Are You “Critical, Informed and Discerning”‘?

Great new art…

Much new, contemporary and recent art is fantastic – intelligent, thought-provoking, sometimes perplexing and mysterious, frequently posing deep and/or unsettling questions.

But of course, it’s not all fantastic. How could it be?

Some of it is conceptually vacuous and says nothing new, or superficial, pretentious and takes itself a little too seriously.

Not so great new art

I don’t want to be sued by anyone, so I’m not mentioning names, but check out this and this – online reviews of two 2017 exhibitions by two well-known contemporary artists.

OK, you may read and disagree with the views expressed, but in a sense, that’s the point. Some recent and contemporary art is good, and some is …not.

Under the influence

I read numerous curatorial rationales submitted as part of the exhibition submission in November and sometimes I got the feeling that students have been impressed and influenced by art that is new and contemporary, but is not, actually, very good.

In their curatorial rationales, they might explain that they saw a great show featuring different kinds of wood, different size branches picked up from a forest floor. The different branches represent people.

So, for their exhibition they gather different kinds of stone, mainly pebbles. The stones represent (you guessed it) people. 50 pebbles are carefully arranged in a series of circles.

Too often there seems to be little or no critical quality filter in their reaction to contemporary art.

‘Wow! Sticks!’

‘Wow! Sticks! And we are the sticks! That’s fantastic!’

Some curatorial rationales list names of fairly obscure artists (obscure in the sense that a Google search for their name came up with nothing) as somehow validating a technique that the student has embraced. (‘I was impressed with how Andy Thribb placed flower pots in concentric circles, and decided that I would also do this with my flower pots…’)

Just because someone – even an ‘artist’ – did something doesn’t necessarily mean its worth doing it yourself.

Simply emulating weak art may lead to an exhibition that contains imagery that is predictable, dull and/or ‘obvious, contrived or superficial’.

Conceptual qualities relate to the sophistication of thoughts and ideas, and includes the important concept of ‘elaboration’ and to the candidate’s knowledge, understanding and use of motifs and symbolism. The examiner is looking for evidence of subtle and/or complex ideas and imagery.

Rather than just emulating, try taking the idea further, or in a different direction, perhaps a direction that is more relevant to you. Interrogate the conceptual basis of the art. Does it have value? Does it resonate with you? Does it inspire you?

Be the best

The best contemporary art is frequently exciting, refreshing, perplexing and provocative. By all means let new ideas enter and be filtered through your own lenses; be inspired and informed by your encounters with art. Remember, also, that the assessment criteria do not reward ‘contemporary art’. They reward coherence, competence and conceptual qualities (and the curatorial rationale).

There is a wonderful world of art out there.

Look, learn and enjoy – but also try to also be a critical, informed and discerning viewer!

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