Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Poulos on Seeking Serious Art Cred

Over at The Daily Beast, James Poulos muses on the failure of Lady Gaga's latest album and what it tells us about seeking serious art cred. Excerpts:
The lesson? For big time pop stars, "serious" art -- the kind that sells for millions, made by celebrity artists -- is more dangerous than heroin. And if we don't make sense of why, Gaga won't be the last musical A-lister to die trying to infuse pop art with the coveted status of "serious" art.

Even now, she's not the only one struggling to do just that. Jay-Z is falling into the same trap. "Jeff Koons balloons, I just wanna blow up," he raps on "Picasso Baby," name-checking the artist famous for making giant reflective metal versions of twisty inflatable animals. ...

In Jay-Z's hands, Koons is like a bigger, better version of his own $800 black-leather-and-python Yankees hat (available now at Barneys!) -- just another way to proudly flaunt that your relevance. Jay is so relevant he can drop four and a half million dollars on a Basquiat painting, and star alongside Pablo Picasso himself in a Google Glass project set to dazzle the Right People at Miami Art Week.

At least Basquiat and Picasso knew a thing or two about how to use visual art to communicate powerful sensations about what being human entails. Not by coincidence, they were first and foremost actual painters -- not high-concept stunt artists. Whether it's coming from Koons or Damien Hirst, today's reigning "serious" art largely revolves around sensationalistic banalities, gimmicks that try to breathe artificial life into inert objects ranging from fake balloon animals to real embalmed animals. Such art tells us very little about ourselves as human beings. I suspect this is because it wants to be liberated from any "traditional"-feeling "obligation" to do so.

But America's most daring, abstract, and tradition-destroying modern art connected on a human level with great, enduring force.
Read the whole thing. There's a lot going on in Poulos' piece, like nods at the relationship between art and pretention, art and universal human experience, and art and the blessing of the ever-nebulous academy. However, I keep coming back to the assertion that Basquiat and Picasso "were first and foremost" interested in the skill of their chosen discipline. I'm not educated enough in art history to know whether it's true or false, but it seems like a worthy goal in general. Whether painting or composing or sculpting or writing, our primary aim shouldn't involve posturing. We don't hone our creative craft to earn the huzzahs of others; we do it do delight an audience.

(Picture: CC 2012 by AlexKormisPS)

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