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The Eighties to Today

Introduction

The art world explodes from the 1980's to today with a variety of art forms influenced by theories previously mentioned and contemporary context. More theories develop with the aid of global expansion and a seeming loss of identity. As we progress to today, we must consider how each artist adds to our understanding of art, expanding on the precedents set forth by those who came before.

Neo-Expressionism

Neo Expressionism demonstrates the authentic discovery of one’s own identity was the fundamental goal of all the most important American exponents of the new “decentered” expressionism of the eighties just as it had been for the abstract expressionists. The degree to which contemporary life intruded upon the identity of a person was greater so the task became different. Several artists thus emerged as heroic figures in the 1980s like the abstract expressionists.

Julian Schnabel

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Julian Schnabel The Patient and the Doctors, 1978 and Some Bullfighters Get Closer to the Horns II, 1982

Julian Schnabel states, "All my images are subordinate to the notion of painting, what matters is not what is painted, but how it’s painted (Fineberg 448)." Schnabel continues,

To those who think painting is just about itself, I’m saying the exact opposite. The concreteness of a painting can’t help but allude to a world of associations that may have a completely different face other than that of the image you are looking at (Fineberg 448).

Schnabel's work is considered part of the new expressionist current in American painting. He orchestrated a media blitz which caused considerable resentment and symbolized the careerist tone of the art world in the eighties. Critics had trouble looking at the work objectively because of the media attention which almost caused them to completely ignore his work.

 

Schnabel takes formal risks and pursues grandiose ambitions that no cautious or deliberate artist would and that was what allowed for him to make an impact on the art world. Much of his work utilized cemented broken dishes, cubs and other ceramic fragments to wooden planes which he painted in an expressionistic style with crudely represented figures. The various elements in the composition seem to have nothing to do with one another or even the title. Schnabel states, "I wanted to make something that was exploding as much as I wanted to make something that was cohesive (Fineberg 449)."

He paints a representational and an abstract picture at the same time. He explains, "I want my life to be embedded in my work, crushed into my painting, like a pressed car (Fineberg 449)." His work is embued with the individualism of the abstract expressionists and comments directly to the pervasive materialism of contemporary culture.

Eric Fischl

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Eric Fischl Bad Boy, 1981

Fischl Used an expressive figurative style that comments on corporate culture and mainstream values that had colonized everyone’s identity, undermining the sense that one has uniqueness or originality. Fischl states, "The whole struggle for meaning since the 1970’s has been a struggle for identity…a need for self (Fineberg 450)." His subject is suburbia, were normalcy forbids acknowledgement of what doesn’t fit the communities image. The viewer becomes an accomplice to an act in which he or she may not wish to participate.

Jonathan Borofsky

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Jonathan Borofsky Berlin Figures

Jonathan Borofsky received an MFA from Yale School of Art in 1966. His work dealt with the conceptual as well as the surreal. His Counting Piece mimics Sol LeWitt’s conceptual ideas, however it deals more with the idea of a self-portrait as Borofsky doodles on papers of numbers as he recorded himself counting.

In 1975, Borofsky exhibited at the Paula Cooper Gallery simply installing virtually everything he had done in the past year that was in the studio, creating a jumbled mass of artistic information. Since his studio was empty, he began drawing on the walls and floor of his loft, a piece he worked on for a solid month. After this, Borofsky got in the habit of showing his work through an opaque projector as he projected his notes on the walls of the galleries. He was creating something that could not be purchased and the viewer had to be there out of genuine interest in the experience. This created an emotion filled atmosphere that evoked not only the intimacy of the artist’s studio but a look into his psyche in the way he reveals his symbolic doodles much like surrealism.

Borofsky constantly refers back to his counting piece in his artwork titles as he realizes his doodles on larger scales. (Dancing Clown at 2,845,325) His subsequent shows also come together much like his first show with the clutter of a studio atmosphere.

Graffiti Art

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Borofsky opened the door for a Graffiti aesthetic within the art world as a wave of expressionist graffiti bombed the New York Subway in the 1980’s. The writers were not naïve and their style turned towards gestural abstraction during a time of postmodernism. Although they had little formal education, Rammellzee wrote a manifesto of 1979-1986 called IONIC TREATISE GOTHIC FUTURISM ASSASSIN KNOWLEDGES OF THE REMANIPULATED SQUARE POINT ONE TO 720Degrees RAMMELLZEE . John Carlin describes this as “reads like Jacques Derrida on acid linking the biophysical structure of the universe to the shape and evolution of letters. The thrust of the treatise is the ability of symbolic creation to undermine institutional control. It sets fort a symbolic war wherein the artist’s ability to manipulate letters will change the reality structure.

Most graffiti art is attributed to the early seventies to an alias named TAKI 183 who began “Tag ups” as he wrote his name on the streets where he hung out. In the Eighties, the Renaissance of graffiti, the writers were able to take on the whole outside of subway cars creating elaborate murals inspired by comics and politics.

Keith Haring

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Kieth Haring Drawing in the New York Subway, 1981

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Keith Haring Untitled Works, 1980-85

Kieth Haring is probably the most well known of the "writers" as he was able to appropriate his work into the art gallery setting. He was a graduate from The School of Visual Arts in New York, so Haring was a trained artist focusing on political themes. At 22 he began working in a style that was inspired by the graffiti writers as he noticed the black patches where the subway would cover old posters and began drawing in these spaces with simple white line. He passionately created more than 5,000 of these drawings between 1981 and 1985 gaining considerable attention and was arrested several times as it became a war between him and the transit authority.

Haring created icons of mass culture to which everyone could relate using the same devices as advertising: repeated trademark images with simple instantly understandable messages. He saturated the public with his images, playing off the media and consumerism as he created them on any surface and opened the “Pop Shop” (a location still in existence on Lafayette) in 1986 in SoHo, much like Oldenberg had done with his works. Haring unfortunately died of AIDS in 1990, only 31 years old and in the prime of his career.

The East Village Scene of the Eighties

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The East Village during the 80’s begins opening up many tiny galleries in a more run-down area in an attempt to usurp power from the authoritative privately owned galleries. The underground scene extended to music venues such as CBGB & OMFUG. Artists in this area used appropriation and politics to drive messages home.

Jean-Michel Basquiat

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Jean-Michel Basquiat Charles the First, 1982 and Early Moses 1983

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Jean-Michele Basquiat Future Science Versus Man, 1983 and Tabac, 1984

Jean-Michel Basquiat burst into the art scene with celebrity in 1980 at 23 years old and unfortunately had an art career that was short lived as he died 1988 of a drug overdose. He became a friend of Warhol as he worked and hung out in The Factory. Basquiat created works that stem from graffiti culture and aesthetic stemming out of his period of homelessness where he had scribbled “SAMO” all over the train walls. Though it resembles graffiti, it also takes keys from Pollock and Twombly which Basquiat had seen in museums and books. His work demonstrates free association and raw subject matter.

Post Modern Installation

Installation works became an increasingly important medium for artists who wanted to create an emotional experience. For instance, David Hammons, an African American Artist who lives in Harlem addresses his art and installations to the person on the street in his black community:

The art audience is the worst audience in the world. It's overly educated, it's conservative, it's out to criticize, not to understand, and it never has any fun. Why should I spend my time playing to that audience?... I'll play with the street audience. That audience is much more human, and their opinion is from the heart. They don't have any reason to play games (Fineberg 463).

 

Ann Hamilton

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Ann Hamilton Malediction, December 7, 1991 and Mattering 1997-98

Ann Hamilton's work is always a powerful bodily experience arising from the artist’s own desire for personal discovery. She wants people to be absorbed into the physical experience of a piece and creates situations which implicate you as an active participant. Hamilton explained, "Letting the work work on you up through your body instead of from your eyes down. So that you allow yourself to experience something before you try to name it (Fineberg 464)." She creates installations that are open-ended and include a variety of different tactile sensations much like the Fluxus movement and happenings.

The Unilever Series

Today the Tate Modern Gallery in London commissions artists to produce unique installations for their Turbine Room, a massive space that allows for artists to adapt their practice. The results are varied and amazing on the level of the produced result. Currently the annual change of the space is a monumental event within the art world.

Appropriation

Roland Barthes argued that every sign (a word or, by extension, an image or a brushstroke) is a product of history and social convention. Assigning a role to the reader and to culture (which are perpetually changing) to define the content of a text. Negates the possibility of finding a stable interpretation of any text or image. Language is not a fixed entity with an unchangeable meaning. Language is unstable and not governed by artistic intention.

Barthes denied the concept of originality.

The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from innumeral centers of culture… The writer can only imitate a gesture that is always anterior, never original… Did he wish to express himself, he ought at least to know that the inner “thing” he things to “translate” is itself only a ready-formed dictionary (Fineberg 466).

 

Many artists of the late 70’s and early 80’s increasingly looked to ready-made images or ideas as the data of personal experience as well as the raw material of one’s expressive work. Appropriation grew out of collage via pop art “Pop art wasn’t just a 60’s phenomenon. It has become the dominant form of realism in the late 20th century.”(John Carlin) (Fineberg 467)

Richard Prince

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Richard Prince Untitled (Three Women Looking in the Same Direction), 1980

For Richard Price, mass media provides a stock catalog of contemporary desires (symbolized in advertising images) which he appropriates as experience. He dislocates images making them the content of a conceptual concept.

Raymond Pettibon

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Raymond Pettibon At Least I Got to See Vegas, 1988The End, 1991, and Untitled, 1985

Raymond Pettibon became a high school math teacher in LA when he decided to dedicate himself to drawing in the late seventies. He specializes in pen and ink drawings putting together image and text in a way that was uniquely his own. Approriating from comic styles. His work often incorporates irrational situations with tones of common sense.

Cindy Sherman

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Cindy Sherman Untitled Film Stills 21 and 13 and Untitled 92, 1978 and 1981

Cindy Sherman uses appropriation creating intimate narrative fragments in her photographs to create many layers of readings implied through costume and setting. In 1977, she began photographing herself in 50’s outfits and other costumes and settings. These are not self-portraits in an ordinary sense as she explores a wide range of roles for women but based on the prefabricated roles of movies and media.

Her work challenges the idea of fixed identity and has had a large impact on encouraging younger artists (women) in the nineties to use photography in this personal way. Sherman states about her work that "They’re not at all autobiographical, yet the pictures should trigger your memory so that you feel you have seen it before (Fineberg 471)."

Conseumerism

Mass Market consumerism in itself offered imaginative possibilities. The commodification of art – art treated as an item for sale and consumption thus became a subject for several artists.

Allan McCollum

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Allan McCollum Drawings, 1988-90, Over 10,000 Individual Works, 1987-88, and Each and Every One of You, 2004

McCollum probed the issue of commodified artistic language by making “art surrogates” (Neutral vehicles to see in what way one can separate and perfect the forms in artistic language as if they were mass-produced goods. Drawings 1992: Matter-of-fact treatment of drawings as infinitely re combinable prefab units, stacked in a store. This prefabricated art demonstrates the epitomy of the art buying experience.

Jeff Koons

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Jeff Koons Michael Jackson and Bubbles and Pink Panther, 1988 and Puppy, 2000

“The New,” was the principle series of work by Jeff Koons throughout the 1980's. In it, newness or a sense of pristine newness that accompanies the acquisition of consumer goods provokes a strange excitement in people. Koons loved the aphorism, “the hat makes the man” as his work deliberately moved to kitsch and also into explicit pornography making cynical consumer icons for the rich that were shocking for their commercial ambition and the confrontation with prevailing values of those who had dome to “own” culture in America.

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Jeff Koons String of Puppies1988

Koons has had to defend his use of appropriation and satirization in his work against multiple copyright lawsuits. The most famous, Rogers v. Koons. with regard to String of Puppies in which Koons lost the case and was forced to destroy his artworks. For more information on his court battles, this article by Owen, Wickersham, and Erickson Law Firm is a great resource. And for more on artistic copyright, this handout by John Mason provides some specifics about the law.

Check out the recent retrospective at the Whitney Museum

Political Appropriation

Many artists want to intervine directly in events serving as agents for social change such as Beuys and Immendorf. In 1981 46 corporations controlled most of the business in media; by 1986 that number shrunk to 29. It was estimated by 2000 ownership of the American media industry might be in the hands of only 6 conglomerates, and global communication dominated by only 12. This take-over of media is important because political events of the 80’s had made clear that slick advertisements could sell the public a perception of a candidate or issue that might bear no resemblance to the truth.

Tom Otterness + COLAB

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Tom Otterness Free MoneyFree Lunch, and 14th Street Station, 2000-2003

Tom Otterness, John Ahern and other artists organized shows which focused attention on political subjects in radical ways, many times illegal. Otterness's own work satirizes culture and its socio-political nature.

Jenny Holzer

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Jenny Holzer Murder has its Sexual Side and Private Property Created Crime

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Jenny Holzer Protect me from what I want and The Future is Stupid

Holzer was able to creat “truisms” beginning in 1997 by painting and later by gaining access to billboards, and electronic signage.

Barbara Kruger

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Barbara Kruger I shop therefor I am and You are not yourself

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Barbara Kruger Your body is a battleground and Your Gaze Hits the Side of My Face

Kurger combines slogans with images creating trendy graphic design based on her eleven years of graphic design experience. She recently produced a grand installation at the Hirshorn Museum in Washington DC:

Guerilla Girls

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The Guerilla Girls Posters

GG_Fist.jpgThe Gurilla Girls are a group of women artists that came together after the “International Survey of Contemporary Art” in 1984 at MOMA where very few women artists were represented. They appeared on television, advertised, distributed leaflets and poster, and now have a web-page to bring attention to race and gender discrimination in the art world.

90’s

The 1990's was a decade in which the easy millionaires of the 80’s lost their fortunes and started looking for jobs. Many hoped there would be a similar trend for the careerist fine artists and that art would be more about ideas again. The overnight millionaires of the computer and entertainment industries came to the fore and global consumerism continued. Big corporations became larger, and smaller ones disappeared. Main Street is replaced by the sameness in shopping malls, airports, and commuter traffic lines. Everyone bought cell phones, had the Internet, and were increasingly becoming tied into this technological age. The world becomes smaller with the advances in communication, transportation, and world politics, meanwhile people begin to loose a sense of identity.

Return to the body

The feminists of the 70’s made it clear how the introspective look at the body could bring identity to the artist. Many artists begin to look back to the body to express their own forms of identity.

Robert Gober

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Robert Gober Untitled, 1989-91 and Sink, 2000

Robert Gober began making legs, in a fetishized manner. He states, "I was in this tiny little plane sitting next to this handsome businessman, and his trousers were pulled above his socks and I was transfixed in this moment by his leg (Fineberg 480)." His work is oddly dissociated from the “normal” relations between things and the world. Creates a tension between the public and private identity.

Kiki Smith

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Kiki Smith Women with Sheep, 2009

Kiki Smith is the daugther of Tony Smith and uses tactile materials in a figurative way to bring a visceral quality to her representations of the human form.

Matthew Barney

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Matthew Barney Cremaster (Stills), 1994-2003

Barney graduated from Yale College in 1989. He began using prosthetics and make-up in the 90’s to create human/creatures for abstract films. Sexual but ambiguously gendered. Coloring is simplified and exaggerated. His performances mix drama, the sense of the happening, music, and theology. His performances are done specifically for video and are seen as if paintings. Below you will find one of the Cremaster performances:

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Cultural Identity

Like those who turned to the body, many minority artists turned to older, stylistic representations of cultural identity. They focused on aspects of life that may be overlooked otherwise to bring a sense of social presence to their culture.

Yinka Shinobare

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Yinka Shinobare How to Blow Up Two Heads at Once (Ladies), 2006 and Odile and Odette

Yinka Shinobare expresses the post colonial culture through fashion, installation, and performances mixing African and Victorian motifs. His work is an expression of identity but also often a social critique.

Ai Weiwei

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Ai Weiwei Dropping, 1995Snakeand Sunflower Seeds

Ai Weiwei is a Chinese artist who finds unique methods for commenting on his identity and Chinese culture. He produces sculpted installations and films fully utilizing media to aid in his expressive result often ending in controversy and even arrest.

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Takashi Murakami

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Takashi Murakami Hiropon and Gero Tan

Takashi Murakami has blown up in the contemporary art scene with his appropriation of Japanese Manga aesthetic while commenting directly on Japanese culture and the aesthetic itself.

Kehinde Wiley

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Kehinde Wiley Triple Portrait of Charles I, 2007

Wiley is an African American artist in Brooklyn, who utilizes the traditions of portraiture to highlight individuals of African decent.

Art as Controversy

A new generation of British artists focused on a body of art in that “truth” arose from the conversation around the work rather than from what was represented in it or even directed by it.

Dameon Hirst

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Damien Hirst A Thousand Years, 1990, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, 1991 and This Little Piggy Went to Market, This Little Piggy Stayed at Home 1996

Dameon Hirst blends uncomfortably visceral materials and explores media sensations. He escalates the shock value of his works, but still maintains a strong ideology in order to justify such practices.

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Other Videos About Hirst

Rachel Whiteread

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Rachel Whiteread House, 1993-94, Ghost, 1990, Untitled (Library), 1999, Twenty-five Spaces, 1995, and Water Tower, 1998-2000

Whiteread used controversy to push her artwork’s message. House was produced in the last remnant of a torn-down block of Victorian row houses in East London through poured concrete. The press started on the piece and before the month was out, she was awarded the prestigious Turner Prize, but on the same day the local council voted to demolish the project. The controversy stems from the felling one gets in this detail of other record of a human situation, the lives that were lived in the space left in the cast. It is like a tombstone or a memorial with the prevasiveness of death, and that thought can be quite unsettling.She later continues with this idea and creates works such as Ghost, and Library which a similar one was done as a memorial fro Holocaust victims for Vienna.

Fashion

Vanessa Beecroft

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Vanessa Beecroft Shows, 1998-2001

Beecroft made paintings influenced by fashion design drawings. She also produced performances in which nude and semi-nude fashion models are placed in public spaces. She structures her shows in a way that the models become more like mannequins, overtly sexual, but depersonalised in structural arrangement and engagement with the viewer. The grids or structures in which she places the figures are similar to the commodification of previous artworks such as those by McCollumn.

Mariko Mori

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Mariko Mori Play With Me and Subway, 1994

Mariko Mori is a New York and Tokyo based artist who graduated from fashion design school and was a fashion model. She often uses makeup and photography to create a total fantasy world around herself in installations. In Japan, she dressed as a sexy cyborg and put herself into public for photos similar to the works by Cindy Sherman. In Play with me there is a double meaning, connecting her to the toy store, and the sexual availability in a utopia of pure unemotional sexuality. She states that "when you wear clothes, you become a personality, you become the clothes (Fineberg 495)."

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Mariko Mori Pureland, 1996

Mori's photo prints are done on a massive scale (10 x 12 feet) creating a panoramic reality. In 1995, she sifts to experimenting with computer manipulation to create 3-D Virtual Reality videos that are accompanied by 20 ft wide images.

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Mariko Mori Wave UFO, 2003

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Mariko Mori: Oneness from UM Stamps School of Art & Design on Vimeo.

Postmodern Conceptualism and the Postmodern Self

Much of the 90’s is based on a conceptual model in which the artist readily shifted back and forth form one medium to another seeking the most appropriate form in which to express a particular idea. The idea in turn often derived from a structural concept or regime rather than following a more traditional formal development. Artists were working in sculpture one minute, then painting the next basing their media to follow a concept (“The Media is the Message”). Corporate conformity and the expansion of consumerism and marking left less and less mental space for a cohesive sense of self.

The Internet begins to become a main mode of communicating, shopping, transferring data, and “surfing” a sea of news and information without time, distance, or boundaries. The Internet went from 0 to universal in a little over a decade and it’s effect on personal consiousness is what has become a key issue at the turn of the century. Books such as William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) have started to become a reality as humans fuse with computers and communicate mainly digitally.

Ebon Fischer

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Ebon Fisher Nervepool

Fischer turned to the web to create social utopias that integrate art, design, and social philosophy. He teams together with designers to create web-based programs, digital art with no fixed materiality.

William Kentridge

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William Kentridge is a South African artist who specializes in film and animation. His works are surreal and strong images of social commentary produced using a unique method of drawing and erasing.

Further Reading: Rose, Josh."William Kentridge's Drawing form Tide Table (Soho in Deck Chair)." SmartHistory, Khan Academy. Web. 2014.

Conclusion

In the year of Kandinsky’s first abstract paintings and the most experimental moment of Picasso’s cubism, a Munich critic brought out a book called The Death of Art in which he complained that art is dying of the masses and of materialism… for the first time we have entered a period without direction, without an artistic style, without a young revolutionary generation. The most important avant-garde art has always been difficult to recognize or understand. It requires work from the serious viewer and baffles people usually making them uncomfortable and angry. It embodies an individual’s struggle to come to terms with his or her inner thoughts and identity in relation to the constantly changing facts of existence in the world.

Freud pointed out in Civilization and its Discontenents, a permanent tension exists between the individual and society and the alienation that this tension engenders perpetuates an avant-garde as the expression of an enduring human need. Art contributes to the ideals and models of thinking about important issues in a culture. We need to look beyond market influences and beyond the intellectual fashions of academia to see this spiritual dimension, because artists enter their ideas into the world, not just into books and art history classes (Fineberg, 504).

 

Challenge

It is now on to you to find artists that demonstrate a contemporary spirit, push boundaries, and contribute to the future of art. You have been given a glimpse at an array of different talents, directions, and theories on art. As the art world progresses, it is important to keep an eye open to artistic events and consider how these new artists contribute.

I urge you now to use what remaining weblinks and questions to suggest artists that you find. Artists that are currently displaying their work in some fashion and explore areas of art that we may not have covered in these lessons.

Further Reading

 

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