Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Progress in Art

Anonymous Mesolithic author, "Cave of the  Spiders", Eastern Spain, CA 3000 B.C.

 Keith Haring, New York, 1980

To be honest, I like the Mesolithic guy a tiny bit more.
Haring seems to have absorbed a bit too much Middle Age's "horror vacui".

We live in a society that is addicted to the concept of "progress", of technical evolution.

And our youngsters often seems to think that "newer is better", automatically.

In some fields, it is true. Maybe.

A newer television is better than an old television? - It depends on what you mean by better.

For at least another couple of years, LCD screens aren't going to have better colours or higher contrasts than the last crop of the Plasma TVs produced, and Plasma is a dead technology.

In other fields, it is just plain wishful thinking - or Jay Z wouldn't dote on his '77 Lamborghini Miura the way he does.

Technology does improve, but the expectations and specifications at the base of its products change over time and, in some cases, the direction in which a branch of technology has gone - or is going - may simply not suits one's need and desires.

I'd like to go to New York in three hours... Ooops, the Concorde doesn't fly any more, and no replacement is on sight for at least ten years.

So, while the vast majority of the people may find modern digital cameras incredibly useful (and they are), there is a handful of photographers - that mastered the intricacies of film photography - that are not amused by the fact that the film types they use have gone out of production.  

Which leads me to this:

In art, progress is - really - a joke.

This is because every artist has to build his own set of skills and style, and the ways and modes to do this haven't really changed in the last eight thousand years... nor the artists can really divide their work and hand out details of it to specialists - the way technology mostly progress - any more than they could do in the past.

(The aforementioned Miura was designed by seven guys working after hours, the whole development team of Lamborghini was 12 persons, when they created its successor, the Countach - a modern car's development teams usually number in the hundreds, without counting the industrialisation teams in the sub-contractor factories; while the Intel 4004, the first microprocessor, was designed almost entirely by Federico Faggin and Masatoshi Shima, the number of Firms - firms, not persons - involved in designing a modern computer processor is around 1000).   

So, Henry de Toulouse Lautrec's mastery of colours, drawing cartels for the bars on the Rive Gauche that had to be printed on "primitive" presses, isn't in any way less than that of the best contemporary digital artist, creating posters for Hollywood pictures that will be printed at 100"x300"  with the best photo-lithographic machines available today. And vice-versa.

A newer artist may be more attuned to the realities of the art market in his era ( or in the next... the problem of the experimenters, sometimes they arrive before the world is ready for their work) than his older colleagues, but that's all.

His work is not going to be "automatically" better -  more superficially appealing, often, but not necessarily better - nor worse than that of the "old farts" (young artist always think to be the next big thing).

Just different.

Art is about communicating things to other humans - about being human, really - and this hasn't really changed.

Of course, I know that having realised this proves, mainly, that I am getting old...

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