As an aficionado of modern art, I love milling around galleries of obscure shapes, colours and textures. Yet time and time again the peace is broken with pitiful snorts, irritated splutters and the inevitable disgusted comment, “you call THIS art?”.
Art is a very difficult term to define. Once you may have imagined a rustic picture of the landscape on a stereotypical easel with a paintbrush in the corner, but something new, fresh and modern has approached us. Our characterisation of art has been shaken to its very core. The once colourful painting on a wall has now been replaced by a shark suspended in a tank.
Many people refuse to accept this as ‘art’, taking the attitude that “they haven’t even tried”, “they haven’t actually done anything” and the most common “even I could have done that”. So let me stop you right there. Yes, anyone in the world could have done it, even you – but you didn’t.
The combination of what someone could have done but didn’t do is exactly modern art. I believe that art is not defined by how many hours an artist has invested or what it presents; modern art is about the vision, a vision that is unique and has never been seen before. Modern art craves attention, thought and interpretation. What it makes the viewer think and feel, THAT is the art.
But modern art is getting harder and harder to defend. The artist Paul Noble’s 2012 Turner prize entry at the Tate Modern, MUCKY MODEL led to uproar. Why? Because it is a marble sculpture of two pieces of black and white human faeces copulating. Another example is MIRROR ON CANVAS by Michael Baldwin and Mel Ramsden. It is exactly what it says on the tin: a mirror on the wall of the Tate gallery. Nothing else.
Are modern artists getting cheeky? Are they abusing the system and mocking art culture, or are they genuinely conveying what they believe to be their message? In 1917, Marcel Duchamp entered his piece FOUNTAIN, a urinal signed “R.Mutt” for the exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists. It wasn’t long before the critics and gallery experts were commenting on the ‘avant-garde’ statement of his work.
Since art is something we, the viewers, judge and are inspired by, ‘modern art’ can arguably be anything, something that we see every single day. The cult film AMERICAN BEAUTY summarises this article in a mere few seconds. The character Ricky, entranced by a video of a plastic bag being blown by a light breeze, whispers,
“It was one of those days when it’s a minute away from snowing and there’s this electricity in the air, you can almost hear it. And this bag was, like, dancing with me. Like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes. And that’s the day I knew there was this entire life behind things, and… this incredibly benevolent force, that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid, ever. Video’s a poor excuse, I know. But it helps me remember… and I need to remember… Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it, like my heart’s going to cave in”.
In this day and age we have broken down the walls that categorise art. Although some works may be harder to understand, we should all stop judging what is, and is not, art since it is something we do not see with our eyes but receive with our minds.