“Modern Art” In Contemporary Society

Ask the average twenty-something what ‘modern art’ is and apart from an indifferent shrug, the response heard most often will be along the lines of “Oh, you mean Warhol and the soup cans?”

Warhol’s take on art was considered by many to be “the end of art”. Within the last year I have begun to realize the unintentional meaning this phrase carries in the ’00s.  To the average consumer, kid, adult and American, “art” is whatever is on television, our favorite films and the video game of the moment.  Traditional art, paintings, sculptures and the idea of a museum has become completely irrelevant apart from those who actively seek it out.  Art has faded into the background as a hobby at best and an unnecessary, exclusive, expensive and outdated luxury at worst.

Some might say, “Well, it’s simply been redefined” — this is ignoring the issue.  Paintings and the idea of putting art upon a pedestal for viewing has vanished from contemporary society and from the practical consumer’s mindset.  Sure, it has been replaced by flashier culture, but it’s only on a metaphorical pedestal, not a literal one, that we view video gaming and television.  What does a painting mean now?  If the term “modern art” means something that is half a century old (‘soup cans’), it’s clear that the very term is hypocritical.

Personally, art has meant album artwork.  This is a medium which many could toss up to containing a cohesive and beautiful statement once every 300 album covers.  Regardless, I have thrived off of my last remaining attachment I have to traditional paintings, even though the pedestal said album art is viewed upon is my laptop.

There is a poster on my wall containing the album artwork of Animal Collective’s 2009 album, “Merriweather Post Pavilion”.  When moving from college dorm A to college dorm B, I had forgotten to take down my posters.  My friend, Ryan, kindly took the posters down and stored them in his car, where they collected dust all summer long.  These posters were rolled together in a messy clump, rendering most of them ruined from being stuck together for such a long time.  However, there was one interesting effect to the Merriweather Poster.  In addition to several white tears, the sunlight had created a fantastic faded blue streak across the bottom of the image.  It gave a precise effect that looked as if it could have only been created digitally — or perhaps by leaving a poster exposed to three months of sunlight.

With no real desire to seek out far-less stimulating culture, the place for massive and vibrant paintings, sculptures and installations has been moved to one of two places:

  1. There are enthusiasts, many of them, who will never say goodbye to the wonder and subtlety that “true” art, found in a museum, provides.
  2. The second place this art has gone to (and the place which gets far more attention) is upon Flickr accounts, various impersonal Tumblr pages and occasionally upon a Google Image search.

If art was an experience to help transcend the trivialities of daily life, if even for a moment, and said experience no longer takes place outside the stream of our lives — what does that say for art?  We no longer have to visit museums to experience a plethora of styles; all we need is StumbleUpon and perhaps a search string.  Such ease allows us a whirlwind of culture, but at the same time, it is easy to under-appreciate the magnitude of the culture itself.

Conceptually, the artist is dead, because there are no longer pedestals for each artist to showcase their work upon.  All art created gets thrown into the digital void, upon one unified pedestal.  This pedestal is shared amongst all artists and with this sharing, artistic individuality has been lost in the digital stream of consciousness.  The artist is no longer relevant so much as the audience, i.e., you, as you have the power to skip to the next image or share it on your Facebook wall.  This is about as much praise as one can practically expect as an artist on a mass scale, apart from the occasional PR puff piece and blogosphere commentary.

The poster on my wall does not ask for my attention, yet it exists outside the internet, in its own museum (my room) on its own pedestal (the wall).  The audience (I and whoever is in the room at the time) is not forced to look upon this poster, but when they do, it captures the overstimulated attention span, if just for a moment.  Modern art is individually-oriented and based around personal narratives — one glance upon the poster reminds of a story.  It calls attention to something I have no control over (sunlight, the forces of nature, destroying my perfect replica of a favorite album) and in its own subliminal way, reminds of my own impermanence.  One may think that this is all a bit hyperbolic, but that’s just it!  There is nothing that is going to exist in our lives which will live up to the mythical shadow cast upon by pre-internet society, when it was impossible to fathom the audience even touching the pedestal, let alone controlling what was seen upon it.

This is why I can look to a sun-faded Animal Collective poster as the highest example of contemporary art imaginable.  This is why the definition of art in practical, contemporary society is exactly what you as a viewer, view it to be.  While artists will continue to make thought-provoking work to be seen in small scales, the masses are still left scratching their head, thinking to 1962’s “Campbell’s Soup Cans” as the only example of modern art — before tuning back into the daily programming.  Today, artistic relevance depends completely on what you personally find relevant.  Traditional art made by others will always have beauty, but it will never catch the eye as the heirlooms our lifetime will, however insignificant to an outside observer these may be.

The end of art meant the end of established artistic norms, of an invisible world telling you what you could and could not find aesthetically pleasing.  It began with Warhol realizing that art could be found anywhere, even in the supermarket.  If a supermarket is a pedestal, then it’s obvious that the museum is the human mind and whatever we attach ourselves to can be transformed into a gallery, flimsy posters included.

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A Tragic Dilemma

Lately I’ve been seeing rather frequent headlines for plane crashes with many fatalities. The nature of this news and it’s morbid presence amongst the rest of the news inspired the following write-up.

Background:

Every day, people die. Despite the obvious, it would seem that we view death with a rare and uncommon eye — but the advent of unprecedented connectedness throughout the world allows us to see otherwise. Many choose to ignore these headlines, primarily under the logic that dwelling on such a thing is only sure to generate negative and depressing thoughts and attitudes. What many fail to realize is that to hide such information is to delude reality. You cannot simply pretend that these horrible events do not happen, despite how hard it is to empathize with that which seems impossible to one’s own lifestyle. News-based media reports on tragedy for that reason, as it generates attention because I think, deep down, that we all wish we could make our peace with the very simple fact: “You will die.”

A Tragic Dilemma:

  1. Not everyone wants to read about death in the first moments of their mornings.
  2. However, you cannot exclude tragedy, because above everything else it’s inhumane not to, at the least, acknowledge the existence of the suffering of fellow human beings.

The Solution:

Offer a website devoted to tragedy, thus implying that other media outlets should perhaps devote a portion of their own medium to tragedy. Create an outlet that consistently reports on tragedy, as to allow news to cater to things that affect the reader on a more localized level (and in the year 2011, localized means everything and anything anywhere on the globe that either impacts or interests you). Having a separate medium ENTIRELY for tragedy would have the potential to increase overall empathy to humans in other parts of the world, without adding a deathly slant to what’s immediately relevant to your day. This is why I’d love to see someone start a project of this nature, or at the least see news websites move tragedy to it’s own section. Such a project could easily come to life online, posting links to various tragedies currently generating discussion throughout the global community. Ideally the aim would be to provide an archive of relatively significant tragedies available to the general internet public, while being self-aware of how taboo the concept is viewed when facing such an open audience.

Organizing The Taboo:

The question is, how Meta do you take such a concept? I believe that is possible to allow for a rating system prioritizing certain tragedies over others if we are not looking at such a thing in a personal manner. If you step back and realize that death is a very common concept that seems to have been tucked away into taboo discussion, it quickly also becomes apparent that there are non(/hardly)-preventable, uncommon deaths that generate a higher interest level simply due to their uncommon nature. Why not categorize? Why not make the navigation of an archival of such events easier? It is in this light a rating system comes off less amoral and more logical. This hypothetical website could present this medium with a slight hint of self-awareness, as if to say the events reported upon the website are clearly excellent examples of unexpected tragedy that remind us of that very fact — you, will, die.

Profit:

The only way the website would be able to maintain a sense of moral standing is if all future (if any) successful profit from ad revenue would be given to a reputable charity (which genuinely gives all of its money to those in need). If there is to be any profit off a website which maintains its existence by reporting upon loss & injury, it should go directly into the pockets of the victims in need. This is why to report upon death in such a way and not donate at least a portion of one’s profits to charity is absolutely amoral.

Conclusion:

Why share this idea?  Why not simply start the website on my own?  To truly make this a successful project, one would have dedicated a significant amount of time each day to aggregating tragic news, sorting through what is most significant.  I feel that such a task would be too depressing to come back to day-after-day.  However I throw it out into the open because I believe that if someone with a decent moral standing were to undertake this idea, the end result could potentially benefit charitable organizations and thus those whom these tragedies directly affect.  Additionally, the initial observation itself (“A Tragic Dilemma”) which inspired the idea for the website is worth pondering.