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Significant Art in our Time


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#1 Tim Willson

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Posted 09 May 2007 - 03:16 AM

Forgive me, but I can't find a thread in which I recall someone's challenge to try to think of any significant artwork that is coming out of our modern era, something substantial enough to merit attention and study centuries from now. I think the questions was, "Name a single piece of significant art from the past 50 years."

So I'll ask again here: inasmuch as we may lack the necessary perspective to make a confident judgment on the matter, I would love to hear whether you think contemporary, 'civilization-class' artwork is among us. Or is our creativity so bland as to render it hbistorically insignificant to future generations?

And a followup... has great art been coming from within the church in recent decades?

Edited by Tim Willson, 11 May 2007 - 06:00 PM.


#2 Andy Whitman

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Posted 09 May 2007 - 10:26 AM

QUOTE(Tim Willson @ May 9 2007, 04:16 AM) View Post
Forgive me, but I can't find a thread in which I recall someone's challenge to try to think of any significant artwork that is coming out of our modern era, something substantial enough to merit attention and study centuries from now. I think the questions was, "Name a single piece of significant art from the past 50 year."

So I'll ask again here: inasmuch as we may lack the necessary perspective to make a confident judgment on the matter, I would love to hear whether you think contemporary, 'civilization-class' artwork is among us. Or is our creativity so bland as to render it hbistorically insignificant to future generations?

And a followup... has great art been coming from within the church in recent decades?

The question presupposes that we can know what 24th century critics will consider "significant." And we can't know that, of course.

But given that caveat, sure, I think there is a lot of contemporary art that could be viewed as significant a few centuries from now. There is, in fact, an embarrassment of riches. The challenge isn't "naming a single piece of significant art from the past 50 years," but rather keeping the list shorter than, say, 1,000 works.

And I'm quite serious about that number. With the explosion of mass media and the ready availability of art -- great, good, bad, and indifferent -- there are an astounding number of works of art that should merit our attention, and the attention of future generations. I'm not particularly well-versed in the visual arts, so I can't comment there, but in music, in film, and in literature there are dozens of truly great works released every year.

And yes, there has been great art coming from the church in the past few decades -- for starters, the music of U2, Bruce Cockburn, and Sufjan Stevens, and in literature the works of Flannery O'Connor, Graham Greene, Walker Percy, Annie Dillard, Marilynne Robinson, Leif Enger, and Frederick Buechner. Of course, these are relatively popular artists, and the highbrows may sniff that they don't merit the attention or the praise. Tell it to Shakespeare or Mozart. But these folks are creating art that is every bit as complex, nuanced, and beautiful as that of the "masters."

The bottom line is that whenever I encounter the "there's no great art these days" lament, my inevitable reaction is that people need to get out more. :-)

#3 mrmando

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Posted 09 May 2007 - 11:44 AM

Rauschenberg.

#4 Tim Willson

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Posted 09 May 2007 - 12:48 PM

QUOTE(Alan Thomas @ May 9 2007, 05:44 AM) View Post
Define "significant"? It's tricky...

Well, I guess I'll leave it as a subjective term since I am looking for opinions rather than facts, but Andy's post gets at the idea of what I'm wondering.... complex, nuanced and beautiful. And if there IS a lot of good art being created, so is a tidal wave of meaningless nonsense. It could be that sometimes it just seems as though our era is marked by light, fluffy froth; maybe every era is in the same boat.

Longer, more substantial works are easier for me to judge as significant, too. Is that fair? A Beethoven symphony compared with The Joshua Tree? A Midsummer Night's Dream compared with Gilead? Our sound-bite culture seems to be moving away from length, but are more condensed works (i.e., a short film or even a commercial) necessarily less substantive?

Also, culture seems to measure significance with current popularity or fame, and part of what I'm wondering is whether the millions of dollars being paid for Jackson Pollock's paintings will seem like folly in a historical context. Maybe the future will judge his work to have been significant, but compared with Renoir? Caravaggio? Rembrandt? I doubt it.

These are the kinds of things I'm wondering.

#5 Chashab

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Posted 11 May 2007 - 09:24 AM

QUOTE(Alan Thomas @ May 9 2007, 12:40 PM) View Post
And let's not forget architecture, either...

Many of Gehry's recent works are probably a shoe-in, and what's going on in Dubai might qualify in a sense too.

QUOTE
Also, culture seems to measure significance with current popularity or fame, and part of what I'm wondering is whether the millions of dollars being paid for Jackson Pollock's paintings will seem like folly in a historical context.


To an art historian, I doubt it. To a cultural anthropologist, possibly. I was shocked to see Carhenge in my college history books, something I grew up with in western Nebraska (and, sadly, has much less power as they've added some odd adjacent contraptions than it used to).

#6 draper

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Posted 11 May 2007 - 11:01 AM

I am certain that there was plenty of fluff from Beethoven's contemporaries.

What people pay for art and it's cultural value/significance are not necessarily connected. Millions paid for Pollack's may in the future seem like folly, but that is a different issue and independent of his significance. Only if someone is discovered to be a more significant mid 20th Century American Artist will his positions in museums be moved. Since Jackson Pollack died in 1956 he can't be considered if we are talking about the last 50 years. He certainly can be considered if we are talking about post WWII.

It has been some time since "the Church" was a significant patron of the arts. I don't believe that "the church" in America has ever been. This is not to say that Churches haven't been patrons. The Episcopal church and the Unitarians seems to make an effort. There may well be others that I am unaware of. The secular and humanist nature of "the Arts" causes much of the contemporary "church" to view art and artists with suspicion.

Andy Warhol was a regular church attender, can his work be considered as coming from the Church? Keith Haring had altars commissioned by churches, does a commission mean the art is coming from the church?

There really is a lot of significant work in all the Arts that has been done in the past 50 years.