What makes something good art? Most people would consider all abstract art to be pretentious and useless; the sort of random act that could be achieved by a two-year old splattering paint on a canvas. Actually, at that same age, Aelita Andre was selling paintings such as “The Leopard and the Luck Dragon” for thousands of dollars. Sure, it’s pretty – but why not make one yourself?
There are many elements to art, beyond the final product itself, and each of these has been explored to extremes at some stage in history. The most striking of these cases is abstract modern art, which usually comprises those artworks that are technically easy to make. Whereas renaissance portraiture typically required years of training to achieve the desired effect, modern art needs nothing more than a clever idea, and the execution may be carried out by anybody.
Unfortunately, this causes confusion; people mistake the final product for art, when the real art lies in its conception and not in its material construction. This is the great tragedy of modern art – the fact that its power is immaterial and therefore free, but because it is connected to some easily constructible object (for example, `found objects’) these objects sell for exorbitant prices. People try to buy the idea by buying things intrinsically connected to it through the actions and identity of the artist – but when these connections are lost, the object loses its worth. Caravaggio’s David With the Head of Goliath would still fetch a high price if nobody knew who painted it, simply because of its craftsmanship, but Duchamp’s urinal inscribed with `R. Mutt’ becomes nothing more than a urinal when its associations are lost.
The point of exploring these extremes is not to make art meaningless, but rather to separate its different aspects. The lesson learned from modern art is that the conception and the idea is a crucial element of art, but clever ideas alone do not constitute artworks in themselves. To be fully realized, the concept must be realized through craftsmanship – without a unique physical object to represent it, the idea remains ethereal.