Art Fictionism

An article in today’s Washington Post – An Art Brand, Born in DC – illustrates an interesting conflict in our beliefs about artists.

Our culture’s assumptions about artists have been romanticized for centuries, but in a short historical description of the Washington Color School, author Jean Lawlor Cohen reveals that some commonly applied approaches to explaining art history may be fictitious. At issue is the idea of a “school” of artists.

In our idealized fantasy, an art school suggests a group of artists who worked together to break new ground and develop a unique artistic movement. Cohen says, however, that although the artists of the Washington Color School shared breakthrough concepts, and “knew one another’s work — and some formed friendships — they worked, for the most part, solo. There is no proof they ever found themselves in the same room.”

For many artists, the idea of being a part of a “school” has a romantic draw — to be part of a group of like-minded, creatives on the cutting edge, the Avante Garde. And yet, the group ideal is at odds with what seems to be the 21st century concept of an artist as a singular individual rather than a member of a group.

As one who appreciates the neat packaging of art history into movements and Isms, this article throws the reality of each of these conveniences into question, and begs the curiosity of how the early 21st Century will be described when art historians a hundred years from now, try to sum it up into a few movements.

Perhaps our technologies will change, forever, the way those movements form. As the article states, “Cyber-sharing seems to undermine the relevance of where an artist works.” Will we come to describe new collaborative art movements as formed in virtual chat rooms? And will there be any evidence that the artists assigned to that movement were ever actually in the same chat room?


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