Tea Party of the Gods Digital Collage by Cathy Carey
It’s fascinating to me how people can hold two opposite truths in their head, live in an imagined reality while another more concrete reality knocks at the door. For example, apparently a lot of people, knowing their income and bank balance, shopped for stuff and bought homes on credit, while hoping it would work out OK. For most people and for the world economy, it didn’t work out so well. In terms of art though, this often does work out, brilliantly. Well maybe not for the artists during their lives, but for the world they leave behind, it’s a beautiful thing.
I think there are two kinds of artists, with many subcategories and ‘isms. One: artists who paint what they know and experience, and Two: artists who paint what they want to know and hope to be true. By creating it, they bring it into reality, and actually end up changing the reality that they knew. Although usually too late to enjoy it themselves. Van Gogh (1853 – 1890) would be an artist who painted what he wanted to know, what he imagined to be of importance, but not his experience. His personal world was unhappy, he was anxious and filled with self doubt about his worth as a person. He couldn’t make money or support himself through his art. He was supported by his brother Theo, his touchstone in life who he wrote to and expressed his inner dreams and demons. In contrast to his dismal life, his paintings are full of beauty and strength. His work has been inspiring to artists almost from the time he died over 100 years ago until today. He was an innovator, and leader, he followed his own ideas and expressed his inner world that was rich with hope for mankind. “I tell you, the more I think, the more I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.” A humbling quote from Van Gogh that highlights his passion for the beauty in people. At best, his life was troubled and his relationships with people were difficult. Why did he believe this so passionately? It was a truth he believed in his thoughts, not his experiences. He was able to live his reality in his paintings. While he was painting, it was true.
An example of an artist who painted what he experienced, would be John Singer Sargeant (1856-1925). He was an American but was raised in Europe and lived in wealthy upper class circles all his life. He friends, associates and patrons were the most intelligent, well connected and beautiful people of his day. His work is elegant, and effortless looking, combining realistic hands and faces with a dissolving reality of beautiful brush strokes and color that exist not to represent an actual object, but because they alone are beautiful. He was a contemporary of Claude Monet (1832 – 1883), they were friends and painted together. Although his style is similar to Impressionism, Monet forbade the use of black, and Sargeant used black, so he was out of the club. It is said that starting with the Impressionist painters and others of that time period, that the artist themselves became the subject matter of any painting. When an artist painted a still life, portrait or landscape, they were in fact painting their own feelings about those things, and not just the surface reality.
People have been manipulating their version of reality through art for a long time. Starting with prehistoric cave paintings. The idea back then was to make paintings of the animals you wanted to catch and eat, to survive. Why they imagined this was possible is quite beyond me. Cave people were pretty small and half starved, and mammoths were, well, Mammoth. How did they think throwing sharp sticks at those beasts would bring them down? Deluded thinking fueled by painters who convinced themselves and others that if they could paint a realistic picture of the animal, they would own its soul, and its will. They would own the experience of capturing it. They would “be the ball”. Modern Quantum Physics is not so different. Sub atomic quark particles upon being viewed, change their behavior depending on what the observer expects to happen. The String Theory and M (Membrane) Theory postulate a universe of infinite parallel realities. Maybe its possible that all possible scenarios are playing out, and you just align your thoughts with the reality you want to be experiencing.
A current style in contemporary art is Urban Surrealism. The original Surrealists, who started working in 1924 were reacting against the destruction of WWI. Brought about by the “rational” people of European culture and politics, WWI dissolved civilization into violence and bloodshed. The Surrealist artists wanted to emphasize that reality had become unreal. Surrealism also takes cues from the dream interpretation psychology of Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939), juxtaposing bizarre and seemingly unrelated objects in the same picture. As in a dream, you are left wondering what is that all about, are there hidden meanings, connections to reality? The Urban Surrealists of today also use imagery from Japanese Anime and Manga (Japanese animation and comic books) that developed in the 1960’s, and became more popular and worldwide in the 1980’s. It’s an odd juxtaposition of styles, ideas and ideology, and that’s what makes it so wonderful.
When people say everything in art has already been done, I think that’s ridiculous. Every new person in their own time period with their own view of things, reacting to the society of their time period, being influenced and rebelling against the artists and societies preceding them, is completely unique. It’s like saying all wine is the same. The whole point of art is for an individual to express their own take on their world at the time and in the way they see fit. Thats all it is. And that is the amazing thing about it. Art is a time capsule of a living being’s emotions and ideas. Whether it’s good or bad is determined by society. And these days, who trusts society?