Apocalypse of art
Change and transformation are inherent to life and society and that
continuously invigorate ideas, feelings and imagination of the people. A
new movement in art is evolved with the zeitgeist and that becomes the
flag bearer of a change in the sensibility of a society. In other words,
works of art evolved as part of a new movement in art delineate the
character of a social condition.
Social history of a given culture narrates its history of art or vice
versa. The contemporary developments in art also narrate the changing
sensibility or the condition of our times. With the evolution and
propagation of installations and digital art our notion of art as a
specific entity that is sacrosanct and authentic is questioned and left
us uncomfortable with hundreds of questions regarding what is art and
what is not.
The idea of a work of art as an object that has some physical or
commodity value that could be in the possession of an individual is
completely neglected by most of the contemporary trends in art.
Infusing a culture with questions on the validity of the past notions
is a cultural practice that instigates or reviews the space and time of
the living and the lived. Of course, a resistance to new trends prevails
in every society and it works as a balancing act in the cultural sphere
for a society functions on evolved principles. That is what enables the
cultural practices survive over the times.
Our object-oriented notion of art is nothing but a contribution of
individualism formulated by Modernism. A philosophy that based on
individualism can only be of a particular stratum of a society because
becoming an individual means outgrowing a society. That means elitism
was the crux of the philosophy of Modernism. Naturally, the works of art
evolved out of such a philosophy became idiosyncratic, esoteric, and
socially alien. Projecting work of art as a venerable, metaphysical and
mystic object that has a special place in life Modernism catered to the
taste of a few who monopolised cultural pursuits. However, when the
world has become increasingly democratised and the aristocracy has lost
its hold over societies individualism is forced to give way for a
pluralistic and multicultural social order and philosophy. No wonder,
then, art is moving towards the popular or folk from the esoteric and
Modernism, when it reached its apex stage with Minimalism that
refuted life and considered life as a pinnacle of boredom, was only
exposing its own dead end. In art the White on White (1918) painting of
Malevich is the classic example of Minimalist art. In literature,
Waiting for Godot, the play written by Samuel Beckett could be seen as a
veritable example of Minimalist point of view. The modernists observed
life according to a point of view that was suitable to them and followed
it as a norm. Modernism believed that one can only have a single point
of view and one should dogmatically follow it all through one's life.
It is believed that no counter thoughts or arguments should be agreed
upon for it devaluates the philosophy that one follows. For instance, a
Marxist or an Existentialist can never take a stance counter to that
philosophy even if such a stance is inevitable at some stage of life.
In other words, a Marxist or a Fascist never could believe in the
counter viewpoints because the dogma that they follow does not have any
space for the other. Sticking to the personal idiom of style became an
accepted practice among the artists and those who did not follow a
definite style were treated as heretics or outcasts in modern art.
Only Picasso could manage a multi-style oeuvre and continue to remain
as an artist reckoned among the Modernists.
The apostles of Postmodernism argue that contrary to the reductionism
of Modernism, Postmodernism celebrates life with a floating,
product-oriented cultural philosophy that opposes all dogma. For it,
anything and everything is acceptable.
It looks at the masses and evolves an art that does not bother for a
signature style or something enduring in social life. Rather, it denies
those values with which a work of art has been considered as work of
art. In other words, as Jean-Francois Lyotard in his highly influential
treatise titled The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge puts it,
the work of art that a postmodern artist produces is not in principle
governed by the pre-established rules, and that cannot be judged
according to a determining judgement by applying familiar categories to
the text or to the work for those categories are what the work of art
itself is looking for.
The whole history of Modernism is of the denial of the common place
or of the ordinary. It rejected the popular religious themes for
portrait and landscape, then landscape and figure compositions for the
abstract and the abstraction for the absolute minimal or conceptual art.
It was negating whatever that had become popular as well as stale in the
social milieu for changing the accepted sensibilities.
On the contrary, the postmodern artists accepted the popular and the
ordinary and immersed themselves in it to create their art. All the
meanings that were attached and preserved in the past were re-evaluated
and by that, the postmodernists tried to discover the changes and
diminution in all those values.
Even the very existence of an original work of art is questioned by
technology. It is to be noted that such ideas about the technology
originated at the time of High Modernism and Marcel Duchamp had given a
concrete intimation of the future of the course of art while he placed a
readymade urinal with a fake signature in a gallery. Walter Benjamin
also tried to theorise lose of the aura of the original work of art in
his seminal essay tilted The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical
When technology can reproduce a work of art with all the qualities
and minute details of the original, and technology itself can be the
cause and reason or medium of a work of art (for example Photography and
Digital Art) the value that we have been hitherto attached with an
original work of art has no more significant. This kind of
non-signification of value is the major issue in all the philosophical
When meaning or value of a signifier is only a floating one, the work
of art, in its aesthetic sense loses to be considered as a work of art.
It becomes one among the trillions of signifiers that are searching for
meanings at every given point of time. For example, an installation,
installed in a particular place or gallery can be reproduced with all
its material aspects and reinstalled in another place.
Then, it's meaning, the appeal, the ambience will be changing and
thus the work of art itself becomes another one.
Further, our society, as Jean Beaudrillard observes, is on a mad
pursuit of images and that irresistible epidemic process cannot be
controlled by anyone.
Hence, an artist is forced to rethink his cultural existence as an
image-maker for she or he is also contributing a bit more to this
infinite multiplication of images. Do more images speak more?
In a society which realised that all the significations are floating
and there is nothing permanent, there is no scope for any romantic
emotion to clutch on to the past ideals and personal preferences.
As Modernism denied all the romantic values and emotional elements
from the works of art in its entire course in history, and propagated an
impersonal, non-emotional art practice, postmodernism celebrated such a
detachment and fragmentation in art and life.
It may be noted that while earlier modernists such as T.S. Eliot and
Ezra Pound were lamenting the fragmentation of human life the
postmodernists celebrate it. The Modernists were lamenting that all
those values hitherto we were upholding in life are lost. When one
states that, a deterioration of value is happening in life there is an
assumption that life had been following higher values so far.
It is a method of glorifying the past. But, how can we judge that the
values that we have been following hitherto were better than those which
we now follow?
It is the judgement that matters. On what ground or truth-value we
can judge something as good, or bad, or beautiful, or ugly, or a work of
art or non-art! Who has the authority of, and what is the criterion of
such a judgement? A judgement is exclusion but nobody has any right upon
the other to exclude.
When Joseph Bueys declared that everyone is artist, he was not
canonizing everybody as an artist, but denying the special significance
and meaning of art and artists in a society.
Thus, Bueys denied art the special place it has been acceded in a
society so far. Anything can be art and any one can be an artist.
The point of view makes something a work of art. In this time of
proliferation of images, meanings and floating signifiers, there is no
truth, value, and point of view that can be believed as the ultimate and
All notions of the values, the absolute and the permanent are
discarded and disregarded. Art is only one of the manifestations of the
life we live.