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Rag & Koan: Art and The Pretense of Pretense : 5 Views

Friday, August 23, 2013

Art and The Pretense of Pretense : 5 Views

Recently I saw a comment in a social forum saying that a certain kind of art was pretentious.  The discussion didn't go anywhere so I thought I would share my thoughts on the topic here.  First of all I respect everyones right to their opinion and in fact enjoy debating divergent views to get to a better understanding of people and ideas.  The following 5 views on the pretentiousness of art are not without their flaws and I hope that brave readers will point them out to me either in the comments at the bottom or on one of my social networks.  I am going to explore the relation of both pretense and pretentiousness to art since using the root word is a bit more helpful at times in understanding what is going on when applying these terms.

1/ All Art Is Pretense

Lets begin by putting all the cards on the table: all art is pretense.  The attempt to make something that is not-true appear to be true is the essence of art.  Plus Art is a storytelling, translating, communicating tool and so it has a lofty purpose by its very nature.  The attempt to make a viewer believe they are seeing a landscape when in fact they are seeing the arrangement of colored mud is the ultimate pretense.  In the same way conceptual works attempt to convey an idea which is itself not real in a tangible sense.

Now the next step would be to ask "If all art is pretense then is all art pretentious?"  To that I would answer that Art is an object and so devoid of things that imply intention and cannot itself be pretentious.  The artist on the other hand could think very highly (perhaps at times too highly even) of their art or wish to imbue it with more importance than it may deserve.  So the artist can certainly be pretentious but that does not mean by extension that the art is as well.  This is like putting the sins of the parents onto the child.  There is an entire world of knowledge and experience to be gleaned from each artwork completely independent of the intentions of the artist.

2/ Humans Are A Pretentious Species

Humans live in a bubble defined by words and language and ideas; constructs of the mind.  It is the pinnacle of pretense to believe that what you think and talk about is in fact what is actually creating the fabric of your existence.  It is similar to putting an x-ray in front of a person and assuming that is what they are.  Our language and mental constructs are merely a feeble overlay placed on top of reality.

A glimpse at Human history shows clearly how self important we think we are by our nature.  We view our experience and surroundings as if we are somehow separate from it.  Even the save-the-Earth movements miss the fact that the Universe doesn't give a hoot whether or not our species and planet or even solar system perishes or thrives.  The Universe will move along quite nicely with or without us making sure we separate the glass from the plastic.

If our art was collected and studied by an alien species long after we were gone would they find it pretentious?  I would wager the answer is; only as far as they found us pretentious.

3/ The Cowardly Viewer

Back on Earth though the heart of this matter is that many viewers do indeed feel that specific artworks warrant the label of pretentious and in a certain context that is fine and perhaps true according to an internal logic.  For example it could be very easy to call pretentious much of what Duchamp or Hirst created.  This however simply masks our own insecurity when faced with our ignorance of how to enter or understand specific artworks.  It reveals our cowardice in the face of new ideas and ways of understanding.  By calling something pretentious we ironically try to elevate ourselves above the object we just labeled.  We can safely run away from it because we have designated the artist as the problem not our own unwillingness to feel vulnerable or lost.

I have a secret for all viewers of art out there:  the artist is not smarter than you!  If you can deeply believe that (and you should) then you can approach any artwork openly and ready to experience what it has to offer.  Enter art through who you are and what you know and you will find a shared humanity.

4/ The Avant Garde

Lets not forget that the cutting edge of Art has always been a bit arrogant or at the very least determined if not simply confident.  To be blunt it takes a lot of balls to create and present what society won't accept as Art in the context of the Era.  From that necessity comes what could be called pretentiousness but this doesn't mean the work of that artist should be ignored or dismissed.  To toss aside something because the intention of the artist is not as we would prefer it to be is simply depriving ourselves as an audience of the opportunity to learn and expand our horizons.

We should expect our artists to be willing to push the boundaries of society and hold things up to it and say "this is wrong" or "you should consider this" or "I found beauty here".  Artists have a lot in common with monks and shamans in that they spend their lifetime exploring and expanding themselves and are a resource for the masses who are hard at work making society function as it needs to.  It is a symbiotic relationship the masses and the artists of society and it should not be overlooked that artists discover things that get neglected or forgotten.

5/ The Responsibility of The Artist

The artist has one responsibility and it is not to the viewer, it is to themselves.  This is in regards to the creation of their art only.  Once the work is made it is important (as with all human endeavors) to share, consider others and to help others as much as possible in whatever way we can.  The art itself however should not be brought to the realm of the viewing audience.  Art is meant to elevate the human spirit and so in that sense a certain amount of pretense should be expected to beautify our homes and expose our minds to new possibilities.

An artist in another forum was asking what they should do with a series of drawings they completed which they didn't think viewers would understand.  They wanted to know if they should change them or how they were displayed.  This is not the concern of the artist, we are supposed to create challenging works for the public.  This is however of concern for galleries and marketers, it is their job to package things for the public.  Often times the artist has to play multiple roles and so must at times consider the viewer but a challenging work is not something to be hidden or diminished in any way.

Some of these views may overlap in contradicting ways.  I hope I made it clear the context for each view but if not I look forward to any debate this topic brings as it is an old and important one.

Be well


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1 comment:

  1. I like the "root" of the 'problem'? Pretence questionable or problematic. An artist that creates what they believe is fantastic, the problem, it's for sale they do not want what they have created, they want you to want what they do not as the creator. I do not respect peoples opinions because opinions are based on desire not truth. The majority of art is an opinion and that opinion is based on the concept of sale, there are exceptions but not many.
    I really like that you are willing to approach and as you said it usually goes nowhere. I do not like painting at all, I like ceramic best and when it is done right it is some of the longest lasting. A hollow cylinder plugged at one end is overdone mundane, I like 3 dimensional, figures and one you may view is slayerwulfe's Japanese stoneware pillow, as I am serious that I don't want technology as art.
    hope this helps in what you are looking for
    slayerwulfe cave.