Opinion: The Art is Absent

the usual buzz when people talk about the new arts has always bothered me. on one hand, we are more and more dismissive about what is being officially considered art, but then we are keen on labelling everything as art.

nobody would doubt cinema or photography are now part of the arts, but what about fashion? what about comics and graphic novels? video games? even food and wine?

margherita loy, writing for il fatto quotidiano, penned an article last year titled «se tutto è arte, l'arte non esiste» (if everything is art, art does not exist). what happened here was a previous article in which the italian journalist echoed the infamous julian spalding article at the independent in which he called damien hirst a conman and, above all, claimed damien hirst is not an artist. loy's first article originated a coy debate in which some applauded her for finally screaming "the king is naked", while others asked her a very interesting question: what do you want from contemporary art? because, whatever we are looking for, it seems art is failing.

in her second article, loy justifies her position finishing with that not everything is art line, behaving exactly how an educated european should behave: she respects art, even contemporary art, but it is easy to see that she only has in mind a very concise spectrum, the spectrum of what has already been stamped with a seal of this is okay. she talks about henry moore, francis bacon, lucien freud, bill viola, and the italians lucio fontana, michelangelo pistoletto or pino pascali. if she were to be rich and had a big mansion, she would buy pieces by these artists.

and here is when we realise what the problem is.

when art turns conceptual, we lose the sense of possession. how can someone possess the physical impossibility of death in the mind of someone living? by paying $12m for damien hirst's shark, as collector steve cohen did? how does someone possess a happening by marina abramović? is that what she intended with her celebrated piece the artist is present at the moma in 2010? to give us back that feeling?

there is still a great resilience in contemporary society of this idea of art = objects = possession. and maybe that is why we have transferred the value of art to all those other forms of artistic creation. because it is easier to possess a coat by juun j or a bluray film by pedro almodóvar than to understand what tracey emin meant with her unmade bed. or if she meant anything at all in the first place.

that idea of the aura of the work of art being lost as copies and reproductions were made, as it was proposed by walter benjamin on his now over-exposed 1936 piece «the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction» seems to be a closed chapter. paintings and sculptures are easy to understand. they are unique items and had their own aura. films, clothes, video games, photography, music, they are all sold serially, now even some without a physical form, mere spectres. but there is still a sense of aura in the possession, when we hang the reproduction of the painting on our wall, when we wear the clothes, or watch the film, or listen to the album. we may not stop and think about the idea of the original — which is the original photography? the negative? the first copy? the best copy? what about films? does something as an original form of the film exist? is it what the director has in his mind? is it the first copy? the first dvd? the first computer file? the list is endless — but we still experience them the same way, by possessing them, in a broad sense. and this is what is missing from conceptual art. we can not possess its meaning, and most of the time it does not even serve as a focal point to our attention and interest, because, simply, we do not understand.