Lots of people wonder why they don’t understand contemporary art or modern art. Yeah, I appreciate that. I also think a lot of it is dumb. A lot of it is just ego stroking, and making sure that your gallery books in some art of the hot new artist. You don’t know why they’re the hot new artist, but you book them anyway.
Most people do not understand why this art became popular and why it continues to be popular. The key to understanding the art of the 20th century are the two massive world changing events. They changed art forever: The World Wars.
Now, I am condensing huge amounts of art theory down into a very small bite size chunks, so a lot of the nuance is lost but basically in Modernism there is the basic premise that:
The more work you put into something the better it becomes and the more meaning it has.
While with Post-Modernism the basic premise is that:
Effort is redundent. Art is everywhere.
Modernism was at its peak in the late 19th and early 20th century and many great masterpieces were made during that time. They are what many people would still regard as masterpieces today, because most people are Modernists even if they do not know the meaning of the word. Art that took effort. They like seeing someone’s passion and craftsmanship focused into specific works: Painting, sculpture, literature, architecture and little else. This was the aspiration of a civilization that was rich on the success of industry. Everyone was getting richer. Electricity lit up the cities for pennies a day. Industrial and scientific progress was headed towards perfection, and likewise, perfect art would one day be made by the correct application of human effort.
Now, the first elements of Post-Modernism were sprung from Dada art. Dada has a slightly different premise: Effort is wasted. The dada movement wanted to create nonsense art, to point out how silly art is, and helpless in the face of the horror of WWI, the event that inspired Dada. Dada is art making fun of the effort artists put in.
But Post-Modernism came after the Atomic bomb. Both Dada and Post-Modernism are born from fear of death, but compared to post-modernism Dada seems like a pointless teenage waste, because sure, artists are wasting their time on something pointless but so is everyone else in a world of nuclear war. We’re all going to die. Today, tomorrow, in 50 years time, we’re all going to die and we have very little time to embrace the beauty of this world.
So, Post-Modernism embraces everything that the viewer thinks has artistic value. If any thought went into its design then it is worthy of artistic appraisal. That appraisal might decide it is uninteresting, but it deserved the attempt. You can still make a painting, or a sculpture or a building in Post-Modernism, but it also recognizes the efforts unrecognized by Modernism. In post-Modernism chairs are art. Paper towels are art. Toast is art. Rubbish is art. Wherever a human hand has shaped an aspect of the world: There sits art. Because in this tiny amount of time we have on Earth who wants to ignore something that is beautiful simply because its “not art”.
But I don’t like it?
A lot of people hate that. It’s fine, you’re allowed to hate it. A lot of terrible pieces of art have been made in the name of postmodernism, and its demand that everything be appraised. And it’s fine to point that out.
But 99% of the time people don’t say “Oh, I believe in the modernist philosophy of art so I would really rather we went to the local portrait gallery than the pop art gallery”. They just say they hate modern art.
Which is ironic, because Modernism is actually what they want to come back.
It is not art!
A banana hanging from the ceiling is not art. Nor is it thought provoking. It’s just stupid and lazy. Dada was making fun of that. It was satirizing the Picasso’s and Manet’s of the world. The first piece of Dada art was an upside down urinal. The whole point was making fun of abstract expressionism. It was anti-art. The whole point was to make fun of the pretentiousness of the art world. But then the “joke movement” began being taken seriously by the elite. It’s like a whole movement based on Poe’s Law. It became co-opted and turned into “conceptual art” where it didn’t matter what the hell you made as long as you called it art and said it represented urban decay then it was art.
That’s not art. Pop art is interesting because it blurs the line between art and design. Surrealism is cool because of the imagination involved. But hanging a shovel upside down from a ceiling involves no effort. Someone was probably pressed for time to come up with a piece and just submitted a shovel to MoMA.
So don’t give me that pretentious crap about “Ohh, it’s a blank canvas. It symbolizes our disrespect for Mother Earth.” That kind of art community is just a ego stroke. And the dropped glasses being mistaken for art perfectly demonstrates it. People only stop to look at it because everyone else is. It’s mob mentality. However, once the mob decides it is provoking, its art.
Its art. Its all art. The glasses, the shovel, the blank canvas. All of it. If you made it thie far, you had feeling on the feelings associated with the art or lack of art. That is what art is. Feelings. Passion. The expression of humanity in what ever way you wish to express or not express. Art is incomprehensibly significance or the total lack of significance or anywhere between.