Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Future of Art

With the open house for Red Interactive behind us, it's time to mention two upcoming events on our Red Interactive agenda. The first of these will be a brown bag lunch discussion at the Phantom Gallery on an as-yet undetermined date. (At least it's not an undisclosed location.) The dialogue will center on the meaning and direction of contemporary art. The second will be the official Phantom Galleries Superior multi-gallery event on October 20. (Mark your calendars.)

The question "What is art?" is certainly not going to find an answer within a lunch hour, but we'll try to open it up to something insightful for each of us to chew on. Discussions about art as as old as history and the ancient writings of Greek philosophers and the Bible tell us that art is nothing new, and debates about its role are nother new.

Andre Gide's Pretexts is a collection of essays by the 1924 Nobel Prize winner for literature, with the exception of the four introductory lectures which Gide delivered in the first decade of the 20th century. The first is titled, "Concerning Influence In Literature." Gide argues that influences can enrich us, and that to the degree we restrict influences we are revealing the poverty of our own souls.

A second deals with the limits of art. Where are the boundaries of art? Gide states that the boundaries are inside us, within the artist, not imposed.

A third, and the one I wished to draw attention to was his lecture on the importance of the public. Gide saw a bad trend emerging in the arts, artists who had become unconcerned with what the public thought, who became disinterested in connecting with a public. As Goethe put it, "They behave just as if there were nobody in the theater."

Gide makes his point. "It was a dangerous thing for art to separate itself from life, dangerous for both art and life." And further on, "The artist who has lost a sense of his public is not fated to stop producing but rather to produce works with no destination."

Some might see Gide's comments as an overreaction to modernism in the arts, much like those who fear text messaging will destroy English grammar. And at this point it does seem the second statement is false in many instances, for a large portion of today's artists do produce works with a destination even if not for the public. Their aim is to be noticed by critics who have the power to acclaim their works as "worthy" of the label "art."

And so we come full circle to the real question "what is art?" The follow up question to any answer is, "Sez who?"

Keith Martin-Smith begins his essay "Art, Postmodern Criticism, and the Emerging Integral Movement" with still more questions.

The question “what is art” is both more simple and more complex than it might seem at first glance. Andy Warhol once quipped, “Art is whatever you can get away with.” Is it? His observation raises some interesting questions: How does one go about judging a work of art as “good”, “bad”, or “better than” something else? What standards are used? Is something shocking, like a New York City artist who recently put vials filled with her menstrual fluids on display, art? Or is such a display really something else?

As for the future of art, it's anyone's guess where things will go. The success of shows like Ochre Ghost's Crim City Collective and the Phatom Gallery's Red Interactive hints at a possible future direction for art collaborations that feature works dictated not by a single mind but a group contribution, uncontrolled and permitted to become something no one envisioned at the outset. Perhaps not unlike the Internet, which connects us all while permitting individual expression.

For what it's worth, a few Saturday afternoon seeds... sprinkled over loose soil. Add water if you wish.

Top right: Phantom by Heino
Left: Photo contribution by Andrew Perfetti

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