I’m exploring the other side…

Why Art Became Ugly June 2010 Stephen Hicks

Stephen Hicks is a professor of philosophy at Rockford College in Illinois. He is the author of Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault (Scholargy Publishing, 2004). This article apppeared in the September 2004 issue ofNavigator magazine, and is based on lectures given at the Foundation for the Advancement of Art’s “Innovation, Substance, Vision” conference in New York (October 2003) and the Rockford College Philosophy Club’s “The Future of Art” panel (April 2004).

This was an interesting read. A polemic, as expected, but the paragraph below, was weird, especially as the article was written after the Global Financial Crisis, caused by the deregulation of the banking system in an aggressive capitalist economy.

“We are brutally aware of the horrible disasters of National Socialism and international Communism, and art has a role in keeping us aware of them. But we would never know from the world of art the equally important fact that those battles were won and brutality was defeated.”


The argument propounded is that Modernism died in the 1970’s due to staleness.

The argument goes that Modernism’s “scepticism and irrationalism” and quest for truth replaced art’s goals of beauty and originality executed by a “skilled master of his craft”. (So only High Art created by men.)

Hicks says that Modernism was about the truth that life was ugly and horrible. (Didn’t Malthus say that in 1798?) He says that, yes, traditional artists

“had believed the world to be ugly and horrible—but they had used the traditional realistic forms of perspective and color to say this. The innovation of the early modernists was to assert that form must match content. Art should not use the traditional realistic forms of perspective and color because those forms presuppose an orderly, integrated, and knowable reality.”


What follows is an interesting summary of modern art evolving so that form and content follow subject matter, reductionism “to eliminate the third dimension, composition, color, perceptual content, and the sense of the art object as something special.”

Malevich’s White on White gets a look in.

Post modernism

Hicks says post modernism reintroduced content but only if it was:

  1. Ironic and self-reverential. (Whoops, sorry Churchie Art Prize). It also
  2. Deconstructed traditional categories eg mix styles to destroy “stylistic integrity”. Hicks says post modernists
  3. Only allow content statements to be made about social reality and not natural or objective reality. ( Not sure if I can follow the author here, I suppose he thinks everything is seen from the personal perspective. He doesn’t like this.)
  4. Lastly post modernism is about ruthless nihilism.

The view from 2016, the hottest year on record, is that Hicks is shooting the messenger. He wants art to stop being negative.

He ends

“The point is not to return to the 1800s or to turn art into the making of pretty postcards. The point is about being a human being who looks at the world afresh. In each generation there are only a few who do that at the highest level. That is always the challenge of art and its highest calling.

The world of postmodern art is a run-down hall of mirrors reflecting tiredly some innovations introduced a century ago. It is time to move on.”



Hicks,S. (15.06.2010) Why Art Became Ugly. The Atlas Society, Retrieved from  http://atlassociety.org/students/students-blog/3671-why-art-became-ugly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *