Art and Self-Deprecation

It has become fashionable for artists to put emphasis on their own mediocrity. They act cynical about their achievements, whether they are well-known, successful, or they bathe in total obscurity and are so-called destined to die an anonymous death.

Why do some artists settle for this self-loathing? Because they are more aware of the limitations of their talent? Because they are the most harsh critics of themselves and their work? I don’t think so.

These artists are extremely self-centered and they are out for public esteem. They like to fiddle with the idea of fame, of being part of the celebrity culture, of becoming filthy rich, but they are quite reluctant of openly pursuing all that, as they do not want to be seen as insincere or shallow.

More often than not self-criticism by artists is nothing else than a little trick to proactively safeguard themselves against any possible criticism of others. It can actually be seen as fake humbleness and as a way to get attention or recognition.

I think self-deprecation in the art world is progressively more appropriate. Most of the popular art in our galleries and museums is so inconsequential that it has no value or meaning and at best serves as decoration or an ironic comment.

When an artist becomes successful, their work should get better. Because they feel more confident and secure, their work should get more courageous. Instead they start to feel comfortable with their status of famous artist and they won’t do anything anymore that impassions the audience, as it might be risky to their reputation in the art world.

When artists get more appreciation, they should be experimenting and challenging themselves and growing artistically, but instead they come to a standstill and repeat themselves endlessly. To me, the freedom of art should be that it can create some friction, not that it becomes an ordinary instrument to generate fortune and fame.

Most current artists are having no effect on society, and anyone who ever went to a contemporary art show should be satisfied that famous artists have little influence on our lives, anymore. Art used to create stronger critical thinking, formed higher levels of social tolerance and provoked empathy, but these days art is predominantly a soulless activity, linked to large sums of money or to attracting an immense amount of spectators.

Why would people still believe art matters to them, when many influential people in the art world do everything in their power to keep art wrapped in mystery, treating the outsiders as being stupid, and deal with artworks like products to be traded as stock options? They have turned art into a currency-like item that is only available to the rich, which makes this particular art into something special that everybody should have seen.

Today art has nearly become irrelevant. The only thing that it remains is a little isle of freedom for a small group of people that still wants to think and feel, that still wants to go to concerts and listen to music, that still wants to watch a thought-provoking movie or read an inspiring book, that still wants to make an effort to discover true subversive art.

Maybe the avant-gardists could still make a difference, because in those times people hadn’t become sleepwalkers, yet. They weren’t slaves to their phones and TV’s. They did not just trust politicians or believed everything the media were telling them. They thought for themselves, and listened to other voices, dissidents, artists,… to form an opinion on what was going on. They still looked at art as this magical thing, and the art they stumbled upon gave them life. Art made them wake up.

Without art, the triviality of our existence would be unbearable. Still, the audience is slowly moving away from meaningful art, simply because they think they don’t NEED it. When people are worried about keeping their jobs and paying their bills, why would they feel that art still matters? Especially when the only art they get to see is selected by an in-crowd with unscrupulous motives?

The worst thing is that the above artists, the ones with the fake self-loathing, represent only a mere 1% of the total art crowd. This 1% of ‘celebrity artists’, that sell their work for millions to people who see art as a commodity, as something to invest in, is only a very small fraction of what entails the art world. Still, they are the ones to get all of the attention, not in the least because they pretend to look down on the very art they create, which is – of course – irony at its best.

The other 99%; the invisible, struggling artists, are the ones that actually matter. They are embedded in society, in real life, and want nothing to do with the kind of elitist art that can only be appreciated by experts, investors and intellectuals. Still, these artists are doomed to stay under the radar and as a result hardly get noticed.


© 2017 – David Lee Kollberg

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