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Does Art Need to Be Dark to be Taken Seriously?

 
 
sozobe
 
Reply Sat 8 Jul, 2006 07:25 am
I hated art school, for a lot of reasons, rampant pretension high on the list. One specific fight I got into often was the sense that something had to be dark to be taken seriously. The same technical skill, same color sense, same sense of proportion and scale and composition and all the rest of it would earn raves when used to portray something dark and depressing, yet dismissed if it went to far to the happiness and beauty side of the spectrum.

That was in the very early 90's and the artistic trends may have changed by now -- I can see that things were so anti-beauty and happiness in that moment that those things might have become transgressive themselves.

It's something I've noticed over and over again, though, in various media (including literature).

What do you think?
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Lash
 
  1  
Reply Sat 8 Jul, 2006 07:40 am
I think you're right, and I feel it extends to writing, as well. People seem to equate dark with deep.

I hadn't really thought about it consciously before.

Good point.
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Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Sat 8 Jul, 2006 07:47 am
As a quick answer: no, it hasn't to be dark.

Well, I've never attended art school, but when I studied/taught social work, part of our faculty had the cafeteria together with the conservatoire and the art school (both different universities, though).

I really loved it there ... because the art students had decorated the rooms very light and bright (was part of someone's MA work).

This was in the 80's/early 90's as well.

I just "scanned" a couple of auctions - I don't think, "dark in art" is a general trend all over the places.

Which leads to my idea/question, if trends in art are really always world wide or if there aren't some continent-specific, regional, local and especially traditionally different trends.
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Merry Andrew
 
  1  
Reply Sat 8 Jul, 2006 07:52 am
I dunno. I think part of this may be a generational thing. When I was college age, I had what I thought was a "tragic" view of life. And I thought that was very hip and sophisticated. This certainly extended to my tastes in both art and literature. And I think that this is quite typical of people of a certain youthful age. You don't see many Goths over 25. As one grows older, one mellows (like fine wine Smile) and this predilection for all things dark, dismal and dreary slowly vanishes. I can still appreciate things that depicted the darker aspects of life but that doesn't mean I don't see merit in the bright and sunny. It is the young who set cultural standards. Why? Because they're the ones targeted by mass media and advertising and thus current trends will inevitably reflect the weltanschauung of that age group.
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boomerang
 
  1  
Reply Sat 8 Jul, 2006 07:59 am
I stubbed my toe on this very topic the other day when my work was criticised for being too happy so I will be reading this thread with great interest.

The criticism didn't bother me as I have always considered myself a craftsman rather than an artist.

This is my long way of saying "bookmark" while I continue to mull things over.
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Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Sat 8 Jul, 2006 08:15 am
I've just looked again at the artists/art shortlisted for this year's Turner Prize - not to dark, I think:

http://i6.tinypic.com/1zcpzed.jpg
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Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Sat 8 Jul, 2006 02:00 pm
Re: Does Art Need to Be Dark to be Taken Seriously?
sozobe wrote:
I hated art school, for a lot of reasons, rampant pretension high on the list. One specific fight I got into often was the sense that something had to be dark to be taken seriously. The same technical skill, same color sense, same sense of proportion and scale and composition and all the rest of it would earn raves when used to portray something dark and depressing, yet dismissed if it went to far to the happiness and beauty side of the spectrum?

It doesn't have to be dark, but it helps. As an aside, it also helps if it's hard to comprehend. Abstract is better than realistic; arhythmical is better than rhythmical; atonal is better than tonal.

Off the top of my head, I can think of two possible reasons why darker is better: First, on a superficial level, art is about getting the recipient's attention. Recipients, being humans, are hard-wired to pay attention when things go bad, but not when things go well. This gives `dark' art a head start with the audience. Artists respond to this with an `arms race' for darkness, because everybody wants to get this attention.

The second reason I can see is that positive, comprehensible artists face a lot of competition from business commercial and government propaganda. This is doubly burdensome for those artists: "Positive" artists have job opportunities that "negative" artists do not. Moreover, their art has to overcome a certain -- what shall I call it? -- "positivity fatigue" when their audience that comes from the world of commercials and enters an art gallery or a concert hall. ("Oh no, not another sunset in the summer behind palm trees on a beach!")
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JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Mon 10 Jul, 2006 12:49 pm
Thomas makes some excellent points. There are both bright and dark works receiving positive criticism today. But I tend to favor "darkish" francis Bacon or Kollwitz to "light" Jeff Koon or Rockwell visual statements (in music too: I prefer Schumann to Copeland, though I like them both).
It MAY be that dark statements tap aspects of life we do not easily bring to consciousness. We may want to leave that task to our shamans (poets and artists). I also suspect that the ambiguity inherent in "abstract" art more effectively reflects the ambiguity inherent in our 'unconscious" lives. Happy statements are usually expressions of our more "superficial" or accessible conscious experience.
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yitwail
 
  1  
Reply Mon 10 Jul, 2006 01:27 pm
somehow, i didn't get much out of this work when i saw it at the art institute: Confused

http://j3s.net/photolog/2003may/t.2003may02_black.jpg

on the other hand, in my 20's i asked my supervisor if i could have my office walls painted black. he told me i could have them painted any color, as long as it was white. Razz
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sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Mon 10 Jul, 2006 03:33 pm
heh...

Thanks for your responses, everyone. It's funny, because this is a topic I first raised several years ago, and I don't remember the exact context but I'm less het up about it this time around, just came up while discussing Boomer's photography and thought I'd launch it again and see what happens.

A comment of Vivien's on that other thread is very much what I was thinking as I wrote this this time around, and I think the first time around, too -- that it's more likely to be "keen amateurs" (in her phrase) that have this bias than truly sophisticated artists or critics. I think that when I first raised this question (I don't remember, exactly), I was put off by how the goth-y stuff on an art website was kind of automatically accorded a depth that I didn't think it deserved. So that's very much about keen amateurs, not so much trends in the general art world.

Another thing I was thinking of is that a lot of what makes art "successful" is the emotional response it elicits. I think it makes sense that dark, disturbing stuff would more easily elicit such a response.
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boomerang
 
  1  
Reply Mon 10 Jul, 2006 04:14 pm
I've been trying to kind of stay back in this conversation because I am interested in the responses but not sure if I have a lot to add in the way of experience, photography, especially "for hire" photography, being a low art.

And because I have been dealing with a bout of not only constructive criticism but some actual criticism I don't want to sound like I'm all justifying or anything.

I do think that there is a certain pretension about art and darkness and the whole I can understand it because I'm sophisticated and superior.

I think you (I) run across it all the time.

Just check out some of the "summer reading fun" type threads on A2K. People will recommend "Swann's Way" as a fun summer escape.

Film category? Same thing. How could
Quote:
anyone
enjoy that movie!?

Food and drink? Same deal again. Apparently nobody ever eats Velveeta but me (and Noddy's ex).

I hope I don't sound sour grapesy because truly I am not. I just get tired of happy being so uncool.
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yitwail
 
  1  
Reply Mon 10 Jul, 2006 04:28 pm
boomerang wrote:
I hope I don't sound sour grapesy because truly I am not. I just get tired of happy being so uncool.


won't worry, be happy! Very Happy
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JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Mon 10 Jul, 2006 04:33 pm
I too practice a kind of reverse snobbery when it comes to table wine (but not velveeta). I personally detest the "cognitive anti-art" that has resulted from the cleverness of types like Duchamp and Warhol. To me the most essential component of art is aesthetic power. This, of course, is broader than prettiness, but it can most definitely depict human joy as well as misery.
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Letty
 
  1  
Reply Mon 10 Jul, 2006 04:39 pm
BMB, which means book marking boomer. <smile>

Glad someone agrees with me about DuChamp, JL.
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cyphercat
 
  1  
Reply Mon 10 Jul, 2006 04:54 pm
What an interesting topic-- and something I think about a lot....

I'm always trying to walk a line in my drawings between dark enough to interest me (and be therapeutic for me), but still keep a sense of whimsy, so it doesn't cross the line into the too-self-important, Goth-y end of the spectrum...The whole question of what people will "take seriously" is so confounding. I'm basically just bookmarking here... Smile
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JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Mon 10 Jul, 2006 04:58 pm
Goth-y art is too manneristic. I can't take it seriously. Most of what I've seen has the value of tatoos or junk food.
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sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Mon 10 Jul, 2006 05:27 pm
boomerang wrote:
I just get tired of happy being so uncool.


That's it exactly. Me too!
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patiodog
 
  1  
Reply Mon 10 Jul, 2006 06:14 pm
Hmmm...



Trying to relate this to my own experiences in "art" school (theater program at a sort-of-normal university), since it seems rooted in the analogous situation for the soz...

Random thoughts:

*certainly I found it easier as a performer to do dark -- I was cast as a couple of suicidals, Cain and El Diablo (in very different productions), a sexually abusive national guardsmen, a skinhead who set fire to the homeless... went against type one time and committed an atrocity against Moliere... The relative ease of the "dark" stuff (some comedic, but still dark) was because 1) I have had anger issues since before I could speak and 2) I was a shite actor.

*most of the people around me were shite artists, too, and whatever their milieu it seemed easier to go dark and/or grotesque: a lack of technique can be excused (at least in the hopeful mind of the artist) as "style." It's a way of escaping comparison to technically accomplished artists -- whom the "tortured" artist can accuse of being shallow, or worse.

*a few fellow young wannabe artists whom I greatly admired back then (as artists, if not as people) were working together to use the usual tortured recycled post-Romantic elements to do things that were light and joyous. (It was called (with great pretention but also no small appreciation of irony) the Sisyphus Project, and it usually failed, but occasionally it soared -- and of course it fell apart within a year or two.)

*conflict is at the root of all drama is conflict, and conflict is an inherently dark. And conflict is easy to manufacture. On the other hand, if you want to do something that merely is, without narrative, without challenge, you're damn hard-pressed to top nature.

----- example from my school daze. I was doing a workshop with some performance artist -- not a take-a-dump-onstage or monologue-about-your-tedious-life type of performance artist, but an operatic singer who invented and built string instruments and was then doing a piece called the "Idiot Variations," wherein a village-idiot-type character makes random observations with simple sideways wit and sings strange and beautiful songs to his own accompaniment...

anyway, we go through three or four hours of this workshop, and are sitting on the floor of the studio when a young guy and his kid come in. He's come in to use the piano, we're about to leave so he can stay and do his thing. Anyway, the kid is just learning how to crawl, and his dad plops him in the midde of this dance floor with the late evening light slanting in through the low windows, and all just sit transfixed by the kid and by the spring sunset light for minutes, all silence except for the occasional burbling of the kid as his dad presses out a few broad chords on the open piano. Eventually, the performance guy says of the kid, "If you can do that, you don't have to practice anything."

Point being that -- at least in the lives of the average consumer of art in the western world -- marvels are easily got, or at least glimpsed. On the other hand, I know that A Midsummer Night's Dream was very popular in many Eastern European cities during Soviet Rule, and that my uncle who grew up in Hungary and eventually swam out to avoid military service and/or arrest for involvement in the black market was an excellent woodworker and a pretty decent artist, sculptor, and metal worker, and all of his work was whimsical. (His alcoholism and bipolar episodes less so...)

----



All right, I'm rambling...








What about popular cinema?
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boomerang
 
  1  
Reply Mon 10 Jul, 2006 06:52 pm
sozobe wrote:
boomerang wrote:
I just get tired of happy being so uncool.


That's it exactly. Me too!


I work hard at being happy.

I don't think art has to be all sunshine and rainbows. I do believe it should make you think. But I don't believe it should only make you think the world is hopeless and sad. And I don't believe all sucessful artist have to be tragic figures.

One of the reasons I hated art school was because I didn't feel like I was allowed to like anything that anyone else was doing -- unless it had some kind of good housekeeping seal of approval. I could never say "Oh my God! I love that!" on a very general basis. The one friend that I could do that with has gone on to be quite successful. I have several of his early things and he has some of mine, I think, simply because we were such dorks.

I know this thread is not about me but I think that I can put a real Velveeta perspective on it.

Sometimes Velveeta is the right ingredient.
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sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Mon 10 Jul, 2006 07:04 pm
That was a gorgeous ramble!

I first became sick of this when I saw how easy it was to manipulate viewer (classmates' and professors') reaction to my paintings by playing up the dark side. I painted that farmer guy because I thought he looked cool, I liked his slight smirk (hey, I painted Gus before I even knew him!) and because it was a good centerpiece for some attempts at capturing farmland in various lights (sunset, storm, clear blue sky). But the viewers only lit up about it when they decided it was an analogy about the "sunset" of the poor, doomed American farmer. Riiiiighhht...

I do think there is an ease for both practitioner and connoisseur (of whatever) in going dark. I think happy art is harder to do well -- and of course there is a ton of BAD happy art out there.

I've been searching for an artist I've seen and liked a lot who was a big presence maybe around 2000 -- her first name is Lisa, I think, and the last name that comes to mind is Consegrieves but no variation of that spelling has turned up anything. She does these big beautiful unironic girly nudes with lots of bright colors and decoration, very happy art I think, quite cool.
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