Evolution and Art


The basic principle of evolution is change.  And if you’ve studied enough art history, or any history, you’ll agree that culture, politics, media, subjects , techniques and styles have constantly changed. The question is — Do these changes evidence a deeper meaning or direction for mankind?

The second principle of evolution is that change results from interaction with living conditions. And again, art history shows that social conditions and technical discoveries allowed for innovations in art, i.e. art evolved in response to new conditions. Or was it the other way round?  Perhaps, art itself is the driving force behind social change.

The third principle is that changes originate as mistakes or spontaneous deviations from the norm.  And so leading artists experienced changes in perception and awareness which in turn emerged as new aesthetic trends. Even so these pathfinders were the product of their cultural millew.   The forth principle is that interaction between environment and individual creates new forms. Thus it’s both society and the artist influencing each other. It’s both the chicken and the egg.  We must abandon duality in order to embrace the truth.
My original question is open for debate. Is evolution going in some direction of just meandering around. Is there a higher principle or spirit working in history? From the earliest stick figures, to photographic accuracy, to unrecognizable abstractions, one can track a progression in art.  If we regard today’s modern abstractions as the culmination of art’s development, I’m tempted to say that this evolution has reached an end or blind alley. Or one might say that we’ve arrived at the essence and ultimate meaning of visual expression. Meanwhile, painted art has been pushed aside by new forms like photography, film, and electronic media.

I’m not ready to announce the end of art itself because it morphs into new creative forms. But I suggest that for painting, evolution has ended.  Creativity must take place on a smaller scale or jump to new media.  As for the local artist, we may examine our own evolution and attempt to locate it’s place in the grand scope of art history.  We may innovate within our talents and vision.  It is a rare artist who does not find a niche and keep plugging away at comfortable forms.  After all, we wish to please ourselves, and that aesthetic often stays close to home base.

However, does not the Muse call each of us in a special way?  Are we not inspired to take chances, make mistakes, try out new techniques, apprehend new visions?  And in this creative moment, do we not merge with the flow of evolution and feel one with the past masters?  If we wish to commune in this enlightenment, we must interact with new environments and venture into unknown territory. Many people in their youth do exactly this.  They change jobs or apartments, travel, change partners, meet new friends, win some, lose some.  I remember some of these changes were disturbing, but looking back, they were a necessary part of a personal growth or evolution.

“The essence of life is to be found in the frustrations of the established order.” John Gardner in “Grendel”

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