by Robert McIntosh15 March '19
Problems in the art world of the 21st century
The problem in a word: that there are some celebrated ‘artists’ out there who are not creating ‘art’ at all, but instead dishing up stuff which is altogether less appealing.
For a start, which part of all the clutter is the art?
Today the art industry slogan 'eye of the beholder' determines the quality of produced works.
Questions like this explain why contemporary art is afflicted by a pervading sense of uncertainty, combined with the genuine possibility that audiences – enthusiastic or not – are being sold well short. I am not talking about people condemning artwork because they don’t like it, but rather about a lurking suspicion that
It’s all form and no story, content, vision, originality, concept, etc. And beyond the voluminous interpretive chatter, none of it has any convincing depth. So this is also about confronting the idea that no one can tell the real difference, in artistic terms, between outright nonsense and pure gold, or maybe no one is trying as art connoisseurs evidently shall not drag themselves in discussing occasional urinals on display, beer cans installations or tanked sharks.
I presume we shall identify and clarify the precise nature of art so that we can make objective assessments about what we are presented with. And along the way, we need to acknowledge the misgivings that many people might have concerning the ultimate merit of contemporary artworks, as well as the possibility that the persisting disquiet might turn out to be very well-founded.
All the major modern artists – from Andy Warhol to Joseph Beuys to Jeff Koons – are mostly no extra-terrestrial, but this saturates their artworks with an acceptable cogency leaning towards design rather than art. While design and art do share many overlapping qualities, they are two fundamentally different disciplines. Damian Hirst has been trying hard for years to be both singular and mysterious, but so far to no avail. He wants to inhabit the domain of artistic otherness, but he can’t quite find a way to do it. There is also no point denying the skillful way these artists worked the system to their advantage. But when it comes to them being authentic ‘artists,’ we’re going to go to an entirely different conclusion.
The point is that the essence of real art is not about repetition, or obsession, or indecency, or sensationalism:
The primary contention here is that good art is all about showing us realms of experience with which we are not already familiar, or couldn’t quickly arrive at on our own. It’s not about ordinary anguish or everyday distress. It’s about exploring strangeness and the uncanny. And no matter how skillfully crafted an object, if it doesn’t show us something that we couldn’t ordinarily have come across, then all it amounts to is just another crafted object.
Such objects may be beautiful, or shocking, or hilarious, but if that’s all there is to them, then they are trite compared to the possibilities inherent in artistically narrative objects, the baffling and almost impenetrable invitations offered to us by authentic works of art, which present us with peculiar entry points to strange storylines, even if you are at a loss as to how to proceed with them.