Leo and I deconstruct [post] modernism


Leo Tolstoy said, “One can live magnificently in this world if one knows how to work and how to love.” Freud added art to that, when he said that someone who could communicate this or her own suffering from a less than magnificent life there could reduce that suffering either with the making that art itself or by achieving success with it. He wasn’t clear on which but maybe he meant both.

Both those gents lived in the so-called Modernist era in art, which was that unusual couple of centuries in which expression of an artist’s individual feelings trumped the demands of the paying client, be they as before that time, the church and crown or after when the client is the marketplace. Tolstoy again, speaking of his times not ours, “Art is not a handicraft, it is the transmission of feeling the artist has experienced.”

That, of course, you know. But did you know that the Modernist era is a post-modernist myth? That it’s nothing but a fairy tale, advert or propaganda piece—in their terms, a deconstruction—designed to monetize and profit-take from long dead artists who failed to thrive, even to survive, in the above-mentioned “Freudio-Tolstoyian” manner?

But these clever, greedy post-modernist speculator/marketeers give the modernist artists love and they praise their work long after it’d do the long dead artists any good; they buy and sell the works for ever escalating prices, have blockbuster shows of it and publicize both prices and shows in all media.

And they invoke that second Tolstoy quote to get you, the valued customer, to empathize; they get you to say “I suffer, too!” But Why?  To get your attention, of course.  They know you can’t spend millions to buy a Van Gogh, but you can pay $50 to look at one for a couple of minutes in a show, or $20 for a themed i-phone cover. Also, one can, and many do, have an inexpensive  print of “Sunflowers” or its equivalent on one’s walls. And there are lots of art lovers out there, and your chump change adds up.

So what about “fine” art today, a profession deeply mired in the bitter postmodernism humor that it is? Why so many “Sunflowers?” Probably because the owners like to look at them, for that a print is as good as the original. But how many people have a Damien Hirst or another bad boy/girl of post-modernism’s print on their walls? I’m a self-declared intellectual, an aesthetic elitist, even, and I can’t think of anyone I know who does. But I’ve seen bed sheets with dots like his paintings, whole beds like Emin’s installations, and bath toys like Koon’s sculptures. None of which, using Tolstoy’s definition, I would call art.

Speaking about those who can and do spend millions: The only reasons I can think of why some would buy and possibly display an object built by or at least under the direction of on the above-mentioned entrepreneurs are; 1) to be able to sell it for a lot more than it was bought for, and 2) to be able to say “I’m so f**king rich that I can throw away this kind of money!” And, again in my opinion, neither of these valuations makes the object art.

I almost forgot about the drawing at the top of this post! It is not “fine” art, it is just an illustration about work love and Halloween; the mumming and guising (mentioned in “War and Peace,” which makes another Tolstoy connection) aspects of that holiday as it relates to art, work and life, these days. It’s about a holiday that is all about pretending to be the opposite of what you are, trick or treating, acting out impossible stories and so on.

Speaking of holidays; consider the simultaneous Dias de Muertos where the connection is between Hirst’s high-art sculpture “For the Love of God” and José Posada’s popular wood cut illustration “La Calavera Catrina.” Also see Posada’s “Gran Calavera Eléctrica” for prescient view of post-modernism. Just change one finger and it’d be perfect.