Sunday, November 9, 2014

Art of the World at our Fingertips

Drinking in a Zorn in New York
I recently ran across the following quote:

"Modern means of communication and modern methods of reproduction have brought the ends of the earth together and placed the art of all times and countries at the disposal of every artist. The quantity of painting produced has been enormous; the number of individual artists of some distinction has been remarkable; and the succession of 'movements' and revolutions, each rapidly extending its influence over the civilized world, has been most puzzling."

This sounds like it could have been describing our modern world, but it was from a book of essays about art by Kenyon Cox in 1905.

Kenyon Cox was responding to the rise of magazines like Harpers and Century and The Studio that reproduced the best work coming out of Europe and the rest of the world, and he would have been seeing the first color reproductions of that artwork, which must have been a revelation to artists who were hitherto limited to seeing the original work locally or via poor black and white engravings.

What would he think of the art culture of the internet, where thousands of images by artists of all times and styles are available at the touch of a button?

Cox argued that art before his time was more traditional, nationalistic, and homogenous. The new art resulting from the jumble of influences he regarded as more individual, international, and chaotic.

Is all this mixing of artistic DNA a good thing? What effect does the easy availability of images have on your work? Has it made learning easier or harder? Have you noticed trends in the art scene that have developed as a consequence of the universality availability of art online?
Quote is from Essays on Art: Old Masters and New by Kenyon Cox, 1905, 1908
Wikipedia on Kenyon Cox (1856-1919)


Sesco said...

Einstein used word problems to illustrate his concepts. I wonder what my life as an artist would be like if I were immortal. If I saw art epoch after art epoch, movement after movement, blue period after red period, traditional tastes and then abstract tastes.. knowing that I had all the time in the world to make a living at art, would I rule, would I simply be an interesting conversation over cocktails, or would my art career be exactly where it is today? Or, if I had access to images of the historical art OF THE ENTIRE COSMOS (assuming extraterrestrial life) as an immortal Earthling, how would this change my tactics and strategy for a contented life? I might assume that 'borrowing' a technique or two, or a concept or two, that had never been tried on Earth but that had made great impressions on other worlds might boost my prospects, but one would have to ask oneself, would Earthlings react similarly to the great art found on other worlds? I think (sic) the point I'm trying to make is that the internet may help with learning, it may boost the number of artists, it may inspire artists with an infinity of techniques and media, we may even create artificial intelligence to create our art for us using programs for superior design, superior color, superior technique, superior subject matter using current cultural mores and tastes, so that ultimately one must ask: to what end? What do we WANT from art?

Journeyman said...

This a short extract from the introduction to “The Practice and Science Of Drawing”
Harold Speed wrote:-

“We have no set traditions to guide us. The times when the student accepted the style and traditions of his master and blindly followed them until he found himself, are gone. Such conditions belonged to an age when intercommunication was difficult, and when the artistic horizon was restricted to a single town or province. Science has altered all that, and we
may regret the loss of local colour and singleness of aim this growth of art in separate
compartments produced; but it is unlikely that such conditions will occur again. Quick means of transit and cheap methods of reproduction have brought the art of the whole world to our doors.”

The Book is from 1913.

Nick said...

Is all this mixing of artistic DNA a good thing? ... Have you noticed trends in the art scene that have developed as a consequence of the universality availability of art online?

I feel that just as groups that we align ourselves with have shifted away from nationalism towards shared interests, artists have also realigned towards others around the world who share similar interests and modes of expression.

Consequently, those modes too have evolved. An example would be the Japanese RPG art style as popularized by Square. A huge number of artists have aligned themselves around this style, and it is now equally likely to be rendered by someone as far flung as Brazil or France as by a Japanese artist.

I'd see the resurgent popularity of artists such as Mucha follows an interesting lineage from Japonisme through Jugendstyle to early manga in the print era, and all the way back to Mucha as his work is rediscovered and shared in the digital. The old comes around once again and is remixed into the new ~

Styles themselves iterate and resolve in new ways. I feel like earlier industrial herioc artwork like that of Herbert Paus is reborn in the modern era in places like the Team Fortress game, and we learn new expressive methods from that kind of recycling.

Mocha's nationalistic works, like the Slav Epic, I'd say are far less influential since they are aligned against a geographically and culturally restricted group, and can only really be seen as an absolute end point admitting no more iteration on the style or theme. I feel like the old inward looking, non-sharing methods, lead to these finely elaborated and impressive yet terminal cul-de-sacs.

I'd argue that we are better off sharing and remixing means of expression so that we teach each other new techniques and new thoughts, and as we hit the boundaries of a style or mode, breaking off into something new, possibly dragging a few of the like minded along with us.

Clearly I'm more of a Futurist looking for continuous reinvention and replacement, than a Classicist insistent on purity and proper elaboration of convention.

jeff jordan said...

I've heard it said a million times or so that everything's been done, and nowadays what you can do to be different is re-synthesize existing imagery perhaps into something, if not new, then maybe different. The worldwide proliferation of images would seem to be a real aid in doing that.

I developed a recognizable style a fairly long time ago, and stick to that for the most part. But often I want to go beyond myself, and increase my skills as well. I remember Reubens was always doing copies of other peoples work during his travels. He'd see a Titian and do a copy, sometimes diverging from the original if he saw what he thought might be a better design choice, for example. And that's one of the things I really like about the easy availability of random images that might cause me to want to do a copy of my own, based on somebody else work. When I need a break from myself that's what I do, and I feel it's helped me grow as an artist.

The other thing I REALLY like about the availability of imagery from all over the planet is that so many under-recognized artists of all stripes are now gaining recognition they probably didn't receive in their lifetimes. For example, I just a few days ago came across the photographic images of William Mortensen, a photographer associated with Hollywood glamour photography in the 1920s--40s. He was a pictorialist in the change from that aesthetic to straight photography. Ansel Adams called him the Antichrist, which really cracks me up. Without the Internet I would've never known about him.

Rich said...

...another thoughtful entry here with thoughtful comments as well.

"where thousands of images by artists of all times and styles are available at the touch of a button..."

But the finger touching that button happens to be often quite shifty and itchy;-) In other words, dwelling on an image, looking at it for a long time, has become a decreasing virtue IMO (fast-paced succession of pictures in today's movies another example of overall reduced attention span).

On the other hand, we have got so called "world-music" nowadays; not a bad thing. Same can be said about art.

We probably have both sides of the medal with art of the world at our fingertips.

arturoquimico said...

I thinking "mixing the artistic DNA" is a good thing. I took art history back in the 60's and the available art work was limited. Not so now... much to see. I think the affect on imagery is positive and it is easier to learn to be a good artist as there is so much available good imagery to compare your works to (we don't have to rely on affirmation by family, friends, and teachers). The best thing that has happened (my opinion) is that I have seldom liked so called "modern art". Today there is more realism... As Fawcett once quipped, there is a difference between art and therapy... I like the artwork that actually looks like something I have seen before. In summary, the explosion in the availability of quality art has been a GOOD thing.

Johan said...

Artistic DNA mixing is something of all times... the Romans got their inspiration with the Greek, Rubens and many of his contemporaries went to Italy.Classicists such as Ingres looked at the Greek as well, impressionists looked at the realists, post-impressionists looked at the Japanese, etc etc.
What kept changing was the number of people creating things. If in 1880 there may have been a few tens of thousands of artists around the world, there are millions today. Surely, this must have an impact on artistic trends.

I for one, as a Belgian painter, am influenced by people such as Richard Schmid, Terry Miura, Carole Marine and Qiang Huang, people I've never met and who's work I've only seen online. However, the Americans were influenced by the French in the 19th century, when there was no internet at all...

Emanuele Sangregorio said...

I agree with what Nick said, because I believe that the cultural diversity will become less and less correlated with geographic position, but cultural niches will always exist.
We all have different tastes and tend to prefer one genre over another. Similar people seem to hang around together and eventually give birth to very peculiar points of view, which in turn could become more mainstream and be perceived as the latest fashion.

Gavin said...

The wealth of information available, from videos, to books is amazing. Through the internet we can obtain whatever tools, paints, mediums our hearts desire from all across the globe. We can discover new artists, and explore high resolution paintings from those of old, sometimes in minute details, showing brushstrokes and even fingerprints and brush hairs that got embedded in the paint.

The downside for myself, is that I sometimes find it too overwhelming. There's a danger of becoming a passive observer, flicking from one image to another without time to enjoy or take in the meaning. Social media sites like twitter, pinterest, facebook etc. bombard the senses. You can spend hours at a computer only to come away mentally fatigued. In such moments I prefer to go to a museum, or pick up a book. Moderation is a good thing.