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22 May 2014

Geeks and nerd vs. modern art. WTF? [More:]So, I'm reading this article over at Ars Technica about this cool approach to "restoring" a Rothko mural at MIT. Sounds like an interesting technical solution. All well and good.

But, then I read the comments, and despair.

The massive brick wall against, and open hostility and dismissal of, modern art is really ugly. And, sadly, this seems to be a pretty common attitude in the geek/nerd world.

I used to work in a tech company, and encountered this hostility quite regularly, and it really confused me that a seemingly otherwise intelligent and well-educated group should have an almost institutional hatred toward modern art. It almost come across as an attitude of "If I don't immediately understand it, it's not worthy of my attention".

It's just weird to me how prevalent this attitude seems to be. Has anyone else dealt with or witnessed this? I get that modern art can often be challenging, but for a group that seems to live for challenges, the refusal to even try to understand art is really striking.

Plus, the art in question is a Rothko. I mean, cmaon...Even if you don't "get" it, they're damned pretty to look at.
Whoooee. Takes me back to my Aesthetics class: "What is art, and what is good art?"

There's some I get and some I don't. I went walking with my SIL in San Francisco a few years back and we just went in and out of galleries looking at installations. Some of it was great, others not so great.

My criteria is indeed how well I can understand it from itself. If I don't grok it without explanation, I'll try the explanation. If it's not in regular english or close, my eyes glaze over and I'm not really motivated to make the effort to understand it.

posted by lysdexic 22 May | 10:37
Personally, I stay far away from artist's statements and all the critical writing, because I, too, glaze-over from it. I simply experience the art on my own terms and "understand" it in my own way. I don't, however, immediately slag the art as being worthless the way a lot of those people in the Ars thread do. It's really perplexing just how severe the hate and knee-jerk dismissal is from a group that, on the whole, tends to enjoy a reputation as being smart and intellectually curious.
posted by Thorzdad 22 May | 12:48
Has anyone else dealt with or witnessed this? ]

Oh yeah....bread & butter. If only our initial impulse wasn't condemnation.
posted by Miko 22 May | 22:02
There's a prevalent attitude that "Art is whatever you want it to be" and there are no standards or criteria, both from the people who "don't believe in science" to the people who don't believe there is any worth to anything non-quantifiable.

This might be a US nerd problem as well as a "I only know this narrow avenue of my expertise and nothing else matters" problem and it seems really wrapped up in someone's baggage about being judged and excluded. Some people who feel they've been rejected by some group criteria end up rigidly conservative about their own. It seems to go along with a lot of sexism and racism as well, with so much being wrapped up in being "smart" that they don't grow much.

I was just thinking of this big cs geek guy I use to know and how much he was like this 11 yr old who I use to live near who had decided she only liked two cheese and all other cheeses were crap, being maybe two other cheeses, none of these cheese being non-processed I'm betting.

Imagine a world were there was only powdered "Parmesan" and "American" cheese. Imagine a world dictated by the taste of an 11 yr old or 14 yr old. Talk about nightmare.
posted by ethylene 23 May | 06:18
Well put.

I don't know if you have to understand, or "get," all art. Sometimes it's the puzzling, alienating works that stay with you and bring some sort of meaningful experience to you. Or not - it's really OK to be left personally unmoved by a piece. Not everything is for everyone, any more than everyone needs to love Doritos or pate. Also, not all art can really be translated into a verbal statement or crystallize into a clear meaning. It might not 'mean' anything, in the grand sense. But it can bring you an experience.

Artist statements/museum labels can suck, or they can offer some enlightenment. Where I work we spend an insane amount of time trying to write labels that are interesting and useful. It's very difficult - like writing ad copy.

As far as geeks and nerds: yeah, I get the sense there is a degree of discomfort with the ambiguity and the emotional/experiential nature of art viewing. That combines a bit with a general anti-elite sensibility that sees any discussion of art, especially less approachable art, as fundamentally hostile. The dismissive attitude is unconvincing, as it seems largely emotional and identity-driven.

I think it's totally reasonable for people to say "I experience a lot of the rhetoric around art as not inclusive; I sometimes don't know how I'm supposed to react to art; I don't know a lot about this particular kind of art; I'm unsure about why people care so much about art and spend so much money on it; [and/or] I don't particularly like this kind/genre of art or this artist" -- all totally reasonable, honest responses. But the kinds of dismissal you see in that thread ("masturbatory exercise," "everything my son did between 3 and 6") seem to me to reveal an inability to recognize, name, and speak straightforwardly about their feelings, and an urgency to locate that feeling anywhere outside themselves.
posted by Miko 23 May | 07:52
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