Painting from Photos – about the Intent of Art (6)
September 22, 2007
Alan wrote in his blog “Journey of the Mind” about Art and Society and as comment to my last post “Painting from Photos and Digital Art – Art or not? (5)”:
“Art, in our society, has been so perverted that not only has bad art come to be considered good, but even the very perception of what art really is has been lost. In order to be able to speak about the art of our society, it is, therefore, first of all necessary to distinguish art from counterfeit art.
There is one indubitable indication distinguishing real art from its counterfeit, namely, the infectiousness of art. If a man, without exercising effort and without altering his standpoint on reading, hearing, or seeing another man’s work, experiences a mental condition which unites him with that man and with other people who also partake of that work of art, then the object evoking that condition is a work of art. And however poetical, realistic, effectful, or interesting a work may be, it is not a work of art if it does not evoke that feeling (quite distinct from all other feelings) of joy and of spiritual union with another (the author) and with others (those who are also infected by it).”
In principle I agree to what you wrote and cited but you omit something very important: the subjectivity with which art speaks to someone or not. I cannot simply reduce art to “counterfeit” art or non-art only because I do not feel attached to a work or because it seems meaningless to me. If I don’t care for a certain subject because I don’t consider it important in my life or playing any role at all – how could I then – as the viewer – deny its value if there is one to another viewer? This would be arrogance. I have seen a lot of art in museums which simply did not interest me and left me unimpressed – would this be counterfeit art in your sense therefore? Possibly but for many viewers probably not.
“It is true that this indication is an internal one, and that there are people who have forgotten what the action of real art is, who expect something else form art (in our society the great majority are in this state), and that therefore such people may mistake for this aesthetic feeling the feeling of diversion and a certain excitement which they receive from counterfeits of art. But though it is impossible to undeceive these people, just as it is impossible to convince a man suffering from “Daltonism” [a type of color blindness] that green is not red, yet, for all that, this indication remains perfectly definite to those whose feeling for art is neither perverted nor atrophied, and it clearly distinguishes the feeling produced by art from all other feelings.”
Alan, I think I know you are aiming against the superficiality of our modern society and I mean all modern societies – not only the ones of the western world – but I consider your judgement too harsh. If people care for art, which really emanates feelings of utter harmony and happiness, art that turns a whole room into a place of well-being, how could you then decide that the art may not be real art but only sort of counterfeit? Could you really decide which work would be art and which not? What would you make the judge for such a decision? And what would you say about artists who work solely from photographs (referring to photo- and hyperrealism again)? According to your definitions they would never be considered as artists and their works would be counterfeit art in its purest form – if I understood you correctly. I would love to hear some examples from you what you consider as counterfeit art.
“The chief peculiarity of this feeling is that the receiver of a true artistic impression is so united to the artist that he feels as if the work were his own and not someone else’s – as if what it expresses were just what he had long been wishing to express.
A real work of art destroys, in the consciousness of the receiver, the separation between himself and the artist – not that alone, but also between himself and all whose minds receive this work of art. In this freeing of our personality from its separation and isolation, in this uniting of it with others, lies the chief characteristic and the great attractive force of art.
If a man is infected by the author’s condition of soul, if he feels this emotion and this union with others, then the object which has effected this is art; but if there be no such infection, if there be not this union with the author and with others who are moved by the same work – then it is not art. And not only is infection a sure sign of art, but the degree of infectiousness is also the sole measure of excellence in art.
The stronger the infection, the better is the art as art, speaking now apart from its subject matter, i.e., not considering the quality of the feelings it transmits.”
This may be valid for representational work but in no case – and I really mean “no” – you could say this in regard of abstract art! And you could not – by all means – deny abstract works the definition of art – could you? The viewer might feel the artist’s emotion or “condition of soul” but it also might be something completely different. Painters who work mostly spontaneously often are not even able to describe in what state of emotion they were. Many feelings and emotions disappear into oblivion and this might even be a good thing sometimes.
You say that the “degree of infectiousness” is the sole measure for excellence in art. I feel very uncomfortable with this. The problem here starts with the question how you define excellence? Is it excellence in workmanship, actuality of the subject, one of the most important issues or general interest, level of difficulty or transformation of the message? There are thousands of examples where “infectiousness” is highly involved – especially if the negative part i.e. denial or protest is involved – but you would seldom talk about excellence in this case.
“If the work does not transmit the artist’s peculiarity of feeling and is therefore not individual, if it is unintelligibly expressed, or if it has not proceeded from the author’s inner need for expression – it is not a work of art. If all these conditions are present, even in the smallest degree, then the work, even if a weak one, is yet a work of art.”
Alan, I think that you cannot deny an artist’s work being art only because you missed the deeper meaning of the work. Especially in abstract works it is extremely difficult if not impossible. Take the example of works from post-modern, minimalist era, works which only represent colour blocks – they leave me “cold” in a sense because they are too abstract. Are they art therefore or non-art? Even in representational work the true meaning might be encrypted and never released to the viewer if s/he does not have detailed information about the circumstances that led to the work.
You are also saying that you feel “whorelike in it’s literal form” about your commercial work because it “is not intercourse in a spiritual sense between myself (creator) and the viewer” and that art should stand “for a sense of purity and intent”. What about creating art for my own enjoyment only with no intent for the viewer at all? Is it therefore counterfeit art?
I think I understand what you are saying but I also see this would happen in an ideal world only that has never existed and will never exist. Art in all eras of human existence has always been a part of man’s life as documentation (as in the cave paintings), as part of enlightenment and teaching (as in churches), as pure enjoyment and entertainment (as in museums, theatres and galleries), as a healing tool (in hospitals, public rooms) , as enrichment and investment (in private homes and companies) and for many more purposes. None of those does diminish the value of art that again is defined by subjective attitudes and sometimes by stocks and auction houses.
I also see the other side of the coin – the artist. Although I also feel that in many many works exactly that purity and intent is missing and many artists seem to have lost exactly what you are talking about, I feel that many artists also give themselves too much importance, separating themselves from the “normal” people in a way that is simply ridiculous. There are lots of so-called artists out there who pretend something that is not there and I wished that the audience would identify them. But that will never happen.
I would like to say that artists are a special breed but they are just ordinary people who utilize skills and talents other people don’t have or don’t want to utilize. I would like to say that artists belong to the kind of people who are always looking behind the things – but that does not apply to too many. I would like to say that artists are the ones who are the keepers of the virtues in this world – but the media prove they are not. I would like to say that artists are changing the world – but I have not seen any proof for this either. Yet artists often engage in social projects (possibly more than “ordinary people” but I have no proof for this either) – so this is a positive aspect nevertheless.
Artists are just ordinary people who need to eat and sleep as everybody else. And as everybody else artists need to sell their work in order to be able to live.
What I am trying to say with all this is that many art works have their own right for existence and we should not raise ourselves above others by judging something as inferior. Who would have the true competence anyway to do the judging?
Despite all this sometimes it happens that an artist creates works that lives through all eras of time – but that happens very very rarely.