Friday, December 23, 2011

Travelogue in Art in Postmodern Times

Abe V Rotor

Sowbug model, Museum of Natural History, UPLB, Laguna

rt indeed has proliferated into theories, and each theory cannot be judged as right or wrong. So with its direction, and its multi-facet expressions. Here are developments in the art in our postmodern time.

1. Art and Modern Super Structures – The ancient wonders of the world are now dwarfed by mega structures like the Eiffel Tower (France), Brooklyn Bridge (USA), Panama Canal, Chunnel (tunnel linking France and Great Britain across the English Channel), and Petronas Twin Tower (Malaysia), Aswan Dam (Egypt), to name a few.

2. Photographic Art – The camera and its accessories are now easily accessible. These include programs for photo editing and publication. The versatility of photography is in its advance technology, linking it with advertisement, digital art, communication and media. Photography is a “short cut to art” which makes its classification controversial. With the computer, a photograph can be converted into various forms and interpretations. But such result emanates mainly from the versatility of the machine rather than the operator. Photography has taken over the former function of art in portraiture and documentation.

3. Art and Media – Media art reaches the far ends of the globe, from print to satellite communications. With cellphones, and multi-media equipment make people participate in the arts as performers and audience. Media is everywhere every day. Music can be produced any time. TV programs through cable brings in a flood of information and entertainment. Media has revolutionized schooling through Distance Learning (Open University) and communications (e-mail, e-libing, e-commerce, e-learning, and the like)

4. Function-and-Beauty – The role of art in industry and trade is that it enhances the desirability of a product or service. It is akin to advertisement, but it is actually function and beauty combined that sells. For example, a car’s sleek design is functionally aerodynamics, tools and equipment are ergonomically designed. More and more houses, roads, bridges, parks, and the like exhibit the element of function-and-beauty.

5. Thrash Art – Art from recycled materials is practical, and it sends an ecological message, that touches people’s sensitivity and conscience amidst worsening pollution. Thrash art may be a sculptural piece made of metal scraps (art), or it could be an all-purpose bag from recycled fruit juice packages (craft). The former is an example of high level art (aesthetic, and to any extent, a philosophy), while the other product is considered as low-level art (craft, which is more of its function than mere aesthetics.)

6. Avant-garde and Graffiti art on walls, trains, buses, fences, sidewalks, and other places is often associated with vandalism, and reflects deterioration of values. To many people it would be shocking to consider it as art. It reflects radicalism, although the claim is that art – whatever art takes - is free expression and of thought in whatever style or symbols. Based on conventional criteria, avant-garde and graffiti art is simply not art at all. And yet, it flourishes, which could only mean that art evolves even outside the realms of art itself, apparently a characteristic of postmodern trends.

7. The Wonders of Nature are gaining artists’ interest and tourists’ attraction. Naturalism links man-made and natural structure, science and art, humanities and ecology. The Galapagos Islands (South America), Mt Everest (Nepal), Great Barrier Reef (Australia), Victoria Falls (Africa), Niagara Falls (USA), - and our own Hundred Islands (Pangasinan), Underground River (Palawan) Mt Mayon (Albay), are examples of countless natural spots that draw man’s awe and wonder. With ecological destruction everywhere, man’s attitude toward nature has evolved a new dimension - responsibility and accountability to guard nature as heritage for the younger generations.

8. Classical and Contemporary Art – Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote topped the world’s best novels, with Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere ranked closely behind. The works of Shakespeare and Browning once topped the list of classical poetry, and in music, the works of Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, and Tchaikovsky. In painting, the names Rembrandt, Goya, Da Vinci, and Michelangelo are regarded institutions. The timelessness of classics are being overshadowed by neo-classical and contemporary works, although classics remain as undying models even with the march of time and progress, and new movements creating diverse pieces of art that go with postmodern life.

9. Art and Extremism. Going back to basics draws art to fundamental themes and techniques. But fundamentalism may turn to isolationism. Art is never subservient to either. On the other hand, radicalism could ignite controversy, such as the recent art exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines lampooning Christ and desecrating holy objects. The exhibit drew ire from both religious and clergy. Art cannot be detached from morals, more so with ethics. It cannot be amoral or neutral to values.

10. Instant Art – Those who have watched Avatar or Starwars may wonder at the versatility of these movies. The truth is, many of the scenes were studio-generated and faked. Another aspect of instant art is pirating (piracy of intellectual property), and packaging such as “canned” nature (Gubat sa Siudad, Fantasyland). There is a proliferation of amusements, and mass production of art works legal or illegal. It is a trend in our postmodern life to go for instant things like photo shoot, tarpaulin billboards, e-publishing, DVD movies, and MP3 music. Similarly there is trend in food (fast food), on the dance floor (maskipop), on the karaoke (Minus One). But there is no need to change the definition of art. It is like separating the grains from the chaff, so to speak, and know what is art and is not. The essence and purpose of art will never change.

No time in history has art found its widest application than it is today. Its enormous variety serve people of all ages, singly or collectively, in various occasions and events, touching their lives, tapping their talents, arousing their feelings, stimulating them to think and imagine . And to create the most wonderful things that constitute their own masterpieces. This is the challenge of art today and if these can relate to the betterment of humanity, then we say, art is humanities. ~ (AVR 11-1-11)

Environmental awareness exhibit, Ho Chi Minh University of Technology in Vietnam

NOTE: The author was tasked in putting up the Grain Industry Museum the National Food Authority in (1980-83), and the St Paul Museum of St Paul University QC in (1995-2009) and served as curator through the periods mentioned. (Both museums are no longer open to the public.) Dr Rotor drew his ideas and art about museums from his travels visiting museums like The Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, The Egyptian Museum in Cairo, The Mexican Museum in Mexico City, The Israel Museum in Tel Aviv, The Vietnam Museum in HoChiMinh City, The Chicago Museum of Natural History, De Paul University Museum in Lincoln Park, Chicago, Manitoba Museum in Winnipeg, Taiwan’s Tunnel Museum in Taipei, The Forbidden City in Beijing, The Grand Palace in Bangkok, The National Museum in Tokyo, Rijks Museum in Amsterdam, The Louvre in Paris, St Peter and The Vatican in Rome, among others.

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