I ramble about art-related stuff. The writing here will probably be less edited (coherent).
Art styles do come back into vogue. I was reminded of the Neoclassical movement in architecture earlier today which led me back to that thought. It's interesting that in painting there's been more of this idea of 'continual progress forward' which I suppose developed into a broader examination of aesthetics and art. A concrete dilineation is found when 'progress' in art forwent the canvas entirely in the 20th century with Duchamp's famous little stunt, but that was only a particularly salient event whose causes had already been developing for a century and a half at that point. So maybe we can view the period when representational art started to become sneered at (poor ol' Bougie) as the break where the examination and progress of 'art' diverged from the discipline of painting. People like Monet and Degas perhaps flirted with the line, but if not post-impressionism, then favuist art was a clear step out of the craft of painting and into a new exploration, one whose inquiries were perhaps made with brush and canvas but shared little of principles.
As a quick aside, there has been a similar trajectory of departure from convention, structural rigor in literature, but there's a dearth of work in the vein of Finnegans Wake, say, whereas 'painting' has been rife with the equivalent. I mean, no other discipline has produced such a flagrant middle finger to traditional values as painting/art.
As a tentative conjecture, modern and postmodern art may be a 'questioning teenager' phase of humanity. Having hit a certain threshold of autonomous thinking ability, we've collectively determined to throw out the playbook of traditional values founded on implicit assumptions and look to rederive principles, or formulate new ones entirely. But perhaps in time, and maturing insight, we may come to a greater appreciation and formalization of our original intuitions.
...What if we should have gotten there by now, but we've hit on an awkward snag where eccentric art investments have turned out to be highly convenient financial instruments? I mean, who even dictates the 'canon' or 'progression' of art? Academics? Museum and gallery curators? Do institutions independently or by some means of collusion continue to canonize these works?
Uh, back to Neoclassicism. I again cite Cope's comment that art does not 'progress', in the way that science does. But this conflicts with the aphoristic notion that each generation makes their own contribution. Or is artistic contribution not a trend on a societal level, but something to be undertaken by each individual? Everyone as a differing set of aesthetics so it naturally follows each would 'contribute' individually...
The way I've approached art has always been kind of odd. I haven't really seen it as a means of self-expression since I was a child so much as a technically interesting exercise — try to have accurate anatomy, have light behave in a realistic manner, designing edges and values in a pleasing fashion, clothing folds that feel accurate and have volume, etc. What I didn't explicitly realize for a long time was that I'm more of a 'thinking artist'. The idea is that there are individuals who have some artistic inclinations but also interest in scientific fields.
The Renaissance has always appealed to me for that unique period in time where development in painting was strongly tied to inquiry into optics and anatomy. I've also found western religious imagery interesting for a long time (and strongly increased by Evangelion), but never really tried to explore much in terms of subject matter.
I've been content to practice technical skill, rendering ability without consideration for individuality. Recently I had a Renaissance phase where I read a bunch of stuff including Walter Isaacson's da Vinci biography, The Agony and the Ecstasy, which is a slightly fictionalized narrative of Michelangelo's life, relevant chapters from Gardner's Art Through the Ages and excerpts from Vasari's The Lives of the Artists, which was a contemporary account of eminent artists. Some things that stood out to me was just how diverse the artists were in their countenance, personal styles, and their final products. I had the vague impression that artwork was much more strictly regulated in convention than it is in the modern landscape, and though it is true that the range of expression is much narrower than what we are accustomed to, there was still plenty of space for artists to distinguish themselves. What I'm trying to get at is that even then, where the content of paintings was much more tightly specified, there was still a great breadth of work. Da Vinci and Michelangelo were nearly polar opposites stylistically in their paintings. Personally I'm not too fond of most of Michelangelo's painting work. Da Vinci allegedly once called his figures "sacks of walnuts" which seems pretty apt.
The application to my own work is that it seems artists have been applying their own discretion to works for a long time historically. Arguably it's the entire point of art... I've found I have the habit of coming to very straightforward conclusions in a very roundabout fashion. In the past I've been wedded too much to the idea of conservatism, or formal purism, or whatever -- the idea that a work must not exceed certain bounds of convention abitrarily imposed. In the interest of producing something more interesting at the least if not for my own creative gratification, I should be trying to draw from my own idiosyncratic set of aesthetics.
And a question I've thought to myself is where does art go from here? There's been two broad movements in art for a long time now, perhaps originating in the impressionists. Art has passed representation by. In the introduction to Techniques of the Contemporary Composer, David Cope (lol) says that the arts don't have progression in the same way that scientific fields do. Which again is probably obvious to everyone except me.. I've had the thought a few times that perfect representation was achieved sometime in the 18th or 19th century, so where does that leave us? Is it necessary to even be producing something new?