These questions were put by hundreds of thousands of viewers for tens of years at world festivals of fine art in all the countries. We have been asking them at international festivals in Europe, e.g. at Documenta in Kassel or Biennale di Venezia, we are asking again and again as well as searching information on the Internet.
We must admit that there are great differences between conations of single art generations, at least since apprenticeship changed to master period – and nowadays younger and younger artists, sometimes even students, become – thanks to curators – awardees and signposts at crossroads of artistic styles. The sense of activities of current art streams is purely different from previous generations, even the still living old generation has a different understanding of it.
Theorizing would not lead to the answer at all, so I will give several concrete examples, which could help you to find it individually in your own inner world.
The first example is taken from art education for future teachers: from 1972, I worked with children and youth in creative courses, later with students of art education at the university in Olomouc. Around 1994 our department involved in an international educational program TEMPUS, we cooperated with two other European art schools. Every single school hosted groups of students and teachers from the two other schools. Therefore, one day tens of foreign students came to our department. We had scores of drawings by my students from the first and second grade hanged on the walls. Students from Netherlands and Great Britain saw something like this for the first time in their life (!) and could not believe that our students are taught these skills and that students of their age could draw like this. They came to me and wanted to see some other works by my students. I prepared a presentation for our guests.
It was a great experience both for them and for me. Students, speaking German and English, were eyeing every sketch, every study, marveled at them and could not believe there is a way to visualize their imagination without using electronic equipment. They looked up to colorful and fancy compositions or nudes and they took pictures of each work. They told me quite tragic news that their schools do not teach drawing at all, they never held a pen, charcoal or even a brush in hand, that they only know how to use camera, camcorder and computer. After three weeks of creative work, they had a presentation of their activity – several videos and many photos.
Is this is the total score of "Western" culture that sweeps forward us by all means?
Could you find a better evidence of what do easy and comfortable technologies offer and where does misconceived power of civilization lead? Instead of developing creative abilities in childhood – which is the most important age of man’s development – we support the youth in using a uniform mechanical principle of a machine. This leads to uniform style of expression, dependent on the materialist point of view, on a mere repeating of materially existing things, on mere documentation of visible situations, which were previously covered by movie and photography schools. Now their role is being replaced by art schools and groups from all over the world and they create a uniform visual style that is spreading around the globe regardless of national culture, without feeling their specificities, and utterly without taking into account the abilities and inclinations of individuals.
Abundance of videos and photos were indeed characteristic for the Biennale di Venezia and Documenta in Kassel since the seventies. Gradually the galleries in the world and also in our country have replaced paintings and sculptures by large-format or small-format photo series, dark boots with projection of movies (which are already being watched by no one). From this UNIVERSAL SIGHT we can deduce tens of years of degradation of education by art and to art, based on leaving carefully developed procedures of human creative skill, even the most valuable skill – human imagination, which was that respected by Albert Einstein. Young men must learn, instead of easy and natural pencil or charcoal drawing, which can be done anytime and anywhere, how to use expensive equipment dependent on batteries, on energy, on complicated machines, on computers. They must teach their eyes how to use viewfinder. They increase and confirm their dependence on the external world. They no longer deal with mysterious alchemy of colors, it is replaced by alchemy of the dark boots. They do not learn to care about their own inner world, the fragile web of ideas and dreams, which their souls would like to show them, they do not learn to see and experience - and they even do not know that such a world exists.
It is necessary to realize it and start thinking if there ever was any such a long lasting and violent genocide like this GLOBAL GENOCIDE OF ARTISTIC SOUL OF EVERY SINGLE MAN.
We have continuously moved from education of young artists to another specific example how to realize the sense of current fine art:
Year by year, at great international festivals we can notice INCREASING UNIFORMITY OF EXPRESSION, a uniform art style from Los Angeles to Kamchatka – including Africa, China and Japan. In many dark booths, movies whose noisy sounds confusingly overfill completely the space are screened, on the walls, hundreds of photos with more and more drastic expression are hanged. For example at Biennale di Venezia series of photos of human suffering in the Vietnam War exhibited in Apert was awarded, although forty years went by from that historic situation. Does anybody think about the sense of this purpose, of the conation of the artist, who wants to shock vulnerable and innocent visitors as much as possible, bring them to intense feeling of despair springing from unexplainable cruelty of mankind?
I think that the most drastic example has similar roots: a bisected cow and a calf pickled in formaldehyde in large vitreous showcases – an “artwork” by Damian Hirst. Several years ago this piece filled many people with fright at Biennale di Venezia. The wave of style and feeling decadence deepens and there will an exhibition of such decadence at the Rudolfinum Gallery in Prague.
The third example: please, notice how looking on sense and function of artistic work right in Venice and how that affected art feeling of young generations in whole the Europe and in the world. It is just CURATOR SYSTEM of Venetian Biennale, which has affected both international and national institutions organizing festivals of contemporary art.
Not only strictly set choosing of certain artists by just one curator but especially the fact that board of curators is wholly changed every year, contribute to helpless of common viewers. By this change, also the content, style and characteristics of exhibited contemporary art are changed – erratic streams are presented, although technologies are similar and every curator states his selection. After two years, it is gone in spite of whole the hard preparation and installation of such monstrous festivals cost a lot of money.
Now I ask: Who cares what such presentations of contemporary art can do to the PSYCHE OF VIEWERS? With what feelings do they leave such monstrous festivals – and what about young students of art schools? What can they rely on?
I have learned a lot about foregoing described methodical procedure of curatorial work from many information materials provided at a special opening of the Biennale di Venezia for academics, artists and gallery owners before the public opening. Now the fourth example: an insight into the social situation surrounding creation of artificial NEW LEGEND AND TRENDS in contemporary art.
I had an opportunity to visit that special opening at the BIENALLE DI VENEZIA thanks to poet Věra Jirousová, which had invited me to a bus full of our artists and art theorists – so that I could experience a different social attitude to that all what was being shown.
Every visitor got a booklet with detailed information about how the Biennale was organized, about all the curators and single national presentations. Besides theorists, also stable benefactors and collectors were counted among specialists. They were among good many photographing publicists and newspapermen with mikes dressed in very crafty clothing, they were crowding at receptions and around exhibited artworks and lively talking and picking out. Therefore, we could at least partly catch different roles of fine art and understand effects rising from that. We could taste practices of a world, we were not used to, and which was just creating new artistic myths, celebrities and styles. It was a world of elegant secret business, which could be beautiful and also entertaining, adventurous and dramatic.
Our finding that an individual artist, his opinion and quality of his artworks are not as important as work of curator, whose views are widely presented by media, is understood as obvious even among our art theorists.
An obvious example of curator system is an exhibition dramaturgy of a newly open Gallery of Central Bohemia Region (GASK) in lately adopted Jesuit College in Kutná Hora. Primarily, permanent exhibitions of artworks from the gallery collection should take the majority of place, but it was reduced to half of one floor, with a promise of three exchanges of expositions during next two years. The gallery management openly says: “The main aim is not to show the best pieces, but to show the real purchase policy” (Art Antique 5/2000, p. 12).
We common visitors would truly want to see the best what can the gallery offer. However, which theorist of the GASK from Transit and Display associations cares about visitors’ interests and opinions?
Whole the third floor was taken by an exhibition of current conceptual art from a collection of Ernste Group, its curator was Dr. Jiří Ševčík. He also is a member of a purchase committee of this bank and so he asserted an exhibition, which in fact is a copy of exhibitions exhibited in last half a century on the West. The curator will definitely state his case, but what can a spectator do for example with a series of fiberboard slides splashed by plaster or with scarps of moldings found in site and hanged on clean white walls of a newly renovated baroque palace? When I was browsing the gallery with a colleague on that day, there was nobody in that floor. In spite of that it was Saturday. We skipped dark booths with screened movies – they are all the same across the world. For a sensitive man or young people can be mind-boggling that somebody is able to offer scrap material for aesthetic perception and present it as an artwork. It was performed one hundred years ago once and for all by Marcel Duchamp, it is proved and notorious that it was just a prank.
Why is it necessary to copy this idea and collectively create such works from garbage for tens of years? Is such a mischief making an art creation? Does it rise from a mental need or is it a pathologic symptom of in authors’ psyche?
Is an exhibition of such a collection – demonstration of bad taste of a curator? Why should a spectator watch things he does not cope with and why are big amounts of money invested in this way?
On the basis of talks with attendants of many exhibitions and festivals both in our country and abroad, I dare say it is more than time for art theorists and curators to begin seriously dealing with separating pathologic symptoms in art from those, which obey creative inspiration and reply to the needs of healthy mental development of the greater part of population. The fact is that art expressions of young generation arise from pathologic bas of feeling and thinking and young people are supported by their teachers at universities in this. Years ago, I have heard from a painting teacher in one of the Czech art universities a saying “The fouler, the better…” Would not it be better to begin using common sense and taste what a common watcher can taste?
Seeking an answer to the question of the sense of contemporary art, I mean the importance, which it has for me as a viewer noticing its effect not only on all the senses but also on the inner spiritual system. Therefore, I refuse to feel and admit into my spiritual world such catastrophic works and expressions that have negative effect on the soul, that can cause disgust, prostration, fear and anxiety or tension, I also refuse works and expressions that are intentionally vague, incomprehensible, void or are created just for fun or as prank. Such creations abusing and humiliating soul of viewer I cannot consider being works of art, but only pathological phenomena.
For centuries, philosophers and scientists have taught us that our civilization is based on the order. Our industrial technologies and agriculture must follow certain rules, systems. Scientific progress is based on physics, mathematics, cybernetics or chemistry, our machines and our homes are built in accordance to certain laws. Our daily world, whether we like it or not, is based upon complying with order. From the history of art, we know that since the ancient history of mankind artistic work has had an important sense for spiritual development of man and for accenting the relationship with cosmic intelligence, widely understood divinity. I am conscious of that for thousands of years fine art has influenced stately forms of places intended for collective spiritual meetings - churches and temples. Therefore, even today, we should recognize the true meaning of art and the real value of its grand mission in the field of creation of spiritual worlds for present and future generations.
Even today, artist can build home for our spirit, to help strengthen soul of every sensitive man by good ideas, he can also fill most various spiritual needs of man: hunger and thirst for harmony, peace, calmness, joy, wisdom or friendly understanding with others.
Art works do not have to be sewer of the worst content what can be found in man, but rather a channel for receiving light, power and energy. Art and its research becomes a partner of today's science, which constitute human existence on this planet. Doc D. Puchnarová, an artist