Thursday, 18 September 2014

Art: Are You Keeping It Real?

Copyright 'RT' 2013

“Where there is a true art and genuine virtuosity the artist can paint an incomparable masterpiece without leaving even a trace of his identity.” - Orhan Pamuk, My Name is Red

I fell asleep thinking about 'real' art as opposed to 'fake' art. What is unreal about fake art? What is fake art? Isn't the faker being genuine in their determination to not create real art?

When doubters mock the efforts of contemporary artists working in what we might call the 'post-modern' idiom, do they know why they're doing it? Is it because they think they know what 'real' art is and therefore feel justified in deriding that which they deem to be 'fake'.

Perhaps it is simply a matter of taste, their taste against that of their target. Suppose they were to meet the artist and discover that she is serious in her intention and honest about what she is trying to say? Would they change their minds?

Perhaps the artist in question is an excellent actor who has mastered the art of appearing to be honest and serious. But supposing they are not and, as well as being honest, they are likeable. Would that change the critic's mind?

If one of your friends happens to make art and you are exposed to it on a regular basis how do you judge the work? Do you ignore it if you don't like it? Then you are conspicuous in your silence. Do you offer encouragement as a conscious act of friendly support?

It is thought that makers of art can be the least generous in their support of other artists. I understand why this might be so: jealousy of the friend having achieved a greater level of success, or being more prolific. They may feel threatened. Why? Because the very fact that their friend makes art undermines their own impression that they themselves are special. Not her!

Did Orphan Pamuk actually say the quote at the top, or was it written in his novel? It seems unclear since many uses of it leave out any mention of the novel, thus attributing it to him directly. If it is in the novel it may or may not be what he thinks. This notion of 'true art' is as old as art itself, no doubt. Or, I should say, as old as the first time anyone looked at art and said aloud that it was true. Was there fake art in the caves 30,000 years ago? If so, what did it look like?

Artist unknown

'Genuine virtuosity' twinned with 'true art' encapsulates what many believe should be the standards by which all art is judged. Is it a virtuoso performance? Has she demonstrated a mastery of her tools? If so, that is laudable! But perhaps what she has painted is not as impressive. It is a dog. Her dog. A Labrador rendered perfectly right down to every hair on it's coat. How important is the subject matter? A badly-painted portrait of a Labrador would be laughable, unless it was done by your young niece or nephew, in which case you may still laugh behind their back whilst encouraging them to their face. "Keep it up! One day you might be an artist!". This may, in fact, be an unintentionally cruel response. After all, would it not be better to suggest they take up the recorder, rather than encourage their folly?

The anarchic spirit of Dada did not break the shackles of virtuosity. They hamper the progress of aspiring artists even to this day. It fired shots which the majority of the public withstood quite easily, firmly bound as they were/are in the bulletproof belief that true art demands virtuosity. The elevation of the artist (in any art form) depends on their demonstration of skills mere mortals do not possess. The romantic notion of the artist as one with a great gift (bestowed, by whom?) endures. We are all susceptible to it. We need examples of it to enrich our lives, we suppose. 

The artist who says something meaningful, but 'badly' according the to viewer's personal criterion, is worthless, surely. Shall we give her credit for a brilliant idea? Or even a the heartfelt expression of an emotion rendered in a manner which cannot be considered to be 'real' art? She has wasted her time creating a digital representation of something in a manner which displays no virtuosity at all! As for the post-modernists...

Art was taken from the people when it became Fine Art. Folk Art? Outsider Art? What are they? Categories appointed by critics and historians in order to differentiate the Fine from...what? The Fake? The Unrefined? Fine Art defined in Webster's dictionary: '1. a: art (as painting, sculpture, or music) concerned primarily with the creation of beautiful objects - usually used in plural, b: objects of fine art. 2. an activity requiring a fine skill.' There you have it. 

It may not occur to pompous critics (both professional and everyday) that they fail to grasp what modern art means today. It has no cast iron 'meaning' in the old-fashioned sense (which they cling to as a life raft to save themselves from drowning in doubt and insecurity) because the old standards by which Fine Art were judged are insignificant. 

The irony is that some of them may have applauded Punk Rock at the time, joyfully denouncing the traditional notions of what 'proper' music should sound like. Yet they fail to see that the very same attitude is all around them in art today. Perhaps this is because music is Popular, therefore can be made by common people and accepted on its own merits. 80s New York band The Lounge Lizards even called themselves Fake Jazz. But they were too good to be 'fake' and went on to appear at prestigious (real) Jazz festivals. Perhaps Rig Rip & Panic were genuine Fake Jazz, except they were more like Roland Kirk's Punk kid brother and all the better for it. Art today remains sanctified. I have no idea why this is the case, why it has not been freed, no matter how many movements have tried.

Art is everywhere on the internet. It would appear to have been democratised/liberated by technology, just as Dance music was in 80s. At least, the medium for exposure exists, even if many who exploit it do not use the medium itself as an artistic tool. One would think this would shatter the old preconceptions. It may, however, have the reverse effect. We are all susceptible to over-exposure. Those who surf compulsively find their critical facilities eroded. They cannot chose or be selective. They are consumed in the vortex of on-screen images. This may be for the best, ultimately. Even the high culture elitist may, due to a surfeit of art, be fooled into liking art made by the non-virtuoso, the unreal artist. 

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