A much more accurate “now” image for direct comparison would be a photograph. Abstract art came about as a direct result of the invention of photography, as paintings no longer need to be representative, as photographs are inherently better at that task. Accurately representative paintings were just the photography of the pre-photography era. Portraits of nobility have been replaced by Sears Portrait Studio. Self portraits have been replaced by Instagram selfies. Paintings of historical events have been replaced by photojournalism. Photography is the democratization of art and abstract paintings and sculpture are the most evolved form of art possible. These are not things to complain about.
YES YES IT IS okay i have a whole lot of feelings about abstract and non-representational art
because yeah, once photography became more common and widely available, people who painted started to question what they painted for. They started to wonder what made something art, what distinguished a painting from a photograph - if photographs could depict “objective” reality (insofar as such a thing even exists), then maybe the strength of painting lay in what photography, in that day and age, couldn’t capture, like feelings or impressions or the tricks the eye plays when seeing an object.
and so they asked, well, why does this portrait feel so comfortable and warm and this one feel threatening and stiff? what elements of the picture suggest that? is it the lighting? the way people are posed? can you play up those elements, exaggerate them, make the figures express the feeling instead of the other way around? what would happen if you did?
and for that matter, people continued to ask, why do we find a certain change of lighting comforting? why do we respond to someone wearing a red shirt or a blue dress differently to someone wearing a white one? what is it about red? or black? or green? why does the shape that people are standing in, the way the figures are placed in a frame, change how we feel about it?
art in a way started to become about psychology - it became about thinking and about why we think and how. because photographs (again, at the time) weren’t engaging with that nearly as much, art started to move towards a “why” of photographs. why that pose? why that color?
that’s when you start to get art like the one under “art now”, right, because look at it. REALLY LOOK, okay, don’t just shrug and walk away because “anyone could do it”. look at that exact shade of orange. do you ever see just a big swath of one color in nature? no, you see hints of it. where have you seen it? what does it remind you of? for that matter, what about the little stripes on it? does that make you feel like there’s depth to the painting - something inside it? why? after all, the painting is a flat plane*, so if you do get a sense of depth from it that’s your brain interpreting signals its familiar with. isn’t that incredible, that all it takes is a few little lines on a single color? isn’t it strange how one person will see depth and another won’t?
*and for that matter it ISN’T a flat plane, there are variations in the height of the paint on the canvas and how much it’s built up, and it protrudes slightly from the wall instead of being recessed into it - does that do anything to the sensation of depth? while we’re on that note, do you ever look at a representational painting and think about how you, the viewer, are looking into it and see it as having space and depth when it really doesn’t - only it does, but not the same space and depth as is represented in the picture?
and that’s without even getting into larger cultural shifts like the World Wars - and it’s hard to overestimate the effect that WWI and WWII had on even the “mainstream” art world - and the greater voice of underrepresented and oppressed groups like women, POC, and LGBT artists and the increasing technological sophistication of photography and the advent of video and widely-available audio recording and the increasing use of galleries to display art rather than private residences and it is still art, okay, representative art is art too but that doesn’t mean this isn’t it’s just focusing on something different and if you dismiss non-representational art as lazy or a con i will sit your ass down in the nearest chair and yell at you about marcel duchamp for an hour
I have a lot of feelings about this, so I’m gonna just spew them everywhere.
Most critically! The red piece isn’t art now. It’s art 60 years ago — 1950, they great heyday of abstract expressionism in the USA! All that abstract shit you hate, all that stuff that’s just splatters and giant dots? 1950-1960. The United States. A small, elitist movement shaped by maybe a dozen artists and two or three very influential critics. In a decade abstract expressionism had pretty much said all there was to say about the action of painting and the canvas as an object rather than a representation, and it got stuck in the museum for people to be bewildered at.
The Rembrandt piece above it? Also a snapshot of a very particular time and place. Our view of art 400 years ago is blinkered by what we’ve bothered to preserve and focus on. When people think “old-timey art” they think of bright white marble statues with no limbs and Da Vinci and Dutch still life. Which is such a tiny fraction of things that have happened in art history, you know? That’s like, three things! Most of them done for rich dudes in Western Europe!
I call such bullshit on someone trying to knock down all of contemporary art by comparing something made for the cultural elite in 1650 to something made for the cultural elite in 1950.
Art is huge, poorly defined, and it has always been that way, has always had elements that are democratic and has always had a thick vein of nasty elitism. The carvings on the doors into Notre Dame tell the stories of the saints so that everyone could understand them, whether they had access to books or not. Comic books and photorealism and murals in urban areas and fashion spreads — all this stuff is made to wow everyone, independent of how much time they’ve spent studying the deep philosophical circle-jerk of art criticism.
I love art criticism, I love Frank Stella and Ad Reinhardt and Eva Hesse, and I am still incandescently furious when people try to reduce the evolution of art to simply justifying or condemning their work. Because that means we’ve fallen head-first into the trap of omission and framing that keeps art defined as only for the museum-attending. There’s museum art — cerebral and obtuse and annoying and demanding of effort and education and money to appreciate — and then there’s literally a whole world of more art. It is an appalling disservice to all the other artists making it out there (corporate designers and media hubs and scrappy little collectives and crafters and professional illustrators) to sweep them under the rug in favor of arguing about museum art as if it is the most important art, or, worse, the only art.
Don’t like Barnett Newman? Fuck Barnett Newman. Fuck his arrogance and his inaccessibility and his ego and his concept of the primitive.
But fuck you if you call him “Art now” while you do it. Don’t make one man the measuring stick for a century of modern creative works. That’s a bullshit premise and you know it.
There’s some good points here. I take issue with the emphasis on the importance of photography, since there was a LOT of other stuff going on during that period that also played a huge role (from the technical—consider the role that industrial pigments had in broadening the spectrum of colors available to artists, making Impressionism possible—to the cultural—art was hugely political, often on the side of the avant garde of politics, during this period, and the push towards nonrepresentational art was often accompanied by a belief that this push would hasten a revolution of sort or other [see the Futurists, the Constructivists, Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts, Realism, Neoclassicism…]—to the scientific and philosophical—German Expressionism, Surrealism, Dada… all these movements can really only exist in a post-Freudian, post-Jungian world) and I’m not sure I agree with the framing of abstraction as only lasting a decade OR coming out of a particular American culture, since it ignores De Stijl, the Constructivists, Cubism, Dadaist painting, as well as ongoing experiments in abstraction… I mean, I guess Abstract Expressionism fits that definition but I’m not sure late Barnett Newman really has that much affinity with say Pollack compared to those other groups…
But with those major, major caveats out of the way, yeah, the above posts make good points! This isn’t “art today” by a long shot, and setting up this kind of simplistic binary just shows you to be ignorant of the actual development of art in the last century, and closed-minded when you’re confronted with something unfamiliar to you.
Reblogging for all the comments.
I probably could say more, but right now, just going to say that “art” should be replaced by “painting” in most places here, and if not, “visual stationary, non performance art.” Or whatever you call art that is not performance, theatre, dance, writing, music, etc. etc.
Art history as a term kind of sections off this kind of art as “Art” aka the heart of The Arts, but it is really just one of them.
*quietly sinks back into the “writing is an art too” corner and shuts up.*