‘‘Art has nothing to do with taste. Art is not there to be tasted’’- Max Ernest
I’m no artistic connoisseur, but I’ve always had a strange appreciation for art forms that flout the normal standards of beauty.
Modern art has revolutionised the place of art in society, changing perceptions on artistic standards forever. Increasingly, we see artists produce pieces that shock, surprise and even disgust.
Beauty, it seems, really is in the eye of the beholder and 20th century movements within the art world are responsible for birthing a generation of iconic ‘ugly art’ that holds purpose and intent above and beyond the importance of aesthetic appearance. In an age when any man and his dog can take the title of an ‘artist’ and produce iconic, impressionable pieces, it seems just as many have stood back and taken the opportunity to highlight the diminishing importance of such an art form.
In May this year, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art was brought under media attention after a 17-year-old placed a pair of glasses on the floor and people (much to the press’s amusement) assumed the glasses were part of the exhibition. The stunt fuelled an already existing negative culture surrounding modern art: that certain artworks, in being somewhat unspectacular, lose their value. More so than ever, artistic movements are captivated by the political and art has seen the presence of a strange prevailing order. Modern art has launched a radical assault on the social, political and cultural values of society.
In 1915, Dada artist Marcel Duchamp presented his works to the annual exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York. His piece was rejected, as it seemed a urinal possessed that somewhat ‘unspectacular’ quality that prevented the piece – like the glasses on the floor of The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art some 101 years later – from being considered ‘art’. In both cases, the denial of this title was a mistake. The significance of such art forms should never be underestimated.
Duchamp was responsible for shattering the traditional myth of what the artist is, and more significantly who the artist can be. The genius ideal of who the artist was and is has changed. The movement of the abstract to represent what is real has replaced works of art with reality – it no longer takes a Picasso or a Monet to produce impressionable pieces in today’s art world, rather it takes the everyday individual. This has resulted in a greater artistic scope of aesthetic, the plain the dull and the humdrum in modern day life have been exemplified and, in turn, have become the captivating and thus the artists place in society has become more powerful an ever. Art is political, and such a tool can be afforded to a person of any class, colour or creed.
No matter how abstract, unconventional or removed from beauty a piece may be the very existence of art that defies and flouts cultural norms is an art form that should be held dear as symbolic of the triumph of a free society.
Iranian artist Antena Farghadani was imprisoned and subjected to barbaric conditions in an Iranian prison for cartoons she drew that criticised members of the Iranian Parliament. Her case does not stand alone across the world – works of art are deemed worthy or imprisonment and even torture. Similarly, Amnesty International worked for the freedom of a Saudi Arabian filmmaker, who portrayed the concept of marriage as misogynistic and promoted a woman’s right to divorce.
An act of peaceful political defiance or the production of an art form that fails to align with the social standards of a society has heralded the cost of death. Too many men and women have been shot in streets to not honour what may seem like the perceptively unextraordinary bland works of conceptual art. A black canvas on a bricked wall, a rubber ring held between two concrete towers on a gallery floor, seven or so plastic cups glued to the ceiling of a basement gallery. Conceptual art matters so much more than the surface level beauty heralded by finery. Art in any form is a form of liberation, a sanctifier of freedom, it grants and allows for individualism.
Modern-day art and the culture surrounding the conceptual and the abstract needs protecting and support. Art is a form of liberation. It grants a means of expression to the silenced, the marginalised or just the pissed off. When we lose faith in art, the end won’t be too long, because art, literature and music – those are things worth dying for.
Words by Grace Callaghan