Art Thought Experiment

Posted 4/08/2010 by Kate Kelly in Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,
I’ve been thinking recently about the artistic state of the modernist. Are we still modernists? Are we really post-modern? Dare I call us post-post-modern? All of these questions, labels and assumptions about the conceptual art of our time lead to one greater question: Why are we the ones naming ourselves?

It seems that as artists, historians, anthropologists, social scientists, philosophers, what have you, we are constantly preoccupied with the need to classify ourselves within the context of history. We are naming the next generation before they are even able to walk. We call them Baby Boomers, X, Y, Z. I wonder, what happens when we get to the end of the alphabet? What will we call ourselves in old age? What will posterity call us? What does it mean to be a modernist or even po-mo as so many affectionately call it? The term modern refers to what is happening in the current time period, what’s going on now? It’s modern. Now? It’s a second after the aforementioned “modern” but because it’s happening…riiight….now it’s still modern. We are constantly updating our own modernity. To say we are post-modern is to say we are past our own time, we are beyond the future.

We are the Tomato Soup cans labeling ourselves. These labels will not sustain, however. The Romantics were once modernists.

For this reason, in this essay I will use the term “modern” loosely as it refers to both the current state of art and the so-called “Modernists” of the past generations.

My concern is with my generation. So often I’m overcome with an intense apathy for the current artistic state. We have commercialism, but do we have art? We have Zac Efron but do we have William Shakespeare? What is artistic genius today? I walk around “modern” art museums and look at objects, paintings and films that are almost a hundred years old. I look at nails hammered into a wooden board and think, “I could do that.” I don’t mean this in the same vein as someone does when they lack appreciation for Pollock or Picasso. I mean to say that some types of modern art (more specifically certain Dalí lobster telephones and Duchamp fountains) are at their core conceptual commentary and to a certain extent, no longer requires craft but rather artistic ideas behind it. The nails on the wooden board comment on the three dimensional aspects on a canvas. The lights against the wall are meant to highlight the corner of the wall. The lobster telephone is just a ceramic lobster on a telephone—the everyday meeting the manufactured surreal.

If art is to become increasingly more surreal or conceptual then where is the future? It seems that the “anxiety of influence” spans beyond the realm of literature and into the core of conceptual modern art. Everything seems to have been done, or has it? What is left? The imaginative canvas, the lack of art, is this the future of art?

Perhaps I’m being too pessimistic. The artistic mind or the true/truer artist will always find a new thing to do, a new way of shocking or surprising. They will urinate on canvases and break the gallery walls with a sledgehammer. There will be visionaries, there will be artists—but what if there aren’t? What if we have become too abstract to even create, too abstract to even move, but just abstract enough to think in this vein without action? What is the creation of the apathetic artist? Is it not the most exciting creation—the possibility of brilliance, the potential of the mind? Why waste this by attempting to create something that will fail to uphold the vision in your mind? The concept of conceptual art—why make it tangible?

I foresee a variety of different outcomes of our, my, generation of artists.

Art has gone from the splotchy canvases of abstract expressionism to the live art of the 60’s to the acid tripping writings to street canvases of graffiti to natural art in the gates of Central park. Things are becoming progressively more natural, more conceptual and less accessible for the common man to understand. An eighty-year-old man today may look at a Rubens or Degas and find beauty, craft and critique. Will that same man understand Warhol or Basquiat?

Clearly there are generational differences but odds are that this old man will look at the nail imprints on the wooden board and step back, puzzled by the lack of vision (or some may say simply overwhelmed by the conceptual nature of the piece).

Art is moving forwards and backwards, it is young and it is old, it is going native and going into infinity.

The progression of art is, from one perspective:Art as tangible, representative, craft, beauty, mystery, religion, nature, an impression, an expression, a conception, daily life, everything, thought.

Our thoughts will not leave our minds. Our artists will get stoned and think for hours think about the art they will create, the genius they will have and the lives that they will live—penniless with everlasting fame.

With the 60’s I’ve heard some say that we saw some of the greatest visionaries, musicians, poets, and artists. It was a time of “revolution,” or so we like to imagine it. It was unbridled and lawless, a time to free your mind, body, and love.

I’ve heard others comment that this was a time in which people wasted so much of their potential. The unbridled nature was unproductive. The freedom came at a price. And the love killed too many brain cells. Some say that we lost so many artists; others say we gained.

Regardless of the exact outcome of drug culture, hippie culture, revolutionary love culture (whatever you care to call it) the fact remains that art has become increasingly more abstract. What will there be next?

I think there should be no art. Just the thought of art. A nihilistic approach to art. Art is a religion, it is a belief system that we are consciously rejecting. If we reject art then we will leave nothing for posterity but the thoughts of what could-have-been, and is not the thought of potential even greater than what is created? If you have never been to the Sistine Chapel but admire the concept of it whole-heartedly then you will more than likely be disappointed upon visiting it. There is no greater evil than the imagined evil in our minds. There is no greater art than the art we imagine upon looking at a blank canvas. A canvas with a hole in it, a empty notebook turned upside down to create a tent with a sign outside reading “Will art for food.” This is the future.

Artists can no longer sustain a posh or expensive lifestyle without becoming commercial. Art is an expensive industry becoming less and less expensive by the day. Starving artists are becoming increasingly more common because they are not creating art, they are thinking about art and many cannot buy a canvas to paint on because they are drowning in debt from art college. The degree is necessary to be an artist. The liberal arts or just plain arts teach you to think and study and learn but we are thinking and studying and learning rather than creating and doing.

I have composed thousands of poems in my head but when I turn to grab a pen it is out of reach in the overhead compartment of the plane and the seatbelt sign is on; the flight attendants are looking stern. When the moment of inspiration hits me, I am in class listening to a lecture on 18th century history. I write down the facts and soon forget the words, the words in my head and the words I wrote down. I recall a foggy dream of a snowy wedding in which I wear green and I don’t write it down because I’m too tired from reading Equiano and De Quincy the night before.

I am confessing to be an American Art-Eater after spending all evening reading about English Opium Eaters. I have dreams just as relevant as DeQuincy’s and just as stimulating but I do not write them down because I’m too busy doing what is required in order for me to understand history.

I no longer wish to understand history. I want to reject the anxiety of influence that Milton, Eliot, Wordsworth and Joyce have forced upon me. I wish I had never read their awful beautiful words. I wish I had only be given a pen and told to paint with it. I am rejecting history only because I know it and I am commenting on art because I appreciate it. I want it to end. I am currently suffering from aesthetic indigestion and art (or thinking, nihilistic art) is Pepto Bismal.

Amen, Nihilism, Amen.

Yesterday I was told that all of my ideas are talking about the point we will never reach. I’m talking about the line, whereas reality lives within an asymptote. We toy with these ideas and we create them, if only to watch them never come into being. We will look at the line and talk about it, but we will never actually do it.

I hope this is true. I hope this is false.

This is similar to the way that people look at communism. Is it impossible or is it a prophecy? Yes.

3 comment(s) to... “Art Thought Experiment”


andrewc said...

so infatuated with thought and a general lack of any aesthitic creativity if you even begin to think that there is no new visual ideas. Such a conceded concept, easily adopted to those who aren't able to think of something new.
"just make art, dont bother caring if its good or bad, let others tell you but before they can, make more art"

PicMuse said...

I'm trying to follow the previous comment. Who are you criticizing and where do you fall with the opinion of the author.

I do think its interesting your (the author's) frustration with the exposure created by the collegiate education system. It does leave people able to appreciate and analyze what the greats did but does not encourage them to create their own unless they were a BFA or took creative writing classes.

CtotheB said...

After reading this, I can't help but think that we artists are the proverbial dog chasing the car of true beauty.

At the end of the day all of us know that we've forgotten more masterpieces than we'll ever create.

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