Thursday, June 18, 2009

All My Thoughts on Pop

(Stay away from the whine, Lindsey. Stay away!!) I had to do a couple of things I didn't want to do this week (so I did them with misgivings). Oh well. Living your dreams won't ever come easy, and I think my beginner's luck has just simply, officially, run its course. Notwithstanding, I've just realized I haven't put up a serious post about art in a long while. I've been headed creepily towards the self-absorbed blogs deliciously satirized in seriouslysoblessed! Heaven forbid! So I am putting off my daily resume dispersion for a moment of fun for me, and (hopefully) enjoyment for you as well.

Mom asked me why she recognized that picture of a woman crying in the last post. "Is that famous?" she asked. "Yes, but not as a cartoon," I answered, "It's pop art. By Roy Lichtenstein. He and Andy Warhol and the other Pop artists were so sick of seeing museums buy artwork essentially of nothing, cuz they were entering the art market right after minimalism's heyday, where all the famous art was basically painted boxes and monochrome canvases with one spot or one stupid vertical line on them. So the pop artists decided to paint or sculpt what seemed to them like the last unheralded realm of imagery: popular things.(Hence the name of the art movement). They began to figure out little tongue-in-cheek ways to play with items you see every day, like Campbell's soup labels, Marilyn Monroe's face, or in Roy Lichtenstein's case, comic book illustrations." (Yes, that was pretty much a word-for word summary of my reply to my mother's question.)

Breaking down 20th-century modern art history into its most elemental pieces (which a good art historian should never do but does anyways... small trade secret for ya), avant-garde art went like this after WWI: Cubism (think Picasso, who was one of the first to say, "I've painted beautiful women's faces long enough! Let's mess up her eyes and ears and colors and see what happens!").

Abstract Expressionism (i.e. Jackson Pollock, who said, "Forget women's faces! Let's just look at paint, glorious, paint when I throw it around majestically!").

High modernism (With artists like DC's own Morris Louis, who said, "I'm not even going to throw it around! I'm going to let it slide down the canvases on its own, so I can say I've truly got the essence of painting- canvas and color, no artist's hand involved!").

Minimalism (the aforementioned boxes and stupid vertical lines). Artists like Sol LeWitt decided they didn't want art to look like ANYONE made it anymore. Like a machine could make it instead. Incidentally, Sol LeWitt just completed a wall design that the LA Times art critic calls the Sistine Chapel of America. Read here and feel free to disagree, if you feel so inclined. Me and many other art-worlders certainly do.

Then, THEN, like a cheeky ray of ironic sunlight, came Pop art. Roy Lichtenstein, like many others of his generation (the big Pop names include Robert Indiana, Claes Oldenburg, James Rosenquist, Wayne Theibaud, and the illustrious Mr. Andy Warhol) bounced unsatisfied from style to style in the wakes of these quickly-changing art movements, all of which had the unfortunate and probably very annoying habit of setting up their originators as the saviors and primmadonnas of the art world (this process was helped along by the various dramas that unfolded in the artists' high-roller lives: Pollock, as you know, crashed his car into a tree and died at age 44, taking a female passenger along with him, while Carl Andre, a Minimalist, pushed his wife and fellow artist Ana Mendieta off a balcony to her death, though he denies it. Rubbish.)

Poor, talented, unfamous, and probably drunk, the pop artists essentially decided to scream, Howard Beale-like, "I'm mad as H#%! and I'm not gonna take it anymore!" Enough with this hoity-toityness! I'm tired of stupid lines and inflated egos!

When you look at their art, the thing the pop artists most often hoped you would see lies beyond the familiar, cheap subject matter. Most of the time, they want you to realize, with misgivings, that this ordinary part of your world is now suddenly out of the ordinary, and maybe always has been. You, and they, and most of the people around us, are constantly and completely assaulted by images from the news, ads, packaging, billboards, TV, internet, etc., which all mean very little and affect no lasting change. We are all in a state of being either engrossed in, disgusted by, or amused at the commercialism and mass-media-type images that saturate our cultural landscape. So these Pop artists, they used bright colors, and ginormous canvases, and unusual sculpting materials (Claes Oldenburg created giant bath tubs out of stuffed canvases), all in an effort to poke fun at both the prestigious and pretentious world of fine art up to that point, and also the ubiquitous base of low-class design that formed the very foundation of society's visual atmosphere.

Now, the discomfiting fact is that some of these Pop artists stepped beyond the boundaries of good art (A fledgling Modern Art Historian asserted that there is such a thing as good and bad modern art? Yes, yes she did.) and chose to create works that are pornographic and/or despondent. However, they also simultaneously affected real and lasting change in the landscape of the avant-garde by their ironic and methodical musings on the "normal" experience of life. For that reason I study and admire them, albeit with my own occasional misgivings about their choice of subject matter and mood.

Today, while in the midst of sending out resumes like Obama sends out stimulus money, I wanted to relate to you what I consider to be my prickly future task as a Mormon art historian: weeding through demoralizing trash to find and properly admire the art that is truly our marvelous cultural heritage here and now, at the beginning of the 21st-century. FYI, all of the selected images this post are artworks I consider great, if not classic, cultural gifts. I adore Morris Louis' beautiful "Veils," as he called them, and I just smile and want a sandwich every time I see this^ James Rosenquist. When I told a guy in my ward this week that I plan on studying Modern art, he scoffed, "Huh. The worst art of all time!" I vehemently disagree with him, though I don't know all the reasons why just yet (hence, more school). I just know that I'm here at this time in history for a reason, as were these Pop and Modern and Contemporary artists, and that I will share more feelings and experiences with them than I ever will with some dead Greek who painted wings and lightning bolts on a vase. I like knowing that I can see what my chosen artists saw, and feel what they felt, and I can certainly empathize with their frustration and confusion at modern life's overflow of inane images. THIS is why it does not SUCK to study Modern Art. After all, isn't that the best part of all art, and the whole human experience: being able to connect with other human beings??

From the Top:

Pablo Diego Jose Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno Maria de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santisima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso. :) Le Reve, 1932
Jackson Pollock, Lavender Mist, 1954
Morris Louis, Dalet Kaf, n.d.
Sol LeWitt, Open Modular Cube, 1966
Roy Lichtenstein, Sunrise, 1965
Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe, 1967
James Rosenquist, White Bread, 1964

PS Something in me is screaming to make sure this is understood: All of these are white males. Yes, historically, that is who called the artistic shots. Helen Frankenthaler was actually the true mistress (as in, the feminine version of master) of Color-field Painting, what Morris Louis did, better (they were friends, and Morris benefitted greatly by her lead). There. I said my peace, and all my feminist art historian friends can put down their torches now.


Jayci said...

AH! I love both 'types of your blogging.' Your autobiographical self-saturated blogging AND your art-saturated blogging. Your blog is the blog for me, in other words. :) blog blog blog. Do you still hate the word?? haha probably not as much, if I had to guess!

I just bought a Norman Rockwell book today at Borders. I found it in the lovely Bargain section and thought, AH!! I HAVE TO HAVE THIS. I love his artwork. There is humor, there is honesty, there is raw emotion, there is a play on real life like I haven't seen in many other artists' work. The book is "Norman Rockwell's America". I think my son better appreciate art. And America. And your blog. ;o)

Jayci said...

ps - I'm REALLY looking forward to following you through your exploration of modern art. I think you'll find a lot of interesting things to share!

MOM said...

Thanks for the cool "pop art" and art history lesson!

MOM said...

Ok. I checked out "here" to see Sol LeWitt's wall art that was labeled our "Sistine" chapel. I will say that it was fun and neat, and I'd enjoy walking around it once or twice, and I liked how the square light from the outside wall mixes with his curvy lines. Fun.

However, to compare it to the Sistine? Yikes! With the Sistine chapel you get new images and stories with every few feet you pass under. LeWitt is a one-liner, two colored fun "wall paper" (as many of the bloggers commented). Sistine is masterpiece. Detailed. Painstaking, carefully crafted and painted.LeWitt was simple fun. Twirling two pencils and see what happens. No comparison whatsoever!!

Thanks again for the pop/modern art mini-lesson. It was fun to re-read.