Sunday, 31 October 2010

Modern Art

Art is subjective; that’s about the least subjective comment you can make when referring to it. And this applies to Art in all senses, writing, music, visuals... I always loved English and Art at school because of its subjectivity and the way in which text or images can be interpreted and analysed in different ways. Sometimes looking for too deep an explanation however means that the audience starts to interpret things which I am pretty sure the author or artist will never have intended or even thought about themselves. Studying film analysis as part of my Media and Communications Degree was enjoyable but also laughable as we looked for signs and symbols that probably were never really there. When you get too caught up in analysing text or film it can also kind of ruin the surprise element of some stories as you become really good at picking up on subtle clues. I remember going to see The Sixth Sense and guessing the twist very early on because I clearly saw the scenes which were inserted for a particular reason.

I’ve received comments on stories/poems I’ve written, where people have read too much into things or read it as being about something completely different from what I have intended. Some people have looked for me in my pieces, some look for themselves. I think a lot of people view art with themselves as the central reference point – they understand it in reflection to something they can relate to.

Modern art is subjective with a capital S as far as I’m concerned. A lot of it confuses and annoys me and I wonder if that is the intention – to provoke a reaction rather than inspire an emotion. Some of it seems so simplistic I get annoyed that it is taking up exhibition space. I visited the Fruitmarket Galleries in Edinburgh recently and was confronted with a row of different sized cactus and colour swatches on the wall. IKEA would have provided more tantalising visual stimulation. And the most visualy pleasing image I saw recently in the GOMA was the reflection of sunlight streaming in to the stairway through the stain glass windows (see top pic).

Back in my University days I wrote an essay about Andy Warhol. I read a lot about his life and his art in relation to Postmodern Society (Postmodernity). Cultural theorists believe that we moved into a postmodern era in the early 1960s, just when Andy Warhol was emerging in the fine art world in America and developing a new form of art termed ‘Pop’. Some brief characteristics of postmodern culture: preoccupation with celebrity, consumerism, mass production, pastiche, loss of authenticity and originality, rejection of moral and scientific universal truths, depthlessness, the blurring of boundaries of high culture and mass popular culture... I could go on.
Andy Warhol and ‘Pop Art’ encapsulate these characteristics. Warhol produced art work focusing on celebrities, he incorporated media headlines into his art and everyday consumer products such as Campbell Soup Cans and Coca Cola bottles. He used repetitive images, reflecting sameness and loss of originality and depthlessness, “...the more you look at the same exact thing, the more the meaning goes away, and the better and emptier you feel.” A quote from Warhol himself, in Popism.

His mechanical technique of silk-screening images allowed for the mass production of identical works in a fast and efficient way. His images immediately communicate a message to us, a meaning which really goes no deeper than what is presented on the surface which corresponds with Solomon’s idea that, ‘The attractive surface image is all that matters in a Postmodern Society.’ (Solomon, quoted in Berger, 1998).

I started to put together a visual book a few years ago (which is where the Andy Warhol images on this page are taken from), trying to connect a lot of his art to what is still unfolding in our culture today. The obsession with celebrity is every growing. His films such as Sleep, which simply features one of Warhol’s friends sleeping, forces audiences to take notice of the seemingly banal occurrences in our everyday lives. This reminds me of the live streaming of Big Brother. I’m sure obsessive fans will have stayed up all night just watching the contestants sleep (never me, I have to add! The edited day versions were usually boring enough after you get used to the format). Warhol also made frequent comments about how he wished he was a machine. See quote on the image below and the disturbing image of someone hooked in to a virtual reality helmet as they play on their computer. Warhol appears to have been more progressive in his ideas than even he would have realised. He often filmed the day to days of glamorous people who hung around his ‘Factory’; Edie Sedgwick being one. His films are all the more authentic as they aren’t edited by producers, but I can’t help relating these to TV shows such as The Hills, following the day to days of glamorous 20 somethings in LA. (which I got totally hooked on).

I’m currently reading ‘POPism’, written by Andy Warhol himself (with assistance from Pat Hatchett), which is his account of his career and those around him in the 60s. It’s fascinating reading and is presenting Warhol in a much better light than anything else I’ve read (hardly surprising seeing as it is in his own words). I’ve only got to the start of 1964 so he has yet to meet Edie and isn’t a massive ‘celeb’ yet so it will be interesting to see how it progresses. I like a comment he makes; ‘...Pop comes from the outside...’ pg 20. Again relating to the idea that with Pop Art what you see is what you get– there is nothing deeper than the image which is portrayed. He goes on to say,’...the only thing that counted was what showed up on canvas-not where the idea came from...’ pg.21. When I was in Barcelona I saw some of his work in a gallery there. There was a Campbell Soup dress on a mannequin in the middle of the display. I’m still unsure about what I really think of his art work. At the first look my natural instinct is to say “So what?” and the colours make it all look a bit brash and theatrical. But in comparison to more recent modern art by artists such as Tracy Emin, (whose work, from what I’ve seen, I detest), it’s positively captivating. And in my case Warhol has not achieved what he set out to do – it’s not his surface images that I am really focusing on. I am constantly more intrigued and fascinated by the inside; the story of the person behind those images and everyone round about him during that period. But on reflection this is probably actually what he did really set out to achieve. For him, it wasn’t just about the art, he wanted to achieve fame and recognition and in the end he himself became both an Icon and product of the postmodern world.