Will Gompertz laments “sculptures and paintings that should have no connections with the formal history of art” are all over the place and this at the 2013 Venice Biennale no less! His explanation for this phenomenon is that this is “a reaction against the increasing commodification of art”. I would echo Gompertz’s tone of disdain but I do not wholly buy his explanation. My suspicion is that professional artists have been unwittingly complicit in this high profile entry of what Gompertz labels “outsider art”.
Art, not without the complicity of those within the artistic discipline, has shifted focus from communication and polished execution to expression. By expression I mean this current trend of creatively baring your soul and revealing your inner person and the association of these elements with purity and being real. Expression in art has become dominant at the expense of communication and execution. Ideally all three plus a host of other elements within the artistic discipline should be equal partners within an artist’s repertoire. It is easy to identify the absence of execution, for example, in a work. You can be sure execution has failed when a member of the viewing public quips: “I could do that! In fact my 5 year old can do that!” In valuing expression over execution many artists belie the serious and considered thought process that has gone into their art.
In many cases expression coupled with the arrested state of conception has led to misconception. A lot of misconception in art has come about by many getting the wrong end of the stick with regards to Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain and the misunderstanding of, for example, Vincent Van Gogh’s madness. Yes Van Gogh was mad but his artistic practice was not therapy, in fact according to the presentations of the respected art critic Robert Hughes, he of The Shock of the New fame, Van Gogh painted in his sane moments and not in the midst, or because, of his dark periods. However for many, due to a misunderstanding of Van Gogh, therapeutic art equals baring your soul, which in turn equals pure and honest art. Van Gogh painted because he wanted to be an artist and not because he was mad. He was all about the discipline of an artist.
Within the discipline of artists is the remit to; communicate a serious message, show us new ways of doing things, reveal novel ways of seeing the world or doing all of the above simultaneously. In the process of doing any of the above, that an artist reveals a bit of herself or himself is inevitable and undisputed. However the belief that art is all about a biographical rending of the soul has to be questioned. Furthermore the idea that anyone, in all their psychotic glory, with the audacity to reveal their inner-self can simply wander onto being an artist needs to be challenged. Going forward it is either artists stake their claim at the centre of culture and society as practitioners of a discipline or they loose their relevance along with the validity of their profession and education!
By Depo Olukotun