What would you say if I told you that there was an insidious dark ideal infecting the art culture, the very belief structure of which is paradoxical? It is a faith of non-belief and it is merely being accepted, not challenged, as the only system of intellectual thought. All else is dismissed as "kitsch". And not surprisingly, this movement "appropriates" (bastardizes) all forms of "kitsch" for the purposes of pointing out its futility. The acolytes of this dogma tend, in the arts, to hide behind irony as a shield for a lack of quality, content, or emotive integrity. A prime example of such an "artist" is Jeff Koons (above), who passes off other people's "craft" as his own, and whose only discernible product is shock value. - "He says with a sardonic grin."
"To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation." - Yann Martel, The Life of Pi
What is this philosophy of doubt of which I speak? Why, it is nothing more than an abstract categorization called "Post-modernism": a single label within the structure of philosophical theory meant to categorize the idea of the negation of structure. (Sounds like a paradox, no?). One of the main premises of post-modern thought, and the one for which I have the most criticism is the idea that all experience, all life, everything is essentially meaningless. This stems from the deconstructive thought of Heidegger , Kierkegaard, and Derrida, further complicated by Schroedinger and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. However, I view uncertainty and probability as something separate from negation.
This absurdist philosophy or rather, nihilism, is a process and not a conclusion, just as deconstruction is a process and not a conclusion.
In the dialogue of painting one might see our contemporary era as a re-constructive era. Where the tenets of Derrida informed the deconstructive elements of post-modernism, the act of mimesis or the appropriation of “obsolete vernacular” is a sign of the discontents that our contemporary culture finds in the detritus of post-modern thought. Now we pick up the cogs and springs to reassemble them – to create order if only because we feel it is needed. We reclaim the mysterious origin of art – meaning. It’s interesting that we might confuse nostalgia with meaning, but does that make it any less potent, universal, or reflective of life? For that’s what art does… reflect life.
Obviously this is a weighty topic which could not simply be condensed to one listing... So, this diatribe will be continued in later postings, so hold tight and please feel free to let me know your responses etc...
A few stories I heard from artists. I will share with you.
1. Potential Buyer: One day an art lover or maybe a potential buyer visited my artist friend Mr. L at his studio. As he admired the paintings he asked Mr. L how much they were. When Mr. L told him he was shocked. Two thousand dollars for a piece of watercolor on paper? The buyer thought that was unbelievably expensive. So, he then calculated the material cost of the painting and concluded that it could not feasibly exceed 20 dollars.
"How much is a piece of paper?" the buyer asked, " How much are those colors? Why are your paintings are so expensive?"
Mr. L, angry, then answered, "You know what, you can find out for yourself. Go to the Art Material Shop around the corner, and remember to say this: 'I am Mr. L's friend'."
Mr. L continued, "Normally, artists and students get 10% discount at this shop. If you mention my name, you get 20% loyalty discount immediately. You can get all the necessary colors, brushes and paper at wonderful prices. Then go home and make your low cost masterpieces for yourself."
2. Abstract Art
One day a collector brought a curator to visit an artist. The curator saw some pieces he really liked lying against a wall in the corner. He then praised the artist in front of the collector.
"Hey, you know, these are the best pieces you have ever made. I really love them very much! You are such a wonderful abstract painter."
So, I thought the artist would be very happy to hear that, so when I told him he responded, "That curator was an idiot. I spent 40 years trying to perfect my skills as a painter and he never blinked an eye, but those 'abstract paintings' that he loved so much were just left-over paint on my palettes." ADVICE: Remember to keep your palettes for curators’ interest. Use paper palettes so that they are easier to keep.
Since the fall of Modernism the art communities in more public places such as New York have on principle shunned spiritualism, mysticism, and aesthetics. It is an understandable backlash from the idealistic tenets of a hopeful culture that ultimately lead to destruction and genocide through the world wars and communist regimes in the U.S.S.R and China in the 20th century, but this cynicism has become more than a rational and healthy criticism. It has become an intellectual elitist dogma, whereby anyone caught having theological discussion, or spiritual belief is castigated from "intellectual" society. It is the practice of these individuals to refuse rational discussion on this topic. Yet I would argue that ideals, just as cynicism, are important parts of thought. Both can be dangerous and foolhardy, but both are necessary for human happiness. Absolute refusal to address important human issues on either side result in blindness, socially if not altruistically. We are in a time where religious fundamentalism challenges the security of our common lives. It is not only far off places that are effected by fanaticism, but our own country, our own people. Ignoring religious discussion only blinds us to the complexities of the issue. There must be a place in art culture for some spiritualism. It has been a responsibility of the thinking artist to hold a mirror to society; to inspire debate and discussion; to give voice to issues that none can or wish to discuss. It has been so since the dawn of civilization in the caves of forgotten nomadic tribes. It is hard in our pluralistic society to hold to one's ideals. We encounter more ethnic and spiritual diversity in everyday life than ever before. Globalization has greatly affected our views on the world. That is why it is more important to have a dialogue on these issues. That is why we must understand the perspectives of others. But we cannot understand others without understanding ourselves. Through post-modernism we have lost the great dialogue on morality, and spirituality that was so prevalent in all other times in all other cultures. In this way perhaps America is, as many fundamentalists call us- a country of infidels (unfaithful). Yet we are not so, simply because they call us so. It is not because we are unfaithful to Allah, but because we are unfaithful to ourselves and our obligation to humanity. I’m not arguing against a secular state or for the integration of church and state, I’m arguing for dialogue. It seems the only dialogue on this subject is the ridiculous argument about replacing Evolution, the Big-Bang theory, and Plate Tectonics with creationism, which is an argument of the extremes. There are moderate positions on this subject which do not preclude either God or Science, (for example check out the book The Science of God). If there were a rational dialogue occurring, this kind of fundamentalist negation wouldn’t be able to affect policy. This is the process upon which our country was founded, and it should not be silenced by condescending tones or recriminating statements that theological thought does not belong within an intellectual dialogue. Neither Science, nor secular philosophy are the sole expression of human dignity.
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