Understanding Art These DaysDecember 9, 2014
The Parisian painter, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, might have possibly painted a burlesque show portraying a man sitting alone in the audience. Of course, I’m making that up. I said so for want of a specific example. The masterpiece is imaginary, but I expect it would have simultaneously been a bright and sullen piece. The Art world would have categorized it to belong in the Modern movement.
In itself, the image of a man alone in an audience would not qualify the piece as Modern. Toulouse-Lautrec’s style would have automatically guaranteed its category. And what it was “about” would later be implied – as its meaning would be strictly subjective. Nevertheless, the painting would mark a milestone in the evolution of Art. About the time, trained painters were fleeing the Realism movement in fear and consequence of photography. They changed their presentation of subjects. That step began the philosophical question, “What is Art?”
Movement yet follows movement and the question is still never directly asked; not by genuine artists. “What is Art?” Instead, each movement proffers personal interpretations of the many definitions Art suggests. A lone man in an audience is no longer the subject of a piece of artwork, rather, some convoluted idea generated by the piece becomes the focus. Following Monet then Picasso, each movement presents a new picture of the same subject from a different perspective.
As natural as evolution is, Art expanded into other fields, too. Art this day saturates music and film and every aspect of popular culture. It already has for generations. For instance, examine Jethro Tull’s song Skating Away on the Thin Ice of the New Day. The song was released on side two of the 1974 album called Warchild on the record label Chrysalis, before Intellectualism abandoned the cloistered worlds of the elite.
A lyric in the song “… everybody’s on the stage, and it seems like you’re the only person sitting in the audience,” is a wonderful example of an image generated in the Post-Modern movement. Truthfully, I fabricated an identical predecessor for the Modern movement because I had been so inspired by the impression. Whoso experiences the music is cast into that fictional painting by Toulouse-Lautrec. Art, in the song, is not about the subject nor the style but a personal experience. A sensation of transportation.
And because the Art world has always embraced cannibalism, other movements will present other ideas about the subject – and subjects about the idea. Allow me to paint more fabricated artifices…
A Re-Modernist might just gather everyone in a theater onto the stage and leave you, my reader, the only one in the audience. A Post-Modernist would then televise you to audiences all over the world; you sitting alone in a theater watching a stage full of actors. The subject-idea would evolve, it wouldn’t stop. The Globalization movement would get involved. DVDS would get shipped everywhere and to anyone. And each package will contain recordings of you sitting alone at a computer watching a videotape of audiences watching you alone in a theater seeing a stage full of actors.
The Visual Culture movement would embrace the digital media. That instance, millions of smart phone viewers would send to everyone in their address books digital images of you alone at a television watching a videotape of audiences watching you alone in a theater watching a stage full of actors.
The subject might even become an institution. Street artists representing the Public movement would re-enact iterations of the art piece near busy city streets. They would claim to passerbys, “I am all alone watching actors spill off the stage!” And in private Participatory movement events, individuals from the audience would be invited to sit alone on stage and watch the audience watching him or her.
The concepts are myriad and infinitesimal. And they can be as numerous as the movements in Art to come.
– Matthew Sawyer