watercolor on paper
Katharine A. Cartwright, NWS
prints and cards are available,
see link above
Art Theory: A Very Short Introduction by Cynthia Freeland
Chapter 2: Paradigms and purposes
Moving right along at my present pace, which seems to match that of a snail, I’ll tackle Chapter 2. The opening sentence is a real attention grabber: contemporary artists who create work using blood, urine, maggots, and plastic surgery are successors of past artists who took sex, violence, and war as their subjects. Really? Is the correlation actually that close?
Freeland needs to find a theory that applies to these works. In this chapter, she devotes the next five sections to five periods in art ranging from fifth-century BCE Athens to Andy Warhol’s Brillo Box in 1964. Here’s a very brief synopsis of the evolution of “what is art?” according to Freeland:
1. Greeks – art is an imitation of nature or of human life and action, including tragedy.
2. Chartres and medieval aesthetics – art and Gothic cathedrals (the repository of art) must emulate the characteristic of beauty which is a property of God. The three key principles of gothic cathedrals: proportion, light and allegory.
3. Versailles and Kant – The Greek classical motif is revisited at Versailles in architecture, craftsmanship, and gardens. Kant emphasized the idea of “purposeviness without purpose.”
4. Richard Wagner– his opera Parsifal celebrates suffering; the rebirth of the tragedy in art.
5. Andy Warhol – his Brillo Box …demonstrated that anything can be a work of art, given the right situation and theory. Art that embodies meaning becomes the new norm.
So, it appears that Warhol and his avid supporter, noted critic Arthur Danto, opened Pandora’s Box (although I might argue that Duchamp did it first). Most everything is art now, and most everything hangs in our museums of contemporary art. Beauty is no longer required.
I’ve spent time reflecting upon this idea and can agree intellectually, but not emotionally. When I create art, no matter what the overarching concept for it, I still try to make it aesthetically pleasing. I’m enthralled with design and color. Yes, I begin with a concept and it’s not always a pleasing thought, but the art that expresses it is usually something beautiful to look at.
So, the question for me is not whether it’s art, but whether I want to paint it and look at it.
How about you?