Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Too Much Theory Not Enough Art

I was going to write about two contemporary exhibitions I had been to recently, The Social Lives of Objects and POI: Moving, Mapping, Memory from Castlefield Gallery and Cornerhouse respectively, I had made some notes and was ready to start writing, but I couldn't do any: why? I was completely uninspired and underwhelmed by the two shows I had seen. This conclusion was initially hidden from me because I was caught up in the two exhibition's theorising, walking around the shows with a mind full of the intentions of the artists, and worse, the expectations of the curators. My aesthetic values are clearly different from the artists on show because I found no beauty in these exhibitions, I found the experiences akin more to an educational seminar than an aesthetic experience, one shouldn't have to think too much in order to appreciate, never mind enjoy, a piece of art. It seems that today's art privileges theory over artistic craftsmanship.

Yes, I am criticising the 'artistic skills' of these artists: one of the exhibitions resembled a car boot sale with random objects dotted about the place as though your grandparent's house had been ransacked, indeed one of the exhibits consisted of an old Penguin book (Old Book on a Wall) with the last page reconstructed from itself - trash. The other show was too earnest, trying to make the usual liberal political points, and for the second exhibition in a row the top floor gallery was given over (partially) to a animal den. Much of contemporary art is conceptual art now, the boundaries between the two are no more, and I'm sure its because of our modern sensibilities. As times pass humanity gets heavier with explanation, it occupies us more and our culture will reflect this fact.

And yet, for me, I find that the more I explain, look into, theorise, try to understand visual art, the further I find I am from the aesthetic experience. This, of course, was the first lesson I learnt in the Philosophical Aesthetics class I took when at university. There is always this tension between the theory and the art that comes from it, but a gallery should never make you feel like you are in a classroom.