Continuing yesterday’s blog about morality and aesthetics in art, today I would like to introduce an interesting read (there’s also a nice movie about it, you can watch here) that can explain a bit of why contemporary art has become a biathlon for artists to compete against each other for who can shock their audience the most in the two primary disciplines: most outrageous price for living artist’s work and most banal thing to be considered art by the art world.
For now Koons seems to be in the lead, but anything could happen as we have seen with the demise of Damien Hirst in the past years.
But to get back on track, The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord is a wonderful and angry book that speaks about how our society has diverged from the authentic human experience of life into an artificial spectacle of neon colours, action movies and weird romantic novels about glittery vampires and the glorification of sexual deviance amongst the ultra rich.
Well, not literally, because Debord wrote the book in 1967, but you can tell he knew 50 shades of something was coming.
The main point of interest for us artists is that today’s society has alienated itself from reality and our Id’s (the Freudian term for the part of the human psyche that just wants to pig out on junk food and copulate until kingdom come) have grown hungrier and hungrier over time.
We live lives where we battle the constant temptation of instant everything to just mindlessly consume random information and many of us have completely forgotten that the “real thing” isn’t just a slogan for brown fizzy sugar-water, but an actual place of wonder, excitement and incredible beauty, just waiting outside our front door.
But I’m not criticising technology, because like alcohol, it is only a tool for us humans to express our true inner selves. And that’s exactly where the core of issues of social media destroying intimacy and social anxiety among people can be found and will have to be addressed — in ourselves.
As technology progresses and our lives become more and more connected, the lack of intimacy may just give rise to a democratic, decentralised Big Brother figure in the form of all of our friends, family and acquaintances; all passively in contact with most parts of our lives.
And I think this might just make us better people, because it won’t be some invisible dude on a cloud that will be judging your unhealthy life choices, it will be real people that actually do care about your wellbeing.
But that’s in the future. The weird utopian/Orwellian future of 2084, where flying cars still haven’t been invented yet, but iPhones can now vacuum the house and raising children has been fully delegated to an app that costs 4,99€.
For us creatives right now, it is important that we understand why such spectacles in the art world are happening, and the reason is quite simple if you think about it:
The next best thing to satisfy the needs of the unhappy rich that have no sincere connection to reality, but more than enough money to burn to buy cars the same way we buy soap (on a whim, but only if it smells nice) is to overstimulate the senses. And to do so as much as possible.
And what better medium to choose than the best form of storytelling known to man — art? With conceptualism reigning strong, banality being accepted by the institutions as a merit of quality in art and with prices in the hundreds of millions, the playing field is obviously reserved only for the ultra rich. And the best part is, any one of them can come and play.
If in the old times you had to have an eye for detail to really tell the difference between a good and a great realistic portrait (nailing the character of the portrayed is harder than just being a great realist painter), now it’s concepts and ideas that are judged, not just appearances.
And not only can more people play, but they need less educating and the range between good and bad has been expanded almost indefinitely. Because while beauty may be subjective, belief is incomparably more subjective and there are many more beliefs in the world than there are standards of beauty.
So welcome and enjoy the show; no moral judgement, just more judging. Indeed the bar has been set quite high by Mark Powell, Marcus Harvey, Andres Serrano and others.
But note that it isn’t the first time society has wound up in such a place of questionable morality and aesthetics — every time there is abundance in some place of the world, people’s judgments of good and bad seem to take on interesting perspectives — like in the infamous roaring 20s.
But then again, no need to remember when, ‘Cause everything old is new again.