The art is the message ––to paraphrase Marshal McLuhan’s “the medium is the message”.
The old saw about literary art went: ‘if you want to send a message, phone Western Union and send a telegram.’ Well, Western Union and the singing telegram have all but gone the way of the dodo. Still artists are stuck with the quandary of having to say something terribly important––or at least worthwhile.
But until it’s down on paper, or on the canvas, or presented as a Conceptual Art Idea, there’s nothing to judge. So the artist has to keep exploring the whole question of Why Make Art In The First Place?
To satisfy the craving of the artist? Is that enough? Isn’t that pure escapism? Or maybe what the world really needs, instead of the proverbial five cent cigar–– is the opportunity for every last one of us to express his true self.
Or passion. Or a refuge from the world. I think any message should be sent to one’s own self first. And then it’s all up for grabs. Out of the passion, or some experimental technique, comes something to critique.
Is the artist, himself, always the best judge of his own work? My criterion is: Could I ever duplicate this painting again? If I kind of feel a talented stranger pulled the whole thing off, then there’s hope.
And I can then decipher the meaning–– the message, if you will. Who knew I had it in me? For me, the message should rise out of the passion, as opposed to Political or Propaganda Art where a passionate message takes precedence over the art.
Like most of us, I hanker to improve society, change this world for the better. The dynamism of Agit Prop sends a message for its time. But look how often it descends to propaganda that equates to brain washing. Can this be true artistry as we understand it?
Unfortunately, the Art Whores of History are often equipped with formidable talent. High Art can turn especially pernicious when it promotes an evil message Leni Riefenstahl comes to mind ––Hitler’s “perfect German woman”––who managed to turn Hitler, the Fuehrer of the Third Reich, into a mesmerizing icon in her documentary, “Triumph of the Will”.
More often, even with noble intentions, Agit Prop, leads to self-delusion, and over time, ends up looking foolishly outdated, at best, wrong-headed kitsch.
Are artists even entitled to let it all hang and be the Art Whores of History? My feeling is no. The same buck should stop for everyone. We are all accountable.