There is no formal definition of art except for the one which defines art as a human action which aims to communicate ideas and emotions. It does not tell much neither about the origin of art nor about its uniqueness. The fact that something which characterizes men as men (animals are not artists) and something that as a phenomena can be followed from the early periods of homo sapiens, has not been precisely defined yet, is quite interesting (science is much prior to art, art occurs with the occurrence of men).
What is the role of art? Since we do not have an unique definition, the purpose of art could hardly be defined, too. Is art to make our living environment prettier (it refers in the first place to sculptures and fine art) or is it’s purpose/social role somewhat different (remember Andersen’s “Emperor’s new clothes” or other similar ancient Greek satires?) The Greeks considered art to be like a guideline for a perfect world, a world of ideas and non compatible beauty. Therefore we cannot find any sculptures of old, sick or degenerated people. Interestingly, this fact can be easily connected to a happening in the 20th ct. After the Nacis took over in Germany, they have prohibited “decadent art” considering that it spoils the spirit of the observer and disables the to stream for higher values, not knowing that art which shows pain, suffering and evil can have therapeutic and educative role.
In nowadays, fine art has taken over the role of social conscience. Back in Antic time philosophy and poetry did the same, in other words the written word, often expressing attitudes and concepts not derived from the visual but from the abstract. One of such arts is Pop art, which appears after World War 2 in the developed western countries (as if it could appear somewhere else!) and is usually defined as a rebel and critic of the contemporary consumer men’s way of life.
The usual topic of Pop art is food. Why food? Because something very special happened with food in the modern consumer society. From the once breeding of food, men stepped further to production (exactly the same happening in factories on assembly lines where many items of mass production have been produced, such as cars. gadgets and appliances, etc.) Actually, the princip was exactly the same: farms become factories for food production (this is perfectly screened in Ron Freek’s non narrative documentary Baraka from 1992, especially the scene of mass production of chicken with all those stainless steel machines and all those little living beings being carried over, sucked up, split apart,etc.) Food became an industrial product, a product of mass culture. Instead of food in it’s natural state (from the market), food is sold in supermarkets, wrapped in cellophane, plastic film or cans, etc. Very often the original shape is modified in that range that you cannot recognize neither the original shape nor the food item itself. The only thing that resembles the original is usually only the picture on the package.
About a century ago only, in the most developed and richest country of the world things were drastically different. What we strive to is later to be called “slow food”, at that time it was very common and usual. If the American housewives wanted to cook lunch they had to go for fresh food to the market, food produced at local family farms nearby the city. According to some statistics, during the 1900’s the most common Christmas present in New York was an orange, which proves that people consumed local food.
All this drastically changed after World War 2. At that time, the average American housewife went for food to the local supermarket and bought frozen dishes which just needed to be reheated. The fact that people were confiscated from the conception of food and food itself can be seen in SF movies and comic books, at that time very popular genre. Instead of food, astronauts used to take some pills which were supposed to replace a substantial meal – this was what people were striving to.
The advertising industry had an aggressive approach towards such products. Commercials of food were everywhere. Pop artists decided to criticize that massive consumerism using the same products of massive culture, strongly emphasizing some of their features, making it even more artificial, plastic; using bright plain colors, the product was even more alienated from its original shape and color from home grown food (or at least what it should be). Pop Art mostly criticizes fast food as a fenomena and most popular characteristic of it’s period. The old good hamburger has been shown in many ways: painted, molded, made of non edible, artificial material.
However, who knows? Maybe the criticizing did some good. People are not fascinated with fast food any more. Slow Food is gaining more and more popularity. In almost all big cities are opening such restaurants which serve fresh food, home grown. One wants to impel a different relation to food, a relation of respect, respect to something that means life for us. People realized that growing food is easy. Starting in the 2008 after the beginning of the World’s crisis, more and more USA suburbs have their own littl gardens in their back yards. Not only is it joyful for the family but saves money as well. In Havana, Cuba it was out of pure misery that every empty space of land between buildings was rearranged in a garden, one where vegetable is grown very successfully. This can be seen even today in urban cities all around the world….
Slowly but surely the paradigm has been changed. We strive towards a new aim and go along a new way. Of course, there are still corporation that produce food, very successfully set new records, which are still the most dominant food producing industries in the world. But the seed of doubt in such production has definitely been sown. We will see what it will grow.