There has been a 40 year shift of priorities away from the aesthetics of painting, both abstract and representational, in favour of a political, sexual, sociological and environmental interest in art-making activities. ¹ ² The cultural focus is now so predominant in art, particularly the ‘pop’ versions, which are led and controlled by the so-called Art world, it’s no wonder that the aesthetics—so crucial to the development of art itself—get little attention at all. ³ In the larger arena of intellectual and cultural life, it appears that we are comfortable with presenting work on the basis of the thematic ‘content’.
The lack of focus on aesthetics has not gone unnoticed. Mainstream art critics, dwindling as they are, have found themselves occupying an almost uninhabitable critical space for which they get drowned out. Recently, Andrew Frost wrote an opinion piece for the Art Guide defining where art is at the moment – in limbo waiting for things to eventually wash out. 4
Whatever the cause, the historical permutations that have led to the situation art critics and artists now find themselves, is largely irrelevant. The real driving force for innovation must come from artists’ themselves. This obviously has to happen before the art critics have something to say about it. And nor should it be up to individual talent. It requires group impacts on aesthetic thought, not individual talent working alone, but art movements working collectively to create visual-shifts that set the kind of agenda on our cultural life that was clearly present during the last two centuries up until the 1960’s, which is recognised as the peak of radical innovation emulated by a healthy mix of fresh and established talents.
Artists can do as Andrew Frost suggests—just wait for things to wash out, or they can act now. To act now you need a reason. You might think that this extended ‘aesthetic drought’, was reason enough, but clearly not. Likewise, hoping that things might naturally materialise because astute artists will suddenly find the resources and impetuous to collectively act is, unfortunately, not how it works either. I believe change is more likely to occur because commerce demands it. The fact remains that the aesthetics of art has been lagging behind the economic and cultural advances being made elsewhere in human endeavours, particularly in the sciences 5. Oscar Wilde put it, ‘life imitates Art far more than Art imitates life’. By this he was talking about all forms of expression. However this is not what we have been witnessing in the realm of painting. A correction is well overdue and commerce could be the vehicle that brings it to life once again.
After all, as a bare minimum, it should be expected that the artists’ obligation is to execute work that speaks to the mainstream consciousness, and builds on our material heritage, not just simply adds to it.
This brings me back to the aesthetics. I believe that I’ve found a reason—I call it Membrane Art. It provides a purpose and direction out of which a discernible aesthetic language has materialised. The release of Membrane Art: An evolving expression aims to start a conversation to break this long-held thirst. Whether it will prompt further discussion into the understanding and validity of those insights remains to be seen.
¹ Art Pulse, Interview With Barry Schwabsky, 29 June 2011. See headline quote and his 13th comment. Barry Schwabsky interview
² Hilton Kramer, Does abstract art have a future? The New Criterion, December 2002. Hilton Kramer
³ German artist Katharina Grosse asks the question why there is a lack of discussion on the aesthetics of colour, April 2015: Painting with Color | ART21
4 A Critique of Pure Unreason, Andrew Frost, January 2015: Art Guide story
5 Book publication: Insight Radical – Where Science Meets Art, 2013. Project and Editor note’s by Carl H Schiesser and Renee Beale, p4-7. Online Abstract: Insight Radical