By Carson Shilts (VI)

Art has always been very timely in that one can easily identify the time period of a painting based on its style; and up to this point, artistic movements are usually the byproduct of a shift in social and political climate. For example, expressionism was a result of the horrors that people endured during the eras of World War I and II, as expressing oneself through abstract artistic representations allowed a sort of solace. Popular art today is difficult to define because it is seen as a mixture of many different art movements, while still creating a collective. Artists have seemed to discover that, in order to create something new, one does not have to forget the past—rather, one ought to be inspired by it. This ideology has allowed for new art movements to emerge as a result of previous art movements. It takes time, however, for a new style to become established and en vogue. Artists whom we now consider pioneers and geniuses were rejected in their times. Vincent Van Gogh, for example—an artist who we now consider one of the greatest painters of all time—only sold one painting during his lifetime, and was rejected from multiple exhibits. So, what can we take away from this progression of rejection and then later glorification? I believe that the way people treat art can be paralleled to the way in which people treat progressivism as a whole. 

Historian and author Timothy Snyder wrote, “It is those who were considered exceptional, eccentric, or even insane in their own time . . . whom we remember and admire today.” This holds especially true as we look back again on those great pioneering artists like Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Degas and Claude Monet. The rejection of their work and, in a sense, their ideas alienated them from society. It is a toxic trend among humans to shy away from change and to stifle anyone who dares disrupt our seemingly complete knowledge of the world. As a result of this, innovative minds are shunted into a corner where their ideas are only spread to a closed group of like-minded people. Rejection is exhausting and to put oneself out there repeatedly, only to be criticized, especially on such a personal matter as art, would no doubt drive someone to madness.

However, it is this small group of pioneers that truly hold the power. As Michael Leja writes, “The success or failure of works of art in targeting cultural pressure points may be registered in the volume of attention they receive.” Instead of feeling guilty for liking a painting that doesn’t line up with the current, conventional standards, perhaps one should just purchase it, and display it proudly in one’s home. The success of a movement is dictated by the support it generates from society. This support can be contagious, and it can show that a standalone artist isn’t insane or eccentric anymore, and rather, they are accomplished and heard. This is how movements spread, grow, and evolve. 

This doesn’t just apply to art. Progressive ideas are ever-flowing, and it is important that we find what we believe in and present it to the world, just as you would a controversial painting, because the artist, activist, politician, writer, or scientist, will never be regarded with respect until they are publicly discussed. This discussion allows room for growth from all people, as it encourages others to speak up, other perspectives to be heard. Think of the world as a never-ending discussion; artists, writers, and just about everyone else are constantly discussing, waiting for the world’s response. So, to put it simply, listen and respond.