Saturday, 9 January 2010

The Transition from happy to sad.

The job of an artist is generally thought to be to explore and express emotions in whatever way they see fit. That said, however, why is it that in the 21st Century artists choose to primarily focus on emotions that are rooted in pain of some kind? Whoever it is who defines 'serious art' (not naming names, I'm sure Saatchi is a lovely fellow), rarely defines it as being based on pure unadulterated happiness. Yet was this always the case? I think not.
Lets look back 200 years. If you were to make a radical installation out of dead animals and kitchen utensils, it would be more likely you would be deemed a heretic than a hero. Not because the art scene hadn't evolved and Damien Hirst wasn't around to give helpful hints, but simply because art was more positively than negatively inclined. In the Western world - let's just take the UK if we're going to get technical, the main focus outside of their work or practical lives was religion. With the absence of holiday brochures, makeup ads, fashion campaigns, the 'OC'; life was I'm sure, a little bleak. So where do you turn for optimism and hope? ART. Anything to distract from the miserable, mundane, workhorse lives of those unlucky enough to be born in that era. (Gutted.)
At some point during the 20th Century it seems that an increasing number of artists (or at least their critics), began to view 'happy art' as disingenuous, uninspired and.. dull? (Would it be overstepping the mark to suggest that they simply got bored of painting the same chipper, saccharine sweet stuff over and over? Probably.) Tolstoy once remarked 'All happy families are alike'; could the same be true for art? In a relatively short period (a century being not that long in the history of the world), art seems to have leapt from beautiful happy 19th Century art such as Monet's 'Le déjeuner sur l'herbe' and Renoir's 'Bal du Moulin de la Galette', to the more unhappy 19th Century creations such as Baudelaire's 'Flowers of Evil' and 'The Raven' by Edgar Allen Poe. The 20th Century then saw unsettling movements in the world of visual art and classical music became much darker. There are of course exceptions to the rule, like Matisse's 'The Dance', and Kandinsky's 'Compositions' but, in general, those who chose not to focus on a form of despair or distress were branded 'pop' and stripped of credibility as serious artists. Why has the 'credible art' over the last century or so, been at war with happiness? The thought springs to mind that the answer to this question could lie in one of two answers. Either a) folks have grown tired of looking at something that, while beautiful and calming, may be a little too lacklustre for those thrill seekers of the art world, and the crowds have demanded something more. OR b), movements simply run their course, and after a certain time, it's all tapped out. This is an incredibly asinine way of putting it I know but if you observe the time span of an artistic movement, (Eg. the peak of Impressionism was only from the 1850s to the 1880s), you can see that every sudden flame of creation will inevitably die out and be replaced by something else. I wonder if it was not to be expected that after such a history of joyous art, a darker more cynical side of life was just waiting to spring to life in the art of the 20th Century?

Is it simply that we humans do not have the longevity to keep happiness in art going forever, or is there another reason for this radical transition...?

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