c’est la vie
For many, art has but two periods: old representational art, and contemporary art detached from reality. When thinking of old paintings, what comes to mind is epic battle scenes, mythological and genre representations, portraits of rulers and saints. Contemporary art, on the other hand, evokes mainly geometric compositions or splashes of paint that defy easy interpretation.
However, contemporary painting is not only abstraction. Just like in the past, artists nowadays also incorporate into their work everyday themes in order to reflect different aspects of ordinary life. We are used to art exploring sublime and serious topics, and when it focuses on something that’s more down-to-earth, it always does so with elegance. A perfect example of this are the paintings by Jan Vermeer, in which women read, write letters or play musical instruments in beautifully decorated interiors. What can we, then, expect from contemporary paintings?
Ordinary everyday life, basically. Too often we are tempted to think of art as a vehicle for capturing solely those beautiful and sublime moments, forgetting that art is also supposed to portray the reality in which we live. And the reality is that most of us aren’t swimming in gold and glitter, nor do our lives revolve around major historical events all the time. It is not a judgment but merely a statement of fact. And this is what painting should be, too: not always sublime and serious, but ordinary and down-to-earth.
People reading books, as was the case in old paintings, have been replaced by people looking at computers or tablets. The room is no longer a symbol of neat order, but instead it reflects the disorder that often accompanies us, as none of us have servants anymore. Lavish gatherings organized by magnates are a thing of the past, and free evenings are now spent at discotheques and clubs, whose atmosphere is perfectly captured in one of Agata Kus’ paintings. Contemporary painting also reminds us how much our eating habits have changed over time, with sumptuous multi-course meals enjoyed with the family giving way way to simple dishes that are often had alone.
Contemporary genre painting isn’t afraid to tackle even the most trivial topics, such as swimming in the pool or blow-drying your hair after in the changing room, cooling your forehead on a hot day with a cold can of soda or watching your favorite series with the computer sitting on your lap. All this makes for an extremely interesting and diverse mosaic of our everyday being.
It’s worth keeping in mind that what may seem ordinary and unimportant to us is, from the perspective of time and history, something worth preserving – anything from how we spend our free time, through the clothes we wear, to how we design our interiors. Photographs have practically ceased to be developed, with everything being now stored in a virtual world. Paintings, meanwhile, are something tangible that we can actually leave behind and that can someday become a testimony of the current way of life.
transl. Jakub Majchrzak