Dead animals, elephant dung, unmade beds and rice all seem like everyday objects but should we be calling them art?
When we were growing up we were taught that art was a beautiful painting – like Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, or a perfect sculpture of a human – like Michelangelo’s David, but we were never really taught that conceptual and contemporary art were ‘proper’ forms of art, even though it was established in the sixties. It made us think and challenge our own assumptions of what art should really look like.
People didn’t understand the idea of cows cut in half (Damien Hirst), wire mesh lockers (Mona Hatoum), rubble (Richard Long) or rubbish (Tomoko Takahashi) being called art unless you could frame it nicely on your living room wall. The fact that this type of art didn’t fit neatly into people’s ideas of what art should be was the reason it was called ‘conceptual’.
Conceptual and contemporary art got a huge reaction out of people because they felt conned and marginally embarrassed when, for example, they looked at Martin Creed’s light going on and off and ‘didn’t get it’. They didn’t like the fact that they couldn’t work out the true meaning of what the artist was trying to get across.
It also got a reaction for another reason which was the simplicity of some of the ‘art’. I’m sure that when all the people who were working long hours every week looked at the well-paid artist Tracey Emin’s unmade bed they were desperately screaming to themselves, “BUT I COULD DO THAT!” and thinking whether conceptual art is even worth looking at.
Maybe some of us are completely missing the point they are trying to get across. Maybe instead of drowning in the depression of how easy, and perhaps pointless, the art is we should be fresh-eyed and open minded and celebrate the fact that these ideas and possibilites have been opened for us. Maybe that’s the point.
This art definitely has originality and shock value. Artists don’t want to repeat whats been done before in the same way no one wants to hear old jokes. Their use of new technology adds to the quality of some of their work. Using a computer isn’t a cop-out of drawing, it’s just another tool. The originality and shock value go hand-in-hand and afterall, aren’t those the two things we want when we look at art? We as viewers don’t want to stand there looking at something so bland, tasteless and overrated; If we wanted that then we could just as easily stick a slice of bread on the wall and call that art. The artists look for new challenges and ways for us to see their art. This type of art makes us challenge ourselves to find beauty in the everyday things in life.
My opinion of Modern Art is a very balanced one because even though some of the examples of conceptual and contemporary art are sometimes ridiculous, they also challenge you to find the true meaning of what it stands for. The shock factor aswell hypnotizes us and keeps our attention locked on the beauty of the art.
One thing that fascinates me though is that if artist Chris Ofili paints with elephant dung he is seen as a Turner Prize winning genius, but if I tried to paint with elephant dung would I be seen as an artistic genius? Probably not.