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Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Is Art Dead? Hmnnn...

By Paul Mellender

Dear Arts Journal:

It is becoming very clear, in many different ways, the statement "art is dead" is true.  This "art" I am limiting to painting and sculpture.  I have denied it for a long time, but after some scrutiny I have begun to believe it is so.  A statement of this sort is dependent on criteria.  A living and dead state of art must be clarified to declare and believe something so unpleasant.  In a brief definition, an art is the side effect of an attempt to manifest something.  For example, if we were to fix a pretend first artist, his art works would not be attempts to make art.  He would have other intentions.  He may have been trying to represent the motions of the stars (a theory has been put forward this is the purpose of cave paintings) but he was not trying to make an art, as this is derivative of a prior art.  If he is the first to do a thing he cannot be second.  In other words, the pursuit of art today, to make art, must necessarily fail, as the purpose will forever shift away.  If the first artist was unable to "manifest" stars in actuality on a wall, how much more skewed will a would-be artist trying to "manifest" art.  Like playing telephone, derivation warps and transforms.  A psychological test comes to mind of a dozen or so subjects asked, one after the other to draw what they see.  The first subject drew an owl (the actual object) the next drew the picture of the owl; the third drew the picture of the picture, and so on.  When the last person drew what they saw it had become a cat.  When applied to art, and attempts to make art this indicates- though one may be attempting to make art, they cannot for it is missing the original intention, it will only and ever be derivative of an invisible purpose.

            There is so much art out there, or so it is supposed.  This is false.  As far as painting and sculpture are concerned, there is nearly none.  This is not determined by preference.  I am not saying I do not like the paintings or sculpture presently; I like some and dislike others.  I am saying the reason for these art pieces to exist is dead. For the art to be living (regardless of how many people partake in it) it has to have a core purpose.  Artists have millions of reasons behind their work, and most of them involve making art, either as expression or message.  But as I mentioned making art is already failed.  What signals further failure is making art as still another thing, such as a message or expression.  The art has evacuated the form. 

             A dead art form is one that is no longer effective.  This applies directly to the artist.  Let’s say an artist is looking to manifest some impossible form-a superman, or impossible animal.  He can use whatever tools he can, not exclusive to a type such as paint or sculpture, but anything will work. Regimentation and tradition will not apply, as the intention is as yet unformed.  When the intention becomes restrained by the demands of form it can thrive, but it must be understood it will be heading toward a dead end. Side effect arts resulting from the unachieved central intention will appear only so long as the thing remains unmanifest.  When this art intention becomes confined by a form, the form itself has limitations that can exhaust. This termination of the form may occur before the protagonist idea is achieved.  Art may have been achieved through paint, for example, but without the reason to color a thing into being, the paint becomes only a painting.  The symptoms of the demise of the arts are genre, and “quotation.”  (Sorry about the quotes around quotation.)  The forms can carry on, and be very well executed but remain hollow.  Repetition or a search for reason then ensues.  This search for reason is based, generally, on the importance the form itself has taken.  The materials of a dead art are considered valuable when the art is gone, as if in ritual remembrance or symbol.

            An art can die truly, and an art can die in form.  When an art truly dies, its purpose has been achieved.  One of the reasons an art happens, is the artist is translating from a non-form to a form; imagination to reality.  When the translation is complete it is unnecessary to continue, it would become ritual to do so.  The artist is attempting to kill the form, very literally, to overcome the paint, stone, or whatever, and breathe life into his monster.  This can take generations and ages, but will eventually occur, or it will be discovered the nature of the idea is flawed in origin.  In either case, the idea ends.  When its purpose has been achieved or has been found wanting, it does not necessarily find acceptance in populations who have come to venerate the tertiary idea: art. 

            Complications occur when art goes from the workings of one mind to other minds.  The sharing of the triggers of art can be productive at the start, but may diminish. When its most effective and efficient, an art can be actively, even obsessively, created when a culture maintains its idioms.  When a cult acts it produces culture, the results and ornaments of its veneration.  These are close kin to art.  When the culture is unintentional, the focus of the cult’s veneration remains the center of importance, without analysis, or deliberation.  When the cult gains awareness of its structures and idioms is when the cult begins to die.  Pecking orders and traditions will become prevalent but increasingly mysterious.  The point of veneration is lost to simpler tasks and operations, like maintenance of forms.  To change the form to painting, it would be a painter who has forgotten why he began a painting reflexively painting the same items again and again. A value is placed in the operation instead of the achievement.  In our point on the graph, our point of veneration regarding art is lost to mystery, but maintain business value, social value, and value in vanity. 

            Like the lost art of memory, also called artificial memory, the forms of art are dead-ended.  Artificial memory fell out of use when books became plentiful in the Renaissance.  The purpose of the art was negated.  One didn’t need to build techniques and imaginative, ordered, creations by which they warehouse memory.  They had books in plenty, an external memory larger than the natural or artificial memory could achieve.  The purpose was accomplished.  This is not as easy as it sounds.  Artificial memory is tied to and was the reason behind many strange things.  It had a greater expansion than simply a memory tool.  Its “arts”, its side effects, were Dante’s Divine Comedy, the “books in stone” of Chartres and Notre Dame cathedrals, allegories, alchemical philosophy, cant, rules of composition (as laid out by Giotto and others and have since become instilled in the way we look at things-in any sense), fantasy images (memory images were amalgams of novel attribute images, our misunderstanding of which has led to monsters and demons), etc.  The above list shows, in fact the art is not dead, but has changed forms.  Architecture, literature, and others have become the unintentional but potent carriers. It has taken on new bodies, with the continuous intention of the art of memory.  The “artificial memory”, title became venerated and adored, but it was dead, the thing behind it did not die.

            When I write painting and sculpture have died, I do not mean the thing behind them has ceased.  Unlike the art of memory, however, these two have hit a point of disease that threatens the thing behind them.  People do not see them. The nature of a gallery, museum, art magazine, or other epitaph, are diminishing these arts, and proclaiming the king is dead.  Like Lenin, Mao, Ho Chi Min, or other dead men on display, the above forms of art media carry on the most morbid and horrible concepts of art.  The obedience to business, and critical demands, as well as creating intellectual bridges to the ignorant, has demonstrated the points of veneration of galleries, museums, and art publications.  Self interest.  These forms are deleterious to art, as well as the continuum, of its central intention.  These things are culture destroyers.  Not in an iconoclastic sense, but in the sense of beggar kings.  When art is taught, it is taught by form, not intention.  Children are educated to respond with awe to paintings and sculpture, and admittedly many pieces would provoke this response without the command to be awed.  But once they have wondered over the masterful techniques, they are shoved on instead of being taught the painting technique has been mastered to the extent it has to creating something else.  Paintings become objects of personality cults, but not effective as epiphany.  So the paintings fail.  What shows this cancer most clearly is the reference to dead painters and old masters, instead of assuming the present painters and sculptors have the throne, it is assumed the art prophets are past and yet to come Messiahs.  This is very dangerous.  It is a silent confession that these arts at present are dead and will be resurrected.  Modern art has responded to this (as has all of its children including Post Modernism, and Post Post Modernism) by turning to ironies, scandals and extremity, each movement of which claims to be the new art Anti-Christ (the reaction to the traditional expected Messiah.)  Conceptual art has even started to become an adored form, but not of art, of non art (which in most cases tends to be very simple or even poor literature written on novel surfaces.)  This extraordinary shallow, surface, trends do not mark them as arts, but entirely different motivations under the name of art.  Business and vanity (which business often feeds upon.)  Admittedly they are side effects, but not of the unmanifest, they are side effects of greed, and advantage.  Things that are present but coveted.

The name of art is lost both in its intention, and side effects.  When art periodicals, books and articles appear, they do not offer help in the idioms of art, nor do they offer information.  They are usually updates on how business is going and how to turn art forms into business.  They are flattering, self-congratulatory, romantic, excited, and pretentious, but never to any good point.  Even on those rare occasions when a piece is written by skillful technicians, it is irreverent to art (or those things that cause it), and very relevant to business and marketing.  Marketing, of course, being the science of pointing out and making opportunity of social weaknesses and doubts (whether this science is good or not I cannot say, I can say it is bad in reference to art.)  Artists are equally at fault as they have become beggars to the market place or are simply very highly skilled fans of art forms without the central intention. 

            To continue would make a very long letter, longer and confused.  But I would like to relate an incident before I close that may indicate something of what I have been attempting to call to your attention.  I was at a restaurant where a mural was in progress on one of the walls.  The painting was of sirens on a beach calling a ship to shore.  The artist was present and working.  Two of the restaurant patrons, were getting up to leave when on pointed to the mural.  He said, “Whoa, check it out.”  His friend looked, his eyes widened and he said, “Damn, I’m here all the time! When did he do that?” The painting had been in progress for 8 months.  They didn’t see the painting until activity led them to see it.  They lost the eyes to see without directions.  A living art form, a vital art form, like a movie, is not so casually ignored.  The potentials for paint and sculpture are not diminishing, why one would paint or sculpt, in the traditional sense, are.

            Art, in all its forms is losing its way, and the structures of our civilization, our culture, are becoming unstable.  The thing of which art is a branch is a more subtle and necessary thing than is supposed. In many ways it underlies the individual identities we claim.  As we become as formed but hollow, as our arts, we lose all those things most vital.  The death of intentions, but the survival of form is to become a zombie; it is to be the tool for the black arts, business and politics.

            So how is art dead?  When the things that initiate art, though ever recurring, are systematically, and deceptively snuffed out, their evidences and potency are brought to an end.  The triggers of art are a continuum, as opposed to derivation.  If that continuum is stopped (though other things parade under the same name) it is death.  For though much of the world is the same, and the physics of the world appears stable, we are far beyond whatever environment and circumstance allowed the first artist, if his long continuous mind stops, we will have met our limit.


Thanks for your time.



Paul Mellender


P.S.  Why does anyone bother with David Hockney?  For an art critic his criteria is desperately wanting, and as an artist he is very poor.  Just asking.

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