Monday, January 05, 2009
Category: Art and Photography
"The water is warm." My colleague looked at me with disbelief and concern when I responded to the simple question, "What is your impression of Art Basel?" Really, at the beginning of December the Atlantic Ocean in Miami is like a soup. If we stay with culinary analogy, the largest art festival in the world was again like a gumbo. Hundreds of ingredients fighting for domination or attention in the end created a mushy gray-brown mixture. After going to countless pavilions, tents, galleries, overpasses and warehouses not one piece stunned, impressed or even touched me. The desperate search for individuality reminded me of high school students. All of them struggle to assert their uniqueness with clothing, haircuts or posture, but, when you look at them from a distance, they all seem the same. I have heard it said that "art represents the social, intellectual and economical status of society." However if this is true, then maybe this is the problem. Perhaps art should not attempt to hold a dialog with a culture of such obvious and shallow observations. Maybe it should denounce desperate attempts to achieve fifteen minutes of fame. Possibly it should embrace technique and craftsmanship as the essential part of the creative process. Essentially, Art should embrace real social issues and a sense of life and love which always have and always will be an inexhaustible source of reflection.
How has this happened? It occurred as we lost sight of the principle that art should be a vanguard of philosophical and social transformation, when we started to believe that the depiction of popular culture is the answer to the demand for intellectual exultation and finally, when we granted the status of artist to anyone who labeled himself as creative person.
A renowned economist and writer has described the United States economic system and stock market as a house of cards. It was developed to satisfy greed as a highly sophisticated mathematical system, in which even those at the top neither had expertise nor understood its complexity. As in the case of the banking system in a post war environment, art was created mostly as a response to itself. Visual movements, one after another, created retorts to each other's theses, strictly absorbed by style and pseudo sophistication. Art thereby not only alienated itself from the public but also slowly distanced itself from technical mastery. At the same time, artists claimed to be pulling away from object creation. This however was just an illusion. Events, happenings and installations documented as photographs or films, by definition turn out to be objects. Perhaps it is just me, but when I observe performances, I have an overwhelming feeling of embarrassment bordering on humiliation. Bad acting insufficient even in middle school theater, combined with remorseful music attempts to achieve an interdisciplinary connection. In practice this proves the point that we don't have multidisciplinary masters. My contemporaries presume that they multitask, but perhaps they just lack the ability to concentrate.
I am returning to kitchen! Can a chef think food? Can we taste his intellectualism? I know the counter argument. Sure – he can give direction to his assistant. However, he will forget how the parsnip smells, he will fail to understand that just an extra pinch of cumin will make a dish unique and he will be clueless how to de-bone a duck. Perhaps, his restaurant will be successful or even trendy, and maybe, just maybe one day Oprah will grant him the honor of presenting his signature "duck with parsnip" dish on her television show. Finally he will have a chance to present the depth of his knowledge and his philosophy of cooking, share his controversial character and ensure millions of people that "because it is easy" anyone can cook. Well, I still prefer my Grandma's duck. She would spend a good hour choosing the best bird in the market, and then slowly proceed with taking feathers off, cutting, basting and slow roasting. The smell and the intangible warmth could be sensed from our neighbor's house. Maybe because of her understanding, she created this meal to express appreciation and love.
In the late nineteen-fifties and sixties, tenured positions in art colleges were awarded to young, then-progressive artists. Most of them had a distinct dislike of "academia art" and the classical method of art education. I recognize the foundation of that point of view. There is nothing worse than a badly sculpted, painted or drawn realistic portrait. The empty, uninspired and dead depiction of a thinking, emotionally active human being is a crime. At the same time two badly constructed pieces of wood, hastily painted with primary colors and juxtaposed with two pages of artistic philosophy, drive me to suicidal thoughts. Have we forgotten that essential to any form of expression is knowledge, thought and passion? Although it can be aggressive, or even extravagant, innovation does not have to be ostentatious. Yes, it will require new forms but can also fall between one and two, the space of infinity.
After the sixties we witnessed a widening of the schism in the balanced approach to art education. An individual may graduate with a Master of Fine Arts, having taken only three credits of foundation drawing, three credits of foundation painting and without classes in live drawing or sculpture. Curriculum will assure the student that composition is not really necessary, color theory is an unpleasant prospect and anatomy is just a sound (could it be forbidden?). This creates a troubling situation when young artists know how to talk in general about art but sadly are unable to articulate on the subject due to limited visual vocabulary. This problem echoes the current tendencies of our society. We talk incessantly, even when we should not, for example, when driving a car. My aversion to this tendency validates Yul Brynner in the "King and I" saying: "man should be silent when has nothing to say"
We live in a very exciting time. In the proverbs of some cultures this is a dreadful wish, though I don't think we have choice. To summarize will take too long, however it is worth it to mention a new president, a collapsing of world economy, a few conflicts (in my younger days I believe we called them wars) and the complete disintegration of human interaction. Certainly artists misunderstand political correctness and are frightened to assault issues of race and social order. Nevertheless, I am dismayed that at this bustling point in history only a few artists feel compelled to comment, analyze or criticize any of these events. And even if they do, their creations are predictable, simplistic and trivial compared to Doctor Phil's remarks about penguin sexuality. Please understand. I am far from appointing an artist the function of "social worker" or "political activist." Fortunately the time of "social-art" is past (except maybe deep Siberia.) I find it hard to believe that most artists, alienated from important events, discover meaning in the scrutiny of a composition of two intersecting triangles. It may be that an artist could create a philosophy around that desideratum. However the lack of comprehension by the viewer calls into question the motivation in generating art.
I believe we create art because it is difficult. I trust that the beginning of any form of artistic expression is an internal struggle between knowledge, feelings and beliefs. And I hope that the lifetime of any creative person is a journey towards a complete realization of who he is and where he is going; starkly real, free of self-pity, and undistorted by a mirror of empty wishes. Only then can art have the ability to influence and make a permanent impact on the viewer.
While analyzing the history of visual art, it is undeniable that a large percentage was influenced by human emotion. Surely love was a dominating force, and not only during the time of Lord Byron and Pushkin. Although the Romantic Movement is largely disregarded by contemporary society as a cheap sentiment, it actually magnified ideas of pure love and uncompromised honor. Personally I don't see anything wrong in this attitude; moreover, I strongly believe romantic philosophy should be taught as an obligatory subject in schools of law and economics. Perhaps this is just foolish; can sensitivity be learned? Inside, we all yearn for emotional bliss, when love is immune to the egotism, wholly altruistic. Even if passion fades away or remains unattainable, this torment was used countless times as inspiration for creative expression in music, poetry and the visual arts. What is then happening with new art? Are we immune to human feelings? In some aspects, unfortunately yes. In a culture of instant coffee, fast food, superficial interactions and instantaneous sex, we have forgotten ecstasy and despair. Particularly, at this time, artists and intellectuals should have the will and honesty to address these issues not leaving them exclusively to commoners of reality.
"The water is cold," noticed one of the older residents on North Beach. I managed a smile, trying to avoid conversation. The gentleman was persistent. "Have you seen Art Basel? This was trash. I prefer 'Impressionism'." To nod or not to nod; this was my question. I chose a grin and I shielded myself away from explanations. I peremptorily judged his lack of preparation, education and taste. I am not sure I was correct in arbitrating his statement. It only occurred to me much later that art is a discipline in which people do not shy away from profound statements based on shallow information and half truths. But after all, this behavior is integrated into most aspects of our lives; art mirrors the social order. We have stopped asking questions – all answers are given. Just turn on the TV or search the Internet.
7:19 AM 0 Comments(Add Comment) |0 KudosTran