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Sunday, 13 November 2011





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Government Gazette

Apocalypse of art

Change and transformation are inherent to life and society and that continuously invigorate ideas, feelings and imagination of the people. A new movement in art is evolved with the zeitgeist and that becomes the flag bearer of a change in the sensibility of a society. In other words, works of art evolved as part of a new movement in art delineate the character of a social condition.

Social history of a given culture narrates its history of art or vice versa. The contemporary developments in art also narrate the changing sensibility or the condition of our times. With the evolution and propagation of installations and digital art our notion of art as a specific entity that is sacrosanct and authentic is questioned and left us uncomfortable with hundreds of questions regarding what is art and what is not.

The idea of a work of art as an object that has some physical or commodity value that could be in the possession of an individual is completely neglected by most of the contemporary trends in art.


Infusing a culture with questions on the validity of the past notions is a cultural practice that instigates or reviews the space and time of the living and the lived. Of course, a resistance to new trends prevails in every society and it works as a balancing act in the cultural sphere for a society functions on evolved principles. That is what enables the cultural practices survive over the times.

Our object-oriented notion of art is nothing but a contribution of individualism formulated by Modernism. A philosophy that based on individualism can only be of a particular stratum of a society because becoming an individual means outgrowing a society. That means elitism was the crux of the philosophy of Modernism. Naturally, the works of art evolved out of such a philosophy became idiosyncratic, esoteric, and socially alien. Projecting work of art as a venerable, metaphysical and mystic object that has a special place in life Modernism catered to the taste of a few who monopolised cultural pursuits. However, when the world has become increasingly democratised and the aristocracy has lost its hold over societies individualism is forced to give way for a pluralistic and multicultural social order and philosophy. No wonder, then, art is moving towards the popular or folk from the esoteric and mystic sphere.


Modernism, when it reached its apex stage with Minimalism that refuted life and considered life as a pinnacle of boredom, was only exposing its own dead end. In art the White on White (1918) painting of Malevich is the classic example of Minimalist art. In literature, Waiting for Godot, the play written by Samuel Beckett could be seen as a veritable example of Minimalist point of view. The modernists observed life according to a point of view that was suitable to them and followed it as a norm. Modernism believed that one can only have a single point of view and one should dogmatically follow it all through one's life.

It is believed that no counter thoughts or arguments should be agreed upon for it devaluates the philosophy that one follows. For instance, a Marxist or an Existentialist can never take a stance counter to that philosophy even if such a stance is inevitable at some stage of life.

In other words, a Marxist or a Fascist never could believe in the counter viewpoints because the dogma that they follow does not have any space for the other. Sticking to the personal idiom of style became an accepted practice among the artists and those who did not follow a definite style were treated as heretics or outcasts in modern art.

Only Picasso could manage a multi-style oeuvre and continue to remain as an artist reckoned among the Modernists.


The apostles of Postmodernism argue that contrary to the reductionism of Modernism, Postmodernism celebrates life with a floating, product-oriented cultural philosophy that opposes all dogma. For it, anything and everything is acceptable.

It looks at the masses and evolves an art that does not bother for a signature style or something enduring in social life. Rather, it denies those values with which a work of art has been considered as work of art. In other words, as Jean-Francois Lyotard in his highly influential treatise titled The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge puts it, the work of art that a postmodern artist produces is not in principle governed by the pre-established rules, and that cannot be judged according to a determining judgement by applying familiar categories to the text or to the work for those categories are what the work of art itself is looking for.

The whole history of Modernism is of the denial of the common place or of the ordinary. It rejected the popular religious themes for portrait and landscape, then landscape and figure compositions for the abstract and the abstraction for the absolute minimal or conceptual art. It was negating whatever that had become popular as well as stale in the social milieu for changing the accepted sensibilities.


On the contrary, the postmodern artists accepted the popular and the ordinary and immersed themselves in it to create their art. All the meanings that were attached and preserved in the past were re-evaluated and by that, the postmodernists tried to discover the changes and diminution in all those values.

Even the very existence of an original work of art is questioned by technology. It is to be noted that such ideas about the technology originated at the time of High Modernism and Marcel Duchamp had given a concrete intimation of the future of the course of art while he placed a readymade urinal with a fake signature in a gallery. Walter Benjamin also tried to theorise lose of the aura of the original work of art in his seminal essay tilted The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.

When technology can reproduce a work of art with all the qualities and minute details of the original, and technology itself can be the cause and reason or medium of a work of art (for example Photography and Digital Art) the value that we have been hitherto attached with an original work of art has no more significant. This kind of non-signification of value is the major issue in all the philosophical circles today.

When meaning or value of a signifier is only a floating one, the work of art, in its aesthetic sense loses to be considered as a work of art. It becomes one among the trillions of signifiers that are searching for meanings at every given point of time. For example, an installation, installed in a particular place or gallery can be reproduced with all its material aspects and reinstalled in another place.

Then, it's meaning, the appeal, the ambience will be changing and thus the work of art itself becomes another one.


Further, our society, as Jean Beaudrillard observes, is on a mad pursuit of images and that irresistible epidemic process cannot be controlled by anyone.

Hence, an artist is forced to rethink his cultural existence as an image-maker for she or he is also contributing a bit more to this infinite multiplication of images. Do more images speak more?

In a society which realised that all the significations are floating and there is nothing permanent, there is no scope for any romantic emotion to clutch on to the past ideals and personal preferences.

As Modernism denied all the romantic values and emotional elements from the works of art in its entire course in history, and propagated an impersonal, non-emotional art practice, postmodernism celebrated such a detachment and fragmentation in art and life.

It may be noted that while earlier modernists such as T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound were lamenting the fragmentation of human life the postmodernists celebrate it. The Modernists were lamenting that all those values hitherto we were upholding in life are lost. When one states that, a deterioration of value is happening in life there is an assumption that life had been following higher values so far.

It is a method of glorifying the past. But, how can we judge that the values that we have been following hitherto were better than those which we now follow?


It is the judgement that matters. On what ground or truth-value we can judge something as good, or bad, or beautiful, or ugly, or a work of art or non-art! Who has the authority of, and what is the criterion of such a judgement? A judgement is exclusion but nobody has any right upon the other to exclude.

When Joseph Bueys declared that everyone is artist, he was not canonizing everybody as an artist, but denying the special significance and meaning of art and artists in a society.

Thus, Bueys denied art the special place it has been acceded in a society so far. Anything can be art and any one can be an artist.

The point of view makes something a work of art. In this time of proliferation of images, meanings and floating signifiers, there is no truth, value, and point of view that can be believed as the ultimate and the absolute.

All notions of the values, the absolute and the permanent are discarded and disregarded. Art is only one of the manifestations of the life we live.

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