Words Munira E.
Header Credits Sakina N.
Art Forms: Contemporary vs. Traditional
Skills don’t decide art, people do.
I feel there is a common misconception that the artist is divided into two categories: one who knows how to use the paintbrush and one who does not. Modern art, especially, is at times confusing and even I find myself drawn to the conformity of fine art and renaissance oil paintings. However, there is also beauty in the things that don’t make sense to us – the abstract – and here’s just a few reasons why contemporary art should still be considered art, regardless of skill.
1. Freedom of expression.
[Art is] “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”
Oxford Language Dictionary
The key word here being “expression.” Art has always been about capturing an expression; whether it be the expression on an important figure’s face or an expression of emotions from the artist to their audience. So then, a simple circle against a plain white paper can still be considered art when it comes from that place of contemplation and provokes a response in someone who views it as such.
If we draw attention to “human creative skill” the “skill” that is usually referred to when we talk about art is how well the paints are blended on the canvas or how realistic a painting seems. Instead it should be based on creativity. Judging creativity is a little more difficult because as individuals we are unique and that distinction allows for a distinction in creativity, too. So, linocutting is a different skill entirely to digital printing, yet they are both creative in their methodology and are, therefore, art.
2. ‘Art is in the eye of the beholder’
I’ve done it. I’ve used a cliché to prove a point. This famous quote by E.A. Bucchianeri means to say that art is interpreted based on the individual’s perception. Some even go on to say that an individual’s mental state can have an effect on the way they perceive artwork. Someone who prefers the intricately organised brushstrokes of an oil painting may dislike the discord of haphazard splashes of acrylic, but this doesn’t make it any less artistic. Aesthetics are intrinsically individualistic. So the quote, although cliché at worst, at best it explains that art is a form that is existentially interpretational.
In a sense, this quote does an injustice by ignoring the artist’s intentions and purely focusing on aesthetical aspects of the paintings. However, I disagree. If an artist creates with the intention to create a discussion then the intention is most likely always conveyed quite exuberantly and thus interpretation doesn’t play a part in appreciating the artwork as art. Ultimately, the conversation created is what seals that form as art.
3. The history of art is contemporary in itself.
History has shown that time and time again new methods of art have been ridiculed because they have not been understood. From as early as the 1850’s, new art styles and mediums were being introduced. Art Nouveau, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, bringing in pastels and bold colours, flat compositions as opposed to the detailed three-dimensional portraits. Many of these paintings looked childish and amateurish in comparison to the romanticism era of paintings that were defined by incredibly precise, proportionate portrayals of reality. These mediums and methods were contemporary for their time and are now referred to as classical.
Imagine being so used to looking at portraits and then suddenly being given a painting that seems to have no subject other than objects on a table. It’s easy to think ‘what’s so special about an orange in a bowl?’ Yet, experiments of methodology i.e. painting objects instead of people, using bright colours instead of neutrals, become historical art movements – Cubism, Surrealism, Pop Art – so much so that we can even recall the leading figures of those art movements. Art has always been about trying new things and for that reason no art is ever really ‘traditional.
4. With movements, come moments.
When looking towards ‘traditional’ art, one of the most important things we can take from it is that art is a testament to the time it was created in. When you learn about the history of art it is with reference to a specific moment in time. For example, Realism was very much a responsive art movement to the introduction of photography. After the first photo was taken as early as 1828 people were compelled by capturing real moments of everyday life. Realist paintings took to this style and subject for their inspiration.
In a similar fashion, the art of today is reflective of the times we live in, whether it be about love, society, injustice, family and more. Art as aggressive as graffiti or as passive as a light bulb hanging in an empty room can still be considered art because of its expression of a certain moment in time. Looking ahead, it’s also likely to be stamped as influential forms of art from our time.
It shouldn’t matter if you can’t paint like Picasso or Van Gogh. The act of picking up a tool and using this tool for expressive purposes in a creative fashion makes us artists.
Skills don’t decide art, people do.