OJ links to a Spengler column arguing that no one really likes modern art but everyone pretends to like it because they think that their kids are gods, or something like that. I don't really understand the point and, to the extent I understand it, I disagree. People don't pretend to like modern art because we don't believe in god; we pretend to like modern art because we've lost our critical judgment and are uncomfortable making value judgments. If we're told that something is art, we feel that we have to pretend that it's as good as anything else labeled art. If we were more critical consumers of art, we'd reject 90% of modern art because 90% of everything is crap.
But some modern art speaks directly to our souls.
It's unclear, first of all, what Spengler means by "modern art." From an art criticism perspective, modern art is what we call the art created in the 100 years from 1870 (starting with the Impressionists) through 1970. Art made since 1970 is, generally speaking, contemporary art. There is a lot of great modern art out there and anyone who rejects it all has lost his critical faculties just as surely as if he loved it all.
Spengler might mean that we only pretend to like contemporary art and, if so, he has a better case. I personally don't like much contemporary art -- but I do like some. Of course, Spengler completely ignores the selection bias at work with art from the past. Only the best art from the past has made it into the collections and on to the walls of the world's museums. Old art that we see is much more likely to be good art. New art, and particularly new art created in an art world that has lost its critical judgment, is simply more likely to be crap because it hasn't yet been sieved by history. Spengler's point, if this is his point, is thus much like taking a random book from the "Fiction" shelves of the local Barnes & Noble and comparing it to a random book taken from the "Classics" shelves.
Spengler might also mean to distinguish between representational art and abstract (non-representational) art. Abstract art is usually dismissed by conservatives as being art that cannot be distinguished from a toddler's finger-painting, and much of it is that slight. Other abstract pieces, on the other hand, mesmerize me. With even the best abstract art, however, I find I run up against two problems. First, I have to be in front of the actual piece -- reproductions don't work. Second, I only buy representational works for my own home, even when I set out to buy an abstract piece.
In the end, the only distinction that works is Duck's: I know what I like. But the danger is that "I know what I like" cannot be separated from "I like what I know, and I don't want to know anything new." My own threshold is this: if I see a work and its speaks to me without my knowing anything else about it (title, context, the story of its creation and the artist's politics), then it is art and I might enjoy it. If it is not self-contained -- and almost no contemporary art is self-contained -- then it is commentary and not art at all.