Why would well-heeled folks dress up to attend a fancy gathering where they could admire a urinal? Because it's art, of course! Or, at least, so they think.
This spring's Dada exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., celebrates what the Washington Post describes as "the most radical, irreverent, rule-breaking movement in the history of Western art."
In case you're unfamiliar, the term dada means exactly what it sounds like: nonsense. As H. R. Rookmaaker described it, Dada "was a nihilistic creed of disintegration, showing the meaninglessness of all Western thought, art, morals, traditions." It raises the common to the level of the revered. Hence, Marcel Duchamp sticks a urinal on a wall and titles it "Fountain."
It's odd that the movement's fans laud it as great art, because Dada by definition seeks the demise of art. Echoing Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, Nathanael Blake writes at Townhall.com, "to abolish art, you declare a manufactured urinal to be a masterpiece."
Some say the Dada movement continued the destruction of art that began with cubism, which preceded it. German Dada artist Kurt Schwitters said he built "new things . . . out of fragments." Post writer Michael O'Sullivan describes Dada as "a putting back together of a broken, senseless world [after World War I], only not with the glue of logic, and not in any sense back to the way things were."
And there, you see, is the problem. Dada sees the fragmentation of the world—and celebrates that brokenness. But true artists "do not merely reflect the world's brokenness," writes Erik Lokkesmoe in BreakPoint WorldView magazine. "The truth-telling artists, rather, also remind us there is more to the story . . . and call us to rise from our defensive crouch to again pursue the faith, hope, and love that abide even in the valley of death."
"In every time and place and in every culture," writes Jerry Eisley, founder of the Washington Arts Group, "art has ultimately flowed from worship." However, artists since the early twentieth century have abandoned the "idea of an ideal measure of goodness and truth linked with beauty." The splintering and extreme individualism that characterize modern art are indicative of the spirit of the postmodern age. Yes, this world is broken, but the role of the artist is to point us toward wholeness.
Art is not dead, however, nor has the Church abandoned it, as illustrated by the resurgence of Christians in the arts—people like Lokkesmoe and Eisley. And another believer whose art flows from her worship of God is Kim Daus-Edwards. Kim's latest work is her book of photographs, Force of the Spirit, that "represents a surrender to the idea of the holy through the medium of photography." These black-and-white images are coupled with Scripture and draw in the viewer to meditate on universal truths. "Even though we may turn away from it, the Spirit's power is ever-present and emerges regularly in our lives," she says.
The world may be broken and seem random, but that is not the end of truth. And true art points toward the ultimate restoration of our fallen existence. Too bad the National Gallery of Art doesn't realize that.
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