Last week the American artist Cy Twombly passed away aged 83. Upon hearing the news of his passing I like many others uttered the words “Who?”. As is the way of the 21st century, I switched on my laptop and immediately googled him. Unsurprisingly, as befitting all acclaimed talents of whichever field they happen to inhabit, he was rather popular. Reading through news headlines he was lauded as
‘a key figure in modern art’
‘one of the most significant artists of the last 50 years’
Yet still I had no idea who he was, and what kind of artist he was, so my next port of call was Wikipedia where I discovered that he freely scribbled many of his paintings. About closer scrutiny I can say that much of his artwork, to my untrained eye looked not dissimilar to the scrawling of a three year old child. However I am in no way an expert on art, therefore I shall close this paragraph by merely stating that to be a successful artist, someone has to want to buy your work.
One of the most amazing phenomena in the cycle of life is observing how in death, people become much greater than they were when they lived. Whether it be an uncle, a statesman or a musician. Why as people we feel the need to dishonestly elevate people to greatness I don’t know but we do need it, as if it’s an almost integral part of our grieving process. It’s amazing that people have been dying for thousands of years and all we have is around 20 unoriginal epitaphs to describe them with.
The last 100 years have seen two major changes in all artistic pursuits. The first is that we have seen the introduction of marketing into art. Whereas 300 years ago a true artist would sell one piece in his lifetime and live his whole life in poverty and only be acknowledged a long time after he passed now the game is different. A musician dying is a wonderful opportunity to release a best of album, a painter dying is a wonderful opportunity to encourage the national museum to finally hold that retrospective they have been promising and a writer dying can create a buzz which can make their last novel a bestseller. Death is fantastic for the arts.
In the meantime we have witnessed the death of experimental art. Nowadays the only art we see is Generic. Whether its the next big modern artist embalming his dead grandmother up a whale’s arsehole and hanging it from a glass tank in the middle of the Tate, or the next great self help millionaire who is going to help you be sexier than anyone in 60 days or the next big singer who has spent eleven times the GDP of Indonesia on cosmetic surgery in order to have the look. Due to the blatant lack of new, no one even tries to produce new, instead they produce the new old rather than the old new. Whether it be contemporary abstract futuristic cubism, or the how to quit smoking, lose 55 kilos and get a man or the next new rock indie folk punk funk hop sensation. Very little of it is actually new. That’s not to say that there is nothing new. It’s just harder to see.
Life has changed, the world has moved on. The Bohemian in me is saddened by the death of artistic pursuits. We have replaced the romantic notion of the world with a practical one which involves texting and blogging and facebooking and twittering. There are so many modern distractions that fewer people visit galleries, or read books or buy Cd’s. Eventually newness is going to come to an end entirely and then the world will implode on itself and all which will be left will be a large rock and a cockroach called Brian.