David Hockney writes in The Art Newspaper a short and mildly scattered article around abstraction titled: Abstraction in Art Has Run Its Course. There are some moments for consideration in this article but one line seems to stick out to most who read it which opens the final paragraph:
Abstraction, I think, is now over. It’s run its course, taking away the shadows from European art.
I marvel at these sweeping statements regarding the death of something or other within the art world. The death of painting, the death of abstraction, the death of Rock and Roll.
The death of painting was announced around 1840 by the artist Paul Delaroche upon seeing early examples of photography. Martin Scorsese claims cinema is dead. Gene Simmons states that rock and roll is dead. These statements are often disregarded as laughable with critics talking about obvious notions that each of these genres are just changing and that they are not what they used to be.
Curiously, there are a couple of threads of commonality that run through all of these statements or should I say, agendas.... and they are age and legacy. Delaroche was 43 years old when he claimed painting to be dead.
He was a realistic, romantic painter of history with a skilled hand. His pragmatic realism was stoic and accurate. 43 is old for someone living in the early 1800's and Delaroche would die just 16 years after seeing the camera come onto the scene, threatening his reportage.
Similarly, Simmons in 2014 says rock and roll is dead at the age of 66. (he used the term, murdered) The music world has changed dramatically with digital streaming, electronic music made in bedrooms and uploaded to youtube... not exactly the same world that Gene grew up in.
Gene Simmons 2021
And now Hockney claiming abstraction is over as he approaches 85 years old and has an incredible painting career behind and in front of him that has mastered abstraction and made him extraordinarily successful.
To be clear, these are not ageist statements. But age and one's accomplishments in the world especially at these levels (or any for that matter) go hand in hand. I think about what I will leave behind when I am gone. I think about how my presence here impacted others in a positive way and what changes I was responsible for. I wonder if in making statements like these, Delaroche, Simmons, Scorsese, Hockney declare the disciplines, styles and genres dead to cement their influence on them and hold on to what gives their lives purpose.
I wonder about struggling this way. I wonder about feeling secure in one's place in history and about grasping at an identity that feels like it is slipping away or in the case of Simmons, like it was taken away. I would like to think that I will have an impact on the world that will ripple out and change things long after my works and presence are forgotten. Although I have on more than one occasion announced that teaching was dead... as I move into other modes of education that I frankly find more realistic and inclusive... but that is self serving.