We too often seem to think of the art world as an evolutionary process…one phase evolving into the more advanced phase. The problem with this idea is that it leads to pinnacles, which by their very nature are dead ends. In hindsight the route from Giotto to Bougereau may seem like a period of growth toward one perfect polishing of knowledge and centuries of combined rendering skills. This attitude can lead to envy of those times gone by when apparent perfection reigned.
In truth I think the art world is more a series of reactions. One group or age or artist reacting to the work of another group or age or artist. No one in the Renaissance was thinking “oh if I work hard, I can contribute to the pool of knowledge that will eventually produce the great polished Art of the 19th century.”
Art is not a Galileo to moon walk type of growth. Well, to a certain extent this is the inevitable process for short phases..one teacher passing on skills to the next. However, every great artist needs to have his skills in hand while he is alive, preferably early, to make a contribution…to make great art.
So the Donatello’s and Botticelli’s may have looked back to ancient Greece for inspiration but not in the sense of, “damn, the art of our age is primitive, let’s see if we can copy the greeks.” No, it was with the full fervent passion of creativity and hunger to use some of that cool Greek stuff and, damn, do it even better.
I guess what I am saying is that Rembrandt wasn’t trying to help in the grand artists evolution. He grabbed the skills around him, bounced off Caravaggio, and then settled down to make art, one painting at a time.
Bernini was carving away yelling at the top of his lungs, “you think Michael was good? Check this out, whooohoo, makes Michey’s stuff look like, well, like rocks.”
But then you get artists trying to stick with Bernini, making stone look like soft flesh and leafs all over again. Grand illusions. Man, how do you top it? Can’t, so let’s just do more and more stuff like it.
But then along comes a Rodin who says, “yah, yah look I can do that…I did it on the cheap to decorate people’s gardens.. Look this is real emotion in sculpture…not about illusion of surface…but EMOTION from the core.”
Reactions, not evolution. Some reactions are reacting with, some against. But reactions are good. Sometimes artists react to inventions or changes in materials. When paint companies start inventing new colors for us…what are we supposed to do, say, “no those aren’t the proper art colors used by the great masters before.” Hell no, we are supposed to do the same as the early renaissance artist when he woke up to greco roman stuff kicking around. “Hot damn this stuff is cool. How can I use it.”
One of the key lessons of the 20th century art has been that paint is beautiful. And this was one of the major slaps in the face of 19th salon art that subjugated paint to illusion.
We had a while glorying in the paint surface. Cool. But that got old too. So now pictures are back but what to do with them?
Where do we go now? Painting is dead they say. Is it? No. Painting is fine and healthy, just waiting for someone to do something with it. There just isn’t one definitive style right now. We live in a scattered, hectic and eclectic age and our art reflects that.
You can hit a good gallery district and see good abstracts next to good figurative work next to good mannerist work next to…well you get the idea. There isn’t one over powering form of painting that is defining us….or reflecting us. That leaves realist artists defensive being mere retro artists…and abstract artists defensive about not having super human rendering skills.
Turn back the clock?
Nah, just grab as many tools and skills around us as we can find and let’s have a blast making stuff. Who cares what comes out as long as it looks good and blows someone’s socks off. That’s art.