Which Comes First: The Art or the Artist?
A Historical Perspective
The approach of the year 2000 seems a good time to think about the way the role of art and the artist has changed through history, and how modern art is interpreted by a modern audience. Writing about modern art gives me the creeps. In other types of art, clear facts can be asserted with security, public reactions are clearly documented, skills can be appreciated, and art is clearly recognized as such. Modern art defys all of these conventions. Writing about modern art bothers me because after I've said everything that I feel about a piece, I'm not sure I could defend myself if someone walked up and told me I was an idiot who missed the artist's point altogether. Am I symbolic of the piss or the crucifix, the Lady or the tiger?
Amoung the things the artist has been in history are: historian, architect, scientist, propagandist, and social commentator. Is the modern artist still the same, or is the role of the artist changing completely from all the old templates and metamorphasizing into something altogether different?
The Artist as Historian?
For vast majority of art history, the artist has been very unimportant. Cave paintings are considered a way to learn about the lives of prehistoric man. Cave paintings are of interest to the archieologist and the curious. No painting has any signatures, at least none have been interpreted as such. No none ever tries to "get into the mind" of a prehistoric artist. No one knows who the artist is until the egyptian artist Imhotep began putting his name on his work. Until then, no none was concerned with the artist as anything but a tool to express the culture of the time.
Artists often are given the duty of recording important events. The egyptians and ancient americans frequiently used artists to record the deeds of pharoes and kings. Cave paintings show images of hunting expeditions, Egyptian hieroglyphics show Pharoes recieving crowns from gods, and the Aztecs have large pillars that record entire military campaigns. This trend runs through the entire history of art.
Can the modern artist hope to be a historian? I don't think it's completely impossible, but that function of the artist has mostly been taken over by other professions. Journalists and photographers record modern events. Since those records are relatively secure, it seems unlikely that future people will be pawing through the rubble of a museam to find out who won the 1988 Presidental election. While an artist can interpret the events, the role of the artist as a keeper of history has passed on to other hands.
The artist as a Scientist?
The most notable of artistic scientists is Leonardo Da Vinci. His genius led him to explore the most intimate aspects of human anatomy, engineering, and the beginings of engineering. The 1400s aren't the only time when artists are the forerunners in the scientific world. Artists are architects, designers, and...