Sunday 25 September 2011

Abstract or Clintz Catalogue?


- Not much, just reading this blog you wrote.

Rightio, I better write it then.

- No, you better have written it.


When I look at art and I notice how boring it is, I often imagine that it has never been very interesting.

As I know you’ll all have fond memories of reading my previous posts where I denigrated the practice of using a historical perspective as a measure of how good an artwork is, you’ll undoubtedly have noticed that I’ve specifically fallen into the trap of breaking my own rule in reverse.

This is a bit like the time I tried to perform a back flip on a trampoline but ended up in a standing position, except upside down.  Apparently I looked like a complete jack-ass.

So anyhow, the problem with my aforementioned perspective is that art may very well have been more interesting in the past. 

Firstly, because back in the olden days there were far fewer visual images around, and when you’re not constantly inundated with pictures they’ll naturally appear very differently.

Secondly, because breaking the rules is more interesting at a time when you can remember what the rules apparently are.

And thirdly a lot of art was made in the days before actually interesting things like gameboys, internet porn and awesome blogs about trampolining mishaps.

When I was studying modernism I read about Kandinsky and the beginnings of abstract painting.  Kandinsky tried to convince me that when a person looks at a big, bright blob of pure yellow they will naturally feel uplifted.
I tried very hard to experience this effect, but when I looked at the big, bright colours in his painting they looked lurid and old, like a giant go-lo catalogue.

Now, Kandinsky lived and worked through the second world war.  This was not a time when a person would encounter a lot of big bright colours.  They didn’t have much colour printing, but they did have a lot of rubble, mud, and probably a fair few potatoes, each of which costed more than the combined annual earnings of the northern hemisphere.

If I imagine such a time, I can begin to understand why a person would feel uplifted by looking at a big bright blob of pure yellow. 
But these days we have artificial, bright colours bursting out at us from all angles. 
In the old days paints and dyes were expensive and must’ve looked very impressive, but these days they’re a hallmark of cheap, lurid, obnoxious design, and as a result they appear disgusting. 

It’s like looking into the eyes of a mad-man.

Kandinsky was wrong when he said that colours naturally affect people in certain ways. 
Colours are an example of the metaphysical concept of qualia, which means they can only be described by being referenced to other things. 

Think about it: If you woke up one morning and the colours red and green had switched; the grass was red and your blood was green, how would you know that this wasn’t the way that everyone else experienced the colours.  How can you even describe red without just listing things you associate with the colour, like heat, passion and blood. 

If blood and fire were green, green would feel hot.

So we know that the effect of colour on us is nothing more than a reference to other things we experience visually.  There is no inherent, objective value to colour.  If you look at Kandinsky and it feels cheap and gross, you know that it’s because you have a modern perspective on a historical artwork, and had you been born in the early 20th century, it’s likely it would appear differently to you.

Art people don’t seem to want to believe this.  They continue to use bright colours in the same way as the early modernists, and expect that the reception should be the same as it was 100 years ago.  They seem to believe that people are unaffected by their abstracts because of an epidemic in unrefined pallettes, but I fear that when we have to walk past 670 examples of colour printing just to make it into the gallery, the paintings inside may need more than the fact that they’re colourful to be of any interest.

My parting message is this:
When I graduated from preschool to kindergarten I realised that nose-picking just wasn’t as awesome as it had previously seemed.  This was an older crowd and they expected more from their comedy than a congealed piece of mucous. 
Instead of stoically sticking to the picking, and claiming that it was people’s own inferior taste that made them unable to appreciate a good booger, I adapted, and took up farting instead.

There’s a lesson in that.