The thinker, artist, gadfly, and bon vivant Mark Stone wrote an excellent comment under my response to his recent essay on Nostalgia. The comment was so good in fact, that I thought it warranted a standalone post - I especially like the part about reformatting the past as opposed to genuinely engaging with it:
Paolo, comè vai?! I'm very happy you enjoyed the piece.
I will clarify that the avant-garde argument is really no longer interesting as you point out. I happen to think it's a red herring to the larger discussion in the piece, which is directed at our cultural situation specifically, our current relationship to retro-culture and the way that we use history. You're absolutely right in saying that we don't engage the past in a direct way, and that was a point I wished to make. We do not question the past as much as reformat it. Is there interesting and beautiful art being made by Postmodernists everywhere? Absolutely! But it is being done at a cost. We have not progressed, we have not challenged, nor have we found DIFFERENT answers to the open ended questions left by our predecessors.
There is a point in every era where even the most prescient minds cannot see beyond. It is up to those that come after to explore this failure of vision, find a new answer. Today, even with all our advanced technology we spend a great deal of the time using it to re-present the things we already know. I mean how many Batman or Spiderman reboots do we actually need? We don’t seem very interested in actually solving problems or questioning the MEANING of the past. We are quite content to appropriate, collage and refurbish. My contention is that we, meaning painters in this instance, are not asking interesting questions about our past, nor are we formulating visionary strategies for the future.
When Picasso painted Demoiselles very few people saw it. Those that did could not abide it. Picasso turned it to the wall for many years. He had taken a line of Western Painting, an arcadia of women, and pushed it through what was called “Primitivism” and Cezanne’s breaking and leveling of form and space. That kind of historical questioning mixed with his deliciously bent personality created a masterpiece, one that wasn’t challenged for the rest of the Century. This is the kind of critical visual thinking about our past, present and future that we’re not engaging in today.
Quality, though, is a thornier issue and I happen to believe that’s formed after the fact. The problem as I see it is in the thoroughness of our thought and vision. To put it bluntly if those thoughts and visions are economical and generous then we will find quality in the work, otherwise even the most fabulously built object is just purposeless decoration. And I think that’s your attitude as well.
Apologies for my absence – will see you very soon!