How to understand contemporary art with the analogy of an oaktree in a grassfield. For everyone who is unsure what to think about the art you see in contemporary exhibitions. You will feel less lost when looking at contemporary art after reading this.
The analogy of the oaktree and grass is my favourite visual analogy to explain the art world in contemporary times. This stockphoto of a skew tree, is even more telling, as it visually follows the Western art historical canon that supposedly started in Egypt and then moved on to Greece, Europe and then finally tracked over the Atlantic to the United States of America. This western colonial view of the art world casts a long shadow over our understanding of art and the value we place on art and institutions.
The art world exists the moment something is created. What follows is a larger connection between creation and audience. In our postmodern or even post studio world, there are no longer titans in the art, the grassroot of art work is the complete art world with the remnant of the historical art canon as oak casting shade over the postmodern grasslands.
The analogy of the (oak)tree and grass is my favourite visual analogy to explain the art world in contemporary times. This stock-photo of a skew tree, is even more telling, as it visually follows the Western art historical canon that supposedly started in Egypt and then moved on to Greece, Europe and then finally tracked over the Atlantic to the United States of America. This western colonial view of the art world casts a long shadow over our understanding of art and the value we place on art and artists.
In contemporary times, the tree is no longer the only context 'real' art is allowed to thrive in. There is more diversity in art and in the different dialogues, some of which no longer want anything to do with the oak. Find a patch of grass you relate to and enjoy it too any extent you wish. The art world is an unwalled pasture, that is watered by amateurs and professionals.
Questions abound about contemporary art
I have heard from countless individuals; the same thing in their rhetoric. What the heck is the art world? Artist and first time buyers all wonder what and where this ethereal and even unreal world exists. Who and the what? Where are the gates of this club and who is the gatekeeper? When do I cross the threshold of the real art world?
Institutions like museums, galleries, and auction houses are physically easy spaces to enter. However, these places have a long social and economic history of exclusion, despite modern trends. And even if social and economic stigmas did not exist these are not spaces of ownership in the art world, here most if not all are only viewing a window into a history of the art world. The worth of art in these spaces is compounded by years of, colonial power, institutions and professionals. Here you can only view the work at a museum with many others and only one can win the auction, at staggering prices.
Is this where we enter the art world? Is the price om membership several average annual incomes or seeing something only for a sliver of a day? Is an artist only an artist when they enter these spaces?
Who is making art?
Let us start from the grassroot up. Creating art. People create art. Luckily artist, see themselves as artist easily enough, their creation of something is an indisputable fact of their profession as an artist. They may sell, or not sell their work, but their work exists.
And even if artists almost never create and they keep on thinking of art work, they are artists. This is by the way called conceptual art, where the creation of the art work is by no means the end goal of creation. This may sound very crazy for those with little idea about conceptual art. But, rest assured this is a legitimate art avenue of creating and thinking of art and if you dislike this go delve into the endless spiral of Wikipedia pages on conceptual art or just don’t.
You, do you. So if you say you are a conceptual artist as a snotty comment after reading this, congratulations, you are in fact a conceptual artist. The art world is a strange place. The artists is creating work and is therefore an artist, whether a larger society has recognized this or not. This recognition of artists was delved into in the previous post on levels of art. I also wrote about the idea that all art is the marriage between the artists understanding of the world and their technical implementation of these ideas. If this is a little vague.
Circulation or marketing of art
The artist will then show it to their family, their art group, a gallery, their Instagram followers and attempt to exhibit their creations. That is, if the artist are not plagued by crippling self-doubt of their worth/creation. As the aforementioned institutes cast a long shadow pertaining to value of art and therefore the artist.
A value that most living artist cannot live up to. So artist should simply focus on where they are now. Creating and then exhibiting those creations. Showing the art work is marketing art work and the artist. This is the art world, exhibiting in libraries, churches, public spaces and café’s, also in museums and galleries. The more people see it, the bigger the chance that someone will connect to a work. The more people see the work, the more likely they are too like something. Art is ultimately about the interaction it engages in.
I want more!
Sadly, all I can leave you with this week is: Read the other posts, or wait until next week. I have no recommendations this week. There are some links in the text. Or you know, write back to me, let me know where I am wrong, not nuanced enough or just coming over as too much of a now it all.