Saturday, December 12, 2009

On Yearning for the Past

I recently attended an artist's talk in which the artist lamented what he perceived as a steady decline in the art world since the late 1800s with the modern art movement and the introspective nature of art today. However, I cannot say that I agree with these perspectives.

I don't long for the days of the patronage system, nor do I think that more people were able to connect with art of the past. A lot of art existed because of wealthy patrons, and nobility and the Church supported artists to create exactly what they wanted made. Those viewing art were either granted access to it by luxury or, in the case of the general population, were seeing things that essentially existed as propaganda to further promote cultural ideas and remind them of their roles in society.

Artists simply didn't have the freedom of expression or thought in the past that we do today, and many were not able to be introspective. New opportunities have evolved and doors opened, and so a more varied assortment of artists can explore these concepts. But modern and contemporary art isn't solely introspective. A lot of artists are able to explore a much more varied range of concepts and to offer artworks as a means of communication and social commentary. Artists are able to both connect with and disconnect from a more diverse group of people than ever; we have much more autonomy to decide how accessible we want our work to be.

I don't think that the general population only understands, desires and responds to Classical traditions in Western Art. I think it better to give the viewer/patron the benefit of the doubt and let him/her determine what is of value in his/her mind. Different people respond to different things. Collectors are collecting a diverse range of works and styles reflecting an array of movements. Some see this as nothing more than a trend. But does that mean that what is considered trendy is not of worth later on? Throughout history what is remembered depends a lot on the culture looking back on it and what of the past has been preserved, for good or bad. And it cannot be said that past cultures have always had a great appreciation for those before. A lot of changes and shifts in thinking have occurred throughout history. A lot of things went unrecorded or were only discovered in ruin in other peoples' trash heaps.

However, I do see it as a definite pity that true Classical training seems to be becoming more and more scarce nowadays. There are so many movements and ideas to cover nowadays and some of those teaching lack a strong background in formal Classical concepts, so a lot of students are simply not offered as strong of a sense of focus in Classical traditions, or in any particular discipline or methodology for that matter. This depends a lot on the educational institutions and what they value. But those students from any program will go on to become the next generation of teachers themselves, so if information is being lost along the way it will continue to do so as more and more generations of teachers lose more and more of it.

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