Ideas on Art 2007 - 2009

Art in the Postmodern era [2007]

What is the role of the artist in the postmodern era? Are we in the postmodern era? How do we know? And if we don't know, how do we know what the hell we are supposed to be doing?

My old art history teacher used to say that if we looked at a Renaissance painting we could get a feel of what it was like to live in that era? By that rationale it is fair to say that it is the artist's job is to give an impression of the era that we live in?

Problem - not many women got to tell us what it was like in the Renaissance so how can we take a male artist such as Piero della Francesca as being a good source from that time? Would we view art from that period differently if Piero had a female counterpart? (Don't get me wrong, I respect Piero, I'm just curious).

If it is in print it must be fact. Is this the case? I have read things in the past and in the future that turn out not to be true. People write things that are not true to sell a story or, as Marlon Brando referred to it, "to hock a story like a tube of toothpaste". The desire to sell, I feel, stamps on people's ability to tell the truth.

Can we believe what we read? [2007]

It has been in my mind for some time now that artists have some sort of duty to tell it like it is - but do they? This cannot be their core reason for being an artist. They have a personal life that affects them and that must manifest itself in their work (besides their training as an artist). But they are also affected by the world around them, society and the bigger issues that change the superstructural aspects of the countries that they live in.

I think some artists observe life and are able to interpret it in a way that people perhaps have not seen before until that point, or they are forced to think about something in a new way when looking at the artist's work. So, by that, when lots of people share the same sentiment about a work of art, it could be uncovering something true or something to believe in. Similarly, if the work goes unnoticed until long after the death of the artist it may be that the work was ahead of its time.

Understanding Art [2007]

How does one understand something like Art? Below are some notes that other people have made:

Conceptual Art
emphasizes content at the expense of form: what matters is not the specific object produced by the artist, but the processes by which it was produced. The concept behind a work of art is what matters; the materials used are unimportant and are often ephemeral (body-painting, junk, etc.).
See What I Mean? / Morgan & Welton / Arnold, 1992 (p. 92)

Unlike modernism, Postmodernism starts from the assumption that grand utopias are impossible. It accepts that reality is fragmented and that personal identity is an unstable quantity transmitted by a variety of cultural factors. Postmodernism advocates an irreverent, playful treatment of one's own identity, and a liberal society.
Art Now / Taschen, 2002 (p. 562)

Cognitive Dissonance
is the theory that people feel uncomfortable when faced with contradictory information or viewpoints and therefore tend to seek out messages which confirm [for them] choices or verdicts which they have reached.
See What I Mean? / Morgan & Welton / Arnold, 1992 (p. 62)

I have selected these quotes for a specific reason. In America in the 1970s there were quite a few Conceptual Artists creating works of some notoriety (I will make reference to which ones later). I was born in the 1970s and feel that historically this might be a good place to start looking at art.

The term Postmodernism is bandied about in the university where I teach. Some say it is the era that we are currently in, others say we have gone though it and are now somewhere else and there are those who don't think it is at all relevant. Simply asking where we are now, in terms of art history, is an important question - contextualising our very own footsteps.

Cognitive Dissonance is much bigger than the above quote, but it is helpful in reminding me that we sometimes see what we want to see rather than the truth. Trying to find ways of having critical distance is essential to this little body of work.

Three Theories [2008]

So far I have three theories about why artists might be artists and not lawyers or doctors. The first relates to possible individual reasons, the second to historical factors and the third, to superstructural influences.

I will work these in reverse. Superstructural: what I mean by this word is the bigger picture of the world rather than the infrastructure of a local community. Some artists’ work have affected the world and even brought change. The DADAISTS created work that had a great political effect. Salvador Dali created work that was in harmony with thinkers such as Sigmund Freud. Female artists such as Tracy Emin and Gillian Wearing challenged 20th century perceptions of women as artists. Making change on a global level is very difficult, but these individuals and others have instigated change through their art.

Historical: my first art history teacher told me that art from the past was, in some cases, the only historical window from which we can understand how people from that time lived. I agree with her on this and would go further and say that artists today have a duty to record, honestly, the world that we live in. People in the future can therefore get a feel for what it was like to live at the beginning of the 21st century. 100 years from now I would rather look at art than read what the ‘papers’ said as we all know that not all of it is 100% true.

Finally: individual reasons. Some artists, like a lot of people, find the world in which they reside extremely difficult to live in. So, they create their own world through their art. They alone are the God, the controller – they move all the pieces on the chessboard. I half love this one and half hate it.


    © Paul Glennon 2007