‘We Have Turned Our Backs on Beauty And Now We Are Surrounded by Ugliness’
How a group of German Marxists infiltrated the high institutions of the West, and altered the fine arts and our perception of aesthetics
It was in the midst of summer when my friend and I, two 18-year-old girls, decided to spend the day in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Walking from one modern painting to another, we were excited to find works of art that we knew and studied. Sitting to rest in the last hall, we noticed a painting – it was all completely painted black, framed in a black frame. The title read: ‘Ad Reinhardt, An Abstract painting’. My friend then said: “Come on, what is that?! Are they kidding?”
Suddenly, a woman stood by us, asking in a serious tone: “Why are you laughing at the painting?”
“Because it’s just fully painted in black,” I answered with a smile.
“You laugh because you don’t understand it,” she said, and the two of us wiped our smiles away.
“Okay, then what do you understand from this painting?” we asked her.
“Art should be observed,” she said. “Look at the painting and tell me what you see.”
We looked at the painting, in the way we were taught to do, in art class. We described what we saw: “The painting is black,” we said. “Look closer,” she encouraged us. I looked closer and suddenly saw it. “There isn’t one bit of light,” I said. “There aren’t even brush strokes and the rectangle is perfectly smooth.”
All of a sudden, I felt a great discomfort. “This blackness is very disturbing,” I told her, and she just smiled and walked away.
“At any time between 1750 and 1930, if you had asked educated people to describe the aim of poetry, art or music, they would have replied: beauty. And if you had asked the point of that, you would’ve learned that beauty is a value, as important as truth and goodness." - Roger Scruton
That was a defining moment for me. I felt I suddenly understood what the artist meant and I am entering a different, separate world, which only special people deserve to touch. I looked around the hall, and there was another ‘masterpiece’ – a heap of cubic objects on the floor, and paintings that seemed to me at the time as silly as kids’ doodles. I said to myself: I want to understand this world.
Ad Reinhardt, An abstract painting Picture credit: The Israel Museum Jerusalem by Elie Posner
Several years have passed and I found myself in a university in Paris, completing my master’s degree, with expertise in modern art. I began painting provocative works, similar to those I saw in the museum, creating installation art, and reading everything I could – from classic philosophers to writings about art, and postmodern culture: Guy Debord, Jean Baudrillard, Merleau-Ponty, Walter Benjamin and others. I loved that world.
"Then in the 20th century, beauty stopped being important. Art increasingly aimed to disturb and to break moral taboos. It was not beauty but originality, however achieved, and at whatever moral cost, that won the prizes. … But our world has turned its back on beauty, and because of that, we find ourselves surrounded by ugliness.” - Roger Scruton
My identity crisis began as I finished my studies, had some free time, and visited the Louvre often. Due to the nature of my studies, until that time, I saw mostly modern exhibitions, but now that I sat alone in the Louvre, I took my time to observe the classical arts of Poussin, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo's statues. Then something happened to me.
“The Virgin and Child with St. Anne”, by Leonardo da Vinci, at the Louvre Credit: Wikipedia