Gaming with Art
July 23, 2019
It is worth recounting how the bottom fell out of subject matter in art, if only because its return is felt as urgently as it is by artists in recent years. Before the impressionist painters discovered natural light’s indifference to subject matter, how it can beautify even mud, by redeeming whatever it touches with supra-mundane grace, the realist painters “liberated” painting from the subject. Gustav Courbet led the trend. It should be noted regarding Courbet that his intention was not so much to overthrow subject matter in art, but to raise the status of mundane subject matter in art, by giving mundane subjects the dignity of the academic technique which dominated art at the time. This trend in art corresponded to strengthening democratic institutions in the wider, public, sphere. The realist painters did not so much intend to shock the bourgeoisie as save it from pretentiousness. The success of the realists in challenging the establishment in art-without sweeping away everything-emboldened successive movements in art to test just how far established canons in art could be challenged, resulting in the historic train wreck of abstraction in art. Today, long after the passions of Modernism have cooled, artists have no compunction about re-introducing subject matter into their work. The question is any subject? Or just one in particular? I know which is my choice. It may lead astute critics to ask, why this subject, rather than another -or none in particular?