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Posted on July 19 at 12:59 p.m.
One thing which time changes about all art (which in a sense gives a shape to time and our times) is perception of its content. Content is much differentiated from compostion.
One step further; great art is one brilliant shortcut to the senses, an adventure of the mind and the senses for one given time for an individual in her time in history. Then, with each generation, if it is great art, we perceiving something that makes individuals think and contains a quality which moves one, immediately.
So what is left out of this most learned philsophical discussion is the element of time/history vis a vie content, and NOT composition, because, as Mr Hunt points out, structure, which is elemental, does not change (the compostions at the Cave at Lascaux, for example). For art to live throught time, through which great art mysteriously moves, it must have resonance beyond time.
I had to giggle at 'flesh eating bacteria' and 'Nazi dead' being sited as proof for the lack of beauty in all things....However, the concept of beauty is most difficultly couched in our own value systems, and in future generations, what is NOT now seen as art may be perceived as art.
Let me give you three concrete examples: recently Mayor R Giuliani cut funding to the Brooklyn Museum for showing a 1966 painting by Chris Olfili of the Madonna painted in oils enhanced by elephant dung.
The artist is saying something to OUR time- that disonance is a tool to move us into another plane of reference. In other words, what is holy, beautiful, sacrosanct? Is this oil and dung on canvas or a symbol, or both?
You see, it makes us think for OUR time. Now Caravaggio's "Death of the Virgin", painted in 1606, took as a model one of Caravaggio's 'harlots'. People in 1606 banned the image. Take a look at it today- it is one of the most revered images of the Virgin.
Anther example of this double edged change over time through resonance and relevance is the work of the Civil War photographers. I use the exmpale of Timothy O'Sullivan, whose famous image of a stone bunker pictures three dead Confederate soilders, in a most moving and masterful composition. Everything is 'beautiful' about this composition. We see this photo and we marvel at the artisty of this early photographer, and we are also saddened. But we are not shocked---- and we do in fact think of this as fine and great art.
Third EXAMPLE: I recently reviewed two 30ish PhD Guggenheim Fellows, both classical musicians, who composed with sound bites in a 'mash' medium. They used what they called antique sounds--- pulling from You Tube noises from "antique" recording deivces as old as eight years!!! Yes, these sounds held thoughts about communication, rapidity, change, and bewilderment.
So here we see that art has an embedded yet transcendent time element, which changes and charges us to think beyond moral strictures, as if we were strangers to our own heads and times.
On Is It Art?