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Thursday, May 11, 2017

1970s Art

Remember when?
About five years ago I wrote what I thought at the time would be a series dealing with art on a decade-by-decade basis. I began with the 1960s. Well, despite my best intentions, that's as far as the "series" ever went. A little less than three weeks ago I revisited some of the same turf in writing about Psychedelic Art. Needless to say, that was a pretty limited perspective having only to do with that art associated with youthful pharmaceutical experimentation, as compared to the whole "Happy Days" era. Certainly, there was Jimi Hendrix, but there was also Richie Cunningham.

Taking the 70s to the Max.
One of the pitfalls of dealing with art history, and especially history in general, on a decade-by-decade basis is that most historic events completely ignore the calendar (presidential terms being the exception). For instance, history buffs will forever argue whether the 1950s ended with the election of JFK or ended with his assassination. Pol-itically, a similar question might arise as to the 1970s--did the era begin with the election of Richard Nixon or begin with his res-ignation? As to art, the 1970s saw the rise of Peter Max and the death of Norman Rock-well. In that Max was already a successful artist in 1970 and Rockwell died in November of 1978, we might best limit that era to the period of just eight years between the two dates. In any case, it was a wild and crazy time regardless of your frame of reference.
Mr. and Mrs. Clark Percy, 1970-71, David Hockney
It would be impossible to discuss the art of the 1970s without mentioning Woodstock (which was actually in 1969), the demise of the Beatles (which actually was in 1970), or the death of John Lennon (which was actually in 1980), or that of Elvis Presley (1977). As I said, events tend to ignore calendars. It's also notable that all these landmark events involve music, not the visual arts. They demonstrate one of the most important trends of the entire era--the fading away of traditional art forms in favor of music, television, and motion pictures. When we picture art of the 1970s, we think of the halcyon days of a campy Batman on TV, hard rock in the record stores, and the original Godfather, Star Wars, Rocky, Jaws, and Grease on the silver screen. It's only as an afterthought that we bring to mind David Hockney's Mr. and Mrs. Clark Percy (above), from 1970-71, Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party (below) from 1979, or Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, or even Pablo Picasso (top, who died in 1973). It would be easy to think of painting as dead too, but I would tend to simply classify it as "antique."

Dinner Party, 1979, Judy Chicago
Just as books are now read on tablets, movies streamed over the Internet, and music is now downloaded or played from shiny plastic disks, the art of painting has been relegated to covering bare walls, with painters often at the mercy of an interior designer's whim in seeking a certain mystical ambience. The 1970s didn't begin all that, but it certainly spurred it on. Whereas painting was once a noble means of conveying God to the illiterate, capturing a human likeness, telling tales, depicting history, or illustrating stories; today there are far more viable media for doing all those things. That's not to say painting no longer has its place in modern society. It does--in museums.

Norman Rockwell the history painter, 1970


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