What ist Art?
Art - what is it, anyway? Many understand a lot of different things by the concept of art. For some this word cannot be hung high enough - others see in it a kind of... masturbation (1). I am an artist - should I come up with a new word for what I am doing? Or rather define the concept of art anew?
At the beginning all art was commissioned, with clear rights and duties for both artists and principals. Today most artists work without commission - and that way hardly earn any money. However, this seems not to worry most of them: they have part-time jobs and basically feel quite happy (2). A crucial question where minds separate is: "Do you paint primarily in order to sell, or do you paint because you are creative and want to develop freely?" (3)
Obviously there are two absolutely opposite approaches to creating art: on one hand a kind of trade-off art (art against consideration), on the other uncommissioned private art which solely follows the artist's innermost impulses.
Contemporary Art - Contemporary Paradigm
Today artists are considered entrepreneurs. Art is considered a job with
which you can earn enough to live on. Education is followed by professionalization
(4) and self-advertising through exhibits, fairs and auctions. Beside staying
power something else is required: a feel for the market. As everywhere else
it is the clientele's attention that decides success.
This is why, eventually, the artist's focus may gradually shift from internal sensitivities to external weather conditions and at some point practical constraints will require him to work towards the audience expectations: only art that meets the jury's or public's taste is promoted and bought.
But hasn't it always been like that? Isn't this a kind of... Brothers Cranach, Rubens et al. reloaded?
New is that many artists today - unlike earlier and especially unlike regular entrepreneurs - are led by almost therapeutic concerns: the ambition of being discovered, the desire to become famous often go far beyond common entrepreneurial aspirations. Market success is equated with primordial success. Unlike other entrepreneurs artists fuse reception of their goods and self-worth in a peculiar way: any market success is considered a personal success and should fill a deep longing for love. And failure - beyond any entrepreneurial bankruptcy - connotes personal defeat. (5)
So art is obviously about both, money and love, in varying mixing ratio. However not necessarily in terms of content. It was this interconnection I had in mind when I spoke about trade-off art.
In this way hence the audience gets to play a double key role: one is quite traditionally as clientele that decides about entrepreneurial success. The other one is to play the appreciative, applauding but especially unconditionally loving counterpart.
Otherwise, art remains a commodity. Today there are operational formulae for calculating the price of an artwork (6); there are basic juridical conditions (7) and an extensive marketing chain in which many take profit (8) and which functions quite similar to all other deluxe goods: Art is individual and modern, it serves the self staging and the strong image of individuals, enterprises, towns, countries...
This is perfectly okay - as long as it is paid for. The Achilles' heel of the construct is the therapy function art has for quite a few artists: they want to be loved at any cost and the promise of attention is the carrot for which the cart called "culture" is being pulled through the land - free of charge for the beneficiaries.
What, however, really remains from the artists' renouncing of their principals? What does art look like when it has no interest in money and love, an art that returns to the private, to the studio, without being shown to anybody, sold, explained?
Contemporary flattery certifies: "Artists are the avant-gardists of our society." (9)
De facto art is a lonesome, intensive, almost quite narcissistic occupation with one's own sensitivities. For me, painting is an inner dialog, a soliloquy at whose end I am wiser. I like my niche, my state of being undiscovered, because to me it means freedom - freedom from the compulsions of commercial success, from push-button creativity - and every painting is a new testimony of my truth and worldview. Because art has to do with truthfulness, a piece of art means that one has understood something and expresses it courageously and clearly - without legitimization from any third party.
This weekend I saw the movie "How to cook your Life (10). During 20 years the protagonist, a Zen monk and chef of an US cloister, found it quite bewildering to offer the Buddha (statue) food every morning. After 20 years he finally understood what it meant: The Buddha says nothing. Never. Neither "Thanks!" nor "Hey, this tastes well!". Just nothing.
For me, practicing art resembles Zen a lot. Deprivation of praise and money (or the self elective abstinence of the art world) are like a test: what is really important? What is important to me? This way my focus shifts from the public's taste towards my own personal statement. However, creating this kind of art inevitably requires me to be my own sponsor.
Art generates individualization. At first sight this may seem irrelevant for society as a whole and, hence, maybe this is the reason why some see it as a kind of masturbation. However, only a fully individualized person is capable of community and collective life with cohesion is beyond reciprocal need satisfaction.
Money and love - one can reduce most people's needs to that. As long as we have not neutralized these needs we are vulnerable. At this moment an experiment is carried out in the USA that demonstrates to what extent the prospect of money brings people to change their behavior (11).
Do we want to live like that, so... manipulable?
I believe, art can be only art if I do for its own - and my own - sake: without commercial intent, and even without desire for public recognition. It is normal to be unable to live off one's own artistic production, and this was true for most of the major pioneers of modernism.
Art is not a job to earn money but a tribute to our humanity.