How to understand the value of modern art

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Modern art helps create freedom for people by challenging conventional thinking. In this article I broadly outline the development of abstract art and conclude with reflections and examples on how …

Modern art helps create freedom for people by challenging conventional thinking. In this article I broadly outline the development of abstract art and conclude with reflections and examples on how abstract art relates specifically to our modern era.

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  • 1. How  to  understand  the  value  of  challenging   modern  art     By  Simon  Brushfield       This  creative  article  will  help  you  understand  the  origins  of  abstract  art.       It  will  give  you  greater  confidence  to  evaluate  and  feel  comfortable  with   challenging  or  weird  modern  art.       Below,  I  broadly  outline  the  development  of  abstract  art  and  conclude   with  reflections  and  examples  on  how  abstract  art  relates  specifically  to   our  modern  era.         Here’s  the  main  point  of  the  article….     Point  1.  Abstract  art  helps  create  freedom  for  people  by  challenging   conventional  thinking.         ‘Fountain’  sculpture  created  in  1917  by  Marcel  Duchamp.     The  work  presented  an  enormous  challenge  to  conventional     thinking  about  what  exactly  is  art?       In  our  instantly  accessible  modern  era,  digital  photography  is  taken  for   granted,  it’s  difficult  to  imagine  in  previous  generations  photography  once   didn’t  exist.    
  • 2.   Painting  and  drawing  was  once  the  only  way  to  capture  and  record  real   life.  People  believed  the  best  art  must  look  real.       Point  1.  Therefore,  master  artists  like  Rembrandt  or  Rubens  were   greatly  admired  in  high  Renaissance  society.       The  intricate  detail  of  horses  in  battle  and  aristocratic  portraits  of  noble   kings  and  queens  were  only  accessible  by  the  wealthy  class.  The  gap   between  the  rich  and  poor  was  enormous.     In  contrast  to  the  instantly  accessible  digital  photography  of  today,   creating  a  realistic  painting  during  the  Renaissance  was  extremely  time   consuming  and  very  expensive.     But  the  industrial  revolution  and  modernist  thinking  changed  everything.       Photography  developed.  And  the  printing  press  too.  Suddenly  factories   were  able  to  print  and  distribute  images  and  information  on  a  wide  scale.       The  poor  became  more  educated.       A  middle  class  developed  and  commodities  were  produced  on  mass  scale.   Goods  became  less  expensive.     Point  2.  Modernism  encouraged  the  spread  of  new  ideas,  freedom  of   thought  and  extensive  commercial  progress.       With  new  modern  ways  of  thinking,  abstract  art  began  to  flourish  too.       It  offered  greater  freedom  for  innovative  artists  like  Picasso.  Abstract  art   is  common  today,  however  it  wasn’t  always  a  popular  way  of  thinking.       Early  abstract  artists  encountered  great  difficulty  breaking  through  the   public  mindset.  People  had  grown  comfortable  with  paintings  that  looked   real.       Point  3.  The  traditional  mindset  is  always  resistant  to  change.     One  famous  modernist  piece  of  abstract  art  by  Marcel  Duchamp  was   painted  in  1912  and  titled  ‘Nude  descending  the  staircase’  pictured  below.       It  caused  great  controversy.  
  • 3.   ‘Nude  Descending  a  Staircase’  (1912)     by  Marcel  Duchamp.  Oil  on  Canvas     147  cm  ×  89.2  cm  Philidelphia  Museum  of  Art     The  painting  and  the  artist  are  famous  for  encountering  massive   opposition  and  public  outcry,  so  much  so,  that  Marcel  Duchamp  removed   his  painting  from  the  wall  midway  through  the  exhibition.       He  later  focussed  upon  playing  chess  abandoning  the  art  world  all   together.     One  New  York  Times  critic  disdainfully  wrote  the  painting  looked  like  ‘an   explosion  in  a  shingle  factory’  hence  the  reference  to  factories  –  a  concept   dominant  in  the  minds  of  people  living  during  the  industrial  revolution.       However,  there  is  an  element  of  truth  to  the  critic’s  comment.  It’s  no   coincidence  that  Duchamp’s  painting  contains  visual  elements  similar  to   the  rhythmic  repetitive  nature  of  a  machine  in  operation.       Point  4.  The  mass  production  of  industrial  life  was  changing  the  way   people  perceived  themselves.     During  the  industrial,  or  shall  we  say  modernist  era,  three  towering   figures  of  modern  art  arose.    
  • 4.   Matisse  (1869-­‐1954)  Picasso  and  Duchamp  who  helped  define  a  new   visual  direction  and  entirely  new  way  of  thinking,  in  turn  giving  validity  to   the  liberating  ideas  underpinning  abstract  art.       The  history  of  art  provides  a  long  list  of  artists  who  changed  public   thinking  altering  the  dominant  status  quo  in  society.       Point  5.  Artists  have  long  played  the  role  of  provoking  society,  being   the  instigators  of  change  and  challenging  conventional  thinking.       Art  is  a  culturally  acceptable  vehicle  for  change.     Duchamp,  Picasso  and  Matisse  were  often  ridiculed  for  challenging   conventional  thinking.  Their  abstract  style  of  paintings,  were   frighteningly  bold  for  the  time  and  excessively  unrealistic.       Their  innovative  artwork  was  difficult  for  the  public  to  accept  as  genuine   art  during  the  1900’s.  Challenging  new  ideas  from  visionary  artists   provoked  society’s  dominant  traditional  mindset.         ‘The  Joy  of  Life’  by  Henri  Matisse  (1905)  Oil  on  Canvas  175  x  241cm       The  shape  and  form  of  Matisse’s  paintings  conveyed  powerful  emotional   force.  Heavily  influenced  by  traditional  paintings,  Matisse  was  also   inspired  by  his  contemporaries  Gaugin,  Cezanne  and  Van  Gogh  who  also   used  colour  excessively.          
  • 5. Point  3.  Matisse’s  use  of  colour  astounded  people.  He  is  considered   one  of  the  founding  fathers  of  modern  art.       Never  before  had  a  painter  been  so  pure  in  his  approach  to  colour.  He   quickly  became  known  for  his  radical  position  and  always  displayed  signs   of  quiet  rebelliousness  during  his  artistic  career.       Matisse  was  in  constant  search  for  freedom.       His  life  parallels  the  history  of  modern  art,  which  can  be  interpreted  as  a   continual  struggle  to  break  free.  Eliminating  barriers  of  constraint.  A   pattern  typified  by  the  history  of  modern  art.  Matisse  once  said,     “An  artist  must  never  be  a  prisoner.  Prisoner?  An  artist  should  never  be  a   prisoner  of  himself,  prisoner  of  style,  prisoner  of  reputation,  prisoner  of   success…”  –  Henri  Matisse     Breaking  from  traditions  of  the  past,  Matisse  led  an  art  movement  called   the  ‘Fauves’  in  1905.  Meaning  ‘the  wild  beasts’.  This  title  referred  to  the   group’s  use  of  extreme  emotionalism,  vivid  colours  and  distorted  shapes.       Predictably,  the  Fauves  first  exhibition  brought  a  hostile  public  response.   One  critic  wrote,  ‘A  pot  of  paint  has  been  flung  in  the  face  of  the  public’       Henri  Matisse,  Les  toits  de  Collioure,  1905,  oil  on  canvas,     The  Hermitage,  St.  Petersburg,  Russia      
  • 6. Point  4.  When  artists  express  a  vision  people  have  never  seen   before,  great  opposition  and  vehement  criticism  often  follows.     Here’s  3  things  I  love  most  about  abstract  art.       Firstly,  in  every  sense,  abstract  art  is  liberating.  Unpredictable  and   uncontrollable,  it  challenges  people  to  think  differently  on  a  variety  of   levels.  Especially  questioning  the  concept  of  commercial  value.       Many  people  struggle  to  understand  someone  would  pay  thousands,  even   millions  of  dollars,  for  what  looks  like  a  child’s  painting.  Matisse   understood  how  people  thought  in  his  day,  but  he  didn’t  allow  it  to  stifle   his  creative  progress.       Power  5.  Matisse  understood  the  infinite  power  and  longevity  of   ideas  to  overcome  restrictions  created  by  narrow-­‐minded  thinking.     I  love  creating  abstract  paintings.  And  can  never  predict  results.  There  is   freedom  in  relaxing  and  ‘going  with  the  flow.’  Allowing  the  paint  control   the  direction  of  the  artwork.       In  this  process,  the  subconscious  mind  is  free  to  express  what  needs  to  be   expressed.       There  have  been  many  paintings  and  drawings  I  have  created  whereby  an   image  has  emerged  I  had  no  conscious  control  in  bringing  it  to  life.  As  an   artist,  this  is  fascinating  to  observe.       The  most  famous  psychoanalyst  Carl  Jung  once  taught,  the  subconscious   mind  expresses  deeply  intuitive,  often  important  messages  to  people   through  archetypes.  Likewise,  Matisse  emphasised  the  importance  of   intuition  and  instinct  in  the  creative  process.     Similar  to  abstract  art,  the  subconscious  mind  creates  abstracted   fragmented  messages  unfamiliar  to  the  conscious  mind  and  difficult  to   process  through  logical  conventional  thinking.       Abstract  art  accommodates  for  the  unpredictability  and  irrationality  of   the  human  mind.     Point  5.  Matisse  believed  he  was  not  in  control  but  that  colour  and   form  dictated  the  painting  themselves.     The  second  thing  I  love  about  abstract  art  is  the  variety  of  responses  it   evokes  from  viewers.  Some  people  simply  love  the  shapes.  Other  people   are  drawn  in  by  an  emotional  reaction  to  colour.       Still  others  have  very  personal  interpretations  of  the  subject  matter,   discovering  specific  meaning  to  their  inner  lives.    
  • 7.   Abstract  art  offers  unique  value  to  individuals.  It  respects  and  encourages   diversity.  Honouring  people’s  different  perspectives.         ‘The  Peninsula’  by  Simon  Brushfield  (2010)  oil  &  acrylic  on  canvas,  2m  x  1.8m     (Sold:  Private  Collection)     In  the  painting  above  I  was  commissioned  by  an  Australian  art  collector,   who  wanted  a  large  abstract  piece  for  his  lounge  room.       Like  Matisse,  the  painting  contains  a  mix  of  realistic  and  unrealistic   emotive  colour  and  highly  personal  imaginative  subject  matter  symbolic   of  the  owner’s  background  and  childhood  by  the  sea.       Point  6.  Unlike  mathematics,  in  abstract  art  there  are  no  right  or   wrongs.     Matisse  pursued  emotional  meaning  in  his  art  and  was  not  afraid  to  make   mistakes.       He  used  colour  with  powerful  intent,  striving  for  artistic  freedom  desiring   to  express  the  purity  of  colour  in  life.  He  acknowledged  difficulties   encountered  and  saw  art  as  a  means  of  bringing  hope  and  happiness  into   a  troubled  world.  He  once  said,     “What  I  dream  of  is  an  art  of  balance,  purity,  and  serenity  devoid  of   troubling  or  depressing  subject  matter….a  soothing,  calming  influence  on  
  • 8. the  mind,  something  like  a  good  armchair  which  provides  relaxation  from   physical  fatigue”  –  Henri  Matisse     I  love  Matisse’s  paintings  because  he  boldly  declares  hope  -­‐  despite  what   others  think.       His  life  and  art  display  courage,  a  fierce  determination  and  skilful  ability   to  break  through  into  new  territory,  leaving  behind  a  legacy  of  artistic  and   personal  freedom  for  others  to  enjoy.     Point  7.  Modern  art  epitomises  the  human  spirit  and  its  desire  to   breakthrough  traditional  barriers  into  greater  regions  of  freedom.       Matisse  was  keen  to  disable  constraining  influences  and  use  art  to  bring   light  and  clarity  to  a  foggy  world  that  he  believed  was  sometimes  too   depressing  and  colourless.       From  my  perspective,  the  Matisse  legacy  encourages  people  to  live  life  to   the  fullest  in  bright  beautiful  colour  even  through  difficulties,  criticism   and  vehement  opposition.       Matisse  is  considered  a  father  figure  of  modern  art.       He  was  an  intuitive  artist  who  accepted  gracefully  the  challenging   consequences  of  living,  loving  and  thinking  in  new  ways.  Allowing  nothing   to  halt  his  creative  progress.     Matisse  once  said,  “He  who  loves,  flies,  runs  and  rejoices;  he  is  free   and  nothing  holds  him  back.”       Matisse  lived  and  worked  during  a  time  of  great  change  in  the  way  people   lived  and  thought,  termed  ‘Modernism.’  An  era  heavily  influenced  by  the   industrial  revolution.       Today,  we  live  in  a  similar  time  of  significant  change,  characterised  by  the   information  age.  Historians  have  broadly  labelled  our  time   ‘Postmodernism’.       The  abstract  painting  below  is  a  visual  interpretation  of  living  my  life   during  the  postmodernist  era.    
  • 9.   ‘Postmodernism’  by  Simon  Brushfield  (2011)     Oil  and  Acrylic  on  Canvas  80cm  x  60cm  (framed)                                       For  more  interesting  articles  on  art  and  creativity  visit  the  website   www.simonbrushfield.com  or  contact  Simon  on  the  details  below…     email:  simon@simonbrushfield.com     twitter:  @simonbrushfield  facebook:  simon.brushfield     google  plus:  simonbrushfield  pinterest:  simonbrushfield