I think life is the same way, only the inessential cover, our bodies disappear, what is essential remains, our consciousness.
We are always trying to categorize art, stick it in a box with labels and most inessential art fits nicely in those concepts but real art, art that is alive and speaks volumes doesn’t, it is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Shakespeare is just as relevant today as he was in Elizabethan England. His literature, his art has no end. Why? He was besides being a master of the English language, creative and fluid with it’s uses. He often made up his own grammar and word variations to suit his rhythm and thoughts. His characters had psychological depth and spoke to the audience both at a superficial and meta levels, they were complicated beings, real people, with a message to impart us. As a viewer you knew not only what they were saying but also glimpsed the deepest recesses of their minds that made you transcend your own chattering thoughts.
It is the same with great painting, not only is it skillfully rendered but manages to surprise the viewer in some way. Great art imparts a new experience, or knowledge that transcendence the viewers present world-view. Great art goes way beyond technical skill in expressing and conveying emotions, subtle or blatant, that the viewer can say “aha” to when looking at it. A great painting never gets tired of being viewed. And the viewer never tires of viewing it. It becomes a member of your world, be it at home or museum.
Egon Schiele did not strive for technical perfection like photorealists or even try showing contemporary historical or social issues, he managed to portray a world view, the life of his society, an individual’s life with one figure. Egon was a story-teller without words, the need to embellish was not in his character. His one figure on a canvas said it all and the more you looked the more you saw. And if you tried to analyze what made it so, you couldn’t, because it wasn’t just the composition, the colours, the face, the placement, etc. it was something altogether indescribable that made the figure alive and made you want to get to know her/him in some way, not as a friend but as someone new and unfamiliar to your world-view. In other words it expanded your vision of reality in some way.
What has this got to do with endings? In life we can describe what our coverings look like, judge them to be good or bad, choose to like or dislike them, but our consciousness will never be knowable in that way. What is eternal is not readily knowable with our intellect, even though that part of our mind always wants to be in charge. So, trying to assess the merits of art with the intellect is futile.
Van Gogh’s art is a prime example and we have yet to learn from him. In his day people listened to their curators and dismissed this eternal art. It is only when our world-view expanded that we started to appreciate his work. And
personally when I saw his paintings in real life I was astonished as to how they could speak to me form many yards away even small ones because there was something imbued in them of a hand more eternal than his own. In other words, beside the cover (finite), Van Gogh managed to portray the consciousness (infinite) reality of life.
Possibly the only way art can be truly judged is through time, after the fact, and whose flame we think is great now may just extinguish with time.
After all, artists should be heralding something of the future, something new, something that raises viewers above their mundane existence, something that gives them food for thought or like in Van Gogh’s work an experience of the eternal light of reality that he obviously knew.
Art needs to be an alive, breathing entity to merit remembering after the artist is gone, otherwise it is just more clutter in our already overly cluttered society of dead images that ended before they began.