Contemporary life would like to take the artist out of the art, and it shows in so much of the artwork of today. The art is clean, looks good on walls, is well crafted, of interesting material and has lots of twists. It has been sufficiently “defamiliarized” so it won’t be recognized or connected to the history of art. It will appear “New”. New is in. However clever, much of art today feels antiseptic and devoid of the artist’s spirit. Although much of contemporary art does stir up ideas of social consequence and mental infatuations, it feels trite, limp and without the personal depth of authenticity.
How many times have you stood in front of a contemporary art piece and wanted to like it or liked it at first but on the second viewing realized you had been tricked. How many times have you come away from a gallery exhibit and felt empty but said, “that was interesting”, with no intention to see it again. My wife thinks we should have a new phrase for much of contemporary conceptual art. We should call it “interesting art”. I like to think of it as “mind art”.
“Interesting” art does not necessarily nurture one’s soul. I believe quality artwork has a true authenticity (by way of the artist) that emanates from honest direct felt work. I believe there is a direct relationship between the artist’s life, his search for meaning, struggle, discovery and consequently our (the viewer’s) appreciation and recognition of the same searching, struggling life spirit. By honoring and feeling the artist’s personal authenticity in the artwork, we recognize in ourselves the same longing for honesty and directness.
Yes, of course we will not always agree on a particular artwork. Some seeing/feeling this spirit, some not, but lets trust our ability to see, to feel and to know this authenticity when we come to it. Too often we are told which work of art is good based on what is in the galleries, what sells, and what names are big.
One of the reasons so many people are afraid of art (poetry too) is because they are not taught to trust their instincts. Another reason is they were never given art appreciation classes, and like most education, were shamed into believing authority. Just like contemporary art with its hollowness, we must put our artist selves back into the art appreciation and trust our felt perceptions. A big order for a society that does not honor the authenticity of artists, children, and free thinkers.
An example of Authenticity (Image above)
The other day, while looking at classical Greek sculpture at the Acropolis Museum in Athens, I came across a 1.5 foot tall female torso from the Erecthion Friezes. There were about 20 fragmented figures in a row, but this particular torso spoke louder. What was that voice I recognized, I asked? Then it came to me. I recognized some force so authentic that I did not know whether to weep or shout. I felt the artist’s spirit so deeply so completely. I was breathless. I cannot fully describe it but will tell you words that came to me during this experience. Yet only a fragment of the complete body, I felt such completion, such fullness. I felt essence, something eternal and timeless. I felt a strong sexual energy, something so feminine in it’s stone fragmented form. In the torso’s simplicity, I felt the restraint of the artist. This restraint released even more energy. Amplification in limitation and economy. Embedded in the stone, I felt such a personal stamp of unique concentration from the artist. Here was a burning fragment, yet so complete because the artist was such a full human being. Clear, simple, direct, essential, and above all, authentic.
When the artist is more authentic and knows what he absolutely cherishes, he will make art more true and more powerful. We will recognize such clear authenticity in the artwork. It takes tremendous courage for an artist to love something so much, to open himself to such risk, such largeness and then to express it with such competence. This is the gift the artist leaves for us. Are we willing to embrace, see, feel and honor that authenticity in ourselves?
This is not a contemporary trait because the new, the being different, the sarcastic, the appropriation, the fashionable, the idea, the social meaning, the “defamiliarizing” of art have the dominant sway. It’s not fashionable to be authentic. How long can we afford to dam up our authentic spirit?