Sunday, February 5, 2012

From Renaissance Genius to Beautiful Loser

DaVinci, 1515
Just after I finished watching a Nova special on PBS titled "Mystery of a Masterpiece", which is about a supposed unknown work of Leonardo DaVinci's, I put on the documentary "Beautiful Losers".  This acclaimed movie is about the coming together of a group of underground artists and designers making it big in the art world in the late 90's.  In the very beginning of the movie while introducing Chris Johanson, one of the featured artists, the screen flashed an image of one of his works.  The painting had written across it "I'm fucked up".  I stopped the video and pondered this crude work of art while I still had DaVinci's technical mastery fresh in my mind.

Chris Johanson, 2010
It's a bit overwhelming and perplexing to ponder the "evolution" of art from DaVinci to Johanson.  To the un-art-educated it must seem that art has lost its brilliance and mutated into a degenerate state.  But Chris Johanson, and anybody knowledgeable about art, would tell you otherwise.  Johanson's art is what it is because of the Western Canon of painting... because of artists like DaVinci who came well before his time.  His work wouldn't make the slightest sense if it were not in juxtaposition with the old masters work.

The curious concept that we've stumbled upon is know in Chinese philosophy as Yinyang.  Put it this way... in the spectrum of art DaVinci would be placed on the far end of one side of the spectrum representing the pinnacle of high art, while Johanson would be placed on the far opposite end representing lowbrow art.  In Yinyang terms, to illustrate their opposition in style, lets say DaVinci is represented by the white half of the circle and Johanson the black.  Now the interesting part of the Yinyang is the little black dot inside of the white area and vice versa.  This essentially means, as pertaining to our example,  that inherent in the definition and nature of high art is lowbrow art and inherent in lowbrow art is high art.  This is so because you cannot have one without the other... there is a secret dependence the two have with each other... a kind of pact that is essential for each.  If you remove one from the equation the meaning and significance of the other ceases.  Think of it like this way, if there were no Johanson's and everyone created art like DaVinci, Leonardo's art wouldn't be so interesting.  What makes every great artist's work worth experiencing is its uniqueness.  What is often forgotten is that the most unique artists are often the most knowledgable of art history.  This is because they define themselves in opposition to other styles of art.  And this in turn makes them even more inseparable from the Canon.

Chris Johanson, 2002
In conclusion... when viewing art like Chris Johanson's or other artists work, which at first glance might appear to be too crude to be considered art, remember that you're viewing just the tip of the iceberg.  Beneath the surface is DaVinci, Rembrant, Van Gogh, and others whom are all in relation to one another.  In other words, all art works are visual end points of an infinite web of relationship.  Perhaps there is only one kind of artist whom stands outside of this web... this is the naive artist... which is a whole other blog essay.  Until then, check out "Mystery of a Masterpiece" and "Beautiful Losers".

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