Friday, June 17, 2011
Academic and Modernism Part 1
I think there is a misconception in the present art world, especially from the atelier circle and its perception of modernism and vice-versa. There seems to be a line drawn in the sand that filters artists according to their choice of a subject and its depiction. The subject of the human figure is the subject that ultimately decides if an artist is "modern" by popular standards or, in lack of a better term, a " revivalist". For instance, if a painter depicts the human form they are seen by the dominant art consensus of today as regressive. While, figurative painters see "contemporary" artists as a unskilled painters with a businessman's touch.
Both point of views are severely misguided. Firstly, the modern art mindset is based on theory. The current understanding of modern art stems from the writing of art critic Clement Greenberg. In his writings, Greenberg defines modernism as a self criticizing discipline: using the tools of a chosen skill to reduce it to it's basic function, e.g., sculpture is three dimensional. When painting is subjected to this modernist reduction to a mediums basic essentials, painting is a flat surface and is experienced optically: it is a flat surface the eye moves ACROSS not THROUGH.
The idea of one point perspective or depicting an object three dimensionally is considered illusionary painting by this train of thought. It is thought of as fake or illusionary because it is trying to be something it is not, or trick the viewer. If a painting is merely a flat surface in the modernist mentality, to paint the illusion of space violates the purity of the medium by making allusions to sculpture. Paint in itself is not experienced 3 dimensionally, sculpture is. So Jackson Pollock is a modernist because his splattered paint makes no attempt at creating a fake space for the eye to wonder, but rather he highlights the flatness of the painted surface.
Secondly the reasoning for the absence of the figure in modern art, or any recognizable renderings, is the idea of narrative. Modernistic painting is not only an evolution of theoretical application, but an attempt at a more personal/transcendent experience. Because there is not earthly bound subjects the mark making of splatters and drips are a self reflexive act. So the painting is a recording of the encounter of the painting surface artist and his/her medium. Each mark is unplanned and intuitive. This subconscious decision making is meant to allow a unique, personal, and transcendent experience with the viewer.
Narrative was seen as a negative to the Greenbergian modernist because any depiction of any recognizable object, automatically triggers a narrative in the mind of the viewer. The narrative then seems dictatorial. The "realistic" painting not only illusionary in aesthetic but it TELLS the viewer there is an idea, or story that the viewer may understand or not. While the modernist abstracted work offers no constrictions of predetermination by not representing anything recognizable and therefore opens the viewer to a cerebral experience that is devoid of figurative or earthly representation and purely optical.