What is art today, Part I.
- what has art become? - is a common question of a wider audience, usually pointing out to contemporary works seen in galleries, often exquisitely built homes to works of a very high price tag.
I would suggest a different question that might be able to steer the course to a more precise answer: "Where has art moved?".
To answer, I need to connect three dots in history that lead to a shift of creative masterminds to areas close by - but distinctively different than the area of free willed creativity - art.
Duchamp - Picasso - Warhol
What has begun as Duchamp's jest and pierced the world as Picasso's creative arrogance, completed itself in the classic american tale of Andy Warhol.
Duchamp was undoubtedly a genius who was frustrated with boundaries of creativity of his era, Picasso "introduced" ideas and heritage of others in his works, occassionaly revealing cultural shallowness of his audience. Andy Warhol seized the opportunity to allure youth culture in America.
All of these artists can be connected by one term - controversy. Naturally, "controversial" art has been here long time before Duchamp or even his early predecessors. The first major and coherent wave that fractured our understanding of art came with impressionists, followed by expressionists, constructivists and abstract art, together with smaller movements.
Controversy in art is something that questions our stances, beliefs and opinions about the subject or the way how is the subject portrayed. Impressionists "introduced" the controversy as a tool that dissected and re-built the way we see the world, which was a process that helped to spark a new era and boom of creativity.
However, the boundaries of general understanding or acceptance what is possible in art have always been slower in advance than the artist's mind. Some creatives, as Duchamp, were questioning the pace of this advance with works that drew a sharp query into finding an answer for "what is art". Many of his works were indeed mere questions with little ambition to find definite answers. Unfortunate result of Duchamp's influence within his followers creating ready-mades and installations is they did not move forward, rather backwards presenting their works as answers, not inquiries to a cultural or historical status.
Understandability - tangibility.
Another term that connects these three names is - Understandability or tangibility - how close visually or semantically is the presented object to a general audience. Understandability is one of the conditions of success in all creative spheres.
Picasso is probably the first name anybody encounters when learning about art. The truth is, Picasso's creative or working flare, perseverance and a certain kind of charisma were the only paramount abilities when we compare the quality of his work to his peers. For example, Braque's complexity and cohesiveness in quality reaches far behind Picasso's works, yet his name and work falls well behind Picasso's fame.
The definining difference that explains this Picasso's status is - understandability. Picasso took fragments of cubism and offered them in a way that could sparkle a dash of controversy in their time, but in a greater picture - offered simple, identifiable forms anybody can relate to and understand visually. Picasso stylized forms, but in a way general public could - in the end - understand and accept.
Duchamp created in his time objects that were above general understanding in regards to art - but not in terms of semantic appearence. Duchamp used modified objects that while presented themselves in different than original meanings - we could all recognize and eventually - accept.
Warhol is the most relatable of them all, as he worked exclusively with real material that was usually not modified or slightly modified or re-arranged. It was a content anybody, even without any art education or education at all - could relate to.
Controversy and tangibility in regards to art has given us a lot of great and defining content, but has been, and is the reason of qualitative decline in art world.
Simple in form and semantically relatable content that is ideally "controversial" is the leitmotif of almost any heavily propagated work in art, causing unfortunate confusion in general public. There are basically two groups amongst the general public (general defined as with occassional passive / mildly active interest in art).
One visits contemporary galleries because it wants to be "cultural" and carries usually no significant emotional / rational result from the experience or the other group, that usually leaves the gallery with a slight bewilderment or in the worst case - a declinatory, sceptical or even angry stance to "art" in general.
This is truly unfortunate as many of these people lose an opportunity to discover real gems of art and create a deeper interest in art, that may lead to education to other artistic forms.
Why is the today's art world so confusing?
Simply because it offers extremeties in terms of quality that are not necessarily in context with their place on the market. One may see a 700,000 £ worth of a canvas with pinned butterflies but may as well discover a forgotten impressionistic or abstract picture in a small gallery worth a couple hundreds, that may be top notch in aesthetical quality and clarity of form.
Created value and what is easier to manufacture and sell.
So why is this happening? Why can be pinnned butterflies sold for hundreds of thousands but a today's relative of duchamp's abstract forms can't or is sold under price?
The thing is - art is not a mathematic discipline. It can not be counted or measured. This fact opens a room for a speculation - we can "count" art as we please, there is no law nor precise logic of how to define a price tag for an artistic piece, we always "make it up". We can do it in honesty or we can speculate.
The name of this paragraph is tied with the problem of quality vs. its monetary potential on the market - how easy it is to sell. To sell well, it should ideally be visually / semantically relatable - simple - or controversial, ideally both.
If something is simple and understandable in form and also controversial - it has a lot of potential. The next step is left to curators or owners of galleries who create the marketing allure around the sold subject or the author. You would be surprised how little is the difference sometimes between an "author" and a "product".
On the other hand, imagine selling and author with intricate, complex and semantically heavily layered work. It is not understandable, not relatable because it is usually too stylized and too hard to "understand". It is not marketable.
Truth to be told, fabrication of authors or their works may be in some case more of a subconscious search of curators / gallery owners / managers for "what might be successful on the market" rather than calculated, cold blooded stunt for our taste.
They are simply giving the market what it wants.
Part II. - The shift - to be continued.