You don't shock me

Much of Contemporary Art seems to mimic the characteristics of a gangster. Just as a thug picks up a gun for an instant shot of superiority and power, the giants of the Contemporary Art world stun us with aggressive vulgarity.

It seems like we celebrate Ugliness in Art today. The Art world today revels in grotesque and provocative imagery dismissing Beauty as dated, old-fashioned

and simplistic.

Contemporary Art seems to have; at least it seems to believe, ascended above the qualities of aesthetic beauty and as such may only be appreciated by those of a much higher consciousness. The more absurd and shocking a work of art, the more of an intellectual you must certainly be to understand and appreciate it. SHOCK ART is meant to inspire some kind of deep contemplation and dramatic response. If you are shocked or offended, it is firstly, your fault, for turning up at the exhibition anyway and then it is duly noted that you are also not sophisticated enough to "get it"......

The beauty of the human form in all its shapes and sizes, the glory of nature....That's pre-school stuff, today we need the element of SHOCK or more appropriately, we need to offend.

Duchamp, I think, I could be wrong, I am still toying with the idea, was the first one to begin this Cult of Ugliness as English philosopher Roger Scruton calls it. The urinal was meant to be shock art and it did exactly that at the time but it seems as though he unwittingly began a competition that would endure for decades.

Marcel Duchamp, Fountain 1917, replica 1964

Marcel Duchamp, Fountain 1917, replica 1964

A string of artists who seem to say, "I can top that"

Sadly, Modern Art believed its own press, Ugly is ok, Beauty is overrated. Picasso was accused of dismantling beauty when he simplified and distorted forms, Matisse was accused of something similar but these were artists who celebrated and appreciated Greek ideals of beauty greatly. Also, they could actually draw and paint, does that count for anything anymore?

Goya's deeply disturbing and grotesque works, The Caprices, was about transcending the darkness around him, a release of anguish. He was an enlightened man but now, the grotesqueness in Contemporary Art takes us towards darkness.

The Caprices by Goya

The Caprices by Goya

Great Deeds Against the Dead,Chapman Brothers

Great Deeds Against the Dead,Chapman Brothers

In the serious art world of today, all this comes together in a pretentious and totally inaccurate belief that radical modern art has always rejected the beautiful. So, galleries are full of serious art that shuns beauty.

Chris Burden 1971. He had a friend shoot him in the arm with a rifle gun as performance art.

The Chapman Brothers with their ridiculous and tastelessly comical rendering of Goya's work, Great Deeds Against the Dead, 1994, after Goya's etching and The Chapman Brothers' Zygotic acceleration biogenetic de-sublimated libidi, 1995, which is a vulgar sexualisation of children are examples of their work. The two were nominated for The Turner prize.

Paul Maccarthy 2009 presented Air Pressure, a series of giant inflatables installed outdoors, the most memorable one being oversized excrement. If you think that is bad, his videos are far worse, enough said.

Zygotic acceleration biogenetic de-sublimated libidi, Chapman Brothers

Zygotic acceleration biogenetic de-sublimated libidi, Chapman Brothers

The list goes on and on....spiraling downwards, taking us down along with them.

Air Pressure,Paul Maccarthy

What is going on? If evolving to a higher level of art appreciation requires some kind of appreciation or even acceptance of this. We are losing ourselves.

I say let's call a spade a spade. Contemporary Art is the only setting where people are free to act as irresponsibly and offensively as they should feel inspired to and walk away without repercussions.

Conceptual art is well and good, but it almost seems to imply that Art before had no concept. Ironically, I think it Conceptual Art that often lacks concept, the more strange and incomprehensible, the better. The artists confuse the viewers with highly complex sounding explanations for their work, intellectual sounding jargon presented with a profound and distant look in their eyes for added effect.

As long as you don't understand it and are embarrassed to admit it, the charade goes on.

That being said, not all Contemporary or Conceptual Art is bad. I have found a few to be profoundly moving. Damien Hirsts' What goes up must come down, where a ping pong ball floats suspended aimlessly in mid air as a hairdryer blows underneath it, it is a beautiful and poetic contemplation of life. This is one of the very few works I actually like by Hirst.

Unfortunately, this list is much shorter than the last. Shock worked. The issue is that we develop an immunity to it. That's what Andy Warhol was talking about in his repeated images of a tragic road accident. So the next shock must be bigger for the desired reaction.

We get to a point where we need to ask ourselves, where are we going and where is this path we're on leading us to?

We will never see the genuis of great masters like Michelangelo, Leonardo, Bernini, Caravaggio, Monet, Picasso, Matisse......ever again if we keep going on like this. This is not an environment that fosters genuis, skill and talent but crudeness, social irresponsibility and Ugliness.

I propose a U-turn.

We need another Renaissance, to go back to our roots as people and respond as we naturally do to nature, symmetry and softness. Celebrate an appreciate of the craft involved in Art. Enjoy the beauty in still life, the emotional and mental space that is shared between the viewer and the artist by regarding beauty presented with skill, sensitivity and awareness.

Bring Beauty Back

To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage and kindness.

What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places- and there are so many-where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand Utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory”

Howard Zinn

* Zinn, Howard. You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our times. Boston: Beacon, 1994. Print.


Zinn, Howard. You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our times. Boston: Beacon, 1994. Print.

"Why Beauty Matters." BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 30 May 2013.

Jones, Jonathan. "When Did Modern Art Become so Reluctant to Embrace Beauty?" The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 14 Sept. 0002. Web. 30 May 2013.

"This Is Modern Art - Shock! Horror!" YouTube. YouTube, 03 Jan. 2013. Web. 30 May 2013.

"The Shock of the New [Paperback]." The Shock of the New (9780679728764): Robert Hughes: Books.

#art #contemporaryart #concept #beauty #ugliness #modern

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