In several conversations over the last few weeks, I’ve talked about a piece I wrote a few years ago and have been asked to repost it here. I welcome your thoughts and comments”
Time for a New Arts Movement?
It surprises and angers me that the art establishment places so much value on the meaningless manipulation of material, as if the application of media in new or different ways can, by itself, render the media into art. New does not always equal innovation and innovation, by itself, does not equal art. Art is the emotional and intellectual expression and subsequent, personal revelation, of individual experience. The focus has moved from developing depth and honesty in individual expression, to celebrating innovations in material and technique that seek simply to shock, disturb, or confound the viewers without taking them further into themselves or their world.
Throughout history, artists have manipulated media in response to their need to express more fully and with more depth that which they needed to communicate. Generally, techniques and material innovation derived from the artistic process of self-exploration. It didn’t happen the other way around. Consequently, innovation does not necessarily equate to good art and just because one can make something doesn’t necessarily mean one should. What is cool is seldom profound and technology cannot substitute for authentic human expression.
Unfortunately, this emphasis on new media and techniques has replaced the emphasis on content and in the process we have lost our value for the aesthetic which, while we have tended to relate the word to beauty alone, also means perception. For me, art is that which gives voice to things in ourselves we do not know. It expands our consciousness. It resonates deep within us and soothes us through the honesty with which it reveals the world around us, our common experiences, and the value of our individual journeys even as it validates our yearnings, desires, hopes and dreams.
Art should never just be a commentary or a political statement. In the same breath, art should never be merely sentiment or raw emotion. Instead, art should create a dialog through which both the emotional and intellectual response to experience is revealed. In that instant of expression, all we know of an object, a subject, or an abstraction of them — the individual, the historical, the present moment – is translucent, revealed to us through the vulnerability and courage of an artist who is willing to be fully honest. Then, as viewers, we can discover that in anger there is both love and fear, that hope comes from loss and is only sustained through determination and self-actualization, that our memories weave the fabric of our present, and that every one thing we thought we had defined has myriad parts yet to be discovered.
It is time for a new arts movement; time for artists to collectively define the direction we take in the 21st century. It is time to focus on those works which embody authenticity of expression over material manipulation, depth over observation, beauty (which does not mean pretty) over disturbing, clarity and insight over shock and confusion. Our continued willingness to support works whose meanings exist only through the interpretation of curators (whose jobs depend on the fact that the works require interpretation) condemns us. For if, as a culture, our highest accolades are reserved for those who seek to shock, destroy, and manipulate as they deny the breadth of our experience, then all our culture can aspire toward is more of the same.
Instead, we must inspire the art establishment to value once more that which is both perceptive and beautiful, regardless of media or subject matter. For too long we have lived under the umbrella of our recent history. There is no truth to the conviction that bad work sells and good work gets hung in museums. It is time to eradicate the myth of the starving genius and the wealthy sell out. It is time to lay to rest the notion that if you can’t understand something, then it must be good. Finally, it is time to help our world heal through works and exhibitions that value human endeavor over human despair. Each of the major movements leading up to and through the 20th century were created by just a handful of committed artists. Can we not do the same? Truly, if we lead won’t the world follow?