...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead are a completely valid artistic unit. Every facet of their music has a sophisticated and intellectual tone to it, with their advanced composition, poetic lyrics, and especially with their art direction.
Conrad Keely is the man most directly involved with these - as it’s called in the liner notes of Source Tags and Codes - "new directions in art appreciation". Not only does Conrad direct, and even create, most of the artwork, but he also writes most of those poetic lyrics that inhabit The Trail’s music.
Trail Of Dead avoid being completely pretentious, however, with their clever wit and humor. One trip to a live show of theirs will display that they are all about having fun, and not taking things too seriously. The band also enjoys posting funny news blips on their website.
Through these online posts the band has done many hilarious things, including comparing The Dropkick Murphys to the monkeys they saw at a zoo, and clever little comments revolving around SXSW. Another interesting thing posted on the bands news site is an essay written by Conrad.
Abstract Art is Shit is that essay by Conrad Keely, which was posted on his bands website on May 7th, 2003. Through this essay Conrad destroys abstract art, and makes many valid points against the current state of modern art.
Abstract Art is Shit
I recently visited two museums in Sidney, Australia – the National Gallery – which housed an impressive collection of Victorian-era masterpieces, and the museum of Modern Art. Walking through the forth floor of the latter we passed by one installation piece – it was a pile of coal on the ground. This, I thought, is what modernity has reduced art to – a pile of coal on the ground.
Modernity, it seems, has robbed art of 20,000 years of development. Some modern artists I’ve spoke to don’t even feel it necessary to look back upon the development of art – art, as far as they’re concerned, started in the 20th century, when someone declared "anything can be art".
But really, can anything be art?
Visual art is about ways of seeing. As obvious as this may seem, it is one of those explicit truths whose simplicity makes it easy to forget or to take for granted.
When studying art on a theoretical level we are often challenged by academics to define art, and the question is turned into to a philosophical one – can art be defined, and what, after all, is art? These attempts to over-intellectualize something which is fundamentally intuitive has led many to believe this is a complex, even unanswerable question.
But the truth is that art is most definitely definable. It does, and has served a function in society for thousands if not tens of thousands of years now. It is concrete, living, and in many cases even quantifiable.
During the twentieth century a conspiracy took place to viciously defame the merits of the old academic art style. Gallery owners, driven by profit and greed, chose to back abstract expressionist painters because of their far more prolific output. No longer held by bounds of representation, they could finish a canvas in one day, where the old masters might spend one year on a canvas, sometimes longer.
The result was "modern" art.
Within this art form, the artist’s idea, or "concept" takes precedent. Most of us were probably taught in art class – even up into college – that we ought to be free to "express" ourselves. And as wonderfully as this might serve to turn every human being into an artist, this really isn’t what art has ever been about.
In fact, it is important to remember that art as expression is a recent development. At least, the artist’s personal expression. Throughout history art served a very specific function – it exemplified an ideal, represented an object, or narrated a story or allegory. Even the first paintings done on caves were not abstract or exercises in self-indulgence, but beautifully, sometimes sublimely realistic representations.
I decided to try an experiment. A friend of mine has a four year old daughter who is bright for her age. I asked her to give me her opinion of which paintings she preferred. First I would hold up a piece of realism – say, Alma-Tadema’s "Spring". Then I would hold up an abstract work – say, a Pollock or a Rothko. Without fail, each time she showed disinterest or perturbation in the abstract work, and tended more to remark upon the "prettiness" of the realistic piece, or objects within the piece itself.
This led me to wonder, were we taught how to appreciate abstract art? If so, it would appear that its appeal is intellectual rather than intuitive. Its purpose, it would seem, is one of alienating those uneducated or not in-the-know, and creating an artistic "elitism". But art, in my mind, ought not to be an elitist thing at all, but rather serve to elevate all humanity.
I believe the beauty of the academic artistic tradition is endangered. No longer are students taught the fundaments of draftsmanship and representation, but rather to "tap into their feelings" or even "defy the rules", without ever having been taught them. Especially this farce called "installation art", in which the observer is meant to glean from a haphazard collection of objects the artist’s true intent. Honestly, do we really care?
Is a four year old child really going to see an allegory to the artist’s pain, or is she simply going to see a pile of coal on the ground? Do the unadulterated eyes of a child see abstract art for what it really is, just a bunch of paint thrown randomly onto a canvas?