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Developing a Complex

Tomas Saraceno's complex constructions

I wanted to save and share a stream of thoughts I had earlier today on Twitter, because it was taking my mind along interesting pathways, which I develop a little bit below. This is such a complex question and I could write many thousands of words on this topic, and I am approaching it from a ‘wider culture’ viewpoint, rather than an art criticism one. I try to restrain myself to a few mostly (!) connected thoughts below – please do share your own below in the comments field, and add to the discussion.

October 24th – @alisonjardine’s twitter feed:

I find myself wondering whether the overt complexity in fashionable #art today has replaced the artists’ opinion, and deeper thought….

the contemporary art scene is full of marvelous uses of new polymers, supports, computer-generated structures, etc, and I love it, but…

they sometimes feel so anonymous to me, I can’t see the ‘voice’ and the human expression behind it. Maybe anonymity is the new voice?

or maybe we cannot risk alienating our markets by daring to suggest an opinion? 🙂

or are the ‘busy’ complexities of much modern art in fact a reflection of our ‘expanded’ web-linked brains?

Are we all just smarter?


Akira, Fairclough & Folland at Adelaide Central School of Art

The speed of information dissemination and the fact that nearly all of human knowledge is at our fingertips is reflected in contemporary art. The rush for novelty and the ‘new’ – blithely repeating the cycle of obsolescence faster than ever – is most likely driven by the massive increase in information sources that we have in our 24/7 almost faster-than-light e-culture. Imagine what Leonardo would be able to create in our modern times, after all.

This experimental part of creativity is a primal thing, it is a fundamentally human aspect of art and it places us within our context and makes our art relevant and honest. We use the materials around us, and place it into the most intimate spaces around us and more often than not NOT in art galleries – under chairs, on our  bedside tables, shopping centers, mountainsides…

I have long thought that art’s power lies in the fact that it freezes time. When we look an artwork of any genre we are momentarily still, hummingbirds resting briefly on the flower. When we create an artwork, we hope we become immortal in some small way. When we stand among the constructions in a gallery, we are presented with our own worlds, but frozen, still (yes, even kinetic sculptures capture an action and reaction that is repeated, ready to be examined).

It gives us a moment to look at what we’ve done with our world, and I hope to contemplate what we’ve done.

Arnaud Lapierre, The Ring Installation

And it is in that moment that I wonder where the opinions are? Where are the emotions that we can share in? I see the clever, beautiful materials and it is like candy to a baby – I love it. I have been entertained, but I am, more often than not, none the wiser. I don’t feel as if I  have met the artist as a human being and know what they think, what moves them, although I can see that they have a beautiful aesthetic. It can seem so impersonal, so very objective. In our modern age of object worship (we miss you Steve!), has the basis of art now completely moved from the subject to the object? Or by stripping out opinion, is it acceptably non-controversial and (intake of breath) … commercial?

I confess that I have sometimes admired more the artist’s effort in perseverance in assembling tricky, expensive materials in an exhaustive ‘complete’ way, rather than liking the actual work that was created. Action for action’s sake – because after all this is a business. Is this complexity the new benchmark for what is acceptable art? @torrey commented to me that “I think the point of modernism is to break it down to reveal the fundamental structure. Intrinsically impersonal by design.” Perhaps we like this art because it offers to simplify our complex world.

Now that so many of us are better educated than ever before, and have access to so much more knowledge, do we even want artists to try to demarcate what we should think, to offer opinions?

Perhaps these days we want our artists to hold a mirror up to nature and show us simply what is, so we can then try to make sense of it all for ourselves.