What artistic period are we in?

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30 November
10:22
November
2016

No longer can we rely on convenient terminology involving colours (the Blue Period) or agreed branding (Dada, De Stijl). It is also difficult to maintain any longer that we can identify and agree on the Spirit of the Age (the Zeitgeist, and always an untrustworthy guide to our culture).

How then to provide an armature to hold us together visually? Is mere anarchy loosed on the art world? Are we going to an art-shaped hell in a handcart?

Never before have artists had such ready access to the tools of the trade and the means of distribution. Never before have creative individuals been able to defy the boundaries and expectations imposed upon them from critics, parents and politicians.

“Is mere anarchy loosed on the art world? Are we going to an art-shaped hell in a handcart?”

Painter makes films, makes installations, makes prints, makes whoopee. Sculptor makes animations, makes music, makes pin-hole cameras, makes waves. Photographer goes into performance and comes out a Superstar.

The problem is that a nervous public is used to the Eternal Verities (painter has an palette, photographer has a camera, sculptor has a chisel) and now feel bereft, that they are being either fooled or insulted. They have suspected this of their Rulers since the beginning, but Artists were expected to show demonstrable skill, clear appreciation and generation of Beauty and the invention of various nostrums to soothe, distract and arouse the rest of us.

  • Where are we now? The Post-Modern, ultra-pop art of Takashi Murakami: Second Mission Project KO2 (1999)

To understand the Art Period, it was once possible to subsume the whole Big Mess into discrete and understandable chapters that followed each other like circus elephants – Cubism, Fauvism, Surrealism, Neo-Plasticism, culminating in Modernism and its riotous pal, Post-Modernism. Ever prey to facile depression and the ‘Collapse of Civilisation as we know it’, we get to see only fragmentation and we fear then only the worst, and put our trust in ballroom dancing and baking.

“The challenge before us all is to dive bravely into this sea of images and make the connections for ourselves.”

Much of the world, and the English-speaking world in particular, was once logocentric, trusting to literature and the arguments of the word in manifestos, even to the extent of speaking of ‘reading’ images. Now we are increasingly image-based in our everyday lives. Complex propositions can be distributed visually without need to translate texts or mediate meaning, from Feynman’s diagrams to the strip cartoon.

The challenge before us all is to dive bravely into this sea of images and make the connections for ourselves, and for our own purposes, without recourse to someone else’s template once regarded as a “Period”.

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