Monday, 3 November 2008

Modern Art

Photo: Lifted from Marcus Coates website

For some reason I spent the weekend contemplating modern art. I found myself in the Photographers Gallery and the Tate Modern and also had an Internet conversation with an American abstract artist.

Like a lot of people I am torn about modern art. I am very interested in alternative perceptions and fascinated by diversity. However I am also suspicious of some modern artists intentions. All too easily the modern artist can use profoundity and obscurity to mask a vacuum. However my inability to connect with an artist can be a reflection of my own lack of imagination.

This battle, I suppose is fundamental to abstract art. I think, like the society it reflects, modern art is all about confusion, suspicion, abandonment of excellence, a redefinition, irreverence, degeneration, surrender, well meaning, directionlessness, fun, light heartedness, comedy and paradox. One of my favourite artists is Marcus Coates. ( He is a naturalist and an artist and for me he reflects this absurdity and mockery well.

For me, Modern Art is a test on my perception. Is the artist trying to communicate something which has depth and meaning. Do I need to squint to see it. Should I make the effort to understand. Should I be ashamed that I doubt the intention. However, is my intelligence under attack- is the artist faking abstraction to mask an emptiness. Has the artist, brown nosed himself/herself into an elite group of self-confirming vacuuists and then by manipulation are trying to impose a delusion of value by creating self doubt in me. Am I being conned.

For me, this is the great test of modern art. Some abstract art reflects a great depth of understanding and meaning. Some reflects a persons ability to be able to manipulate ignorance. What is the intention of the artist.

Like many things it appears there is as spectrum of destructive and constructive intentions. Some artists are intent on sharing and giving positive affirmation to others. Some artists are trying to up-hold self delusion by passing that delusion onto others.

It works the other way to. The observer of art- is a rejection of abstraction a well-founded interpretation of questionable intent. Or is the rejection a blindness and an inability to listen to a genuine well intended voice.


Benno Art Blog said...

Hi again Peter,

I read your last reply and this blog entry (on modern art) and I understand what you are saying and actually agree with you.

You are obviously a highly intelligent and thoughtful person... and one who thinks much deeper than the average person. I respect your curiosity and your unwillingness to just accept what you think is political or socially correct.

In regards to my own work, it appears (from your own comments) that you may still find something suspicious about my intentions and so this creates a feeling of distrust.

In the most simple of words, I paint, draw and create because it is a great release and a joyful experience. It is my tiny, little voice saying... this is something that came from some part of me and I am transfering that onto something tangible. Just as a writer expresses feelings, thoughts, knowledge, etc onto the written page.

It is the one thing in my life that I feel is mine. No matter who sees it, who connects to it and who doesn't, whether someone thinks it is garbage or poetry... it is my little voice.

More than anything I feel a release after I complete a work. A purging of sorts. I usually have no idea where the work will end up. I just begin with a single stroke and the story tells itself.

The completed work may be the result of a particular feeling, or reading a moving book, a thought provoking article, researching a psychological or medical term or simply just the result of an "urge" to get something out of my head. I just cannot explain it properly in words.

Have you ever been thinking about a song and played it in your head and then just suddenly felt like that wasn't enough? You needed to hear it or step up to a mic and belt it out. It didn't matter that the neighbors might hear you or that you might be off key.It just felt good and you wanted to vocalize it.

I don't claim that my work is anything but what you see. It is such a subjective process. There are people who contact me stating that they find an image compelling and that a part of them connects to something there. It's a wonderful feeling when I receive those comments. It makes me feel more a part of the world. I say, Gee, there are others out there who connect to this work.

I certainly don't have delusions of grandeur... and I am sure there are people who feel that what I do is not art at all. The key being, if you are viewing or defining art from either extreme, then you are doing yourself a disservice.

How will you know the artist's true intent and why is that of such importance? If when you view a work and you are moved, will it then matter if you later find that the artist is doing or saying something that you find disingenuous?

I think that most people who are driven to create do it because they feel compelled to do so. It makes them feel good, it is a release. From a thought in your head onto a tangible surface, captured for another to see.

There are also plenty of people who do it for money, adoration, fame and recognition. I have been receiving the magazine, ArtNews, for over 15 years. Much of what I see immediately sparks suspicion in me... that is due to the fact that the art world is full of artifice. Not unlike the entertainment field where a "star" is often cultivated based on a perceived bankable quality. The talented and true are sometimes buried underneath the "new", trendy or sexy. Of course, it is often based on monetary gain.

But... back to the topic of how one reactes to a work:
I am convinced that one's reaction to art has a strong genetic component. I have tremendous appreciation and awe for those who can illustrate and paint in the style of realism. Yet, it usually does absolutely nothing for me when I view it. I am rarely moved. I would likely never purchase anything done in that style. Nearly every work that I find inspiring and moving is done in an abstract manner.

There are those who I call art snobs who will not deem anything art unless it is in a museum. It doesn't matter if they like it or not, but rather, was it deemed worthy of praise by a recognized body of experts.

Well, I could go on and on about this subject, but I will let it go.

All I can say is, I will continue to do my art for as long as I exist. If another comes along and finds meaning in my work, then I take that in and appreciate the moment. I am always honored when it happens. The world suddenly seems alittle cozier.

Peter, I really appreciate all your in depth thoughts and insights. You have a wonderful way with words and I am impressed by the way you remain steadfast and determined not to simply capitulate to popular beliefs and trendy ideas.

Best regards,

Peter Alfrey said...

I really like that comment. Thanks a lot. I think that creative process is part of communication beyond words. Some things simply cannot be expressed in words. Words are pretty crude little things. Music and visual art express things much more powerfully.

Something in there has to come out-one way or another.

On a seperate note, I hope your new president brings about some real change in your country.

I hope he is 'the real thing'.

Very best wishes

Benno Art Blog said...

Hi Peter,

I am very excited about the election and the chance to bring about much needed change and recovery to our country.

About the time of the financial collapse, I began watching c-span for hours on end. For a short time, they were airing what was taking place in your House of Commons and various speeches & discussions by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Gordon Brown.

It was truly fascinating, as the UK representatives were discussing the very same issues as our Senate and House of Representatives.

I was surprised to see that your members are actually a bit more fiesty and vocal than ours:) There were various spontaneous shouts, comments and "ayes". I felt empathy and a sense of shared despair watching "our mother country" going through many of the same problems (and a sense of embarassment that we had been responsible for creating much of the problem). There is no turning back. We are truly a global economy and our actions effect the entire world.

I know the world is watching to see what will happen to the US. I really think you will see a great forward movement and a slow but steady regaining of our reputation. It will take time, but I feel extremely hopeful.

Peter, I just wanted to add that I just glanced through some of your other blogs and wow! You are one impressive fellow... and I envy your life of birding and traveling the world.

I originally found this site as I was searching for blogs on ornithology. Since our conversation about art, I neglected to see that you have several serious birding sites devoted to the topic and your travels. I plan to read through them and learn what I can about all the wonderful species you have written about and photographed.

I wish you only the best and continued safe travels. Thank you for taking time to reply to my comments and expanding my thinking.


Peter Alfrey said...

Cheers Cynthia,
I suspect that Obama has already accomplished his greatest achievement by proving that anyone can succeed and fullfill their dreams. I hope that America and the rest of the world will soon realise that there is no messiah that is coming to save us. Each man must save himself. It starts with 'me', 'my' friends and family, our home, our neighbourhood, our district, our country and our world. Not the other way round. No good waiting for the world to change or for someone to do it for you-change comes from individuals changing themselves.

For Obama to truely succeed would mean he would have to destroy what has made him. Intentionally or unintentionally. Power corrupts, so presumably he has a choice- he can either relinquish power or corruption will make him loose his power.

I look forward to watching what happens now. Is he a prophet or a false prophet.

Time will tell.

That's what I think anyway but opinions are like rectums- everyone has got one.

Best wishes indeed Cynthia

Benno Art Blog said...

Hello again from across the Pond.

I just read your last comment and your words always seem to engage me.

I do completely agree with what you said in that last post, especially this:

"Each man must save himself. It starts with 'me', 'my' friends and family, our home, our neighbourhood, our district, our country and our world. Not the other way round. No good waiting for the world to change or for someone to do it for you-change comes from individuals changing themselves."

I personally have never been under any romantic or delusional state regarding the ridiculous notion that an individual, an organization or (especially) a government, will save us from ourselves.

I don't view Obama as a prophet (false or otherwise) and am hoping that the majority of the people understand this and accept that he is a mere mortal. Our President actually has quite limited power (even with a majority in the House) and I fear that some expectations may be too high.

I see him as an intelligent, decent man who will try to remain centrist on most issues and may even help us take a step toward mending some divisions. Unfortunately, I do feel that too great a burden is being placed on him.

You are so correct in saying that it is indeed up to each individual to create a better world... and no government or leader will make a snot of difference if we all sit on our bums and wait for change to magically happen.

What I do see in Obama is a President who may be able to bring a better sense of calm to our chaotic environment. There is much to be said about temperament and I feel that he might be able to handle the stress better than others.

But, we are talking about politics here. If Obama and the Dems are not able to turn the economy around, they will be voted out in 4years. Then the Republicans will carry on about how we need change toward the right and a new panacea will be introduced.

As far as Obama needing to willingly fall from his pedestal... I'm not sure that he placed himself there, but rather found himself there. He has made many statements that he can not act alone and that we must all contribute.

While power does corrupt, I also think that Obama is going to be scrutinized each step of the way. He hasn't even been sworn into office and his every move is given extraordinary attention. His historic win means that all eyes will be on him and I truly feel that he will bring honor back to the office.

Maybe I am delusional afterall. Can any politican escape the corruptive nature of power?

Time will tell.


Peter Alfrey said...

Hi Cynthia,
I agree. I think he is a great man for the job and an arresting character on the world stage. Rome was not built in a day and the world is not (and will probably never be) perfect- but I think it can be better. All political careers end in ruin- but in between the hysteria of the beginning and the despair of the end- there is generally a few more steps in the right direction. I am hoping for a few leaps out of Obama.

It is all rather exciting times.

Hopefully speak soon