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March 20, 2011


Well it is about that time again. Since last week the art thread has been moved to Sunday at the suggestion of a moron (I was too drunk to remember who) claiming it would serve better as a compliment to Monty's Book Thread (and inadvertently Ace's Film Review). Part 1 of my 10 part “Art Every Moron Should Know” begins here, with a review of Picasso's masterpiece Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (The Women of Avignon) and what it implicates today:

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Pablo Picasso. 1907. Oil on Canvas. (Museum of Modern Art, New York)

I am not actually bringing this painting up to glorify it, but rather as a critique on the state of contemporary art. Picasso created, in my opinion, the greatest work of the 20th century within its first decade. Let that sink in for a minute. I firmly believe not a single work of art created by any artist from 1907 through the new millenium can stack up to it. The turn of the century saw an explosion of invention and cultural shock. People were in trains, automobiles, and soon, airplanes. People, places and events were being transformed into packets of passing information. Art was forced to reflect this new reality with an explosion of styles, techniques and meanings. Impressionism. Pointillism. Expressionism. Primitivism. Futurism. Cubism. All of this occurred within a single generation. Elements of each of these developments can be seen in the painting above. The origins of cubism in the women towards the right. The influence of primitivism in the obvious use of African masks. The packeted style of late Cezanne in the breasts, limbs and curtains.

It is impossible for me to properly label this as any one particular movement, which is part of Picasso's brilliance- he never really stopped changing in the decades he painted (and even within his individual works as seen here). Braque, his partner in developing cubism, stayed true to their creation long after Picasso deemed it “worn out”. In 1907, at this very moment, Picasso was transitioning along with the art market, from a European taste to an American one. Americans had exploded onto the seen as a world power, with the rise of trusts, railroads, electrical wonders, oil, automobiles, mass produced whostaamacallits and a Roosevelt-powered modern naval fleet. Its rich weren't the typical Europeans who wanted their art dainty (neither did the modern city Europeans but they would be dead or crippled or severely disillusioned within a few years during the First World War so screw em for our discussion). The dynamism of the modern American demanded the newest, fastest, biggest, flashiest this that and the other thing. We invented mass production and the well-marketed concept of “this year's model” in roughly the same decade.

Picasso saw this happening and wasn't a fool. (Hat tip here to Dave Hickey, who was the first to really pick up on Picasso's market-driven artistic swings in The Invisible Dragon which is a fantastic read if you don't mind the images of fisting by Mapplethorpe). He took classical images- the Three Graces, the nude, the still life of fruit, the sensual colors of Romanticism, even the subject matter (a brothel scene). Yet all of that history yields to change. A quick, bold snapshot of changing perception. Mood. Taste. Legitimate changes, not the fraudulent puffery pushed by the excuse-peddlers of contemporary art, which hasn't seen a dynamic shift in forty years.

This is why this particular work is so important, and this is also a source of constant frustration for me as a lover of art. After a certain period of time, artists began to grow tired of the constant shift and stubbornly stand firm in their existing school. They can say otherwise, but the defenders of Abstract Expressionism and Pop (the first two American art movements) were fighting for relevancy with the rise of the Conceptualists and Minimalists who (correctly) implied that the formers work had run their course. The Neoexpressionists and "graffiti artists-of-the-week” were trying to stay relevant in a goofball market where their work had grown stale after the first auction. Even political artists I admire despite holding opposing views have grown tired and lazy- I won't even begin to go into my disgust with the 2006 Whitney Biennial.

Think of the most damning common modern criticism of art: “my kid can paint that.” As insulting as it is to here as an artist, in today's world it holds a grain boulder of truth. Of course your kid could draw that- existing forms of modern art have so well penetrated our culture that cubism, action-painting, color-emphasized abstraction and even impressionism are now child's play. Magritte's surrealist imagery took the form of a corporate logo (CBS' eye). Melting clocks are goofed in episodes of the Simpsons. The Warholian portrait effect is parodied from kids cartoon shows upwards.

“Show me something new” should be the constant demand made of gallery owners, museums and artists by the art-loving public. There is nothing wrong with seeing a contemporary artist paying homage to his forefathers or even pursuing that style and making it his own. But the concept of new, the dynamism it carries, should be the one singular thought as an artist progresses, as galleries expand, as museums acquire. The average piece at MoMA is over 60 years old, in the MOCA permanent collection, it predates my brother.

There are many, many contemporary artists I know personally who do just this. Some who have taken traditional representational painting and reinvigorated it. Abstractionists who can wow me with a new technique. Some of it is fantastic. A lot of it is crap. That risk of making garbage is necessary though, because without a constant desire to reflect the ever-shifting reality in which we live, our collective creative output becomes just that.



As always, if you paint, sculpt, shoot, draw, assemble, or otherwise dabble in the visual arts, shoot a JPEG with Title, your AoS handle, dimensions, medium, dimensions and year HERE to see it on AoS and to have your fellow morons praise/laugh at you.

Dudeinsantacruz sent this image of Michael Moore's cat:

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Flame at Rest. Digital photo, 2008.

along with a haiku:
The Flame is resting.
His day was quite a good one.
He miss his balls? Nah.

Man of Substance sends in this but would like you to ignore the nuclear test going off in the background:

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My Front Yard. Digital Photo, 2011.

and Ken S sent in another pastel on paper:

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Arriving Somewhere...But Not Here. 2011 Pastel on paper.

Just to pad the thread out a bit more (and to irritate Kratos, but mainly to pad) here is the draft image #13 from my project critical of the FDA's collective jerk-off involving Avastin, Medical Tease, which took up way too much of my time for the last two months:


Always giving, I am (though not giving enough to link Images 3, 4, and 5. It is still family hour around here you know. Kratos' mom hasn't tucked him in yet). As a constant reminder when shown breasts in the Moron Art Museum, try to avoid fapping. It gets messy and we can't afford a cleaning lady with the Ewok's cutbacks.

Next week: a show review, more moron art, and your snark.

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posted by CAC at 08:40 PM

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