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ESSAY/ARTs

Conceptual stone sculpture by Jacek Tylicki/Palolem Island, India: Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

THE FUTURE OF FINE ARTs


The past, present, and future trends in fine arts.
By PETER EKSTRÖM

T here is a widespread opinion


that the future of fine arts
can not be predicted, while
predictions in other areas of the society
are common. In many countries, there
époques of art? What signs were visible
when it was time for a change? What
was the relation between different
historical events and the currents
in the area of fine arts? By trying to
the very experimental Dada period
ended and the era of New Objectivity
started.
Third, the disgust or apathy we
develop for what has just recently
are institutes of futurology that work answer questions like these we can been modern, popular, fashionable.
on such predictions. They have indeed form theories that can be used to tell Most fashions or vogues, even the
developed serious and scientific the future. most idiotic ones, can have multiple
methods that are key to predicting Second, the rule of the pendulum. revivals. However, any such revival
the future. I believe that some of This is more of a praxis or theory. As is always preceded by some years of
these methods can be employed, if we the rule goes, changes always take forgiving. The things that were in
attempt to see the future of fine arts. place towards the opposite extreme. vogue last year are often discarded.
Here, four principles are especially For example, when an era of abstract It might be okay to wear, quote, or
useful. or experimental art is ending, the use old stuff – but never something
First, the lessons of the past. pendulum moves over to the exact that was in fashion yesterday. I am
How did fine arts develop over the opposite – traditional, realistic art tempted to say that this is a very strict
course of history? How long were the gets a new life, as was the case when law in the fashion industry. When it

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Fountain by Marcel Duchamp: Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

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comes to trendsetting, fashion is, in Postmodern art were produced
many ways, similar to fine arts. as reactions against modernism,
In the United States and Western
Fourth, the questions of society to counter what modernism was:
and politics. The relationship between rational, functional, void of ornaments Europe, many art schools
fine arts and society is not direct, but and frills, rejection of tradition and
have actually ceased teaching
there always remains an important history. Postmodernism brought back
link. Works of art are not created in the irrational, the non-functional, traditional techniques, as they
vacuum. For some artists, this is an ornament, tradition, history. And,
prefer to emphasise on concept,
opportunity, while others might not all of that was peppered with ironies
even be aware of it at all. When an and and twists. Now, if we add philosophy, and theory instead of
issue is widely discussed in a society, new attitudes and techniques to
tradition or workmanship.
it generally also has an impact on the postmodern art, we will have some of
art scene. We can cite the example the ingredients of contemporary art.
of feminism, that has clearly visible For many years, one development as a very political era with abundant
impacts on our society and art. If one in fine arts has been the move from examples of politically radical fine
does not have the basic understanding physical, sellable objects to events and arts. I am tempted to note that the
of the recent feminist discussions, one experiences. This is a major feature contemporary period is much more
would not understand quite a lot of of contemporary art. However, this political than the past.
the contemporary arts. expanding field has room for old Here, one political idea that
To move forward and use these ideas alongside the new ones. With overshadows all others is modern
four principles, we also need to take contemporary art, much is added all feminism. This is much more than
stock of where we stand today – the time and nothing is retracted. the question of women’s liberation.
where do fine arts stand now? The That is why together with technical Feminist ideas are used to crack open
current époque of fine arts has a not- innovations, we have also seen some all sorts of socio-political questions –
so-satisfactory name: contemporary periods of revival for painting. who holds the power in the society;
art. Today, concept is also one of the how do we see the other; who decides
This name might stick or might important features of fine arts. In the what is allowed in cultural salons, and
change in the future, as many other United States and Western Europe, so on. We now look away from the old
art époques got their final names later, many art schools have actually ceased centre of culture created by middle-
in retrospect. When it became obvious teaching traditional techniques, as class, educated, white men, and gaze
that a new époque has started after they prefer to emphasise on concept, into the dark periphery where non-
modernism, no one used the term philosophy, and theory instead of Europeans, outsiders, and women
contemporary, as the way we do today. tradition or workmanship. dwell.
In the late 1970s, it was fashionable to A typical example of contemporary Another art theory in fashion
call this postmodernism. However, art is relational art. According to in the contemporary époque is the
today postmodernism is only a part French art critic Nicolas Bourriaud, institutional art theory. This was
of contemporary art. In the near past, relation art is “a set of artistic practices originally formulated by US critics
postmodernism was well appreciated which take as their theoretical and Arthur Danto and George Dickie in
and very much in vogue, but today practical point of departure the whole late 1960s. It was not until 1980s,
very few take it seriously. of human relations and their social the theory had its break-through.
Modernism ended and the context, rather than an independent Institutional theory is in many ways
contemporary era arrived in around and private space.” An artwork within a reaction to the concept of the
1976. Like all the past époques, this context could be eating together ever-expanding horizon of art, the
the exact time of this emergence or having meetings for all owners of idea of the expanding field. This is
varied from cultures to countries. In yellow motorbikes, as the artwork something the art market had great
Sweden, for example, architecture would be a social event. problems dealing with. The idea of
and industrial design pioneered in Another major example of the expanding field is that anything
the transition while fine arts took contemporary art is political can be art – an idea that is not good
the leap later. In the United States art produced as a form of social for business, or for anyone looking for
and Western Europe, contemporary commentary. There are times investment opportunities.
era was already blooming. Eastern when artists actually take over the Institutional theory tries to deal
Europe had to wait until the fall of role of investigative journalists. In with the problem by narrowing down
communism in 1989. Western Europe, 1970s is regarded what could be considered as fine arts.

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Joseph Beuys: Via Wikimedia Commons.

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In short, the theory argues that the art with the tradition; or, when there
world and its institutions – curators, were revolutionary inventions (for
Painting has been pronounced
art dealers, critics, gallery owners, example, oil paint). Big social events
museums bosses – have the authority like war, colonisation, famine, and dead many times in the past, from
to decide or approve what is art and natural catastrophes cause migration,
the Dadaist period and onwards.
what is not. that had been the source of influence
The modernist era went on from and new ideas. Each time it regained life and
the end of 1900 to around 1975 – In our time, there are many
made a come back, filled with new
three-quarters of a century. The events that can prove to be very
contemporary era started in 1975 and important. The unification of vitality. It can well be said that
is ongoing for thirty-five years, just a Europe; global warming; the lesson
painting has its own pendulum.
little more than a quarter of a century. that war can actually break out in
Will this hold as long as modernism? our neighbourhood; international
That is hard to say. terrorism; globalisation of world traditional art forms.
It is easier or more tempting to economy; the return of religion as For a long time, liberals and
talk about what the next era will a strong force in the society; the conservatives kept their heads down.
probably look like. However, we growing neo-Nazi tendencies in Now, with the dissolving dominance
need to note certain signs telling us politics, and much more. These will of the left-wing in politics, we can see
that the contemporary era is coming surely affect us in many ways. Maybe, them emerging from hibernation in all
to an end. Well, the very fact that there lies hard times ahead, and fine areas of the society, including culture.
there are people looking for these arts will also affected. Right-wing intellectuals are beginning
signs, is an indication in itself. Then, Will fine arts be even more to dominate the cultural discussion
nothing much is taking place in the political, and deal with all these issues? and with them the conservative ideas
contemporary art scene today as it We indeed have experienced a period of the supremacy of beauty; loyalty to
seems to have drained out of contents. with lots of political ingredients in the authority; and, the eternal value
Big exhibitions in recent years tend to fine arts. Therefore, I think the next of classics, are dominating all over
look backwards instead of forward. era will be more or less non-political. again.
For example, the 2010-11 Düsseldorf Feminist ideas will of course continue Third, feminism is not fashionable
Quadrennial focuses on old-time to have influence, but not much on any more. It has become a thing
favourites like Joseph Beuys, Nam fine arts. Same goes for other typical of yesterday and therefore can
June Paik, and Marcel Broodthaers. political issues. not be appreciated today. Videos,
Now, even if we do not know when Second, if fine arts have been installations, photo-based works,
exactly the new era of fine arts will dealing with events and experiences digital-works, relational artworks
begin, we can be quite certain that instead of objects; concepts instead of were in vogue yesterday. And that is
there will be one. And this is where I elaborate pieces of work; expansion why those will probably be ignored or
would like to use the four principles of the concept of art instead of a pushed aside in the coming years. On
we discussed earlier. strict framing; philosophically radical the other hand, graphic printing and
First, no art époque has lasted ideas instead of conservatism, then textile art were very unfashionable
forever. Each of them came to an as the rule of the pendulum suggests, for the past two or three decades.
end. Romantic art lasted for almost we should prepare for the extreme When these will become fashionable
600 years; Gothic art for 400 years; opposites. again, it will probably be impossible
Renaissance for 100 years; and, We need to remember that the art to get hold of decent teachers – one
Modernism for 75 years. The tendency market now is a very strong player. worry I have as the principal of an art
of shorter and shorter lengths in Even when we have a financial crisis school.
time is to be noted seriously. The worldwide, we have an art market Predicting the fate of painting
contemporary era may end soon that is richer than ever. Money talks is more difficult. Painting has been
within a few decades, and the époque and the art market wants sellable pronounced dead many times in
that will follow could well be even pieces of art, not heaps of soil, or the past, from the Dadaist period
shorter. cardboard boxes, or strange events and onwards. Each time it regained
Often, the time for change in fine where people are invited to eat life and made a come back, filled
arts was when the society needed noodles. I believe that in future there with new vitality. It can well be said
art for newer purposes – when a will be a very strong emphasis on good that painting has its own pendulum
new generation could not cope workmanship, elaborate artwork, and movement that does not correspond

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Die Partei, Arno Breker’s statue representing the spirit of the Nazi Party: Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

with the general changes in fine arts. start with, fine arts and religion have
Fourth, it is rather odd that a a very strong historical bond. It is so • Wikipedia article on fine arts
burning issue like global warming old and strong that the 200 years of www.tinyurl.com/eqaya
has almost been neglected as a topic secular art can well be described as a
of fine arts. And, I think in future the mere parenthesis. The bond between • Art History Guide
issue will not have much influence, fine arts and religion has been the www.arthistoryguide.com
unlike the influence of feminism on norm, not the exception. Then,
contemporary art. Weather is simply during the contemporary era, there • ArtLex article on feminism
not so sexy a issue like the question of are strong remnants of the modernist and feminist art
gender and sexual identity. Of course idea of rationalism. Now, rationalism www.tinyurl.com/6ka3j8w
the developments in fine arts will is finally out of fashion.
contribute to global warming in other During the modernist era,
ways, as big art events will be set in nationalism was something that was
places in far away lands. Shanghai looked down upon. In postmoderism, principles of change seriously.
in China is increasingly becoming it became something to be toyed and However, that leaves us with one
an important centre of fine arts, Sao played with. In the contemporary last question: What shall we call the
Paulo in Brazil too. As large number era, it became a source of alarm. new coming era? I think that the name
of Western art enthusiasts travel to Nationalism too is on the rise contemporary was a very bad choice
these new capitals of culture, they do worldwide, and in future we will for the present époque. Maybe we can
leave a large carbon footprint. surely see non-ironic fine arts based come up with something better for
A big change that I think will on strong nationalist themes. the next one. Any suggestions?
have a more direct impact on fine Some of these predictions are of
arts is the return of religion. Religion course more educated guesses than
is a rising force in our society, and others. We can be certain that fine
all signs indicate that this will grow arts will continue to exist, and we
larger. For me, there are strong can be sure this will involve changes. Peter Ekström is an art theorist and artist, based
reasons backing this prediction. To That is why we need to take the four in Örebro, Sweden.

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