Dialogue with an Art Historian — Part Two:
The Creative Space, Consciousness and Initiative
It occurs to me that the treasure chest / vault of art themes, representational images, style periods — along with political, geographic, economic, social status and, yes, art political history — all have created an overall “consciousness” from which all past and future Art ideas are created, “re-discovered and re-hashed”, either through copying of already copied ideas and images … or made with a smug emphasis upon finding one small quirky “style difference” that would promote one to the annals of art history fame. Perhaps it really is true that all images have been created previously, and that no ideas are truly original? But, as with the age-old discussion of whether or not paintings on canvas are now a “dead art form”, the moment one makes such an assertion a “new modern icon” is thrust forth by media, art galleries, art critics, and museums — all of whom are dependent upon finding a newly discovered icon to become the saviour of periodically declining art markets.
I’m not sure whether all images have already been created/found, but in one form or another I think all ideas and theories ABOUT visual art and its history have already been propounded. There’s nothing new to say, but to make a living, critics and historians dress up in new, bizarre outfits ideas previously (sometimes way long ago) already published.
So, where does that leave us? Is the problem our expectations, our restlessness and need to create more hoopla than necessary — rather than just enjoy Art in evolving forms, formats and styles? Is the problem obsession with money and fame? Are too many artists deluded into thinking that art is for most people more than “a business”?
I think this all should leave us all (artists, “receptors”) in a very vital, refreshing position. Isn’t it wonderful to be able to recognize and acknowledge that there is wonderful art being created by millions of people every day, not just by those judged by a small coterie of critics and art historians to be worthy of notice? We’re able to say, “I really like that”, without immediately judging ourselves, not to mention the piece itself: Am I being art-historically-critical enough in approaching this? Can it match the best of what I’ve previously seen? If it’s any good, why hasn’t it been noticed before? The latter question can be asked of artists both known and unknown from the last 500 years, the first two can relate to contemporary works one may see.
It’s an incredibly freeing approach for one’s viewing self. In my case, for example, I marvel at the creative instincts and talents of the children and young teenagers who participate each year in a project sponsored by the Morgan Library that encourages the production of self-illustrated books by youngsters. Their imaginations are amazing, and their skill at combining colors and forms in imaginative ways are eye-opening.
Likewise, I’ve been startled by the number of impressive, beautiful, pleasing lesser-known works by well-known artists of the 19th and 20th centuries, together with works by many lesser known (or unknown to me) artists (many from Scandinavia) from that period, whose works have been discovered in digital form and “posted” online on Instagram by one of the Instagram subscribers whom I’m “following”.
In other words, any sense of “guilt” or doubt in our own critical faculties can be lifted if we embrace the idea that we all (can) make “Art”. Yes, beauty is “in the eye of the beholder”, and that’s a good thing. What I enjoy, you may not. We shouldn’t be counting “likes” for every created work that appears and thereby try to assign a value to it. Nor should we follow the contortions of art critics or historians who are forced at this point to try to create new issues or “problems” in art (historical and contemporary) to write about.
Which isn’t to say that their input isn’t itself enjoyable and worthy of consideration. But not to worry if we don’t get their arguments, or agree with them. It’s the art that counts, no matter who makes it or who purveys it. That realization may be one of the beneficent aspects of social media (though the reverse could also be something that social media ends up creating — i.e., an atmosphere of hyper-criticism, as in our politics……which doesn’t lead us to avoid social media, just to take certain content “with a grain of salt”).
Interesting perspectives, Ricardo. Your praise of Instagram for promoting visual art has intrigued me, as it is something I have thought about.
Many are suspicious when I admit that I gave up on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram many years ago, for reasons varying from being weary of censorship, haters and trolls, to many of the arguments listed in various articles on the Internet. I have enough to administrate with my five blogs and websites, and my email networks. But I am also intrigued by the structured brevity mandated by Twitter and Instagram, and the experiential effects and consequences of cooking so much information down to a word count or a single image. How does that lead and limit our learning, thinking and perceptions? When is an image just another flash in a semi-conscious and babbling stream of visual over-consumption or garbage? And when does Instagram satiety interfere with our own desire to be creative in our art and lives, without undue influence that threatens our own originality? I tend to avoid art museums and art galleries at certain stages of my creative processes, in order to escape possible influence. The constant deluge of images on the Internet and social media treasure trove can be both a blessing and a bane.
With no curator or gallery owner to control the volume of images presented, how important is self-limitation and self-protection on Instagram?
I wouldn’t use any of these sites for anything too complicated or ‘deep’. Instagram for me is merely a kind of cyberspace ‘gallery’ with photos of works of art or buildings or monuments that I can skip over quickly if I’m not interested. Likewise with Facebook. I’m always amazed when people get excited over its political ‘content’ because my mind (and eyes) are used to ignoring anything but the messages and pictures from friends that I want to hear from. One doesn’t have to be ‘sucked into’ all the other stuff going on. So, for example, I shuffle through Instagram to find postings by the woman (who is herself an artist, apparently) who has been finding and posting on Instagram all these paintings that I love to see. Or maybe the Morgan’s postings, or the Frick’s or the Medici Archives Project’s. Not so hard to do.
It sounds as if you have good control over what you take in. And you have a viable and healthy plan for how you approach social media. The cyberspace — like Art History — is crowded with imagery, impressions and impulses. In your field — which involves looking at art in historical and systematic ways — having an orderly approach must be essential. For me — as an artist — I feel that I must keep one eye open at all times. This is because the impulses in my environment are often the seeds of future artworks.