Why is Modern Art so Bad? – Brian Holdsworth

Graphic designer Brian Holdsworth explain what’s missing in Modern Art. He’s 100% right.


Brian Holdsworth : As a graphic designer, I’m pretty much expected to be a big advocate of modern art and design. Virtually everyone in my field and industry are. I, on the other hand, struggle to find that same appreciation.

Personally, I’d rather live in the kind of whimsical architectural world of Diagon Alley or Hogwarts as opposed to a modern London and I think there are a lot of people who feel the same way. There’s a reason, other than magic and adventure, that we want to escape into stories like that. We want to inhabit those worlds with their sites and sounds.

The sad part is, our ancestors actually did live in a world like that. And then, the 20th century happened. With the help of a wave of dictators who were some of modernisms most vocal advocates, movements like art nouveau and art deco gave out and we’ve been stuck with modernism ever since.

Now, because I’m so drawn to the artistic accomplishments of previous generations, it shouldn’t surprise you that I try to draw inspiration from it in the application of my own trade but in my experience, doing so often produces work that just feels cheesy and I always struggled to figure out why.

And slowly, I think I’ve come closer to answering that question and in so doing, it helped me realize what was so fundamental to true and good art that modern conventions are severely lacking in.
So let me give you an example of what I mean. I love beautifully designed calligraphy. It’s just so impressive to think that someone could write something out like those illuminated texts of the middle ages.

As a graphic designer in the digital age, I don’t need to be able to pick up a pen or brush to make use of beautiful lettering like that, I can just grab a cool font and be on my way but for some reason, whenever I try to do that, it just doesn’t have the same quality as something that was done from scratch or by hand. So what’s missing?

In asking myself that question as I attempted to use these kinds of elements in my own design work, the answer that came to me is that one of them inspires us and the other does not.

When you watch someone creating a visual like that from hand, you’re witnessing the culmination of what it takes to master something. You’re witnessing human excellence and when you do, it inspires you.

When a graphic designer just types it up using a premade font and then prints it out. You’re not witnessing the same kind of thing. That mark of creative inspiration is missing. Which is why, as a graphic designer, I’ve learned, that in order to use elements like that and have the kind of impact I want, I have to signal to my audience that I did more with it than just type it up and space it out. I have to do something creative with it in order to get the kind of reaction I want… the kind of reaction we have when we see good art.

And that, for me, is the key thing that’s missing from a lot of modern art. How often have you seen a modern art exhibit and said or had someone say to you, “What’s so great about that. I could do that?”

What they’re, in effect, saying is, that doesn’t inspire me. Show me something that I couldn’t do.

If you walked into a place like the Sistine Chapel and looked up at Michelangelo’s masterpiece, you would never hear someone say something like, “Meh, I could do that.” Instead, we stare until our necks hurt wondering how another human being, a creature with the same starting point as you and me, could become so great at something that they could produce something like that. It draws us out of ourselves and the limits we place on ourselves and it makes us wonder. It inspires us.

That sense of inspiration is the key ingredient that I think is missing from the philosophy that underpins modernism and the artistic movements that it inspired. The key ingredient that modernism and post modernism seem to emphasize is self expression. Which basically makes anything art, and nothing art. It means that all of those American Idol rejects who gave it their all where actually brilliant artists and not the comic relief that they were treated as because who among us can doubt the sincerity of their self expression.

True art should impress us, it should amaze us, and it should inspire us. It should make us wonder how it was possible for another human being, made of the same ingredients as me, to do something so incredible and then it should motivate me to want to realize that if I combine the same kinds of choices they did, maybe I can do something amazing too.

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