Is Art Dead?


It was during the Stone Age that mankind produced its earliest known works of art. According to H.J. Hanson’s History of Art, this period brought us the gifted artisans of the Aurignacians and the Magdelenians, whose talents adorn rock surfaces in the cavernous regions of Spain and Southwest France. These full of life paintings depicting various animal species with arrows flying toward or protruding from them leave little doubt as to their ritualistic nature. It seems in the Stone Age that by merely relaying a desired image on stone made it a virtual reality.

More recently, modern man has had similar artistic expressions. In the 1960’s, using different calligraphic styles and designs, graffiti began to surface in New York City’s subways. Similar to the Stone age, there seems to be a virtual reality in graffiti art as well. A mere painting on a concrete wall symbolizes not the conquering of an animal, but a territory.

Among world sculpture, the Great Sphinx of Giza, Egypt lies facing the East. This grand guardian of the Pyramids stands 65 feet high and 241 feet long. On a lesser known, but much larger scale, the United States is home to a massive rock sculpture as well. The Crazy Horse Memorial is a current work in progress.

When completed, it will measure 641 feet long by 563 feet high. The head alone, which is completed, stands 87 feet 6 inches high. The monumental sculpture is located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, land sacred to the Lakota. Self taught artist Korczak Ziolkowski, began sculpting the memorial after his Carrara marble portrait Pederewski won first place in New York’s 1939 World’s Fair. He continued his work until his death in 1982 and his family continues the vision.

Amid great controvesy, “Bodies, The Exhibition” opened to a record crowd in Tampa, Florida in 2005. The exhibit displayed preserved organs, body parts and cadavers in various poses. The flayed skin of the corpses made the normally unseen parts of the body available for viewing. While some consider this and similar displays of this type as art, others disagree. In 1990, Congress passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Human remains that have long been on display or stored in various museums are now being returned for reburial.

Different periods of art experience revivals which reflect in the art and fashion of today. At times, we are forced to ask ourselves, what is art? The answer it seems, is generally an individual one that lies in the eye of an object’s beholder.

Realistically, comparisons to the masterpieces of Michelangelo or DaVinci are difficult to make. However, Anne Allen, director of The Arlinton Museum of Art in Arlington, Texas, stated “There are tremendously gifted artists in every generation that we are lucky to have among us. We are always discovering new artists and while the old masters we will continue to have with us, there are others who were perhaps overlooked in their day that are coming to light as well.” Pete Rainone of Rainone Galleries in Arlington, has been an art dealer for 35 years. When asked if he thought anyone would discover a new art form to rival other periods of art he said, “Absolutely, It is like music. There is a lot being done with computer and digital art now. People are using different mediums to paint and there are also different techniques in photography.”

Often times, in our quest for art, we tend to look toward the high places and indeed this is where great artists do rise.

However, many times it was from places of intense inward struggle and oppression from whence they arose. Just as the earth is constantly changing and evolving from interior pressure, new artists are daily being shaped and refined. In a struggle for identity and the desire to express it, a new song is sung, a new novel is written, a new scene unfolds. From one of the darkest periods of history, the Renaissance flourished into existence. From the bleak streets of London, a disadvantaged Charles Dickens arose to become one of the most famous authors of all time. Frederick Douglass, one of America’s first African American speakers wrote of hearing some of the most original songs ever sung. They came from the very core of plantation slaves on their way from the fields to instead go work at “the big house” and from abject poverty was born a young man who took the crown to forever reign as the King of Rock n Roll.

Everywhere, there are subcultures of talented artists. Artists who earn royalties on their work, yet paint houses by day. Singers and songwriters whose careers are put on hold by a little down time. Artists and designers who create in secluded corners of their shops. An occasional young man can be seen shuffling down a sidewalk, guitar slung across his back.

Undoubtedly, headed to a friends house where there awaits another like mind. There are authors who sit among their rejection slips knowing that theirs is the story the world is waiting to hear. They are the dreamers, the visionaries, those whose sprits and imaginations soar. They are regarded as odd, looked at curiously and for a few artistic geniuses that do rise to a loftier height, they may even be viewed as insane.

Still, we continue to ask, what is art? Will anyone ever discover a new art form that will rival all periods of art?

Anything is possible. As long as there remains a generation with a pulse and as long as there is pain and suffering in the world there should be plenty left to say. So… will art transcend time? Or, is it dead, lifeless? In the case of “Bodies, The Exhibition” well… that will depend on with whom you are speaking.

Karen Raine is a Texas based freelance writer whose interests include travel, art, antiques, collectibles and country music. Karen is also a songwriter and can be reached at [email protected]