Contemporary Art Is and Must Be

[Winter 1993]

by Marcel Blouin

Art is looking for itself. Does not art look for itself and question itself? Would it be more accurate to say, rather, that art helps to throw light on the human being who is looking for himself? In a time when no one, anywhere, wishes to question things indeed, even to get involved or to get his feet wet art remains forever and always an indispensable and perhaps, henceforth, the only guiding light for the critical development of society.

The mere fact of questioning the social “usefulness” of ait and of measuring its short-term return (as certain persons [Luc Chartrand in L’actualité (December 15, 1993) and Jacques Dufresne (for some years)] wish to do) seems to me more dangerous as a phenomenon than the particular questioners. Such people are in the thrall of the “consumer mentality” and the notion of the “good citizen” to such an extent that these “mindsets” are an integral part of their approach to art: If I can’t consume it, in other words buy it and make it into what I want afterward even theoretically it holds no interest for me. Have you seen the film The Architecture of Doom? In the film there is a scene where we see Hitler dismissing the contemporary avant-garde (which is highly-praised by us today). I can’t help seeing therein a certain parallel between that Hitler and those among us today who cast doubt upon the necessity of “contemporary art.”

“The people” have become uneducated because of television. Are we rethinking our bid for the democratization of art, with museums open to the entire family, without regard of social class? The postwar world seemed to be offering money, education and leisure activities for everybody; indeed, right up until the beginning of the eighties, the lot of (Western) humanity was continuously improving: greater wealth, an enlarged middle class, greater accessibility of education. Continuing this impetus — even if the economic situation was no longer as favourable in the eighties, we were building museums (at great cost) that were given the mandate to reach a wide audience. But upon closer examination, wide audience and exhibition planning do not always make good bedfellows. This doesn’t mean that the planning of exhibitions for the general public automatically means exhibitions of poor quality and without historical foundation, but it does presuppose the making of sacrifices and useless struggles that can trickle all the way up to affect the acquisition policies of museums. In the name of “the people,” supposedly, members of Parliament and journalists (who definitely do not always have sufficient knowledge of the arts world) are rallying to defend “democracy.”

Can the visual arts reach a wide audience? Photography can fiddle around in different ways and thereby be able to respond in the affirmative, but we cannot escape the fact that contemporary art is a personal creation that does not have as its primary aim to be meaningful to and to be understood by a wide audience. Can we acknowledge that contemporary art is intended for those interested in art per se? Can’t we recognize and accept the fact that those interested in art as such, coming from different backgrounds (cinema, theatre, music, literature and dance) and why not a few poets from the worlds of business and computer science (and without forgetting the “public” from society life) — may gain from such art ideas, concepts, influences and bases for their own research that lead, in turn, to the creation of a work that possibly will itself be meaningful to a wide audience?

Whether or not nostalgies like to hear this, in the field of contemporary art the artisan is dead; the concept is of paramount importance and the state of mind reigns supreme — and this is not without consequences for the marketing of products. That sums up the bad side, but it also has something to do with the increasingly abstract world in which we live. In days gone by, it was a country’s raw materials that comprised its wealth, and then it was the transformation of those materials: Today, it is the “how” of the transformation of these raw materials; the “how” of the improved standard of living and alienation the “how of the how.” It is an abstraction insofar as it is a question of “information,” of “savoir-faire,” of “concept” or of “immateriality.” To the great despair of the artisans and of their followers, contemporary art is today immaterial.

Obviously, contemporary art cannot be disconnected from contemporary life. The materials used are more than materials: we are dealing with an implied ideology. Art can even denounce, among other things. No one criticizes anymore only artists still seem able or compelled to do this. Criticism is necessary to a society’s renewal, and no price tag can be placed on this. The current debates about contemporary art seem to me important but misdirected, if we do no more than merely ask if it is worth it to allocate some of our public funds to the cause. There is a chance that the big losers will be the artists themselves.

We should be interested in the distribution of information. Right now, turning our attention to the “international super-networks” where millions of pieces of information are exchanged each day seems to me to be a necessity and an unavoidable reality of the world in which we are living. What does this have to do with contemporary art and with photography? If we loose our imaginations we can find out. I believe that artists should avail themselves of distribution networks other than just museums, galleries and artists’ centres. The opening up of the electronic media (media arts) is an important phenomenon. Why haven’t the visual arts gotten a foothold in the world of television? There’s more to the explanation than just saying that “people are just dimwits.” In the case of photography, “still image” and crt screen seem to be made for each other. Breaking into and laying open (and tampering with if need be) electronic databases that maintain and circulate information about the private lives of thousands of families should be considered a work of art. This may sound way-out, like the “ready-mades” of Marcel Duchamp at the time, but art is becoming impalpable and must employ the contemporary materials put at its disposition by post-industrial society. I like Van Gogh’s painting very much, but it is no longer a part of the present age, except for art dealers. Or is it the case that art has become ephemeral? In any event, has art ever in fact been blessed with a universal meaning?

Marcel Blouin, Co-Editor

Dabbling with the forbidden fascinates us. It is becoming difficult to provoke or to shock people more than television is able to. The current issue of CV photo is not intended to shock you, as you will notice. Its goal is, however, to present three states of mind that could be described as quiet, peaceful serene: here is a kind of presentation, language and message which you would not be able to find elsewhere and that convinces me that an introspection can’t do harm to anyone if it is marked by sensuality.

A friend pointed out to me recently that CV photo now has a soul. Great! As it continues to await adequate funding, the publication at least has a soul, CV photo, now bilingual, has attained cruising speed and it will continue to forge ahead. We invite photographers and new authors to send us their work and their suggestions and ideas. Until next time, and thank you to our readers (who are more numerous every month!).