In general people don't understand something unless they can classify it, in reference to things they're familiar with. I will therefore take upon myself a task that is seemingly stereotyped, but intended to be of practical use: writing a manifesto pertaining to my art.
I will now set forward the things that come mind, expecting to be able to streamline and refine this manifesto, in time.
Continuity of modern art
The decline of the school of Paris started well before WWII, but the war probably caused a discontinuity in the sense that it made short work of all illusions of the "Enfants du Siècle". Many of the old masters of modern art were still around, but center of gravity of modern art had shifted away from them, in favor of artists that formed movements such as abstract expressionism, art informel and Cobra. They focussed on the gestural and painterly side and essentially forgot about the structural side of painting, which disabled them (in my opinion) to create art in a systematic way, leaving them relatively powerless to achieve their expressionist goals.
Which is not to say that their work hasn't been important - the gestural approach to painting has become a standard part of the painterly vocabulary of today's artist.
Although the abstractists of the late 1940s and 1950s represent the above-mentioned break with structuralism, their art's "gut feeling" is still that of modern art, in my opinion. So it's a matter of opinion whether or not modern art really ended before or during WWII. This "spirit of modern art" became ever more diluted during the 1960s and 1970, until during the 1980s a new generation of artists emerged with an apparently different attitude and cultural background. The art critics declared modern art dead and the phrase "post-modernism" was born.
My point is that modern art never really died, but that it has been slumbering, as so speak, it's seeds still ubiquitous in our culture. Today, an artist can draw upon the heritage of modern art, which is still very young.
The grandmaster of modern art is Pablo Picasso, but that doesn't mean his work is definitive. He owes his monumental achievements largely to the unique artistic-intellectual ability that he had - having created a synthesis of much that's of interest in the history of human art. But some of his contemporaries were greater original talents....Many art historians today are aware of Picasso's somewhat less than genius talent for composition, one of the most crucial aspects of painting. Picasso never achieved in his work the emotional intensity he saw in African mask sculptures. These observations serve to point out that, genial as Picasso was, there are still many things he didn't do. As a matter of fact, in my opinion modern art was cut short prematurely, never having had the chance to come to full blossom. No 20th century modern artist made a successful effort at exploring the field of social realism, just to name one omission.
Even if the School of Paris had exhausted all of modern art's possibilities, then still, every new era needs to be reinterpreted and so every new era needs artists to portray the spirit of the times, not necessarily in the style of modern art, but given modern art, every time presents a new challenge.
The past decades have shown an enormous variety of styles. This is interesting in a sense, but the overriding sentiment in today's world of art seems to be confusion, resulting in "stillborn" innovations and artists that move the masses by their (often studied) colorful behavior, rather than the mass appeal of their art. The art trade now resembles the gambling scene with high rollers and art collectors being primarily interested in the VIP experience and, therefore, mediocre artworks fetch millions of dollars or euros for being large in size, if anything. It's a bubble bound to burst, like the dot.com boom, while artistic space debris is accumulating all over the world.
Be a painter of modern times
With confusion being the one constant, it even seems as if confusion is being equated to innovation: if you don't understand it then you're vulnerable to believing it's innovative. Art as the ultimate Ponzi scheme.
Then, if an artwork doesn't confuse, it's such break with the mainstream that it's reliability becomes suspect.
It's easy to overlook how "revolutionaries" like Picasso and Modigliani were actually keen traditionalists. Yes, they aimed to innovate and to break with recent tradition, but by the same token they obsessively drew upon the antiquities and even upon some of the work of their more recent predecessors (like Corot in the case of Picasso). In short, they kept one foot firmly rooted in tradition while substantially innovating art.
It's my belief that modern art hasn't yet sufficiently developed in order for artists to be able to radically move away from it. All the dead ends we've seen during the past decades support this view, in my opinion.
For me, to elaborate on modern art comes natural, the intellectualisations come entirely after the fact. The contemporary artist has at his disposal the gestural techniques that Picasso never quite connected with (as Mirˇ did) and like Picasso (according to Picasso biographer Richardson) it's an enormously motivating challenge to become a "Painter of Modern Times", with the vast complexity and dynamism of our times. Hence, the following point of interest:
While the 1960s were a matter of the Fin du Siècle coming to the masses, our times might be seen as the aftermath of the 1960s. Our problems are the same as they were for the Enfants du Siècle: the loss of an age-old belief system and people running around in circles in an endless pursuit of self-liberation and self-fulfillment. On top of our own problems we are now confronted with the problems of people from around the world on a daily basis, through the mass media.
The human experience
A by-product of progress seems to be a diminishing in artisticity of the average person. This results in an environment of ever lower aesthetic value, an alienation which is particularly hard to digest for artists. This growing pollution (both materially and psychologically) is a main theme in my work, but in an implicit way.
In fact, I find it impossible not to be a painter of modern times, because daily experience will seep through in my work and my art's subject matter is taken from today's world, not the past.
Here my intentions are twofold:
- Portray the human experience
I'm fascinated by symbolism and it's propensity for higher dimensions, but higher dimensions are absent in my work. I would expect the symbolist to be interested in finding a purpose to life and escape from the cold soberness of daily life, but as opposed to the symbolist I expect to find these things in the human psyche, the power of our minds to dream and to reconstruct our experiences in a meaningful way. Closely related to the previous point I aim to portray the psychology of our contempories.
- Appeal to the human experience
At the end of the day intellectualisations on art are meaningless and the only thing that matters is how an artwork is perceived by humans. Does it appeal to their emotions, not just at first glance, but in the long run? If you think this point is obvious and superfluous, please take a look at some installation art. In my opinion, a popular science museum exhibits as much art as many museums of contemporary art, which reduces an art museum to a theme park.
About the human experience:
While writing this manifesto I happened to notice that in certain countries new television producers also refer to experience as something that motivates their output. The kind of experience I would like to refer to is unrelated to the downward spiral of lifestyle oriented culture, but refers to the struggle for existence of the human race that has been forgotten in the part of the world where I live, but is still going on in the developing countries. This does not have to be in conflict with my intention to be a painter of modern times, because every person defines modern times according to his own insights. If my art is able to get one forward-thinking young person in touch with the world's cultural traditions, then I consider my artistry as successful. In my experience many young people (certainly also in Western countries) are interested in art and eager to learn, a fact that is sadly overlooked by the mainstream media, as well as the mainstream art world with their conviction that in the "postmodern" world there is only a place for art which is disconnected from the tradition of modern art.
Which leads us the following additional point:
- Do not add to lifestyle-oriented culture
Lifestyle, as I understand it, is not the enjoyment of welfare, but rather an ideology that is aimed at the legitimization of materialism, to which I object artistically (leaving politics out of it).
The mainstream art world will have you believe that art is for the elite, because the commoners are not capable of understanding high art. This is not an "extreme allegation towards the establishment" but a fact: Many art insiders express their belief that art is for the elite. And so the greater part of the mainstream art world insists it should be able to get away with declaring conceptual art as high art. Neither does conceptual art seem to appeal to the average person, nor does it have any likely long term investment value, which is why one is beginning to wonder if conceptual art isn't just an exercise in elitism.
I believe that art of any degree of complexity or simplicity and any degree of artistic and intellectual depth can be cast into such a form that it can appeal to anyone, not just the self-declared or true elite (whatever the latter is). This depends on the communicative-artistic skills of the artist (that is, the artist's ability to communicate through his/her medium).
This is not to say that every form of quality art should be self-explanatory (take Rembrandt), but examples of those that are (Van Gogh or Picasso's mass appeal, for instance) prove that quality art (or high art) is not particular to any kind of elite. On the contrary: as early as in the beginning of the 20th century art critics would remark that "artistic innovations are only accepted by museums when the public forces them to."
It is my intention to create art that can be understood by everyone.
I realize that today everyone is a spin doctor, which makes it almost impossible to formulate a "watertight" manifesto that can't be explained in terms that favor movements that the manifesto seeks to oppose. Which is one of the purposes of this manifesto: not to confront, change or influence, but to serve as an attempt to fend off weird interpretations of my art and being "collected" by selfserving groups that have no legitimate interest in art.
Therefore this manifesto will be a work in progress, as it interacts with it's readership c