Is there any hope for modern and contemporary art?

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Is there any hope for modern and contemporary art?

From Fred Ross

Published before 2005

Dear Robert,

[...] I find your letter very intriguing, and it shows that you are asking some of the really important questions, for which I would like to think I have the right answers for you.

I’m afraid to do so properly would take a couple of hours… time which I don’t have just now when there are 1,000 new emails for me each week.


I think our first ARC Salon, and hopefully the second which we will be judging over the next two weeks, has proven that living realists, given the finest technical education (many at ARC Approved ateliers or academy schools), are capable of creating truly original master works about humanity and/or the human condition, which is the main goal of all great art; whether poetry, literature, theatre, or sculpture and painting.

It is in fact the subject or theme, well conceived and composed, that is essential and for which all other parameters of technique must successfully support and harmonize with if current day masterpieces can equal those of the past.

So all your technical comments must be subordinated to this understanding. Humanity’s hopes, dreams, fears,… joy, envy, self awareness, teenage identity, love, hate, boredom, excitement, rejection, war, peace, pride…. etc., etc. These are the subjects of great art. Whether tight and porcelain or loose and painterly, whether plein air or under neon lights in a subway, whether fast and immediate or slow and deliberate, whatever method captures the feelings and ideas and communicates them directly, and succinctly with poetry and grace… it is the finished product that counts and how you get there only matters if you arrive at the right destination.

Sight size and comparative measurement techniques are both OK, but precision of drawing doesn’t mean much if the subject lacks beauty and grace or is devoid of emotional content. Conversely, slight drawing errors… like often I see in Burne-Jones for example… are far less important than the fact that his subjects, themes, and compositions are exquisitely beautiful.

Most modernism, the technique and subject (if there is one) is so awful, ugly, disorganized and self-conscious, that it’s really all one can see. Burne-Jones' errors usually are too small to undermine his work, but all modernism and post-modernism (with the exception of some surrealism), is not art about humanity. It’s not about life at all, but about art itself and expanding the boundaries of what is considered art.

If everything is art, then nothing is art.

Great art is about life… not art about art…. which is not art at all.

They all (the modernists) congratulate themselves on their brilliance for doing things not done before…. but we all can do things not done before… it doesn’t make them worth doing.

If you have not read the ARC Philosophy and my 4 main speeches, please do so as I believe they will answer most if not all of your questions. They’re not that long and I’m told are most entertaining. They are currently read by over 10,000 people per month on the ARC website. Here are the links:

  • The ARC Philosophy
  • Good Art/Bad Art - Pulling Back the Curtain
  • Bouguereau and the "Real" 19th Century
  • ARC Chairman speaks at the Angel Academy of Art
  • Oppressors Accuse their Victims of Oppression: Modernist Tactic Exposed

    I wrote more than I intended to… fortunately, I type quickly.

    Please read those documents and let me hear your thoughts [....] One other quick point:

    All children who like art want to draw realistically and take pride in doing that. They have to be taught to not want to do that.

    But teach them first the goal of expressing themselves.

    Art is a visual language, and real objects are the vocabulary, while composition, drawing, modeling, paint handling, tone, color and perspective are the grammar and rules by which the ideas can be organized and expressed.

    Teach the children that they can express ideas with visual imagery and that they need the technique to accomplish that. Then let them feel enough success and praise while learning to keep them motivated.

    Best wishes,
    Fred Ross

    Art Renewal Center, 100 Markley Street, Port Reading, NJ 07064