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Prof. Dr. S.V. Zagraevsky


Myths of contemporary art


Published: journal-archive “Postklau”, 09–10.2015



The following text was translated from the Russian original by the computer program

and has not yet been edited.

So it can be used only for general introduction.




The first myth: art is dead.


In Russia this myth got the proliferation in the late twentieth century. The logic of its emergence is clear: at this time country have changed globally and people are waiting for radical changes in art (for instance, the kind at the beginning of the century were generated by the First world war and a succession of revolutions). But this did not happen. The public has discovered a few artistic currents forbidden in the years of "stagnation", a dozen new names artists with several new galleries and museums, and this change is limited. Many activists and art lovers is disappointed, and went on talking about howthat art is actually dead, again unable to respond to global social change.

But the West that has passed since The second world war, when expectations were equally high and the result is the same disappointed many (suffice it to recall the essay of Roland Barthes "Death of the author"). But this is now around the world many thousands of professionals and many millions of Amateurs make art, about what his death can be a speech?

That in art for nearly a century (counting from the "squares" of Kazimir Malevich and first experiments Marcel Duchamp with everyday objects) do not appears nothing new, it is not surprising, and even more fatal. How many centuries does not there was nothing fundamentally new in the days of the Gothic or Baroque? "The Ministry muses does not tolerate vanity", art in a hurry, and certainly it is not is obliged to respond to all the social upheaval.


The second myth: art is not dead, but displaced mass culture to the margins of public consciousness.


And it's not. Mass culture because so called, that it massive, but the art has always been designed for much more narrow circle of connoisseurs. The Soviet government tried to expand that circle (remember Lenin's words "Art belongs people" and Mayakovsky's "the Land popashet, Popish poems"), but this attempt was unsuccessful and returned it quickly to Pushkin's words embedded in the mouth Mozart: "the few, the elite, lucky persons idle, neglecting despicable use, single great priests".

In other words, in the world scale mass culture for billions, and art for the millions. Of course, this is too much, but in Russia and in the West, crowds of people, rushing on art exhibitions are, with rare exceptions, gone. Forever or not – time will tell.


Myth three: modern art – only those artistic styles, trends, directions and practices that emerged during the second half of the twentieth century, pop art, conceptualism, installation, performance, video-art, graffiti, etc. (In the future we will for simplicity collectively call them the latest trends).


This myth came to us from The West, where after world war II coined the term "contemporary art", which literally the translation just means "contemporary art". And most often this term is used only to designate the newest trends, that is it turns out that "modern" only styles, directions and currents that appeared in art after the war. All the others, respectively, "out of date" (obsolete, museumified, overshadowed, died, etc. – variants adherents of this interpretation of "modern art" offer a lot).

But let us remember the style art Nouveau, which appeared at the end of the XIX century. This word is also translated as "modern", but it is doubtful now whether you can call Gustav Klimt or Alphonse Fly modern artists (except that in the highest sense, according to which true art always contemporary and never outdated). No longer "modern" and a set of styles, in 1920-30-ies called "modernism". Already "museopicassomalaga" and many currents that were originally included in the concept "contemporary art" – for example, pop art, op art, minimalism.

And most importantly, in the term "modern art" we see a de facto usurpation of the concept of "modern" artists and critics of certain styles, trends and directions. In modern (sorry for the tautology) is the situation is contrary to the principles of pluralism, ethics and justice.

Of course, have been and will artists and critics, dividing colleagues not only on "modern" and "outdated", but the "geniuses" and "mediocrities" (themselves, of course, counted among "geniuses"). But it hardly makes sense to focus on such marginal views.

Therefore, the concept of "modern art" is set to "current". No more. In this concept includes and realists, and the conceptualists, and the primitives, and graffiti, and all other artists, living or deceased relative recently.


The fourth myth: there is "actual art".


"Contemporary art" – purely Russian term, often used in the 1990-ies, sometimes it can to meet and now. It is usually invested the same meaning as in "modern art" in the interpretation of the previous myth: the latest trends "actual", everything else is not.

Hence, the answer to this the myth may be the same: the division of art into "relevant" and "irrelevant" as unethical and unfair, as "modern" and "outdated".


The fifth myth: nowadays, there are "avant-garde art".


Accordingly, "avant-garde art" or just "vanguard" trying to call all the same the latest trends. But again, let us ponder the meaning of the term "avant-garde": this is the vanguard, designed to pave the way for the main forces.

There is no doubt, in the early twentieth century avant-garde opened the way for "main forces", that is, in predetermined a number of features of art and its centenary, and the next, have twenty-first. But open the modern "avant-garde" way in any the new "main force", that is, will determine whether he has any traits of art at least in the nearest future, – a question very disputable.

Therefore, the naming the latest trends of contemporary "avant-garde" also looks not quite ethical. Enough to call them "experiment". Nothing offensive to anyone in there is, in the highest sense, any artist – experimenter. The way of creativity – it is always a path of trial and error.


Myth six: abstract art refers to the latest trends.


Just look at date: abstract art appeared at the turn of the 1900s and 1910s, that is, he was already more than a hundred years. It hardly can be considered one of the latest trends.


Myth seven: abstract art alien to Russian traditions.


We must not forget that abstract art appeared in Russia, and its first representative was Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky. The world-famous "squares" of Kazimir Malevich, "luchism" Mikhail Larionov. In the Soviet times for ideological reasons abstract art was banned, but still exist. So definitely call it non-traditional for Russia. "Socialist realism, for example, lasted a much shorter time.

But as soon as the fall the Soviet power "forbidden fruit" – the abstraction – has ceased to be a taboo and accordingly, sweet, revealed another problem of this art form: the limited means of expression, leading to monotony and repetition techniques. Simply put, the public and critics, and to the artists themselves abstract art was quickly bored: it turned out that figurative art is much richer and more diverse. But if in the abstract work of art used some figurative techniques (for example, visiblethe outlines of people, buildings, objects, etc.), it is, strictly speaking, abstract it is no longer. This is generally considered an expressionist, but there are other options.

Not surprisingly, in the West the role of "pure" abstract art in the mid twentieth century almost exclusively reduced to decoration at best conceptual exhibitions in the worst – office and hotel interiors. Not have passed this Cup and Russian abstractionism. After a memorable large-scale exhibition "Moscow abstraction" (held in 2003 at the Tretyakov gallery which the work of leading abstract artists are virtually indistinguishable from each other) exhibitions abstract art have become a huge rarity, domestic abstraction, followingfor overseas turned into a decorative element.

Therefore, the question of whether traditionally, abstract art for Russia or not, is purely academic. Classic, absolutely non-figurative abstraction is so rare in modern easel fine art here to argue about it makes no sense.


Myth eight: only realism is art, traditional for Russia.


This statement requires significant clarification.

First, in what sense to understand realism: in the broadest (in this case, the realists were and Praxiteles, and Leonardo da Vinci, and Caravaggio, and Rembrandt), or more narrowly – as it understood Gustave Courbet and the Russian Peredvizhniki, or even more narrowly – in interpretation of Soviet "socialist realism"?

Secondly, if realism is traditional for Russia, it is traditional it is for the whole world, as all the traditions of Russian art is closely linked with the world. No one artistic style that existed in the world and not existing in Russian Empire, USSR or Russian Federation.

Third, if you count, that tradition was formed and in the twentieth century, for Russia as for the world, is traditional not only realism, but also diverse artistic the legacy of the avant-garde of the beginning of this century.

So let's say: traditional art – the concept is very broad and can be determined only method "by contradiction": traditionally, all that does not belong to the latest trends. If you start to narrow this concept, we will sooner or later come to that only traditional national crafts.


Myth nine: traditional art is dead, alive only of the latest trends.


Sometimes the adherents of this myth "give life" and more abstract art, sometimes – and even expressionism, sometimes – and primitivism, sometimes you can hear that now at all all except realism.

But to say it is possible what we have said about the myth of the death of art as such: traditional art of dealing with (or trying to do) millions of people all over the world. Someone is better someone worse, someone does does not work, but the main thing is interesting and varied. In traditional art there is endless scope for choice of story, movement, color, material, smear... Someone becomes a realist, someone – expressionist or primitivist, someone converts Hyper realistic or sur...

So, on the death of traditional art of speech can not go. And it does not have to be a "hidebound academicism". About it after all can be said poignant words of the poet of the sixties Leonid Gubanova:

Yes, smear world! Yes, blood veins!

Forgetting the sickness, the dreams, vows!

And die from century to century

The blue hands the easel!


The tenth myth, reverse previous: nothing fundamentally new in art has no right to exist, new forms of experimenting only mediocrities and losers, incapable of achieving the heights in traditional art.


Most often under traditional art in this case means realism as a direction, requiring the most extensive training and the most pronounced professional skills.

Indeed, realism makes very high demands on the professionalism. Professionalism good in any case, but in this situation, there are also disadvantages.

First, it closes the possibility of achieving serious success for many millions of people, not trained in art schools, colleges and institutes. Recent flow in this sense is much more "democratic": to create a talented conceptual installations, video-art or graffiti is able and people without special education.

Secondly, the professionalism and inspiration rarely coincide. A professional knows what and why does his good eye, hand delivered, but a certain "freshness" of his work usually goes. There are exceptions (like Michelangelo Buonarroti, Francisco Goya, Ilya Repin and many other great artists), but great a little, but a lot of professionals.

Thirdly, much depends from the personality of the artist. Someone feels in the framework of the traditional art, but someone this framework close and want to experiment just out the propensity to experiment. No wonder, for example, many avant-garde artists (as Wassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, Henri Matisse, Pavel Filonov) at the time he started his artistic path as a completely academic realists.

So you should not give global evaluations, which is better and which is worse – the latest or traditional of course. And they both have their own audience – and therefore, alive. What to prefer the direction of the many now existing in the art, has the right to decide any the artist and any viewer. This freedom of choice, coupled with the mutual respect and tolerance, is one of the main achievements of art of the twentieth century inherited and the twenty-first century.


Myth eleventh: the development of photography, sooner or later will make traditional painting unnecessary.


This myth appeared immediately after the invention of the camera in the nineteenth century. And indeed, it is impossible not to recognize that the rapid development of photography created for painting (as for graphics) some competition. Not only for realism, but for all the other movements in traditional art, up to abstract: to make high quality photo, process it on the computer in any style and print in any format now no problems is.

But this does not mean that sooner or later traditional painting would be unnecessary or goes into the category of exotic. To talk about what works photography in principle better or worse works of art, is incorrect: there are photographs that are not ashamed to stand beside the best paintings. The difference here is different: traditional painting and graphic technology is a "piece", "manual" work, which is appreciated even in the world cars and furniture and in the art world – even more so. And, of course, charmoil paints, watercolors, gouache, pencil, ink, sanguine drawing, lithography and other vintage tech doesn't compare to anything else.

We give a simple example. If at the end of the nineteenth century photographic technique even was developed as it is now, can you imagine the photographic work "Boyarynya Morozova" By Vasily Surikov? Or photographic work "barge haulers on the Volga" by Ilya Repin? To imagine, of course, possible, but how they would differ from those masterpieces of painting, which is known to us from childhood...

So photography and painting are just different art techniques, and they will coexist just as for many centuries co-exist, for example, paintings and drawings. Not far off, when the public become bulky printing, so check that all of the above fully applies to the ratio of the 3D prints and sculptures.


The twelfth myth: in the West of Russian art in demand only the latest current.


This myth appeared in the days of the USSR and has been associated with the politicisation of Soviet art: since the latest trends were banned, they were interested in the West as one of the possible ways of the Soviet Union to freedom and democracy.

But when the end of eighties – early nineties freedom and democracy in Russia won all went back to normal. And these circles are as follows: for the West, Russian art, by and large, generally uninteresting. Like art of any other country, besides the actual Western. The only exception is for artists, unequivocally and undeniably included in the global history of art (as Ilya Repin or Kazimir Malevich). There are professional art historians and collectors, more deeply interested in Russian art, but they are relatively few.

The reason for this is simple: the West, there are plenty of artists of all trends – and the newest, and traditional. For every taste. Got there and the realists, and their the conceptualists, and your master salon portrait... And the Russian (and Chinese, Mexican, Indian, etc.) artists are not just "strangers", but also competitors in the art market.

Therefore, in our time, when the "politicization" of art compared to the twentieth century in Russia and in the West fell sharply, the usual and prevailing at all times fight artists place in art history. Artists in the world dozens (if not hundreds) of thousands, and in the memory of even professional art critics from every era are at best a few dozen names. That is about one artist from thousands. What can we say about a much less capacious memory wide the public? Especially not the Russian public and the West, which has its own the priorities?


Thirteenth myth: in the "third world" of Russian art in demand only the traditional, primarily realism.


This myth also appeared in the Soviet era, and was also associated with the "politicization" of art: the Soviet Union in order "fraternal aid" delivered in the "third world" countries not only cars tanks and planes, but also ideology, an important part of which was "socialist realism".

But this myth in the past decades out of date for about the same reasons as the previous one: in developed the "third world" the range of artistic interests and tastes significantly expanded, there is a sufficient choice of its artists various directions, and in our time Indian, Cuban or Peruvian audience the art of Russia not more interesting, than the art of any other "great power", and in Russian art for this audience the realism is interesting not more than any other area.


The myth the fourteenth: the art and social activities are incompatible.


This is a very long-standing myth, reproducing popular in the late nineteenth century the theory of "pure art", "art for art's sake". There is another myth, now extremely rare encountered, but implanted in the first decades of Soviet power, that art does not exist outside social activities. Consider these myths together, as this is extreme, but the truth, as is often the case, is in the middle.

The artist – citizen their country, and it is impossible to deny to engage in social activities. This was highlighted in the October revolution, when many most talented creators, including Marc Chagall, Kazimir Malevich, David Shterenberg and El Lissitzky, were the commissioners. There are many examples in the different countries and eras, from the Flemish diplomat Peter Paul Rubens to Mexican Communist Diego Rivera and Chinese human rights activist AI Weiwei.

The artist cannot to ban and completely ignore the social life. The Soviet era with "political information", mandatory for all, including for members of creative unions, are gone.

The same applies to works of art: they often have no direct relationship to the problems of concern to the society at the moment, but can be created and under the direct impact of such problems (like "Guernica" by Pablo Picasso) and themselves to be a political tool (like "Liberty leading the people" eugène Delacroix or "Sots-art, Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid). No restrictions other than ethical (which we will discuss in connection with the following a myth), there is no and can not be.

Art does not exist apart from society, and problems concerning the community, in varying degrees, directly or indirectly, can not penetrate the art. And the talent of the artist can to emerge in any genre, including in the political poster (remember Othe Kollwitz, Dmitry moor and Irakli Toidze), and caricature (the latter was engaged, for example, William Hogarth, Mikhail Mikeshin and Valentin Serov).

In short, art and social activities are compatible, as well as art and politics, art and technical and scientific progress, art and religion, art and Economics, art and agriculture, art and disaster natural disasters, art and all other human activities. Not to forget only that in any case art has to remain an art and a talent, skill, inspiration and artistic taste should have priority over the desire of the artist to solve social problems.


The fifteenth myth: the artist can do anything.


Sometimes it sounds like "art, everything is permitted". But it's not the same thing.

In the arts, if that true art, no restrictions and can not be. But note – if this is true art. And even if the artist declares that his "performance", when he puts himself on a chain and barking passers-by, suits the riot in the temple or having sex in the Museum, is the most that neither is art – actually it is wishful thinking. The same takes place if a painter, for example, decides to portray tenderly kissing policemen. Or the crucified Christ on the background of a naked female body. (Allthe above examples taken from the realities of modern Russian art life).

In short, not all what makes an artist in the framework provided him by the Constitution freedom creativity is an art. Why? Yes, because art an integral part of the culture. And the culture – concept is broad and to much their binding media. If the person is positioning itself as a leader culture, he is not entitled to behave uncivilized. This is incompatible with the culture simply by definition. Consequently, and with art.

Then call hooliganism, rudeness and other uncivilized actions the art of the impossible. And if the artist for some reason or other (for reasons personal, protest, political, advertising – does not matter) decided to make a row, then he must bear for it administrative and criminal liability along with the other bullies, and not to hide behind the status of the artist, who supposedly "anything goes".

Art can be anything while it's an art. Beyond art, the artist becomes the usual citizen with all restrictions imposed by law and morality.

The boundary between art and lack of culture, of course, is blurred, as all other boundaries of the thin and the many faces of the art world. But then, people are given education, intelligence, tact, taste in art and civil the sense of justice to be able to at least intuitively sense that going on not art, and rudeness, hooliganism and stuff like that.

However, rudeness and hooliganism masquerading as art, often have explicit or veiled main goal is to glorify their author by the outrageous. And shocking, as a rule, rough and primitive, and the boundary between art and incivility transition openly and defiantly.

A more serious crimes fully covered Pushkin's words "Genius and villainy – two incompatible things", and it is unlikely that any court is able to make more brief, succinct and unambiguous sentence.


Sixteenth myth: an artist needs to be hungry.


This phrase is attributed to the poet-warrior of the XVII century Cyrano de Bergerac. Of course, it can be understood in the highest sense of the word "lust of creation", but usually this the myth is used as one of the variants of filosofemy "hunger – the engine progress." On this topic we may recall the lines of Nikolai Nekrasov: "In the world there is a king, this king is ruthless, hunger is the name of him."

But if we don't want in our time, hundreds of thousands of people died back-breaking bonded labour (as it was in the times and de Bergerac, and Nekrasov), if we want to life in Russia meet international humanitarian standards, we are required to assert the diametrical opposite: the artist is not must be hungry (like worker, engineer, farmer, teacher, doctor and all the rest of the citizens).

In modern humanity is far less violent and more effective incentives to productive work, than hunger and fear of starvation. People all, of course, different, someone's incentives "landed" (e.g., the desire for money and government), whose "elevated" (e.g., the desire to leave a mark in history), but even those who do are missing incentives who, for whatever reasons, is unable to earn money, the state and society should not doom neither to starvation nor to a miserable existence. The moreartists creating national and global cultural heritage.

Therefore, the issues of improving the social security system, the safeguards issues of creative work – today one of the most pressing and discussed in any society, including Russian.


The myth of the seventeenth: the artist may be unknown to the public and the critics during his lifetime, but is open after death.


This myth is outdated as much as outdated textbook example, cited in his support: the destiny of Vincent van Gogh. Moreover, as with van Gogh, if carefully read his biography, it is not so simple: he ran in the Paris circle of impressionist and was "widely known in narrow circles". Yes, picture it for a number of reasons is not sold, but and unknown in life to call it does not. The unrecognized and the unknown – not the same thing.

We have already mentioned in connection with one of the previous myths that the art world is a place much a lot of competition, than in any other area of human activity: memory even the critics, not to mention the General public, from every era remains about one artist out of thousands. Pass this "competition" is extremely difficult even living and a healthy artist, but he can still offer their work potential buyers to organize their own exhibition, find art ManagerAnd... what could a dead man, if he could not or did not want to pass this "competition" in life? Heirs of the hope of the weak: if they are not the deceased was considered worthy of attention by the artist (and why would began to count, if he was not famous?), in the best case they will give away his work friends and acquaintances, and at worst just throw it away.

To sum up the above: the artist, unknown to the public and the critics during his lifetime, in theory the chance to be recognized after death remains, but in practice, this chance is vanishingly small.


Eighteenth myth: the artist can offend everyone.


This, of course, a myth, so how actually artists are different, some not only will not allow itself to offense, but do anyone hurt. But if we assume that this myth expresses the helplessness of the Creator at the moment of creation (when the inspiration may at any a minute to disappear under the influence of the coarse truth of life), then it is not worth arguing.


Myth levataccia: anyone able to adequately assess works of art exclusively on the principle of "like – not like", the correct answer it will prompt the intuition.


The thesis of the "intuition replace education and experience" is akin to the thesis of the first years of Soviet power "class consciousness can replace education and experience", which is not far to the infamous: "every cook can govern the state".

But serious, deep and adequate understanding of art – it is hardly more simple than management of government. In art even such a criterion as the workmanship is very blurred (especially if we are talking about the latest trends), and what then to speak about the novelty, originality, uniqueness, credibility, spirituality?

So for a little bit adequate assessments should at least know the history of art. At least in the most General. It is advisable to be aware of the current situation in the art world (this gives you the opportunity to feel the context of the creation of the work) and curriculum vitae of the artist. Only then can work intuition as additional, but in any case not as the main factor.

In fairness let's say that very intuition in assessing works of art impossible: whatever it is perceived today, it is impossible to predict exactly how it will look in fifty years or a hundred, that history is not so a long time. And final (and then suspended) evaluation can give only time.


The myth of the twentieth: in the art generally can not give estimates of "better-worse", "good-bad".


In a higher sense it is. All creators are equal before God, any Creator at the moment of creation in communion God, any work of art is priceless, etc.

But in addition to the higher meanings, art needs money – at least to the creators not died of hunger, otherwise, no one will do. And this money gives art market. And the last it requires assessments based on the categories "good-bad" and "better-worse". These estimates indirectly (through galleries, shows, auctions, private and public purchase, etc.) acquire a specific monetary value, because without categories "good-bad-better-worse" to adequately determine the price of a work of art is impossible.

For example, how to explain why the picture painted by Ivan Aivazovsky, many times more written by his contemporary-marine N, given that N the picture is the same the size and also the oil on canvas? The explanation can do a lot reservations about the talent, education, professionalism, fame, the subjects of the works, social status, etc., but the core will still contain simple, though, perhaps offensive to descendants and fans N true: Aivazovsky as an artist much better than N. to convey this simple (in this case) or extremely difficult (in the vast majority of cases) the truth to lovers, and art – the main task of art criticism.


Twenty-first myth: contemporary art worse than the classical one.


Not at all. Just contemporary art has not passed the main test – the test of time, and we no right to say who is better – classical or contemporaries.

To illustrate our the positions we call at least the names of artists belonging to one generation as sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1910), Claude Monet (1840-1926), Henry Semiradsky (1843-1902) and Ilya Repin (1844-1930). They were all in one way or lesser extent famous during his lifetime, but their works were estimated by contemporaries quite differently than it is now. For example, hardly anyone from the layman in General remember that there were artist such as sir Lawrence. But it is at the time was one of the most famous painters of the world, was awarded the knight's title, numberother top awards of the funeral in London St. Paul's near the grave By Anthony van Dyck.

It will take time, and history art will put everything in its place and contemporary artists. And then, no doubt, it turns out that the best of them (best not on the momentary assessments contemporaries, and to "Hamburg account") may well stand on a par with classics of the XX century, as at the time the latter has risen in one number with classics century the nineteenth, nineteenth of the classics – the classics of the eighteenth, and so next. The question is, who of the geniuses more brilliant – Claude Monet or Leonardo da Vinci, Ilya Repin or Praxiteles, from the point of view of eternal values of art incorrect. The talents of these great masters is limitless, their creativity immortal, and try to understand who of them is better, all in mathematics to decide which of the infinitely large numbers more.

 © Sergey Zagraevsky


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