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Observations from my recent Museum Visits in NYC

MET Museum November 25th


Looking at the great paintings by Van Gogh and Gauguin for example truly gives the serious viewer of art a glimpse into the heart, mind and soul of the artist in addition to the time he/she lived. Great art reveals the emotional / spiritual state of the artist. Great paintings are like locked treasure chests that we the viewers must attempt to unlock and unravel the mysteries, stories and content within the picture plane.

Why did Van Gogh paint sunflowers? Gauguin primitive natives? Degas ballet dancers and horse races? We must ask ourselves questions as we scrutinize any great work of art. What was the driving force (inspiration) behind Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel? The answers can be varied. The patron for example may play an important role in addition to the emotional state of the artist, the time and place – social issues / pressures can all be factors that contribute to HOW that art is made and what it communicates.


It is up to US the viewers of art to seriously investigate these issues if we are to have a better, deeper appreciation and understanding of art through the ages.

moma1Skelaton with Skates – MOMA Museum

The MOMA – Modern Art Museum in NY is very VERY different from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Modern (late) 20th Century art reflects a culture (in my opinion) that seems confused and constantly questioning everything in life from values, social mores, religion, relationships, etc. Some of it in my opinion communicates a sense of loss, fear, apathy and as my daughter Andei said to me a deep introspection.

meandeimomaI also sense a disconnect from faith based religion – or any type of spirituality. Much of the art in the MOMA (again in my opinion) expresses a craving for meaning yet without a spiritual component / element. Most of this highly conceptual art is secular in nature.

Art is really about SEARCHING and looking for answers to the biggest questions in life.

I don’t see post-modern art as having any answers. Post-Modern art seems to respond with more questions. It’s not in vogue to say that God is the only one with the answers to all of our questions and that is why so much of modern art after the mid-20th Century is so secular in nature and devoid of any religious connotations (except possibly negative).

It really hit me aesthetically as I walked through the MET and then the MOMA (Modern Art Museum) the following day. Both museums have very different feels to them. I like the MET more because even though I enjoy and can appreciate abstract / non-objective art – an entire museum of it gives me an empty feeling after awhile, where as the galleries of Christian – Renaissance – Baroque – Impressionism to me has more substance and content that feeds me intellectually and spiritually. My in-depth knowledge of Art History and the social / cultural issues behind art through the ages makes the MET a more positive and enriching experience for me.

met3 metguigan
MET Greek / Roman Sculpture Gallery – Gauguin Post-Impressionism Paintings

Like I mentioned earlier, so much of modern and post-modern conceptual art seems fragmented, disjointed and purely secular giving me a hopeless feeling. It’s like I don’t have a point of reference and I do with art created before 1950’s.

momaI believe based on the art being created NOW that American culture is devolving and the art in the MOMA is a reflection of the secularization of society and the elimination of religious faith (iconography) as an element in art and our educational system. Some people may think this is a good thing, but I find it disconcerting.

Photographic Installation MOMA


18 comments on “Observations from my recent Museum Visits in NYC

  1. leafless
    December 3, 2008

    An artwork is as good as the inspiration behind it. Nice observations.

  2. Maria Henry
    December 3, 2008

    I love the Skeleton with Skates. Very interesting indeed. This seems like a museum that I would be very interessted in. I like museums and exhibits that are a little “outside of the box”.

  3. Melanie Burrell
    December 3, 2008

    Mr. K,
    I like the Skeleton with Skates, too. Its different and interesting. I think I would like to one day visit a larger museum. I’m glad you shared your experience with us! I think you’re right when you said that “art is really about searching and looking for answers to the biggest questions in life”.

  4. Donna Saporito
    December 3, 2008

    I found your visit to NY and the museums very interesting because it showed me that your opinion of Abstract and Non-Objective art are the same as mine. Also, I get the same impression from Van Gogh as you do about his paintings being a display of emotion as well as objects. Someday I’d like to follow your steps through the museums of New York and experience first hand the art overload that you have.

  5. Kelly Barton
    December 3, 2008

    I would definitely have to agree with you about the sense of emptiness and confusion in post-modern and modern art. It really is amazing how much art has changed over time. When I was in Madrid this summer I got to visit “El Prado” – an art museum – and “La Reina Sofia” – a modern art museum. In El Prado there were four floors of absolutely beautiful representational art. There were originals by artists such as Velazquez and Goya. It was a really great experience. After visiting El Prado, walking down the street 5 minutes and stepping into La Reina Sofia was like entering a different world. The best word I can think of to describe this museum is random. There were paintings on the wall that looked like the paint had just been dumped on them, some with just a few drops of paint or maybe a single scribble on them, and weird sculptures of who knows what. It looked like someone had taken a trip to the landfill, grabbed everything they could find, stuck it in a building, and called it a museum. Like you I left feeling rather disconcerted. It makes me wonder about what is in store for art after the post-modern era. It’s kind of a scary thought.

  6. Stephanie James
    December 3, 2008

    I will go along with most others and say that the human skeleton with the dog skeleton in the skates caught my eye. To me it said “no matter what you do, you will die!” That piece of art was screaming the themes HOPELESS!! and DEATH!!! and ULTIMATE END!!! That’s why I share your feelings on the fact that abstract art of today leaves me feeling hopeless, or leaves me questioning “Who? What? Why? How?” I hate it that modern art has so greatly left behind any spiritual/religious ties, but I guess that comes with the fact that athiesm (or beliefs in something other than God) are on the rise. I’m not surprised, to be honest with you, because I think a lot of people seem to avoid religion because they look at the world in it’s current condition and feel hopeless. Maybe they are led to think “there can’t possibly be life beyond this, or life wouldn’t be like this.”

    The lack of spiritual connotations is another reason why I chose abstract art to be my least favorite in the recent discussion board. I prefer Christian art because it ties in with my personal beliefs, or any kind of religious art from the Christian/Ren./Baro. periods. It reminds me that back in those days, religion was a prominent part of people’s lives and that nations were led with religion, united with religion and they incorporated religious moral values in their state law to help the people know how they were expected to act. Just as America used to be based on religious faith (“In God We Trust,” “One Nation, Under God,” etc) many European countries were centered around religion as well, whether it was a Protestant, Catholic or other religion. To me, I find comfort in finding my “answers” in my religion (thus, in religious art that represents my beliefs) because I don’t want to look at the world with questions. My answers come from God and His word.

  7. Nicholas Vincent
    December 4, 2008

    I agree with you, I find there is no point of reference in modern and post-modern art. For me, I need pointers to help me form an understanding of what the artist is trying to convey. Forming my own interpretation leaves me with an empty feeling.

  8. Patrick Keough
    December 4, 2008

    thanks for these honest and thoughtful comments to this post. I must admit this was the first time the contrast between Post Modern art and the earlier art styles and periods hit me. It must have been because I visited the MET one afternoon and the MOMA the following day – the differences between the 2 museums were stark and impacted me dramatically both emotionally and intellectually. It still boils down to ART reflecting the times and the emotional state of the artists that create it and there is much to ponder here when comparing art before 1950’s and after.

  9. Marian Garrett
    December 4, 2008

    “Why did Van Gough paint sunflowers..Gaugin..dancers..?” I think that people are very deep. Some people are comfortable at the depth that they attain but some need more and reach deeper. I think that people like Van Gough and Gaugin possessed a great talent that they were able to reach and express. I think that they painted the way they did because these things touched their souls and they were overwhelmed with it and so had to set it free. If I could even begin to imagine how they felt I think that I would liken it to why we cry when we see our children for the very first time.
    Love the pictures. I haven’t been to NYC in several years. Can’t wait to visit again. I love to visit there (would not want to stay, though.)

  10. Lisanne Parshley
    December 4, 2008

    Mr. K:
    The skeleton was eye catching. I have to say it certainly was over the top in shock and awe for me, as well as the realization that no matter who we have been in life, we all will die (roller skates or not, dog or not). The difference between post modern art and all the others certainly has the lack of feeling that is good, the emotions are not connected to religion in any way. Sadly, I feel the entire country has come to feel as you said, “fragmented, disjointed and purely secular, giving me a hopeless feeling.” The abstract art, the type of music that outdoes the older style, the anger in the young people. Religious beliefs vary so much but no longer is it in our schools/paintings/every day life. Art has began to race off into the unknown world of confusion and anger. I do prefer abstract art (although not all of it as some is simply scary) but I still like certain Picassos/Monets/Van Goghs.

  11. Hannah Oliver
    December 4, 2008

    Prof K
    Great observations about the differences between modern art and the other art periods. I think that our people in our modern time do have a worshipful attitude. Most people (especially in America) worship consumerism. The attitude is “get as much as you can now because there is nothing else except death.” This is a very depressing outlook on life and this attitude reflects in the art of his time.

  12. Svetlana Burroughs
    December 6, 2008

    Mr. K.,

    I agree with your assessment of the MOMA and the relationships you drew between modern art and the secularization of our society today. I thought that the line you drew between lack of religious faith in society and the lack of religious background in modern art was particularly interesting. I think that, throughout the ages, art and art form has been a reflection of the beliefs of society. I, too, feel that society today puts much less faith in religious beliefs than society of past generations. I, too, believe that this is reflected in modern art.

  13. Samuel G. Ball
    December 7, 2008

    Hello sir, I have to say the picture of the skelaton wearing skates was quite strange. When I first glanced at it I thought it was some sort of strange torture or punishment until I read about it and the muesem it was displayed in. Still it is a strange one….GBall

  14. caleb noland
    December 9, 2008

    Mr. K,
    I would have to agree with you about modern art, it does seem like the artist are searching for something, they are asking questions but not answering them. When you look at modern art it makes you feel empty, lost and tragically bound to the fate of total loss of understanding. It is different with representational art, where the main goal is to get a direct point across. Representational art has meaning and has no feeling of being devoid or meaningless. But we live in a modern art world, once we think we have everything under raps we are hit by harsh reality, we have a lot more to work on, and it seems the questions we just answered or the problems we just solved are back at the door and begging for attention. As you have said, art is a mirror of the times, and I feel that our generation is loosing faith in beliefs, and we are becoming void to this world we live in. it is a sad fact, but true. We might be living in the biggest social movement in the history of the human race, and not even know it. Just something to think

  15. Amber Cody
    December 12, 2008

    This may be a simple answer to your questions….Why did Van Gogh paint sunflowers? Gauguin primitive natives? Degas ballet dancers and horse races? But,…. I think it comes down to the fact that artist paint what inspires them and what inspires each individual is different. Maybe what inspires them is what they like to do (dance-painted dancers) or what they enjoy seeing ( sunflowers) or what they believe (Sistine Chappel). I don’t think that art has to be so complicated in trying to figure out the inspiration…. It could be simply what it is about life that makes them smile and they want to share….What do you all think??

  16. Patrick Keough
    December 12, 2008

    Good point Amber. Sometimes we tend to over analyze things – especially art. All the really great artists in history had one thing in common… passion for life, love, religion nature, freedom, etc. Their art was an outgrowth – a reflection / culmination of that particular passion and we can share in their passion by having a deeper, broader understanding of art. Mr.K

  17. Joseph Dwyer
    December 13, 2008

    Vincent van Gogh made many self-portraits. He frequently used his own reflection to experiment with different color and to paint people. He became better and better and experimented a lot with different colors. You can tell he was experimenting here with the blue and yellow colors. I like the “Self-Portrait with straw hat” by Vicent Van Gogh because it gave me the felling of the wind blowing around me.

  18. nichole rowland
    December 16, 2008

    Mr. K, I can definitely see how modern art leaves you with an empty feeling. The classic art periods certainly seem to have more to offer in the context of postive emotion. In many of the earlier works, religious and political influence is blatantly obvious. With modern art, the influence or inspiration for the piece is often not evident in the work. We have no idea what the artist is trying to convey. With modern art, it is often solely up to the viewer to make of it what they deem suitable for the time, place and current state of emotion. I would think that visiting a museum full of modern art would be emotionally exhausting as opposed to visiting the museum containing classic works which would offer some cohesiveness and evident inspiration.

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This entry was posted on December 3, 2008 by in ArT, Keough Journal and tagged .
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