden. A tourist interested in something more uplifting than flea-market sculpture would do better to visit the Hirshhorn sculpture garden a short walk away.

Though not all of the sculpture in the new garden is bad, most of it is mediocre and rarely uplifting. …

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