Sir Isaac Newton wrote that if he had seen further than others, it was because he’d stood on the shoulders of Giants. Since that time, we as a species have climbed exponentially higher, to heights undreamed of, and now pat ourselves on the back while we stagnate. We have arrived at this pinnacle of human achievement not by our own works, but by those of our forefathers, yet the methods of those who got us here are disdained as outdated and obsolete. It reminds me of the typical American college student, who takes money from his parents with one hand while flipping them off with the other, and this summarizes, I feel, the art of today.
Since fin de siecle and the beginning of the last century, quite a few pompous "manifestos violently rejecting the past" challenged the established values and changed the face of the art world so that people of little or no talent could also be included. Since then we’ve been inflicted with mountebanks making a pretence of being artists, abetted by charlatans making a pretence of being art critics, all of them playing at a charade claiming that paint splashed on canvases without any regard for form or color or substance signifies some kind of elusive talent. Out of that comes an audience of lemmings arguing the relative merits of different types of drivel and trying to one-up each other in their praise of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Anyone capable of free thought who calls this exactly what it is, well, "merely doesn’t get it". These manifestos for defiance of set rules in art, poetry, and literature have been steadily denouncing every guideline there is under the assumption that defiance of rules is somehow new. A generation always disdains the previous one as if the parents are ignorant and the children are plugged into something of which anyone older is clueless. We claim that times are changing, but examining history shows the same patterns in tedious repetition.
What we seem to have forgotten is that those established "rules" came out of millennia of trial and error, that all this experimenting that characterizes the past century was already tried and found wanting, that the reason we are where we are today is because our predecessors knew what they were doing. The ground was broken enough to bring us here, and all subsequent ground-breaking is merely a throwback to primitive attempts that failed and should be forgotten. And, since the novelty of being avant garde inevitably wears off, we go the way of the jaded. We degenerate and deviate for new ways to achieve the old feeling, and the quest for something fresh has strange horizons. A common argument supporting this pursuit is Freedom of Expression, but I’ve found we are so "tolerant" of "diversity" that anyone who expresses a belief not on an "approved reading list" is instantly condemned for being "intolerant". And that makes sense how? Those who take that argument prevent speech in the name of defending it, and backslide in the name of progress. Thinking for oneself and questioning authority has been perverted into defiance for defiance’s sake. It leads to crucifixes in jars of urine which, if Sacrilege isn’t allowed to be a condemnation anymore, at least falls under Bad Taste. It leads to Howard Stern saying "penis" on the air just because he was told he shouldn’t. So now we can all say "penis" on the air. Now what? Has anything improved? What has been gained? Nothing. Just "blah blah blah penis blah blah blah." It leads to Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol and Basquiat. It leads to garbage that is Art because it’s garbage.
We stand now far above the shoulders of Giants, but if we do not take advantage of that we will never see further than the tips of our noses. True, we are desensitized on the whole, but that should not be an excuse to wallow in deepening depravity, but rather an impetus to forge ahead. If we are so sophisticated now, why can’t we prove it? What’s become of subtlety? Where is the art with deeper meaning that isn’t mental masturbation? Can we not create pictures that truly are worth a thousand words?
I submit a rebuttal to all so-called art movements and manifestos of nihilism, a return to the rules with something of ourselves included, and for the sake of posterity name it the Oblique Movement. The word "oblique" is commonly defined as "slanting", but also as something "expressed indirectly, not straight to the point." An Oblique work of art would require subtlety and visual metaphors to communicate an idea; would be open to interpretation, but not frivolous interpretation; would rely on skill and technique with form and composition; and would actually communicate something. It must be complex enough to tell a story, but not so complex that it’s difficult to view. And it must not fall into the same hands of those who quibble in semantics and claim their art is too lofty to be understood by any but the most enlightened (read: lemming-like). It must require actual thought on the part of the artist, and invoke thought on the part of the audience.
What is art, all art, but a means of communication? Something must be expressed by the artist to the audience, or it is a waste of time and effort on both parts, and it must be expressed understandably rather than in the "Oh, you just don’t get it" style of high-minded poseurs. I am reminded of Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians, in which he says "Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played? For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle? So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken?" And this in turn calls to mind something a young woman once said of Jimi Hendrix, that "He was so far ahead of his time we may never understand him."
One of these two speaks to me of Art, and the other just noise.