Saturday, October 22, 2016

Thoughts on Mediatic Realism and Art Trends

Trendy Art
Do trends affect the creative output of the artists? Trends of any kind are such markers or indicators that tell the interested ones where the world is heading to. In the case of art, trends are often seen in the exhibition seasons, choice of the artists for international awards, general displays in art fairs, curatorial subjects, choice of curators, articles featured in the magazines, their covers, buying and selling of works of art and so on. Trends are also such things that are ill-fated to become obsolete before they become a cult. Some trends prolong their tenure with help of certain interests involved in the art market and some other trends die out sooner than they come. To see it in the right perspective, we could always say that trends are the market indicators deliberately designed for making certain profits in their transactions. Where success of anything is determined by the money that it rakes in the market, it is not surprising to see many artists getting carried away by such trends.

Photorealistic art in the US

Five seasons back in Indian art scene, we had seen the swan song of a comparatively prolonged trend of Mediatic Realism. For almost fifteen years, mediatic realism in painting ruled the galleries and markets till it collapsed with the expected bursting of a ballooned market.  Mediatic realism as an aesthetical trend was not an invention of the Indian artists. The origins of which have to be sought within two clear trends in the West, interestingly one in the pre-second World War Soviet Union and two, in the post-war United States of America. The artists of the Soviet Union who complied with the diktats of Stalin and the Community party that he had led not only created art for the mediatic purpose, but also reused it for furthering the cultural climate through constant visual reminding. Media in that sense became an intermediary between art and media and vice versa. The commitment of this kind of mediatic reaction was to a predetermined social cause of a proletarian government.

Social Realist art in the USSR
However for the Americans, it was the other way round; they did not have much to direct or educate the society as the society was already saturated by both the print and television media. For the artists, who gravitated around the styles propounded by Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenberg, Jasper Johns and so on, the market place and the media presence of 'things' itself was a raw material and a stagnating philosophy and splurging in it helped these artists to be a part of the ephemera that the social life of the US bracketed and could remotely forward certain kind of critique of it without hurting anybody. Interestingly, the socialist reaction of the Soviet Union and the pop-art style of the US had captivated the artists of the world as they could set the trends of the time in pre and post cold war era. Through close scrutiny we understood that the former intended to present the social issues in a pre-configured and state authorised formalism and it remained so for a long time without much change. But in the case of the latter, it was purely a formal exercise. For the pop-artists went on experimenting with the formal aspects of the mediatized images and excised meaning out of them to repackage  their visual presence as an art language. That's why we see the pop formalism varies from artist to artist, opening a wide range of styles within the rubric of pop-art.

Work by Andy Warhol
It took many more years for the mediatized images to make a re-entry with less emphasis on technique and formal stylising and become vehicles of more intense subjective mediations and meditations. The we see in Gerard Richter, Edward Hopper and artists of their ilk. In China mediatic realism had already taken a different route to re-emerge as political realism amply loaded with irreverence and satire, at times verging on sad-masochist tendencies and self-annihilation. Perhaps in India the artists found this international trend more appealing to make enquiries into their own selves and the societies in which they lived. India was experiencing the pangs of a changing economy and its socio-cultural impact was quite unsettling. Those artists who made their early entry into mediatic realism, however, did not address the changing scion-economic and politico-cultural climates directly or they did not even show any urgency to do so. Instead they took to the imaginary as well as historical junctures in which the social narrative had changed violently and at times latently.

Work by Edward Hopper
This enquiry was 'realistic' but not mediatic at the outset. The imageries were grim reminders of violent times of change in history. Unlike the Chinese and Euro-American artists, Indian artists did not depend too much on the realism of the Soviet kind or the realism of the pop-art in the US. Indian artists did not even look at their Chinese counterparts, but zeroed in on the realism which as perhaps naturally adopted by any artist of any place to have a re-look at history. There was no particular methodology for it but the persistence of that realism heavy with history was somehow appealing to many and certain art critics wrongly identified it as Mediatic Realism. However, such critics were soon to be justified as the artists in India sooner than later would depend upon mediatized images for their aesthetical as well as critical purposes. Hand in hand with their adoption of mediatic realism by the Indian artists, there developed a trend that became more and more formal, reflecting other socio-political trends mediatized visually, investing lot on the skill of the artists (and their more skilful  assistants). While a majority went by the trend making their work 'photorealistic', a few of them added abstract values to it, enabling them to become the vehicles to transport rather internationally appealing social commentaries. A positive fall out of this was seen int he abandoning of the language by the early exponents of mediatic realism in India, and then becoming more like savant painters and artists , exploring the land and nature, emphasising a lot on the natural virtuosity of artistic skills and visionary qualities.

Work by Shibu Natesan
Today the world of art seems to be lacking in influential trends. In fact, trends are complementary to market forces and as they feed on each other, the absence of one automatically decides the absence of the other. Hence the temporary (hopefully) diminishing of market for the contemporary art, has prevented the influential trends from emerging. This has created some  kind of confusion in the Indian art scene. In my view, this confusion (whether palpable or not) is good for artists to focus on their innate talents and those who don't have it would perish for good. Looking at the international art magazines, I have noticed the West is desperate to introduce certain art trends. What stops it from importing it to the world is the absence of a trans-national market.

(images courtesy : Internet)

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