Sunday, January 29, 2006
Thinking about art and aesthetics and current times
Colin recently forwarded me an email from a friend of ours, Joe Innis, who is a very well-known modern impressionist painter. In his email, Joe talked about how young people no longer seem interested in art, which got me thinking about some patterns I've been noticing over the past two years. At the risk of stating the obvious, with each successive generation "art" means different things, and Joe's email got me thinking about what art might mean to young people now. It seems to me that drawing has re-emerged as a dominant artistic medium within the current 8 years old to 30 years old demographic in most developed countries. It seems to me that manga and comics/graphic novels are playing a large role in this trend, helped along by access to online fora where neophytes and professional cartoon artists share and comment on each other's work. The recent "Batgirl" meme on Livejournal.com really brought home to me the sheer number of young and youngish people who spend a good deal of their time drawing professionally and/or for personal pleasure. So, is just drawing art? Not necessarily, I guess, but if we want to talk about art as a participatory medium, then we're certainly seeing that online. Flickr is a perfect example of the kind of art-for-and-by-the-masses trend I'm wanting to get at here. The accessibility of the photographic images posted to Flickr and the commentaries on popular photos that can often give viewers insights into what makes an effective photographic image and what doesn't, plus the sheer number of people who run active Flickr accounts suggests to me that aesthetic appreciation and artistic endeavour is very much alive and well. Of course, I'm not arguing that all photos are "art" in a classic sense, but it would strike me as difficult to mount an argument that works by Ivan and Snailbooty are not art.
There's a fine line between high art and participatory art, as always. Nonetheless, I'm also noticing some interesting trends towards the high art end of the spectrum with respect to art making and collecting. Designer, limited edition vinyl toys and their even more sought-after "customs" (i.e., customised versions of commercially available toys; e.g., Vinyl Pulse regularly posts images of one-of-a-kind customs) seem to be an esoteric but passionate arena, where design, art, digital image manipulation and popular culture meet and mix to form hybrid high art that is shown in galleries around the world and traded hotly on eBay (some customised figurines have sold in the tens of thousands of dollars recently). Nathan Jurvicius' Scarygirl series is a good example of the kind of thing I'm talking about here. Scarygirl began as a comic strip and evolved into a series of (sometimes limited-edition) dolls and associated artwork and other items. Nathan has had gallery showings in Australia, Canada, Japan, the US and elsewhere.
My point with all this is that it seems that a sizeable chunk of modern art is becoming more visual, more "graphic" -- in that people are producing and manipulating recognizable images, rather than deconstructing images to emphasise, say, light and shade or form etc. And much of this popular collectible art is also just plain funny. My Frank Kozik signed plaid Smorkin' Labbit just cracks me up every time I look at him. And my all-black, goth Scarygirl figurine cheers me up endlessly at work.