Art is like an onoin, it has layers upon layers creating a complex structure that when opened will make the strongest of person cry. To analyze art s structure is to box creativity, understand mystery, and harness society. Never the less art must be dissected to better understand its process and further its advancment. Art is a world adrift, in which rootless men fumble to express the very essence of life in a new meaningful way. This may be what motivates artist, the need to express life, mystery, awe, pain, sentiment to themselves and others in a meaningful manner. This paper asks the question, What makes great art? Has art lost its originality and can an artist express anything new? The threads that create the tapestry of the art structure includes society and the art viewing audience. The relationship between society and the artist encorporates a contradiction of division and union. I desire to explain that artist s can be original but they must be weary as well as embracing of society. Great art consist of being original, using society and culture positively, and the individual viewing the art piece. Human nature wages a battle between individuality and originality on one hand, and community and “fitting in” on the other. Most often being different or creating something new lands one in trouble. Creating, pursuing originality, is often a destructive process. Anyone chasing their bold dream, is inherently making obsolete what came before. Art is no differnt. New methods in art create tension with ideas of becoming obsolete. Examples of this can be found with new methods of perspective, pointalism, and abstract art. A modern example is technology and the age of computers. To be unoriginal is to feel inferior. First let me discuss originality itself. The debate of whether original thoughts still exist has gone on for centuries. In The Thought Gang, the British author Tibor Fisher wrote in with tongue-in-cheek that all ideas were covered by the Greeks long ago, and that society is just rehashing what we’ve collectively forgotten. It’s a fear that may justifiably exist among many artists, especially painters these days because we’ve run the full range from purely representational to purely abstract art. Eugene Delacroix, a French artist in the first half of the 18th century, is an interesting case. His work, seen through modern eyes, seems very safe, but he was actually a passionate, individualistic man. Delacroix loved color, movement, and vigorous painting, even though in the end, he always tempered his works to make them ready for “public viewing.” But he laid the foundation, inspiring artists like Van Gogh to pick up where he left off. Often originality occurs as Sir Iaasic Newton once said by, standing on the shoulders of giants. Originality is always taking an existing form and adapting it to create something original. Delcroix wrote in his journal in Paris on May 14th 1824 that the artist obsession to add to existing ideas. “What moves men of genius, or rather, what inspires their work, is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said is still not enough.” One of the reasons why I love this quotes is it points to human hubris in assuming we’ve done all there is to do. To exapnd on already existing ideas is a risk. To be original is a risk that society will deem it either unoriginal or unworthy of notice. Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, a French artist twenty years younger than Delacroix, wrote in his notebook in 1856: “Be guided by feeling alone. We are only simple mortals, subject to error; so listen to the advice of others, but follow only what you understand and can unite in your own feeling. Be firm, be meek, but follow your own convictions. It is better to be nothing than an echo of other painters. The wise man has said: When one follows another, one is always behind.” To be original is a risk taking adventure of walking a tightrope between following other s advice and venturing out on your own. However, to be original one needs not be isolated and alone. I believe that interacting with others leads to greater innovation than ivory-tower, closed-system work. It’s something that a lot of artists wrestle with. For centuries, art academies taught through copying. In modern times some artists may say, “I won’t look at what has come before, I won’t go to galleries or museums, I won’t read or talk to artists, and thus I can’t help but be original.” It’s an argument with some validity, but I believe that you can’t escape the human and historical context within which we live and work. Originality and individuality cannot exist without appreciating the now unoriginal or mass art history. An artist is original because they are different from something else. Understanding and apprecaiting what has gone on before you does not stagnate an artist originiality. If anything it will ignite their originality as they can build upon and mix different mediums and styles. An artist can further their originality by understanding and not repeating art history through education. John Sloan and Robert Henri were two American painters at the turn of this century who helped break the American art scene out of its stagnant conservatism. They didn’t want to paint pretty, clean pictures. Their innovation was in their subject matter. They painted dirty street scenes of prostitutes in New York. Both were art teachers and wrote down their thoughts. Robert Henri wrote in his 1923 book The Art Spirit:: “Know what the old masters did. Know how they composed their pictures, but do not fall into the conventions they established. These conventions were right for them, and they are wonderful. They made their language. You make yours. All the past can help you.” Robert s friend John Sloan continued the theme of building off of others, write in Gist of Art: : “Don’t be afraid to borrow. The great men, the most original, borrowed from everybody. Witness Shakespeare and Rembrandt. They borrowed from the technique of tradition and created new images by the power of their imagination and human understanding. Little men just borrow from one person. Assimilate all you can from tradition and then say things in your own way. There are as many ways of drawing as there are ways of thinking and thoughts to think.. I believe very strongly that originality still exists in art and painting, although it is getting tougher. Too often we close off our creativity by over-thinking and seeking approval. Of course, we are social creatures, we need approval, we need society but artist need to seek and explore their own path. Artist need to follow the paths of others and vear off witht heir imagination to create a new path for others to follow. Originality must diverge from the practices of the norm. To create great art one needs to be different from others. It is the originality of the mediuim, style, mode or message that creates exciting artistic energy. Lasting contributions of significant works in art and their related cultural philosophies are seldom if ever derived from the media of the “popular” culture. Popular culture being the masses that are fed the philosophies of the media and follow what is presented. Culture fads would be apart of this popular culture as corporation use popular culture for their own financial gain. Popular culture then affects the art world by having art s main motivation being capital gain. If capital gain is an artists motivation then they must attempt to appeal to the masses and accordingly not risk enough originality. Accordingly society or popular culture can cause a catastrophy to original thoughts or presentation.
Artistic and philosophical invention, once the products of pure creative thought, are now the “symptoms” of the commercial nature of modern society. What will be the legacy of the contemporary artistic community? Will there be anything that can be defined as great art attributed to the post-modern era? I feel as though I need to define in some monumental way what art can be. Art can be defined as: “[t]he conscious production or arrangement of sounds, colors, forms, movements, or other elements in a manner that affects the sense of beauty”1 Art, therefore can be described as anything of human creation that has an aesthetically pleasing quality and evokes a sensation of beauty. Although beauty is a subjective term that is shaped and determined by culture. The debate of subjective and objective beauty will not be discussed. For this papers purpose I will assume that beauty has both subjective and objective components to it. Society can and does play an inseparable part to the creation of true beautiful art. All people are, to some degree, a reflection of the culture in which they are immersed. Artists, no matter how reclusive, are no different. Therefore, aspects of an artist’s parent culture can hardly be expected to be completely absent in their creations, no matter how abstract. Conversely, the culture at large can hardly help being influenced by the output of the artists in it’s midst and will respond to the artwork through its society/cultural lenses. Great art may effect culture and culture may in return influence great art. Therefore an artist and the society in which he lives are mutually dependent, drawing upon each other for inspiration and influence. The difference between great art and pop art is that pop art revolves around trivial everyday items. In the beginning this was origianl but now pop art is driven by financial gain. “Pop art” is a term used to describe popular art, the word popular meaning everyday life. Pop art also varied greatly, from soup cans to comic book art. An early pop artist was Andy Warhol, who is known for his drawing of a can of soup.He was American and was born in 1928. The driving forces of popular art and culture are capitalism and commercialism and the popular media, being for the most part a device for generating sales and the accumulation of wealth. The modern structure for pop art utilizes art for the purpose of capturing a purchasing audience. The process begun as art and music from preceding eras were applied to the current sales devices to enhance the audiences’ interest in the presentation. The recipient of the advertisement would begin to associate the familiar art and music with the product being presented. Eventually music and art were created specifically for the commercial presentations. Artists, in the on-going struggle to make their craft lucrative, began to subvert art for beauties’ sake in favor of art for financial gain. The media of television, radio and print propagated the move from fine art to popular art. Creative energy is spent trying to sell rather than inspire or allow society to reflect. Artist have decided that deadlines are more important than achieving beauty or originality. Consequently the artist, rather than his art, is raised up to the public eye for adoration and the persona of the “pop idol” becomes the imminent goal of the contemporary artist. “We are in the process of creating what deserves to be called the idiot culture. Not an idiot sub-culture, which every society has bubbling beneath the surface and which can provide harmless fun; but the culture itself. For the first time, the weird and the stupid and the coarse are becoming our cultural norm, even our cultural ideal.” 10 An example being the emergence of shows like South Park, Jerry Springer, and Professional Wrestling. The masses are flocking and lining the pockets of pop industry through mindless entertainment and shock tactics. Our main-stream media has been saturated with the less than great creations of these artists and the effect has been “the emergence of a talk-show nation, in which public discourse is reduced to ranting and raving and posturing. . . . The lowest form of popular culture – lack of information, misinformation, disinformation, and a contempt for the truth or the reality of most people’s lives – has overrun real journalism. 11 The question then begs, what of centuries past? The argument has been put forth that W. A. Mozart was the “pop icon” of his day and his music was the music of the masses. Wasn’t Shakespeare embraced during his lifetime? What about Rodin and Escher? Bach and Stravinsky? All of these great individuals created great art, lasting contributions to their respective arts and were typical examples of the artists of their times. Why aren’t they examples of the popular art that is transformed into great art? First, they each produced works that can inarguably be described as great works of art, beautiful and in deference to nature. Second, though each obtained an income from their art, it was not the commercial engine of capitalism that produced the motivation for their creations. Rather, it was a deep, specific education in, and a unique understanding of the art. In addition, each of their works possess a timeless nature born out of the natural beauty embodied in each of their works and that each work. In conclusion society has created a monster for the artist. The artist if they desire to be financially lucrative which is what alot of their art philosophy dictates then great art will not be achieved. However, artists can counter their culture and still be original as they build off of the artist giants of the past. The artist ability to insoire, motivate and enlighten humanity is the pinnacle of artistic achievment. To create an art piece that sheds light on the mysteries, passion, and struggle of human existence should be the reason for art. Great art will continue to be repressed by popular art as long as profit is the only motivation for the creation of art for general society. Artist s need to stand up and fight the battle to use the society to their advantage and not sucumb to its greed.