Truth is entirely and absolutely a matter of style. (Oscar Wilde)
While Friedrich Nietzsche buried God, mourning the loss of the greatest meaning, nineteenth-century philosophy matured melancholically, having realized that there is no “objective reality”. Belief in any God implies that there is a source responsible for all questions relating to truth and morality, but once this foundation is shattered truth becomes a relativistic matter devoid of any intrinsic quality. Testing truth according to man-made hierarchies, and claiming that perception and reality are separate, has proven that truth is an imaginary vision of the mind, not a verifiable view of the world “as it is”.
If Oscar Wilde’s thought-provoking epigrams have any intention other than to tickle the nerves of our brains, it is to show how autonomous, subjective, and aesthetically satisfying style is. Truth, with the t capital, poses as vertical, objective and holistic. It pretends to have the answers to all philosophical questions to do with our relationship to “reality”. And anything that moves upright imposes hierarchy, causing the failure of democratic distribution. Style, on the other hand – whether found in a Philipp-Stark object, Graffiti, Rap music or a Hussein Chalayan overcoat, ‘Table-converting-into-a-Suitcase’ – defies the logic of “high” art, “deep” meaning, and “whole” thought.
Since Nietzsche’s prophetic affirmation of the modern fragment - the idea that we think in parts, that is, dissected, and not wholly - and Wilde’s post-modern notion of the death of the artist - the artwork as significantly autonomous and detached from its creator - we remain committed to ‘art for art’s sake’, art being independent of any truth outside the object or sign. We accept, then, that the subjective viewer attributes values.
In 1917, Marcel Duchamp radicalized notions of what constitutes art. By placing a Urinal in a white-wall gallery, he overthrows the idea that two-dimensional art is an expression of craft primarily, which can, then, be judged by experts, i.e. art critics. The introduction of three-dimensional art paves the way for other possibilities, from performance and conceptual art – art that need not be “completed” – of the 1960s and ‘70s, to the installation and video art of the ‘80s and ‘90s, to the more recent art of technology, design, film-making and sculpture.
The 1890s and the ongoing 1990s tackle sobering issues, like truth, with humour. Wit is a caustic way for being radical and liberal, uncompromising and uncommitted: a wry organ of artistic regeneration. Just as ‘[Oscar Wilde’s] wit is an agent of renewal’, the re/production of images has produced a new wave of criticism through the use of humour. If Wilde’s dissident criticism of Victorian propriety unveils the hypocrisy of morality and truth, inspiring shock and awe, through our contemporary world of creativity we witness subversive attitudes at a visual level. Unlike the nineteenth century’s limited forms of critical expression, the twenty-first century expresses its resistance through various media, the most popular being computer art. Our world of technology and the internet is revolutionary for making art more visible and accessible to anyone connected with Our-New-World-Without-Borders, and we, the People and Creators, have the power to defy all sort of censorship by the democratic proliferation of this innovative art.
appeared in ΥΓ of Phileleftheros newspaper
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