permission granted by Darwin Leon
Every time I hear an artist declare, "I am a Contemporary artist," I rejoice that she is alive, and not a dead woman talking. Yes, I am being waggish, for I know very well that her label for her professed avocation states something besides the fact that she happens to be my contemporary as well as yours.
Contemporary artists, in the amputated sense of the timely term, lay sole claim to owning the fashionable art of our time if not legitimate art in general, yet their work is often artless or arty at best. Their proprietary claim to artistic contemporaneity would put them beyond criticism if only they could have absolute sway over the temporal domain - as their enragement demonstrates in response to any attempt to judge their work according to critical standards; or, more simply, to judge it emotionally, as wrong, or bad; right or good is quite all right, however, although we often hear them say, "There is nothing right or wrong about art."
After all, the anti-art antithesis to art intends to expressly eradicate intellectual and emotional judgment altogether, along with art's traditional emphasis on perception and skillfully finished objects, by means of swinging an anarchist's ideological anti-ideological hammer, as absurd at that might seem. Thus did intellectual anarchists divorce feeling from intellect, leaving consumers with arid, castrated concepts, signs of the decadent process that dooms each calcified culture to intellectual blathering over its own mummy.
The valleys have been brought high and the mountains laid low. Intellectuals, who take the side of The People only when disgruntled, now wail over a democratic wasteland. Intellectuals have always been frustrated aristocrats. Philosophy, art, and mysticism, or high culture, are aristocratic or noble endeavors, while civilization, or religion and social values, are democratic endeavors.
Now aesthetic judgments have been smashed to bits and distributed to Tom, Dick and Harry, that the Invisible Hand guiding the Mass Market may set an economic value on the so-called Contemporary art of our disposable trash culture. Only the artists themselves are allowed to declare what their art represents, if anything at all, and therefore pass valid judgment on it. Unfortunately for the judgmental process, many contemporary artists are nearly illiterate, possessing even fewer comprehensive reading and writing skills than drawing skills, wherefore their judgments are often absurd and as superficially silly as the philosophical pronouncements of a dozen contemporary fashion designers.
Contemporary art lays claim to conceptual art, but conceptual art is not unique to our age. Conceptual art arises in every period of artistic change. In Greece it was replaced by perceptual and perspective art during the age of Pericles. Conceptual art was dominant in Egypt and other lands in pre-Greek times. Modern conceptual art will be replaced as well, and sooner than most judges think, for our contemporary conceptual art now lacks cogent concepts, the essence of any useful logic. Conceptual artists really do not know what they are talking about, and art functionaries given to explaining nonsense are, like John D. Rockefeller's dad, selling snake oil. Since "Contemporary" artists cannot conceive of anything in particular and have even eschewed representation, they can only unwittingly represent the complete breakdown of high culture. If the truth were told, if we were not so afraid of the opinion of our contemporaries, it would be said that most of us appreciate prehistoric cave art more than contemporary-contemporary art, not to mention other masterpieces since then.
The only legitimate art at the moment, at least in the Contemporary artist's subjective opinion, is his sort of art, originally a presumably original, revolutionary, avant-garde, leading-edge, neoteric and the like sort of art, yet today, in objective effect, since the death of the modern movement's intellectuals, all too often democratic and banal, anti-artistic and profane. Any other art, namely non-contemporary art, is reactionary. It necessarily smacks of infidelity; to wit, fidelity to artistic standards now deemed classical.
"Contemporary" art has thrown out the baby, or the world, with the bathwater. May heaven forbid that any work of art skillfully represents anything at all, and then too artfully, for then it will be adjudged as too "graphic" or "realistic" or "unoriginal." Victory must go to artists without objective standards, in a sort of popularity contest where the value of a work depends not on its own merits but on associations: on who is a cool art personality, for instance. Senseless, meaningless works are highly praised and appraised by market manipulators, thus robbing the public by rendering it blind.
Anyone who dares mention any standards at all is deemed intolerant by his intolerant contemporaries, and is roundly castigated as a fascist. Such fear of fascism is justified in Russia, once the most significant revolutionary cradle of Contemporary art; but now Contemporary artists are perceived by reactionaries as an insult to art and country, degenerates who deserve stiff fines and even imprisonment for corrupting Russia's finer artistic sensibility. Yet reactionary artists in the United States, although somewhat dismayed, appalled, and even embittered by the rise of an unmerited art aristocracy supported by the nouveau riche, are content to let history take its spiraled course; they would allow in that course an honored place for anti-art if only fine art had its place in the Sun instead of mausoleums.
The revolution against artistic authority has been overwrought and has almost destroyed itself. The original negation of traditional art promised artistic freedom for anyone who wanted to call himself an artist. But revolutions that destroy the cultural infrastructure, having nothing humane to replace it with, are doomed to eventual desolation, for civilization itself is an art. Commerce has commercialized what was once the anti-commercial-art movement, turning it into a profitable caricature of itself. We have inherited a Frankenstein monster; a patchwork of good intentions gone awry; a veritable junkyard of junk for the sake of junk, a cultural wasteland. The old money stooped to conquer and picked up trash for further profit; but the newly rich do not know the difference, and now adorn their walls with such junk as a newly painted, crumpled front end of an automobile, and compliment themselves for owning and displaying such a cool smash hit above the Art-Deco couch in their enormous living room.
Sometimes in desperation we need to wipe the slate clean and start afresh with novel techniques and various modes of expression, but natural law may not be avoided short of death. In death and life we discover the laws of decomposition and recomposition, and realize that our elders did many things rightly in pursuit of happiness.
Verily one must die to live again. The revolutionary modern artists did not regress far enough. Smashing all objects save one, the illusive subjective object, is insufficient. The devoted iconoclast smashes everything in sight, and what is left, seemingly nothing, is good enough to be smashed as well; thus, with faith in Nothing, he goes much farther than a white square on white, or a white kite or satellite orbiting the creative narcissist; and with the annihilation of his triangular ego, he is one with Nothing, and he only exists, in the black anarchic abyss, if Nothing exists.
Only then shall Osiris return, whole again, with his romantic member intact, and the arts of Isis and her kin everywhere shall blanket the Earth. In being without existence, the artist, unconscious of it all, receives all; and in being with existence he expresses its general truth, goodness, and beauty in various ways, in accord with the natural laws of the human race, one law being that of reason, which sets the ape on his feet with head in the heavens, giving him sufficient cause to strive for divine harmony, that the matters below may correspond ever so pleasingly with the intangibles felt above.
As the renaissance of the evolutionary principles of beauty gradually reemerges from the tombs, Contemporary art, in the popular or impoverished sense of our time, shall in fact succumb to reactionary art, at which time conceptual artists will have to take up sketching and writing with a vengeance in order to recover their sanity. Talented installation artists will find jobs in show business and the rest will have to take up the installation of Venetian blinds, carpets, drapery, cable, and shapely urinals to eke out a living.