Art minus Content: the removal of meaning

the empty headed

The empty vessel

Friday, April 19, 2013

Completed Sunday, April 21, 2013

Art minus Content: the removal of meaning

An Essay on the Education of artists

Examining contemporary art from the close vantage point of an art educator provides an insight into the values of a culture.  That point of view gives access to what has meaning. It is intriguing watching younger artists forming their identity.  In their quest they provide a mirror into what they are thinking, and what is considered important by society. They reveal what they have been learning. They make clear what they have not.

Relying on the past as an inspiration source is nothing new.  Artists have utilized the past successfully, and not so successfully.  Using classical themes and interpretations of the previously established can impart depth, dimension and meaning.

Younger artists are doing the same.  They are taking what is available and incorporating it into their creativity.  The problem is that they are duplicating what they have seen whole.  There is no attempt to add a unique touch.  Mimicking what they see and no more is seen as a guideline to creativity.  It is not viewed as a hazard to the imagination.

Imparting depth and  the all desired “back story’ are missing.  This type of art has become a jigsaw puzzle with parts missing.  The idea of being different is foreign to a mindset that views success only in being measured by someone else’s art.

The popular culture, the culture of the streets, mass media and the values of the culture are creating a paradigm that feels as unbending as any sanctioned art of produced any repressive regime.  What has been said before is the measure.  .  A certain specific technical ability is held in awe.  Everything outside this increasingly narrow band instantly becomes irrelevant.  The world of too many young artists work within areas limited by geography, boarders, staid values and the cynicism with intellectualism in any form.

“You get your gods when you are young” is a truism.  It is particularly true in art schools, colleges and universities.  This is a phase of learning.  It is no more or less than that. Past this stage of development and the worship of the gods weakens.  What is closely followed becomes a resource, not rigid dogma.

What is missing is a sense of leaving the old to create the new.  Many have allowed their imaginations to be limited by imitation.  Going from what has been to what will be is a scary journey. Risks failure, ridicule derision and rejection are always near when advancing art.  Completely missing the mark in contemporary art by the younger, and too many older artists, is the capacity to take their craft further.  The rewards are great when becoming a member of the avant-garde. The struggle to get there is  monumental.  Struggling like this has become a foreign concept.

If it makes money, no one really cares if the message is destructive, unimaginative even dull. 

The open figure empty

Open up some artists and there is little there.


The new art is about safety.  This affliction has struck films, theater and music.  Caught in a morass of reptitions, . The number of remakes and reworking is epidemic.  Entertainment is increasingly motivated by focus groups, slick marketing and entertainers preoccupied with fiscal awards rather than creative accolades.

Art be damned.

If it makes money, no one really cares if the message is destructive, unimaginative even dull.   Artistic pursuits for the sake of themselves are orphaned. Unless they appeal to eyes and ears trained to accept an increasingly limited vocabulary, doing the necessary work to advance is simply not worth the effort.

Money, fame for fames sake and notoriety are the goals.  One no longer needs talent to be noticed.  Intellectual achievements lack excitement.  They require too much concentration to absorb. Notoriety for bad behavior is more news worthy.  It sells.

Look to the software world. The paralysis that has stymied entertainment has infected software and hardware development.   Apple, minus their p.r. talented leader have reiterated what has worked.  Very new has been added to the play list.

Google, the game changer, has limited focus.  The creative minds that tried ideas and felt free to experiment are gone.  Only that which relates to commerce is around.  The think tank of Google has been related to the scrap heap.

Microsoft is doing no better.  Playing follow the leader with their phones, the venerable giant of computing has become so large and so heavy they are simply tripping over themselves with abysmal failures.

The ill-conceived Windows 8 felt less like a response to consumer and business needs that it did a slick marketing campaign that thought “different” would generate sales.  Changing for the sake of change is not always a good idea.  If such thinking makes things worse, then why bother? Alternations on what works only becomes effective when given insight, understanding and worth.

The problems of Microsoft is that change is not coming from the minds best suited to make software and hardware better. These men and women are relegated to the unemployment line.  When decisions made come from P.R. departments, CEO’s removed from reality and bottom lines the only measuring rod of success, you fail.

Even when Microsoft attempted to be different, all they did was graft a phone Os on a desktop Os.  There was no real change. It was just a big steaming “hot mess.”

If students reflect the larger dull thud of entertainment and technology stuck in a tar pit, young artists are following the lead.   The young are mirrors, reflectors and imitators.

Everyone loves a maverick, a rebel. What everyone does not wish to embrace are the hazards.  Real innovators are rarely liked, considered “hip” or “cool.”  Few welcome with open arms the reality of the rebellious that goes hand and hand with alienation.  Non conformity has become conformity.

Even when artists, and others, desire being “edgy,”they all do the same damned thing.  If a certain style is considered “non conformist” everyone follows suite.  When the different becomes acceptable and not original, it fails to be different.  It is not the popularity of an idea, it is the newness, the freshness and more importantly the meaning of being rebellious.

A thousand and one people can be rebellious, and not castrated by the pressure to be“ hiper than thou.”  Looking at protests in South America, mothers in the hundreds, they are the real rebels grieving publicly in a regime that would like to ignore death and tortures . The freedom fighters around the world fighting oppression in very difficult times, they are the real thing.  I doubt anyone is mimicking those people in large numbers.

What is missing in protests and rebellion is purpose, meaning and depth.  Cutting edges is a fashion statement.  When made popular, the safe and secure become the new, the shocking the brilliant.  Wrapping conformity as new is really nothing truly new.  What is new is that youth are buying into it.

The 60’s, a time of change and horror, brought with it flower children, black panthers, black liberation, radical peoples parties and young suburban 50’s children shocked and appalled by the racist repressive practices of the past. The common denominator is meaning.  Even if they failed, at least they were about “something.”

I am not advocating the dreary repeat of nostalgia.  The  wave I was a part of “,cradle babies,” who arrived at the very end of the 50’s baby boom, were not committed to anything.  Yuppies ruled and having a good time was king.  We had no thought that the drugs we did, the self-indulgence we engaged would turn us into a colorless people.  Punk and new wave brought some “jolt” to the proceedings.  Like so many interesting underground movements that come and go, these eruptions of creativity failed to catch on for very long.

The notion of wearing different clothes, changing your hair and reading heavy weighty books while lamenting the state of mankind and consumerist excess is not part of the current wave.

They could care less.  Social engagement is passé. It just feels dated. The 60’s have been romanticize to the point of distorting history.

Pills, powders, drink and smoke are used to simply get happy or escape stress.  The 60’s saw acid as a way to achieve high consciousness.  Usually this was a justification for getting as high as kite. At least they were trying.   Failing in the end, but trying.

The legacy of the 60’s with open drug use was would foretell a society experiencing higher incidents of addiction, chemical dependence of all kinds, drug use, alcoholism and mental distress.  What was considered partying in the 70’s turned out to be self-destruction after all.  No one had a clue at the time.

Why learn when all that matters are grades

Education, the onetime tool of advancement from poverty to the middle class is becoming less a ladder to success than a factory.  The results of diminished public education has left in its shadow a generation ill equipped for a society that desperately needs thinkers, not tweakers.

The outcome of defunding public schools, underpaying teachers, destabilizing education by teaching to tests and the flight of higher income children finding sanctuary in private schools with  smaller class room sizes and higher quality education have left an impact.  Turning to charter schools, many not obligated to follow any standard, have assisted in the demise of public schools.  The misnomer that “busing” did this is a fiction.  Lower quality elementary and high school education has been around for a long long time.

Tackling the failures of public education goes far beyond the scope of this conversation. It is sufficient to state that the faults of elected officials, business and the general indifference to the needs of youth have contributed to their intellectual demise.  For all the rhetoric of “no child left behind” the tag line should have been “your child is behind.”

When young people accustomed to passing through presence becomes common, deficiencies of all kinds when they arrived on community college and university campuses are visible. Lacking the tools to work with, and years of following orders and regurgitating information and social passing, they have created a class of students who are feel entitled.  They are coming to school with backgrounds missing crucial history.  They are not faring well in advance math and science.

Cultures that place a high premium on education and learning are eclipsing American youth.  The idea of frats, party like made when at university and a culture that views learning for the sake of learning as some outdated notion have contributed to a society that cares more about the Jersey shore than they do who becomes President.  American Idol gets a better turn out at than elections.

The pressure to pass, keep the numbers up and taking roll call have replaced quality, content and learning. 

The problems with youth are not completely to blame on them.  When adults behave badly, children notice.  They follow suite.  Once a single income failed to support a family, and one parent at  home is not viable, children are left to fend for themselves.  Couple this with awful schools, over worked parents and kids with demands going unmet, and it is not wonder young people search to streets, violence, gangs and trouble as refuges from the indifference of a society who considers them a necessary evil.

Political issues, a poor, education and the total dysfunction of Government, big business, wall street and the greedy have not been good.  Vulture like venture “rapist” who have no problem tearing businesses apart and dividing up the assets, selling them off and leaving a glut of people left to go on public assistance, our current depressed economic is the end product.  Did I forget to mention the greedy greed bankers whose avarice caused world wide panic?

The man, whose name no republican dare utter anymore, that man set off a chain reaction that we are paying dearly.   President O’Bama would find a nation on life support and members of congress so gutless, so short sighted and so selfish, nothing can be accomplished.  All of this impacts art education.

The young people of today do not learn for the love of learning.  For the most part they want good grades and jobs.  The system is so much a racket that students are now consumers.  They have to be placated not educated.

The fear of lawsuits, and the general sense of entitlement means teachers walk on egg shells.  Someone gets offended for a trivial reason and then that someone is  fired just doing his or her job.  It is that bad.

The pressure to pass, keep the numbers up and taking roll call have replaced quality, content and learning.  Learning is the last thing on anyone’s mind.  Students are numbers. Their student loans a quick sort of cash for selfish parents and schools interested in money and less interested in making sure youth have a place in the world. When it is all said and done, our young are saddled with overwhelming debt.

Artists are not immune. They come to higher education empty. They are vessels that have been empty for so long, they reject being filled.  Complex relationships, opinions and free thinking are absent.  Most have been conditioned for so long they just wait to be told exactly what to do.  They also resent deeply being told they are wrong.

Young artists are in the same position as college students. They cannot take pressure, want instant results and are more interested in the easy route than the hard path.  The big huge “but’ here is that they are entirely to blame.  Had everyone taken an interest and willingness to devote resources to the young, our young would not be in such a sticky situation.

Art is a luxury.  Everyone is convinced that everything has been said.  There is no reason to be new.  The exuberance of “Modernism” has cast a shadow.  Too bad no one is taking advantage of the shade.


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