‘Intellect is…the enemy of art’ – Alexander Adams

I’ve been skirting around this point (in my head, and on paper) for a while now, and that is this statement that is art, art in its broadest sense, too intellectual? Is art, particularly as we know it now, too complex and confusing (and thus not accessible enough)?

I am not asking, if we as a population are too dim to appreciate art. I will assume greater of us. I am admitting that I love studying art for its intellectual stimulation – its exploration of concepts, its strong link to philosophy and poetry; religion, spirituality, politics and history. However I am considering if art’s nature itself is too complex. Is there too much understanding required for art to be publicly focused and enjoyed?

I believe that visual art has become too crowded by ideas so that it is near impossible to access the beauty that the artist saw in it. This beauty is found in the distinct intentions of the artist through a deliberate and sometimes painstaking process of making. Philosopher Bustard writes, to which I agree that, ‘Many artists have created works that are so difficult to apprehend that the disjuncture between the ‘elitist’ art world and the ‘populist’ world of art consumption has widened into a dark chasm.’

Perhaps art isn’t too baffling, for I see that everyone in this day and age seems to dabble into discussions and converse in the language of the visual. I was thrilled when I conferred with a layman (he has not studied or practised art) about ideas pressing to me, for a significant quantity of time. He was able to bring some new and challenging slants to age-old established, clichéd and repetitive arguments at the core of the art culture. That said, when I divulged the events of my day to two friends last week, neither had even heard of the names Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, or, despite the popular TV programme: Charles Saatchi.

As School of Saatchi called attention to in its opening titles, Charles Saatchi has changed British Art in our post-modernist age (see the book, 100 The Work That Changed British Art by Patricia Ellis,) as he has elevated the role of the artist themselves, bringing fame to Emin, Hirst, Quinn, Whiteread et al., and elevated their names and works internationally. Art has not only become more integrated into society, but is now a wider, global discussion.

I recall how John Berger discussed education, wealth and art viewing in correlation to each other in his first essay in Ways of Seeing – “how closely an interest in art is related to privileged education…The majority take it as axiomatic that the museums are full of holy relics which refer to a mystery which excludes them: the mystery of unaccountable wealth. Or, to put this another way, they believe that original masterpieces belong to the preserve (both materially and spiritually) of the rich.”

When stating that art is more ‘integrated into our society’, I concede that High Art is now less exclusive to High society. In ownership, perhaps there is little change, but in viewing, great change. Though High Art tends to engage those of higher socio-economic groupings, there is a new art to engage all, and that is the ever-controversial ‘modern art.’ Art is shifting to contain the character of political altercations. Everyone has an opinion on them, and there is a legal right to express it. This is no doubt being encouraged and ceased upon by artists because artists seem to stop their explanations pre-mature, regularly they develop their ideas less far to contain more possibilities and interest. Thus also for me as an aspiring art critic, I find it more difficult as I find that everyone is a part-time art critic with a comment on all that they do or do not like. It appears in this way, that art is more accessible.

Not necessarily so I say. More engaging, more enigmatic, extended in its own definition, but as for the intellect of the artwork – this is less accessible. Art is more ambiguous, more airy-fairy and egotistical in that you can create your own meaning.’ The artist appears to see themselves as too astute to reveal their introspect to this wider, more eager audience. We barely learn about the piece, or the artist’s real intention, we instead learn what we as distinct, varied, often ill-educated individuals see in it. Even if I do admit this is what is intriguing so many…the egotistical themself! Gone is the day of the Byzantium simplicity of iconography where the colour blue symbolised humanity and red, divinity; and all would recognise this.

Generalisation, it is true that this is built upon. For Anish Kapoor may be one of the biggest, most celebrated contemporary artists, who seems to me to be praised by so many, and so many different varieties of peoples. Many state his work is beautiful. The documentary The Year of Anish Kapoor for Imagine: Winter 2009, exemplified this through interview with a number of the public. His giant organic forms constructed often from an unblemished mirror surface, interact with nature in a way that highlights our strong association of the natural world with beauty. They are simple, but intriguing. They are based on sensensation. They are visually striking and non referential, especially in relation to art history. They allow the audience to freely associate as they wish, but he does not have the intention of provoking a certain ideas. The populace thus state there is no grand message, even as far as there is no meaning to his pieces.

Kapoor’s work is far from idea-less, but the reason it is so refreshing as a modern artist, is that these are in just balance with visual impact. His work is intellectual – it is well thought out so its look is distinct, engaging, elegant and impressive. Yet his concepts do not crowd his work, limiting a child’s enjoyment, a layman’s enjoyment, or for that matter, anyone else’s enjoyment!

In ‘The Painter of Ideas’ an article in The Jackdaw, author Alexander Adams compares the works of contemporary artists Christine Borland Geal Floyer, Lawrence Weiner, with Olafur Ellasson and Anish Kapoor, stating Anish and companions, ‘intend to impress wider audiences by means of sensual immersion’ and not just create ‘art [which] is intended to transmit ideas.’ Art isn’t simply a method of communication.

In fact Adams’ comment on ideas meeting paint, is well worth a read, as I believe on nearly all climatic points, he is spot-on, discussing that which I had already began to draft in this blog. ‘The audience who appreciate art by today’s Conceptualists (mentioned here because they nominate themselves as dealers in ideas) are curators, academics, and other artists, not ordinary individuals of broad education.’ So much of modern art is therefore too exclusive. As well he voices his opinion on the effectiveness of conceptualism as an art form, discussing how art as a visual form is in fact not well suited to the heavy exploration of ideas. ‘Art is not made of ideas. Art is an object in space, made by an artist who has ideas.’ This I believe is also the distinction that would help clarify our confusion over what to admire as art.


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