A friend of mine, New York artist Steve Harlow,
once told me that he believed painting had
become an irrelevant art form. Something that
is only valued for purposes of nostalgia.
Being a painter himself, I thought that he
was making this argument purely for the purposes
of shock-rhetoric. As time passed, though,
I found myself coming back to this idea again
and again, each time finding more truth in
it. The heart of the question that concerns
me is 'is art relevant?' What art impacts
society in any way? Fine arts such as painting
really have very little social impact in our
modern age. Except for a small elite in large
urban areas, the general public is completely
unaware of the art world.
It can be argued that the art elite is a breeding ground for new ideas,
then slowly filter down to the general public. The weight of this
discounted by the fact that there has not been a new original idea to
the art world in many years.
No artist has become known to the general public since Warhol. And the
world is not acting as a medium for social commentary or progressive
It seems the only visual art that really effects people are commercial
billboards. Some art forms such as movies and popular music do have a
social effect on values and ideas. Unfortunately, both of these
mediums are so
commercialized that they can barely be looked at as a place to find
artistic expression that seeks to communicate anything.
To return to the area of fine arts, throughout
the 20th century artists have searched for
ways to create art that would have an impact.
In the early part of the century this seemed
to be fairly easy. Art was deconstructed through
various means and set free of the limitations
and expectations of its own traditions. The
dadaists, cubists, surrealists, and abstract
expressionists not only redefined what art
was and could be, they presented ideas that
expressed and analyzed the changes in the
human condition in the industrial age.
Once art was completely deconstructed and artists were given nearly
freedom, the art world seemed to be at a loss for new ideas. Since
then we have
had pop and graffiti, both of which could be seen as further
in the last 20 years no original ideas have come out of the art world.
In the last century, artists have tried to extend the canvas as a means
creating relevant art. Installation art and performance art have given
almost unlimited creative freedom to express themselves. Both of these
had brief periods of exuberant exploration of their own form, but both
began to repeat themselves and suffer from a drought of original ideas.
Let us try to take the point of view of the
artist who wishes to create art that impacts
society. If the artist wants his expression
to be heard on a wider scale, which medium
does he choose? Painting? Sculpture? Music?
One medium has galvanized national attention,
although few see it as a true artistic medium.
The medium I speak of is the national media.
The national media when taken as a single
entity is the most powerful medium for communicating
to a large audience.
Like all art forms, it has limitations. Namely, that it has a simple
byte' mentality to its power. Even given this limitation, it is
creating a powerful image that can be imprinted on a worldwide
To look at it further let's focus on the pop
star Madonna. You may be surprised to find
out that I respect Madonna as an artist. Not
for her music or acting - in both of these
she is mediocre at best. The area in which
Madonna is a great artist is in her ability
to use the media as a canvas to create her
image and communicate ideas. In this, she
is a master.
We have seen this in a few other pop stars
as well. At his best, David Bowie was also
a master of the media as medium. If we look
back further in time, we find Shep Gorden,
the manager of the young artist Alice Cooper.
Gorden was a master at using scandal to create
an image for Alice Cooper. An image that represented
teenage decadence as a result of the corrupt
values of their elders. If we go back further,
we find Elvis Presley's manager Colonel Tom
Parker who created Presley's image as a symbol
of sexual expression for repressed teens.
And back further yet, we find P.T. Barnum
who is perhaps the grandfather of the art
Now you may argue that these artists have not used the medium to
anything of relevance. Although I would be inclined to argue that
point, let us
instead focus on the political arena. Success as a politician depends
completely on the media as medium to create an image which embodies a
set of values.
Politicians and their people are masters of this art. Bill Clinton,
Reagan, and John F. Kennedy are the success stories. I guarantee you
studied the art and took it completely seriously.
To look at the political realm in another light, the Republican Party
master of the media art during the Clinton years. Many of the scandals
Republicans forced into the public's attention were completely baseless
accusers knew it, but the truth was not important. Perception was
This was a work of artistic creation: the more the media spoke of the
accusations the more real they became in the public's mind. Through
method, the Republicans were able to destroy the image Clinton had
replace it with a new image that represented a different set of values.
a war of art against art - an art form that almost toppled a
One of the ways in which the media is employed
as an artistic medium that profoundly effects
society is through advertising. Through advertising,
the corporations use the media as art not
only to create a demand for products, but
also to create a system of values that will
guides the public's behavior. The artists
who create advertising campaigns are the true
masters of media as medium. A close examination
of their techniques reveals that these artists
study psychology and social trends to bring
power to their art. Advertising campaigns
regularly use psychological manipulation to
sell their products. Techniques both subtle
and overt are used to affect the unconscious
minds of the viewers. Often they do so by
playing on our fears, sexual desires, feelings
of inadequacy, and sense of duty and self-worth.
When manipulating through the media it is
most effective when appealing to primal instincts.
Everything from camera angles, to music, to
the most subtle expressions and body gestures
are employed to communicate the message.
Many people have a hard time believing that
this is taking place, but when one considers
the amount of big money involved it makes
sense. An advertising campaign can make or
break a company. Those who create the ad campaigns
know the stakes involved and are ruthless
in their determination to succeed.
For those in advertising, the media as artistic
medium is a reality that no one questions.
It propels the world economy. If you question
the media as medium, ask yourself how many
jingles you can sing. How many company logos
are imprinted in your mind? How many advertising
catch phrases you can repeat?
Contrast that with how many great paintings
you can visualize. Or how many pieces of classical
music your can hum. I would bet next week's
allowance that ads score higher than all the
other arts combined. Furthermore, advertising
has played a large role in creating the social
values of the modern age. Most obvious is
the ascendancy of materialism as the highest
goal. Add to that the population's preoccupation
with sexuality, acceptance of the status quo,
and the belief that there is a 'good life'
out there with perfect families and great
fun with beautiful friends. And if only you
drink Mountain Dew or brush your teeth with
the right toothpaste, it can all be yours!
These ideas are preached between the lines
in add campaigns, and we are indoctrinated
without ever having considered the issues.
When an advertising agent approaches a new product, often the very need
product must be created in the public's mind. If you can create the
the new product is needed, it is guaranteed to sell. Without exciting
desire for these products, the wheels of the economy would stop
Advertising has been the most effective tool used by the world's power
control the population. Advertising provides the carrot on the stick
the beasts of burden trudging forward. In a land of plenty such as the
States, to persuade an entire population to spend the best part of
and energy in labor is an amazing feat of coercion.
One of the reasons capitalism has succeeded while communism has failed
because communism used force to control the population, while the
have brilliantly brainwashed the population into doing what they are
making them believe they are free. It is a masterpiece of social
keeps the economy moving and the rich powerful and free. One of the
used in achieving this amazing feat is the national media. Those in
been effectively using the media ever since it emerged, and in their
has defined our values as much as religions did in previous ages.
Although people do not generally recognize the media as an art form, in
of their minds they understand its power. Given this, one more
has emerged in recent years. Let us return to our original questions:
an artist create relevant art? How does an artist create art that has
Suppose an individual feels a strong artistic impulse. Perhaps they do
see themselves as an artist. Still, they feel emotions that are
bottled up and
they need to express them. They have ideas they need to share with the
And yes, like all artists, they are crying out for attention. This is
artistic impulse at its most basic level. This is the artist at
Given this, what should the individual do
if he desires to impact the world? Should
he go to a theater in New York's underground
and do performance art? Doing so would hardly
make any impact on anyone, and would only
be heard by a few like-minded souls. Should
he splatter his ideas on canvas then beg an
East Village gallery owner to display it so
a few art-snobs can analyze it between sips
of cheap wine? It hardly seems worth the effort.
But now imagine a young man. He feels ignored and abused by the world
him. He instinctively feels there is something wrong with the society
in. He is angry and has no voice with which to express himself.
He could pick up a guitar and bang out ugly
chords and sing aggressive rock lyrics. He
could throw buckets of ocher and burnt sienna
at a white canvas. But instead he buys a long
trench coat, an assortment of firearms, and
a supply of ammunition. In the morning he
loads his weapons and hides them underneath
his coat. When he gets to school, he begins
shooting people randomly. After murdering
and wounding dozens of innocent classmates,
he turns the gun on himself and ends his own
Because of his actions the people in his hometown
have been terrorized. Police and ambulances
rush to the scene. News helicopters fill the
sky. Reporters swarm at the edge of the police
line. The news headlines flash across the
nation. Special reports interrupt regular
television programming. The event is treated
as a national catastrophe. For weeks afterwards
TV news pundits ponder his actions. Why did
he do it? Who is to blame? What is wrong with
our society? Do we blame the parents? The
schools? Was it the kids that picked on him?
Rock music? Media violence? Or is America
just sinking into a morass of nihilistic violence?
At this point, we must ask ourselves an unpleasant question: Which act
a statement with more impact? Throwing paint at a canvas or the act of
violence described here? Given the horrible nature of this act it is
answer honestly. If we are able to leave good and evil aside we are
admit that this act of violence was most affecting.
People are numb to art. One can put anything on a canvas and no one
will bat an
eye. You can say or do anything in music and no one is shocked. None
of it is
taken seriously enough to be considered a sincere statement. But by
extreme violence, the artist was able to capture the focus of the
and cut through the public malaise to make them seriously consider the
of this act. Whether we like it or not the artist achieved what few
ever are able.
Now by this time, surely many of you are offended
by the idea of labeling this act a work of
art, and awarding the murderer the lofty title
of 'artist.' We should remember that to do
so is not to condone his actions. It merely
allows us to learn through analysis. And it
is an important question to consider. In recent
years, such acts of violence have become more
and more common. Is such violence stemming
from an artistic impulse? Can it be considered
performance art or living theater? Is the
alleged artist motivated by a desire to make
a statement to the world? And does awareness
of the national media as a medium for expression
make such violence a viable option?
the things that make the shootings so hard
to understand is that they seem to be completely
irrational acts. In most cases the victims
are randomly chosen. They kill whoever happens
to be unlucky enough to be in shooting range.
The murders are usually not aimed at specific
persons. To the public there seems to be no
real logic to these acts. They seem to be
aimed at shocking the world. Or aimed at doing
something extraordinary so the world will
recognize their anger and pain.
In most cases it appears the killers have daydreamed of the news
reports and public reactions before they commit their art-crimes. Buford Furrow,
the shooter at the Jewish day care center is reported to have run to his
hotel room after the shooting so he could watch the news coverage on TV.
Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh is said to have chosen his site
because the building had a large open area in front that would provide plenty
of space for media coverage.
When reading the journals of these people
we find that they express emotions and ideas
that many young artists express. The difference
is that they have no means by which to express
themselves and no vehicle to elevate them
or make a mark on the world. Their artistic
impulse is frustrated. The tension builds
into an explosion. The most extreme symbolic
act, mass murder, is chosen to express these
pent-up emotions, and the most powerful medium
of expression, the national media, is taken
as the canvas for their art-crimes.
Again, although few consciously recognize
the national media as a medium for artistic
expression, we are all extremely aware of
its power for communication. We live in the
age of celebrity. Our royalty, our gods and
goddesses, are created in the media. We know
them only through the media. We commune as
a nation through the media. Our sense of national
identity is formed through the media. The
media is capable of turning a pauper into
a prince. To be the focus of media attention,
whether positive or negative, can be the road
In recent years television corporations have
made a fortune by exploiting people's willingness
to humiliate themselves for a chance to be
in the media. All you have to do is watch
an episode of The Jerry Springer Show to see
how low people will go in order to have a
taste of the media spotlight. The reality
TV craze has taken this to new heights. People
will risk their lives, starve themselves,
and go to any lengths to be in the media.
The most successful of these people on shows
such as Survivors have become household names
who cashed in on their moment in the media
through book deals, TV commercial, and Playboy
In our era, the line between art and artist
does not exist. The image we project is our
own means of expressing ourselves to the world.
Time and time again young women tell me how
seeing Madonna on MTV inspired them as little
girls. They say seeing Madonna made them feel
'like they could do it too.' That they could
express themselves and be loved by the world.
In our modern age everyone wants his or her
15 minutes. Celebrity is a power that seems
that it could be available to anyone. The
national media is the tool by which we may
express ourselves to the world.
Article by Caeser Pink suggesting that terroism is an form of
artistic expression and the only form that is taken seriously as a political statement. In this thoery the media is the canvas.,|