Wednesday, 27 January 2010


My tutor told me, as he his tutor once, that ‘all good drawing is the drawing of preferable errors.’ No doubt an encouraging view to be spreading around artists who are still adolescent in their careers; concerns; development of style and in skill. But simply on a level of truth-value, I think it is correct and transferable to a range if mediums. As I look towards a possible career as an art critic, I am always aware and cautious of the opinions I am forming and often wonder if I’ll ever see a work I consider to be ‘perfect.’ Is this a futile search?

I often get very enthusiastic by beauty I see in works but frequently the way I feel about photographs of me. A current favourite when looked upon too often, or even just out of the blue, and I’ll question how much I really like it. How good a representation it is. My belief about its beauty might fade. This article isn’t about art going stale. It’s the idea that ‘mistakes’ – a feature that catches you eye inconveniently at first, may be the vivacity necessary. The idea that no artist is a God, and so our quest for perfection in an artwork is unjust.

I can often get so involved in surveying a work; I can become detached from the hands that made it. I can forget that before me is a painting of a person, not the person itself. And that it is right and good for the artist not to hide the media, but to reveal the joy they discovered in utilising it. Letting the media shape the artist can have a greater reward than aggressively seeking to control the paint, morphing it out of its distinct character.

I think it is generally fair to say that post-modernism has made our society too critical and cynical about most things, considering particularly religion, and art. This certainly embellishes the connection between being an artist, and confidence. Artists, it seems to me, are either very sure characters or very broken characters. Creative processes are long and rarely straightforward. An exhibition, which I would be very interested in seeing, at The South London Gallery is: ‘Art Bin’ by Michael Landy. A fascinating recognition of, and comment on this concept. He is asking the public to fill a 600m3 bin with discarded art. It reminds me of a voluntary all-inclusive regeneration of the Degenerate Art exhibition of 1937, when in Munich, the Nazi regime forced unappreciated art works from modern avant-garde movements such as Cubism, Dadaism, Surrealism and Expression to have their works displayed to be criticised, laughed at, and then destroyed publicly. Landy’s approach is far more welcoming; especially as it calls for works the artists dismiss themselves, and so he surmises that the exhibition will be ‘a monument to creative failure.’ Not wholly objectively will this remark be made however, because not any and all work have the ability to be binned, instead Landy will decide which pieces are best…or affectively worse.

What the comment on the choice will be I am uncertain of? It strikes me as comparable to the early rounds of x-factor, where particularly entertaining but atrocious performers are kept on in order to tickle the audience’s fancy.

Friday, 22 January 2010

‘Intellect is…the enemy of art’ – Alexander Adams

I’ve been skirting around this point (in my head, and on paper) for a while now, and that is this statement that is art, art in its broadest sense, too intellectual? Is art, particularly as we know it now, too complex and confusing (and thus not accessible enough)?

I am not asking, if we as a population are too dim to appreciate art. I will assume greater of us. I am admitting that I love studying art for its intellectual stimulation – its exploration of concepts, its strong link to philosophy and poetry; religion, spirituality, politics and history. However I am considering if art’s nature itself is too complex. Is there too much understanding required for art to be publicly focused and enjoyed?

I believe that visual art has become too crowded by ideas so that it is near impossible to access the beauty that the artist saw in it. This beauty is found in the distinct intentions of the artist through a deliberate and sometimes painstaking process of making. Philosopher Bustard writes, to which I agree that, ‘Many artists have created works that are so difficult to apprehend that the disjuncture between the ‘elitist’ art world and the ‘populist’ world of art consumption has widened into a dark chasm.’

Perhaps art isn’t too baffling, for I see that everyone in this day and age seems to dabble into discussions and converse in the language of the visual. I was thrilled when I conferred with a layman (he has not studied or practised art) about ideas pressing to me, for a significant quantity of time. He was able to bring some new and challenging slants to age-old established, clich├ęd and repetitive arguments at the core of the art culture. That said, when I divulged the events of my day to two friends last week, neither had even heard of the names Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, or, despite the popular TV programme: Charles Saatchi.

As School of Saatchi called attention to in its opening titles, Charles Saatchi has changed British Art in our post-modernist age (see the book, 100 The Work That Changed British Art by Patricia Ellis,) as he has elevated the role of the artist themselves, bringing fame to Emin, Hirst, Quinn, Whiteread et al., and elevated their names and works internationally. Art has not only become more integrated into society, but is now a wider, global discussion.

I recall how John Berger discussed education, wealth and art viewing in correlation to each other in his first essay in Ways of Seeing - “how closely an interest in art is related to privileged education…The majority take it as axiomatic that the museums are full of holy relics which refer to a mystery which excludes them: the mystery of unaccountable wealth. Or, to put this another way, they believe that original masterpieces belong to the preserve (both materially and spiritually) of the rich.”

When stating that art is more ‘integrated into our society’, I concede that High Art is now less exclusive to High society. In ownership, perhaps there is little change, but in viewing, great change. Though High Art tends to engage those of higher socio-economic groupings, there is a new art to engage all, and that is the ever-controversial ‘modern art.’ Art is shifting to contain the character of political altercations. Everyone has an opinion on them, and there is a legal right to express it. This is no doubt being encouraged and ceased upon by artists because artists seem to stop their explanations pre-mature, regularly they develop their ideas less far to contain more possibilities and interest. Thus also for me as an aspiring art critic, I find it more difficult as I find that everyone is a part-time art critic with a comment on all that they do or do not like. It appears in this way, that art is more accessible.

Not necessarily so I say. More engaging, more enigmatic, extended in its own definition, but as for the intellect of the artwork – this is less accessible. Art is more ambiguous, more airy-fairy and egotistical in that you can create your own meaning.’ The artist appears to see themselves as too astute to reveal their introspect to this wider, more eager audience. We barely learn about the piece, or the artist’s real intention, we instead learn what we as distinct, varied, often ill-educated individuals see in it. Even if I do admit this is what is intriguing so many…the egotistical themself! Gone is the day of the Byzantium simplicity of iconography where the colour blue symbolised humanity and red, divinity; and all would recognise this.

Generalisation, it is true that this is built upon. For Anish Kapoor may be one of the biggest, most celebrated contemporary artists, who seems to me to be praised by so many, and so many different varieties of peoples. Many state his work is beautiful. The documentary The Year of Anish Kapoor for Imagine: Winter 2009, exemplified this through interview with a number of the public. His giant organic forms constructed often from an unblemished mirror surface, interact with nature in a way that highlights our strong association of the natural world with beauty. They are simple, but intriguing. They are based on sensensation. They are visually striking and non referential, especially in relation to art history. They allow the audience to freely associate as they wish, but he does not have the intention of provoking a certain ideas. The populace thus state there is no grand message, even as far as there is no meaning to his pieces.

Kapoor’s work is far from idea-less, but the reason it is so refreshing as a modern artist, is that these are in just balance with visual impact. His work is intellectual – it is well thought out so its look is distinct, engaging, elegant and impressive. Yet his concepts do not crowd his work, limiting a child’s enjoyment, a layman’s enjoyment, or for that matter, anyone else’s enjoyment!

In ‘The Painter of Ideas’ an article in The Jackdaw, author Alexander Adams compares the works of contemporary artists Christine Borland Geal Floyer, Lawrence Weiner, with Olafur Ellasson and Anish Kapoor, stating Anish and companions, ‘intend to impress wider audiences by means of sensual immersion’ and not just create ‘art [which] is intended to transmit ideas.’ Art isn’t simply a method of communication.

In fact Adams’ comment on ideas meeting paint, is well worth a read, as I believe on nearly all climatic points, he is spot-on, discussing that which I had already began to draft in this blog. ‘The audience who appreciate art by today’s Conceptualists (mentioned here because they nominate themselves as dealers in ideas) are curators, academics, and other artists, not ordinary individuals of broad education.’ So much of modern art is therefore too exclusive. As well he voices his opinion on the effectiveness of conceptualism as an art form, discussing how art as a visual form is in fact not well suited to the heavy exploration of ideas. ‘Art is not made of ideas. Art is an object in space, made by an artist who has ideas.’ This I believe is also the distinction that would help clarify our confusion over what to admire as art.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010


Spirituality is in the intents of art, not simply in the subject, theme, or appearance of art.

Matthew Collings has spoken of sacredness in art, which in appearances is generally missing in modern/contemporary art. We may not see Christianity in much art anymore, as this genre is not as prominent or frequent because it is now too functional for art. Art’s purpose when as altarpiece or frescos was as a utility – to advertise Jesus, to provoke worship of God. Now I understand how Oscar Wilde concluded ‘Art is absolutely useless…’ Hold your breathe - I do not go against what I spoke of in The Value of Art – it doesn’t mean art is pointless or bad – it has a point, just perhaps no use. Its point is commercial.

Michael Craig Martin, in interview with philosopher Roger Scruton as part of Why Beauty Matters said that the aim or function of contemporary art is for the viewers to see the world in which they [we] are living, and not idealised fantasy world, and find meaning in it. This is the spirituality in modern art. Maybe this is what makes modern art feel empty to me: it fails to captivate me frequently because I have already found meaning in this world in God – maybe Christianity is what makes me an artistic traditionalist…?

I have noticed through practise, ‘the need for an artist to seek and find…’ (as I also highlighted in Kienholz – The Hoerengracht article) – It is this that makes artists spiritual beings. Rob Bell would say all people, whatever profession, contain the same spiritual make-up, the natural response to believe in something and to worship something.

Do we worship art? Is the worth of art, and of certain artists too great?

Is art given too much respect? We hush ourselves when in galleries. Despite art often provoking reactions, we often stand around, only pondering (which I have no doubt is productive) but not also discussing or sharing. I fear texting, or answering my phone – not because I fear being an annoyance, but because the art, the setting requires more respect.

In my article a while back entitled Matthew Collings’ What Is Beauty I spoke of space as being spiritual in modern art museums, which I thought was an inspirational thought from the art critic. ‘Whereas churches used to house art that was designed and commissioned to be incorporated in, such as frescos and altarpieces; there is religiousness in the humble whiteness. The association in the plainness engages our mind with the emotional bareness involved in spirituality; in the in-built human response that is our desire for spirituality; and the simplicity and peace we are all so highly drawn to especially in contrast to our way of life. White is our colour for cleanliness, innocence, peace and purity, and for pure light. Inarguably he claimed that beauty was excusable in such a setting (a contemporary art gallery) because the beauty is in the sacred atmosphere created. And this is why modern art can, even if you admit it often is non-descript, ugly or visually arbitrary, be defined as beautiful.’

Rob Bell is an inspired author who writes about relationship with God.

‘Kienholz: The Hoerengracht’ at the National Gallery

The wittily named ‘Hoerengracht’ is a true-to-life installation of Amsterdam’s Red Light District made in 1983-8. In Dutch, the title translates as ‘the Whore’s Canal,’ and is a play-on-words from the addition of one letter to Herengracht - ‘the Gentleman’s Canal,’ which is the trendy area of the Netherlands’ capital.

‘Artists paint one painting all their life, stopping only when they are satisfied,’ stated Nancy Kienholz, the wife of practising artist Ed Kienholz (d. 1994) and since turned-artist herself. It is a cyclic and recurrent observation made about the temperamental and perfectionist character of an artist as painted by each one individually via their body of work; that naturally comes to represent themselves. I love this highly literal and metaphorical phrase that identifies both the obsession of an artist and the need for an artist to seek and find. The artist has a concern that is concerning enough to them that it will sustain their work. For an artist’s practise to be motivated they have to be obsessed with something.

Ed’s obsessions were always social and sexual. Nancy spoke of ‘Pimps and Whore, Pimps and Whores. Too many whores, not enough pimps etc ’ as the repeated discourse of the five years in the making of the ‘Hoerengracht.’ Artists’ oeuvres are often one idea reformed over and over. In this case the artist/s’ (Nancy’s involvement was not in the idea, but in the practical making stages,) obsession is discussing the human obsession with sex.

Ed, and thus Nancy, were amongst the age of self-taught artists, in which no rules were set upon style, craftsmanship or content, because there was no looming expectations from mentors and tutors. Though you might not think it, prostitution wasn’t an all-together ignored reality in the history of art; however, there is something about the forceful presence of the 3D and of life-size that builds a stronger, more shocking impression, and thus caused some in its day to put up a moral barrier to the work of Ed individually, and the Kienholzs as a couple.

Being self-taught, Nancy admitted that Ed found making the hands and the feet of the models boring, and so didn’t invest time in forging them accurately, where natural talent couldn’t carry him. Having to an extent been taught art, (though I don’t believe at any level of my practical art education that I was restricted in any way by rule,) I noticed this immediately on one of the whore’s figures, and it jarred with me.

This however, isn’t a comfortable piece. It’s a fight with our human nature, to look but not to stare – to understand but not to judge - to be interested, but not to know too much. To enjoy art as you usually do when you go to this exhibition, but to be in a physical setting that is uncomfortable, almost surreal as it jumps back in time. For me, to recall my brief detour through the city’s 2009 Red Light District. To see what Ed saw in it – a life of intellectual fascination, and an artistic view: to see the instillation as affectively a collection of 3D portraits lit by dramatic red light, and framed by shop windows; that is to narrate the women of the work, but not in a sense of guilt, or to promote justice; just to state in a time when such topics were even more elusively discussed.

‘Kienholz: The Hoerengracht’ is in the Sunley Room at the National Gallery, 21 February 2010, and admission is free