When I was reviewing the Witches and Wicked Bodies exhibition, I came across a review online which expressed the opinion that the quality of the artworks decreased with the display of the 20th century works. It is not clear whether the author disliked only those particular works or modern art in general, but opinions like this, scolding the contemporary and praising the art of the past centuries are extremely common. It is easier to review works of artists like Durer or Waterhouse because the visual language is simpler: the witch ugly or beautiful has a physical form of a human and that form is rendered accurately. The painting imitates the reality. The Sabbaths and monsters are products of artist’s imagination, but they are indeed placed
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There is no need for straining an imagination to decipher what is depicted. Mimetic art easier conveys its meaning because it is focused on the reality or its fragments to communicate the ideas and in that sense it is universal. If hypothetically speaking Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa would be presented to a tribesman of Papua Nova Guinea, who has never encountered art nor art history books along the Nature Study by Louise Bourgeois there is no doubt that he would be able to understand the idea behind the former while probably being baffled by the latter.
There is no need to create hypothetical situation and search for tribesmen living in the wild when we have a prime example in the twenty-first century Britain. Jonathan Jones’ article for Guardian titled The 10 most shocking performance artworks ever is a click-bait-titled compilation of often groundbreaking examples within the performance genre. The tone of the article is mocking and it probably doesn’t help the readers in adopting non-bias approach to the presented works but I wanted to direct the attention to the comments section. It happens that only few commentators were not outraged over calling performance an art form. Most of the opinions contested the idea that people who made those works should be even called artists. It seems that meaning behind these performances was lost on Guardian’s reader. Is that because the tradition of mimesis in art is so strong that it cannot be overcome or