During the peak of the Italian Renaissance, artists were sweeping across the country and creating masterpieces that were deemed irrevocably timeless. Masters such as Leonardo di Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael were names that presented paintings and sketches, defining a word that is argued endlessly today: art.
But really, what is art? Certainly da Vinci and Michelangelo weren’t the ones who gave meaning to it (although, undoubtedly, the Sistine Chapel and Mona Lisa probably comes to mind at first thought). Years prior to the Renaissance were the sculptures of the Mesopotamian peoples and the Egyptian pyramids of Giza. Its popularity truly exploded during the medieval days; from there, art was then categorized into Neoclassicism, to Realism, to Modern.
Then there is Contemporary art.
Realize there is a valuable difference between Modern and Contemporary art. Modern art generally began in the early 19th century and ended around the late 1960s or 70s. It was given the name ‘modern’ because it didn’t fit into the previously categorized styles.
Contemporary, simply, is anything created by the present day.
Consequently, a certain freedom is born. Deeming ‘anything’ created during the present day and considering it contemporary (due to the social impact) gives individuals a tremendous liberty to experiment with every style imaginable.
Looking briefly back upon the history and definitions of art, we can reconsider our original question and finally ask: is contemporary art really art?
Contemporary art enthusiasts argue in defense of the strange and erratic creations. Of course the works of today aren’t going to be like the ones of the Renaissance; as the times change, so does art. It can be a form of self expression while simultaneously covering the different characteristics and issues of society. By taking what’s inside them, they are fueled to create; and, as a result, any creation is art.
Refuters will oppose the thoughtless works, claiming it is too far beyond its boundaries. If anything can be considered art, how does it have any value? If it is easily imitated and doesn’t require any talent, is it true art, or simply a case of the emperor’s new clothes?
In order to evaluate what true art is, we have to realize that it can’t be simply anything.
English philosopher Roger Scruton claims the art world is full of fakes, but, even today, true art does remain.
So where do we look?
“Official patronage inevitably favors works that are arcane, excruciating or meaningless over those that have real and lasting appeal”. What appeal, and where do we find it? Scruton goes on to further describe three words that will judge a true work of art: beauty, form, and redemption.
The times have changed. No-one can disagree. But art was always used to draw beauty, physically (by the image drawn) or mentally (something to ponder). Even the statues of ancient Mesopotamia may be considered ugly, but they were used to portray someone of undying elegance and flattery.
But, even more, it exceeds just appearance. Beauty demands to be noticed, and is impossible to ignore.
In form, art conveys emotion the way a symphony would. Logically and order present itself in such a way that the viewer (or listener) can understand. Rather than seeming mathematically frigid, however, it is full of raw, authentic emotion.
Scruton goes on to say, “In art, beauty has to be won and the work is harder as the surrounding idiocy grows. But the task is worth it.”
Redemption, lastly, is fulfillment. Sorrow, death, and heartbreak are poignant but not meaningless when presented in the form of tragedy. Suffering isn’t pointless, but can be part of a redeeming whole. Scruton finishes by asserting. “Tragedies show us the triumph of dignity over destruction and compassion over despair…it is the face of love, shining in the midst of desolation. The poems of Akhmatova, the writings of Pasternak, the music of Shostakovich-such works shone a light in the totalitarian darkness, and showed love in the midst of destruction.”
Therefore, styles of art have changed; the definition, unquestionably, has not. There are some forms of art today that produce the beauty, form, and redemption the classics have possessed in the past.
The great freedom individuals have been given, allowing them to produce practically anything, and calling it art is degrading the crux of originality. These individuals are not artists: they are cons who have taken advantage of certain civil liberties by producing fake works and placing a price tag on them.
True artists are passionate, driven, creative, obsessive about their work, and understand the meaning of appeal and authenticity.
From this perspective, we can recognize a fake created by a con from a masterpiece formed from the hands of an individual with a fervent fire for skill and imagination.
This article was written by McKenna Vietti, a writer for dusk magazine.