06 September, 2008

Against Post-Modernism

2007, I think.

If you're not familiar with all those fancy names that we use to describe artistic movements of all kinds, here's a quick sum up of the ones you'll need here. Classicism is just what it says, being classic, as in usual, regular, etc. Then there is Modernism (Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, etc.) which was essentially a way to experience new things by using new means and things not traditional in Classicism. Keep in mind that these lines are blurry and that it's not always possible to categorise artists so easily, of course. But let's keep things easy here. Then there was Post-Modernism, as its name implies, a movement with little ambition.

To caricature the whole deal, say that if a Classicist book is just what you'd expect of a book, a Modernist book will challenge some of the standards, and a Post-Modern book will either be entirely made of blank pages or there will be shit plastered on every other page. In painting, that means you move from a Da Vinci, to a Monet, to a Picasso, to a Pollock, to just a monochrome made by some anonymous moron who somehow thought a monochrome was still interesting in the early days of the 21st century.

Art used to be substantial. Art used to say something. Now, my impression is that Post-Modernist art, which is just a failure to maintain the goals of the original Modernism, is merely a cynical act. Visit any contemporary art museum you want, you won't find anything very fascinating. But what I dislike most about it is that it's art that no longer deals with life and us as humans, but art that deals with itself, as art. What I mean by this is that it's not art that has a subject other than itself; you're no longer thinking about anything else than what it means to be in a museum looking at "art". Those Post-Modernist pieces just "question" themselves. You're looking at some piece of shit and it makes you wonder why you are doing so, what art is, etc. Often, that is the very goal of the artist, to make you wonder about those things. That would be perfectly fine for me if we were living in the early days of the 20th century.

Let's take a concrete example. Marcel Duchamp's ready-mades were basically just objects he picked up somewhere and placed in a museum and called it art. Doing that in the early 20th century had some relevance to it. It made you question what art really is, and etc. But today, when everyone shares the opinion that most modern art isn't art, that question is no longer up. We have spent a century destroying things and questioning what art was until eventually no one knows what art is anymore. Once you've questioned it all, for a century, and explored every possible silliness, maybe it's time to get back on track. Post-Modernism wasn't the next step in the evolution of art, it was a loop. And it's about to get back where it strayed.

The thing with Post-Modernism is that it doesn't have anything to offer; it just looks at something else and deconstructs it. So once that deconstruction is done, there's nothing else to run on, there's no more fuel. Once you've asked all the questions there are to ask about what a "painting" is, you can't ask anything anymore, and more importantly, you can't make art anymore. Questioning is fine, but that isn't the primary goal of art, if any of its goals should be primary. Art is creative, not inquisitive. Art is about making things, not merely criticising the things that came before. That's the "post" in Post-Modernism. And it's only sending dead letters.

I don't like the idea that art should be something reserved for an elite. Please don't make art some stupid private joke between a small group of learned artists. Seriously, if, as an artist, that is your only ambition, then you suck. Hopefully, new movements have emerged. I know of two: Stuckism and Remodernism. These two movements share a lot of common ideas, and I like them all. Stuckism believes that "art that needs to be in a museum to be art is not art" and that "a dead shark is not art". Remodernists are tired of the unsubstantial contemporary art and the lack of spirituality in artistic endeavours.

It's easy to see how Post-Modernism affected art in the popular area. If you ask anyone about the famous painters they know, most people will give you names of artists who lived in the first half of the 20th century. They'll say Picasso, Dalì, and then a bunch of other painters from the 19th century, like Van Gogh or Monet. Hardly ever will you get someone to give you the name of a painter that's actually living and successful. Why? Probably because after Modernism artists became tedious and cynically annoying, and that is not interesting to the large audience. No wonder we made people leave the museums for good if all we have to show them are stupid monochromes and other obscure pieces of shit whose meaning always seem a mere statement of the mental condition of its author. "Are you kidding me" is the title of most of these works of art. At least that is how the public in general views it, and the public isn't wrong. Sure, you can make any piece of art and have a ready explanation for it, but it won't make it interesting for so much.

I am not saying that we should forbid monochromes and pieces of shit, not at all, I'm just saying that we should not neglect other types of artists. There's nothing wrong with a realist and figurative painter who simply paints a beautiful painting; that should be enough. Contemporary artists shouldn't be ashamed of simply painting pictures, without an army of pseudo-intellectual concepts behind it.

I've visited a contemporary art museum recently, and I don't think I've seen a single realist painting. I like abstract art, don't get me wrong, but I find it hard to believe that there are no realist painters on earth today. If art reflects its epoch, what does ours reflect? What will people think of us in the future when they see our apparent fascination for yellow monochromes and video performances you'd never wish to ever see? They'll think we were fucked up, and we are.

Video performances. I've mentioned that. That's the summit if anything. Ok, I get the idea, and in a way it could be interesting because it forces you to look closely at something for some time, which in itself is always a good exercise. Now, I'm not suggesting you should stay throughout the 30 minutes of that video where someone smacks someone else. I understand the idea of focusing on details and getting something out of it (insofar as there's anything to get). But come on, that stuff should be done once and then that's it. It's not interesting or thrilling. They call that "performances" or "happenings". Let's face it, when I wake up in the morning and move about in my bed, I make better performances.

All of this Post-Modernism stuff has to do with our current ideology. And that has to do with Relativism. Everything's worth the same, everything depends, art is anything you call art. That's how you end up with a guy pissing in a glass and calling it art. I'm not against exploration at all, in fact I find that quite funny. I just see it for what it is. You're never going to change someone's life or even add anything to it by pissing in a glass. There's no emotional affect to the act of pissing in a glass. When you look at the art produced by the centuries before us, I feel like we are just kids playing around. Surely we're worth better than this, and having seen a lot of contemporary artists at work, I know we are.

I'm not against any type of art, or movement, I'm against a mindset of cynicism and all-encompassing relativism. Shitting on canvas and presenting that as art in a museum is cynical. Sure, you can call it art if you want, I'm not so concerned about the label as I am with the art itself. I think such artists are more concerned about the labels and concepts than the art itself. Call it art if you want, but then let's see what your art is about. Obviously, your art is a stain of shit on canvas... I don't want art to be a fancy discussion about concepts, notions, etc, it should be art, not a substitute of it. Contemporary artists might be too concerned with those things which aren't the core of art. I think we drifted a bit too far away from the basics. And now we all realise that this is going nowhere, and slowly so. The only living painter with success that I can name today is H.R. Giger. I think he's one of the few classic painters that actually walks the earth still. He's not cynical, he doesn't indulge and wallow into easy concepts and bullshit pseudo-intellectual babble. Instead, he creates. And that's what art is all about. He makes you think, yes, but that is because of his creation. Contemporary artists just try to make you think because of the absence of creation. They make a yellow monochrome, and you just wonder what the fuck that's about. Playing with obscurity to fake the semblance of worthiness is not what I call an interesting device. If your art is only interesting if it deals with concepts and notions (which, for the most part, the viewer has to think for him or herself) then it's not much interesting.