What is all of this art for?
Who is it for?
Why do we do it?
Why should we take the time?
Does anyone care about my art as much as me?
Does it matter?
Am I public or private?
Am I a recluse or a socialite?
I want validation but I don’t want to act like it.
I refuse to act like it.
I am so high-minded and lofty.
I use use use and don’t say thank-you.
I am tender and reassuring.
I will make you cry.
I will make you laugh.
I will repair the damage I do.
I will grow and you will love me more.
What is the point of art? Art is not made so art historians can make cultural proclamations and reconstruct the creative past; this is merely an academic byproduct. What art history can do is reveal the complexity of relationships of people throughout history. These relationships and the events that surround them are made evident in both glorious and subtle objets d’art. The circumstances that produced works of art are often more revealing than the actual work. For whom was it made? Why?
How? What is its visual language? Is it new or traditional? All are questions that transform a work of art into something much larger than both its physical form and the artist’s intention. Art becomes a primary document that reflects experience, both personal and shared.
Art of the 21st century lacks the structure that art of 100 years ago had; it has become more idiosyncratic, personal, justified by the mere fact that it was “made” and that it “means something”. What happened to grand gestures and narrative? To taking a risk to express a controversial or jarring opinion? I wonder where the truly provocative art is? It is out there. Art that challenges the viewer to redefine the world they live in, art that makes one’s senses become inflamed or overjoyed, art that is timeless. Work that is overly personal is at risk because it lacks restrictions; it is validated by one’s own whimsy, vision and experience. I ask, is this enough to make great art? Perhaps it is all in the execution.
Obviously my questions are rhetorical but the inquiry is real. As someone who gets rather enthusiastic about how paintings have the potential to contain so much information, I find myself frequently dismayed with the “anything goes” of artistic gesture. I cannot help but think that art needs to recognize a framework, have more narrative, and be more intentional in the way it is practiced. At the very least, it would provide clarification, simplicity and a starting point to grow. It would provide a structure for the artist to rebel. Art constantly needs to dodge bullets of banality and oceans of self-aggrandizement and to be satisfied with nothing less than purity; be it purity in artifice or purity in truth.
Katrina (Kate) Casprowiak is a member of the Bellevue College Art Faculty and Instructor in Art History. To hear more stories from her experiences in the Art world, register for a BC course in History of Western Art. Or visit her at her company: Northwest International Contemporary Art.