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Modernism and the Strangling of the Arts

It has become a truism today that art and artistry constitute some personal experience, individualistic interpretation, or emotional self-expression. And while many pieces of art today are designed to be abstract, the meanings of which are left to the imagination of the viewer, not for one moment should one assume that there is no deeper purpose intended at all. There is most certainly a motive beneath the meaningless nonsense of the modern art form – and it is most diabolical. The fact that the concept of art has taken on such an ambiguous and often ambivalent nature is in itself a tool designed to condition.

The modern trope that art is self-expressionistic and interpretive should be passionately gainsaid and eagerly fought. Modern art is an absurdity and a direct consequence of the modernist dogma of only the past two centuries. Though it is relatively infant, perhaps by now in its adolescence, it contains a poison so potent and obnoxious that it may be one of the most abominable heresies ever to have arisen in the history of mankind. Indeed, this heresy takes direct aim at the Catholic Church and is set on a mission with her complete ruin in mind. As Hilaire Belloc writes, “[t]he enemy which the Faith now has to meet, and which may be called ‘the Modern Attack’, is a wholesale assault upon the fundamentals of the Faith – upon the very existence of the faith” (Belloc, The Great Heresies).

That a thing can be whatever one believes or wishes it to be is the current folly that has misshapen our present-day society. It treats “personal truth” as a fundamental human right and has become an essential part of the modernist’s understanding of reality – or rather, what it should be. It is not just the physical reality of the world, but the reality of God that has been obscured, distorted, even disregarded. As God has been forced out of the hearts of men, so, too, has true beauty been expelled.

The Pietà by Michelangelo.

With the forcible removal of tradition and all that is holy and good, a vacuum has been created, inevitably to be filled. Modernism is the new substitute. Now it has a complete and firm grip, able to work its poison ever deeper.

What of modernism and art? One might ask whether art can be treated on the same plane as an ideology or considered worth the same concern as ideological modernism. After all, artwork, aside from impure works, poses no immediate detriment to the minds of viewers or the salvation of souls and is therefore of little consequence – right? I strongly argue against this, believing that art does play an influential role in society and in our own ideological constitution. Art shapes us. It can shape how we think, how we feel, and even to a large extent what we believe. Artwork can be used to mold minds and change hearts, for better or for worse, and the enemy understands this. Marxist communism, for instance, contains as one of its 45 goals the mission to “continue discrediting American culture by degrading all forms of artistic expression … substituting shapeless, awkward and meaningless forms.”

An abstract painting.

The enemy uses with greatest effect any tool that will most benefit his nefarious plan: to reshape society to his liking. One of the best tools to attain this goal is art, infused with false doctrines and error – namely, modernism. Studies have shown how art has historically been influential in many societies. One study relates how “the visibility of the objects, their social effects, and their distinctiveness (often indicated by the time and effort put into their making) reveal that these objects were intended to have an impact” and how “[a]rt frequently represents social relations. Over time, images are internalised as people absorb cues that guide behaviour and ensure conduct appropriate to a given social setting.”

Art has played and does play a prominent part in shaping our opinions, our thoughts, and our behavior. Modern art has served only to reaffirm the ideals that ideological modernism has so successfully progressed. While these various art forms under the umbrella of “modern art,” such as abstractionism, cubism, surrealism, neo-expressionism, etc., are essentially meaningless in their content, they are nevertheless critically influential in forming our thoughts and opinions.

The human mind is designed with an innate understanding of the beautiful, orderly, and godly. Being made in the image and likeness of God, we are naturally molded to His goodness, and our minds draw toward lofty thoughts and noble ideals. But since we have become so corrupt, much of our base tendencies are a cause of conflict and have obscured man’s true reason and understanding of beauty. As a result, we have today pseudo-art forms that lack any semblance of order and goodness and instead are a perversion, uninspiring and depressing, which can be found in almost every home, café, and art gallery around the world.

These pseudo-art forms are an encroachment on beauty’s fine turf and are wreaking havoc. That is the game plan. Modernism regards anything traditional with contempt, and the arts have suffered the brunt of its wrath. Joan Miro, a famous artist from Barcelona known for his surrealist style, contemptuously sought to uproot traditional art forms and the established ideals attached to them with a kind of revolutionary’s furor and declared an “assassination of painting.” His words – “I begin my work under the effect of shock, which I can sense, and which gets me on the run from reality” – sum up the mentality of not only artists, but all of current society. This is a defiant and arrogant shift from the real world and into a fantasy world with no rules or established order.

Art is a means of expression. Its purpose is to have some meaning. The problem of today consists in exactly what meaning is being expressed, if there is any at all. While we are overrun with monstrous displays of pseudo-artworks that litter so many walls (walls better left bare) and artists who are praised for their bold, unique, and “rebellious” contributions, we must remind ourselves that art is not esoteric. It does not belong to elite groups of modernists. These “contributions” are merely a misappropriation of art. Catholics know that true art belongs ultimately to God because it is good, and we have a duty to repossess the arts in all their forms. It is also important to note that this conflict is not a conflict of creativity; it is mainly and more fundamentally an ideological conflict that has the destruction of souls at stake. We must attack this beast called modernism, then, and assault it on all sides.

Pope St. Pius X, in his encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis, urges Catholics, particularly the religious of the Church, to fight the errors of modernism in all its forms and warns us of its menacing debauchery: “the number of the enemies of the cross of Christ has in these last days increased exceedingly, who are striving, by arts, entirely new and full of subtlety, to destroy the vital energy of the Church, and, if they can, to overthrow utterly Christ’s kingdom itself.” It is not enough just to resist the current. We must vigorously push against it and recover what has been purloined and used as device for destruction.

To see the abhorrent designs of modernists become so pervasive, especially now, with them even in the Church, saddens and angers me, as an artist with a love of painting and sketching. I am sure it is the same for most Catholic artists. This disease has crept into the heart and soul of society and Western culture over a span of just two short centuries.

What is needed now is a sort of Risorgimento of traditional ideals, manifested through the arts, to enliven society’s deadened minds. Satan has gained considerable ground in seducing and capturing souls through modernism and its poisonous fruit. Yet all is not lost. We must fight now and without letup. We need to fight hard, encountering the beast all around. This is done through the creation, propagation, and encouragement of good art, as well as through prayer and acts of mortification to make reparation for all the blasphemous and vulgar monstrosities that have become so widely abundant and accepted.

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