Sunday, May 12, 2013

Last Refuges of Great Art

The 'art world' should be ashamed that one of the last refuges of artistic beauty and value is not in the art world, but in the art produced by the artists of the video game industry ... I think there is more beauty and value in a single screenshot here than in all the works of the "Tate Modern" put together:

http://www.videogamer.com/wii/secret_files_tunguska/screenshot-4.html
(And there's plenty more like this out there.)


Even the garbage bin is beautiful


The rich, expansive virtual worlds created by video game artists are, in a loose sense, 'virtual art galleries' - they're often 'larger' than 'real' art galleries, you can comparably 'explore' them, and every virtual detail is almost like a small piece of art in its own right.

If you're ever in London, try this "experiment": Visit the National Gallery (for its classical paintings collection) in the morning, and the Tate Modern in the afternoon. Observe the contrast in your own reactions. Also, watch the people - observe the contrasting effects of psychological engagement (for classical paintings), vs disengagement (for modern art), between art and viewer.

Artists, make art beautiful and life-affirming. If it's going on my wall, or if I must see it in a public space, it should improve my day when I look at it. There is no shame in making the world a more beautiful, pleasant place to live in - quite the contrary.

If you want to "make a statement", grammatically-arranged words are a more suitable, less ambiguous medium for doing so. (Yes, there are certain limited contexts where images can "make a statement" - for example, an image of a nude female in a society that strictly outlaws images of female nudity does make a 'political statement', in context. But to really 'make statements', there's no substitute for human language - it is, in practice, our only common communications medium truly suitable for formulating complex arguments. E.g. try use a painting, rather than words, to explain the rational arguments for why it's wrong to outlaw images of female nudity, without resorting to words anywhere (not even the name of the painting). You can't.)

Another common argument for modern art is that it has value in evoking some subjective personal interpretation or thought process within individual viewers - and yes, this is a real effect. But when you think about it, this reduces a piece of art to little more than a Rorschach inkblot, which does the same thing. Rorschach inkblots may well be useful in certain contexts, but that doesn't mean it's a particular achievement to create one. The viewer is projecting something internal onto the painting - the origin of any value in any evoked thought processes, is the viewer's own mind. "Art as inkblot" isn't enough.

The emperor is naked, and "modern art" is barren and valueless. If you don't "get it", it's not you - there just isn't much to "get".

Don't tell me loftily that paintings created by a horse are a "procedural homage to Pollock" - the obvious response should be to realize the absurdity that we revere painters like Pollock for achievements that amount to little more than what's on offer from a horse. Granted, these are good - for a horse - but human artists can and should do better than horses, we can create works of far more richness and value. Don't let your life's work be on par with that of a painting horse's novelty 'circus act'.

Piece of litter making our streets ugly. If you or I left this in the street we'd be fined for dumping garbage. The "artist" got paid tens of thousands of Rands.

The primary value of modern art is probably as a lesson that the story of the naked emperor is not far-fetched (e.g. this chap can't stop gushing about the emperor's new clothes).

"If art is to flourish in the twenty-first century, it must renew its moral authority by rededicating itself to life. It must be an enriching, ennobling and vital partner in the public pursuit of civilization. It should be a majestic presence in everyday life just as it was in the past." - Frederick Hart

(Next article 'in series' »)

3 comments:

  1. For the sake of argument, it seems like the artist may have intended this piece create tension. The Bart heads 'plague' the traditional African art and the resulting dis-ease on the part of the viewer could be part of the point.

    Artists in the Dada movement purposely countered the established traditions of aesthetically pleasing art because of its irrelevance and bourgeois classicist association. It was the art of the rich who were sheltered from the horrors of war they were associated with waging (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dada).

    Similarly, it's hard to disparage Otto Dix's work (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_Dix) when you consider its Nazi context; this work basically revealed the horrific nature behind the pleasing and handsome suits: http://weimarart.blogspot.ca/2010/06/otto-dix-street-fight.html

    I see your point that one wouldn't necessarily want this piece in their home, and I wouldn't call it a favourite. But I'd argue that overall, it is better that it be there than to limit art to the simple goal of aesthetic pleasure.

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    1. Hi, thanks for your comments.

      "The Bart heads 'plague' the traditional African art and the resulting dis-ease on the part of the viewer could be part of the point."

      I've heard all that before, yes, and the point is not lost on me. (For the benefit of uninformed readers, the Bart-head statue depicted above is (in short) a public statue created by a white South African artist in post-Apartheid South Africa, depicting ugly Bart-Simpson heads plastered all over a traditional African statue.)

      My disagreement with that line of reasoning, though, is that it goes roughly like this:

      Problem: 'Western postmodernism and colonialism have left some ugly stains on the indigenous cultural heritage.'
      Solution: 'Hey, let's willfully create more, brand new postmodern colonial stains on the indigenous cultural heritage (such as ugly Bart-head statues)'

      Take some time to think about that, and really consider the implications of that logic. Does it embody a helpful philosophy, or is there a hint of something self-defeating and self-perpetuating in there? Does it help us cure this 'plague' - or is it effectively just inadvertently spreading that plague?

      It's like trying to solve a problem of dog-shit on your lawn, by purposely dumping more dog-shit on the lawn. And then arguing that the point is 'to create dis-ease on the part of the viewer to awaken them to the problem of dog-shit on the lawn'. The problem that you are making worse.

      (More later.)

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    2. Responding to this point: Artists in the Dada movement purposely countered the established traditions of aesthetically pleasing art because of its irrelevance and bourgeois classicist association. It was the art of the rich who were sheltered from the horrors of war

      Have a look at a graph like this: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/06/12/arts/design/Damien-Hirsts-Spot-Prices.html?_r=0 and tell me modern art still represents the common man, and not the rich. Also, thanks to numerous economic and technological advances, beautiful art IS now within the reach of even lower economic classes. The historical situation has changed.

      More: http://standpointmag.co.uk/node/4683/full
      How Contemporary Art Lost Its Glamour
      Suddenly, the press dares to criticise contemporary art. A number of coinciding events seem to have focussed a new, less reverential attitude towards the spin of the art world
      Hirst's auction took £70.5 million on the day that Lehman Brothers went bust. A lot has been made of this coincidence — certainly it emphasised the irrationality and the untouchability of the art world

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