Although it may appear peripheral to much of the population, it is significant to each of us that the art world, meaning the gallery, museum and collecting industry, does not serve us as culture. Part of it is because it is big business, which does not want our participation; the other part is because we, as a nation do not provide education for the appreciation or value of art as cultural function.
For this and many other reasons the institutions in our civilization are showing signs of fragility; forward thinkers are grappling with how to create paradigms that are appropriate for a new relationship, to our selves, each other, and the planet, experiencing how the old paradigms of economics, education, religion and politics are not ecologically sustainable in the context of the individual, the collective, nor the planet. Our cultural institutions have to a large extent been co-opted by a branch of the entertainment industry and financed by the market place. Art, literature, performance, music and the visual arts, call for collective participation because, at its core, it is a meaning making process, which defines our relationship to reality. Art in terms of relationship is in dire need of revision. It needs to be demystified, that is, taken out of the hands of the elite and put back into the hands of the people.
The post modern assumption of ‘art for art’s sake’ is grounded in the idea that art in general has no useful role to play in society. Part of the mystification is that art, with a specific message, is not high art. To move from the subjective individualism of the current western populace to a value-based art that relates to context as a whole, is a challenging shift. It requires a re-mything, on a collective level, demanding a transformation of understanding as radical as the concepts in quantum physics that are shaking the world of science. Art critic and social thinker Suzi Gablik determines that we need to step out beyond the “modern traditions of mechanism, positivism, empiricism, rationalism, materialism, secularism and scientism---the whole objectifying consciousness of Enlightenment---in a way that allows for a return of soul.”
In the art world and very likely in many other institutions there are two counter movements in response to the dysfunctional paradigms; one is deconstructive and the other is reconstructive. The seminal art theologian, Jean Baudrillard, maintains that the first revolution in art, in the twentieth century was the deconstruction of the image and the second, the deconstruction of meaning. David Salle is an example of an artist who claims that his images are without reference; his paintings deal with ‘spectacle’, not with meaning. Barbara Kruger is an artist who uses art to reconstruct; she reflects with irony back to the consumer culture with photomontage and slogans on rented billboards, exposing advertising ploys like: BUY ME, IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE.
Reconstructive postmodernism theory in art challenges the materialistic worldview in an effort to awaken the sense of responsibility and participation; it seeks to engage in possible solutions. (See article by Denis Dutton on Leo Tolstoy’s What is Art?) Gablik describes reconstructive art as having a desire for “re-rooting ourselves in the cosmos, realizing the bodily unity of ourselves and the world,” she offers that deconstruction and reconstruction cannot remain polarized but must find a way to work together. For a glimpse into the world of reconstruction art, ending ironically, with a graphic vision of how the current art world functions, see the movie Exit Through The Gift Shop.
The holistic paradigm is revolutionary in that it focuses out to the edges of duality into a context of wholeness. In classic art, through post modern era, there is a gulf between the observer, who does not participate, and the object of focus. Through quantum physics and spiritual practice we are coming to understand that we are the world even as we create it, and it is no longer possible for the viewer to be separate from it. Our social reality reflects what we carry within. Society is just as creative as we are and we can no longer pass it to an elite board of representatives; be it medical doctors, museums curators, art critics, corporate executives or members of congress. Right now we are especially in need of innovation to re-create our social fabric.
The art industry is possibly just another branch of the capitalistic patriarch, functioning in domination, which makes it almost impossible to give rise to a visionary voice from within. The new paradigm of art reflects the need to change from object to relationship. Art with social value includes art related to ecology, politics and social issues. There are movements outside the art world; one is by self taught artists, called Art Brut or Outsider Art. Some of this is folk art, but there is a wide spectrum including the art of inmates, institutionalized patients and other marginalized populations. Gablik maintains, however, that these are only a sideshow because healthy functional art movements are not possible without a re-structuring at the core.
Gablik also asserts that there is now no functional avant-garde of counterculture which challenges mainstream thought in relation to art, but is merely one of the many side attractions. The New York deconstuctive artist and art critic Ronald Jones contends that no real change can occur in the art world while the art industry controls it; it even controls the illusion of change. Gablik speaks with irony in saying, “commodity fetishism is the distinguishing mark of our culture, and the artist’s consciousness has been fatally enriched with this knowledge.” Object as commodity has relationship to the market, but not to the world, in our society, culture just may have become a commodity, a situation referred to as cultural inauthenticity.