Thursday, 29 June 2017

Steady as She Goes; on the notion of progression

Jacob Bendien, 1912; Anton Henning, 2004 [to scale]

Most of us will admire De Stijl in some form or other. And most of us will agree that it just is not as relevant in art in this age. That it should be considered outdated. Caught out by the progress of time. That today we shouldn't create artworks according to their principles. This is the straightforward, common reading of art history prevalent nearly everywhere.
But how can it possibly be true?
The two paintings above show that some works which predate De Stijl by some years seem perfectly relevant today and lets not forget the fact that fine portrait painting has never truly gone out of fashion.

The so called progression of art thus clearly can't be related to anything inherent in art itself. If any invisible force changes art, it must come from outside of art.
Although it might seem puzzling at first, the answer to this question is quite simple. If one remembers that art is object manipulation uncommon in daily life, the solution comes readily. Situated inside the way the world looked in 1920, the works of De Stijl were quite a strong and definitive break with anything else surrounding it, while the painting of Bendien fitted much more easily inside the art deco universe that it was born into.
However, after the initial rejection of De Stijl, the principles of clear colours and straight geometry have slowly but surely made its way into every part of society, making it 'obsolete' for the negative shaped universe that we call art, while at the same time the shapes of the Bendien painting have moved from the center of normalcy of the curved twenties, to the fringe of the rigidly calculated 2000's.

These movements and their relevance today has no relation to how great their impact has been on art or how inventive they were, but rather on how they are related to our view of the world as a whole. A view that has been shaped by the fact that for the last decades we have been moving towards a world that looks like this:

and not a world that looks like this:

and in reality, it is that simple.