During the Second World War, established artists from all around Europe such as Picasso congregated in Paris and created the Absurdist movement in reaction to the War and German occupation. This movement went on to influence the beatnik generation in North America, which motivated Warhol to create his famous Factory atelier in New York City. These movements, outspoken in nature, were very powerful awakening tools for many groups and individuals to fight against corrupted institutions, questionable war plans and human injustice. However, in this day in age of oil and nuclear wars and terror threats, these great ideas and art forms from the second half of the 20th century have died out with the plastic and comfortably commercial Macintosh generation. Where are our influential artistic groups to foster insightfulness and innovation in our minds?
Of course, there will always be individuals who, through art, will be able to express social atrocities of his or her time. But at this precise moment in this millennium, there doesnâ€™t seem to be a strong cultural group with noticeable personalities, like those of the Absurdist movement, to help awaken the social conscience of an entire sleeping generation to the fact that things are not getting any better. Just ask the little high schooler with the groovy bangs what she is expressing when she is scribbling a Bush-like demon on her binder and she will surely shout out; â€œFuck war, man!â€ The young student has a message, incentive and even a picture to prove it, but it is not strong enough and the student is ultimately left baffled when asked why she is right. And even though the artistic individual of this day and age does feel empowered through or from their art, as symbolic or superficial as it may be, it doesnâ€™t seem to garner the same kind of difference or social awakening as it once did in both halves of the 20th century.
The so called Internet generation or Generation Y, surrounded by its multitude of tools, resources and mediums, should be exploring innovative forms of artistry and foster sub-cultures prone to social change, but for some reason remain boringly, and dare I say, commercially complaisant. Just recently, we have seen a clip of Audrey â€œTiffanyâ€™sâ€ Hepburn, a social and cultural activist of her time, taken from the high-fashion meets Beatnik-society musical â€œFunny Faceâ€, selling the latest clothing item for the Gap in a hyped-up collage of colours and mirror reflections of the actress. Apparently, Audrey, from the grave, had to tell consumers that the skinny black pant was back. And in South Korea, reproductions of Van Goghâ€™s paintings are displayed on rotating plasma screens over water dispensers, filters and toilet seat warmers, courtesy of LG. Surely Van Gogh would have cut his other ear off not to hear about that.
Being pure or respectful of someone elseâ€™s art is not the cultural idea at stake. On the contrary, it is well to question previous art moguls and their significance during our lifetime. However, when art ceases to be art — when it becomes an iconic object for commercial value and loses its original meaning, then a strong tool of social activism is lost and is very hard to recover. Just ask what Dali thinks of having his paintings plastered on someone elseâ€™s computer desktop with Internet Explorer icons hovering over his melting pocket watches.
A major half of the collective cultural society, if not its entirety, is opposed to the occupational wars in the Middle East. Yet they remain as a group, though not necessarily as individuals, complaisant in regards to denouncing these war crimes through a cultural movement that would eventually change the social spectrum of our society. It is as though an entire generation prone to safer sex, recycling tin cans and toilet paper rolls, Sesame Street and ’80s nostalgia has decided to remain completely blind to what is happening in the world, and yet continue to reminiscence about the artistic movements and artistic icons of the past either on t-shirts or tattooed on their inner molars. Some would call it irony of choice. Others would rather call it pure cynicism and fatigue over trying to explore new artistic worlds. Why create something else when it has already been created, embodying the same ideals and principles one would like to convey, but displayable in funky, ironic fashions? If we are to be influenced by a commercial world, then perhaps taking a few hints from our contemporary businessmen when faced with saturated markets can be a helpful way to regain power in our artistic endeavours. We need to stop building on whatever was influential in the past and look for new sources of innovation. There most be more than irony in our artistic tool kit.
Cynicism may be the key to getting out of this artistic slump that we have slipped in. But for the moment, and until our collective cultural psyche is synchronised, I will continue to admire Picassoâ€™s Guernica, his 1937 epic about the Spanish Civil War, proudly displayed on my shower curtain.