Some thoughts on commercial contemporary art

My mindset has been somewhat philosophical lately. I have been thinking about art, about the meaning of it all, and about the commercial contemporary art market.

I came across the work of figurative painter Alan J. Lawson, who studied philosophy, like myself, and appears to be able to articulate all of the concepts I would have wished to articulate myself. For example, shouldn’t someone who wishes to deal with concepts study philosophy instead of going to art school? A video-artist should really go to video school, not to art-school. The “performance” artists should be graduating from theater, drama, or acting school. The “installation” artists should be studying engineering.  When you throw all of these different disciplines into an “art-school” to the exclusion of quality painting and drawing classes, the result is an extinction of that endangered species of artists known as “painters” especially “representational painters”. That’s one point.

Another point that I thought about for a while was perfectly expressed by a musician I like – Ben Kweller. He said that he didn’t like having computers in the studio because people “looked at music” on the screen instead of listening to it. Producers would look at levels and waveforms and make changes to the sound based on visual principles. According to Ben, this is responsible for the loss of production quality in music. His point is simple: music should be listened to, not looked at. It’s like painting by following steps outlined in a textbook.

The same thing can be said about conceptual contemporary art: why must we read lengthy explanations in order to appreciate visual art? Shouldn’t a work of art be able to stand on its own? To me, any work of visual art that requires a written explanation to be appreciated is ineffective by definition. I enjoy museum visits more when I can learn something about the work, but a great painting must communicate something without a written explanation.

Another thought – why does so much of contemporary art tend to be so ugly, depressing, obsessive, degraded, and sick? What I see at contemporary art fairs seems to reflect a profoundly sick consciousness. I understand that artists are trying to reflect what is happening in the world at large, but I think it is neither healthy nor artistic to bring art down to the level of gossip magazines, cheap porno, or bloody murder stories. Art that reflects the sick state of today’s society is only skin-deep. It lacks any reference to deep universal truths, giving 100% of the attention to vacant semi-truths that grow outdated almost immediately. Somebody said that the most revolutionary thing you can do today is to like the things your grandfather liked.

One final thought. For commercial artists, success is equivalent to spending the least amount of time and energy on a painting and getting the greatest amount of money for it. If these “artists” paint at all, they do not invest the time necessary for them to grow as painters. It is literally impossible to get better at something if you don’t practice. An olympic athlete can’t hope win using this philosophy – it’s absurd. But in today’s world, an artist can do just that. This only shows the lack of education and understanding as to the meaning and objective quality and value of art, especially among the wealthy.

Another contemporary tendency is to use low-quality, cheap materials. Painters of the past panted on cardboard out of necessity, because they lacked the funds required to purchase canvas. Today’s contemporary artists use cheap materials to be able to maximize their profits. These “artworks” begin to disintegrate within a few months, but the trick seems to be to just sell them. Once the money is made, the artist couldn’t care less what happens next.

Many artists pay other people to do the work. It may be a good business strategy, but art that was produced on a factory chain will not have any soul. It becomes decoration, with no deeper meaning whatsoever. It is as vacant as the lives of those who purchase it. Like attracts like. Gaining success in a market that has no understanding of what constitutes real art doesn’t mean a thing. It is much better to not be wealthy, but instead to be motivated to produce better work. Those are my thoughts for today.

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