Wednesday, May 9, 2007
My Art is Deader than Yours: part one
I've recently read an article on Arts Journal.com entitled "Is Art Dead, hmnnn..." in which the author states yet again, this worn out phrase. Instead of repeating or quoting word for word, I'll simplify his points in the interest of time. Let me know if you have any different interpretations of his points and I'll gladly read your response intently, nod appreciatively, and then completely ignore you.
But seriously I would be interested in hearing your responses.
1. "Art is the side-effect of an attempt to manifest something." Art is only Art when it's not trying to be Art.
He's implicitly saying that Art is by nature, not self-conscious. Ever since the artist asserted himself as an intellectual (da Vinci), nobleman (Velasquez), or rock-star (Rafael), he has by definition been self-conscious of his status in society. He has likewise been conscious of the quality of his work by comparing it to other works. So, it seems that our dear author seems to be saying that Art is anything without quality because anything with quality, skill or highly realized craftsmanship must have been self-conscious or else the maker would have not attained such a high level of production.
However by stating this, our author is affirming the existence of the aforemention hierarchy of "quality" or "skill" by specifically placing Art outside of it. Here we come across the typical distinction between "beauty" and "sublime" which disregards the subjectivity inherent to any judgment or definition of these words.
2. Art is not dead, just painting and sculpture. Not because no one is producing good sculpture and painting, but because it is not new and merely regurgitates what has been done before.
Obviously his article is not art as it repeats what has been said for the last 50 years - and of course what was said even before that. Actually, was there ever a time when someone wasn't saying that art was dead?
On to the point - the classification of only painting and sculpture (the anachronistic pursuits) as being dead doesn't coincide with his logic. If all art that refers to something that has come before is no longer alive, then film was dead from its inception as it referred to theater, which referred to drama; music refers to itself and also can be traced back to prehistory; photography is derivative of painting; performance art is derivative of film, theater, music; and "Conceptual Art" is only philosophy in sheep's clothing. There is nothing that does not derive from something that has come before. Thus, according to our author, anything created after Paleolithic times is dead. Bear with me while I apply his logic to a few recognizable examples throughout history:
The Great Pyramid of Giza - Dead, didn't you see the other ones that were already there?
Polykleitos - Dead, one word: Venus of Willendorf, wait that's three, but you get my point.
The Architects of Hagia Sofia - Dead (The Romans had already invented the dome)
The Romans - Dead, they took everything from the Greeks anyway.
St. Augustine - Dead as a door-nail, Plotinus already talked about divine form, and he was just regurgitating Plato.
Dante - I think the Bible had the whole heaven and hell thing covered.
Leonardo Da Vinci - Cave men invented painting, Aristotle initiated scientific thought, and that helicopter doesn't even work.
Rafael, Michelangelo, etc... - Hey, we've already covered the art thing, and they weren't even inventors - Slackers!
Rembrandt- Yeah, yeah, yeah, light shadow, paint - covered that already
Velasquez - Ditto, and so, he painted a dwarf, big deal!
Bernini - yep
Shakespeare - Most of his plays derive from old myths, legends, and folk tales. Besides he probably wasn't even real.
Rodin - need I mention gothic wood carvings or even late Michelangelo?
Manet, Cezanne, Picasso- So, this is a "new" kind of painting huh? Because no one has ever made flat paintings before - reference the 39,000 years of painting before the Renaissance, guess what... it's all flat, primitive, and/or "distills the formal elements of visual language" (choose your own adjective).
Duchamp- this must be new, because no one had ever asked what art was before - or apparently ever seen a urinal either.
Hemingway - Suicide is so passe.
In fact it's obvious that man hasn't had an original thought since we rubbed two sticks together and made a spark. Once you've got the wheel, fire and beer it's all downhill. In fact, I could do without fire and the wheel.
2 a) His implications is that true art is only the first attempt, all other attempts of conveying the subject or technique are dilutions of it.
There's no need to repeat myself.
3. Art is only Art when it is necessary and fulfills a purpose.
Art never fulfills a concrete purpose. By its very nature it specifically is not a necessity. If you buy a earthenware jug from, let's say Target - Is that piece of art? Let's say you paint some pretty little flowers on the jug, is it art then? What about if you hired a master potter for $4,000 to throw you a 3 ft. tall jug on the wheel, and commissioned him to decorate it with masterfully applied glazes and a depiction of scenes from A Midsummer Nights Dream? You certainly could use it to hold umbrellas, but I doubt you will, one of them could chip the glazes for God's sake! Art becomes Art precisely when it does not serve a concrete function. Now of course one might argue that it must serve some social or intellectual function. However, you don't need Guernica to think about the atrocities of WWII and you don't need a $4,000 pot to put store your umbrellas.
4. There is so much Art out there, or so it is supposed. This is False
Wow! I can't really contend with that. It's obvious that his comment is self evident and requires no logical foundation for his assertion. I guess I'll have to resort to spouting insults instead. Did you learn how to make an argument in a Nazi training camp? I hope you at least got a certificate of completion.
5. A Dead Art form is one that is no longer effective.
This is all culturally relative. If you look at a Byzantine Icon today, you might be curious but you certainly won't drop to your knees and shed tears like a peasant in the 12th century. However, I saw plenty of waterworks at the end of Titanic. Hmmm... so, Titanic is the true art? This contradicts what he was talking about before, because the "beauty" of kitsch is supposed to pull the heart strings and make you cry, but the "Sublime" is supposed to be transcendent. Here's a little test for you. I'm going to give you a few examples and I want you to ask yourself how most people respond to them. If it's effective it's Art right?
Britney Spears - "Oops, I did it again"
Mozart - Fifth Symphony
A Mark Rothko painting
Snakes on a Plane
Jackson Pollock - Blue Poles
A hero fighting a villain.
A Rembrandt self portrait
A cute little kitten with great big eyes. Feel something yet?
If you read the original article first, right now you might be saying to yourself, "but you're missing the point". I was just going on a little tangent. But I'll briefly respond to the rest of the paragraph. It depends on how you interpret the term "effective"
Here he implicates especially the practice of illusionism in painting by saying that it's not Art if there's a more effective way of doing it.
First, to judge the "Effectiveness" of a work of Art, one assumes that one knows the intention of the artist, which is completely impossible. Even if the artist tells us, we don't know exactly what he might mean by a word like "beauty", "truth", "reality", or "symbol".
Secondly, who's to say the result was a dead end. If the goal was to represent some "objective" reality (even if we could all agree on what that was), then there are many paintings that are much more "real" than photographs. Photography simplifies the image in different ways than painting and can easily distort the "truth". At least in painting, the artist can decide not to alter the values, distort perspective, and flatten color. The artist simplifies using the brain and not the lens, and so the image is understood according to the function of the brain, which makes the painting more fundamentally understandable and able to convey subtlety. And as for sculpture... there isn't even a feasible replacement!
6. The symptoms of the demise of art are quotation.
i.e. the derivative... which I've already covered.
When I started this response, I didn't realize how long it would be, so I'll just add one more thing before I conclude this installment. Hopefully I've given you something to chew on.
7. P.S. Why does anyone bother with David Hockney? For an art critic his criteria is desperately wanting, and as an artist he is very poor.
You've got a point there.
Richard T. Scott