On Alan Rudolph’s The Moderns

Question Number One

            In Alan Rudolph’s The Moderns, Nick Hart is an American painter who works as a caricaturist for the Herald-Tribune in Paris. The value that Hart places on his work is evident in his inability to place monetary value on it. Such an inability may be seen as a result of his inability to create a distinct identity that may free him from his father’s shadow as well as the shadow of his desire for Rachel Stone. Within the movie, the final result of this inability to place value on his own work, which may be understood as his inability to recognize and appreciate his own artistic talent, is evident as he succumbs to the shadow of his father as he successfully forged a Modigliani, a Cezanne, and a Matisse. Although, in the end of the film, Hart is depicted as journeying back to America along with Rachel and Oiseau, for their quest for originality, it is implicitly presented in the film that such a quest will be marred by Hart’s inability to reconcile himself with his past along with the individuality of his self. This is evident if one considers that Hart is depicted in such a way that he will continue to commodify his expertise in the forgery of artworks as they embark into the world of Hollywood.

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Question Number Two

            The value of an artwork may be derived from its aesthetic value. Although, one may argue that there are instances wherein works of art are valued due to the amount associated with the art work, it is generally presumed that such a value is derived from the aesthetic value of the work itself (Rensin 51). In Alan Rudolph’s The Moderns, the value that the members of bourgeoisie place on art works and art itself may be said to stem from the value of art as a commodity. An example of this is evident in the discussion of art works in Gertrude Stein’s salon which was frequented by members of Paris’ elite during the period of the 1920’s. The movie depicts the individuals in the salon as discerning the personality of the owner through the art works that he possesses. In the case of Stein, her personality and in fact her identity was deemed to be mirrored in both the aesthetic and commodified value of the art works in her salon.

Question Number Thee

            In the same manner that art and art works served as a visual representation of the creator or owner’s identity in the cases of Nick Hart and Gertrude Stein, art also functions in the same manner with Bertram Stone. Stone is presented as the husband of Rachel Stone in the initial part of the film however such a representation was changed as a result of the discovery of the history between Nick Hart and Rachel Stone in the later part of the film.

As opposed to Hart who perceived artworks and art itself as a means for the creation of an authentic self, Bertram Stone perceived art as a means of creating a representation of the self in society. Such a representation however does not necessarily need to coincide with the real ‘self’ of the owner. Stone perceives modern art as a means not for making a reputation but for making an impression on the perceiver. Stone may thereby be said to perceive the value of art as being dependent upon the value that the perceiver values upon it.

Question Number Four

            Within the movie, the members of the educated class also perceive art as a means for self representation as well as a means for the creation and recreation of people’s culture and history. Within The Moderns, one is presented with individuals such as Hemingway, Stein, and Toklas who perceive works of art as a means for recapturing the glory of the legendary Jazz Age. As opposed to this, one is also presented with the characters of the expatriates who perceive art as a means for discovering individuality. Although both set of characters recognize the mimetic as well as the representational value of art, it is important to note that what binds their views regarding art may be traced to their emphasis in its ability to transform the individual despite the individual’s embeddedness in the mundane events of everyday life.

Question Number Five

            Libby Valentine stands as the curator of an art museum who tries to sell the art works of Nick Hart. Valentine is the ultimate representation of a capitalist society’s ability for commodification. Valentine perceives the value of art as being dependent upon its monetary equivalent. Within the text, this is represented in her relentless pursuit in selling Hart’s works as well as her views regarding the forgery of art works. By claiming that the value of art does not necessarily lie in its originality but in how the public places monetary value upon a work, Valentine stands as a perfect example of the individual whose culture enabled the later commodification of art works in advertising.

Question Number Six

            The end of Rudolph’s The Moderns presents art as a means for both love and originality. Despite such a depiction however, the ending of Rudolph’s film also emphasizes how art enables the commodification of both love and originality. By presenting the view of the works of art in the museum, Rudolph is claiming that such aspirations serve as mere ideals that are preserved in decrepit buildings that are only recognized and appreciated by the few.

Question Number Seven

            The other areas of art recognizable in the film are literature, music, and advertisement. Within the field of literature, one is presented with quotations from Gertrude Stein, Hemmingway, and Fitzgerald’s works. In the field of music, one is presented with the contrast with jazz and modern music. In the field of advertisement, one is presented with the images that advertise the glory of Hollywood.

Question Number Eight

            The DADA art movement was prevalent from 1916 to 1922. It stands as a reaction against the universalistic assumptions of formalism (McHale 56). To a certain extent, one might state that the movement enabled the shift from modernism to postmodernism. DADA artists argued that the value of an artwork is dependent upon the artistic enfranchisement of the object of art and not necessarily upon the fixed standards set by the art world for the creation of an art work. An example of such claim is evident in Marcel Duchamp’s The Fountain. Duchamp’s aforementioned work is a urinal which he labeled The Fountain. As can be seen in Duchamp’s work, an art work is not necessarily dependent upon the standards involved in the creation of art but it is dependent upon the artist and what he perceives or labels as an artwork. The value of DADA art works in the current times, in this sense, may be attributed to its emphasis on the conceptual aspect involved in the creation of a work of art as well as on the malleability of the concept art itself since given such a conception of art it is possible to label everyday objects as art works given the proper conceptual meanings attached to that object. In addition to this, it also enables art to be more appealing to the common people since its appreciation does not necessitate knowledge of formalist techniques in the creation of art works.

Works Cited

Getlein, Mark. Living with Art. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006.

McHale, Brian. Constructing Postmodernism. London: Routledge, 1992.

The Moderns. Prod. Stuart Besser. Dir. Rudolph Alan. Perf. Keith Carradine and Linda Fiorentino et. al. DVD. MGM, 1988.

Rensin, David. “The Man Who Would Be Different.” American Films 11 (Mar. 1986): 50-56.

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