Modern Art and Objectivity: Appearances are not Everything
by Henry Claudy on Friday, October 2nd, 2015
Wandering the halls of an art museum this past summer, some friends and I came across the contemporary gallery. While walking between the paintings, sculptures, photos, and other unique mediums, I heard off-handed comments about the quality of work. One voice joked, “I could have done this with my eyes closed.” Another stated, “I don’t understand it.” Though my friends and I might have joined in on some of these exclamations, poking fun at the talent of the artist, I could not help but take the question home with me: is contemporary art even art?
Obviously, there is no clear definition to what can be classified as art; each and every person has different tastes. Some believe that the category of art only encompasses works created in the classic periods: paintings, sculptures etc. that required years of work. Yet others believe that any piece where effort was clearly given deserves the title art. No matter the talent of the artist, art’s subjectiveness ultimately leaves the work’s verdict to the observer.
One example of the art debate is Jackson Pollock. Pollock is famous for his splatter-paintings, in which blots of paint are spread randomly over a blank white canvas. His pieces are explosive, surrounding the viewer in excitement. Even with his exhilarating pieces, he sparked much debate about whether he should be considered a true artist. Those against might argue that his seemingly random paint marks could be compared to work done in a nursery school. Others believe that the busy quality of the art reflects the alcoholism that Pollock struggled with–the white canvas acting as an empty mind, and each splatter of carefully selected color marking a smeared problem or bright concern. Pollock’s work, though at one point considered a mess, is now respected as a pillar in the abstract expressionist movement.
Another artist who has been ridiculed is Andy Warhol. Warhol, the figurehead for many cultural movements in the mid 20th century, is most famous for his prints of Campbell’s Soup Cans and Marilyn Monroe. The majority of his prints have a blatant consumerism focus, surprising many. Today Warhol is known for his talent, but why? Why do people find his artwork so engaging when you can find the same soup cans at the grocery store, or find a portrait of Marilyn Monroe at a movie theater? Warhol’s artwork captured a moment when society turned to commercial brands, loud advertisements and Hollywood celebrities, and portrayed the moment in such a vibrant way that it caught critics off guard. The bright colors used in his pieces call attention to a new world where simplicity is thrown out by consumerism. Warhol started and maintained a cultural movement.
Though contemporary art may use different mediums and styles than earlier, more classic artwork, all artists are simply trying to express what they think it means to be human. In a conversation with Larry Pollans, a Milton Academy history teacher and the head of the Nesto Art Gallery, he stated “[Artists] recognize the human experience, but not in the way a Greek would, or one in the Baroque period would, or neo-classical period. It’s all different.” Pollock’s explosions of color and Warhol’s undisguised capturing of pop culture will remain time capsules of humanity for years to come.
The next time you look at a modern painting and say to yourself “I could have done that,” think not of the physical work put into the piece, but the emotion and message the artwork is trying to convey.
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