Throughout the history of painting, and general artistic expression, it is my postulation that art has yet to ever exist solely for the purpose of creation from within. It sounds excruciatingly simple for what it is. One would almost be amazed that the natural assumption that art is a basic creation of an artist is not an assumption that the history of art has shown to exist in that simplified unadulterated state.
As I have made mention of, art is now at a vantage point in history where although it is believed “everything has been done”, this is a glass half empty / half full statement. Perhaps, everything has been done. Or perhaps, everything having been done allows the artist to see an overview of everything so far done and established clearly, from an overlook never before possible.
That vantage point can allow a complete picture of possibilities. And within those possibilities, I believe a new language of artistic expression can be formed. Built on the foundation of art, for the first time in history, based in the idea of simply human creation for the sake of the self. Think of the general concept as the formation of a taxonomy of the interplay of aesthetic, historical, symbolic, and expressive modes of visual art. Painting for painting’s sake, expression for expression’s sake, the pursuit of creativity to communicate between each-other or with ourselves. Simply put and seen more widely, art for any sake as long as that reason comes from within, and from a place of meaning. A key being that the purposeful mixing of any elements is possible, as long as everything is utilized according to it’s visual possibilities.
For argument’s sake, let us discuss the modern era of art and it’s forward movement along the time-line of human progress. I would consider this to have begun around the time oils were introduced and the printing press established, approximately the same time of the reformation, 15th century. Coinciding with the end of the middle ages, and the beginning of the early modern age. This is important for sociological reasons, this is the time when the progression of art and painting began to accelerate us to the point we are at now. And that place is within the void of postmodernist meaninglessness in which painting has intentionally or unintentionally lost any tangible reason to exist.
Well, that makes perfect sense sorry to say. Thinking logically, when you ascribe to a general theory of art that denies the notion of defined meaning, the work would then logically lose meaning both on a local level for the artwork and it’s progresses, and on a philosophical level regarding it’s own existence. Every question leads back to the self, every question questions empirical identity. And taking a path that denies the search for meaning will eventually and naturally render the pursuit you apply it to meaningless.
Previous to this crucial era, art served a handful of purposes that range from slightly different to largely different than the onrush of sociological change of the modern era (15th cent – now).
Cave paintings (as far back to the beginning as we can go in this discussion) are subject to dispute as to the purpose of their creation. Rest assured we can say they did not serve a purpose of rejection of former artistic movements, or served as a means of widespread trade to support the artist. Whether the theory that they were shamanistic visions, road maps to herd movement, decoration or otherwise, holds true, none of the possible purposes driving the cave artist is essentially comparable to the purposes driving the modern artist. And by modern artist in this sense, I am referring to any artist post printing press.
I can state with relative certainty that the purpose of the cave paintings is likely any or all of those things for their specific instances. Humanity is under a great illusion in thinking life was any different at the core then than it is now. (This is the great illusion of the modern age and the core of pomp of humanity about his or her own self importance.) In the current era, many people do many different things for many different reasons. You can’t directly study the time that is gone. It is my opinion (and I say opinion for the sake of the arguers out there, though as an opinion I know it for certain) that, no differently than now, the very first cave painting (which can never be truly identified) was created solely because the artist saw a possibility within the self and pursued it. All things are started this way. If you were to study solely the way revolutionary ideas begin, what you would find is a common thread of the pursuit of a possibility. Regardless of the era.
After that, all of the other possibilities of cave painting took direction – religion, ritual, herd mapping, etc. Ranging as wide as any other vocation of man, and the ways in which it can be manipulated. If you believe the core of the way life works and the way man functions is so much different in the modern age than it ever was, this conversation is not for your ears. This is food for a much more in depth post regarding the nature of man, and the possibilities held within the concept that whether it is 30,000 years ago or yesterday, humanity at it’s core is no different then than it is now.
This is another overview of the vantage point I am referring to in art. We are born, we live, we die. We eat, we cook, we clean. We dress, we undress, we weave. We do, we rest, we consider. We fight, we love, we stand and question. At it’s core, humanity pursues the same existence dressed in different clothes based on different times, different potentials, different pictures if you will. This is a sociological viewpoint holding the nature of man outside of the particulars of any moment in time, outside of the particulars of any setting, outside of any illusion of what the modern age (and postmodern – what makes postmodernism so different than modernism anyway. Complete skepticism, being the hallmark of postmodernism, is really just a modernist evolution into the rejection of the movement itself) has led to believe. Humanity is what humanity has always been and will always be.
Just be smart. There is no logical proof, scientific evidence, or perfect leader there to explain what can be only evident should you make the choice to see it within yourself, within the world around you, to be taken for what it evidently for what it is without a widely accepted proof and truth. There are things in this world that are clear, and no more than available to be clear with a dependency on a personal choice. There is no science, politics, no world order for each person and their own choices. But there are right ones, there are wrong ones, and there are clear ones. That is a proof of the necessity of the self, and the necessity of an objective truth. That is an argument that stands against postmodernism. Let me pull you back for a bit and say that I am arguing against some of the mantra postmodernism prescribes to, and yet I am not committing to a total rejection of it. Returning to the great flaw of man, this is it. Every movement, every perspective has merit. In some fashion, for some time, to answer some question. Rejection only rids a viewpoint of some of it’s view. There are things for which postmodernist ideals make sense. Not this one, at least not today.
We are the common thread of life through time. And if you can see something holds true for you as a being, today, well then you can choose to see that it held true back deep into human history and will continue to hold true for as long as we inhabit this earth. Because that truth is held within human nature alone, and as long as human existence is recycled through finite lifetimes which cycle anew with each life, the same search for self between birth and death will occur in one common way. It is the finite nature of our lives that helps shape a repetitive path of self discovery. We are the common way. In today, yesterday, and tomorrow, the scenery may change but the story does not.
That range of reasons for artistic expression start to stretch out as history moves along just as a tree takes root. The main early motivations for art (middle ages and ancient art) being decoration, iconography and religious dissemination, and ritual. Since this not a writing about the particulars and details of the reasons for human artistic expression, the use of generalities is needed to bring you along a path to understanding enough to see only where we have ended up and why. (Wow, objective truth, generalities, discussion of meaning – this is soooo not postmodern.. Ahh, but therein lies the great trick and the nature of the grand illusion humanity can fall under. The key to the rejection of postmodernism for a new and open path is keyed within the general deification of rejection that postmodernism holds so dear.)
Decoration, as in ancient roman and Greek vessels or jewelry for example. Iconography and religious dissemination as in medieval pre-1500 painting for example. And ritual as in Egyptian tomb frescoes or ancient African masks. These are just mere examples. It is the notion of rejection and the subsequent modern development of commercial trade that defines the modern era of art that has culminated in the absence of meaning of postmodernism.
Rejection is the more important concept for this discussion so we’ll touch on commercial trade first and get it out of the way. The idea of the artist as a whore, a promoter, and the general invasion of money into the art world is no big secret. It’s been faced, discussed, theorized upon, rejected wholeheartedly, and made into the focus of art itself. Once widespread commercial trade became possible, the artist was always able to find a place in which he could seek to develop a stronger career and place in the world of trade. That trade has helped further the development of the artist’s place in society, from propagandist for the church and rejection of the church (reformation), propagandist for the forward movement of science and the modern age, and rejection of modernity, portraitist to the wealthy and to vanity, and more. In the modern era of the 19th and 20th centuries, the artist has been a developer of the state and future, savior and purifier of the human race (the early 2oth century movements), deliverer of pointlessness, destroyer of tradition, courier of shock, and just about everything else you can think of within human development of the modern age. All of these things helped etch out a place for the artist in value and trade. The problem, taking into account where art stands today in the midst of the postmodern void and the closing walls of “everything has been done”, is that the entire search for the artists place and value within trade has been increasingly pursued along a path that embraces developmental rejection.
Be it the rejection of ideals of a previous church, rejection of the simplicity of a technically and technologically “lower” life, rejection of former artists as outmoded, or rejection of sociological accepted practice, it really isn’t crucial in this conversation to outline the nature of the rejections themselves as much as it is key to understand they are all rejections. The devil is in the details and the answer is in the empirical. That drive toward rejection has led the artistic existence to a place with it’s foundations entrenched in rejection. I would regard postmodernism as a grand artistic movement on a wide scale based greatly on the rejection of things infinitely more than the embrace of things. I would not say it began in postmodernism, but that postmodernism and the industrial age have accelerated this mode of thinking in a desperate search for identity for the artist and art in a changing world which looks to be attempting to leave art and the artist behind.
Rejection as a mode of development has it’s limitations. Often what was entirely valid yet in need of reshaping is torn down entirely for the glory of what is new. But that glory exists only in the temporary satisfaction of it’s newness, and not necessarily in the content of what is actually new about it. For all of modern history we have seen great artists rise and fade out of view. Many fading to the point where their work has been obscured from the eyes of society for decades, even centuries. In societies based less on culture and tradition such as the United States, this fading process is even more vigorous and thorough. For instance in Italy, the great works of Renaissance painters and works in churches will fade from relevancy a lot slower than works, say, in a country lacking a cultural identity (the USA). Tradition holds things in place a lot longer than the societal wave will. Stability is something I would never use to describe the world society in the modern age covering the 20th and 21st centuries. So that rejection becomes not only the mode of “forward” movement, but also the mode of personal recognition.
The overall point being that in many cases for an artist to create something considered new (and in the American mode of thought, newness often equals greatness) he or she has had to or has sought to destroy whatever stands in the place that artist wants to be.