Concrete expressionism


Freud called art sublimation; a palliative for the suffering would-be artists feels when they can’t get “honor, power, riches, fame, and the love of women” (his words, his world.) This only works for these artists if they can generalize their efforts enough to make it palliative for others. Odd this, that those very others are often the ones who deny those artists the traditional roads to success in the first place.

Freud’s world, Europe circa 1900, was the high noon and epicenter of the modernist era. I prefer to call it the individualist era because the century or two centered then was unique in that the individual artist’s thoughts and feeling trumped those of crown, church or marketplace. The artists’ place in the art game has never been higher before or since.

The era began in the early 1800s when the romantics (Turner, Gericault, etc.) made glorious pictures of humanity’s hopeless suffering in the faces of both sublime nature and its own evil. But soon the artists (Manet and Schiele to name a few) began to suffer—for their art—as much or more than their subjects. First the artist’s mostly suffered from an uncaring world, which they could communicate, but by the mid-1950s the suffering became wholly internalized as epitomized by Pollack, and Rothko whose art became their lives, private or not at all.

Then it all changed, the pre-modernist era came back in the late 20th century. The crown and church didn’t make the cut this time, but the marketplace has stepped up masterfully. Enter Warhol and the rest of the merry popsters with the simultaneous commercialization of art and artification of the commercial. Warhol took it further first; his artist persona spilt in two to became both the art itself and the man who slipped out the back door with the money.

Here’s a postmodern thought experiment: Imagine any one of the celebrity/entrepreneurs who pass as artists today photocopying his or her backside. Now image an ordinary nobody doing the same and tell me why former would sell for thousands and the latter would not? The recently deceased Historian/philosopher Arthur Danto answered, “For if something is a work of art while something apparently exactly like it is not, it is extremely unlikely we could be certain we could pick the art work out even with a definition.”

So whether psycho-analyzed or not, art is a currency exchanged for in Freud’s words, “honor, power…” so even when a sublimating—self-acknowledged or not—late modernist artist attempts “to elaborate his daydreams, so that they lose that personal note which grates upon strange ears and become enjoyable to others” they are subject to market whims, so when he fails “to modify them sufficiently so that their origin in prohibited sources is not easily detected.” (Freud again) the art is judged insufficiently generalized, and is graded nought by the previously mentioned others.