Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Art and the Death of Culture

Between Sinead O'Connor's vendetta against the sexualization of the music industry and Madonna's refusal to grow old gracefully, Lady Gaga hiring Millie Brown to vomit dyed milk on stage and Casey Jenkins knitting from her vagina for 28 days, the final battle is brewing in a war inside the world of art. 

If you want to see the future, take a good look. This is it. Our world of tomorrow might look a little more like 1930, even 1830, than 2030. When one of the last vestiges of purported creativity is to lose virginity in front of an audience, it's safe to say that our era in art history is coming to an end.

"I was at dinner last evening, and halfway through the pudding, this four-year-old child came along, dragging a little toy cart. And on the cart was a fresh turd. Her own, I suppose. The parents just shook their heads and smiled...Now, I could just shake my head and smile. But in my house, when a turd appears, we throw it out. We dispose of it. We flush it away. We don't put it on the table and call it caviar." - Sir Gerald Moore, Bonfire of the Vanities

Say what you will about the film adaptation of Bonfire, but Tom Wolf is an accomplished and respected author. Although his comment on the "fresh turd" was directed at Bonfire's anti-hero, Sherman McCoy, it is a commentary on modern art theory reflected in Wolf's other writings including The Painted Word and From Bauhaus to Our House.

The art war is nothing new. From architecture to music, critics have bickered about theory throughout the history of our culture. But what's taking place now isn't a simple division between the appreciation of craft and method. This isn't Warhol versus the Masters. The theories have become so polarized that today, a "fresh turd" can pass for art because the crap on the other side smells just as bad. 

We can't blame the Millie Browns and the Casey Jenkins' for doing what they do. Pop art, whether it's film, print, or music, has become so commercialized by think tanks, target audiences, and profit that in order to stand out, one must truly be shocking. 

But it's not art.  

There is nothing inherently artistic in reacting to the lowest common denominator. Vomiting as some sort of commentary on commercial art negates itself by admitting mainstream puke exists. Shitting on a wall will never be art, it's just more shit.

Mischa Badasyan is a 26 year old Berlin artist who plans to begin his performance piece in September by having sex with one man each day of the year. This may remind some of Clayton Pettet, a 19 year old London art student who claimed he would lose his virginity in front of an audience. When the time came, he asked each of the 120 people in the audience to put a banana in his mouth. 


Marina Abramovic is another performance artist who, although far less racy in her premise, was just as lazy. In 2010, Abramovic sat at the MoMA for more than 700 hours while more than 1000 people sat in front of her, simply watching. 


Despite the slovenly gyrations performed by commercial artists like Ke$ha and Mylie Cyrus, the mind numbing and inexplicable length of Madonna's career, or the fact that Justin Bieber has one at all, those on the self-assigned elite side of the art spectrum are just as hackneyed, commercial, and arrogant as those commercial artists who make no excuses for the checks they cash.

Meanwhile the audience is left to suffer through auto-tuned amateurs, or pretend to understand a narcissistic performance piece with a shoehorned message.

Before starving artists had YouTube, shock rarely found itself in front of the public eye. But today, anyone with more than 500 Facebook friends can post a grainy video of themselves defecating online and within a week, if it isn't picked up by Tosh.0, it will find an audience with some veiled excuse to call it art.

Throughout history, each culture or era can be defined by its art, its music, its architecture, and this is where our's comes to a close. This is where our art ends. The canyon between good and bad has become an ocean separating two mediocre ideals. Perhaps soon art can reborn as something more - better - than puke stained canvasses or Justin Bieber.

Until then we're stuck looking at a turd, or a turd pretending to be something its not.

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