© Werner Hammerstingl, 1998
Art, generally speaking, can be said to be expected to operate (function) as an object of knowledge. This in turn requires an art that can be "understood". Every generation encounters a new set of relationships between itself and the art of its own and previous periods. Every generation "discovers" it's set of artists which it values above others.
We define our individuality by the differences between us, the individual and our interpretation of the social norm. Art and Mass culture have a relationship. This relationship can never be clearly defined, as the relative positions are in constant flux.
It can however be said that these two areas usually, yet not necessarily , cater for different cultural needs.
Art and Ideology I am presenting the assumption that art and ideology are linked and are the determining factor in the general public's attitudes about art's quality and value. To examine the topic from the perspective of "Art we like" may reveal what causes us to reject certain works.
Put simply, the philistines* like: academic painting, political (propagandist) art, kitsch, camp and other, easily understood styles. (* I use the term here to mean; a person deficient in liberal culture,one whose interests are material and commonplace).
Categories of Art we don't like:
One of the great political artists and satyrists of the 20th century, Grosz managed to have frequent brushes with censors and censorship. At the age 27 he was arrested for the first time for making fun of the army with his portfolio 'Gott mit uns' (God with us) and fined 5000 Reichmarks.
Again, in 1923 action was brought against George Grosz and his portfolio 'Ecce Homo' (Such is man). This action was based on a law that had not been evoked in centuries. The Charge: defaming public morals, corrupting the inborn sense of shame and virtue innate in the German people. Grosz and 'Ecce Homo' were found guilty. Grosz was fined 6000 marks on this occasion. 24 plates of 'Ecce Homo' were confiscated and destroyed. A beautiful reprint edition of 'Ecce Homo' (available from art-bookshops) faithfully follows the original issue and contains all of Grosz' original illustrations before it was confiscated and destroyed.
Prior to the opening of the official Nazi exhibition of 'Entartete Kunst' (Degenerate Art)in Munich in July of 1937, a total of 285 of Groz's works were collected from German Institutions. Five paintings, two watercolours and thirteen graphics were included in the 'Entartete Kunst' exhibition. The image shown here, entitled 'Metropolis' was painted in 1916-17 by Grosz and was one of the five paintings included in the 'Entartete Kunst' exhibition.
Even today there are individuals that would rather silence creativity than allow freedom of speech and of the press to flourish. They hide behind the pretense that our "children" need to be protected against exposure to"indecent material"; this entitles them to censor anything that they find inappropriate. Just as in Nazi Germany, there are now those in Australia, Asia, USA and again, Europe that would pervert and twist the law to erode personal liberties, and through "official" means, would prosecute and persecute anyone who refuses to conform.
While Cindy Sherman 's work'Untitled#250' made in 1992 uses plastic surrogates to challenge such assumptions as: "all women should be modest", "old age is shameful" and "sex is dirty", she has not been lauded for this work and others likit by he popular press.
The balance between "acceptable" and "unacceptable" sexual references in art is a debate which constantly re-invents itself.
19th century concepts of permissible erotic subjects were completely overturned by the impressionist Edouard Manet, in his instantly famous "Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe" ("Lunch on the Grass"). In this painting, a naked woman sits with two fully dressed men while another woman, semi-clothed, bathes in the background. Originally titled "The Bath," this painting was angrily rejected by the Paris World Exposition of 1855. But Napoleon III, who prided himself on his modern views, intervened and ordered that it be exhibited. Conservatives and traditionalists were shocked. They would have been even more alarmed had they known that their reigning favorite, Franz Xaver Winterhalter (who had painted Queen Victoria) would soon portray a young lady sans drawers crossing a brook, her vagina and pubic hair clearly reflected in the water.
When I came to see Jackson Pollock's painting 'Blue Poles' after it had been acquired by the ANG, the comment I heard most frequently was: "I could do that, or my six year old could paint this..... "
This response while genuine is truly philestine in nature and suggests that the viewer, who has often only a rudimentary understanding of the work has the"authority" to judge.
Aesthetics is born as a discourse of the body. In its original formulation by the German philosopher Alexander Baumgarten, the term refers not in the first place to art, but, as the (Greek "Aisthesis" would suggest, to the whole region of human perception and sensation, in contrast to the more rarefied domain of conceptual thought.
The distinction which the term 'aesthetic' initially enforces in the mid-eighteenth century is not one between 'art' and bite', but between the material and the immaterial: between things and thoughts, sensations and ideas, that which is bound up with our creaturely life as opposed to that which conducts some shadowy existence in the recesses of the mind. It is as though philosophy suddenly wakes up to the fact that there is a dense, swarming territory beyond its own mental enclave which threatens to fall utterly outside its sway.
'That territory is nothing less than the whole of our sensate life together - the business of affections and aversions, of how the world strikes the body on its sensory surfaces, of that which takes root in the gaze and the guts and all that arises from our most banal, biological insertion into the world.
The aesthetic concerns this most gross and palpable dimension of the human, which post-(Cartesian philosophy in some curious lapse of attention, has somehow managed to overlook. It is thus the first stirrings of a primitive materialism - of the body's long inarticulate rebellion against the tyranny of the theoretical. The oversight of classical philosophy was not without its political cost. For how can any political order flourish which does not address itself to this most tangible area of the 'lived', of everything that belongs to a society's somatic, sensational life?
Andres Serrano has challenged our societies willingness to accept the artistic freedom of expression with works such as the now infamous "Piss Christ" 1987.
While some members of the community perceive this work as a rich source of "cultural quotations" and a component of a larger body of works which addressed bodily fluids such as blood, urine, semen as visual elements in artwork, others were outraged by the "blasphemous" reference created by such work. The Melbourne response to this Serrano piece was a textbook case of divided oppinion reaching great passionate heights of moral outrage on one hand and liberal "don't go to see it if you don't want to be offended" suggestions by those who either enjoyed the work or at least had the view that mature citizens could decide for themselves. The print and electronic media went into a feeding frenzy over events surrounding the work and, because neither the daily press, nor TV could resist the temptation to feature the controversial work, I suspect far mor people were subjected to it than there would have been if the work had been exhibited without the spotlight treatement created by it's detractors.
Even today, there are individuals that would rather silence creativity and expression than allow freedom of speech and of the media to flourish. They hide behind the pretense that our "children" need to be protected against exposure to "indecent material"; this entitles them to censor anything that they find inappropriate.
Just as in Nazi Germany, there are now those in various governments around the world even the supposed custodian of free speech, the United States Government (see article 1 of the 'Bill of Rights") that would pervert and twist the law to erode personal liberties, and through "official" means, would prosecute and persecute anyone who refuses to conform.
Artists have the great ability and responsibility to feel, sense, intuit and speculate about issues that are often too vague, too much in flux to be perceived clearly and empirically. Some of these issues are intensly personal, others global. Only time will tell ...