While browsing this morning I stumbled on an interesting take on the obscurity of modern art as some kind of conspiracy theory of the art elite. Yeah, it does sound exaggerated and I beg to disagree with it. But it's a nice starting point for a discussion I'd like you to join as well. Is the modern art really hat obscure? Is it made that way by intention of an elite that tries to protect its position?
But let's start from the beginning, by the question the mentioned article tries to answer: What is art?
In our time, the answer to this question is under the control of the art elite. The answer to the question is simple:
“Art” is x,
where x is a variable. The value of x is approximately “something that an ordinary person could never understand.”
The reason that x is a variable, and not a constant, is because its value must continually change. If ordinary people begin to understand what x is, then the value must change, so that they do not understand what x is. The reason for this is simple also: If people understood what x was, then they could answer the question “What is Art?” themselves, and there would be no need for the art elite. Thus, the art elite must continually change x, as a matter of survival.
I told you it sounds like a conspiracy theory. While I am usually fond of conspiracy theories, this one doesn't stand.
During the history, art is changing because everything around it is changing. Art doesn't live on its own, disconnected from us and our world. As the world, our civilization and culture are changing, so does the art. Those are inseparable. Most of the time, those changes are slow and subtle, but sometimes things turn a bit more drastic as the case was as we were approaching the 20th century.
photo by Jeff Tabaco
I'm not even sure if we can safely say that every change in art was towards something that "ordinary person could never understand". European art in the middle ages was primarily intended to depict and clarify biblical themes to a common person who couldn't read. Renaissance turned to more earthly themes and contexts – another step towards the common person.
The only time when art seemed to go against easy understanding starts somewhere in the second half of the 19th century with the shy beginnings of what we call the modern art. But if you look closely at the history of that time, you'll see that it wasn't only the art that was changing. Great empires collapsed just recently, Second Industrial Revolution did its part in creating the whole new world, sciences and medicine started their mind-blowing development. World of that time was nothing like it was just a couple of decades before.
If you'd like more colorful details, that's the time when blue jeans, basketball, volleyball and first record players were invented. Freud was making the first notions about psychoanalysis. Red Cross was formed and Olympic Games revived. Which all opened the door for the start of the 20th century and everything that came with it. Cubism and other "hard to understand" art movements included.
So it's hard to defend the assertion that movements of the modern art were invented by the art elite to obscure the art and secure their positions. Everything was turning upside down. Not o mention that the art elite of the time was strongly against those movements – impressionism, fauvism and cubism were all derogatory terms at those times and most of those artists were ridiculed and starving.
It's also hard to assert that those artists tried to obscure the art themselves. They were just offering new perceptions and depictions of the world just as the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics did in physics. Just as jazz did in music. And while one can say that those are obscure and impossible to understand as well, it's not that they were invented with that intention. Thing is that we still have to get on terms with the changes that early 20th century brought, but that's a whole new topic to explore.