Writing a New Story of Art

I’ve begun to think of much of art history in the last part of the twentieth century as a story about a vital organ of humanity slowly peeling away from the rest, becoming rarefied, highfalutin, relevant to its time perhaps but in ways that few could appreciate. But a funny thing happened on the way to the twenty-first century: the story of art exploded. Or, as some have put it and as I like to say, one story of art history ended, and a new one began.

Whether you agree or disagree with that thought, it’s clear that something fundamental has changed in the art world. Broad, powerful movements seem no longer to arise, at least not in the same way as Pop and Ab-Ex, for example, while micro-movements, so to speak, seem to appear and evaporate over just a few years. Small works abound and are taken seriously, abstractions proliferate, video and multimedia work seems more prominent than ever, new aesthetics develop and fade away like fantastic, flowering weeds. The aspect of the fine arts discourse that once took place between a few artists in a few bars in a few cities on a few nights is now an ongoing conversation between hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of artists in thousands of cities and towns around the world.

I’ve become so impressed with the sense of newness these changes imply that my approach to art, both my own and of others, is much more immediate than in prior decades. I tend to be less interested in an artist’s intent, for example, or in the way a contemporary work might relate to historical work, at least until I’ve come to an appreciation based on other aspects. I’ve come to suspect that it’s a detriment if a work of art requires a deep or esoteric understanding of any other subject. My patience for art that comes with a homework requirement has worn very thin.

It appears to me that, as artists and as those who enjoy, write about, exhibit, collect and otherwise interpret art, an exhilarating opportunity has been placed before us to write a new story. This story can be – in fact already is – incredibly inclusive, rather than restricted to ideas enunciated by deceased Western academics. It can inspire most if not all viewers, rather than single out a few for inspiration and leave the rest gaping deadly, resenting sometimes that their tax dollars funded it. In this new story, art could be written deeply into the culture at large, enriching and bringing perspective and added dimensions of education.

Perhaps, with time, we’ll see that this supposed new story of art is really just the old story repackaged and refurbished, Vasari 2.0. Even if this turns out to be the case, the way in which art now appears to develop, along multiple axes and in many different directions at once, promises to bear fascinating fruit.

That’s why I’m excited about writing for this new publication, and why I hope you’ll keep reading, contributing with your comments, and being involved with art in whatever way makes sense for you. And, who knows? Maybe as we write the next story of art together, we can write a better story for humanity as well.

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