Friday, June 1, 2007

Contemporary Art: Uninformed Musings

My critique of contemporary art is necessarily a bit uninformed. Nonetheless, I think we can proceed.

The visual arts are dictated by a different set of concerns than those that determine, say, fiction. Not unimportantly, it takes much less time to encounter a painting in a gallery than to read a novel. Visual art is more like lyric poetry in this sense.

The consequence of this, or perhaps the cause, is a (perceived) emphasis on reception and background. If the art is only in front of you for a short time, 1) why put years of work into it? and 2) the more "portable" the ideas behind the work need to be.

This viewpoint is the opposite of what might otherwise be thought of as typical of the art of the last century. I am saying, rather than "Art for Art's sake," that the concept has trumped form: that contemporary art is foremost an auto-critique of the possibilities of art and representation. The production of temporary art has become or threatens to become, merely a subset of art criticism.

Art for Art's sake I can understand. However, I find it difficult to move into so-called "conceptual art," not because I don't "get" it, but because I get it all too well and find the detour an uninteresting one. I must concede, some ideas are best expressed visually (or dramatically, or lyrically)--conceptual art is not inherently redundant. But don't we all feel that the idea behind a work all too often might have been detached and summarized for us--in short, for us to "get"--without the need for bad art? Once comprehension of a meta-critique becomes the criteria for an aesthetics, comprehensibility dethrones subtlety and the meta-critique seems pointed at all too easy targets.

Postmodern thought and aesthetics is often ridiculed for its "interrogations," "interventions" and "problematizing." I have to agree with this ridicule, without being so naive as to ask that art (or criticism) communicate Great Truths to us as their sole aim. Rather, I would ask that the meta-critique have an argument. Contemporary art seems less to have opened up an unending dialectical self-interrogation than to have run upon a kind of neurotic "block" that gets less interesting every year.

In short: we get it. Give us something more. I think it would not be inappropriate at this moment to mention (ie: demand a return to) a "pleasure of the text" in visual arts.

1 comment:

derek said...

In Hong Kong, there is a concrete desk, with chairs and chains on either end, and the date when the British ceded control to the Chinese in lettering pushed through its base. No one notices it. This is conceptual art.