Adventures in Culture

On this particular Saturday afternoon I found myself in that awkward combination of boredom and stir-crazy, where I simply must get out of the apartment but have no real idea to what ends. After a brief subway detour around my old haunts in Brooklyn Heights (where I was honored to spend $9 on a “gourmet” fast-food hamburger) I found my way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Now, I hadn’t been to the Met in some years. If I feel in the mood for a museum, I usually go to the Museum of Modern Art, which never fails to inspire me while simultaneously making me question what the hell some artists are smoking. But the Met’s cavernous size meant that it might be good to get lost in, so I paid my $20 and got the little metal “M” lapel pin.

I honestly can’t remember the last time I ever felt so bored by art. I came to an important realization, as I walked through the halls adorned by centuries old paintings and sculptures: I don’t really give a shit about most artistic time periods.

The REALLY old stuff from truly ancient civilizations is fascinating to a point… But let’s face it. You’ve seen one clumsily-scribbled upon clay pot from 5000 B.C. and you’ve pretty much seen ’em all. Whether they’re from China, from Greece or from Egypt they all pretty much look the same. The statues are interesting from a “look at how talented they were back then” point of view, but one quickly tires of those as they begin to blend together in the mind as well. There is nothing here to relate to, to identify with, or to learn beyond what we were taught in grade school. Nothing until the last few hundred years, and often the most interesting things have been said in the last 50.

Now, you might be saying, “but Justin! It’s all about the culture! The thousands of years of humanity! Isn’t it interesting to imagine how people lived back then?” Well, frankly… no. We already know what people did back in the middle ages, and it was mostly trudge around in muddy, shit-strewn streets, eat bad food, get sick and die. In between, they prayed a lot, self-flagellated because the church told them to, and that was pretty much that. There’s no great romanticism about it — they were miserable, dirty people. I have trouble watching any remotely accurate film about those days because people are so filthy and live in such a state of self-delusion that I quickly tune out. These people have nothing to teach me, other than what it’s like to shit out a kidney.

So as I walked the halls of the Met, being stared at by fat naked women that more closely resemble giant throw-pillows than anything human, pointing at some magical event from the bible recreated, I began to wonder… what, if anything, does any of this art actually say about us? About humanity? If those halls are to be believed, vast stretches of art history serve no other purpose other than to either illustrate the bible (or, in the East, some other religion), or get a paycheck for painting soulless work-for-hire portraits of the rich and the royal, with ne’er a hint of irony or cheer or anything other than cold dead seriousness. Moments of joy, humor, and humanity in general — the whole purpose behind all the art that I love — don’t even seem to come along until the late 1700s.

Gee, does this mean we’ve actually advanced as a race?

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2 responses to “Adventures in Culture

  1. There is irony, humor, and humanity in old and ancient artwork (well not caveman stuff probably, but others).. you just have to know where to look and in what context. This is where we differ I suppose- I prefer the simpler art of old as to me it seemed more real than the pretension now associated with “ART” in modern times. The initial discoveries Greek sculptors had in how to accurately portray life in a human figure is much more honest than some asshole selling literal cans of his own shit with some smug sense of irony or intellectual superiority, or more comprehensible than a vending machine that dispenses pubes and menstrual blood. But that’s just me I guess…

  2. I share your abhorrence of much modern art; there’s a lot of indescribably terrible chaff, and MoMA does a pretty good job of sifting through it. Occasionally I do get to something very, very silly — whole sections, even — which I tune out.

    You’re right in that I have limited ability to appreciate the craft of art, as well. In all fairness, I was probably in a bad mood. I’ve appreciated the Met before, and had in previous encounters taken the time to learn context and its more approachable points. But this was the rant in my head, and I wanted to vent.

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