Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"Free-Floating Molecules in the Vast Vacuum of Art"

Another fascinating piece on the problems of art and artistic training in the modern world, and the mess of pottage for which we have metaphysically sold our cultural birthright, from the thoughtful British medico Theodore Dalrymple. A sample:

This is reflected in the training that art students now undergo. Rarely do they receive any formal training in (say) drawing or painting.

Indeed, from having talked to quite a number of art students, it seems that art school these days resembles a kindergarten for young adults, where play is more important than work. The lack of technical training is painfully obvious at the shows the students put on. Many of the students have good ideas, but cannot execute them successfully for lack of technical facility. Indeed, their technical incompetence is only too painfully obvious.

It is very striking, too, how few art students have any interest in or knowledge of the art of the past. Do you visit galleries, I ask them?

No, they reply, a little shocked at the very suggestion, and as if to do so would inhibit them in their creativity or to condone plagiarism.

As for art history, they are taught and know very little. This is all part of the programme of disconnecting them radically from the past, of making them free-floating molecules in the vast vacuum of art.

It is true that they are sometimes taught just a little art history. I had what was for me a memorable conversation with an art student when she was my patient. She was in her second year of art school, and told me that one of the things she enjoyed most about it was art history. I asked what they taught in art history.

‘The first year,’ she said, ‘we did African art. But now in the second year we’re doing western art.’

I asked what particular aspect of western art they were doing.

‘Roy Liechtenstein.’

As satire would be impossible, so commentary would be superfluous. The task is not so much to criticise as to understand: that is to say, to understand how and why this terrible shallowness has triumphed so completely almost everywhere in the west.
A frightening thing to think Lichtenstein has become a conservative, historicist influence in the insane asylum-cum-con job that is the contemporary art scene. More here.

I am reminded of this meditation by Chesterton about art, and the length of giraffes' necks:
Anarchism adjures us to be bold creative artists, and care for no laws or limits. But it is impossible to be an artist and not care for laws and limits. Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. If you draw a giraffe, you must draw him with a long neck. If, in your bold creative way, you hold yourself free to draw a giraffe with a short neck, you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe. The moment you step into the world of facts, you step into a world of limits. You can free things from alien or accidental laws, but not from the laws of their own nature. You may, if you like, free a tiger from his bars; but do not free him from his stripes. Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump: you may be freeing him from being a camel.
I am also reminded a bit of the tale by Jorge Luis Borges in which a Babylonian king is set to wander in a labyrinth which he is told he will never be able to leave. It turns out to be the trackless open desert. He dies of thirst and starvation.

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