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Big Ideas: The Future of Art

This article kicks off Big Ideas, a new series exploring Chicagoan’s thoughts about contemporary art.

In college I was told again and again that the avant-garde is over. Art is no longer focused primarily around advancement, progress, and originality. Since the early 1970’s, art’s only rule has been “anything goes”. I quickly fell into the thinking of some historians that if artists could do anything, then art had nowhere left to progress.

After graduating, I started to realize that just because artists could do anything did not mean they had. I began to discover the new ideas that had emerged in my lifetime, things we never had time to cover in art history class: new genre public art, relational aesthetics, new aesthetic art, the renaissance of gifs, and so on. After all, art is directly affected by the lives artists lead. As culture, technology, and events shape our reality, it shouldn’t be surprising that art changes as well.

Thinking about the current trajectory of art, I began to wonder how Chicagoans would like art to progress. To find out, I asked four people with connections to the Chicago art community. 

Jenny Lam – Artist agent, curator, artist, SIFC writer.

Jenny Lam. (Image courtesy of Jenny Lam)

I’m always about making art accessible to as many people as possible. We’re starting to see a democratization of art with the digitization of galleries, which I think is a great step. The support of arts education can also be greatly improved; when it comes to budget cuts in schools, the arts are always the first to go, and I think that people not being exposed to art early on in their lives is part of the problem that contributes to this rift between the general public and its understanding (or misunderstanding) of art. An ultimate dream of mine would be for everyone in the world to have or see art – basically, to have art be a part of their lives. 

Matt Maldre – Public spaces artist 

Matt Maldre. (Image courtesy of Matt Maldre)

To determine the progress of art, we must first determine what art is. Today most of the general public believes they cannot make art, because their perception of art fits into two extremes: “Art is shown in museums” and “Art is created by children and wacky adults.” There is a wide range of art that exists between those two perceptions which can be created by anyone.

We have a fine lineage of art history determined by art historians, critics, galleries, and museums. While this lineage supports art, it also alienates many others from participating in art creation. On the other end, many think the ones who can make art are the ones that experience more freedom from society – our children and wacky adults. It was thought that only the “special” ones could make art. However, thanks to the internet, there are now more tools than ever that make art creation possible for anyone.

Pinterest allows people to become curators. Instagram makes people realize they can be artistic with their photos, even if it’s a simple start like adding filters. Youtube enables people to explode videos onto the world. Etsy provides the start of a living for a growing expanse of new artists. These websites are convincing people that they can participate in the art making, curating, and enjoyment process. That is the progress of art – a widening perception of art in which anyone can participate. Our world and its people are getting more creative with life.

Suzanne Makol – Photographer, Teaching artist, Co-editor for Composite Arts Magazine

Suzanne Makol. (image courtesy of Composite)

My vision of how I’d like to see art progress in the future is influenced by my experience as an arts educator and as an editor for Composite Arts Magazine. I would like to see the arts have a bigger influence on our culture. One of the best ways to do that would be to have quality art education for all. It would be so refreshing to have less people see the art world as the “other,” a place where only those with money are part of the serious conversation. In this ideal future, people wouldn’t be afraid to tap into their creative side, which would be beneficial in all fields, not just the arts.

The freedom to express through art should be expanded in areas where it is threatened, and at the same time people should not freak out when they hear that someone else’s expression is at odds with their beliefs. In the future, a dissenting artist like Ai Weiwei should be respected in his own country, not persecuted by his government. And if some idiot makes a piece of garbage video that offends people, they shouldn’t feel the need to insight violence.

I’d like to see people use art to engage in a local and global conversation. It is such a powerful tool. We need more people to speak and understand the language of art.

Douglas Gabriel – Art Writer, Artist

Douglas Gabriel. (Image courtesy of Douglas Gabriel)

The question of how art might progress in the future seems to tacitly appeal to and reinforce the hegemony of canonical narratives of contemporary art history, and the visibility afforded to particular artists by the commercial art world and globally privileged languages. A better question might be posed, “how are progressive art practices already unfolding at the ambits of the art world?” Artists who fall into the aforementioned categories often seem to be doing the least to challenge the immediate order of art production.

One counterexample is the Chinese collective, the Long March Project- A Walking Visual Display, which in 2002 began instigating community performances with no commercial backing in rural areas at the margins of art world geographical organization. As part of their post-relational performances, non-gallery-going participants have, for example, borrowed books from the group’s extemporaneous library system under the instruction that they tear up the text after reading, and have been invited by performing-curators to take home artworks they found appealing, free of charge, from impromptu local gallery setups. What this iteration of peripheral collaborative art practice (and others like Stiev Selapak  in Cambodia  and Taring Padi in Indonesia) suggests is that the most challenging, subversive, and progressive forms of art practice may lie well beyond the scope with which we view its present and future.

The next Big Ideas article will be published on February 18th and will feature Chicagoans answers to the question “What is the role of the artist today?”

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