Modern art always projects itself into a twilight zone where no values are fixed. It is always born in anxiety, at least since Cézanne. And Picasso once said that what matters most to us in Cézanne, more than his pictures, is his anxiety. It seems to me a function of modern art to transmit this anxiety to the spectator, so that his encounter with the work is--at least while the work is new-- a genuine existential predicament. Like Kierkegaard's God, the work molests us with its aggressive absurdity [...]. It demands a decision in which you discover something of your own quality; and this decision is always a "leap of faith," to use Kierkegaard's famous term. And like Kierkegaard's God, who demands a sacrifice from Abraham in violation of every moral standard: like Kierkegaard's God, the picture seems arbitrary, cruel, irrational, demanding your faith, while it makes no promise of future rewards. In other words, it is in the nature of original contemporary art to present itself as a bad risk. And we the public, artists included, should be proud of being in this predicament, because nothing else would seem to us quite true to life; and art, after all, is supposed to be a mirror of life.
The thing is, and here we come to E. Gorey's Great Simple Theory About Art (which he has never tried to communicate to anybody else until now, so prepare for Severe Bafflement), that on the surface they are so obviously those situations that it is very difficult to see that they really are about something else entirely. This is the theory, incidentally, that anything is art, and it's the way I tell, is presumably about some certain thing, but is really always about something else, and it's no good having one without the other, because if you have the something it is boring and if you just have the something else it's irritating.
The young specialist in English Lit, having quoted me, went on to lecture me severely on the fact that in every century people have thought they understood the Universe at last, and in every century they were proved to be wrong. It follows that the one thing we can say about our modern 'knowledge' is that it is wrong.The young man then quoted with approval what Socrates had said on learning that the Delphic oracle had proclaimed him the wisest man in Greece. 'If I am the wisest man,' said Socrates, 'it is because I alone know that I know nothing.' The implication was that I was very foolish because I was under the impression I knew a great deal.Alas, none of this was new to me. (There is very little that is new to me; I wish my correspondents would realize this.) This particular theme was addressed to me a quarter of a century ago by John Campbell, who specialized in irritating me. He also told me that all theories are proven wrong in time.My answer to him was, 'John, when people thought the Earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the Earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the Earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the Earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.