Visual signs have been around since 100,000 years or more. From the down of time till sometime around 1900 visual signs were giving meaning for all to share and that meaning was contained in the worldview of the men of knowledge of the day. Going back in time we can trace 3 periods:
- animism: the men of knowledge being the shaman and the visual signs illustrated the elements of his worldview.
- religion: the men of knowledge are the priests and their worldview is the creed that image makers illustrate for all to share.
- early modernity: the men of knowledge are the new rich merchants who became rich following the reason of capital in the execution of long distance trade. That flow of new money, over the centuries, instilled new values: individualism and private property. Along the next 4-500 years 3 visual signs impose themselves: portraits of those living in the mansions, landscapes around the mansions and stills of what lays on the tables in the mansions.
Things started to change in the second half of Western Europe's nineteenth century. Because they became convinced that there is a more profound visual truth to reality than the signs of early modernity and of Christianity the members of the avant-garde threw the first degree image that projects on the retina to the dustbin of history. But the adventure failed finding any valid truth and ended thus in total confusion.
What went wrong?
1. the painters of the avant-garde were not supplied any longer with a worldview to illustrate. The men of knowledge of their day had vanished on the level playing field of the market for ideas from where they had to compete with all kind of charlatans for the eyeballs of the public.
2. the large majority of the members of the avant-garde had not been given an education in any way related to the production of knowledge about "what is reality all about" and they were thus left erring...
Today in Late-Modernity we slowly come to realize:
* that the project of the avant-garde was a failure (no new meaning)
* that the financialization of art results in "whatever" being presented as art; mostly crap.
* that our societies are fragmenting, losing their cohesion, and on the path to collapse.
* that the individuals feel at a loss and are flocking back to churches or a myriad of new cults if not worse.
* that rationalism did not succeed to displace the irrational because it failed to offer a compelling worldview that all could have followed.
In other words in Late-Modernity we slowly come to realise that we are like street kids who long for the warmth of sharing a common understanding of reality with our fellow citizens.
So today visual signs can not "give meaning" any longer. They can at best "try to find meaning" through the beauty of the visual rendering of whatever emerges from the hands of the artist. In finale this means that if artists had a solid knowledge base their works could possibly combine beauty of rendering and sensible meaning which are the hallmarks of great art.
In conclusion, going forward into the future, artists can no longer be content to master a technique they also have to make the effort to acquire the contemporary knowledge about "what is reality all about".