Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Art is Dead – a murder mystery

I have just finished reading Art Is Dead – A Manifesto for Revolution in the Visual Arts by Ted Mikulski. A very thought provoking book, it offers insight into the current direction (or misdirection) of contemporary art. Ted has compiled the responses of 16 contemporary artists to the statement “art is dead” and interspersed them throughout his own thoughts on the matter.
For my part, I saw a stunning lack of agreement between the artists whose responses were included. Some gave thoughtful essays on why art is or is not dead, some gave whiny blame game responses, and some appeared to be responding to a hallucination instead of the matter at hand. I would guess that’s to be expected from the people who are most affected by the state of contemporary art. It’s sort of a variation on the old saying “you can’t see the forest for the trees”; these people are the trees.
The author suggests that there has been no true “movement” in contemporary art since pop art was spearheaded by Andy Warhol. He writes that what followed was “overwhelmingly angry art that did a full 180-degree turn from the fun, bubbly pop art. Artists wanted to make vulgar statements about life and shock those who viewed it. It was most often depressing and fueled by a sense of artistic anarchy.” Mikulski then goes on to point out that this type of art generally didn’t appeal to patrons. As the status symbol hung on the wall, this type of art would more likely offend guests than impress them, so patrons consequently looked to previous movements and old masters. Meanwhile, many artists cultivated a public personna that included outlandish hair and clothing and bizarre behavior, in which they tried to “out-Warhol” Andy Warhol.
So what is the trend today? No one seems to know, exactly. Mikulski says the word “diverse” is bandied about often enough, and maybe we should just embrace that diversity. As so often happens, there has been a certain synchronicity surrounding this topic for me. As a member of a forum for contemporary mosaic art, a lack of definition of “mosaic” and of “fine art” has been the topic of several conversations there. One member comments:
"Something that I have observed since being involved in mosaic art is that contemporary mosaic art seems to have some kind of identity crisis. We, collectively speaking, seem unable to define it... and sometimes downright unwilling... and unable to embrace any kind of standards of excellence... which could provide instruction, guidance, and direction. Is this just inherent in visual art?"
Perhaps the question about our "identity crisis" in mosaic art is because we're in a period of evolution, in wWistfulness Ihich the flux is hard to understand or quantify. And perhaps it applies not just to contemporary mosaic art, all but visual art. Or maybe we should return to the forest analogy: it’s just because we’re the trees.
Art Is Dead – A Manifesto for Revolution in the Visual Arts by Ted Mikulski is available from Artoholic Publishing Great Christmas gift for your favorite artist or art lover!


  1. Very interesting information - thanks for the recommendation. I remember that Hegel also said the same thing of art in the 19th century. Seems as though whenever art lacks direction, someone claims it as being dead. And yet, we keep producing it ... and proving the proclamations wrong!

  2. Yes, I'm sure that it has actually been said many times in history, probably because it wasn't progressing in the expected direction. I think sometimes it just requires a little more distance than we have to see exactly what's happening!



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