Art’s modern intoxication with ugliness

From City Journal: Beauty and Desecration.

At some time during the aftermath of modernism, beauty ceased to receive those tributes. Art increasingly aimed to disturb, subvert, or transgress moral certainties, and it was not beauty but originality-however achieved and at whatever moral cost-that won the prizes. Indeed, there arose a widespread suspicion of beauty as next in line to kitsch-something too sweet and inoffensive for the serious modern artist to pursue. In a seminal essay-“Avant-Garde and Kitsch,” published in Partisan Review in 1939-critic Clement Greenberg starkly contrasted the avant-garde of his day with the figurative painting that competed with it, dismissing the latter (not just Norman Rockwell, but greats like Edward Hopper) as derivative and without lasting significance. The avant-garde, for Greenberg, promoted the disturbing and the provocative over the soothing and the decorative, and that was why we should admire it.