For instance, when discussing Jackson Pollock's No. 3, Tiger, she anticipates the 13 yr. old to ask, "Is the painting really supposed to mean something?" This I think to be a perfectly sensible question. Her response:
At the time when Pollock was working, around World War II, the painting styles then current no longer had any meaning for him. Nothing would have been able to give the feeling of disarray, collapse, with the kind of force he wanted to convey. He couldn't paint actual things breaking down and disappearing because he felt lost in a world where he could no longer recognize anything. But he kept on searching. The painting does not represent ruins: it actually is chaos itself. Everything seems thrown into confusion, lifted here, there, everywhere, without any respite, by the inexhaustible energy of the painting.Okay, fair enough. But wouldn't a 13 yr old ask Why? Why didn't the current styles hold any meaning for him? Why couldn't he paint things breaking down? Why did he feel lost? Why couldn't he recognize anything? (And what does that mean, exactly?) What did he "[keep] on searching" for? Did he find it?
Instead of answering these questions-- or "anticipating" them-- the page is left blank. Our author moves on to Yves Klein's Untitled Blue Monochrome, an equally enigmatic piece, though in its simplicity rather than its complexity (it is just a solid blue rectangle), and leaves Pollock alone. This lack of explanation has come to characterize for me the language of modernity (and of its over-used progeny, post-modernism). Everyone is disillusioned, thrown into chaos, unstable, etc. etc., though no one in any of my English classes (the source of most of my encounters with both movements) has told me why. I can understand someone who has endured the horrors of a World War (as Pollock had) could become bleak in their outlook toward humanity's future, but often no explanation is given for this notion of the world, which turns the very concept into an abstraction itself. I was once told that the reason TS Eliot wrote The Wasteland was because he was "disillusioned with the growth of cities, and with city life in general" because there were so many people and none of them knew one another. No more was said about it, though we spent a great deal of time discussing how Eliot masterfully plays with form, language, and symbolism to drive home this idea of "disillusionment." And I am left to wonder about this characterization of an age. Did everyone feel this way? Did hearing German spoken in a London cafe really have such a profound effect on people? Does it today?
I know the world is complex. I know it is depressing. I know we have (oftentimes severe) issues and problems. I know nuclear holocaust is possible. It has been a reality since the day I entered the earth from the warmth of my mother's womb. But I must ask: Am I disillusioned because I don't understand disillusionment? I know it comes across as being uncultured to admit that one doesn't "get it," but I'm truly curious. I appreciate modern art, I enjoyed Ms. Barbe-Gall's book, and I think The Wasteland is a work of pure brilliance. But sometimes my mind goes on tangents like this one...