There was a moment, somewhere in the last century, in which our definition of art changed forever. It’s easy to attribute it to Marcel Duchamp and his appropriation of the male urinal for his 1917 piece “Fountain,” so for all intents and purposes, let’s just pretend it’s “Fountain.” Funny thing about that piece? The original “Fountain” was only seen by a select few and vanished soon after Duchamp’s ceremonial “signing.”
Duchamp certainly wasn’t the single most important artist in modern history, but he was in no small part responsible for publicizing the drastic re-definition of art that would be shaped over the next century. In modern art, the idea was to become more important than the object.
That crucial point upon which modern art turns was laid out in avant-garde magazine The Blind Man in connection to Duchamp’s “Fountain” one year after it’s christening: “Whether Mr Mutt (Duchamp’s moniker) made the fountain with his own hands or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view – created a new thought for that object.”
Through the work of the Dadaists and others, and to the chagrin of many, our definition of “art” was changed. Art was no longer about beauty and visual appeal. Art was about the idea and over the next century the world would see a gradual progression that would essentially evolve the “artist” into a philosopher.
While the evolution has made art (to some) more interesting, it has also made art, to most, incomprehensible. Unfortunately this has in turn led to its rejection by many and its relegation to the realm of the intellectual. This is in part due to the academic and artist’s inability to explain the art and it’s foundation in philosophy as well as it’s importance on that level and within the history of art; all information which is vital to an appreciation of the art.
A few years ago I wrote an extensive analysis of the Abstract Expressionist movement and argued, as many before me, for the critic’s centrality in that movement as few before it. Without the mediation between the critic and the audience, a belief held by many, is that it would be nearly impossible for the general public to even recognize the movement as art. Those who know me know I don’t mean that as a slight, but it is still a difficult topic to address amongst non-art fans.
Should we need an artist’s words to describe his work? Is it really art if the public can’t recognize it as such?
Questioning the necessity of explaining why modern art is art is a valid question that leads to many more interesting questions.
Should we really have to define art? Shouldn’t art be an individualized experience? Because the artist defines his/her art as such, if we interpret it differently does that mean we are wrong?
Do we owe the general public an explanation about art and its meaning? Or do we treat art as elite?
Concerning the last two questions. Being a casual art lover myself (and by casual I mean without formal education) I am obviously of the opinion that yes, we owe it to the general public to help them understand and appreciate what we are calling art and we should be ashamed for having shirked our duty for so many years.
I’m going to at least put in my two cents.
It may lack a consistent format for a little while I figure it out, but I owe it to myself, and eventually hopefully to others, to at least attempt to convert a few to an appreciation for something I swear by.
So here it is. Not because I’m particularly well-qualifed, in fact, I’m not qualified at all, but I love art and being someone who wasn’t educated by the establishment and simply spends a great portion of their free time consuming it, maybe I’m at least well-suited to serve as an intermediary and a missionary. Let’s talk about modern art and just see what happens.