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What makes art disquieting?

Updated: Dec 10, 2018

Gábor Dilinkó, Heads

By its very nature, the language of art, like that of music, is international. Yet we often meet incomprehension in art. Illiteracy comes to one’s mind as the easiest explanation of our incomprehension, suggesting the existence of a gap between the public and artists.

Against this prejudice, Leo Steinberg reminded us some time ago[1] that the first and loudest critiques of truly new and original art are the artists themselves. This is – as he explains – because artists are most engaged and therefore most sensitive to the understanding of the values a truly new and original movement rejects compared to their contemporaries.

Our incomprehension therefore seems to stem from anxiety about the values we praise and that seem to be challenged by something new and powerful. Outrage at another artists’ work did not avoid such big names as Paul Signac and Matisse.

[1] “Contemporary Art and the Plight of its Public” Harper’s Magazine, March 1962.

Reprinted in Other Criteria: Confrontations with Twentieth-Century Art, New York: Oxford University Press, 1972.

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