Jorrit Tornquist: We often analyze and talk about art focusing on its manifold aspects individually, but perhaps we are losing sight of the whole: What is art today?
Anselmo Villata: Certainly we often tend to analyze specific issues concerning art and its production not only because we have reached a very high and refined level of research from the artistic side and analysis from the critical side, but also because of the amount of information we receive from this world, which today has become extremely wide and varied. Compared to the beginning, when the artist’s was a craftsman-like work, the passage of time has gradually enriched art with scientific, semiotic, and aesthetic elements, which have made art what it is today.
In my opinion, art cannot be defined univocally: it is the result of the intellect materialized by manual skill. But just as society, and individuals themselves, are constantly changing over time, the same is true of art as well. If I were to create at all costs a sentence to define it, I would rather say that art is a creative activity resulting from the study, research, and experience of expression and languages constantly mediated by aesthetics. However, these two lines are not enough to express what we might actually need a whole book to write, wondering what art is, especially today.
Tornquist: Has the world’s increasing complexity, at all levels, affected art and made it more difficult?
Villata: This is without any doubt an essential factor. Art is a social phenomenon and as such it is conditioned by the background from which it comes, while retaining a power that conditions at the same time. So, yes, the social complexity has become an integral part of the art system. However, it should be noted that from the middle of the last century onward, a new path has been undertaken that has seen art as something less and less collective and monolithic, and increasingly varied and individual. At the macro level, in fact, it is always possible to trace the outline of what is proposed by artistic topicality, but as we get into details, the situation becomes more and more complicated, until approaching the individual artist whose personal history and thought we need to be familiar with, in my opinion. The mere expressive and fetishistic power of the work, with its “aura,” is no longer sufficient; on the contrary, we must contextualize it and place it precisely in its creator’s space, time, and conceptual apparatus.
Tornquist: Can this be one of the reasons why contemporary art is not a mass phenomenon?
Villata: As a rule, art is not a mass phenomenon, as is the case with sports, for instance. But in addition to a lack of understanding on the side of the public, I think that the fear of not understanding it is an even stronger factor. This stems from a superficial knowledge of art history—knowing the past certainly provides you with excellent tools to understand the present—and from the objective difficulty of deciphering the present, which is already complicated in other aspects of life that the public might be more familiar with than art. In addition, many social groups lack what we could call a familiarity with approaching art.
Tornquist: Sometimes art seems to be self-referential and directed only to those who are already in that world, doesn’t it?
Villata: You have hit the target, as this is a major issue. Actually, familiarity cannot only be created by encouraging young students to visit museums and exhibitions—which is surely very useful and noble as a first step towards such necessary intimacy with art. It must, rather, become part of everyday life. I do believe that art is a public asset and as such it should be available to everyone, avoiding barriers and fences, some of which are real, while others are only perceived by the same people who then end up excluding themselves. Cultural institutions can generate awe or fear, that’s why public art has a significance that goes beyond the mere visual well-being, but creates a virtuous circle of contiguity with society.
And that’s not all. Projects like the ones you have accomplished in several cities across Europe have, in addition to intellectual and artistic value, a component of scientific research aimed at improving the perception of spaces and well-being within them. In this sense, it is necessary to look back to the past when public spaces were planned in order to best include artwork. What is certain is that while this planning was once done to express the power of the powerful, today it is aimed at improving an aspect of people’s lives.
Jorrit Tornquist was born in Graz, Austria, on March 26th, 1938. In 1964 he decided to settle in Italy where he acquired citizenship in 1992. Operating within the belief that color is an electromagnetic frequency that combines with the background noise of a place and, as such, is captured by our senses and interferes with our mood, he has combined technology with sensitivity, developing a theory of color of his own, in which the structural-chromatic value combines with the sensitive-affective value. His exhibition activity, as a color artist-scientist, is conspicuous; he has been included in more than 300 exhibitions. His works have been acquired by several museums in Europe, Japan, South and North America.