Avant-Garde Art: What’S Going On Here?

To the uninitiated, modern art is distressingly ambiguous. “What in the world is this artist trying to say?” There may be no answer to this question. The artist himself may not know what he is “saying.” Or he may feel that whatever is being said is as much up to the viewer as to the artist. Many artists today think that the creative process is as important as the created product. Furthermore, they point out that since art is a social process, the artist can only begin the work; the viewer must finish it, or “get out of it” what he will. Modern art is notable for its lack of closure. (In an excellent article, David Jeffrey argued—from a clearly Christian perspective—that this is true of modern poetry as well; see “Conclusion and the Form of the Personal in Modern Poetry,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, June, 1975, pages 153–163.)

The artist no longer considers himself a prophet, burning with a message for the people. He is rather someone with an unusual sensitivity to life and its experiences. Ideally, everyone ought to be as creative as everyone else, and some modern artists want to encourage this. “I think it would be great,” said Andy Warhol, “if more people took up silk screens so that no one would know whether my picture was mine or somebody else’s.” But of course if one person is as creative as the next, it soon will follow that one object is as much “art” as another—which is exactly what has happened. Consider a random sampling of “subjects” displayed in New York galleries last summer: wall formations of real tree branches, postage stamps of imaginary countries, sculpture of huge feet (the artist’s?), easels and chalkboards with notes for pictures, and simple rope ...

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