Saturday, January 29, 2011

The New Beautiful

For nearly one hundred years artists, designers, architects and engineers have been working on a huge joint project. All of this work goes on behind the scenes and now a days without even too much hoopla if mentioned at all. It is a conspiracy of epic proportion that has seeped into every facet of our everyday lives. Whether it be in the clothes that we wear, the products that we buy, the media that we watch, listen to or use, the buildings we live and work in, even the very patterns of how we structure our daily lives, and how we think, have all been conceived, designed and produced by this cabal of which I speak.

Who are these people and what do they stand for? They are cultural providers, product designers, politicians, theorists, city planners, corporate leaders, and people in thousands of other positions we have never heard of whose names and faces we shall never know. They all believe in a better world, a world well designed, where every detail has been thought out and made to work in harmony with a myriad of other items that form the fabric of modern life.

They believe in things like ‘Less is More’ and ‘Form Follows Function’, where each object is build from the ground up as a total object, whole and integral in its purpose. Clean, elegant, sleek.

When we think of Totalitarianism we usually think of Nazi Germany’s Hitler or Russia’s Stalin. However, Totalitarianism from a design point of view is what has been encouraged for decades. This has to do with setting national and international standards for everything from book design to highway systems and automobiles and their parts, to construction materials for buildings. This is to aide in creating a seamless world where costs of manufacture are kept relatively affordable for all and the designer has predictable systems of manufacture to design with. Previously, say 100 years ago, everything was hand made and custom built. There were no two things the same. Totalitarian design has changed how we do everything.

The business end of this same group of people however, invented things like planned obsolescence and the forever new and improved version of almost everything. This is good in that it creates constant demand and allows for change. The down side is change merely for the sake of change and the intentionally designed-in self destruction of products leads to huge profits and unbelievable waste.

However, for the consumer with the money to spend, there seems to be no complaint about the rather short expiration date on the objects we buy. Many are happy to move on to a new style every 6 months. I would suggest however that our insistence on newness, while certainly accepted and embraced by the world of fashion, is not appropriate for the world of fine art. The fine arts as I see them deal with the larger and longer cycles of culture where decades and centuries are the proper increments to measure by rather than the changing of seasons. Attempting to constantly strive after making something continuously new represents more of a social dysfunction that has been creeping into the American dream for quite a long time now like a mouth full of cavities after years of constantly eating refined sugar.

Never the less, the point I wish to focus on is the idea that aesthetics have change so significantly over the last 75 years that we can now say, what was modern and once strange and radical and painfully isolated in a world built over previous centuries, has now become the New Beautiful and this new beautiful is a world where abstract painting, minimalist furnishings and never before seen colors integrate with science and technology to create an environment that wider and wider circles of people can appreciate and enjoy.

I do not mean to say that the urban world will become an empty, sterile environment where only a machine could feel at home. There is no doubt that humanity is sentimental and has a love of history and it artifacts. We love to surround ourselves with things of every period and collect artifacts from cultures all over the world. But still, there is an ever growing sensibility that prefers what is fresh, forward looking and cleanly organized.

It is in the context of this modern world that my work fits and it is this New Beautiful that my work is intended to be a part of. There are a lot of things on the contemporary scene masquerading as art but are more properly expressions of politics, sociology, psychology, sexual identity and the exploration of ethnicity. Perhaps they are areas of human interest belonging to a theatrical venue, the halls of congress or a psychologist’s chaise lounge, but are not necessarily suited to a visual art gallery setting.

Art galleries by and large are for the exhibition of works of visual art. Visual art is art that is made for the eye, for being looked at, studied, examined and enjoyed with the eye. A visual work of art has only its sensuality to speak for it because a truly visual work of art has no other subject that it is about. It is about seeing and what can be grasped by observation.

If one is to remove and strip away everything that prevents seeing a painting as anything other than itself then we are left with a non-objective or abstract painting. This is a wholly modern invention. Such paintings depend completely on the elements of composition, color, shape, process and surface to provide interest and as such are a kind of visual music that is gradually taken in by the constantly moving focal point of the viewer. How and what the viewer assimilates or acquires of the image through thousands of movements of the focal point is the work of the painter who is not unlike a composer of music. The enjoyment of such visual art is very much in the same category as the enjoyment of a symphony or chamber music.

As a visual object, a work of art by its very nature has something to do with aesthetics which are matters of artistic beauty and artistic sensibility. That sensibility, like all things modern needs to reflect the ideals of this total world that is being jointly created by those previously mentioned conspirators. Painters have had, from the beginning, an honored position in proposing the New Beautiful as it was painters who first proposed the designs of this new world we now live in. Imagine the excitement and anxiety of those early pioneers of visual design and how difficult the process of understanding must have been for them!

In the process however, the idea of Newness came into vogue. “Out with the old, in with the new!” became a major battle cry of the avant garde. Now, many years later, perhaps the idea of continual newness and the urgency and anxiety and perplexity associated with it is no longer that important. Perhaps, now that the whole world is new we can relax a bit and go back and look over the path of newness and see if there are not some things that need to be rethought, redesigned, or remodeled. Maybe New today should be more about Renew and about reinvigorating the best of what has thus far happened. Perhaps some editing is in order. Perhaps we need to reexamine how we have gotten here and where it is we are headed to besides the next new thing.

Many have given up or forgotten or even have never known the ideas and ideals that have gotten us to where we are today. I propose that there is a New Beautiful and it is all around us and that we need to take a fresh look at where our forefathers have taken us and decide for ourselves to join in the conversation and to articulate our ideals and take up our part to reshape the future into a place we all want and are able to live in.

What are these ideals? They have to do with harmony and the nurturing of human dignity and the protection of human rights. They have to do with an embrace of diversity as well as a quest for unity, a respect for nature and the natural. And there is the need for style and beauty. We should not be embarrassed to use the word beautiful as many artists today seem to be. The New Beautiful is strong and light and free. It is experimental and tentative yet elegant, simple and idealistic. What was at first naïve, in time and with practice, culminates not in pessimism but in wisdom.

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