This is it! The final push, and you, my traveling companions have decided to leave the comforts of camp to hike the last mile with me. Your encouragement and support is beyond words, so let's go!
Future Present -
This sounds like something I learned in grammar school. However, it's the title of final chapter of Williams' book, and an appropriate one. He concludes that today, we are still working through postmodernist art. Its theoretical sources continue to be sifted critically. The jury is still out. What are the last few steps that bring us to the end of this journey? This part of the trail begins at the end of the Cold War in 1989:
We have a new world order of global issues: capitalism, environmentalism, human rights issues, and all the social, political, and philosophical thinking that goes along with it. This has caught the attention of the art world, and so has technology. As I stated under "comments" earlier, the visual arts tend to reflect the world as it's perceived by the individual artists. We aren't the engine that drives change ... we're the caboose that is carried along by it. We reflect and react. However, our reactions can be controversial. For instance, in this country, there were bitter public controversies over the work of Serra, Mapplethorpe, and Serrano ... not to mention the elephant dung thing more recently.
According to Williams, The most pervasive theme in art of the past 25 years has been identity politics, the investigation of the ways in which individual and collective identity are mediated by representation. In other words, we're very hung up on identity: gender, ethnicity, cultural, racial, etc. This is the art of the 1980's and 90's. But, there's also the adoption of available technology. For instance, computer art or new mediums that transform and enhance the effects of traditional ones. And then, some contemporary art is intended to critique our relationships to objects and how we use them to define ourselves by utilizing readymade objects. The attenuation of art through the expansion of ideas and methods also includes performance art, constructed environments, and so on. The sky is the limit!
Williams asks: What role will art play in the future. and What role can it play? Two great questions! Recent theory is exploring the possibility of collapsing "art" into the category "medium" or "mediation." This may have something to do with Friedrich Kittler's idea that, as a result of advancing technology, humans may become obsolete and that knowledge will no longer have to center around the limitations of the human brain. On the other hand, Mark Hansen thinks that technology will lead us back to our "humanness." My opinion is that human nature cannot be suppressed for very long, and our desire to create in any form according to our own ideas will prevail.
The final words about the future of art belong to Dr. Williams:
In the complex patterns of human action and interaction that make up history, meaning becomes attached to things but then, after a time, also falls away from them. Art participates in this process, but also tries to correct it: in the past it has been a means of making signs with obvious social functions, usually in the service of power; more recently, it has exercised its prerogative to revise or replace them, and thus insist on alternative values. With modernism, art has discovered the power of its own negativity... Even when, in ages past, art addressed itself to the ideal, it performed a critical function: to suggest the ideal - to negate the world as it is and to reconstitute it as it ought to be... Art has always reminded us that all signs are merely signs, that they are arbitrary and provisional... Art has always involved the work of deploying its own form of negativity against the negativity of history...Art continues to do the same kind of work it has done. The more complex our culture becomes - the more we need art and the more attenuated and complex art probably needs to be. And: The more complex art becomes, the more we need theory.
To recognize that art is thus essential to whatever it is we are or can be is not only to define its task in the most urgent and all-inclusive way, but also to have found the place from which we can begin to write its history.
Many thanks Professor Robert Williams for writing your book Art Theory: An Historical Introduction. You provided me with a wonderful guide!
Folks, we made it! We've reached the end of this trail. But, wait. What do I see? Clouds ahead, lots of them. Oh no, there's so much more that I haven't yet discovered, that's still obscured. Maybe, another day. Right now, it's time to summarize:
WHAT DID I LEARN FROM THIS JOURNEY?
First , that I have wonderful blogging friends who are knowledgable, supportive, and kind enough to read through all this and make substantive comments! Thank you! I learned a lot from you.
Second, The importance of "knowing." Knowing the influences on my work and way of thinking; knowing how and why I create the type of art I do; knowing the possibilities that I've never even considered before; knowing the importance of ideas, and how our artist ancestors developed and utilized them. This type of knowledge is useful to me, but I also acknowledge that the creation of unique and meaningful art doesn't require it and that others might not benefit from this type of journey.
Third, the theories and artists that most influenced my work are the ones from my early formative years as an artist. They are the skeleton upon which everything else hangs and all other theories and "isms" have been wedged into it. I haven't put enough muscle over that skeleton and have limited myself to work within its confines. Perhaps I should bulk-up and expand!
Fourth, a realization of the lifespan of my work. It is highly likely that within a few decades, those who collect my work will be gone and their heirs will clean out their houses. It is also highly likely that somewhere along the road of successive heirs, all of my work will end up in a landfill or burned. There will be no legacy, and no museum will have assigned any importance to what I've done. I don't say this out of depression or self-pity. It's just a matter of fact. UNLESS - I contribute something that actually matters. Hmmmm... how did our artist ancestors do that? I know ... I'll initiate another "ism!"But, what would it be? At one end of the spectrum I could start the school of Simplism. Its manifesto would read something like this: We recognize no theory. Simplism is rooted in disgust with thinking at any level. It is our aim to create mindless art in the simplest possible way without the burden of an idea or disciplined method.
At the other end of the spectrum, I could start the school of Obfuscationism. Its manifesto, after being translated into everyday language, would read something like this: We recognize the theories that no one can understand. Obfuscationsim is rooted in disgust with recognizable meaning. It is our aim to create art that is confusing, even to us, and to encourage art critics to write about it in prose that completely obfuscates any possibility of understanding it.
Or... perhaps I should aim for something between these two extremes. I know ... how about something that relates to the work of my generation: Boomerism! Our manifesto reads like this: We recognize the coolness of any theory, especially the far-out ones. Boomerism is rooted in our apparent willingness to try anything, think anything, and express everything the moment we think of it without inhibition or filters. We have no disgust for anything. It is our aim to create art that's egocentric and provides instant gratification.
Oops! I just learned something else on this journey: I really like sarcasm, or is that sarcism??
In reality, the journey is never over. But, for now, I'll just rest. Perhaps you can share with us your "trail" through art. Cheers to you, my loyal hiking companions! I look forward to many more journeys with you.