Creating Monsters by Chris Hall

Son of Frankenstein, 1939.

Recently, in conversation with another artist, it was brought to my attention that I use a Postmodernist aesthetic in my artwork, most notably in my use of text in art, which did not really start to happen until the 1960's.  I was, admittedly, taken aback, but I had to agree with the facts.  It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the Modernist and Postmodernist aesthetic.  Postmodernism does not believe in originality; instead it champions pastiche and cultural sampling . . . and Postmodernism has actively mined Modernist art for inspiration.  Using Post-modern pastiche techniques can make for interesting results, but I stand firm in my belief, the Modernist belief, that originality is possible.  In this regard, and in many others, I mostly subscribe to the Modernist philosophy.  But I wonder, am I making a mistake?  

Often, I am too much of a dinosaur, philosophically, to be accepted by Postmodernists, but too Postmodern in my aesthetic to be accepted by certain Re-modernists.  Just like many other aspects of my life, I find myself without a home, left roaming the swamps like a monster on the outskirts of civilization.  In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, we learn that Dr. Victor Frankenstein created his monster by merging the rational Enlightenment science of his day with the ancient, more mystical based science of the alchemists Cornelius Agrippa, Albertus Magnus, and others.  His creation was deemed to be a monster and he was doomed to live a life of lonely exile, unloved by all.  But Dr. Victor Frankenstein's monster (abandoned at birth, he was never given a name) was not born a monster, he was made out to be a monster the society that shunned him.  The monster tried hard to be accepted by others, but after repeated rebuttals, ended up embracing his role as a scourge to mankind.  I wonder, is this to be the fate of my work?  When I attempt to make an artwork combining Modernist philosophy with Postmodern aesthetics, am I producing monsters?  Because I love my work, what I do, does this make me a monster, too?  Am I doomed to be forever an outcast?  While I might revel in the thought of making monstrous artwork that might become a holy terror among the polite circles of the bourgeois and intelligentsia, I do not revel in the lonely existence it has thus far given me.

Without Ardor . . . No Art by Chris Hall

Why is the contemporary art world afraid of the romantic myth of the artist as solitary genius author?  Reason has killed the mysticism and emotion of art, killed off the artist’s celebration of mystery and magic.  In its place is pure rationalism.  Rationalism is both frightened and embarrassed by the artist’s assertion of imagination and emotionalism in art, frightened and embarrassed because emotions and the imagination are by nature, personal and unquantifiable.  

Back in 1950, Lionel Trilling forecasted future art practices when he wrote in the preface to The Liberal Imagination, “[liberalism’s] vision of a great enlargement and freedom and rational direction of human life . . . drifts toward a denial of the emotions and the imagination . . . in the very interest of affirming its confidence in the power of the mind . . . inclines to constrict and make mechanical its conception of the nature of the mind.”

Today the rationalists rule the art institutions, the schools, the critics, the galleries and museums.  For the most part, these institutions refuse to acknowledge that an artist can lay claim to some irreducible mystery and magic. Contemporary art must be logical, responsible, and well-behaved.  Who will champion the artist now, if not the art institutions?  The visionary artist is without a home.

In an article for the New Republic, Jed Perl writes, “It is all well and good to say that cool heads should prevail.  Art, however, is by its very nature overheated, hot-headed, unreasonable – and, dare I say it, sometimes illiberal.  Without ardor there is no art.”