What Went Wrong With… Art?

1 dollar being sold for 1 million dollars illustrating the selling of fine art at grossly inflated prices. By What Went Wrong Or Right With...?

We all seem to appreciate art-forms such as music, film, literature, and fashion however we do not seem to migrate toward fine art. One reason is the fact that most art is trapped inside art galleries and unless you are of a certain class or educational background, these often tomb-like structures are far too off-putting. From their Neoclassical pillars to their white aged façade, the whole visual language of these buildings tell the passers by “Do Not Enter Unless You Are One Of Us”. The modern equivalents are no better; usually angular and clean with Post Modern design references nobody without a Ph.D. in Architecture would understand. These buildings either bore or scare the majority of the public from entering and if you do make it inside you are overwhelmed by blank walls filled with art taken out of it’s original context and setting, trapped in a deathly quiet and vast labyrinthine mausoleum.

The art world itself does not help matters. For years pompous art critics have fed gullible, rich, and apparently educated people with contrived and self-absorbed art and artists. They tell us what is “art” and in turn have created artists who produce what is perceived to be in demand; high in concept and low in talent. Any artist who successfully networked in university gets a free pass to create visual landfill; it’s not what you do, or how well you do it, but who you do it for. The whole cycle feeds off itself and creates an isolated and incestuous vacuum. The public is usually baffled by an art installation that takes up 1000 cubic feet and is reluctant to invest hours watching televisual displays without any pay-off or obvious point. Contemporary art seems to be created for the egos of the art world, happy to indulge the artist with praise in order to increase the value of their product. Supply and demand has been hacked by a counterfeit and untruth commodity.

Anybody who is not a part of this elitist art world sees pointless, vulgar, and self-righteous art being sold for vast sums of money and the ordinary person whether potential artist, potential consumer or admirer never feels they can associate with a such a pretentious and exclusionary group.

The concept of art is by definition very simple; something which is aesthetically pleasing and is created by the use of imagination and skill. Something which should evoke an emotion or feeling. Most people however, feel the majority of contemporary art does not evoke any emotional response other than apathy. We are breastfed on news stories about Damien Hirst and his latest piece of visual feculence. We see artists as repetitive and money hungry, creating an ever increasing bank balance with each ludicrous headline-grabbing piece. Anything which is deemed to be easily reproducible is then quickly mass marketed. Even the once underground and respected street artist Banksy has somehow been adopted by this machine. The once meaningful stencil and slogan “A Wall Is A Very Big Weapon It Is The Nastiest Thing You Can Hit Someone With” is now reproduced to hang on your wall without any acknowledgement of irony.

This is not to say that classic art such as an oil-painted portrait is any better. This in itself has become the visual equivalent of white noise. We now see the Mona Lisa in the same way we see Dogs Playing Poker; something which has been mass-marketed for people who simply want to decorate their wall at home. Stock imagery manipulated on Photoshop and sold in the Home Furnishings department at Ikea is not necessarily what the public want but it fits into their price range. They buy it and therefore more of it is produced. Paint splashed onto a square canvas is too easy to re-create, it might have once been worthy of merit but has now become the staple of the bar and waiting room wall.

From one extreme to the other, a chain of force-fed mediocrity is produced; one for the elite and one for the general public. The public today instead find solace and aesthetic pleasure from music videos, film, fashion, and the internet. These mediums too have social cliques and social exclusion, but people feel that there is in equal measure a proportion they can associate and feel a part of, something which contemporary art does not have nor seems to want.

Of course fine art has a great part of it’s history associating with the socially and economically powerful. Art commissioned by a rich patron is how most artwork in art galleries originated. But art’s true origins go much further in history. The first examples of visual art are cave paintings; art was intended to be representation of real and everyday life by real everyday people. If done properly, art resonates with all classes and creeds of people and all forms of art therefore can potentially be understood by everyone and does not limit itself by language or social barriers.

In theory art should vary between artist. If you’ve lived a different life and think a different way, you will express yourself differently than the person next to you. Art has for a great many years been created solely for the wealthy and the wealthy are not the greatest purveyors of style and culture, all they want is to make a profit from the resale value. Artists have blindly accepted this system and flooded galleries and auction houses with their monetary-led art. Art which is first viewed in a champagne-filled meet-and-greet and then promoted by a handshake and a little soul selling. Art which is falsely said to be valuable only for the conspirators to cash in on people’s ignorance and obliviousness to the corrupt and unwarranted hype. Self gratification and vanity have now destroyed Art, it has become an unstoppable machine which not only produces but also supports, promotes, and ultimately sells art.

People are all too complacent when something such as art is hijacked. Something which was intended to inspire should not be solely possessed by the rich and the average person who is appeased by copyright-free meaningless drivel should be more angry at what is being done to a medium which was intended for the public at large.

In conclusion, what went wrong with art? It became a money machine. Artists and consumers alike: we need to destroy this machine and take control of our art. Sell your own art, promote other people’s art based on merit. Boycott stock imagery and make art mean something again.

13 replies »

  1. “Do Not Enter Unless You Are One Of Us” – I think the Art world is currently or will shortly be going the way of the Publishing world, the Music world and other Creative ventures. Indie Art is accessible and so are the creators. Going is the day of acceptance of pretension and exclusivity. I re-posted and added to a Post about this subject (in the abstract 🙂 just this morning.

    The price of an original piece of art by an independent artist is often less than a multi-pressed/manufactured print copy. I think that is the education that needs to be spread.

  2. I consider something art when it is something I could never have possibly come up with myself.

    Ink splots on a canvas…have I thought of it? No. Could I have? Duh.

    I went through drama university and the bullshit they’d try to sell you as ‘art’. It purely relies on the “If you dont get it thrn obviously you’re stupid” principle in that morons will come up with any bogus theory to pretend they understand it.

    This is why I’m against any interpretative entity that doesn’t have a correct answer, because its just the creators lazy way of not having to come up with it themself. If the artist had no intent, the its fake. It doesnt matter if the art made you feel a certain way, if its not what the artist intended then the artist failed.

  3. Mona Lisa is the most overrated piece of art ever. What is so special about this painting? It is generic, plain, and bland. It is portrait of a woman. Anyone can recreate it and no one would know the difference. This shitty painting is supposedly priceless? Hell No! It ain’t worth shit!!

    • Quick observation if I may. I quote; ‘The concept of art is by definition very simple; something which is aesthetically pleasing and is created by the use of imagination and skill’ I don’t think that is necessarily true at all. Music is defined a series of notes that are ‘pleasing to the ear’..but art is different. To my mind at least, anything can be art so long as it provokes a response…positive or negative, It fails when it fails to engage at all. The very worst thing an artist can do, of course, is to refer to themselves as an artist!

  4. An artist works hours on a piece of art just to have it glanced at for 5 seconds or less.

    However, …

    If 5 seconds (or less) is all it takes to communicate an emotion or story;
    what really matters at the end of the day?

  5. I went into this article expecting to be annoyed as I am a contemporary artist and too often see these articles are public opinion shifted in the direction that all contemporary art is trash and that no effort is put into any of it, which is something that even when you have confidence in your own practice can be exhausting and degrading to hear after it is repeated enough times, but I was impressed by the direction you steered, towards a reclamation of the art world by the consumer and the artist alike, rather than a return to impressionism most people would prefer. There were points I disagreed on here for sure, but I appreciate you having a direction in this article, rather than the empty complaining and undeserved genuine anger similar articles often have towards the contemporary artist, good on you!

  6. Wonderfully thought-provoking, and I love the term “visual feculence.”

    In 1973, Art Herzog interviewed Stephen Weil, then-administrator of the Whitney Museum, for the “Culture Cant” chapter of Herzog’s excellent book “The B.S. Factor.” Weil said:

    “At its worst, the cant in the art world is unspeakable. It foists on the American middle class the idea of art for a European aristocracy. The first European museums were palaces captured by the people from the aristocracy, and this palace feeling has uncritically been adopted and continued by some American museums. There is still the show-off of spending huge amounts of money for a painting. The fake solemnity and fake seriousness of museums—and the conference rooms designed to make trustees feel powerful—are all part of the attempt to seem aristocratic. Why can’t we do something to make people feel good other than to make them feel like second-class dukes? The same operates in, say, music. Why does the orchestra wear tails? Because it’s what servants wore.”

  7. A couple of other notes. Over here in Canada, the art world is more a daycare center for the children of the rich. More about lifestyle, nepotism and external validation.

  8. Does anyone remember ‘Simon Schama’s power of art’ which the BBC broadcast in the noughties ?

    The programme featured amazing masterpieces such as Bernini, Caravaggio and Rembrandt
    ….but Mark Rothko ? I’m sorry but I fail to see of how a dark maroon coloured large canvass has anything to offer in way of ‘art’ . It pisses me off of how such mediocre and simplistic self absorbed pish can be compared alongside the genuis of the former…and yet Professor Simon Schama marvelled at the fucking thing .

    Mark Rothko’s art is pretentious lazy nonsense-and bollocks to the derivative crud of Picasso as well-who is vastly overrated in my opinion.

    I don’t care what the chin stroking experts tell me – modern day art is truly abysmal .

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