Last week I was working on a review about Minimal Works Gallery in Philadelphia and I ran across one of my favorite topics: How the nature and impetus for art has changed in 20 or 30 years. When I was twenty and a mere student, revolution was still in the air and the Counter-Culture overlapped with art to a large degree, ie artists had long hair and mustaches; the men anyway. Minimalism was the watch-word and painters who wanted to express themselves in a different way were well out of the loop. You were earnest because there was no irony. So, generally, it felt natural to reduce to the flattest, emptiest thing until concept was all there was left. Performance sought a canvas in a physical 3D world and video became sculpture as time. Many indifferent artists slaved in all of these traditions where everything got reduced so much that there was not much to talk about.
In 1970, what was left of representational painting was being reduced to copying photographs, again for conceptual reasons. I used to think it was because it is so easy to do! As things developed, these concerns inadvertanely turned all artists into theorists who are enveloped by writing and hope to express visually what someone like Walter Benjamin might have been on about. Don’t get me wrong, I am a Benjamin Freak. Before this, artists just worked away, argued and got drunk. They were not responsible for any explication. As long as they had some idea of what they were doing in visual terms and dissed everyone who came before, they were fine.
Today an artist has to absorb the whole of modernism and its post modern fallout so one yearns for a continuum where new forms are considered. Painting is back and has branched off into multiple camps. Oddly enough, art still has connections to the modernist/reductivist thread though which it is parsed by a slicker art world where a brand is as good as a style.