“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  Art has faded into the background as a hobby at best and an unnecessary, exclusive, expensive and outdated luxury at worst.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  Sure, it has been replaced by flashier culture, but it’s only on a metaphorical pedestal, not a literal one, that we view video gaming and television.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.

The Fading Hollywood Twilight

As icons and monoliths continue to fall we are left with less and less role models to look to.  Who replaces Michael Jackson?  What about Whitney Houston?  These intense groups of fandom and praise do not just disappear, instead, they hover.  They float aimlessly never to truly be fulfilled.  Who is going to live up to the hype that so many passing legends have generated in their lifetime?  This level of enthusiasm existed once and it implies that the public desires for it to exist again.

Except, there is no one else to live up to these icons.  These people came to popularity in a time of moreorless one-way communication and when what was on the radio was truly an indicator of popular American culture.  The truth is that the future is iconless and that the playing fields are completely level.  Take a look at someone like Lil B and look at how much instantaneous praise he gets on Twitter.  Conversely, look at someone like Rupert Murdoch, who might Tweet something casual only to be greeted by a hostile stream of criticism and backlash.  The public is rabid and there is no longer a barrier that exists to keep our opinions concealed from the celebrated and the popular.

This desire for new cultural messiahs has become vehement and aggressive.  Musical movements and relevant films come and go in the blink of an eye and with every passing day, the hype only intensifies.  The momentum is not disappearing — it’s increasing and it’s growing restless, leading to “trendy/flimsy” culture.  Today, Whitney Houston died.  Who will die tomorrow?  How many more icons will pass before we look around and realize that the field is completely devoid of beloved American role models?  How long before we look to the youth of the moment and find that there is no megaband and there is no universally loved actor to fill the longing void?

The cultural horizon is flat and infinite with absolutely no peaks that can be seen by the objective eye.  The only truth now, the only thing that matters, is your personal opinion and subjective taste.  The future is niche.  Every passing star makes the night that much darker.  However, there will never come a time when the sky shines as brightly as it did decades past.  It will not be long before we realize there is an approaching dawn and we no longer need to wait for the next Christlike cultural figure to emerge.  The new icon is that of eclectic personal choice.  As we learn to embrace every voice, no matter how much coverage has been given upon the radio or the Oscars, we will see a shining sun replacing the once astounding glow of the Hollywood twilight.  While the light that was cast down from the era of one-way communication was certainly meaningful to so many people, in time, I think the populous will begin to see just how glorious the collective brightness can actually be.

“Love Of Money Is The Root Of All Evil”

“Money” is an illusionary concept. As wealth accumulates, it is only inevitable that one will begin to mentally prioritize this illusion above all else. Materialism can create a heaven on earth, sure, but only upon the surface — past the novelty, money is lifeless and by itself cannot create or seriously maintain any emotion – let alone happiness. Enjoyment from life stems from one’s mindset, and when this mindset is shaken from illusion, it creates behaviors which many would refer to as “evil”. The statement could perhaps be rephrased, “Money is illusionary, and man’s repeated tendency to attach himself to this illusion fuels the evil of this world.”

(It is possible to have a large sum of money while still maintaining one’s core principles/self/character, but after a certain point your entire world becomes that of an illusion. Fame, success, connections and praise can be experienced in varying degrees, whether through a thankful smile or outright Beatlemania. Money is certainly a temptation, and thus the root of illusionary indulgence — but the individual is the resistance.)