Bill Berkson and the beauty of Art Writing not Research

Sudden-Address_4156

“Frank O’Hara was born in 1926, a good year for births, it turns out: Marilyn Monroe, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Creeley, Wallace Berman, Joan Mitchell, Fidel Castro, Tony Bennett, Chuck Berry, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Michel Foucault, Morton Feldman . . . Pretty good for openers, no? Doubtless, there are more.”  Bill Berkson- Sudden Address (p. 77)

I revamped my main website today.

In the revamp I pondered how to describe the stuff that might be considered ‘art criticism’ up to and including the Interview with Mathew Collings that was published in the first issue of Modern Matter magazine. A section that withered and died in the 7 years of being driven like a weary sheep down the road of ‘academic’ research. Now that I have finally got to escape into pastures new for a while I have at last had time to realise that ‘Academic Research’ means limiting oneself to something particular and narrow. This is why too much art research is by its nature closed off from the world and frankly irrelevant to most people as well as frankly being nonsense in most cases where it designated as fine art.

matter1

In the revamp I retitled the ‘art criticism’ blog to ‘Art Writer’ because writing about art is what it contained.  I then found this post on artcritical webzine (a fab resource by the way which I found through a link from Painters Table blog again an excellent resource for painters) about the poet and art writer ‘Bill Berkson, a friend of one of my favourite painters Philip Guston. What he stands for and reveals here is his insistence on ‘art writing’ not criticism and in another interview (Third Rail) he says such wonderful sensible things it was a joy to read.

This led me to the wonderful Cunieform Press website and his book Sudden Address:

http://cuneiformpress.com/?product=bill-berkson-sudden-address

On artcritical this is David Carrier’s description below:

Emphatically not art history, this certainly isn’t normal art criticism. No one else, except maybe Adrian Stokes, whom Berkson loves to quote, writes even a little like this.

Art writing is a strange sort of creative literature. Within the commercial art world, it is a comically marginal activity. But doing it well is oddly difficult, as every editor knows.  And so it is surprising that there are very few really good art writers. When we praise Diderot, Pater, Adrian Stokes, Roger Fry, Clement Greenberg and Arthur Danto, we acknowledge that whatever our disagreements with their tastes, they are grand writers. Berkson belongs in their company. Do you think I exaggerate? Well!, we art writers are much given to hyperbole. And so read for yourself and tell me if I am correct.  Koch’s conception of poetry, Berkson writes, “made me see not just poetry but the world in and outside poetry differently.” (p.94-5)

That seems to me to be as sensible a way to go as any..in fact the only way to go…

Do you know I really don’t give a shit about referencing or come to that about the shits who do give a shit about referencing either. In other words not only is most art research worthless anyway but that which exists will be mostly full of broken links in a few years..houses built on sand:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/01/26/cobweb

I would rather be scholarly and interesting like Berkson.

Interview with Matthew Collings: Matter Magazine first issue

I have an interview with Matthew Collings published in Matter Magazine No.1.

http://www.themattermagazine.com/

Matter magazine
Magazine / NewspaperPosted by Gavin Lucas, 12 December 2011,Excerpt from
http://www.creativereview.co.uk/cr-blog/2011/december/matter-magazine

Regular CR readers may recall we wrote about large format magazine Kilimanjaro and interviewed its creator Olu Odukoya back in 2008 (read that piece here). Now Odukoya has his own creative agency called OMO Creates and has just launched a new bi-annual men’s magazine called Matter that takes technology, style and conceptual art as its raison d’etre…

“I’m really excited about Matter, mostly about the content and what it could be,” says Odukoya of his new title, the first issue of which has just been printed. “A lot of men’s magazines are overly sartorial and I don’t think that’s really what the contemporary man is supposed to be about,” he continues, explaining that Matter is interested in technology but not in a way that is concerned with divulging the latest updates from Apple about forthcoming hardware, but rather in a way that is fascinated with how technology and humanity collide.

“Matter’s USP is that it is the first art and style publication to examine these subjects through the lens of modern technology,” says Odukoya.

And so it is that the first issue of Matter contains an interview with musician Tricky, who Odukoya managed to track down using the internet, email and no small amount of perseverence; an interview with Daniel Eatock about his DIY website tool, Indexhibit; a feature on Professor Gerd Hirzinger’s work with soft robotics; and an email discussion between Shaun Belcher and Matthew Collings about Collings’ recent experimentation with image analysis online using Facebook photo albums.

The website for Matter currently shows a film of someone flipping through the magazine, spread by spread. “We didn’t know how to approach the design of the website,” admits Odukoya, “so we just had the video of someone flicking through the first issue. But actually people seem to really like it. The site has already attracted more people than all the ones that have taken a year to do. I find this really interesting. I’m excited constantly by how the internet can surprise you and make you see things or experience things in a different way.”

themattermagazine.com

Gesamkunstwerk – Saatchi Gallery

From the banal to the sublime…

 

Volker Hueller – Self Portrait.

‘Gesamkunstwerk’ – ‘a total work of art’ – uses all or many art forms. (Dictionary definition.)

Intrigued by the title which has many facets and does not easily translate into English I made my first trip to the new Saatchi Gallery. A little late in the day but then I only visited the original one in North London a couple of times and missed out on the South Bank farrago. Intrigued however was not how I felt by the time I had left and I certainly had not seen an all encompassing show of the arts as promised by the title. Indeed I felt more like I had entered a time-warp and stumbled into the New Spirit in Painting show at the Royal Academy circa 1981 but without the same excitement or technique on display. The most impressive feature was the building itself which is a Wagnerian symphony of contemporary gallery chic and cannot be faulted. Indeed a more impressive set of floorboards I have never seen. If the building is intended to impress it succeeds but at what cost? Most of the work seemed quietly subdued by its illustrious surroundings and indeed a good deal of it sank altogether. Formerly famous for setting the ship of Britart afloat how does this show succeed in opening our eyes to New German Art of the 2010′s? Well, frankly, not very well.

There are good individual artists in this show but after finding ones way around all the floors and finally being overwhelmed by the frankly awful huge works at the top I felt I had no more idea about contemporary German Art than I had when I arrived. The picture-book ‘catalogue’ does little to enlighten and whilst I not keen on over explication a little more info would have helped greatly. My impression was that bar a rough correlation of ages there was little to tie the artworks together and this had been manufactured quickly and with little curatorial thought. The one common factor was an almost complete lack of digital works. This was about big, bigger and huge…almost all the works were over six foot and in some cases were collossal. In that there were echoes of the far better German artists of the R.A. show e.g. Penck, Middendorf, Baselitz, etc. but there comparisons ended. I did not see one painter on a large scale that really showed exceptional technique or content. It was almost as if a T.V. reality show had asked a bunch of fairly average artists to create a pastiche of German Art of the last thirty years in a week.

Some works were truly awful e.g. the reclining plastic coloured figures and the afore-mentioned ‘print’ across a hundred canvasses. Others were good but lost in the hang apart from the Tobias Brothers and the small shellac and watercolour works of Volker Hueller both of which I was impressed by. I will not add insult to injury by naming the worst of a fairly mediocre bunch but winners of irritating and downright stupid awards go to Andre Butzer ( New York Graffitti school overdosed on Penck with a horrible use of colour) and Isa Genzken’s tedious assemblages like a car boot sale organized by Rauschenburg if he’d been a pantomime Dame…tinsel and spray paint darlinks is so camp …yuk. It is easier to actually spot the reference in most works. Maz Frisinger and Alexander Bircken wouldn’t have a practice without Duchamp’s large glass basically and Ida Ekbald looked like a foundation art project to use concrete that had gone horribly wrong. It seems that such is the plethora of art students coming out of the academies that even basic aesthetics have been jettisoned. Maybe she networks really well..maybe you have to living in Norway..so how come she in a German show..ah she lives in Berlin well that’s alright then…shame they didn’t chuck Tacita Dean in too at least we could have seen something interesting. By the way Tobias Brothers were born in Romania so is this really New Euro Art? Again the contextual strings were missing…if a Norwegian then is this really German Art now or just a motley collection hastily cobbled together..methinks the latter. This is reinforced by the seemingly haphazard way works melt into each other. If Saatchi can afford to build such a place why does he not employ some decent designers to fashion some continuity and catalogue support. If ‘democratising’ the artworld means flabby shows with little thought I may not be so ‘democratic’ in future. Free to enter you do get what you pay for. It seems Saatchi is keener on being seen as super-patron than actually doing the right thing by the art he assembles. But then he is bigger (as his building) than any poor artist caught in their combined wash.

The show is worth going to for the well hung Tobias Brothers room and for the Hueller small works both of which show grace and aesthetic consideration rather than the Pantomime Showiness of most of it. I came away with the impression that New German Art had fallen into a rut of pastiche of former glories and far from benefitting from new immigration the ‘Eurozone’ dizziness of it all had actually devalued some of the participants. If a single currency has devalued the economies of Western Europe then this show displays that Saatchi’s global reach and international obsessions are similarly dangerous to ‘national’ ideas of art. Post internet, post Berlin Wall what we see is a weak and diluted parade of imitators and hangers-on to concepts and working practices which were old hat in 1960. If you want to see post-war German art at its best go google Mülheimer Freiheit‘. This is just a pantomime of the new wilds and honestly it as tame a collection of physical art as I ever come across..one almost yawned on exit. Maybe Saatchi can blame his ‘art-teams’ for nothing on this scale is supervised that closely…..commitee and buyers do the rounds hoovering up those who fit the bill.

Want to be in the next National Saatchi show…tick these boxes….International (i.e. not English) …large and technically inept  and finally be devoid of real artistic merit…then you may stand a chance.
I would like to see a ‘opt-out’ clause for British native art from this circus before we all become clowns dancing to the same ringmaster.

CODA: Is Serota’s Tate any different?..same egos just different paymasters…

Damien Hirst – Fish and a Failed Painter?

The following is part of a recent debate on facebook about Hirst’s Fish piece:
Matthew Collings included it in a ‘Design’ album then contested its meaning especially with Paul Gladston. I joined in at this point.

hirst_swimming
Isolated Elements Swimming in the Same Direction for the Purpose of Understanding: 1992

I would like to put to one side the contest between ‘modernistic’ thinking and the ‘deconstructive’ approach ( I simplifying here but a brief read through the blurb for Mr Gladston’s book ‘Art History after Deconstruction’ suggests he believes that it a false dichotomy and that deconstruction is essential to all art history (I am sure he will put me right if that a glib analysis). If we are looking at formal principles only then the most striking element for me is that firstly this piece is a reworking of the shark (1991-2) with smaller items which also echoes pharmacy and secondly that the fish selected are not native British species at all which suggests they imported. Lacking definitive knowledge of this ( the Gordon Burn book doesn’t tell) suggests that there is no order or meaning in the fish of themselves apart from a slightly exotic selection.

The Burn book shows that Hirst basically failed as a painter (he exhibited cardboard boxes covered in household paint at Freeze in docklands before he switched tack entirely)- the spot paintings revamped a Schwitters influenced colour collage phase he went through on Goldsmiths M.A. before leaping into the contained sculptures specifically the head and flies.

lekaythisismybody-1987

 

John LeKay. This is my body, this is my blood. 1987

John LeKay who Hirst finally met in 1992 had been doing similar work throughout mid- eighties and from then on Hirst pretty much apprenticed himself to LeKay in intellectual terms. A quick look through LeKay’s catalogue shows a far more interesting and thought out set of works. Indeed Hirst interviews LeKay in PIG magazine (LeKay’s magazine) and it master and pupil in tone. Hirst himself describes the change as ‘putting a fucking box round everything’ after Cornell ( which where ‘pharmacy’ taken from) .

Seen through the lens of a painter who influenced by Patrick Heron who was berated at Goldsmiths one can see that Hirst has never really succeeded in that area and that the spot paintings and swirls come from that and his lack of confidence as a painter…ending in the farcical Courtauld show which pretty much showed his ability starkly. However as a barrow boy he was ‘fly’ enough to see that spectacle was required and he would fail with the paint/collage approach.. also those around him were succeeding in sculpture not painting and that what he provided. I agree with Matthew’s take on exhibitionism and display…he tapped into a spectacular increase in office and retail space – the Thatcher legacy of service and supply…to me Hirst is a perfect analogy for an economy going through final post-empire convulsions. Just like his ‘fucking boxes’ the docklands he used for Freeze was contained and shipped and finally empty… again LeKay and Hirst in that interview in Pig …..

  • Damien Hirst: “The work seems on the one hand to be very chaotic and on another level very organized”…
  • John LeKay replies “Well there is a definite order in chaos and an indefinite chaos comes out of order, is that what you mean?”…PIG 1993

Alone Yet Together containing 100 fish  was created in 1993….and to me is a perfect example of organized chaos…there is no order but that is presented in an ordered way…hence the same direction. It could have been worms or birds..I even suspect that visual readings are irrelevant and that Hirst may have placed dark against light..etc but in the end does that really matter as the fish were probably sourced randomly…even random placement can create harmonies….just like collage.. It my belief that without Thatcherism….Saatchi and Craig Martin Hirst would be a provincial colourist of minor repute now but he surfed in on a flood of post Hong Kong money and power shifts. He will never be able to paint ….he could however put stuff in boxes….

Parts of the piece were broken up and sold individually so that to me negates any more profound structural approach and fits with his ‘minimalist’ approach to effort.. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/news/hirst-hopes-to-revolutionise-art-market-with-golden-calf-851034.html?action=Gallery&ino=3

Hirst himself from Idler..

  • “HIRST: What I really like is minimum effort for maximum effect. Like with Picasso’s Bull’s Head – a bike seat and handlebars making up the bull’s head. Such a brilliant thing because it takes that tiny amount of effort to create .”..

Hirst gave a fish shop in Leeds a fish “It was two years before Damien won the Turner Prize [in 1995] when he was just beginning to be a bit known.
“We saw some publicity about a work of his, a whole lot of fish titled Isolated Elements Swimming in the Same Direction and we joked that it would be nice to get something like that for the shop.”

That was a Trevally.. a Pacific predator…..the unusual thing about the collection is they not the usual tropical fish ..has anybody analysed their types and reason he used them? The Shark was ordered and caught probably through Joplin maybe these were ordered too.

There were two cabinets…source art newspaper online: –

  • “In 1991, the same year in which he made his original shark, Hirst did a series of sister works of fish in formaldehyde, which are amongst his most elegant “natures mortes”
  • Isolated Elements Swimming in the Same Direction for the Purpose of Understanding, for example, consists of six rows of individually encased fish in two cabinets and was once described as a “static ballet in an absurd movement toward nowhere.” The first formaldehyde work to be shown in London (in a group show at the Serpentine), it too was purchased by Saatchi, travelled with “Sensation”, and then was bought back by Hirst in a £6m-for-12-works deal in 2004.
  • Hirst continues to produce exquisite works of suspended fish. One of the most dignified pieces in the “Beautiful” sale was a cruciform stainless steel cabinet containing fish skeletons on one side and fish in formaldehyde on the other. However, the “Beautiful” sale also contained a near replica of the iconic Isolated Elements wall-piece titled Can’t Live With You, Can’t Live Without You. It had 12 shelves rather than six and the fish were smaller but, formally, it was the same work.”

barnum.jpg

again Hirst puts it beautifully

  • “Am I a sculptor who wants to be a painter,” he asks, “or a cynical artist who thinks painting is now reduced to nothing more than a logo?”…..

Sorry Matthew but I firmly believe in the second statement :-)

 

 

source: Sarah Thornton http://www.theartnewspaper.com/article.asp?id=16269

In and out of love with Damien Hirst | The Art Newspaper

www.theartnewspaper.com

The long slow death of visuality…responses to Matthew Collings

On Facebook ( that noted art history forum:-)
Matthew Collings posted the following:I have highlighted what seems to me the key lines. The second paragraph is his introduction to the set of photos which even I,as someone accused of convoluted and dense and unreadable sentences,found hard to fathom and only after several re-readings did I get a sense (I think) of what he on about. My interpretation is he is concerned that at a time when we surrounded by a tsunami of visuality (more artists,more imagery than ever) that there is no coherent ‘ethical’and ‘aesthetic’agreement of what is ‘good’or ‘right’. i.e. that we live in immoral times and that affects judgement too. This chimes with the ‘Rediscovering Aesthetics‘standpoint. I do not know to what degree he agrees/disagrees with their views. The idea of visual achievement V visual success may be contrasting actual artistic creation with visual success i.e. cheap fame….low artistic worth..I am not sure. Below my response on facebook and a continuation of my ‘objective argument’which I apparently regularly fall short on …woof woof:-)

Matthew Collings: On some very visual and recent art
If there is celebrating it’s celebrating the visual dimension,but the reason to post the album (and others) is not “let’s party”but to look at the possibility of visual substance,depth,richness in art, because in the general idea of what contemporary art “is”that operates at the moment this visual dimension is virtually either actually absent or else unseeable (and consequently undiscussuable or unappreciatable).

Some very visual current and recent art:

Reassurance of pre-modern and even modern art no longer available —universal Rembrandtian Shakespearean etc greatness out now —meantime fragmentary but very visual art does exist. Problem in heads is to get visual to connect with ethical. Many steps. First is to be visually observant. Then questioning. What is all this visuality for? How can we make it be for something else,something better? (That is not for wrong ideology,wrong life dictated by consumerism etc,as exemplified horribly by contexts in which this art is actually usually seen.) And is a visual system aiming at high visual achievement,or visual success —and which therefore has the possibility of failure —and therefore entails some kind of judging —is it connectable to moral and ethical dimensions,political dimensions etc? (Nazis judging good notes in symphony,still chuck victims in ovens etc.) Or do we have to accept visually abject art that has moral excellent credentials? Plus accept visual abjection that has excruciating pseudo thoughtful credentials (idiotic pretence at engaging with history society etc while remaining in-crowd smugness only)?

My response:Part one ( from facebook)

Ironically my period of intense engagement with painting coincided with the publishing of artscribe which was my bible in mid eighties. I stopped any meaningful production of art in 1992 and am now trying to begin again. So in some ways I am heavily influenced by the artscribe ethos and coming back to the art world I acutely aware of the marginalisation of visuality and the lack of a coherant and representative forum/magazine for that visuality. Both Modern Painters and Frieze seem to be ad driven fashion mags and art monthly is simply art monthly…long on theory short on images. My feeling (I will expand later) is we are at a watershed moment and that all this visuality is not looking,making and time based to the same extant it once was in the artscribe era. Fragmentation is an aspect of globalisation and the rise of the internet which may also mean a fragmentation of values as you hint at. Could artscribe exist now at all in the same ‘moral’and ‘tightknit’ way it did in the 1980′s when it ring-fenced not only a seriousness about painting etc but also a relatively coherent worldview and small set of tuned in artists? We live in a ‘bigger’artworld but not necessarily a more serious or a more productive one. Was artscribe a magazine dedicated to ‘visuality’?
My response: Part two
ARTSCRIBE

I have written about artscribe as part of a longer piece called Beyond the crisis in art ‘Making and Doing’which covers the ‘artscribe years’.

http://belcheresque.wordpress.com/2009/11/16/beyond-the-crisis-in-art-making-and-doing/

Whatever it was (for those too young or unaware of the magazine) artscribe was the most important magazine in the period 1976 -1985 after that it became Artscribe International and I felt lost its way and became a precursor of the fashionista art mags we have now. early artscribes were ad free tomes of high-seriousness where you could enjoy lengthy,erudite articles on painting especially from the likes of James Faure Walker,Matthew Collings and Adrian Searle. Collings himself is representative of the gradual change and led to the ‘Internationalisation’of the magazine. My feeling has been that the success and failure of Collings’s internationalisation is a smaller model of the sea change in British Art at this point i.e. Sensation et al. Ironically Collings left the magazine in 1987 after which it went downhill fast and disappeared totally in 1993. My only surviving copy is ironically from Collings time as editor because I feature in it albeit in a very minor role as a model in a Gilbert and George painting called Gateway which featured in an article on them. That was about as close as I ever got to the International Art World. So any discussion of artscribe and visuality and its apparent ‘demise’cuts heavily into my own artistic history or ‘suicide’depending on your viewpoint. Now this is where things get interesting –in searching for the artscribe image I came across Matthew’s ‘Rant’from the saatchi magazine.

http://magazine.saatchionline.com/magazine-articles/reports-from-new-zealand/put_downs_and_suck_ups_matthew_14

In it he discusses Peter Fuller. Ironically I was interviewed for Goldsmiths course in 1987 and 1988. The first time of interview I had recently completed a black empty canvas for painting and sat bewildered as Mary Kelly and Nick De Ville pontificated about it for what seemed hours (I too shy to point out it just a ground!) before telling me I ‘interesting’and they would come back next year. Sadly my studio was demolished and penniless the next interview was in my legalised squat in Arnos Grove and a disaster…
Basically I uttered the name ‘Peter Fuller’and it was if I had shat all over the assembled interviewers (and a postgrad student who hung bing bags on hooks who ignored me and spent whole time staring at out coathooks). Now reading the Collings piece I understand how evil I had been…Collings explains

“When Modern Painters began in 1988 it was the brainchild of an art writer called Peter Fuller,a man loved by fogeys and philistines,and middle class people who kidded themselves they were into art,while the art world as such couldn’t bear him. I couldn’t bear him either,at least not what he wrote. It always seemed so off the mark.”

My Response:Part three

In contrast I had actually read and re-read Fuller intensely ( especially Beyond the Crisis in Art)and loved him and Modern Painters under his editorship. He seemed then and seems now to have been way ahead of the YBA pack. Ironically Matthew seems to have revised his opinion somewhat…

“The bits I like are,mainly,his raving on (positively) about Ruskin,who in those days I didn’t know anything about and didn’t care to learn anything about. Now of course I think Ruskin’s great and in fact I believe only an idiot wouldn’t think the same. As a personality,Peter (who I got to know fairly well) was great too.”

So I was victim of an almost Stalinist rejection of a certain way of looking at art. The Goldsmiths tutors gave me short shrift refusing to even ‘look’at my Bacon and Sutherland influenced self-portraiture. I was a rank conservative..an amateur who did not understand the mission that Goldsmiths and YBA about to launch…( obviously the offer of a place at the Royal College for painting by Peter de Francia in 1981 was a figment of my imagination….sadly I was scuppered by Thatcher’s plan to give working class children a place at public school..guess what she took the money from the R.C. ensuring a foreign student took my place and this working class boy ended up on the dole). Forgive me if the International Art World leaves me a little sarcastic..wouldn’t you feel the same? ….Goldsmiths or Thatcher it all the same to me.

I ran out of critical road and ended up back in my parent’s council house in Didcot and immediately spent a year drawing the hills around my hometown in charcoal on location and effectively became as conservative as possible in reaction to the Goldsmiths debacle. My art career effectively over I went to ground just as Hirst and Emin won the art lottery. I continued to read Fuller and Ruskin and to ignore the London art scene for the next 20 years and pretty much still do. My artistic career petered to a halt with some etchings at Edinburgh College of Art in 1994 and that was that…until Moogee in 2005. So that was then but what about now and what about this contested ‘visuality’ everybody banging on about?…..continues below….in it I hope to link the processes at play in 1988….Goldsmiths, internationalisation, YBA’s to my own career crash and the birth of Satchi Land which more than anything both created and destroyed the ‘visuality’ bubble.

 

My Response: Part Four

VISUALITY?

THINGNESS?
Responding to internet representations of art.

Interesting point here is you probably encountered both works (Stella and Morrris ) in reality whereas I think I only ever seen one actual Stella and no Morris so have no idea of scale or construction of Morris so how could I really compare which brings us back to key point re. visuality..whose visuality?….we engulfed in a pervasive media which displays versions of reality..how many dscourses based on actual seeing any more..perhaps we need an institute of looking?

If we could assemble all the paintings you have here and make people actually look the responses may be very different. What we have here is a virtual gallery that lacks the essential ‘thingness’ of objecthood…..if one not responding to that essential object but only a virtual mis-representation then we are always on dodgy ground. What I find infuriating about contemporary theorists of the virtual is they discount the essential veracity of constructed artworks…to them and their students (and NTU has its fair share) they are continually avoiding the real by dancing spectacularly in clouds of theory and networks…..never touching the ground and certainly never needing to look at all..Ruskin would be appalled.

Conversation re; Artscribe with Matthew Collings: from facebook June 2011
SDB
Has ‘visuality’ disappeared as much as you say across the board. I thought it just a Nottingham thing…..it almost eradicated from the fine art course because of all those elements I been ranting about for years….I didn’t even attend the PV of my own School as seen one blackboard with a Wittgenstein quote on and a screaming performance artist you probably seen them all;-) Really enjoyed selection could this not make a great ‘Art Commentary’stand alone website…..or interactive TV show.
Ironically my period of intense engagement with painting coincided with the publishing of artscribe which was my bible in mid eighties. I stopped any meaningful production of art in 1992 and am now trying to begin again. So in some ways I am heavily influenced by the artscribe ethos and coming back to the art world I acutely aware of the marginalisation of visuality and the lack of a coherant and representative forum/magazine for that visuality. Both Modern Painters and Frieze seem to be ad driven fashion mags and art monthly is simply art monthly…long on theory short on images. My feeling (I will expand later) is we are at a watershed moment and that all this visuality is not looking,making and time based to the same extant it once was in the artscribe era. Fragmentation is an aspect of globalisation and the rise of the internet may also mean a fragmentation of values as you hint at. Could artscribe exist now at all in the same ‘moral’and ‘tightknit’way it did in the 1980′s when it ringfenced not only a seriousness about painting etc but also a relatively coherant worldview and small set of tuned in artists? We live in a ‘bigger’artworld but not necessarily a more serious or a more productive one. Was artscribe a magazine dedicated to ‘visuality’?
MC
Well ironically Artscribe was very much a visual celebrating mag under the editorship of its founder James Faure Walker,but when I took over,in early 80s,it became much more oriented to bringing news to UK of international trendy developments,and ultimately to airing info about those developments back to places where they originally came from —I wouldn’t say ethos of mag in my time was at all like ethos of these FB threads,which is because my true interests,while they were always there,were a bit buried in those days beneath my drive to make the mag buzzing and powerful.

That is really interesting Matthew ..so you are more naturally attuned to JFW content than your own in hindsight? Do you think there a current magazine that caters for ‘visuality’and here I using term loosely to denote contemporary visual art where the emphasis on ‘objecthood’….I struggling to put it more clearly maybe in sense defined by Abigail Diamond here …

The role of the art object in contemporary art –http://sitem.herts.ac.uk/artdes_research/papers/wpades/vol3/adfull.html

i.e. are we talking about art that reveals itself primarily as an object..in which case ‘OBJECT’would be perfect title for such a magazine :-)

This conversation was extended into a full article for MATTER magazine availabel on Scribd HERE:

Death by a thousand cuts how fine art killed itself

The latest figures are spine-chilling. Cloaked in a fake Liberal shroud the right-wing zealots behind Cameron and Osborne’s ‘realignment’ of British politics are systematically closing down the founts of opposition. Its a tactic worthy of sixties France but because the arts fraternity are trapped like rabbits in the headlights nobody seems to be able to respond. A well aimed boot at Millbank does not change the agenda one iota.

In the Telegraph’s list of most affected humanities Universities Nottingham Trent is near the top. Along with Falmouth, Goldsmiths and Norwich it one of those ‘arts-based’ Universities ( pace old Polytechnics) singled out for attack. The reason simple. A right-wing government will not fund centres of excellence however well or badly run that career to close to a left-wing perspective. Despite years of market-driven forces and business orientated management that all but driven the Marxists to the wall the arts colleges are the last bastion of free-thinking leftism. As Stewart Lee rightly points out this is worse than Thatcherism. She would have loved to have destroyed the ‘luxury’ of such institutions. Now before she slips into history her bidding being done by her political spawn.

Does this matter? Well yes because alongside a direct attack on the fundamentals of a liberal society e.g. education for all is a direct attack on the ideological foundations of that society. You can now express any opinion as long as it free-market.

The long road to the present car-crash is a minefield of good intentions but contemporary art and its institutions and apologists has paved the way for their own slaughter. When a modern University can respond to students with the message ‘we do not want your life-drawing’ we do not ‘do’ painting’ we know we in a sorry state. Justifying further funding against a backdrop of nepotism, slack intellectual foundations and clearly lacklustre and befuddled cohorts no wonder the rightists having a feld day culling the weak and unnecessary.This is not just one institution it has crept virus like into the whole body from the Goldsmiths injection point.

It is almost impossible to defend a system that grew fat on easy money and gorged on flatulent theory. Even a smattering of old-school rigour and skills based training…you know all that messy drawing and painting would have stood us in good stead now. But a lame conceptualist blowing bubbles and chanting Kant is probably as good as it gets. It has been a slow artistic suicide that all conived in to further and feather their own nests and lo and behold now the whole tree being chopped down.

There will be no last-minute reprieves and most if not all fine art courses as we have presently configured will shrink or disappear. We are back in Royal Academy pre Pop-Art territory with only the most cushioned able to learn and create. In the new landscape only commercially viable artists will survive. We will see a rise in conventional conservative buying and creating and curating habits it comes with the ‘new reality’. The Arts Council is finished and only the most partisan advocates of its waste and confusion will miss it (i.e. those most rewarded by its skewed sense of smug righteousness..we are saving art darlinks…yes well done ACE … like the Vietnamese Village that was destroyed to save it.).

I take no pleasure in watching the corpse shudder and leak unto its last breath but unless the leftist arts-world coheres and starts building a coherent and skills-based response it game over. Deader than Marysas we will be left with nothing but the skin of the conceptualists to wonder at. Did we ever really fund their flaky musings?

Moogee International

Not content with just upsetting the great and the good of the British Art Scene Moogee is casting his bark wider in alliance with At Design Cafe Netherlands. Art Design Cafe is a radical mash-up arts portal with a unique combination of Punk fanzine/Radical Curatorship and Celebrity Farce-Art wings….now Moogee has his own little Kennel in this Mansion of Alternative International Art World Culture….

Moogee the Art Dog International PLC

http://www.artdesigncafe.com/idiot-guide-to-fine-art

Mind the gap: the slow death of fine art

I have spent the last couple of days seriously investigating the area which for want of a better word one can call ‘Transmedia’. Coined by Henry Jenkins in his book Convergence Culture (2008) who said (and here I thank Alison Norrington for compiling the quotes)

“transmedia represents the integration of entertainment experiences across a range of different media platforms, ”

Jenkins defines transmedia as storytelling that

“immerses an audience in a story’s universe through a number of dispersed entry points, providing a comprehensive and coordinated experience of a complex story.”

I have taught in a department designated ‘Multimedia’ for the last three years and nobody has ever defined exactly what multimedia meant then opr now. Young students look blankly and mutter something about 3D and older people remember stuttering CD-Roms which thankfully gone the way of the floppy disc into cyber-extinction.

So here we are in 21st Century TRANSMEDIA land and believe me the term is catching on. The August edition of Wired UK magazine had a whole feature on it including references to latest Dr Who ‘transmedia-ing’ so it definitely a buzz word.

Let us unpack the term a little further. What it actually and quite neatly doing is removing the illusion of ‘separate’ digital worlds which we will increasingly work in. The fact is we are working in one ‘shared space’ and that space is digital. Imagine an art school where there were once nice designated rooms…..sculpture, painting, graphic design, film, theatre. In fact one does not have to imagine it in most cases despite the ‘digital’ revolution that is how our institutions are set up. But as the pace of technology increases alongside the power of the hardware we are fast approaching a point where all this ‘silo’ demarcation will become totally irrelevant. I work in such an institution however and we are going to have to tear down those walls soon….very soon…

Students raised on the internet recognise this to be true. It is harder for adults schooled in the defined areas to grasp. We cannot continue to train in silos. The future student will be operating across platforms in ‘transmedia’ studios (they already opening up). The future student will not only need a working knowledge of web and 3D ( Adobe and css 3d integration helps there) but of graphic (paper), film and conventional narrative storytelling too ( what we currently call film and TV).

So called film and TV simply do not exist from the moment Steve Jobs Apple started selling portions of ‘action’ for $99 a go. The itunisation (sounds like Balkanisation – ironically) of cultural product continues apace. I was shouted down once for suggesting we change the name of Multimedia to ‘Adobe’ art school but that is what happening. Technology is the driver and because of its omnipotence it creating some interesting side-effects.

Those students who most able are instinctively realising that to work with a defined ‘content’ call it story, narrative, subject matter have increasingly had to move from the ‘fine art’ arena to other less ‘rarified’ but craft orientated areas. This means 3D, film, web and graphic design.

It is just the combination of these areas in a new ‘Transmedia’ genre that the traditional ‘storytelling’, going back to the Greeks, is now existing and flourishing in. Fine art in contrast has fled from meaning in a dance of almost perceptible fear as the traditional avenues of expression have been closed down. The weight and academic importance given to fine artists production has increased in direct contrast to its lack of content.

Fine art cannot compete with the advances in technology and cannot seem to ‘jump the gap’. Losing traditional skills has hastened its irrelevance and baroque lack of focus. It is almost comedic to wander round any contemporary show as nine times out of ten the rehashed work is reiterating the same old tired themes…despair, isolation, anti-capitalism.. indeed we have a multi-million pound gallery devoted to this here in Nottingham. It invariably empty because the show has moved elsewhere.

The show is in people’s hands now. It was situated on their desktop, then it moved to the laptop. Within five years it will exist solely in handheld devices. Nowhere in the current fine art scene do I see any coherent attempt to deal with this seismic shift in the cultural landscape. A bunch of badly coded art websites or fleeting ‘non’ professional arty videos only underscore the failure to evolve into the new digital landscape. So we are left in a ‘gap’ or rather a divide. Before the divide fine art was taught as a fully professional, committed and ‘slow’ arena in which most artists would succeed after years of toil. Now it has jumped on the ’fast art’ bandwagon but with no clue of the digital tools it flings around. Faster and faster students are encouraged away from paint and pencil and into parading their lack of digital skills.

Meanwhile the real ‘fine artists’ for the 21st century are getting on with what they always have done..storytelling…they just aren’t called ‘fine artists’ any more…

http://www.henryjenkins.org/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alison_Norrington

Watercolour in Britain: Sheffield : review

A touring exhibition which started in Norwich and currently at Millenium Galleries Sheffield this Tate Gallery touring show comes with a specific tagline i.e. ‘Part of the Great British Arts Debate’.

Now, if you are not aware this Great British Art Debate commenced during the first wave of Arts Council ‘restructuring’ about two years ago. This seems to be a spin off from that ‘debate’. At the time that debate really amounted to no more than carefully chosen individuals talking in a ‘closed shop’ about how best to redeploy funding in face of cuts by the then blah

Any attempt to genuinely ‘widen’ debate and participation is to be welcomed. That the Tate should choose to wrap a watercolour exhibition in such terms says more about current arts politics than any real ‘debate’ out in the Shires. This exhibition highlights the deep uncertainty and failure of contemporary art to address notions of both identity and place and technique properly. It raises more questions than answers but not in the way intended.

The exhibition contains a great deal of stunning work and no-one can complain about seeing (even if in very low light to preserve the fragile colours) a collection that shows Turner, Blake, Sutherland, Burra and Offili in the same space. The Millenium Galleries, to their credit, are showing both local war artists and local ‘amateur/professional’ painters work alongside the ‘masters’. However all of this is constantly being drawn into the shaping argument that a leaflet posits thus:

“Watercolour paintings have become shorthand for a comforting, conservative world view, rooted in the English countryside and largely rejected by the contemporary art scene. It wasn’t always so”

This statement has no author. It is presented as essentially true when it is, of course, contestable. It is illustrated by Burra’s ‘Soldiers at Rye’ which is in the exhibition (see illustration above). Again our anonymous author cannot help but shackle a political point to it –

“”..is no portrayal of a pastoral idyll”

before drawing a comparison to oil painting which is just plain silly.

The comments also include a statement that this exhibition illustrates a ‘remarkable diversity’ and also asks ‘where next’.

This is, I presume, continued in the exhibition catalogue which I did not buy for the simple reason that the interesting local artists and the work illustrated did not reflect what shown in Sheffield. It appears that if one wants to see the David Jones and John Piper work shown in the Tate publication one has to travel to Tate Britain next year.

The exhibition addresses two fundamentals of the watercolour tradition ‘sense of place’ and ‘technique’ and tries to map them to a contemporary notion of ‘diversity’.

Watercolour paintings have become shorthand for a comforting, conservative world view, rooted in the English countryside

‘Shorthand’ is an unsatisfactory term based on a shallow perception of the tradition. ‘Shorthand’ suggests watercolour painting is somehow inferior to the ‘easel painting’ tradition and involves an almost throwaway sense of gesture usually ‘en plain air’. Anyone with a slight knowledge of the painstaking care that went into a Cotman or Turner can already see there a problem of some mis-aligned value systems here.

Instead of starting with the ‘tradition’ the commentator is explaining the tradition backwards with a rather ‘secondhand’ shorthand of their own. The suggestion they make is that watercolour is merely an amateur’s playground and the contemporary refuge of the conservative artist only. This smacks of the contemporary arts graduate view of art history and technique based on little real comprehension of its true history or creation.

i.e. in short – Watercolour + Landscape = a moribund ‘white male’ tradition.

This notion is so embedded that the whole last part of the exhibition is set up as a failed retort to this assumption which instead of making one applaud the ‘beyond’ as ‘groundbreaking’ simply reinforces that there has been a break in both technique and value system which leaves no ‘beyond’ – simply a sense of closure of that particular tradition.

If the instructional videos and cases of ‘this is how you do it’ sketches and paintings littered around the show inspire one person to try the technique that is fine. However the examples used were illustrative in the manner of the conservative tradition the exhibition is supposedly challenging. Instead of inspiring true engagement it suggests an administrative dumbing down, reflected again in the noble but ill advised attempt to show and sell local work at the exhibitions end. It would have been far better to have a decent contemporary artist showing the technique ‘live’ and ‘signpost’ people to good watercolour artists in the community or have their work for sale in the ubiquitous ‘shop’ than hang a frankly weak bunch of works next to William Blake which is doing neither party much good in comparison.

Because the Millenium contains an excellent Ruskin museum (all be it small) there were a couple of Ruskins and a large scale although slightly mad Burne Jones (a similar problem to most of the Burras being evident where scale and surreal subject matter outweigh a lumpiness and lack of touch in the works). Watercolour is a light and spontaneous medium which gets bogged down into sticky gouache when over-worked. Having said that a single ‘constructed’ Burra landscape retained that effervescance.

The exhibition makes a very good fist of showing (albeit in a fragmented manner – i.e. Offili then Burra then Turner then Ruskin then Blake) some classic work in the medium. Nobody could walk away from the Cotman and not feel that they have seen an illustration of the very finest technique. It is almost as if one is in a hall of greats onto which a slightly amateur exhibition has encroached.

Now before the ‘post-modernists’ cry foul and contest any suggestion of a “hall of greats” or “artistic canon” let me be clear. I do not buy into the notion that certain works of greatness can be explained away by socio-marxist reductionisim or are part of a white male tradition that needs ‘re-examining’. The reason the predominant works in the exhibition are from white males is simple. Historically, the only people able to safely travel the countryside and have the independent means to do so thus creating the topographical tradition, were men and white men of independent means at that. There were as few farm labourer watercolourists (male or female) as there were poets because of a harsh bondage to land. Arguments about impediments to joining ‘tradition’ whilst valid do not change the available corpus of work we are left to examine.

So if one removes the ‘diversity’ framework and examines the work one finds a fairly consistent and challenging set of works created by white males over a two hundred year period. The historical ‘romanticisation’ of the ‘wilderness’ occurred in this time frame. When the anonymous PR person spouts about a ‘conservative’ tradition it is one built on socio-economic changes and predominantly male for a reason. Far more interesting would have been a ‘debate’ centred on notions of ‘sense of place’ not ‘diversity’ as both are loaded terms.

The ‘contemporary’ works undermine that tradition by both their subject matter and their technique, or lack thereof, and in my opinion this should have been divided into two shows maybe run concurrently.

Nowhere in the contemporary works do we see a similar level of technique displayed except maybe in the Blackadder (an illustrative painter whose work influenced a swathe of eighties illustrators). Other contemporary artists range from the slightly cack-handed (Offili) to the downright awful..Kapoor and Paolozzi or Houshiary. Indeed worst of all was a very contemporary bunch of splodges on paper by a ‘conceptual’ artist I didn’t even bother looking at. All used watercolour in varying ways, none successful, and none with an understanding of the technique itself. Rather we were in the post-modern’s favourite place i.e. “Irony Island”.

Were these works selected simply for their possible ‘diversity’ tick-boxing? Paolozzi not Peter Blake, Kapoor (not noted as a painter per se?) instead of Michael Andrews? The whole show fell between two stools in trying to concoct a ‘diverse’ and ‘contemporary’ ‘beyond’ that didn’t exist and in so doing it competely ignored a far deeper and questioning use of the ‘watercolour tradition’ that could have included Conrad Atkinson amongst others. That would have been a real debate. Instead we are left holding the bath whilst baby and bath-water both lost and the bath increasingly leaky as a container for ideas……

To that degree ‘Tradition and Beyond’ did reflect the current lack of confidence at the heart of arts organisations trying to hit targets in all areas..footfall, diversity, engagement and failing to concentrate on the matter at hand…..a word no longer politically acceptable above all others.

QUALITY.

Quality is now so disparaged amongst academics and administrators that one is admonished for just mentioning the word. However all artists can be judged by that criteria if all could agree on a suitably diverse criteria to encompass works.

At present there is no such consensus and until there is we continue to drift through shows like this……like Turner strapped to the mast in a storm the water blurring our sense of vision….