Category Archives: postmodernism

Craft V Concept 1: In conversation with S Mark Gubb

This discussion was prompted by the Goldsmiths TV debacle and the blog entry previous to this. I had suggested that the incumbent M.A. students couldn’t craft their way out of a paper bag basically….

SMG

Shaun, increasingly your blogs/rants are getting more and more like that character in the fast-show that’s been involved in everything anyone mentions; they all focus around you not quite being involved with, or rejecting, important groups/moments being written in to recent art history… I think what we all want to know is where exactly were you when Kennedy got shot?

SDB

Behind the trigger Mark….I was also behind Joe Meek on the landing and possibly in Apollo 13 too but my memory going now…I think Zelig was the figure you looking for? Maybe I could be your next art project? :-) I will respond to your appraisal…I have written about Goldsmiths before and it a response to other people’s response to the fatuous programme on TV last night….I regard Goldsmiths influence on Trent as part of the problem not part of the solution and held these views long before I got involved in academia.Your response shows you support Goldsmiths then?

SMG

I don’t specifically support Goldsmith’s – my experience of the place is limited to very much the same as yours – an interview and a rejection in the mid-90’s. I don’t, however, have a huge problem with it. I also don’t understand why there’s a TV programme about it right now (however, I didn’t see it, so can’t really comment). I just think arguments of craftmanship vs conceptualism are completely redundant. They are a denial of the situation as it is – a concept driven, narrative approach to the creation of work has become the dominant mode in a lot (most) art-schools.

That’s not to say it’s right, it’s just a fact. That’s how things shifted through the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. There’ll probably be another shift sometime soon, but I doubt it will be back to a (seemingly) purist position of skill and craft. There are also a hell of a lot successful artists who are incredibly, practically, skilled. The field is open to both. I wholeheartedly support the idea that an artist doesn’t need to be an artisan.

They can be, but not being so doesn’t , in my view, deny them the right to critical acclaim or to be involved in a profession that has no clear boundaries as to what it incorporates. This debate currently amounts to nothing more than a position of “this is shit, it was better, then.” That doesn’t change or help anything. It’s just moaning.

There are many art-worlds. Some are Hollywood, some are Ilkeston Community College and there is everything inbetween. People just need to figure out where they sit within these various worlds. There’s little point in a classically trained conductor moaning about the success of Girls Aloud. They all exist within the music industry but have absolutely nothing to do with each other.

SDB

Nice reply…as for the meat of your argument i.e…… I just think arguments of craftmanship vs conceptualism are completely redundant…..

I think you are wrong and I oppose that kind of attitude ..always have done…. and things are starting to tip in a new aesthetics direction but art schools like supertankers take a long time to turn…its about THINKING AND MAKING not either or….

As for coexistant artworlds this chimes with Gillick’s assumptions and I challenge the notion of separate artworlds I think they are intricately bound together in a way music is not. What happens at one end of the food chain affects the other. …

Nottingham Contemporary is providing propaganda for one view – a very Goldsmiths like view in my opinion. I am not asking people to join in a Ruskinian escapade of noble workers building roads again but it interesting that those who most divorced from tactile making are those most extreme in its denunciation.

Gillick represents the triumph in my eyes of a intellectualism divorced from reality that exists in a bubble of its own delusion and too many graduates think words alone can save them..to my mind they are usually the weakest students.

SMG

I think we share more common ground than is maybe apparent here. Yes, they are often the weakest students, and they mostly disappear very quickly in to the chasm of ‘no-longer practising’ soon enough.

I also believe that it’s about thinking AND making, but I also stand by the idea that if an artist acknowledges a lack in their own practical skill maybe they want a marble carved of a thalidomide victim – to realise that work through the employment of someone who has spent their entire professional life perfecting that craft, is perfectly acceptable. They don’t need to go and train for 20 years to make that one piece of work.

To continue the discussion about co-existant art worlds, setting the discussion up in terms of a food-chain, a clear and entirely linked pathway, is misleading. What Tracey Emin does has absolutely no relevance or effect on Mr Smith’s seascapes that he paints and sells through a High Street gallery in a Cornish town. They are entirely seperate things. I think the problem is that people labour under the misconception that they are not.

Using the word propaganda about NC’s programme is, again, too sinister. NC is providing one view or take on the art-world(s). The museum provides another. If you don’t like it, don’t go. Find the galleries that are pushing the propaganda you agree with. If you’re Tory you’re not going to go to the Labour Party conference.

People are way too quick to see things they don’t agree with as entirely negative when, in fact, they are simply delivering something they don’t agree with, but something with no less relevance or right to be there than anything else (and something which, ultimately, may even be positively feeding a much broader situation).

SDB

The Warholian ‘director’ stance as adopted by Hirst and Emin is a flaw not a boon in my opinion. If that student actually tried to take on board some of the craftsmanship required to carve marble instead of just creating ‘yellow pages’ art we’d all be better off. My complaint about most Brit Art is that factor..if you can’t ring someone who can is a copout stance. Most of them were technically cackhanded. This proven by Hirst’s hilarious attempt to paint…

I think there is more awareness of the amateur seascapes world than you give credit having taught at that level those people have the internet now and what happens at Tate is on the radar in a way it never was before – yours is a more traditionalist view for once…never underestimate your audience :-)

As for NC I used the word propaganda in its correct form….NC is propagating a view which it believes the only and correct view and it has no time for opposition parties Tory or otherwise….in time this will be its undoing….

For your information I have never been near the building and probably never will until a change of regime or it becomes a nightclub.

As for labour or Tory I agree with neither and my party is only one member strong so far…in fact probably aways will be I am a natural outsider.. :-)

SMG

Then this is where we must agree to disagree. You clearly believe in craft being integral to a works validity, whereas I do not (I would argue that Hirst merely dropped a bollock by fundamentally changing his working practices after so many years i.e. making the paintings himself). I still don’t understand exactly WHY we would all be better off if everyone stopped having things fabricated…

I also don’t believe that NC is propagating a view which it believes to be the only correct one, it’s just propagating a view which reflects the interests of the current director and curators. As and when these people change, it will reflect a different view again.

..and just to clarify, my point about Emin and the seascapes was in no way a judgement of my imaginary painters awareness or interest in other areas of visual art, it was more an economic and theoretical assessment of the situation, whereby for every neon or bedsheet that Emin sells for £1m to (questionable) critical ovation, this has absolutely no effect or impact on the others love, ability or desire to paint the sea and sell them for £45 in a High Street gallery….

Right, I’m off in to the studios to handout some Gillick writings. You’ve caught me on the one day a week I get paid to de-skill the next generation of the curatoriat (we’ve taken most of their’s ability to tie their laces – have you seen the amount of slip-ons around these days? That’s art schools fault. We’re just working on how to take their ability to use a knife and fork, then we’ll be really rocking).

SDB

No I believe a knowledge of craftsmanship and an awareness of tactile elements is frundamental to an artists growth. How that artist ‘deploys’ is up to them..some conceptual art valid e.g. Stephen Willets, Conrad Atkinson but all had some traditional training…as for propogation which sounds better than propaganda…..you defined it in way that supports what I saying at this particular time …it’s just propagating a view which reflects the interests of the current director and curators.

I just not keen on the seeds it sowing…

As for seascapes…You are switching to a Gillickesque socio-economic analysis…I talking about visual awareness….not giving a neo-marxist analysis…as for Gillick handouts I presume they more like biblical texts……which makes you the Curatorial Moses :-)

How Goldsmiths destroyed British Art: But is it art?

Up front I will declare my position. In 1986-7 I was interviewed twice by the great and the then good at Goldsmiths.

The interviewers in first instance included Nick De Ville (Graphic Designer responsible for Roxy Music covers who had done a fine art degrees at Derby and Newcastle hence Roxy link and he still at Goldsmiths in charge of MA’s….god help us) and Mary (Post-partum Document) Kelly – her of the feacal stains etc….not promising and guess what it didn’t go well. However because I had a studio and looked serious they tried again a year later when I didn’t have a studio.

My abiding memory of that first interview was their combined excitement about a black canvas I was about to paint on as they riffed on its ‘potential’ ignoring virtually everything I had to say. They completely missed every reference to painting and Francis Bacon I was making..maybe they thought after another year I’d come to my postmodernist senses and toe their line.

A year later I’d scraped by in a crap job and lost two studios in rapid succession so had to do interview in my housing association house on the north circular (not as pleasant as leafy Sarf London) I forget the interviewers (different) but I do remember a prat of a female MA student whose latest work was a row of binbags …tremendous stuff….She was so rude she didn’t even enter the room where my paintings were…maybe they scared her….all that formalism..naked…..

Within seconds of the interview commencing I’d been rejected on basis that mentioning Peter Fuller was tantamount to joining the Nazi Party. You see I hadn’t realised that being a working class student from a council estate was good but thinking in a non-Goldsmiths way was bad. Make no mistake there was a clearly delineated ‘party line’ at Goldsmiths…despite appearances (i.e. white rich middle class tossers) these people from Craig-Martin down were ushering in a new era where one could have it all..marxist left-wing views and right-wing travel and pay packets. Its called the hipocracy my friends.

Looking back it was the defining moment in my entire artistic life. It was us and them and I pretty much been of same opinion ever since. My ’self-portraits’ (a tradition extending back several hundred years darlinks) were too closed off and personal and used too much paint and chalk..yes I dared to actually draw…. I referred to the OLD GARDE…Graham Sutherland, Henry Moore and John Piper who were now in the Stalinist ‘new age’ considered patriarchal monsters and worst of all I mentioned Fuller….a reactionary traitor who had started on their side but had fled their camp. Hence the squealing antipathy.

What Goldsmiths led the way in every other Art College has aped as they stumbled on that stamp of authority…CASH…oodles of it following Craig-Martin and Hirst’s great scam (enabled by the true joker in the pack Jopling…no Jopling and Goldsmiths would have crumbled to insignificance by now). Instead it went stratospheric and is still living off that moment 25 years later..no matter that virtually none of its graduates has anything like the gravity or talent of a Moore or Sutherland..they had reaped the new money from the Thatcherist experiment….and as good socialists they weren’t going to give it back….oh no this was all part of the irony as was my background…I was just an unenlightened member of the working classes deluded by notions of craftsmanship and talent…so very passe darlinks….only the feeble still dealt in actual mark making and daubing this was the brave new world of ideas not craft.

Twenty-five years on and every other art college has either directly imitated or followed jealously in the Goldsmiths experiment wake. It will be interesting to see in an era of falling revenues and a hostile government (right or left) how much of it survives the next twenty-five years. My prediction is that we have seen the last of this ‘low dishonest two decades and a half’ (to paraphrase Auden) of peurile postmodernism and that we in for a bumpy ride across the whole arts…especially fine art.

There is a glut of badly trained, intellectually impoverished ‘post conceptualists’ students littering our streets and all the indicators are we in for a downturn in numbers…imposed or through natural slection…..mummy and daddy won’t take kindly to funding a career that doesn’t ‘pay-off’ like in the 1990’s. The Art Star is on the point of burnout and nobody has a replacement hence the desperate angling for attention (see link below). I thought I was right in 1986 and I think exactly the same now…..we must turn back to cratsmanship..to Fuller and rebuild the system from below as Goldsmiths and other ‘Ozymandias’ institutions sink in the sands of recession and the new reality.

Advert for Goldsmiths courtesy of the BBC

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00s01xm/Goldsmiths_But_Is_It_Art_Episode_1/

Liam Gillick’s Delusions

Liam Gillick is famous…..but for what exactly……talking?

http://badatsports.com/2009/episode-220-liam-gillick/

Until I listened to Liam Gillick in a Bad at Sports podcast I had not really registered nor shown much interest in his ‘relational’ outpourings. However having listened through I wish to pinpoint a few irregularities and self-mythologising passages of critical nonsense he spouts.

He sounds like a ‘working-class irish’ martyr bravely wearing the great artist cloak ( a Noel gallagher for the arts). ‘I had to leave Britain’ is just one of his cliched phrases. The ‘conspiracy’ he talks up is a spin on a period when money and Goldsmiths tutors and curators came together because of brilliant curation NOT brilliant artists from whatever background (his assertion that all YBA’s were working class heros is bollocks of first order).

We are led to believe that YBA was a fundamental revolution – a mini enlightenment..my my he has obviously learnt to listen only to his own voice so long he is unaware of his own solopism and shortness of ideas.

The ‘problem’ with Liam Gillick and his ‘art’ is it is a tissue of evasions and lauditory smokescreens. He is convinced of his fundamental rightness and also his left-wing credentials. The fact that his very voice ( nobody from Aylesbury, bucks speaks like he does ) means he has buried his own voice to become part of the International Intellectuals Party) .

He speaks of ‘Britain’ missing out on the enlightenment…disregarding the entire Scottish Enlightenment. He speaks like a dispossessed professor ranting about a theory that whilst not true manages to bolster his own disillusionment.

He reads books..oh yes…but it is a post-Goldsmiths reading list slowly congealing in his mind. He sounds like a failed curator not an artist.

He is as effective as a Socialist Worker ranting at a village fete. Agonised ‘formalist’ my arse….failed formalist and pretentious overhang from the nadir of post-conceptualism ..yes….yes indeed.

He mentions architecture – more like a hall of mirrors – every false door, every false ceiling is another evasion. Pin him down and you will find rotten foundations……like an over intellectual shark if he stops swimming and spinning out the false tales he will drown..

and British Art would be a whole lot better for it…he is not ‘against’ artists……so he obviously ‘above’ all that…

talking cats at venice ..god help us and representing Germany…….a Lord Haw Haw of the art-world?

My God did he get lucky….otherwise he’d be still stuck in Aylesbury ranting in the street….Morning Star anyone?

AXIS RANT #2: Alice and the Curious Curatoriat?

When did it happen? When did the power structure in the arts shift so fundamentally away from the practicing artist and into the hands of a new breed of art school trained curators or as I have re-designated them ‘curatoriat’? The growth industry in ‘curatorial’ courses like the MA at the Royal College of Art reflects a far wider shift and a worrying one for us poor artists at the bottom of the arts funding pecking order. Read the rest here on axisweb.orgShaun Belcher: Alice and the Curious Curatoriat, Feb 2010

You should read the whole article.

Withering away in The Jackson Cage?

Bruce Springsteen lyric from The River album

Jackson Cage
Down in Jackson Cage
Well darlin’ can you understand
The way that they will turn a man
Into a stranger to waste away
Down in the Jackson Cage

Well I not exactly this far gone but there some pretty bad side-effects of the always-on internet life. As a lecturer in almost impossible to ‘switch-off’ from the always on environment. Students are online on facebook and twitter and I actually push them into the ‘online’ life. But there are significant downsides. Soon it will so encompassing that I will only move once a day to ingest food (still a requirement) despite everything the web can do….not good healthwise. It a good job I still have to physically meet student body (despite e-learning ventures) or I’d probably lose use of my legs.

The enveloping nature of the internet means that everything we, see, do and think is processed through a web lens and recently I have noticed this happening to friends of mine too. Facebook is a dominant force in shaping the local arts groups events and actually channelling local arts debate. Like mobile phones what did we do before facebook…talk…ring…email…make posters…thinking back to my pre-internet art school how on earth did things happen at all? Happen they did though as my Alumni group on facebook for Hornsey College of Art attests..http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=189414558562

In writing this blog entry I will have a fairly constant online ‘audience’ through facebook and virtually everything I currently mulling over is now appearing as links on facebook or twitter or both. This can be useful as a kind of strategic bookmarking but instead of being personal and private it is open and capable of endless revision….in fact holding a fast opinion seems to be becoming ever more difficult. This can have unexpected bonuses but also problems arise. A factual mistake…e.g. did I really imagine a Ceramicist won the Nottingham Open show becomes a hard fact that has to be retracted. Private opinion is spread so quickly that it becomes more than a blog note and a career defining standpoint. Where is the boundary between a provisional and a fixed opinion. Or is that where we now stand in endless revisionism territory?

The price of spectacular connections across continents and time is a fluctuating lack of finality in artworks and strength of opinion. In a web that always on and always in a sate of flux these things become expendable. Springsteen’s album becomes simply a stream of out-takes, alternative album shots, a flood of all the mistakes he made as much as an album. Finality and craftsmanship becomes a negotiable stream. Today through twitter/facebook I became aware of a live performance of songwriter Tom Russell. Did it change the perception of the song because in a new context. The fixity of art-forms is lost. All very post-Derrida the academics would scoff..but it happening. How do young people hold an opinion in such mutable environments?

This is the real price of never-ending revisionism. The real artefact becomes lost in a fog of ‘versions’. I love to touch a vinyl album and remove the actual ‘sculpted’ object. I remember sitting and staring at Matisse’s Red Studio painting when on loan to the ‘old’ Tate. I love this private photo I found on web (there are thousands of version sof this image in a range of hues) as it reminds one that no reproduction can supplant actual viewing.

More than simple cramp I feel that the internet has supplanted all the physical artefacts I once held dear and like the proverbial bathwater what have I and by extending the metaphor ‘we’ lost? I cannot put a finger on it yet but as I see students in our local tea shop flicking through positions and networks on their macbooks I feel a nostalgia for a pre-internet time of certainty and argument away from the shimmering stream. Oliver Reed banging his fist on the wooden table in a mock Parisienne cafe in Tony Hancock’s ‘The Rebel’ was a cliche but it feels more real than current debate. I can talk to everybody at once but really I am addressing no-one but mysefl in a loft space on a cold, dark winter night. Reality exists beyond the screen but somehow I have lost touch with it.

Maybe if the web splinters it may not be a bad thing. Content will start to re-assert itself as ‘definitive’ once again. Maybe people will read the same version, listen to the same song. This endless variety flowing across the screen will start to slow down and we will all have time to concentrate instead of time to be distracted.

To make art at this juncture is to my mind impossible. We are looking at the remnants of art-forms post-internet. We seek out the novelty, the half-finished..the mistake. With no fixity one cannot create anything but a blur? I am simply adding to the blur at present. I seek the fixed stare..a Ruskinian calm maybe and then I can proceed.

Artists at present are like so many sparrows flitting through the halls..which will survive to next summer and which will smash against their own reflections here?

The New Modernism

[Draft: open for revision - discussion]
12607w_blastpink
“We cannot obscure the creative phenomenon independently of the form in which it is made manifest. Every formal process proceeds from a principle, and the study of this principle requires precisely what we call dogma. In other words, the need that we feel to bring order out of chaos, to extricate the straight line of our operation from the tangle of possibilities and from the indecision of vague thoughts, presupposes the necessity of some sort of dogmatism”.

Igor Stravinsky “Poetics of Music” 1

“….knowing must therefore be accompanied by an equal and equivalent capacity to forget knowing.”
Lapique by Jean Lescure 2

“I believe that art is the interpretation of emotion and consequently of the idea. I recognize that the discipline of the technique is necessary to this emotion, and at present I feel that the simpler the technique and more limited, the better the idea emerges.”

Henri-Gaudier Brzeska – Letter to Sophie Brzeska 3

“As I squeezed out everything that smacked of literature…I was so naturally a painter that the two arts, with me, have co-existed in peculiar harmony – there has been no mixing of the genres.”

Percy Wyndham-Lewis – Super-Nature V Super Real 4

“The poet thinks in images – art cannot teach anything – write across the paper instead of on the lines”

Andrei Tarkovsky – Sculpting in Time 5

“Works of first intensity obey the dictates of their own material, works of second intensity imitate and ‘disperse’”

Ezra Pound – Theory of Imagism 6

“No ideas but in things”

William Carlos Williams – ‘A sort of song’ 7

Welcome to the Future. We live in a supposedly always on ‘digital’ age where ideas and concepts like megabytes freely flow across borders. In this ‘Alter-Modern’ world all previous states of the avant-garde have been absorbed, rendered obsolete or simply been ‘re-configured’ if we believe ‘postmodernism is coming to an end’ (Tate Gallery Alter-modernism 2008) .

The modernist quotes above are not instantly available from the internet. They were all written down painstakingly by hand by the author into a folder of ‘art notes’ kept during the heyday of his physical practice in the 1980’s. They are not easily dropped into facebook or to be found on twitter yet they have an immediacy and a relevance, in my opinion, to the current debate around the manipulation and ‘dumbing down’ of certain parts of the international art world.

We live in such a ‘sound-bite culture’ that it becomes easy to forget that the achievements of the original modernists were hard won and against prevailing trends. In this ‘connected’ world where vacuous posturing and dilettante ‘intellectualism’ reign supreme it can be chastening to read anything from an artist in the early part of the 20th century especially against the din of success and ‘flash’ fact or fiction.

What was once the preserve of a ridiculed and elitist band be it in Bloomsbury or Manhattan has become a far more fluid, fractured and fashion-orientated ‘scene. That scene bares little resemblance to the world of Wolf, Bunting and Yeats, Pound and Eliot. Maybe that is a ‘democratic’ good as some would argue but year on year the ‘cutting-edge’ of this new cyber ‘elite’ becomes more blunted, more introspective and less vital. The death of Dash Snow is somehow emblematic. His threadbare output couched in bohemian verbiage and his limited artistic estate popularised and administered for the best return but all along we know this is merely role-play. This is an affectation of avant-garde principles not the real thing.

So where did the cutting edge lose its cutting quality? Do we ransack the archives for the exact moment? Was it Fluxus…..Cobra.. was it Barcelona or East Village….Miami or Berlin? Myths outweigh the reality.….

So do we examine the avant-garde’s apparent ‘implosion’ against a wider backdrop? In terms of my own practice it became most apparent in the mid to late 1980’s. It seemed then and seems now that the very process of ‘making’ itself started to lose ‘currency’ for a certain part of the art world and ‘thinking’ or at least the affectation of thinking became its default replacement. The internet of itself had hardly begun then so it cannot be blamed for creating the phenomenon but its arrival did signal a massive acceleration in the propagation of singular themes and certain dogmas.

The web allowed disparate and possibly provincial scenes to merge and intellectual bodies, be it in studio groups or academia, to find common cause and we began a new era of unacknowledged ‘dogma’. The idea that ‘knowing could be accompanied by an equal and equivalent capacity for not knowing’ was anathema to minor talents emboldened by group certainties. This new ‘certainty’ translated swiftly by osmosis into a new dogmatism in the academies of learning. One not only shouldn’t get one’s hands ‘dirty’ with the reality of stuff but one could quickly pick up a intellectual (usually French) justification for not toiling away in a studio. From being places of ‘instruction’ the academies became places of ‘imitation’.

In Pound’s words we had arrived at a period dominated by works and artists of ‘secondary intensity’….imitation was and is still rife. To walk round a modern art college is to view the international art world as seen in a magazine then turned into a template and recast again and again. The place of ‘ideas’ became an ancillary to career development. The idea that an artist should struggle with the physical aspect of paint or steel became ‘old-fashioned’ as artists busily networked and contrived ever more fanciful variations on themes. Yet the concept of a ‘new’ idea hard won through years of toil as exemplified by many an early modernist suddenly fell from favour. Art markets gorged on the fountain of investor’s money and had no time to wait. Careers exploded, imploded and fortunes were made as a completely new industry was born.

That industry fed on secondary works of art. Certain artists with either too much integrity or an inability to jump on the bandwagon continued to apply the methodology and principles of the works of first intensity but were and are increasingly ignored. Fractured by the new ‘everybody wins’ cash imperative these two art worlds began to exist side by side. They still do.

So if this analysis is correct and the art world has become a double-headed beast how do we then is the artist to proceed? How do practicing artists produce artworks in a fractured system? Or is it impossible to actually function in a dysfunctional model?

Despite convincing evidence to the contrary there are reasons to remain optimistic. It is hard to believe that technology will actually affect the outcome as much as it once appeared to be doing. Cyber reality is so different to actual reality that, apart from the most obsessive 3-d avatar driven individuals, there will come a time when fashion in the art-world will swing back towards experiential theory and fully craft-based instruction systems. The signs are there that this is already occurring. Students brought up on a screen-based diet are finding the simple pleasures of drawing and writing to be vastly more satisfying than photo-shopping and pointing camcorders at anything and everything. This is because the complexity of actual hand-eye co-ordination goes beyond anything achievable through point and shoot technology.

Practice….or creating artworks.. or simpler still ‘creating’ will increasingly draw on a constellation of ‘inputs’ and ‘outputs’ some of which may be digital some of which may not. The underlying patterns of investigation and exploration that create meaningful artworks will need to resolve and connect with the early modernist programmes and the depth of intellectual and practical endeavour they represent.

No ideas but in things?

—————————————————————————————————————————–

Endnotes
1. Stravinsky, Igor ‘Poetics of Music in the form of six lessons’ Harvard University Press Cambridge 1947
Available from: http://www.archive.org/stream/poeticsofmusicin002702mbp#page/n17/mode/2up
Accessed 6.01.2010

2.Jean Lescure, Lapicque, Flammarion, 1956

3. Ede, H. S. Savage messiah / by H.S. Ede Fraser, London : 1971

4.Wyndham Lewis on Art: Collected Writing 1913-1956.
Introduction and notes by Walter Michel and C.J. Fox. London: Thames and Hudson, 1969.

5. Andrey Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time – Reflections on Cinema, The Bodley Head, London, 1988

6. Pound’s artists: Ezra Pound and the visual arts in London, Paris and Italy
Richard Humphreys, Tate Gallery, 1985

7. Williams William Carlos The Wedge The Cummington Press 1944
Available from: http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/altermodern/
Accessed: 06.01.2010

Beyond the crisis in art – making and doing…

I have long been a fan of the Sharkforum and resident artist/critic Mark Staff Brandl’s take on the present state of art criticism.

This is by way of a practice run to ‘scope’ the afore mentioned ‘art criticism now?’ agenda :-)
I love that word ‘scope’ you’d think we were shooting bears..maybe we are…certainly foxes…

His latest project involves asking artists to write about their practice and its theoretical basis as a challenge to the current curatorial/academic mish mash that sometimes pertains in the IAW (international art world). He (I think correctly) cites the current fashion orientated dealer driven art world as suffering from a ‘glossies’ approach that has jettisoned the baby with the bathwater and quite correctly identifies a gap ‘in the market’ (how loaded that phrase has become in the past 30 years) where artist’s voices have become swamped in other louder discourses. Usually these discourses are tied hand and foot to financial and kudos driven ‘standing’ in that same ‘IAW’ and have long since lost any real veracity or in some cases coherance as theoretical writings let alone curatorial statements or overviews.

We here in Nottingham have some recent first-hand instances of this I.A.W. Gobbledygook thanks to our sudden emergence into the IAW thanks to Nottingham Contemporary. As our provincial minds sink in the flood of propaganda we are about to be verbally lashed by maybe it a good point for some circumspect analysis of this phenomena.

My own artistic history is pretty much framed in two decades. Firstly 1980-1990 then 2000-2010.

Phase 1: I graduated from Hornsey college of Art London (Middlesex University as is now) in 1981 and my art history tutor there was John A. Walker who has written extensively about the specifically political dimension to celebrity art as well as popular cultural connections ( Art in the Age of Mass Media 2001). At this time there was little separation between ‘art’ and ‘theory’. Indeed it was common practice to read and absorb not only general theory but specific artist’s statements. Magazines like Artscribe and Art Monthly put artist statements centre stage and along with a varied ‘contextual’ studies area which ranged from contemporary poetry to applied design we were encouraged not only to think for ourselves but also to be as wide in our reading as possible. In those days notions of ‘networking’ and ‘careerist’ ‘making it’ were viewed from a heavily left-wing viewpoint ( Hornsey had been a scene of ‘Riots’ alongside actions in France in 1968 ) so much so that I do not think the words were ever used.

We were serious (maybe too serious) students with serious ambitions to create serious artworks. There was little hope of making money except in maybe the long term and we set ourselves for many years of cold, lonely debate and artmaking activity in usually sub standard freezing cold ‘studios’. We did have a sense of community and a shared sense of what the ‘art world’ was and what was ‘significant’. What was written about in Artscribe framed the debate and our sense of the ‘art world’. There were few curatorial driven exhibitions to see and a hang of Bacon or Auerbach at Marlborough would be the highpoint of a summer. Serious artists shown seriously with little theoretical framing except in large Thames and Hudson or Phaidon tomes or reviews in the ‘serious’ press. Waldemar Janusczack, James Faure Walker, Sarah Kent, Brian Sewell, Mathew Collings…the names of those critics I remember 20 years later such was there standing….Artcribe had a ‘local’ i.e. usually London focus.

The art world then may have been smaller (pre boom and bust and the internet) but one felt one could get a handle of the major developments and the significant figures as they emerged. I remember seeing early shows by Doig and Julian Opie. Indeed I even ended up as a figure in a Gilbert and George photo piece. This was pre Goldsmiths, Hirst and the collapse (in my opinion) of those values and the boom in a larger, more fashionable, successful and in my opinion shallower art world. That art world was fed, watered and bloomed under the hands of an advertising executive and there was indeed a cut off point. The change in attitudes can be dated to the Royal Academy Sensation show…soon Stuart Morgan tried to sail artscribe into ‘International Art World’ waters and promptly sank….he just didn’t understand the Prada Bag set…

There and ever after even the hard leftists in the artworld found themselves chasing a beguiling gravy train and penned many acres of explication to justify having sold out out to a capitalist driven art world on a scale hitherto unimagined. Craig-Martin at Goldsmiths and principles of newly business orientated Academies across the country raced to catch up and cash in. This also coincided with a boom in markets across Europe and the USA and suddenly Brit was HIP. Nobody could bare to criticise a position we so fully deserved…now we were art top dogs we could look down on others and crow….and of course objective criticism.hard criticism..was thrown out the window.

I remember attending a show in the mid 1980’s where the curatorial statement ran to over a thousand words and was written in such impermeable ‘academese’ that nobody could actually read it. I dismissed it but foolishly did not realise the power of the word was on the march…..

Soon fellow artists were ‘locating their practice’ and referencing Derrida and Foucault. Indeed one friend went from rather dull printmaker to being an expert on postmodernism in a matter of weeks. The honesty and integrity of magazines like Artscribe and Art Monthly were suddenly outshone by their glossy step-children …Frieze, Flash etc etc and countless others that spawned and drowned in their own scenes. This also coincided with the first attempts to push M.A.’s and Phd’s for artists…..up until that point M.A.’s were few and far between and centred on the ‘top’ institutions The Slade, Chelsea and Royal College. More importantly these were heavily studio-based courses…long on practice short on theory….evn in the late 1980’s one could still just paint at the Royal College like David Hockney……just….

I still have some of the copies of artscribe I would spend hours poring over..then for a few brief years before his untimely death Peter Fuller’s ‘Modern Painters’ seemed to show a way forward with erudite well written articles by the likes of Jed Perl rubbing shoulders with informed ‘outsiders’ like David Bowie and poet Jamie McKendrick. I ws verbally lashed by a graphic designer who then head of Goldsmiths M.A. for even suggesting Fuller was worth reading as too rightist..the same Goldsmiths that spun a silk purse out of a sow’s ear a year later with Damien Hirst……ah the irony of it all. Nothing corrupts good intentions and political principles like a hefty wad of cash especially in the Halls of Academe….

What Fuller recognised (he was a good critic grounded in an appreciation of the English Tradition especially the writings of Ruskin, Moore, Sutherland and Hockney..read ‘Beyond the Crisis in Art‘ currently out of print) was the essential connection between an artists’s writing and their art. Especially if one moved closer to the arts and crafts area of Gill, David Jones and all the way back via William Morris to William Blake.

That tradition has never been broken it merely been supplanted by the hysterical whinnying of a thousand ‘on the make’ mediocrities in both studio and academia. Tie-ins and stitch-ups replaced a grounded and reasoned debate. A in-depth knowledge was not needed to spurt out a trendy 1000 word review of Hirst that never delved into his fragile and lately revealed lack of knowledge of anything remotely to do with art. Like the Peter Sellers film ‘Being There’ all that mattered was to be in attendance at the ‘Cinderella’s Ball’ to catch some benefits from the King’s largesse. Many very good painters and theorists (equally) retreated to the shadows …some never to return…..John Hubbard, David Blackburn, Simon Lewty, Gillian Ayres even artists with reputations as formidable as Athony Caro’s, John Hoyland’s or Tom Phillips’ were not safe. they were all pushed from the banquet table by the greedy and Sunday Supplement friendly advertising savvy new brood….they have never left nor raised their snouts since…..Chapmans, Hirst, Emin..you know the rest….

Now there seems to be a new mood afoot where not only Aesthetics but the artists themselves may once more be allowed their rightful place at the high table of art and there a very good chance their writing a lot better than the charlatans who supplanted them.

Read David Smith, Robert Motherwell, CY Twombly, Philip Guston, Picasso, Matisse…….it a long and noble tradition of both thinking and doing..

Hirst on Art………don’t make me laugh