So, big picture, nothing happened between the mid-1940’s and the 1960, text-art wise, yes? In terms of iconic high text art imagery, that’s basically true. However, that got me to thinking. The 1960’s produced an unparalleled explosion of text-based work that continues unabated. In fact there’s an argument to be made that it’s now impossible to tell the difference between text art, advertising and kitsch, generally speaking, but that comes later. Here, the question is: What fueled that explosion? I’m not a historian, and I haven’t read the psychoanalytic breakdown’s of each artist’s personal narrative, but a few things occur to me as I look at imagery of the 1950’s:
- World War II was just yesterday
- There was no time to mentally decompress before
- Being told exactly what to look like, what to be excited about, how to live your life
- You’re about to die horribly
- Go buy something
And don’t get me started on Jazz, literature, integration, expansion of the middle class or the revolutionary youth-centric Rock and Roll. Everything we took for granted prior to WW2 had flipped and much of it for the better. We were an entire nation of Old Boys Networks and what the Old Boys took for granted, women as property, elections to rig, Negros to keep down and all decent white fellows wore hats to work and smoked pipes on the weekend, images of guard dogs defending segregation, Emmit Till, women’s rights, a burgeoning nuclear nightmare and youth exposed to television and constant war began to fuck things up.
Which is where art comes in. I gotta hand it to the Abstract Expressionists, they really made a name for themselves and created some insanely great art, but they were younger versions of Old Guard artists looking for acclaim. Here’s a nice pic:
Another movement in competition with movements that came before them. All very well dressed. And yet, as American culture began to freak out and express itself in a bazillion new ways, one small New York-based art club wasn’t nearly enough. Something else had to happen, and duh of course it did.
Which is where I started to think about 1960’s text art and what came before it. Specifically, the deluge of text-based advertising and comics that young 60’s artists would have absorbed as kids. And whoa wow hello – what schizophrenic messages they were receiving!
As very young kids, having lived thru World War 2, they got this:
Then as adolescents they got this:
And as they grew into young adulthood, these were their social models:
And somehow manage to balance this:
while again this was happening:
And eventually this:
Which is how it totally makes sense that they ended up producing art that not only reflected they absurdist culture they grew up in, but also used those same images and messages as ground for their work. And those that didn’t felt the freedom to dispense with imagery altogether and go straight for the message, and permanent hats off to them because once that happened there was no going back. Plus it also got very, very flat, which was very, very interesting.