Pat Lipsky’s Students—Modernism 2020

MODERNISM, BEAUTY, AESTHETIC EXPERIENCE — These concepts are very much alive with my students. Fourteen of them chose to submit their art for this online exhibition. The students have worked with me for various amounts of time, from years to months. One journeyed from Germany every summer to attend.

All of the pictures exhibited are modernist. Which means they celebrate the elements of painting: flatness, color, shape, and medium. There was, in fact, never any reason to believe modernism in painting and sculpture had ended; “was dead” as some of the art world claimed. (People have spoken of the death of modernism for sixty years.) In this scenario it was supplanted by postmodernism. What’s amusing is that unlike modernism, postmodernism is hard to pin down. So many things thrown into the pile; from pop to performance, from conceptual art to political art. Initially championed by that showman Andy Warhol, it was questionable to begin with.

At the same time a few holdout art critics and artists, myself included, believed postmodernism was just another name for bad art. Everything that failed as art-qua-art fell into that category. Following postmodernism meant breaking with the seven-hundred-year tradition of painting and sculpture, as well as eliminating standards. Coming at the tail end of abstract expressionism, which embraced modernism, pop art, with its insider jokes and puns, couldn’t compete.

All great art has the element of surprise built into it. And it is this which continues to delight the eye. With shock value, once you get the inside joke, it’s over. How could a comic book image by Roy Lichtenstein compete with the majesty of Jackson Pollock’s best pictures — for example, Autumn Rhythm? There is still now more to do and discover in modernism.

It’s been wonderful teaching painting students at The League about color, space, and feeling in painting. Concerns which are opposite what many art students are learning elsewhere. As the writer and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips recently wrote, “For the artist the contemporary question has become, ‘how can I make myself worth investing in?’”