If I put down the booze and the Danish butter biscuits for long enough I manage to immerse myself in more artistic endeavours than this, my incessant snacking. Just eat a bit more at meal times then you won’t get hungry, says my inner monologue. What I produced during this most recent experiment in crayons and watercolour was surprisingly fruitful and pleasing to my aesthetic sensibility. Having been on a surreal jaunt through the junctions of the information superhighway, I realised that most of my inspiration comes from an era during the 20th century, say the 1930s to the 1950s, that I view as a golden age in abstract and expressionist modern art. And I wondered: if I had been born and awakened during this period, would I see myself nestled like a fledgeling sparrow, like a tiny shoe amongst shoes in a shoe cupboard, within the bosom of my artistic contemporaries, or would I be harking back further still to decades past, which I would view as the golden age from that contemporary perspective?
They make a very satisfying crunching sound.
The illusion of the golden age is no mystery, at least through my pleasantly vaseline-smeared lens. To begin, it is necessary to address the lack of comfort one gets from shopping around contemporary art, literature and music. Although exciting (don’t get me wrong) to surf the wave of incoming art – like (some might say ill-advisedly) blindly digging one’s hands into the whiffy bargain trough in a charity shop, to experience the fresh and new and to make it one’s own treasure – taken as a whole these industries are a mass of confusion awash with contradiction and, for the most part, the banality of populism that is an inevitability of commoditisation. Finding the ‘authentic’ is a myre of falseness, fakery and eventual disappointment; regardless of this even, how can anyone make sense of that befuddling hodgepodge in its entirety, except by contriving so-called ‘movements’, trends or new concepts that we so crave, that might define the contemporary era in retrospect, writing history in the moment. Critics and theorists play such a big role in this, as indeed do leaders in every industry, sociological and psychological, literal, poetical and political. We can take ideas and turn them into a pet concept that is limitless in its transferability because we can pick and choose, dragging artists kicking and screaming into pidgeonholes. In much the same way, certain mathematical methods, once applied to one field, are earnestly applied to most others and in this sense constitute a mode, a fashion. In retrospect, we can see that many of these applications in the past turned out to be nonsense, and perhaps much of the mathematics applied to social theory is a good example of this. Drawing a parallel with the music industry, it may have been difficult in ‘the year that punk broke’ to see it as just that, especially when the mainstream music culture was so apparently pervasive, albeit utterly meaningless. Likewise, it was difficult to see Van Gogh or the once infamous Le déjeuner sur l’herbe fitting in at the time perhaps, the latter being rejected by the Parisian artistic jurors of their time, the Salon de Paris (Paris, France). Yet now we see them as absolute and complete zeitgeist. Moreover, in our retrospective purging and cataloguing, have we inadvertently swept forgotten gems into the cracks, never to be heard or seen again?
All things becoming clear in retrospect is a function of abstraction. This abstraction is a necessary part not just of making sense of the world around us but also of understanding the events of the past in order to lay them down within the boudoir of our episodic memory. Hence, we can manoeuvre effortlessly through decades of the past, describing the events within them as though they conveniently began and ended within those ten years in a neat little package. Even when we are aware that this cannot be the case, you and I both know this, we still go on adopting this most lazy of referential systems, because otherwise what is there? What is revealing about that is that we defend abstraction to its absurd extreme. The abstracted past is simple, and we also – at least in terms of art – are exposed only to the best of it (or so we are told). This simplicity is seductive, and it is why we fall in love with it and hanker for it so greatly. We crave the past, because things were better back then.
And this is mirrored in the way that our own memories are laid down. Very little of what we perceive is actually what happens, and we assume a hell of a lot it. Furthermore, there is perhaps an element of enjoying the illusion of control over human fate (as John Gray described in Straw Dogs).
Which reminds me: John Gray (John ‘N’ Gray to his pals)
John Gray, but not that John Gray, the other one.
And from there I arrived at Marx Reloaded.
‘Marx Reloaded’…. uuhhhgh, that name is almost as bad as the ‘surfer dude’ setting on my satnav, which moved me so much as to open the door and tumble out of the moving car.
Yeah, that really petered out. Should probably wrap up those ideas that I just left hanging there, or at least break up the paragraphs a bit.