Monday, 13 October 2014

Has Modern Art Lost Its Soul?

by Alice Priory

What is art? There is no definite answer to this question, but for me, art is something visual that reveals the artist's emotions or tells a story that we can relate to and create our own meaning for. It is what makes us fundamentally human- the desire to express what we see, how we feel, who we are, and to communicate this to other people.

I love the freedom you get when presented with a blank canvas, a roll of white paper, a clean fresh page, like waking up on a winter’s morning to a brand new world covered in snow. Your imagination is your only restriction as you add the first colour. You just need to set your mind free.

I believe that art is personal and ambiguous- everyone interprets a painting or sculpture in a different way. A good example is “The Scream” by Edvard Munch. The vibrant world spins around someone screaming in anguish, anger, confusion or maybe even happiness. There are no right answers.             

The Scream by Edvard Munch
40,000 years ago, the first painting was created. Using twigs, bones and horse-hair brushes, charcoal and crushed ochre was smeared onto cave walls, capturing images of herds of animal silhouettes hunted by tiny warriors carrying spears. The discovery, only this week, of cave paintings in Indonesia has shocked archaeologists with the realisation that humans have been expressing themselves through art 10,000 years longer than they originally thought. Not only do the cave paintings help us trace the first forms of art, they also hold historic value, revealing what the cave people felt and experienced during their lives. In these caves, the seed of art was planted and grew roots as a foundation for our creativity and imagination. Over time, art has flourished and adapted through artists such as Monet and Van Gogh who have shaped it and made it their own.

A stencil of an early human's hand in an Indonesian cave (c. 37, 000 BC)

But, 40,000 years later, these roots have been torn apart. Elements of art that are absolutely irremovable from its definition, like skill, refinement and thoughtfulness, are all destroyed at the broadly open, democratic gates of Modern Art. The People’s Art. Anybody can do it. No aptitude? No drawing skill? No sense of colour? It doesn’t matter because a blank sheet of paper or the contents of a litter bin can now be called art and sell for millions.

Many people believe Pop Art is where art “went wrong”, but I disagree. Andy Warhol’s work in particular celebrates common objects and people of everyday life by bringing vibrancy and colour into our world and is now one of the most recognizable styles of modern art.

No. It is even more recent artist such as Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin who have steered us towards cold, sterile and uninspiring art.

Mother and Child by Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst made an exhibition of distorted sheep, and cows sliced perfectly in half, all preserved in glass cases. Is this what art has become? The 20th century artist, Yves Klein created a painting worth $4 million dollars: A blue square. This untitled piece of artwork was just one of the 200 monochromes Klein painted in his life and supposedly represents pure space and religion. The fact that it is untitled, for me, emphasizes the lack of emotion and creativity which shows that if you are an artist with a well know name, anything can be sold as high end art, as long as you give it a symbolic meaning.

Blue Epoch by Yves Klein

In fact, our society has become so detached from the true value of art, that the price is now more important than the art itself. The more expensive, the more impressive.

I’m not saying that art needs to be complex and inaccessible, or that we shouldn’t be open-minded; however, some artists have taken advantage of this freedom. They have experimented and created a “soulless monster”. What does this say about our community? That we are dull and uninspired? I don’t believe we are, but why are we represented by a preserved cow and plain blue square?

When you watch the archaeologists entering the caves for the first time and flickering their torches on the stone walls that haven’t been seen for 40,000 years, you see animals brought to life thanks to the extraordinary craft of those first artists. It is this which modern art seems to find it so hard to capture or even to see in the world today: a sense of wonder and spirit. So, when I next take pen to paper, as an artist, I hope to re-create this and bring the blank page to life.

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