Art and Creativity Coaching Articles
Reality is more beautiful than its representation in art…
Up to the late 1800s, Russian art was governed by the patronage of the Tsar and the aristocracy, until they were replaced by the millionaire merchants of Moscow, one of whom was Mamontov. He gathered a group of artists that had separated from the Academy of Art in 1863. These thirteen artists (along with writers, musicians, composers…) seemingly committed economic suicide in a dream of bringing art to the people. They called themselves the “Wanderers” due to their practice of taking travelling exhibitions through the countryside to workers.
They repudiated the then (as now?) current philosophy of “art for art’s sake“, which was derived from international neo-classicism, tempered by the introduction of German romanticism in the 1820s. Instead, the Wanderers said that art should be primarily concerned with and subordinate to reality. “THE TRUE FUNCTION OF ART IS TO EXPLAIN LIFE AND COMMENT ON IT.”; “Reality is more beautiful than its representation in art,” proclaimed Chernishevsky, aesthetic propagandist of the 1860s in Russia. He further declared that “Only the content is able to refute the accusation that art is an empty diversion …”
The Wanderers’ mission to arouse empathy for the working man was unprecedented in Russia; not only because of the social impulse but because of its emphasis on the traditional way of Russian life. Peter the Great’s Europeanisation of the country denigrated indigenous culture to something boorish and inferior to western culture (cf. Atatürk’s Europeanisation of Turkey in the early 20th C and its repercussions to the present-day on politics and art in Turkey). This generation of artists sought to (re)create a culture based on the Russian peasant and the neglected artistic traditions of Russia.
…is the aim of art to inculcate change within a person, be that social, mental, emotional or political?
Now, the above summary of the beginnings of the so-called “Russian Experiment in Art” (1863 – 1922) links into some thoughts I’ve been having about the direction of art in general today. Where, in today’s world, are the groups with an agenda for their art (beyond corporate advertising)? Is there a drive amongst artists to rejuvenate, or denigrate by virtue of neglect, our artistic traditions? Does yesterday’s understanding and interpretation of reality harbour any truth for the reality of today? And is the aim of art to inculcate change within a person, be that social, mental, emotional or political by explaining and commenting on our “reality”? I would say yes. If there is no direct challenge, merely an illustration of the current state of affairs, then art becomes nothing more than a static photo – reportage not art.
As Chernishevsky says, it is the content that determines whether art is merely a diversion or a representation of reality – which naturally makes me ask, “Whose reality?” Leonora Carrington has written about her time in a mental ward and about her delusions with great clarity; for that time, those delusions were her reality – who is to say that her recovery was not in fact the delusion and her madness the reality?
Do I exist if I am never “seen” through digital media?
As we have seen with the Expressionists, movements have previously started with groups of individuals banding together with a mutual cause and philosophical outlook. In today’s world, where you can connect across continents with the click of a button, I see no group of artists pushing for a common goal through their art. Art has become individualised, exemplified by the “selfie”, a conceptual construct which has even spilled over into painting, as illustrated by James Needham; his “intimate” painting of himself sitting on the loo and his semi-naked wife brushing her teeth was shared copiously across social media in spite of being slated by the mainstream as a “mediocre daub” (see Guardian article: HERE). Its appeal was cited to be its very intimacy which ironically was compared to the narcissistic media promotions of Kim Kardashian’s selfies – intimacy now defined as sharing personal moments with millions of voyeurs. Question: are moments still intimate if not shared with the internet? Are we now defined by our views and followers? Do I exist if I am never “seen” through digital media? Reality is now distorted by the viewer – art in a cyber world is outside in: it is projected outwards from the artist onto the viewer and reflected back to the artist who creates representational art of how they believe they are perceived by and should in turn see the world; the “artist” is slave to her audience, no longer a teacher or commentator on reality. If she has anything to say at all, it should be mediocre enough so as not to challenge, certainly not to change, the internal world of the viewer. In a world of rapid change, stagnation and “comfort” are the new muses!
The cyber world robs us of the scent, touch and ambient sounds not only of art, but other human beings.
While our screens are replete with reported images of ecological disaster, war, famine, abuse and genocide, images of women’s nipples in actual art are blurred out and, most recently, a woman was banned by (and then reinstated) by Instagram for her “daring” art that challenged accepted beliefs around the vagina by filming her fingers playing with and penetrating ripe fruit (no actual vaginas depicted!). The postmodern age makes it easier for the individual to have a louder voice, but the ease of cyber connection belies a sense of commonality. If the Wanderers were alive today, they would probably not face the workers in the flesh but spread words and images through the internet. But would their work be accepted or even effective in terms of (re)creating “tradition”? What age should we harp back to? The cyber world robs us of the scent, touch and ambient sounds not only of art, but other human beings. Reduced to a 2D stereo output on our device screens, the world of the artist must die a not-so-little death, le petit mort … dead ejaculate falling on the flickering monitors, scrolled past, shared on social media and then forgotten.
The mind is full of images, but the body is lacking.
The appeal of the Slow Movement (more a lifestyle movement, yet also an artistic statement if taken to be such) of the turn of the millennium was real, but it was never going to become mainstream, only bravely and brazenly enforced by pockets of resistance. The Slow Movement gave back credibility to the slower arts and crafts – whose makers then resisted, for the most part, brash self-cyber-promotion, preferring to meet their viewers and audience face to face, in the flesh, so that they could also share the physical experience of art. And perhaps that is the message of “tradition” which needs most to be spoken of in our post-post-modern world … the word of the flesh, the touch of fabric, the smell of paint, sharing the breeze that casts the musical tone of a sound installation straight from sculpture to ear without any digital filtering … Art is being reduced to a compressed file image … irrespective of the technical affectations of high definition and 3D. The mind is full of images, but the body is lacking.
We are lost in the matrix…
So I would challenge artists to band together as global Wanderers, to walk in the flesh amongst real people, to bring the sensory experience of art back to today’s “workers”, whom I would define now in a postmodern sense as any digital stalker through the cyber world. We are lost in the matrix, and only a physical, sensory experience of art will uncover our eyes to the fact that we can turn off our monitors and devices, and look down to discover that our bodies are blood and flesh and beautiful, beyond comparison. Let us look with no barrier between our eyes and the canvas, hear with no filter between ears and instrument, touch with no hard screen between skin and fabric, wood, metal, resin … whatever. Who are the Wanderers of this cyber world? Will you put down the selfie stick and allow yourself to be in your own skin, as lived from the inside out, not the outside in? Let the Wandering begin …
©Mav Kühn 2016
© All written material (whether designated copyright protected or not) and all images designated as © Mav Kühn or by MavK are copyright protected Mav Kühn 2016-2018. If you wish to use any of the material from this blog, please submit a comment and ask for permission. Feel free to live-link to any of the posts.