Bang or whimper

Ed. Anyone who has ever seen the Pompidou Center, or wonders about the chaos of so much modern architecture, will appreciate this essay.

The New Criterion Theodore Dalrymple

Not having seen every building in the world, I cannot positively assert that the Centre Pompidou in the Place Beaubourg in Paris is the worst, but I should be surprised if anyone were able to point to a building that was very much worse.

If Jack the Ripper had been an architect, the Centre Pompidou is what he would have built: for he preferred his entrails out rather than in. The savage, gory mess that is the Centre Pompidou would have pleased him no end; perhaps he would even have obtained a sexual thrill from contemplating all the eviscerated intestinal pipes that writhe so uselessly around the inelegant core of the building.

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17 thoughts on “Bang or whimper

  1. Oh my, what next…Mr. Blackwell’s worst-dressed list? Well, I’m not always so much a fan of modern design myself, but one thing I like about the Pompidou Centre is that it looks much more beautiful on the inside than the outside. That seems to be the intention. From the outside, it looks like something under construction, like a building surrounded by scaffolding. On the inside, its much more elegant in form. In my opinion, its sort of like a tribute to inner beauty, which is an interesting thing to reflect upon, a reminder that we can’t always make judgements on outward appearances.

  2. Larry S. Could this point be made without creating public ugliness?

    It is a nice little Hallmark moment to reflect on inner beauty vs. outer beauty. but, as is usual with these things, the architect was given public money to build this structure. The exterior of the structure has a huge visual impact on the surroundings and the city. Millions of times a day somebody has to look at that eyesore and have his/her day depressed. It is just a flicker of time but it reoccurs over and over and over to millions of people. Pychologists will tell you about the impact of repetition on one’s frame of mind.

    In support of my point, think of the time and trouble people go to be surrounded by beauty. Have you been to Rocky Mountian National Park? or Bamff in Canada? People go there to be refreshed intellectually and spiritually. I am sure everybody has their favority spot of natural beauty.

    Modern artists have agendas. Paul Johnson has spoken about this in more detail and with greater erudition than I can muster, but, the agenda is nihilism. The Pompidou Center is a rejection of the aesthetic of Notre Dame, an express rejection. Modern art has become a tool of politics and it is a driving force towards nihilism.

  3. Note 2: Architecture can be a funny thing. The Eiffel tower was heavily criticized when it was built in the 1880’s as being an abomination and an eyesore. Now its a much loved and heavily-guarded national treasure. The same was also true of the World Trade Centers.

    Personally, I find much gothic-style Catholic architecture to be disturbing. To me, a lot of those church buildings look more like devious places of torture rather than places of worship…but of course, my preference is for the simple lines and graceful curves of traditional Orthodox architecture, some for very nice pictures of which Fr. Hans has posted on this site.

  4. Note 4,Larry S., Twin Towers, Eiffel Tower and the “artistic elite”

    First, let us return to the excellent article that was posted by Fr. Jacobse.
    The premise of the article is that not only has art degenerated into nonsense, it has taken a malevolent turn into the promotion of anarchy, faithlessness and nihilism.

    In support of this position, please note how the “curators” of the museum labled their collection.

    There are eight main divisions—Destruction, Construction/Deconstruction, Archaism, Sex, War, Subversion, Melancholy, and Re-enchantment—and forty-four subdivisions, with such categories as Monochrome (all objects black) and White (all objects white). The division Sex is subdivided into Sacrilege, Voyeurism, Prostitute, Obscenity, Transgression, and The Bride—the last the object of heavy, anti-bourgeois irony, of course. Not much room there for love or tenderness, you may have noticed.

    There it is for you in black and white. Need I say more? There is nothing here to inspire people, quite the contrary, exposure to these exhibits undermines any sense of optimism or faith in anything.

    As to the Eiffel Tower and the Twin Towersm their cases can be distinguished. The Twin Towers were disliked at the onset by the architectural elite because of their aggressive American optimism. The Twin Towers displayed that wonderful, unworried American optimism that allowed us to civilize the West and put a man on the moon. Before one can do something BIG one has to think BIG. Americans, typically have thought big, taken risks and many times succeeded. We are the successors of those who had the nerve to come to the New Country, the timid ones stayed back in Europe.

    Similarly, there is nothing nihilisitic about the Eiffel Tower. Even the idea of a “Tower” is a form of optimism. Towers are built by people who love life and who are proud of their city or proud of their civilization because they wan’t people to be able to view it all of a piece.

    Architecture has its own little “snob scale” as to what is favored by the architectural elite at any given time. The favored style of the architectural elite changes from time to time, it doesn’t mean much. Above all the architectural elite seeks to distinguish its from hol polloi and rejects anything that the bulk of the population embraces. Note, Michaelangelo did not reject that which the bulk of the population embraces, he merely created transcedent art.

    No, Larry, this isn’t simply a matter of changing opinions of the artistic elite, this is proof positive of nihilism. One meaning of nihilism is a spiritual giving up to nothingness, to death. Nihilism is the opposite of the impulse that builds a civilization and that affirms life.

    Europe is committing cultural suicide before our eyes and it is a sad thing to see.

  5. Destructive Force of an Established Artistic Elite

    In the middle ages, fine artists were just a subvariety of artisans. Painters and sculptors offered their services to the public along with goldsmiths, jewelers, makers of fine cloth and others. Most of the time, artisans sold their wares to the aristocracy or perhaps the clergy. In order to make a living they had to create something their customers wanted.

    In the 20th century, we adopted the disastrous idea that artists should hold a FEUDAL position in society, that is, they should be granted the “status” of artists and then left to direct their own activity. Artists, then, live above the rest of the population which has to please somebody to make a living. They are accountable to no one. Artists are now funded by a population and not required to please anyone. They have descended into anarchy and nihilism for the most part. No artist who works in representational art can get tenure in an art department in any University today.

    Artists who please their customers are subjected to intense abuse by the artistic elite. Case in point, Thomas Kincaide, the painter who paints paintings people want to buy and put in their homes. He is a millionaire because he is meeting a need, but he is a pariah in the art department because he paints traditional scenes that sure the beauty of nature and the warmth of a home.

  6. Father Hans and Missourian –

    An educated elite is a group of humans whose minds have been twisted via the educational process so as to make simple, objective judgments impossible. The ‘educated elite’ fail to grasp what even the most simple human can via plain sensory perception. They are trained to be stupid.

    I’ll give you a case in point. My wife and I were using a book, “The 100 Greatest Works of Art” to help with a homeschooling lesson. It starts in the late antiquity and extends up to modernity. We began our lessons with Roman art, and proceeded up to the 19th Century with the Impressionists.

    We then stopped at modernism. My son tapped the book during the final lesson and said, “What’s next?”

    I said, “We don’t plan to review the next section.”

    “Can I look at it?” he asked.

    I said sure. After looking at black canvasses full of twisted figures, my son looked at me and said, “How can it be art if it’s so ugly? This is awful!”

    Out of the mouths of babes. 4 years at a fancy art college, and my son would probably return home to inform me the same ‘ugliness’ that was so apparent to him at a young age was now “enlightened commentary” on some social issue or another.

    Fortunately for him, the educrats won’t get their crack at him, if I can help it.

  7. Interesting comments…I can remember as a child being rather frightened by gothic-style cathedrals, and even now, I still find them spooky. As for modern art, sure, without a doubt, there is a lot of it that I would find frightening, ugly, or just plain un-interesting. Going back to the Pompidou Centre, though, a lot of children do seem to like the building, or are drawn to it somehow. Some of the art inside may not be child-friendly, but the building itself seems to be.

    Mr. Dalrymple’s analysis just isn’t very convincing. He comes across sounding like one of those educated, artistic elite who has discovered a new way of looking at things, and relishes in talking about it. I’m not convinced that he doesn’t actually like the building. Rather, he seems to take a perverse pleasure in talking about the “savage gory mess.” This is why I made the allusion to Mr. Blackwell’s worst-dressed list.

  8. The whys of art
    by Robert Conquest

    The troubles that beset the arts, though perhaps less amenable to diagnosis than those besetting the political and social order, may be thought relevant to the whole question of civilization. And their particular phenomena often seem to be melded with the attitudes one finds in those other fields.

    Changes in art and cultural history have never been easy to assimilate to political or economic changes. But perhaps we have enough evidence to show that particular sub-ideologies, combined with or supported by a bureaucratic upsurge, have caused, or been associated with, what appear to be downhill trends. Different generations naturally engender different styles. No harm in that. Still, it can be argued that some fashions in the field are less troublesome than others.

    In an analysis of this sort, one cannot exclude subjectivity. (And Wordsworth warned us against the “hope of reasoning [one] into approbation”). When a writer finds spokesmen of a new generation not susceptible to his or others’ earlier work, several notions may occur to him. First, that tastes change. Francis T. Palgrave wrote, editing the second Golden Treasury, “nothing, it need scarcely to be said, is harder than to form an estimate, even remotely accurate, of one’s own contemporary poets.” So, to judge art and culture is indeed, in part, to make a more subjective assessment of the aesthetics, which is of taste. And if one asserts that a current trend or current trends are negative, one is, of course, open to the retort that, in various epochs, changes of taste have emerged deplored by the representatives of earlier trends but later seen as having their own value. True, but it is equally true that some striking and popular new art has soon proved no more than a regrettable and temporary fad—as with the once universally acclaimed Ossian or the German poet Friedrich Klopstock.

    Moreover, our cultural people, in the sense of producers of the arts defined as creative, are now in a strong and unprecedented relationship with the bureaucratic or establishmentarian world discussed earlier. (This is, paradoxically, at a time when many of these cultural people have entered a period of what one might call ostentatious transgressiveness, something on which indeed both they and their state, official, and academic sponsors pride themselves.) Of course, there is no reason to think that sections of the intelligentsia are any sounder on the arts than they are on politics or history. And, here again, they, as a phenomenon, form a far larger social stratum than at any time in the past. It might be argued that, as with the personnel of the state apparatus proper, there is now such a superfluity of the artistically and literary “educated” class that their very number is part of the means of coping with, and employing part of, the product.

    There comes to a point, hard to define specifically but more or less obvious, when a regrettable general impression is unarguably convincing—well, not “unarguably,” yet beyond serious debate. Still, an organism, or a polity, may present faults seen as lethal that are in practice comfortably contained and do not require therapy. Nor would one want there to be any implied use of power from outside institutions or individuals.


  9. Note 10, Larry S. ignoring what printed in black and white.

    Larry, we pointed you to the description of the various departments within the museum. All of the terms used there were negative–including war, destruction, melanchoy. These speak for themselves.

    The art that a culture produces is generally seen to represent the essence of the civilization, its spirit. The classical Greeks are forever associated with the glories of their sculpture and architecture. The Italian renaissannce with its outpouring of painting, architecture and sculpture. Moghul India is commemorated by the Taj Mahal. Modern France has chosen to represent itself with the Pompidou Center, this is not an accident, it is a reflection of a cutlure without an anchor, without self-confidence.

    One has to have lost touch with common human psychology in order to fail to notice a difference between art which is an expression of the life force and art which is an expression of nihilistic boredom and despair.

    Again, Larry, the “art” that you see in the Pompidou Center could only have been produced by state funded, unaccountable “artists.” Artists who have to please an audience do not produce what you see there. The official world of art has become intensely politicized, and works of “art” are judged on their political and cultural statements, not on artistic value.

    There is an objective difference between the Pieta and the junk at the Pompidou.

    If you are uncomfortable in a Gothic Church, there are many other styles of church building that exist. The Orthodox have developed a broad range of styles of church architecture which differ from the European Gothic. American Protestants have further developed other forms of Church architecture.

    Can you name a church in which you were comfortable?

  10. Glen, good job

    Glen I admire the dedication of you and your wife in your home schooling efforts. It must take a great deal of time, but, it is certainly worth it.

    My sister-in-law and her husband are paying through the nose to send their boy to a private school. The curriculum is “old-fashioned” with a heavy emphasis on essentials skills such as reading, grammar and math (surprise, surprise.) My nephew is 13 and he is reading Dickens as part of a study of the history of Britain. He is doing well in algebra and discrete logic (the branch of mathematics used by computers to solve mathematical problems) The kids were a simple uniform and no disruptive behavior is tolerated. PERIOD.

    There are no touchy-feely assignments such as making collages in history class. There is reading and paper writing. There are no political harangues from Leftoid (or for that matter Rightoid teachers.) There is no sex education sponsored by Planned Parenthood

    The school is considered very up-scale but when I visit it strikes me as exactly the same as the public school that I attended in a small Wisconsin town in the 1950’s.

    Essentially, parents have to find a private school or home school.

  11. Note 12, Missourian ignoring what printed in black and white.

    Well…to answer your question, and to quote myself from post #4, “…but of course, my preference is for the simple lines and graceful curves of traditional Orthodox architecture, some for very nice pictures of which Fr. Hans has posted on this site.”

    My comments have really only been about my own impression of the Pompidou Centre as architecture. Missourian, you seem to want to make more generalizing comments about the problematic nature of “modern art” as a movement. If we can agree that “modern art” is a foul and perverse movement, then one might take the inductive leap that this building, the Pompidou Centre, is a foul and perverse edifice and without ever experiencing it.

    I wasn’t intending to comment in general about “modern art”, but it seems to me that a lot of the generalizing arguments against it would have us believe in its utter depravity, or that modern art is utterly depraved. It begins to sound very Calvinistic. It is at this point that I have to disagree. I find that it is very possible to find beauty among various works of modern art. The Orthodox Christian, however, probably has a different hierarchical understanding of beauty than the heathen. In other words, an Orthodox Christian might find something beautiful from an entirely different sensibility.

    Again, my preference is for traditional Orthodox architecture. However, it probably would not be feasible nor appropriate for me to live in a church, and I certainly wouldn’t want most buildings to look like churches, and certainly not the Pompidou Centre.

    It may be a disturbing trend, as Mr. Dalrymple himself points out, but the Pompidou Centre is a huge commercial success for the city of Paris. You’re right that there is a lot of contemporary “art” that is funded by the government in various ways with artists living on subsidies, government grants, outright government purchases, etc. Even so, there are plenty of “starving artists” out there. In many ways, the old paradigm of the artist working to please people hasn’t changed. Art is exchanged on the mostly free market, and people still choose whether or not to buy this stuff, and at what price.

    IMO, what we witness as mass disillusionment with many “western” ideas of classical beauty can become an open door for the Orthodox Church with its own unique sensibility and aesthetic. It is actually very common for people who don’t like “western-style” churches and church-art, myself included, to be very taken with the beauty that is found in the Orthodox Church.

  12. Note 14, Art Market unlike any ordinary market

    Aside from a few wealthy investors, the primary market for art is institutional. These institutions which are non-profit or funded by the public such as museums and universities. Many private investors will purchase based on pure personal preference but most purchase pieces that they hope will appreciate across time. How does a private investor gauge whether a piece of art will appreciate across time? He looks at the preferences at the art professionals at auction houses, universities and public museums. All of these individuals the art professionals listed are receive their training at the same universities. Virtually every university promotes a near nihilistic view of modern art.

    Hence, this particular market is decidedly influenced by a small coterie of elites, unlike the market for various other artisanal creations. Thomas Kincaide is loathed by these people.

    As to styles in architecture, we all have our preferences. We all are inspired by different things. What Western and Eastern Orthodox architecture has in common is a desire on the part of the architect to glorify God and provide worshippers with a place that can be made sacred by worship.

    If you are arguing that art in the West is simply going through another phase of development and change, as opposed to degeneration and decay, you have a tough row to hoe.

  13. Squirrel Scores Minor Triumph in the Culture Wars

    Ice Age II, an animated story of an intrepid squirrel, soundly beat out Basic Instinct II, sequel to Sharon Stone’s nasty Basic Instinct I. The squirrel earned $68.1 million while Sharon Stone came in tenth in the box office with her creepy movie earning about $10 million.

    I haven’t seen Ice Age II, but I do recommend Ice Age I, very cute, very clever, suitable for all ages.

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