“Sorrow is so easy to express and yet so hard to tell.” —Joni Mitchell, no date
IT’S DIFFICULT coming up with an explanation for an image that feels like it says something—not just sorrow—but any thing/icon that expresses that resists translation into words/symbols that tell/explain. Yet I try. The painting above shows that. That despite the near illusion of an image and actual bridge connecting artist and appreciators, it doesn’t—their goals are not shared. OK?
Art for most of history, and all of pre-history as well, the creator’s goals were irrelevant to the project, his or her needs were subsumed under the wishes of the client, be that client the tribe, a god, or just some guy with money.
About 500 years ago in Europe—I don’t know enough about Asian, African and pre-Columbian American art-worlds to comment about them—that began to change. Artists’ clients who used to brag, “Look at my Venuses!” now boasted “Look at my Titians!” Artists gained celebrity. What hasn’t changed is the “my” part, the art is still all about the what the client wants, before brush hit canvas.
About 200 years ago, that too began to change. Artists in the early 1800s began to create before being commissioned. Most of these works were simply what artists thought the new “free” market wanted, but some artists began to create—and market—art about what they saw not what the would-be customer wanted to see. This is the beginning of Modernism.
The end of Modernism began when in the mid-1900s the avant garde of art-world found itself at a dead end. It had been chipping away at the old until nothing was left but flat color and primitive shapes. This “art” was, at best, decorative, more often just boring. There was no art left in these objects.
Art-world then created Post-Modernism. There’s nothing avant garde in that as it is just a reaction against Modernism the same way Modernism reacted to all the isms before it. Po-Mo denied Modernism’s terminal minimalism as well as both the auteurism—tragic or savant—and the art artifact’s uniqueness its “aura.” Po-Mos didn’t create, they “borrowed” re-purposed; and aggregated. They didn’t even make “their” art themselves; the concept’s the thing not the thing itself, they say.
What they did keep, even doubled down on, was commodification They monetized their projects to the exclusion of any aesthetic or sociopolitical value the objects could have in favor of their economic worth. They are not artist but entrepreneurs. PoMo stuff is only interesting when it sells. It was refreshing at first, but now it’s just another sign of the decline of our society.
Art can’t be art if it’s only about catching a customer or, more to the point, his or her money; it’s gotta also be about the creator appreciator interface, about what the former puts in the thing and the latter gets out of it, doesn’t it? Art is a language, a medium for a conversation between creator and appreciator. But once it is monetized, that conversation is over.
“…money doesn’t talk it swears” —Bob Dylan. It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) 1964
My advice to would-be artists? Ignore the Po-Mos, there’s nothing to see there, and more than likely, they are ignoring you already. Consider taking a different point of view, maybe the bridge parts will line up for you. But don’t wait for the others to shift their perspective, you could be waiting more time than you have.