Art, Featured, Italy, Memories

Why can’t we make beautiful art anymore?

Some people say I am too harsh on the modern world. That we have wonderful technology and people live in comfort and we have so many ways of amusing ourselves and we can find any ethnic restaurant we want in any town on Earth.

Fair enough, I guess.

But why is so difficult to make beautiful art and architecture in this world?

In my third visit to Tuscany, I finally had time to see Michelangelo’s “David”. It is one of those works that is actually more impressive in real life than in pictures.

I say this because the “Mona Lisa”, for instance, is a bit underwhelming. (Then again, I never understood why critics singled out Leonardo’s “Mona Lisa” as his “masterpiece” out of his hundreds of much more impressive works. Perhaps they chose a simple portrait as a way to distract from his much more beautiful religious paintings?)

Of course, in Tuscany, beautiful art is everywhere.

Visiting San Gimignano, which is basically a medieval town frozen in time, there are so many churches with wonderful paintings, and this is a very small town — if you go to Florence, you will find a thousand others.

Of course beauty didn’t start in the Renaissance. This is a painting from 1317, in the Church and Monastery of Saint Augustine in San Gimignano.

And this is a detail of another one, no date indicated but from about a hundred years later.

This one below, in a museum, with a similar theme (Saint Magdalene by the cross) is also from the 1400s.

In the same church, however, you can (regrettably) see this sculpture from 1995.

And then there is this fountain built in 2014, sitting nearby, just outside the walls of the old town. Compare it to the Fontana di Trevi in Rome, or, really, anything built before the 20th century.

Ugly stuff! Even the most mediocre medieval sculptor could certainly do better than that. And that’s not even the ugliest stuff. If you want really ugly modern stuff, just check this page with sculptures in some American university campus. It’s so horrifying, it cannot not be on purpose.

If you are one of the two or three people who have read my article about how much money the Renaissance and Baroque painters made, you may have found that the Catholic Church at the time invested a lot of money in creating beautiful churches and paintings and sculptures. They had an almost limitless budget for that stuff. They spent what would be millions today.

Today we have even more money — we can print all the money we want, it’s all digital anyway! — but it all goes to create mostly… the worst kind of trash they can find?

I mean, we can’t even make beautiful churches anymore. This is a Catholic church in Los Angeles.


But there are similar examples even in Italy. Any church built after, say, 1960, is usually ugly or bland.

Why is that? What the Hell is going on?

It’s not that people no longer care for beauty. I mean, if people didn’t care for beauty, there wouldn’t be millions of tourists visiting Florence and San Gimignano and Siena and Paris and Barcelona every year. They want to see the old, beautiful stuff. Not the ugly modern stuff.

And in private, people also like beautiful things. Inside many apartments and in a few shops you can find that many places are still arranged with relative good taste (although usually tending more towards the clean/functional look than to the decorative.)

It’s also not that there are no talented people anymore. There are still a few good book illustrators and designers, for instance. I suppose a few good filmmakers, although even those are rare these days.

But in visual arts and public sculpture, the money seems to go to the worst things you can find. So there seems to be a deliberate attempt to promote ugly stuff. I mean, all those ugly sculptures cost money, and someone is paying for them.

But that’s not all. Even when there are talented artists, they create mostly meaningless things. Most classic art was about religious or mythological themes. There is a reason for that. Art is about transcendence. About a connection with the world beyond our senses and our daily experience.

Even the good portrait painters (when portrait painting was basically just catering to the vanity of rich people to have their “portrait taken”) understood that, and that’s why their paintings are still valuable and interesting even when the person portrayed has been dead and forgotten for hundreds of years.

But now… “Art” is not just ugly (it doesn’t even try to be beautiful), it’s usually about some random political or social theme that will be forgotten in a few years. Or about some trivial, mundane event. Or even pornography. There is just no effort to connect the individual to the universal and the material to the spiritual.

Why are Western people so apathetic?

But it goes beyond art and beauty, which in the end are just a reflex of our world. If our art is ugly it’s probably because our society is, in many ways, ugly. It is a symptom of disease.

Most Western people seem to be very apathetic in the face of extinction. Extinction? Well, not only birth rates are plummeting in all the Western world, there is an ongoing demographic replacement by foreigners, and while things seem relatively fine on the surface, everyone knows or at least fears that the possibility of war and economic doom is just around the corner.

Or am I exaggerating? Sometimes I don’t know. It is true that level of prosperity in the West is still quite high. People on average are able to live in comfort and without too many worries.

Then again, none of that matters if people are not having children and the economy crashes and there’s war.

But most Western people are just… I don’t know. They don’t seem to care about the future, or anything, really. Or they care about fake, obviously manufactured problems such as “global warming” or “Covid” or “Trump” or whatever the media will bring next week, but not about the very real problem of the survival of their own culture and their own people into the future.

I don’t know what to make of it, but I suppose my opinion is also irrelevant, bound to flutter for a few seconds in the air like a fallen leave and then disappear forever.

In the meantime, I take a few pictures and write a few words to register a few beautiful moments in time, before I’m gone, too.

Church of Saint Augustine, San Gimignano.