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November 1, 2019 / Congau

Art of Our Time

Art is the expression of our time. It is often said so, and it is often right. The artist is working steeped in his time, making comments on what he observes around him. But more importantly, he is himself a product of his time, having been shaped by his environment and nurtured by the dogmas of his period. True, he criticizes what he sees, but he is doomed to do it from his own narrow perspective.

His truth then must be relative to his time, and if that is so, it is hardly a truth at all.

If that is right, how can we enjoy the art of the past? We hear it speak to us from distant ages and we recognize its voice in a language we can still understand. The Greek sculptor from a century BC has no problem articulating himself to us and Shakespeare is at least as appreciated in our quarters as he was in Stratford of 1600.

Their art is truly timeless, but today’s artist can only comment on our time. Is that so? Of course not. However, there is still a sense that contemporary artists always need to reinvent their genre as time changes, speaking a language that must be uniquely appropriate to the moment. But if we can understand the language of the distant past, how come we can’t speak it? And even if granted that it takes more practice to enunciate than to listen, why is it that modern art is articulated in so many different codes? Who can possibly comprehend modern art if it is a prerequisite to have been shaped in the same form of experience as the artist?

Art is the search for truth expressed in an aesthetic language. The truth is timeless, and the language must be shared between artist and viewer. If modern art is only modern and the artist only speaks to himself, it fails.

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