Modern Art and the Death of a Culture

Modern Art and the Death of a Culture

by H. R. Rookmaaker
Publisher: Crossway Books
Trade Paperback, 256 pages
Price: $24.00

While Modern Art and the Death of a Culture deals primarily with visual art, specifically painting, Rookmaaker's observations on the decline and fall of Western art can as easily be applied to poetry, film, music, etc. Beginning with a brief essay on what makes art, he proceeds to discuss the historical relationship between Christianity and secular culture, the effects of science and humanism on the arts, and the move away from themes in art toward escapism and naturalistic representation.

Dealing as much with individual artists as philosophical trends, Rookmaaker's points are difficult to deny. An art critic and historian himself, he engages specific works and schools with a mastery most readers will never achieve. Yet, while this is a deeply intellectual and fairly academic work, he never gets so esoteric or jargon-y as to be incomprehensible—Modern Art and the Death of a Culture is as readable as it is informative.

One of his most interesting points (and one often overlooked as much by Christians as secularists) is that, while great art must have a message, it cannot be reduced to a message. This is the chief flaw in most modern art: the artist wants so much to convey his message that he jettisons the traditional elements of art in favor of pure philosophical statement. Of course, the opposite is just as often true (modern "artists"jettison content in favor of form alone), but this is an example of Rookmaaker's level-headed and creative approach to an all-too-often ignored topic.

The gradual overthrow of traditional art by its modern successor, Rookmaaker suggests, was one of the largest influences on the social revolutions of the 1960s—revolutions that weren't so much counter-cultural, he points out, as anti-cultural. Combining orthodox Christianity with in-depth scholarship, he outlines a distinctly Christian approach to art (traditional and modern) that will not only prompt you to throw away your books of Dadaist poetry, but also renew your appreciation for the truly fine arts.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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Exodus Rating
FLAWS: Some disturbing modern art
Summary: A Christian perspective on the current state of modern art, and what it says about the decay of Western civilization.

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