Black Square (Malevich)
I think I can finally articulate why I find stereotypical modern art—as embodied by Malevich's Suprematist Composition: White on White—so detestable. The reason is that this utterly useless art feels that it's actually articulating something new or pertinent, making a sophisticated meta-aesthetic argument, when really it is just repeating the obvious. Take, for instance, another prototypical work: La Trahison Des Images (the treachery/treason of images) which is a painting of a pipe with the sentence Ceci N'est Pas Une Pipe. ("this is not a pipe.") written below it. Now, this work of art is famous for its theoretical statement, not its artistry (however one defines that). It makes a point about the relation between signifier and signified.
But it takes a philosopher to think that this wasn't ludicrously obvious already: has anyone ever tried to smoke that painting? Did a frog ever try to hang out inside Monet's Water Lilies? No organism is so asinine, and none should think it amazing to have such pointed out to them in such a limpid work. The value of art lies not in its theoretical underpinnings or tricky sophistries but in its affect, in its ability to shape one's life, views, reality, mood. I would argue that the same is largely true of theory itself, which is why Nietzsche is so powerful despite being a priori wrong in so many instances. "Modern Art", by pointing out the obvious, only insults its audience by presuming they don't already know what is self-evident (further, that which is so self-evident that you need not know it, since in your every action you affirm its truth whether or not you are aware of it) and amputating its ability to affect its audience.
It should be noted that this argument does equate to the fairly vulgar "but anyone could paint that" retort. I, above all, am an advocate of removing mastery from art. These supposed masters, with their expensive University training and works chock full of allusions to other works which I have never heard of, are often worse at their trade due to their own mastery. They start from such a secluded, incestuous frame of reference that it dulls the pure potency of their work: Joyce's Ulysses is best read by someone with no knowledge of the Bible or the Odyssey because it transcends its allusions. Acting like it is a vital work simply because it reworks old ones into a new context is far too reductionist and ignores the truly spectacular elements of the novel which anyone can understand: namely, the formal innovation above and beyond any referential content. On another note, there is plenty of Outsider Art which is created by these same "anyone"s but is nonetheless stunning in its grandeur. Similarly, there are plenty of bands playing music that anyone can play (Nirvana being perhaps the finest example; anyone can play "Smells Like Teen Spirit" but no one but Kurt Cobain is capable of writing it) which is fantastic not for its complexity (if that was true, everyone would listen to nothing but Prog Rock and Joe Satriani) but its emotive effectiveness. The amount of skill or time put into a work can only ever be a blunt and inaccurate proxy for the work's artistry.
There was an anecdote I recall, though I cannot recall from whence it came, that relates a conversation between Slavoj Zizek and Judith Butler.
Z: This is a cup.
B: You can't say that. The correct, philosophically rigorous, statement is: "Within our patriarchal, hetero-normative society which marginalizes not only women and gays but simply anyone who does fit the convenient definitions of genders and sexualities which we possess, this is a cup."
Z: But, my dear, that is precisely the point: everything you just said is implicit in the statement "This is a cup." All of that is implied by the symbolic order within which we are operating; its repetition is mere redundancy.
This conversation replicates what I am talking about: while Butler's (and Malevich's) point is absolutely true, it articulates nothing new, merely making explicit that which was already obvious though implicit. And those who would argue that, for most people, the patriarchal/heteronormative nature of our society is not obvious, I would say that making such a statement does not suddenly change their mind to the contrary. You need persuasion, not truth, to do that, and persuasion is precisely the rhetorical compliment to the affect of art which I discussed above.