Q: So you don’t think a work of art should be considered important for using a new medium?
ReeL: Only if you are a hyper-materilist, which most Americans are. Otherwise, the medium, or anything related to its thing-ness, is, for non-materialists, of relatively little or no importance.
Q: But a lot of art made is all about its medium.
ReeL: Well, yes, a materialist will think so, but it is an extremely narrow point of view that thinks that way, a point of view that another age might consider or at least more easily see, as quite naive and narrow-minded.
Someone makes a work of art, and a hyper-materialist comes along and says, wow, it must be important because it’s made of piss and dung. A non-materialist would say, who cares? what’s it look like and what’s it mean to you as an image?
The hyper-materialist will say, hey, it’s important because it is made of piss and dung, that is the key to its meaning and significance, but they say this because they are a materialist, they have this warped view of the world. But in reality it’s an empty, trivial, circular argument, based on what is probably one of the most flawed philosophical orientations ever conceived. An orientation, by the way, that is killing us, literally, killing us.
On the other hand, people get all worked up about it being made of piss and dung, or worse, they actually get upset by this. But that is just a reactionary impulse driven by the narrowness of their world-view and experience. It is because they are so narrow and so highly materialistic that they can’t get beyond themselves and their overly narrow view of the world. But that’s THEIR problem.
Q: But maybe art is there to point out people’s problems like that.
ReeL: yea, maybe, but people who don’t have that problem won’t care a hoot. And though we may live in an age where this Materialist disease is pandemic, there is no guarantee anyone else will care. It is, at root, an extremely narrow and parochial point of view and will be seen eventually as that, or a weird, and even perhaps dangerous, flaw of our age. In a way it is the great blindness of our age.
Q: But isn’t art that is so connected to its times important. Isn’t that connection significant?
ReeL: Yes and no. It better have a lot of something else, otherwise it will be nothing more than sociology, a curiosity, a potential trivial artifact of its time, like anamorphosis paintings. No one today would consider the development of anamorphosis paintings as a significant art historical event.
By the way, I pick the medium of piss and dung because these media have in our times in fact been parties to the very type of hoopla referred to above, even claimed as “revolutionary” materials. Ironically, the archeologists tell us that humans have been making art and building with piss and dung for tens of thousands of years. Hardly new; hardly revolutionary.
Q: Surely sometimes the medium makes a difference!
ReeL: Well, yes, we still live in a material world, so there are material dimensions to things. The invention of oil painting is a significant development.
The recent development, at the very end of the 20th century, of pigments that can replicate the entire color range of human perception is a similarly significant development, one sought after probably since humans first ground pigments. It’s the artist’s dream, the holy grail of painting, yet, ironically, it is given virtually no attention, almost never mentioned.
But no painting is important simply because it is an oil painting, nor because it uses modern pigments. That simply isn’t what makes it significant. To think otherwise is one of the great materialist fallacies.
Q: I’m not sure about that. Isn’t doing the first oil painting important in itself? Look at the Bellinis or Titian!
ReeL: Actually those are counter-examples: oil painting was invented almost a century before the Bellinis painted in oil and the first painters to paint with oils are almost completely forgotten.
Oddly, in a way, some of the earliest cave paintings are the earliest oil paintings. But again, we never think of them in that way or focus on this. It’s an incidental fact.
The Bellinis’ and Titian’s paintings are considered important because of their quality and their historical importance within their context. Or, to put it another way, they are important because of their quality and their meaning within a specific historical context. Same with the cave paintings.
As for piss and dung, there’s a good chance they’ve been used since Paleolithic times.
The other side to this is the use of new media with a technological orientation, like electronics. I remember seeing an installation involving TV sets a couple decades after it was first exhibited. I tell you, nothing dates faster than high-tech. It becomes low tech in a very short time span, then looks quaintly archaic within the same span of time that, say, a good oil painting still looks fresh and contemporary. Sometimes nothing ages faster and looks more tired and worn sooner, than “new” media.
Because of this a lot of today’s curators are embarrassed to exhibit a lot of their institution’s purchases from the 1970s and 80s. Laxt year I even saw a Stella sculpture that now looks just terrible. It’s falling apart, and just looks blah, weak. It’s on semi-permanent display, but it is not going to hold up visually for much longer, so now its owners have a problem.
My paintings will last a thousand years. Easily.