The way I look at it (and please understand that this is merely where I’ve gotten in my own thinking at the present time), photography has eliminated the need for strictly representational art. Since the mid-19th Century, the role of the artist has become more interpretative. Our role suddenly began to change from recorders for posterity to interpreters and enlighteners. Rather than focusing on precise accuracy in representation, artists were freed to explore and express their personal view of the world/experiences/situations around them.
Each of us perceives life from a different perspective. We interpret it through the idiom of our past experiences and our own point of view. This process of interpretation almost always includes some forms of exaggeration (line, color, form, texture, …) to make a point. But at the heart of it all is still skillful use and manipulation of the basic principles of design that have been shown to be effective over many centuries and unnumbered generations of artists.
How effective contemporary artists are in getting their points across and their interpretations understood is a separate question entirely. If the point is simply to play with juxtaposition of hue, value, and proportion, and the viewer can get a sense of the artist’s satisfaction or delight in the search, can’t we say the piece has succeeded?
Yet, if an artist merely throws paint at a canvas with no real purpose other than to make a bunch of meaningless squiggles, what message is being conveyed, what insights are being provided? In my opinion, that “artist” is a fraud, whatever price the piece may bring at auction, or however loudly museums may tout his “creative approach.”
As an example, I knew an artist once who bragged about framing his wipe-cloth and selling it as a finished piece of “art.” My respect for him diminished markedly that day. Sure, the sale probably reimbursed him for the cost of some of his supplies. And, presumably, whoever paid for it did so because they found some degree of pleasure in owning such a piece. But had the “artist” really succeeded in enriching our understanding or view of the world?
I’m sure others have different conclusions about what art is, what its purpose is, and what “succeeds.” It’s one of those questions that each individual has to try to resolve to his or her own satisfaction, and even that resolution will undoubtedly evolve over time. These thoughts are simply the conclusions I have reached at present in the process of my personal search for answers. I would be interested to hear my readers’ thoughts on the subject. Such discussions help in honing our opinions. The floor is open!