When people ask me about my hobbies, or about the way I spend my free time, I usually answer (not without feeling a bit proud) that I enjoy painting. Many of my friends are professional artists, I took lessons from them, and gradually became a rather good painter for an amateur. I even had several exhibitions in my town’s galleries. Art is a subject I have a keen interest in, and I consider myself competent in; I can enjoy both classic and avant-garde art. But what I cannot understand, no matter how much I try, is a phenomenon called contemporary art.
I have been attending contemporary art events rather often, and I have figured out three main categories of art presented at such exhibitions. The first category focuses on shock. Racism, violence, sexual content, nihilism, cynicism, and all kinds of perversions—this is what one can expect when someone attends an ultra-modern and conceptual artist’s exposition. Among the most impressing—in a negative kind of way—I can mention certain works by Andres Serrano, or “The Holy Virgin Mary” by Chris Ofili; both of them are considered religiously insulting. The website “Possession” introduces a half-joking formula for American shock art: use the sum of feces and religious symbols multiplied by media as a numerator, and a right-wing politician as a denominator (Possession). Shock art can insult or cause disgust, but it is not art in its original meaning; I think if a person wants to offend their audience, they might call them names, humiliate them, or manifest aggression towards them. The effect would be greater.
The next category of contemporary art is what I call extra-conceptual art. By this term, I mean that a piece of art bears such complex and implicit meaning that it is only the artists themselves who can understand their work (not always, though). Martin Heidegger, one of the most influential and famous philosophers of the 20th century, was confused about certain points of his own philosophy. Similarly, sometimes I have a feeling many modern artists have no idea about the meaning of their own oeuvre. For me, the best example of such extra-conceptual art is Damien Hirst’s “For the Love of God.” This is a skull made of platinum and diamonds, which costs 100 million dollars. Obviously, Hirst had put some meaning into it. But what was it?
The third category is art that aims to be completely meaningless. This kind of contemporary art does not carry any aesthetic value, it will not fit into your interior—it simply exists. Its only function is to fill empty spaces on the walls in art galleries. A Monaco-based art dealer Mr. David Nahmad in his interview with the British newspaper “Independent” claimed that modern art is a fraud in most cases (Independent). Looking at some pieces of contemporary art, I agree with this thesis. The brightest example of meaningless art for me is a video artwork by Tracey Emin, which depicts an average-looking woman riding a horse. No notable objects appearing, no culmination or introduction. Perhaps, you should be a genius to notice any other meaning in this artwork, except a woman riding a horse.
Despite my sincere and deep interest in art—from classic to avant-garde—I am not afraid to admit that I completely do not get contemporary art. In my perspective, it looks either shocking, or ultra-complex, or meaningless. Though I may remember the most shocking or senseless artworks, I would rather forget about their existence.
“The User-Friendly Guide to Shock Art.” Possession. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Sept. 2013. <http://www.possessionsessions.com/2008/11/user-friendly-guide-to-shock-art.html>.
Johnson, Andrew. “Contemporary Art is a Fraud, Says Top Dealer.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 22 Feb. 2009. Web. 04 Sept. 2013. <http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/news/contemporary-art-is-a-fraud-says-top-dealer-1628929.html>.
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Writing a Reflective Essay
In other words, do not make the deadly mistake of researching a topic and merely describing it (or stating the obvious) without stating an argument of some kind. Also avoid the mistake students often make of simply restating someone else's ideas and viewpoints without mapping out in the introduction what direction your paper will take through a thesis statement. Make sure that you establish what you will be arguing or setting out to show in your essay and use your sources to prove your points. Next week, I will be posting on the importance of outlining your paper before beginning the writing process to help map your argument. In the case of fine and performing art papers, you will also have the chance to add your own personal reading of the images/films/performances (in addition to the sources you find on the topic) to help prove your thesis through visual evidence.
You must state an argument about your topic in order to have a good thesis statement such as:
"Duchamp's Fountain (1917) is a pivotal work of the Dada movement and establishes many of its important features".
Is this a thesis statement?:
“Marcel Duchamp is associated with the Dada movement and created Fountain (1917)”
NO, it is simply a statement and not opinionated in any way
Is this a thesis statement?:
“Marcel Duchamp’s work Fountain (1917) is a pivotal work of the Dada movement and establishes many of the important features associated with Dada art.”
YES, it is a statement that is opinionated and sets forth an argument