Australian Fine Artist

Trends in Western Art

Changes in Art through the 20th Century and the Beginning of the 21st Century

GROUP DISCUSSION and Video by Robert Hughes

In the spirit of recent discussions in our Research and Analysis Class covering Zeitgeist today we looked at trends in modern art in Western Society. We were asked to consider the following:

To what extent do we need to question the commentators? If, so, what queries should be raised about them? IE:

  • Do they have agendas?
  • Are they in a clique or inside group (if you’re not “in” you’re “out”)
  • Are they personally or socially related to those they comment about?
  • Who is paying for their opinion?
  • When were their values and opinions formed?
  • Do they have personal bias against any groups such as women, religions, ages, cultures, demographics etc?
  • Are they educated enough to be qualified to make any commentaries?

We then moved on to the video by Robert Hughes.

“The New Shock of the New” Modern art at the end of the 20th Century. What was good or bad and what’s the difference?

At the end of the 19th Century the Eiffel Tower was erected, many would say an introduction to the machine age and the change in art and architecture that it would see. It caused a lot of comment and raised attention to itself all over the world. It also brought and still does, tourists to see and experience it for themselves.

During the latter 20th Century the building of the World Trade Centre twin towers, as unique as they were, caused much less of a ripple. Their destruction by terrorists was the discerning moment in many people’s minds as far as these buildings are concerned. The image of the planes hitting them and their eventual collapse soon after is in many people’s minds around the world. the question is, was this a typical image of the violence of the 20th Century? Why we were asked this is looking back at previous artists such as Goya for instance, they created huge artworks to bring attention to the Spanish civil war and some of the horror of that time in their art. Not done in a spectacular or sensationalising it, but in thought out and creative art. Have a look at the painting “Guernica” by Picasso or “Third of May, 1808” by Goya for examples.

We don’t see as much art like these now. Why is that? As we go through galleries and exhibitions of modern art, they are more about the artists’ own experience and the shock value they can get out of it by trying to all be “different”. The quick gain of notoriety and fame seems far more important than doing the years of training and gaining of experience to gain depth of knowledge and skill to produce lasting works.

When Andy Warhol started creating “pop” art and had a production line of eager assistants pushing out his mass produced work things started changing for a lot of art. He is quoted as saying “I want to be a machine” and many artists have since followed his ideas. Jeff Koons runs a similar type of studio. Celebrity is used to create celebrity for the artist. The instant gratification replaces the long hard yards and depth is replaced by immediate stun and impact.

Robert asked us, if we mention our name in the same sentence as a master from the past such as Michaelangelo, does that automatically raise us to the level of skill, training and creativity that they had? Does placing immense prices on pieces taking them out of the reach of most people put you into an “elite class” and remove you from the very audience you were originally seeking? There is an ego element going on where owning an expensive piece and having bragging rights about it, is just that – an ego trip.

Let’s have a look at another artist. Paula Rego. Her art works have been produced over many years and she has considered the subjects and the way they are presented. Their is depth to the stories and the manner in which they are presented. Even when what she is saying is very unpleasant and some of the cruel sides of being human, she still presents it in a manner that most of us can still look at without feeling sick.

Some artists coming out of Germany during the 20th Century also had horrific stories to tell. Some show they managed to do so in a thought out and creative way. Anselm Kiefer produced work that was thoughtful and confronting, it also told a story, it is lasting. It may not be your preferred style but you can look at it and see depth, planning and design.

Now well into the 21st Century we seem to be overloaded with imagery. Everywhere we go there is advertising, videos, the internet, TV, billboards, posters. I think we automatically edit out what we see as unimportant in an effort not to get overloaded. The quiet places for contemplation seem to be getting less and less. So this is where art can help where traditional things like a cathedral did in the past. A place to go and be at peace, to think clearly, to see beauty and to feel something more than just the grind of trying to survive in modern rush, rush society.

David Hockney, who still is not one of my preferred artists, still at least touches on beauty and serenity in his work. There are peaceful places to rest the eye and joyful colours to raise the spirit. His return to painting and experimentation with water colours shows simple subjects, clean layout and creations showing his admiration for his subject. Taking a creative space (canvas or paper) back to simplified blocks of colour, light and shape to allow our imaginations to wander around and have a bit of fun.

So what has happened to the “nuts and bolts” of art? The methods of learning, of observation and application. Learning about materials, methods and taking the time to hone skills? Has it been replaced by modern art that is only fast, now and “mass media” – only concerned with the shock value and getting that 15 minutes of fame?

Whether the format is figurative or abstract, where is the thoughtful application of paint, charcoal etc?

Let’s look at another painter. Lucian Freud. Yet again not really my preferred painter, but in each of his pieces there is an opportunity to see consideration of composition, the telling of a story and the obvious use of many years of experience and training. Similarly Sean Scully, an abstract painter – not my cup of tea as you would say, but there is an inviting way to his work that does make you stop and look to consider how he did it, why he did it and what he may be trying to achieve with it. There may even be a little enjoyment from the resultant work whether it be because you like the colours, the shapes or whatever.

Let’s face it as artists we are not usually able to make drastic social changes – especially by ourselves, as advertised during the 20th Century. What we can do is learn to create beauty in so many forms. We can create that place to rest, to take the eye that pleases us and gives us a story to think about in the rush of living.

People still go to art shows and galleries. They are looking for something that we seem to need, whether it is a spiritual uplift, a mental break, a bit of peace or pause to think and reflect.

How are we going to fulfil our artistic desires and urge to create but also fill what people are looking for?

What was Robert really saying to us? We were asked this at the end of the video.

  • Get back to the basics of art – building our craft and talents
  • Contemporary art has been neglecting “beauty”
  • Art should engage us
  • Many are becoming sick of the fast, immediate and the instant and the shock
  • Was Robert plugging his own agenda? He had definite views about the direction of art but where did they come from?
  • Art should have depth and forthought
  • Was Robert biased because of his strong views and opinions?

We don’t have access to all information or all knowledge, even on the internet, we still don’t see everything going on, or why is it happening in art or anything else. We are surrounded by misinformation and illusion, cheap and quick and sometimes nasty. So as artists we need to sift the information we take in, reinterpret it and decide what is important to us and what is lasting. For me that means, as I decide on what the main focus of my art as a business is concerned, what is important to me and those I am hoping will look at my work, how can I present it in a truthful, creative and quality manner? Am I willing to put in the hard yards to make sure that my art is the quality I want it to be, has the lasting value, has subject matter that means something and has a depth to it and that still touches those who look at it and hopefully purchase it. Will it be worth anything in a hundred years or do I want to risk 15 generations for 15 minutes?

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