Van Gogh, Picasso, Da Vinci and Michelangelo are all artists whose art has inspired and entertained generations. The Mona Lisa still encourages flocks of snap-happy tourists to gaze upon her smile with wonder and excitement every single day. However, the landscape of art is constantly changing and many modern artists have chosen different mediums of expression. Rather than immortalising themselves in paint, clay or metal, they have chosen to use temporary materials, such as ice or products from plants or animals to create their pieces.
One such artist is Andy Goldsworthy whose intricate sculptures made with icicles, leaves and branches can sometimes last for just a few minutes or hours before falling, melting or blowing away, their only lasting mark being the photographs that Goldsworthy takes of them upon completion.
So what is the point of temporary art? If no-one gets to see it or admire it and there is nothing left but photographs, then why do artists make it?
“Goldsworthy’s work has been justified by saying that it represents and exposes impermanence and change”
Maybe the photograph of the art is the art itself, and the intricate positioning of leaves and icicles is just setting up for the final intended piece of art, the photograph. Or maybe temporary art serves a different purpose to classic mediums; Goldsworthy’s work has been justified by saying that it represents and exposes impermanence and change. Maybe this is a thought that Yoko Ono was possibly trying to address in 1966 with Apple, in which she encouraged spectators to watch an apple on a plexiglass pedestal decompose.
“There are many other artists who, like him, continue to create seemingly indestructible pieces of art”
However, it is not like all art is now something that is only made to be admired by the few who are lucky (or wealthy) enough to be there when it is created. Anthony Gormley’s metal casts of his own body are scattered everywhere from the Yorkshire sculpture park to the city of Stavanger in Norway and beyond. And there are many other artists who, like him, continue to create seemingly indestructible pieces of art that will continue to be admired for decades, if not centuries or millennia.
Art is all about experimentation and enhancing the experiences of those who come to see it. Temporary art isn’t necessarily there to be desired or even admired, but is there to be experienced in the knowledge that you are witnessing something truly unique and momentary.
“I’m sure many of us have a bowl of fruit that’s slightly past it’s best sitting on a kitchen counter”
I, personally, struggle with the idea of a rotting apple being art. I’m sure many of us have a bowl of fruit that’s slightly past its best sitting on a kitchen counter, and none of us are purporting that it is something of great artistic significance. However, watching such deterioration in isolation, or seeing something you know could not be exactly replicated is a valid experience that does what all great art should do – creates an emotional response.
So maybe temporary art is just a fad, one which people will look back on and ask what on earth we were all thinking. Or maybe it will just be forgotten, and the art history books will just remember those pieces with a longer shelf life. But certainly now, temporary art has a level of cultural significance, and as long as it can be explained and can stimulate some feelings in those that see it or experience it, then surely, despite its fleeting existence, it is as valid a piece of art as any other.