Modern Art has always been a point of contention for many people. In the past Art was often dedicated to try and represent reality and painters would produced very detailed art that didn’t necessary hold any particular subtext. For example in 1400 during the Renaissance period in Italy the people requesting art were incredibly wealthy and normally of a Christian persuasion, which is why we have such a wealth of pieces depicting religious accounts such as the crucifixion or the Virgin birth. It wasn’t until 1814 when Joseph Niepce invented the first working camera that changed the landscape of Art forever. As soon as cameras became commonplace a photograph could capture real life easily and this would be a lot cheaper than hiring an artist. As history went on artists could no longer just create literal interpretations of nature or history, instead they had to try and create art which expressed feelings that couldn’t always be expressed through a simple picture.
The period of modern art is supposed to have begun during the middle of the 19th century when artists approached art in a different way. It is not to say that they stopped depicting real life, but they experimented in holding a message behind their work, something which lends itself to the viewer as a message that also came with that moment in history. No longer were artists restricted by the conventional ways of working and instead they were able to experiment. If you take work such as Vincent Van Gogh, this isn’t necessarily set out to perplex the viewer but instead presents reality in a different way using different brush stroke techniques and styles. In my view this period of Art history is one of the most exciting and shows a rebellion to the fusty old ways of producing art.
Kandinsky 1910 (above)
By the end of the 19th century Abstract art came along and artists were using this medium to express art which wouldn’t always hold any particular meaning. Art no longer needed a strict meaning but could be open to interpretation by different people. As history went on even further the subjects became intensely complex and often no explanation would be given to the work at all. Sometimes when it was explained the viewer would be left with the complications of working out how an artist can associate such a simple image with such a large moment in history.
Why Modern Art upsets people
I have heard many people say that they dislike modern art but often think of the word ‘Modern’ to mean this very moment or within the last ten years. Modern art of course is actually quite old now and so I imagine they probably dislike certain types of modern art such as Cubism, Abstract, Surrealism etc. Certain types of people like their life to be simple in ever single way. Complex Modern art doesn’t lend tself to that type of person.
I was at a party and I overheard a group of individuals saying they were shocked that Tracy Emin’s work titled “My bed” was sold in auction for 2.5 million. The work of art is such a commonly given example of something that upsets people. Emin herself has always tested the boundaries through taboo in her work. The party continued by saying “How is a ‘bed’ art?, anyone could have done that” the person then pointed at a table and chairs at the party and said “I might as well call that art” I then said in return “Okay then, explain to me what that represents?” The person was flummoxed, unable to think of what to say. That moment proved a point that art isn’t just about what we see but is instead about what we feel. If something is created to provide a reaction then that is art.
Another conversation I had was with someone getting furious about a musical composition titled “4’33 – John Cage 1952” where the whole length of the work is heard in complete silence. There is an orhestra that all sit down together as if to perform but all the sheet music shows is a rest for the entire performance. Part of me wonders if this was inspired by Samuel Barbers 1936 piece adagio for strings which contains a haunting silence in parts of the sheet music. The issue again is not with the piece itself but with how we Interpret the piece. My friend was not wrong in disliking this piece, but how you react to art describes the lense at which you view your own experiences.
Unfortunately for my friend, artists know that this bothers people and some work is intended at making people furious. A great example is Artists Shit – Piero Manzoni 1961 where an artist supposedly canned 90 containers said to be containing 30g of the artists own feces. Each container was sold by the artist. The tins each were labelled saying that the feces belonged to the artist and that the intention of the work was for his feces to eventually be worth more than the price of gold. Historically this feat was achieved. In 2016 a single tin sold for €275,000. This of course outraged some people, but we will never know whether the artist actually did as he told us. To engage in this thought process is to capture the nature of questioning that comes with modern art.
I don’t enjoy all modern art, but then I do find some of the work challenging, and this is not a bad thing. To get furious that you do not understand the intentions of the artist is hilarious to me. We mustn’t fall into the trap of saying that if art is complex and we do not understand it, then it must be rubbish. I believe that not wanting to have to invest in something to understand it is reflective of a persons philosophy of the world. Often life doesn’t make sense and we have to try and make sense of it to ourselves.