The New Primitivism


A rash of playful, fantastical art is hitting the market hard. Political Art Theory has gone by the wayside in favor of ‘cute’. This new art is strongly rooted in illustration and animation. It is narrative, comical and remarkably casual. It is tempting for me to be indignant with these artists, in a way I feel like these people are not holding themselves to the standards of their predecessors. They are damaging all that the Modern and Postmodern movements have worked towards in making a place for artists among the intelligentsia (not that there is an intelligentsia anymore). Those movements pulled themselves up by their bootstraps out of the muck of commission-based work and decorative furnishings and into the realms of the conceptual and psychoanalytical. Serious art, thoughtful art and art with a message were de rigueur. I’m not saying that no one is thoughtful anymore, I know that the craft movement and performance art are gaining ground in the worlds of sculpture and installation. Obviously some art is still conceptual. These movements are testing the limits of the artworld’s classification systems and reimagining the art-viewing space. Craft invites the viewer to touch the work and to experience it not as a concept, but as a feeling. I like that. But when it comes to 2-D art there is a remarkable lack of depth. only message seems to be ‘Let’s have some fun’. I admire their lack of pretension; however I tend to fall into the camp that wants to read into things a tad more. I think it is important for art to play a little game with the viewer, and the viewer partakes consciously or unconsciously, by looking and thinking about what a piece of art means. There should be some kind of reaction — violent disgust or euphoric illusion — something to chew on! If it’s not pleasing to the eye, it can be exciting in other ways. It can be the manifestation of political theory, or a narrative on social or economic realities. There is something similar to the Uncanny Valley in art; it must be extreme in some way, because if it is mild, it’s mediocre.

Mildly cute is the current trend. Animals in human clothing doing cute things like riding bikes, or colorful depictions of food are popular representations. In my opinion this is a return to primitivism. Although the style is often not primitive (hyperrealism is a current favorite), the subject matter of today’s art is prevailingly juvenile. Everything looks fit for a kid’s bedroom. The subjects of animals and food harken back to days when we were not at the top of the food chain. There is some kind of self-conscious control of nature that is happening here. In order to assure ourselves that animals are no longer a physical threat, we anthropomorphize them; but not in the shamanistic ways of yore, rather in a diminutive way. We put silly hats on them, or a cigarette in their paw. The same is true of food, it is as if we like to have beautiful, fake food around as a visual assurance that we are not hungry. And I’m not talking still life paintings. This food is plastic, it is highly saturated in color and sheen, it is not for eating: it’s for fun, it’s cute. Cherries with faces, cupcake earrings, ice cream cone dolls, plastic sushi erasers are all part of a new culture of food. In this culture food is disposable and man-made. Ok, so admittedly the food thing is probably more specific to fashion and accessories rather than ‘art’ per se. But I believe the two are connected– an obsession with cute, highly saturated color, and plastic form are at the crux of both art and fashion right now.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s