It is only in the last 300 years that fine art has been differentiated from craft, decorative arts and folk arts. Before that, art was accepted as illustration, or inspiration, homage and religious art. And as fine art became a specific area of endeavor, artists and art lovers gave ever increasing importance to art for art’s sake. In the last fifty years, the definition of art became increasingly more open and flexible. At the same time, philosophers and thinkers tried to define the nature of the work, first as an aesthetic occupation, and later as an intellectual pursuit. And those of us who study art, are very aware of a continuous conversation going on between artists, as each generation responds and paraphrases some of the great works from earlier generations.
The 19th century brought a flowering of abstraction in art. To begin with, abstractions referred to some form of representation of nature. Personally, I find abstraction most interesting when it refers to something known, relating to forms, lines, or narratives which relate to a previous knowledge or understanding. A radical example of such abstraction, is ‘cubism’ which was developed by Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso. But there are many examples of abstraction, beginning with the departure from a strictly representational work of art by the emphasis of some aspect of the visual experience, all the way to abstract expressionism (which first appeared after WWII), in which the painting becomes more a fantasy than a representation of anything known in nature.
This in turn brings us close again to decoration, for the only way to judge such works is by way of the aesthetic experience. And in some cases, the desire of the artist to convey a message of anarchism, rebellion, or a nihilistic mood, results in works that are decidedly unaesthetic. And so, as art itself becomes more free, we find that we have less limitations, and what matters more and more is taste. Today, when visiting exhibitions, the art lover finds himself increasingly challenged by works that are hard to understand and occasionally, not even aesthetically pleasing. Why is this happening? For one thing, the artist himself feels challenged to provide something new in order to claim some sort of worth that is not a copy of what has been seen before.
Conceptual art first took the stage with the work of Marcel Duchamp, who submitted a urinal to an independent artists’ exhibition in the early 20th century, signing the object with a pseudonym, and giving it a name, ‘Fountain’. Since then, the genre has continued to grow and develop, and there are many examples of very sophisticated conceptual art alongside of endless statements that are laconic and obscure. Conceptual art is often not an aesthetic experience, but a statement which appeals to the thought processes and the logic of the observer. These works are frequently called installations. Occasionally they present the viewer with a paradox of some sort, or an experience of transcendence, in which the viewer must deal with something that exists in two separate worlds or two or more different media.
But what is the purpose of these works? Actually, the artist may legitimately choose to speak to himself. He does not need the approval of other artists, critics, or art lovers, But having noticed the obsession of bloggers with statistics concerning their blogs, I would guess that many artists do aspire to communicate with others… and the more, the better. I believe that truly successful art, connects to some sort of universal thought or experience. And in doing so, the work transcends the personal world of the artist, and the viewer is able to relate to the art, as if recognizing something from his own personal world. It is the experience of ‘somebody has been reading my letters’. My personal taste is very different when it comes to what I choose to produce, and what I enjoy reading or viewing by others. But I always enjoy hearing a good story, whether it be in poem, painting, or photograph. And I believe that when you’ve produced a work of art, it is best to let it speak for itself. Let others explain it. You’ve already done it. But artists often try to explain their work.
The work shown here is the work of the Israeli artist, Yehoshuah Eliraz. His work has been shown in exhibitions and museums. And he has taught art for years. I can always come up with an explanation for his work… but I am usually left with certain open questions as well.