It seems somewhat wrong to write the eulogy for the past decade before it has finished. Yet, as the unrelenting stream of days continues to lead us toward the ‘Tens’, it seems only right that the spirits of the previous ten years are evoked and held up to scrutiny. How will we view this decade in the future? It isn’t certain. Perhaps the past decade will be seen as one of great artistic ineptitude. Or, perhaps this decade will be seen as the founding stone upon which a century of creative genius shall be built. We cannot be sure; such is the dilemma of attempting to analyse the wave whilst riding upon the crest of it.
The evocation of previous decades lead our minds to drawing a thousand images, the Sixties with their excess and flamboyance, the Eighties and the emergence of the MTV generation, and the Nineties with their retrospective glances to previous decades. The art produced during these times was, in most cases, a fair and accurate representation of the times: Warhol with his embracing of brand culture within his work stood up awkwardly against the ‘protest’ folk of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, yet both were prevalent feelings at the time. In short, therefore, the 60s can be summed up – somewhat simplistically – by these two opposing positions in art: acceptance of, and protest against, modern living.
What, then, of the ‘Noughties’? This decade has seen events that have radically altered our perspective of the world, to the extent that any sense of cultural hegemony that increased globalisation promised was extinguished as soon as nineteen ‘martyrs’ climbed aboard planes on that fateful day in September. However, rather than attempt to resurrect a society that was enshrouded by uncertainty, art seemed to become shy and retiring. In its place, regressive pseudo-art took over, the novels of Dan Brown with the evocation of the Renaissance period, and X-Factor, with a wink back to television talent shows of the 1960s.
This love-affair with retrospection has been made possible by the internet. The impact of technology upon the consumption of art cannot be understated. We can consume cultural artefacts from previous decades as easily as we can appreciate contemporary work, and therefore this obsession with retrospection is hardly surprising. Society has become akin to the small boy in a large toy shop: overwhelmed by choice. We are still over-awed at the possibilities of the internet that we haven’t begun to harness its power to progress artistically.
“Art is dead. But the student is a necrophiliac. He peeks at the corpse in ciné-clubs and theatres, buys its fish fingers from the cultural supermarket,” Vaneigem wrote in 1967, but he could just as easily be writing about contemporary society, with the location of this ‘cultural supermarket’ changed to your home, your office, wherever you want it. Also, the nature of the consumption has changed. In this society where we seek immediate satisfaction, if the art is challenging, complex, or worst of all, true, we vote it off X-Factor style from our minds. Everyone is a critic, or rather, everyone has the potential to be. We link, love, and share if we appreciate something, and deride if we do not.
If the portrait of the previous decade that is painted here appears bleak, it’s because, for the most part, it was. Yet, faith must not be lost. The thought that there are no more boundaries to push and that everything has been done before have been banded about for centuries. It is the shock of massive potential that is causing this lull, and once art becomes unstuck from novelty, the past decade will merely be a footnote in the history of the world, but an important one nevertheless.