Art as a Mirror on the World / by Jeannine Cook

In El Pais of 1st August, there was a long review of two books which had previously appeared in English - Julian Bell's Mirror of the World and 30,000 years of Art by various authors and published by Phaidon. These weighty reviews and compendiums of what, today, is deemed the most important, the best art, started me thinking about art as a general mirror of the world.

What each of us does as an artist is mostly work that comes to us as an expression of individual passion and concern, sometimes steered in one direction or another because the work is commissioned. Generally, however, the work reflects firstly each artist and secondly, the world around that artist. So in a way, each of us mirrors our own world, for good or bad. Artists who are more tuned in to the natural world will tend more to emphasise natural subject matter, urban artists often find their inspiration elsewhere. Today's world, however, becomes much more mixed up as more and more artists tap into the "world's contents ... mingled in a vast collective potlach available by Internet, cell phone, TV, satellite and an ever-expanding inventory of connective gadgetry." (Art in America, March 2009) We can all avail ourselves of situations, sights, sounds, whatever, that we have never personally physically experienced. So the art-as-mirror idea potentially gets changed, perhaps distorted, potentially homogenised, worldwide.

Of course, you still have many, many artists quietly continuing to follow a personal vision and passion. Catherine Spaeth, art historian and art critic, in one of her pieces, talked of "the meanings generated by a work of art extend into the larger context of the world at large ... and it is here as well that you are becoming art historical..." Those meanings of the art generated reverberate out and speak to an audience willing to listen, to look, to ponder and evaluate. I am not sure artists set out always to address meanings/content to this end, but it happens nonetheless. As Emil Cadoo, the photographer working in the Sixties in Paris, once observed, "Only when an artist in any field touches universals can it last through time, can it survive the destruction of things..."

Ultimately, it is for us artists simply to go on trying to work seriously, follow one's passion in creating the art that is important to us, as best we can... We will, even today in our ultra-connected world, be mirrors on our worlds, willy-nilly. And it will fall to those, like Julian Bell (artist and critic himself), or those at Phaidon who have selected the best works to represent artists for the last 30,000 years (quite a job!), to tell the next generations who (perhaps) are the best artists mirroring the world in which we all live. One does however have to season the selections a little, mindful of "Chacun à son goût"!