I’m responding to the discussion forum that begins with the line “I don’t know if it’s art but……”
My heart sinks when I come across an opening gambit like this: when an argument is posited in such a fashion, something is going to be refuted and in this particular case, it’s usually the art. It is extraordinary that in the 21st Century, art still has to fight for position, it has to justify itself, now more than previously. Did the great Masters have to argue their case? In the absence of any more persuasive device for recording events and promoting agendas, it’s unlikely. So, is the ubiquity of media the reason why there exists a belief that we, all of us, humans everywhere, would exist as we do in the complete absence of the arts and the visual arts in particular? The ability to copy and endlessly reproduce art has undoubtedly influenced our reactions to it. Surely an object that is so unique, so important to the world could not so easily offer itself up to be endlessly reproduced? That suspicion that perhaps it’s not quite so valuable is amplified when the image shows up as a coffee mug, an umbrella, a vase, a cooking apron.
Those copies though, they indicate a different argument about art and it relates to the minefield of taste. One could find a personal space littered with the aforementioned mugs, screen savers, posters of art images but they do not account for the owner’s actual feelings about the art they represent or indeed, any other kind or art. Asking most people what they think about art, what kind of art they like and which they loath and you might as well be asking them to undress in public.
Because the rules around art have been evolving at ever-increasing velocity, no-one can definitively state what it is and what it is not, which is quite different from making definitive statement about art. Art now, is truly a reflection of one’s taste. And taste is our Achilles heel, because regardless of what you think of your own taste, revealing it will always make you vulnerable to outside comment. Having a great affection for Sunday school painters and committing to them by buying an art work from the railing of a public park is a particular statement to make about one’s aesthetic sensibilities, as well as indicating one’s aesthetic ambitions.
When we rely on our personal opinions for certainty, then we begin to falter. Rarely are we so utterly convinced of ourselves that uttering: “I know what I know and I know what I like” does not feel like the throwing down of a gauntlet and the likelihood of it being picked up by someone who actually really does know what they know and like and dislike. Imagine saying that to David Attenborough or Matthew Collings or Simon Schama? “I absolutely do know Simon, what is and is not art and what I do and do not like, and I tell you, that Michelangelo/Rothko, Barney, whatever about his art, I just don’t like it.” He’d kill you, you’d be so wrong. Nobody can dislike Michelangelo, or da Vinci, or Caravaggio, or Titian, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Monet, Manet, not even van Gogh. There’s a cannon of art you’re not allowed not to like, regardless of what you think. Because if you don’t like it and say so, you are revealing that you are either ignorant, or stupid, or worse again, both.
Art is unfixable in the fixable elements in our world. Just as you settle down to making up your own mind about a piece of it, along comes someone who knows more about it and is better at telling everyone than you and provides a reason for you to reorganise your thoughts about art again.
One of those reasons in recent times, is money. When you know that a person has paid millions and millions of dollars/ pounds/ euros for a single work of art, there is a great inclination to stare hard at that work in the hope (more than belief) that you too will be able to spot or even understand the beauty that they’ve seen that drove them to this madness, albeit a calculated one based on a keen knowledge of the power of the art market. Are people really willing to buy art that isn’t beautiful, or good, or arguably for some, isn’t really even art?
Why does paying a lot of money for works of art bestow them with aesthetics when in the absence of a known value, we – even if only to ourselves, secretly, would happily dismiss them as rubbish of a kind?
Art is personal, deeply so. Knowing about it or not knowing about it, having confidence in one’s own thoughts about it, deciding to live with it or claim not to be able to live without it, these are personal positions and declarations, and as such, they expose our sense of self – if not to ourselves, then emphatically so to others. And therein lies the crux. The creative person, the one who embodies an aesthetic sensibility – to what ever degree it is true individually, it is true of every one. Everybody can draw. Everybody can create art, and to do so with intent will produce art that has meaning; the only person art has to have meaning for is oneself. This really only changes when art enters the public realm where following it is a demand that it must be comprehendible by others. But until then, our own private relationship with art is one that does not need to be accounted for, or apologised for. The human quest for understanding is a complex one and we work through it in a myriad or ways, rarely though do we do it in a linear fashion. The narrow funnel of understanding art has been determined by the academy in its teaching of art as a canon of achievement plotted on a timeline comprised of targets and goals, where good art won out over bad and only very good male painters could be described as artists.
The internet and attendant affordable high quality digital technology has unleashed a creative energy en masse in an unprecedented wave of expression, ingenious and innovative and free of rules and the fear of making something bad. The ability to create anything at all by anybody at all has won out and the Monet mug is now as likely to be replaced by images we’ve made ourselves.
Who is actually disappointed by this outcome?