“Barely 40 years ago, Pop artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein caused a transgressive stir by adopting commercial imagery from newspaper advertisements and comic strips as the subjects of paintings to hang in art galleries. How daring that was, and how dated it is. We are surrounded today by too many images to source or rank.” -Arthur Lubow, from a NYT article on Takashi Murakami
The world is at the mercy of information, imagery and input.
Ever notice that Times Square is ominously boring these days? The place that once shocked the system with electric tugs of attention and vortexes of sparkly seduction, now kind of falls flat. It is largely an issue of relativity. We have changed. We have become acclimated to an omnipresent deluge of media and constant consumption. Midtown’s spattering of LED screens merely joins the new normal spread of our collective psyche.
What does this new normal mean for humanity?
Scientists say that we are stuffing way more data through our system than our brains are built to process. One of the key effects of such surfeit, is that the brain loses its ability to order and prioritize information. In other words, we are in a noisy sea of sameness, and we don’t know where to focus our attention or when to look deeply. Important things, meaningful things, sensitive things get jumbled and flattened with the frivolous, popular and commercial.
In an interview with Sanjay Gupta, Dr. Daniel Levitan explains how information overload effects the brain:
“It puts us into a brain state of decision fatigue. Turns out, the neurons that are doing the business of helping us make decisions, they’re living cells with metabolism, they require glucose to function, and they don’t distinguish between making important decisions and unimportant ones. It takes up almost as much energy and nutrients to process trivial decisions or important ones.”
The artist Takashi Murakami captured this phenomenon when he ordained an art movement called Superflat. Originally specific to Japanese culture and history, his concept seems more and more relevant to the global reality of today.
Coined in 2000 for an exhibition at The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the term Superflat refers to the leveling of distinctions between high and low. Everything is driven by consumerism and there is a virtual flood fill of information. Murakami communicates this state of affairs in his icon-bombed paintings, and through his surreal sculptural mash-ups.
Takashi Murakami came to the Superflat idea partly by reflecting on the missing third dimension that is characteristic in Japanese art history, as well as the critical role that animé and manga played in expressing postwar sentiments in Japan.
“We want to see the newest things. That is because we want to see the future, even if only momentarily. It is the moment in which, even if we don’t completely understand what we have glimpsed, we are nonetheless touched by it. This is what we have come to call art.” -Takashi Murakami
The point is that we are in Murakami’s future now. Information overload and runaway consumerism have spread us thin and made us shallow. We no longer read, we now skim or scroll. We follow power points, rely on headers and avoid complexity. We rarely stop to look closely and reflect.
It makes me think that we all need to work very hard to protect these essential moments of attention and sensitivity that allow for profundity and meaning.
And, is this not the role of art?
If you take the time to look deeply, art will not disappoint.
This whimsical exercise is inspired by the visual bazaar that we live in, Murakami’s paintings and the concept of SUPERFLAT.
Further reading, toys and supplies:
Takashi Murakami Plush Toy
Murakami: EGO A comprehensive volume of the artist Takashi Murakami’s work.
Time Square Red, Times Square Blue by Samuel Delaney. Delaney digs into the example of Times Square, and how it has changed over time.