Maybe the art on the walls in galleries should be distanced and removed from the real world in terms of its delivery, discussion, and deal with large open swaths of generalized concepts like spirit, balance, harmony and nature, allowing for the connections to be made by sense and feeling rather than study and cultural relevance —- for that is how we may have come to define art anyway.
Artists were once our sole image-makers. Their work, (whether political cartoon, lampoon, editorial illustration, architectural design, photograph, painting, sculpture, carving on clay) assumed a role of communication via a select few. Artists of guilds, patron-hired painters of renown and reputation, professional orators and writers, critics and draftspersons were the ones who gave to our mass audience its cultural signifiers, its innovations within disciplines, and the communication of thoughts, information, and ideas. The circle of influence was small and exclusive; its contributors, for better or worse, employed by patronage, power and privilege.
Today, with our media platforms allowing us a far wider range of respective contributors, we have universal image-making running alongside the artist’s. In addition, we have Visual Art’s seemingly tenuous relationship to its once-inseparable theory; (Greenberg’s Modernist Theory which both promoted painting as it simultaneously, and, accordingly, penned its eulogy); the artist working well within an established discipline pushing tenable Modernist’s boundaries.
Today’s Visual Art seemingly floats without a discipline, and its Modernist Theory, in retrospect, [a discipline criticized itself for its elitism and reduced scope during its time] seems now a welcomed breath of intellectual discourse sorely missed.
A language without a discipline in which to speak it (advance it) is where we seem to find ourselves: wanting our cake (the mooring of Visual Art to a valid language no longer found in theory and scholarship but by virtue of the exhibiting and marketing of the art itself) and, eating it, too – asserting that anything found in these spaces is art, regardless of its challenge to the form, its historical progression, (technical development or any advancement in form) made within the language itself.
So, we have a language that needs to be understood in order for the art to exist, and, the space for that language to exist needs to be open-ended and understood. If either of these fail in communicating, what do we have?
For the most part, the contemporary art gallery exists in its own subset of isolationism by insisting that the language used here in this space is a mystery, is supposed to be one not quite understood, arcane, and, at its furthest, incommunicable. It is a place to go to be inspired, awed, moved by the art objects we see before us. We are there to look at and experience (almost meditatively) objects before us that are presented as art, no matter the success in translation of the language being used.
Elizabethan audiences understood the language of pun and aside, nuanced allusion, political and religious satire. They understood the role of theater, the language of the stage. I’m not sure we can carry this over to today’s gallery-going experience. The deck is stacked against the innocent viewer wanting to get something out of the work displayed. In the open-armedness of the inclusive-minded 21st century – we have an improved increased interest in Visual Art – but many of the museum-like cordons [prompting us to maintain a performance of awed silence] remain firmly in place.
For Visual Art today- the language is not only arcane and mysterious, but gratuitous and random. It seems to consist of an ‘anything goes’ — as long as it “looks like art”, the kind of art that we’ve come to know and trust. The Copernicuses of art-making have had to become Geo-centrists by market-success default. Revolutions are for flipping paradigms on their heads, and the market-controlled Gallery-to-Gala-to-Big Art Fair wants nothing to do with this. It cannot, for its own survival.
So, to look at this whole established system — to look at “looking at art”with some sort of silver-lining – maybe where today’s art is to be found is in the gallery space — but in the gallery-goer’s own sentient experience of ‘going to a gallery and looking at art’. Maybe it is the activity that is the important thing, the social interaction and the community participation and not the “getting anything” from the art, or, what the artist has tried to say with the art object. Maybe it is the diversion itself; the contemporary gallery space really well-designed in successfully generating the collective sigh, gasp, or reflex and, maybe this is what we truly need.
Maybe our art today is to be found in the ‘experiencing of ‘ it — in all of its intangible, abstract and ineffable nuanced state.