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  • Rainey Knudson

Should Art Mean Something? (228 words)


Jerry Saltz recently wrote the following about Ed Ruscha's iconic painting Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Fire:

[Ruscha] once remarked, perhaps a little slyly, “I didn’t dislike the art museum … I had no grudges.” He went on to say that he “liked the idea of painting architecture” and that “there’s no great message here. It’s just a picture to look at.” This sort of denial of intent is typical of a whole generation of artists who created loaded images and objects, then claimed a totally formal read of the work.

Saltz seems to suggest that artists denying that art has to "mean" something was both a ruse (Ruscha knew perfectly well how inflammatory, ha ha, his painting was) as well as a temporary condition of the post-WWII generation of artists.


Are we back to artists making art that has (or should have) meaning? Was "denial of intent" some kind of Postmodern nihilism, a fleeting conceit in art history? And should we be nervous if art does indeed need to mean something? The most explicitly meaningful art is also the best propaganda.


As an art viewer, the artist's intent usually doesn't matter to me. (This is closely related to needing to separate the art from the artist.) But the art that I love does mean something to me. It's not "just a picture to look at."



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