Destruction of Meaning

A problem arises from claiming that everything is art. When people see that canvass with a single colored line drawn down the middle, they'll question what it is. Art is not any old thing put on a pedestal. Art has meaning. It recreates reality, so it is recognizable. It expresses what the artist believes is important. It expresses his metaphysical value-judgment. It is important because it expresses something.

Today's "art" does not express anything. It is not a recreation of reality. It is unrecognizable and pointless. To obscure these facts, the new "artists" must change the definition of 'meaning'. They do this in two ways.

The first method by which the new "artists" attempt to destroy meaning is by adopting and promoting an irrational epistemology. They attempt to subvert reason by promoting emotions as the method of gaining knowledge. "Art" is claimed to directly stimulate emotions bypassing one's mind. This is why it is not surprising to hear the phrase "I can just feel the colors on this painting"1 in a modern art museum. It is claimed that art has no cognitive role.

The second method by which they attempt to destroy meaning is by applying it to a different aspect of art. When it is said that art has meaning, its proper sense is that the work of art directly expresses a meaning. The content itself has meaning, and is directly perceivable. A statue, for instance, can show man a heroic and healthy, or cowardly and sickly. The meaning can be grasped by just observing the statue and recognizing the features that are being expressed.

The new "artists" apply meaning in a different way. They describe the alleged meaning of why the "artist" created it. They try to attach a "meaning" that is not expressed by the work. They might say an all-black canvass shows a resentment for life. Or maybe they'll claim it shows fear of being too intimate. Regardless, they attempt to obfuscate the fact that their work has no objective meaning. They try to attach a "meaning" to the "art", invalidating the idea that art really must express something if it is art.

( 1 ) - An unidentified docent at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art


Copyright 2001 by Jeff Landauer and Joseph Rowlands