Friday, June 29, 2007

A twist to Most Influential Work of Art Of the Last 100 Years

I managed to get a copy of Newsweek from the local library and was leafing through the contents when an article titled Which Is the Most Influential Work of Art Of the Last 100 Years? caught my eye. The choices were the following:

A. 'Black Square' by Kazimir Malevich
B.'One (Number 31) ' by Jackson Pollack
C. 'Fountain' by Marcel Duchamp
D. 'Campbell's Soup Can' by Andy Warhol
E. 'Les Demoiselles D'Avignon' by Pablo Picasso

'Black Square' by Kazimir Malevich

'One (Number 31) ' by Jackson Pollack

'Fountain' by Marcel Duchamp

'Campbell's Soup Can' by Andy Warhol

'Les Demoiselles D'Avignon' by Pablo Picasso

Before looking at the answer, I pondered on this for a while caught up in the excitement of the moment. My initial thoughts were that they have missed out on a lot of other works there were equally if not more so influential. I decided not to argue with myself too much and just look at the choices and make a decision (one of the great outcomes when you are actually given something to choose from rather than just answer open ended questions)... Duchamp's Fountain was what sprung to my mind as it heralded an entirely new way of looking at art. Duchamp taught us that art can be pretty much anywhere and anything could have an artistic bent in its framework. Of course he also supplied the impetus for a lot of bad artwork to be created in the name of modern and post modern art – but, what the hell. So armed with Duchamp as my answer, I was actually surprised to see that the answer was ‘Les Demoiselles D'Avignon’ by Pablo Picasso.

"Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" depicts five nude women in a brothel. But the subject matter—which never seems to bother the busloads of schoolkids taking field trips to see it—is hardly where the shock comes from. In fact, "nude" here means only that the painting has lots of chalky, peachy pink in it; genitals are either abstracted or hidden by the poses. Even the paint application is art-school normal: two or three opaque coats, the kind of treatment a senior might give to a two-week project for a final classroom critique. What sticks in our esthetic craw, though, is Picasso's merciless mishmash of styles: a bit of Matisse (the older guy he was trying to dethrone as king of the avant-garde), some appropriation from African masks, a dash of casual realism in one of the hands and a fruit arrangement down in front, and a whole lot of cubism 1.0.

The article also goes onto say that the cubist outlook pioneered by Picasso (the sculptor Richard Serra has called "the crudity of initial effort") was a precursor to a lot of events downstream.

Without cubism, there would have been no 1920 dada photomontages or 1930 surrealist fantasies. Without those, there'd be no dizzying James Bond title sequences, "Matrix" movies, those animated promos in the corner of "The Closer,"

Armed with new found light I was browsing the excellent arts blog at Guardian last night where Clare Margetson detailed her take on the Newsweek article. Nothing new, just a little more reiteration of the same stuff. I was browsing down the comments section to see what people have said and amid the chatter, I found a really insightful piece that turned the entire premise of ‘influential art’ on its head. I am not too sure who wrote it as the handle that the person used did not make it too clear... I have reproduced the comment in full here.

What does one mean by "influential"? And influential to whom, what audience, constitutency? To art critics, fellow artists? If one gauges the "influence" an art work has on the public, it can only mean how that work impacts on their lives, how it has shaped they way they see themselves ethically, perhaps politically and religiously as well, who knows. So I would have to disagree with the learned art critics and historians. The most influential work of art in the past century was and is perhaps "The Sacred Heart of Jesus," the one with a bearded Jesus pointing to a flamingly red exposed heart. It's displayed lovingly and respectfully in millions and millions of homes around the world and it's viewed everyday. How many people know of or have actually seen Picasso's Desmoiselles or Duchamp's Urinal?

Now this person could just as well have been a religious zealot with an artistic bent of mind and was just bent on imposing her/his fundamentalism on us, but a flashlight did pop in my head and my mind went back to India. I remembered a time spent with my childhood friends (a majority of whom were Christian for some reason - maybe the school that I studied - I was one of a few Hindus there). I remember thinking that every time I would go to their homes and be treated to delicious food, I would notice this solemn piece of art done by some nameless artist hundreds of years ago. I remember admiring the clean lines and the nobility depicted in the visage. I also remember thinking how a human heart could exist outside of the body, be on fire and dangle in space, but I was too meek to ask. To a lot of people the ubiquitous nature of this image and the multiple reproductions and transformations of the same means that it has been absorbed in the collective psyche like a piece of furniture that you just get to see everyday.

From a non-religious, strictly objectivist viewpoint I think the person who made that comment on the Guardian blog was right to a large degree. Millions of homes around the world have this or some version of this in some corner of their bedrooms and I am sure that even if they do not see it as artwork, it must originally have begun its life thus.


Tree said...

I do love that Black Square :-)

Hmmm...ever notice how feminine that face of Jesus is? Take away the beard and it's a woman.
This brings up a lot of questions for me. One is, is this truly influential? Doesn't influential imply changing the course of how we think about things and how we do things? And if so, then wouldn't the Sacred Heart image be more like art that enforces beliefs already in place?

Also...suppose Black Square represents God and the Sacred Heart image represents God. What does that mean? LOL

But, I would never consider the Sacred Heart image to be good art but that's just my opinion.

Tree said...

Sunil, I don't remember if I mentioned it to you here but I re-opened my blog the other day. Lots of new stuff posted so you can see how weird I really am ;-)

Sunil said...

Tree: Doesn't influential imply changing the course of how we think about things and how we do things?

Me: Good question - my response would be that images that reinforce beliefs have remained influential for thousands of years and still its subliminal effects are ever more influential and proselytizing - (see the rise of the evangelicals today, I am not sure if 100 years back Christians in America would have predicted the current surge and re-interpretations). Even if paintings like this do not have a direct effect, they sure do have a deeper subliminally indirect effect and I think that commenter was quite right in stating the obvious...

I did look at your blog and you are certainly an interesting person...

MilitaryRaiden said...

I agree with the commentator's remark about the lack of any significant influence of many of the abovementioned works of art.
agree in part actually - I don't care much about the badly painted image of christ but I'm quite sure that many others do.
The fact is though that the visual arts of the past did have a significant impact - admitedly even in a subconcious level but there was an impact nonetheless which could be keenly felt.
But the visual artists have for some time now relinquished any and all relations with what used to be their very goal: the recreation and interpretation of the visible and in some case the invisible of the world in which we live.
It wasn't so long ago that the art of painting was a school that taught us how to perceive the world around us.
Without the Arts we would still choose to be clothed in skins of animals without any kind of artifice to make one look presentable.
It was the Arts and human artifice that has given an image to our various gods and it was the Arts that made lavish or even rustic homes at the very least out of our initial choice of dwelling in the caves.
And it has always been the Arts that taught us how to perceive the world around us.
Not anymore though...
Popular culture is now the lens through which the world can see itself and reflect upon its findings.
All the arts can do for quite sometime now is be as boring as watching paint dry - and pretend that everybody else gives a toss...