Writing about art is an art in itself. I join in with the cliché, ‘I don’t know much about art but I know what I like.’
For years I assumed that it’s in the seeing that believing comes. Now I feel it’s become the other way round, as in religion where believing affects the seeing, perhaps. The media critics are the priests of the arts and they have the power to turn art into an illustration for their text. Has modern art joined forces with the literary movement? To get the right understanding, must I first read about the artist and what it is I am staring at?
How dare I put forth the notion that modern art has trouble standing upright without an explanation next to it? Is it more complex than that? As the collective consciousness grows and evolves, we too develop and evolve and art plays a function in mirroring this.
While we drop what’s unnecessary, release old, well-worn ideas, hone down the elaborate, streamline and smooth off towards less-is-more imagery, is there a place still for the detailed and realistic art that does not require explanations? Even recording epic events in paintings is no longer vitally important, for we have the smart phone to capture this.
Then where are we heading? Like weather predictions, none of us really knows what to expect from the future. But because we aren’t comfortable in the not knowing – we have allowed the rise of a myriad of ‘experts’ who inform and direct us to ‘believe’ in the latest trends and what is deemed worthy and unworthy. Are the beneficiaries of these predictions related to a financial set-up already agreed with an established gallery?
Looking at the newest, most innovative creations emerging from inside art colleges should be exciting, uplifting and thought provoking. Great Britain won its greatness not only for penetrating the globe with colonisation but also for its edgy artists, writers, designers and musicians. Years of studying, exploring and experimenting in the colleges were meant to nurture the imagination to flourish in nourishing soil. But has the consensus become so loud and so influential that the art being produced today is a weak response from nervous students, many of whom have had to borrow heavily for financial support to study?
Degree shows often reflect this restriction in what should be the blossoming of new ideas. Instead, like badly grown seedlings struggling in weak soil, exhibitions show creations that are diluted forms from yesteryear, installations accompanied with scraps of paper explaining something that could resemble the contents of the artist’s waste bin.
How difficult is it for the newly forming artists to puncture the accepted already-done art? And is it ever possible to do this? Consider Solomon’s famous dictum:
“There’s nothing new under the sun. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
This is often used as a world-weary complaint about life’s monotony. When Solomon wrote the statement, he was emphasising the cyclic nature of human life on earth and the emptiness of living only for the ‘rat race’.
Our ability to express something beyond what has already been created is perhaps an impossible task. Instead, art must keep evolving in its repetition of what has already been, but with the creator’s own signature to make it different. Maybe all that is lacking today is the confidence to go against the consensus by expressing the imagination without needing validation?
The struggling artist determined to reject commercial viability, despite not being able to afford this independence of expression, is obliged to continue the ‘starving artist in the garret’ cycle until they are ‘discovered’ and given recognition. But then, doesn’t the neat packaging from the critics’ acceptance appear?
When Miles Davis stopped mimicking his heroes and waiting for approval from the critics he said, “Man, sometimes it takes you a long time to sound like yourself. Don’t play what’s there; play what’s not there.”
Perhaps what needs to be addressed first, before any attempt to create, is how to gain confidence in the self’s desire to express the imagination. Sadly, this often doesn’t arise until becoming financially comfortable.
Volume 34 no 3 January – February p 22 -23
(Sea Warrior is the preferred pseudonym of one of Penzance writers’ group)