Friday, 28 May 2010

Contemporary Art – A Reason to Embrace 4

Here’s the truth of the matter: we need to appreciate contemporary artists’ new levels of creativity, because it does appear to be that art is running dry of inspiration. Have we come to the end of this cul-de-sac?

In ‘The End of Art History,’ the editor of The Jackdaw highlighted that ’25 years used to be a long time in art…from 1985 to 2010 we’ve had only Conceptualism which is claimed to be varied when it isn’t.’ Is this the sign of the end? A montony in works is undeniable. I can never stop recalling how Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’ was in fact a joke and at art’s expense. But I am sure that counterfeit works of today that are gaining significant limelight are intended to be sober fine art. I’m saddened so many still find this humour gratifying. One hundred years some ‘contemporary art’ is scarily similar to Duchamp’s piss-take.

Crucial to our appreciation is that we remember that contemporary art matches contemporary thinking, and it can only a reflection on the times that we live in. If we don’t find a way to appreciate that we can get lost in the past, which doesn’t carry the same relevance or life. This is how we separate the truly contemporary for the pseudo-modern of artists, and the geniuses from the imitators. Those that are simply playing Duchamp’s game may well be educated in art history, skilled in craftsmanship (even if it is not utilised) and prolific and profitable artists, yet they are thinking in the context of World War Two’s machine age - they are not a truly contemporary artist. Real contemporary art is reputable.

There are so many aspects of contemporary art that should be celebrated because they exalt the privileges of 21st century British living. Freedom of speech being one – in Britain at least, there is no ruling body to define art that is good and worthy of being seen, and there are no laws which discuss acceptable subject matters, or points of view to be held in art. In society, and in art, there is the best sense there has ever been of equality in race, sex and sexuality. And art has the freedom of expression for the minorities to proclaim their identity.

At times, art may not be pretty; it may be a reaction of disgust to the modern world – to war and injustice, to social problems such as poverty, depression and eating disorders. Brutal subject matters make for brutal works of art – it would be wrong for injustice to be praised in a placid pastel scene. The honesty of contemporary art, the boldness, and the daring is wholly worth dropping your eyebrows and removing your frown because its honesty welcomes a plethoric frankness about the culture in which we live in.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Contemporary Art – A Reason to Embrace 3

Where does our detest for contemporary artists and contemporary works sprout from? Are we jealous of their creativity? I study the past with great pleasure. I think about the genius of the true revolutionaries in art – Manet, Picasso and the such, and admire their determinism, their dissatisfaction for the present, and their undeniable ability to think outside of the box. This again I do 100 years later for our living artists. I feel unable to sustain myself as an artist because I crave the excitement of new adventures. I love doing ‘nice’, ‘good’, well-crafted art of a broadly traditional style; but on this I can always be beaten, there is always a master to whom my work can be referred and my confidence shattered. I secretly desire to be a seeker, a finder, and revolutionary discoverer of new things. There are artists now, whose work may appal the viewer, but they are different. There is something so praise-worthy in those who find confidence not in the crowd, but in their individualism.

Are we jealous of their boldness? An art commentator wrote that we are “in a time when shock in art is almost impossible.” This I do not think is necessarily true. A branch of surprise (which, I discussed in A Reason to Embrace 2) is shock – an unpleasant or uncomfortable surprise. I have blogged about the shock of Jake and Dinos Chapman’s work in Ambiguity…. I suppose though, that this statement is true when diluted, because if we compare now to times before: taste is no longer one of conservatism only. Contemporary artists do have free reins on the comments they make, and how they make them.

Another couple of examples where shock, or statement provide the ‘x-factor’ would be Dark Stuff, 2008 by Tim Noble and Sue Webster – a sculpture of various mummified animals pierced onto the end of a stick, that when shone upon create silhouettes of the artists’ heads decapitated. Or the frozen blood sculpture Self, 2001 by Marc Quinn – the artist’s own blood, which is set in the shape of his head. I don’t know that this blunt and crude work is ‘quiet’ (see Quiet) or nice enough for how I like art to be, but then that may only be because at deep roots, I would not dare. These artists are brave beyond me. I realise the reason that I often dislike contemporary art could be because I think it is so farfetched, so beyond my line of thought, that it isn’t just insight that is required to align the two, it is appreciation of their creativity. It is very easy to identify my dislike for Damien Hirst’s Blue Paintings (see No Love Lost…) as sheer standards or preference in taste – I will only like work that is ‘good.’ But we know humans are far more complex than that. And so is it really that jealously of his fame being enough to exhibit any kind of work instantly raises ‘that’s unfair’ alarm bells?

I think it is right for us to be jealous of contemporary artist’s work because it signs that we are acknowledging that their achievements are greater than ours, and deservingly or not, they have succeeded.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Contemporary Art – A Reason to Embrace 2

It is so easy to mouth of about things we don’t like especially that which we see (an ill-composed outfit, an undesirable figure or a regrettable hair cut) and art is another. I read that, ‘In a permanent status quo there is nothing left to be connoisseuriral about…’ because everyone has the knowledge available to be an expert, so in a post-modern society we all become critics don’t we?

The question is: How often do we listen to the justification - the redeeming statements of artists prior to deciding we detest? So, it is true that I regularly ask whether work should need an explanation, and have argued that affective artwork is plenty powerful or clearly stated that words are unnecessary. As Gombrich points out, “No painting can be fully ‘explained’ in words. But words are sometimes useful pointers, they help to clear away misunderstandings and can give us at least an inkling of the situation in which the artist finds himself.” So let’s hear the artists out.

We deny some artists the right to any praise, when their art fails to fulfil us, yet we state no brief. We hope to be pleasantly surprised by the meeting of our vague requirements. “If we do not ask them to do anything in particular, what right have we to blame them if their work appears to be obscure and aimless.” Partly the problem is that we don’t know as post-modernist people what we want, and so we conclude regularly there is nothing good enough in art. Unlike in pre-modern times, currently artists are ‘forced’ to work to their own aims, because they do not live off of the reward of commission received by working to another’s requirements.

What do we expect when we go to a gallery? What do we ask artists to do to meet our viewing pleasure? Generally we want anything that is big, bold, statement, shocking, enigmatic or surprisingly. Quite, we don’t want an exact anything, just something ‘good’ and someone’s ‘good’ is quite obviously not the same as another’s ‘good.’ I think mainly we ask artists to surprise us…we ask artists to birth a new energy or innovation in their art. It appears to me that art had got to a stage, where a dramatic change of direction was required to keep people’s attentions, to stop the audience from boxing it with old works that can be perceived dull and out of date. Also, to provide a new invention of art so that it wouldn’t repeat itself. But, no one can quite decide on the preferred direction; or at which point we have run too far from the core of art - the key definition or understanding, (that is shaped by the past,) of what art is and should be.

So the fun for contemporary artists in that they are in complete control of their understanding of appropriation, of classification, or mediation, of standard and of taste. Hence, every artist’s work becomes a statement of the artist’s taste. Artists have to, at one stage in the progress at least, like the work they are creating, because they are pleasing none other from their point of view. Yet, later that year, or a few years late, the work will be in a gallery, where the audience of thousands will each individually judge whether or not they like it.

So much about art has become a like or dislike - An unfair trial for any artist to please the thousands of anonymous, commissionless patrons who look on.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Contemporary Art – A Reason to Embrace

Dear Contemporary-Art-Phobe, this series is for you. As well as on a critical or cynical day in my life, it is a challenge unto myself…

I’ve made it my part-time pursuit in my solo year at art school, (where they birth and nurture contemporary fine artists and designers), to become accustomed, acquainted and maybe even aligned with contemporary art. With so much exposure to it, it’s been a welcomed task. I’ve allowed myself, in the past, to be angered by contemporary art, and then be washed away with the anti-tide, and the repetitive lapping waves of ‘but it’s not art is it,’ most often led by individuals who know little about art anyway. I think a name like Philippa would have suited me – Phil the Greek for lover – I genuinely don’t like disliking. And no that’s not a double negative for you there! So I’ve been gathering thought-provoking arguments from qualified individuals that justify that which I’ve previously thought was unjustifiable.

In terms of traditional measures of taste – of quality, craftsmanship and beauty, I think quite a collection of people see contemporary art as the fall of art. The fall – the point at which evil entered the world, and it could be reversed. A new and forceful genre of art has influenced (positively or negatively) so many, that the public, and aspiring artists cannot help but be changed by it. They see art differently.

Art Historian Johann Joachim Winkelmann (18th century) believed the pinnacle of artistic achievement was the antiquity (approx. 800 BC – 600 AD), and this has at moments been a comfortable line to follow. “[There] is but one way for the moderns to become great, and perhaps unequalled, by imitating the ancients…It is not only nature which the votaries of the Greeks find in their works, but still more, something superior to nature; ideal beauties, brain born images.” This is when I see an image of a graph of limiting factors – a dropping curve – with an example such as primitive art, of the modern variety, which is not dissimilar to primitive art of the pre-historic cave art variety. Has there really been a climax that was followed by a regression to pre-enlightenment days? Or because appearances-can-be-deceptive, the contemporary primitives in fact do have skills and knowledge and ability superior of that before, and so it is a question of utilising potential and to a decided intellectual affect.

For this collection of thoughts, I’m going to put aside capitalist ideas of better and worse, and see where believing in contemporary art takes me…

Friday, 7 May 2010


I remember writing in my blog Rubbish: “Artists, it seems to me, are either very sure characters or very broken characters.” On this matter, I’ve realised that to be an artist you can’t be indecisive. To dilute completely, creating art is purely a process of [creative] decisions. Many of these choices are too insignificant for the viewer to note, but each decision of colour, tone, intensity and quantity of application etc. builds a unified impact. It is the act of decision-making - of shaping his or her own journey - that enthrals the artist with their work.

The concentration necessary to do so is not in order to imitate (if they wish to), but to decide how it is that they can imitate, step-by-step. If I reference this to literature – in this blog I am constantly deciding which word to write next. In certain places, I appear to have little choice, little spectrum for creativity because I am limited by my ties to ‘sense’. My aim is to make sense, but more than this, I decide to write in a way that is more elaborate, decorative, and phonaestically pleasing, thus cohesive as well as coherent. For example ‘elaborate’ – an adjective with many synonyms - is a much larger decision I have made.

Decision are what gives the creator, the artist, power. It is what connects so closely the creator with his creation because no creator will make the same sequence of decisions. My tutor predicted that on a busy day in the studio, we would make around a hundred decisions about our work; and this is why Juan Gris said, “You are lost the instant you know what the result will be.”

The sculptor Giacometti said, “There are too many sculptures between my model and me,” which expresses exactly why decisions are what tires an artist out. Conscious work is full of them. And it drains. It is no wonder to me now why the surrealists delved into the unconscious, the sub-conscious, because they wanted to see where art leads if it has a paucity of, or if null of choices. Does that make the work even more a visual embodiment of the creator, or does it make it less so? The surrealist would probably discuss the quality of the outcome, saying something along the lines that while conscious art knowingly mimics its creator; it mirrors the image the creator wishes to reflect. Whereas the unconscious is truthful to the mind of its creator. Not true to reality (is this really possible in art?), but true to the composed, exposed and unexposed thoughts of its maker.


‘Automatic Drawing’ by Andre Masson, 1924.