It is the beginning of a new decade, and this one seems more significant since we are beginning the “Twenties”. The “Twenties”. When we say that it seems we often think of that decade of a hundred years ago. In many ways that decade seems to mark the beginning of the modern age as we know it now. Many of us often nostalgically fantasize what it would have been like to live then. “I wish I could have lived in the “Twenties””, we may say to ourselves or others. Well, now we can! Since we are all now able to say we were alive during the “twenties”, we may correlate what is similar and what is different about our decade compared to the one hundred years ago?
The nineteenth century into the twentieth marked a period of dramatic change from agrarian society to an urban cosmopolitan society. The turn of the century must have been confusing with the shift of the industrial age creating so many modern advances in commerce, politics and social norms. The globe was just finishing World War One, machines began to fly, there was an establishment of the working middle class. Notable artistic responses were the angst-ridden German Expressionism, American Regionalism, and the beginning of Modernism.
The twentieth century into the twenty-first could be compared similarly. We experienced an Electronic Revolution and the Information Age. Our society is moving into a more global one, socially and financially. Our artistic responses have been non-object-oriented conceptual works and experiential communal art events.
But how do these art responses relate to us today? It seems apparent that the two decades, ours and the one a hundred years ago, share in one similarity in that the age was baffling and fast paced. The speed of information and change then and the speed of information and change now could be comparable. The change is in our frame of reference. What if the fastest thing you remember is the horse compared to the car? The pace at which information flows, our twenty-four hour society and the access to every known fact at our finger-tips creates another kind of dizzying pace that could be relative to the one felt by our great-grandparents. The artist becoming a navigator, simple responder, or an aggregate processor puts us in alliance with our times to our culture. The pace and confusion is reflected in our art as we should expect it would. The axiom is, after all, art is often a reflection of our times.
As the new decade approaches, these milestones often create in us a period of reflection. Like my activity in my studio the other day, many of us tend to weed out and separate things during the change of the new year. The question becomes, what do we keep? What do we let pass? How will we shape our future? If our times today are considered as chaotically filled with constant updates of information and announcements of events that pass by our lives as ephemera, we may begin to consider a slowing down. I am already reading and learning of “slow movements” and “returning” to various things like, dinner-time at a dinner table and actual eye-to-eye engagement with others.
At the beginning of this century, I ended my career as a closet landscape painter and decided to pursue oil painting in its traditional practice, honestly and earnestly. The idea was to create a kind of answer to the dis-embodiment of object- oriented artworks. I still believed in the artwork as an object, and I wanted to make my artistic output closer to the definition of the word painting. My statement at the time was; after de-constructing everything, my current work is a record of my serious pursuit of putting it back together. Well, okay. A decade has passed since then and I feel less rebellious towards my own time.
I was rummaging through my studio, sorting and clearing out a few things. Stacks of old canvases and sketches, basically untouched, began to reveal a story. The story was the progress of my work over the last decade. Going back and looking at the old canvases was like going through a lost photo album. I could remember the thoughts I was having, the difficulties or successes of the moment. It was astonishing to see where my work was at ten years ago. Of course, I had to consider and ask myself, where will it go from here?
One of my favorite books on art history is titled, “The Story of Modern Art”, by Norbert Lynton. The book was required reading during my art history days in college, and I still have it. Albeit the torn up and dog-eared pages are over-highlighted, it remains a good read. Interestingly, the book covers in great essay style detail about the changes and developments in art from the Impressionist period of the eighteen-sixties into the twentieth century. On the very last page of the book is this quote, “What Western man has lost is the kind of tempo that goes with looking and the stillness that goes with a focused attention.”