Blog: Pausing Art History

Christine Alfery

Posted on November 29 2019

Critters in the Water by Christine Alfery

Featured image: Critters In The Water

Has the history of art stalled?  For as long as I can remember art history has moved the progress dial forward, challenging the historical assumptions linked to an art object, like method, media used, techniques, content, context and concept.  It challenged the how, what and where. 

That has changed.  When looking at the 1000’s upon 1000’s of so called art online, can I find anything, just anything that challenges the historical assumptions of the past? So, I ask, “Have we paused the history of art?  Is moving forward not important to creating, making, discovering and exploring?” I’m not sure how to think of it otherwise. Perhaps, someone else does.

So I look for a gem, a treasure and a one-of-a-kind unique original work of art.  It is difficult.  

Page after page I see color fields on paper and canvas.  Why is it that a color field today qualifies as a work of art?  Especially where there are twenty other works of art that look exactly like it.  How are we thinking differently about color fields today? Today we use color field art to coordinate with the décor in a room.  These fields of color are nothing more than a framed piece of wallpaper. They are not art. Color field began in the 40’s. Color field artists back then were interested in illuminating the emotional and mysterious.  They wanted to create a pure art form. Back in the 40’s this was groundbreaking. This concept of giving the power and energy to the work of art and not the subject matter or creator was moving the concept of what art could be and how it would be valued going forward.  But, what happened as time passed and as we’ve reached present day? The color fields today no longer have this lofty goal. In fact, their only goal is to color coordinate with a piece of furniture or pillow in the room. They decorate along with the pillow on the sofa. They are no longer art.  Today’s color field work is no longer an artistic creation but a designer’s idea of what a room should look like. The signature of the artist is removed and the signature of the designer has replaced it, covering the entire room.  

So what does that mean? For me, it means that we have paused art history. We have paused how we can think about art. Art has lost a great deal of its value because it is no longer individualistic and no longer personal.  We have stopped thinking about art, what art is and what part art plays within our culture. We have just stopped thinking about art and how it is valued. It is easier to just stop thinking. 

But, when it comes to wanting to support the art within our culture because you love everything it represents, like, difference, uniqueness, originality, independence, freedom of thought, individualism, exploration and discovering, then don’t just purchase anything online that will match your sofa.  Please don’t.

Why has art history paused?  Because we are losing the real essence of art and instead settling for the McDonalds Happy Meal of art.  We want a quick fix. We are hungry, we need to eat junk and we need it now, rather than exploring, discovering and learning about an actual work of art.  Art needs to be savored, slowly experienced and consumed. Art is not a happy meal.

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