Daniel Benshana

The hunt for the right word to describe an art movement is difficult and, as often is seen in the history of criticism, serendipitous as descriptions are taken up by others who read the unsuspecting writer.

I am not gong to attempt to describe the art world in the vain hope that I can coin such a descriptive term more from the fact that I don’t see any art movements emerging than from some self-deprecation. It appears to me so far in the last fifty years that when anything can be art, deep thinking about what an individual artist is doing disappears into the dictionary as they also struggle to define their work. Surely it is an odd result of the promiscuous definition ‘anything can be art’ to find that artists are uncertain when they are the very people who are supposed to define our entire visual culture. And when the leading figures in the museums and galleries say openly about shows that they don’t know what to think, the whole idea that definition exists anymore is as dead as taste and as unappetising as skill.

Except, of course, taste still exists and the visual experience still walks with us every second of every day of our sighted lives. And the men and women who claim they don’t know what to think, do know they just won’t share for whatever reason.

Definition is not the be-all-and-end-all of answering questions for the visual artist but it does provide a starting-point for discussion. ‘It is art because I am an artist and I say it is art’ is the end of all discussion and quickly leads to answers of like or dislike, which are themselves meaningless for cultural criticism. All visual art is a statement and it is essential to know what that statement is and why the artist has made it; otherwise we are looking at nothing more than a ‘child’s think.’ That might be beautiful in its way and suggest the culture gives room for simplicity, but it doesn’t tell us anything about how a culture thinks, and cultures do think. In much the same way as a tribe will generally birth people who look broadly similar, cultures while changing down the centuries, inspire similarities in customs and ways of thinking.

If anything can be art then the history of art is no longer part of the contemporary scene because historically art was defined; even the impressionists defined themselves as breaking free from the accepted parameters in the academies.

Definition requires thinking not just doing and deep thinking about culture is wholly lacking in the mainstream.