By: Grace Zhang
My favorite piece of art in the Cleveland Museum of Art is a set of washing machine doors. Not Monet’s paintings or the infamous Thinker statue, just a set of dryer doors. I respect their works, understand their contributions to art as a whole, and recognize their immense value, but despite all that, they have not managed to secure a spot in my heart.
Contemporary art is often criticized for being overly simplistic, meaningless and stupid. How can anyone dare to say that the Mona Lisa and a blank canvas are on the same level of artistry? One requires masterful technique, skillful command of paint and color and hours of dedication and observation, while the other requires none of that, yet they are regarded on the same level of prestige. When considering this it seems that contemporary art can never measure up to the art of the past. However, if one really considers the two, how can they be anything but?
The concept of art itself is not black and white. No one has ever doubted that the earliest cave paintings were art. They were the first things created by humans for non-practical purposes. The paint on the walls wasn’t going to feed them or keep them safe at night but yet, they felt that it was an endeavor worth pursuing. But, when your 5-year-old cousin draws a crayon portrait for their family complete with stick figures and square houses, no one ever thinks about placing it in a museum. But what about that drawing is so fundamentally different from those first cave paintings? And what makes Warhol’s pop art superior to illustrated commercials for Campbell soup? The problem with looking at art like this is that we only consider the final product, the thing we see. We don’t consider the idea, the message, the conveyed emotions, or the intention. Pop art is an examination of mass commercial culture in the postwar era and a movement that aims to challenges the traditions of fine art while commercials for soup are just trying to sell you soup. Though visually similar, they are intrinsically different.
But even after you consider those things. What makes art good? Not every good painting is defined by the same set of characteristics and copying everything that makes a certain piece a masterpiece won’t make yours one, so how does one draw the line between the two? Just like anything else, art is subjective and because there is nothing to really define a good piece of art, the quality of a piece will change over time just like opinions. However, when admiring art, one shouldn’t really consider how good it is, because that isn’t the point. It’s about the art itself.
So why contemporary art? Because just like any form of art, contemporary art is a means for the artist to express certain things and provide their perspective on the world. It’s purpose and intention is just as noble as works that are hundreds of years old. Art is a reflection of the human experience, it changes along with us, and therefore that blank canvas in the museum is really just the embodiment of our generation in art form, meaning it can’t and shouldn’t be compared to art of any other time period and that individual works of art can’t be compared to each other because they all represent different experiences, ideas, and emotions. But, even after considering these things, you can’t like every piece of art ever produced, but just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s worth any less. We all have different tastes. But, keep in mind, what means nothing to you means the world to someone else. That is the importance of contemporary art. It is just part of never-ending, ever-evolving struggle to understand ourselves that can’t be constrained by time or space and is unlimited in possibility and scope. It’s us.
Curious in the piece I’m talking about?