What is the purpose of art? And does modularity matter, at all? I think it does. For me, it is an integral part of the expressive power of an artwork. Doesn’t have to be a painting or sculpture. May also be a firework or your life.
Recently, I watched the Netflix documentary “Sky Ladder”. It gives a great impression of the life and work of Chinese/American “fireworks artist” Cai Guo-Qiang (1957). You probably are familiar with his art. Myself, I had seen some of his spectacular artworks before, but never really dug into it. Now I have.
His use of a totally non-traditional artistic modularity, fireworks, made me think. Earlier, I have written a story Soul Searching, Voice Finding about finding my artistic voice. I’m still in the midst of this quest. And the wall that I run into – again and again – is really, that … everything has been done by someone before me … . Maybe, Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square painting was the beginning of the end of ‘art as we knew it’.
Maybe, Marcel Duchamp was right saying that “there is no absolute truth in art”. “No juries, no rejections”: nobody tells me what good art is and whether my art is good. Maybe, my countryman artist Rob Scholte is right by claiming that originality does not exist in art and that every artistic expression is inspired by predecessors – as I myself also express in my Blank Slate project.
But that is a sincere problem. Like every human being, artists are deeply social beings. Although some claim so, no artist makes art for themselves. The Vincent Syndrome. The biggest frustration every artist knows is not to be recognized by an audience, admirers, fans, whatever, who appreciate the art they make – ideally by buying it for a fair price. So, we need some sort of ‘universal’ truth in art …
Maybe, abstract painting will be the end of ‘painting as we knew it’. Maybe, AI art and quantum art will take over from figurative and abstract painting – once we find a good alternative for giclée, possibly computer-guided painting robots …
But, thinking from classical painting and sculpting to modern painting and sculpting towards AI and quantum painting and sculpting may be a too linear way of thinking. Maybe, we should start – well, some artists already have – thinking laterally: experimenting with different modularities than painting and sculpting.
That, really, is what I was thinking when I saw Cai’s firework artworks.
Another aspect that Cai, and for instance Christo and Jeanne-Claude bring is the grande, almost theatrical, performance aspect of their artistic expressions. (And of course, Cai and Christo also created artworks on canvas, art books etc.)
That makes met think of Heinz Stücke. He traveled the world non-stop on his bicycle for fifty years. Did not even return home when his mother and father died. His entire life is a unique artwork, that will never be copied. A story. A legacy. A book was published (2015) that can easily be called an artbook: Home Is Elsewhere: 50 Years Around the World by Bike. And there is a movie now, The man who wanted to see it all (2021). He is currently categorizing and cataloging all the photos and stuff, things, memories he sent home during those fifty years for a depot and hopefully one day a museum. I call it art, ‘life performance art‘.
All three examples – Cai, Christo and Stücke – have this in common: they found their ikigai in their art, they took a different road and endured, they are inspiring innovators, adventurers, and they long for and deserve admiration.
All of this brings us back to the question of the essence of art.
What is art for?
What is the purpose of art? And does modularity matter, at all? I think it does. For me, it is an integral part of the expressive power of an artwork. And, maybe the theatrical aspect, too.