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

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….

 

Craft V Concept 2: In conversation with Wayne Burrows and Jezz Noond

SDB
The Goldsmiths show was too painful to watch all way through – did any of them show a high level of thinking and making? I doubt it….a bad idea (e.g.rainbow jumpers) however well made remains a bad idea but a genius concept badly executed is equally dodgy…a certain shark and tank come to mind….( only that wasn’t genius just advertising).

WB

The thing that gets forgotten (on both sides) is that an idea, a concept, is itself something that requires a high level of craft to produce: look at the elegance in the work of Duchamp, Joseph Kosuth or Sarah Lucas, for example, or the craft that goes into something like Spiral Jetty. An idea is something that needs to be *made* in exactly the same way a pot or painting is.

SDB

Indeed there is internal ‘elegance’ just as there is in say a beautiful theorem..or passage of music..however the point I trying to make is that in my opinion it is ‘honed’ through contact with its formal ‘construction’…the elegance of the Duchamp (apart from readymades?), Lucas and Smithson occurs in its creation? Ideas free of these constraints… See more are swimming around us in the artworld these days and the constraint has gone….thus inelegant and in some cases just poor and flabby….my thesis is it is the contest between thought and form that creates beauty..back to aesthetics…away from pure immature philosophising…

how many ‘great ideas’ badly made have we seen lately….how many bad ideas well made probably even less 🙁

Jez Noond

Spiral jetty is an elegant ‘concept’ and ‘thing’, but its construction will have been necessarily brutal.I think Cragg’s work kinda gets the balance right too.

SDB

will check but I was thinking there must have been quite a few drawings or blueprints? Then a lot of bulldozers you are right..see here http://www.robertsmithson.com/drawings/spiral_jetty_300.htm

JN

oh yeah – but the bulldozers are part of the elegant conception of the piece – the elegant thinking…
The relationship between Oldenburg’s maquettes, drawings, notes and final large pieces is interesting. Although, I think most of his final big pieces are failures. Batcolumn is about the best. With him, I think its all in the drawing anyway.
I have a tiny book of his drawings (Notes in Hand, 1971) – theres a page in there I’ve looking at for over … See more30 years (jesus!) – his design for the NYPD uniform – its basically a clowns outfit…heres a link to another page:
http://www.nqpaofu.com/2002imgs/oldenburg-notes2-386.jpg

WB

Maybe I think of it from the perspective of a writer, ie: the concept and the medium of language are materials in themselves, and shaping them into ideas is craft as much as hammering bronze or manipulating paint on canvas is. Hence an idea has form, shape and craft. I’d say Duchamp, Kosuth and Lucas all do this in the making as well as conception… See more… in Lucas, the way a thing is made supports the idea behind it perfectly, in Duchamp the level of craft in Etants Donee or Female Fig leaf is very high indeed. Where would you place folk arts or unconventional painters like Lowry or Dounier Rousseau? Does the failing in correct perspective and technique undermine the work, or become the source of its appeal? Where do you place someone like Tapies – amazing craftsmanship at the service of an illusion of complete informality…same thing with a fine painter using automatist methods, or a current trompe l’oeil artist like Susan Collis.

SDB

I’d class any naive artist as having intuitive craftsmanship…I wouldn’t use ‘failing’ to describe their art more a pre rennaisance sense of space.

Collis is a very interesting example though as she is using conventional notions of ‘craft’ to create objects that deny that craftmanship but surely the beauty there is in their actual precision despite their nondescript illusionism?

To me it similar to the exquisite beauty of the Blashka natural history exhibits which more than just illustrations but to me are art in their own right…….

http://www.ucd.ie/blaschka/dublin_coll.htm

WB

In that sense, then, the idea of craft as it’s usually defined (in a rather limited way) is as flexible as that of the ideas themselves…I agree on the Blashka glass pieces, scientific models, and art, at the same time. But what if I then took a ‘non-art’ object like a Blashka model (or an x-ray, or NASA mapping of the surface of Venus) and represented is as art, in some other context: does that nullify the craft of the object being shown? An example of someone who does this beautifully is Cornelia Parker – her craft is often in the matching of techniques to ideas and concepts (often philosophical or poetic rather than formal), and much lies in the way she frames and presents the objects she finds. This to me is where the idea that there’s an inherent distinction between craft and conceptualism comes apart – there are just good and bad examples of art using both (or neither), but rarely only one or the other.

SDB

I saw the silver pans piece by Parker at Tate and I’d say she fits neatly into the Cragg assemblage process methodology. i.e. she is using common implements, objects but assembles in a precise and ‘crafted’ way. I’d compare that with Mr Hirst’s really rather boring and aesthetically dull medicine cabinet where placement is immaterial…..might as well visit Boots…

Also Hirst’s ‘spun’ paintings show little craft as any fool ( and he employed people to be his fool) could and did do it….ditto Warhol….is he a craftsman?

He certainly came from a craft/design background which shows in what he ‘allowed’ others to print for him. There a degree of afore-thought there which some neo-conceptualists heaping there retro objects together haphazardly sadly lack…

Warhol is the defining moment for me in this debate. He instigated the Fordism model as he came from an advertising background. Look at a Ruscha, Dine, Johns etc and you still in fine art and craft tradition …after Warhol it’s hell in a handcart for that tradition despite people like Hoyland, Stella and Smithson et al hanging on for dear life.

p.s. Tapies……I visited his foundation in Barcelona and there not a drip or molecule of sand that isn’t crafted in that work. Like Bacon’s ‘accidents’ every slippage is selected/ processed and thought through…..hence its calm beauty.

My problem is with works that assemble, display with a complete disregard to these ‘aesthetics’ and I could name a lot of ‘contemporary’ work that slips into this category especially amongst the college leaver crowd and my contention is that to undo somethign one first has to understand how it can be done.

I saw the silver pans piece by Parker at Tate and I’d say she fits neatly into the Cragg assemblage process methodology. i.e. she is using common implements, objects but assembles in a precise and ‘crafted’ way. I’d compare that with Mr Hirst’s really rather boring and aesthetically dull medicine cabinet where placement is immaterial…..might as well visit Boots…

Also Hirst’s ‘spun’ paintings show little craft as any fool ( and he employed people to be his fool) could and did do it….ditto Warhol….is he a craftsman?

He certainly came from a craft/design background which shows in what he ‘allowed’ others to print for him. There a degree of afore-thought there which some neo-conceptualists heaping there retro objects together haphazardly sadly lack…. See more

Warhol is the defining moment for me in this debate. He instigated the Fordism model as he came from an advertising background. Look at a Ruscha, Dine, Johns etc and you still in fine art and craft tradition …after Warhol it’s hell in a handcart for that tradition despite people like Hoyland, Stella and Smithson et al hanging on for dear life.

p.s. Tapies……I visited his foundation in Barcelona and there not a drip or molecule of sand that isn’t crafted in that work. Like Bacon’s ‘accidents’ every slippage is selected/ processed and thought through…..hence its calm beauty.

My problem is with works that assemble, display with a complete disregard to these ‘aesthetics’ and I could name a lot of ‘contemporary’ work that slips into this category especially amongst the college leaver crowd and my contention is that to undo something one first has to understand how it can be done.

I saw the silver pans piece by Parker at Tate and I’d say she fits neatly into the Cragg assemblage process methodology. i.e. she is using common implements, objects but assembles in a precise and ‘crafted’ way. I’d compare that with Mr Hirst’s really rather boring and aesthetically dull medicine cabinet where placement is immaterial…..might as well visit Boots…

Also Hirst’s ‘spun’ paintings show little craft as any fool ( and he employed people to be his fool) could and did do it….ditto Warhol….is he a craftsman?

He certainly came from a craft/design background which shows in what he ‘allowed’ others to print for him. There a degree of afore-thought there which some neo-conceptualists heaping there retro objects together haphazardly sadly lack…. See more

Warhol is the defining moment for me in this debate. He instigated the Fordism model as he came from an advertising background. Look at a Ruscha, Dine, Johns etc and you still in fine art and craft tradition …after Warhol it’s hell in a handcart for that tradition despite people like Hoyland, Stella and Smithson et al hanging on for dear life.

p.s. Tapies……I visited his foundation in Barcelona and there not a drip or molecule of sand that isn’t crafted in that work. Like Bacon’s ‘accidents’ every slippage is selected/ processed and thought through…..hence its calm beauty.

My problem is with works that assemble, display with a complete disregard to these ‘aesthetics’ and I could name a lot of ‘contemporary’ work that slips into this category especially amongst the college leaver crowd and my contention is that to undo somethign one first has to understand how it can be done.

e.g. Picasso and Braque….

WB

Would tend to agree about the Warhol line, not because it’s ‘conceptual’ instead of ‘crafted’ (there is craft in the silkscreen process, just not Warhol’s own, by and large – and his 1950s illustration and advertising work is beautifully made in a very traditional sense) but because the concepts are usually fairly thin, and the work itself rather ‘… Seem more flat’, with no great physical presence (I’d except his early – late 60s films from this, to some extent, as these are genuinely original as films – not necessarily as ‘art’ – and more philosophically interesting than his paintings – Kitchen, Chelsea Girls, the Screen Tests etc). Similar feelings about Hirst – the craft is there, but he buys it in, and the finished works are hit and miss – in any room of 25 or 30 Hirsts, there’ll be 3 or 4 really good pieces, enough that you can’t completely dismiss him, not enough to suggest consistency or even a single ruling concept, of the kind you find in Warhol. Don’t agree that Warhol destroys that tradition of crafted making, though – whether you like their work or not, during the Britart years, for every Hirst there was a Glenn Brown or Jenny Saville, and for every bad conceptual, video and installation based work, there are others that are more interesting and much stronger – yes, not sure about some of the more obviously Warhol-influenced types who’ve been around, and the Pop Life show of post-Warhol stuff at Tate Modern demonstrated the weakness of much in that line – but draw up another list of concept-led artists like Jeremy Deller, Roger Hiorns, Anya Gallaccio, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Annette Messager, Susan Hiller, John Newling, David Hammons and even some of the better (Archimbolodo-influenced) work by Noble & Webster and you’ll find a lot more craft in both the ideas and the making than I think the simple distinction of ‘conceptual’ and ‘crafted’ tries to suggest. But crucially, maybe, it’s the work coming from the poetic and surrealist lines of descent within modernism, or those with strong links to full-strength philosophical investigation, that do this most consistently…
Wayne Burrows is editor of STAPLE magazine and a poet

http://wayneburrows.wordpress.com

Jezz Noond is a short short story writer currently on a creative writing course at Nottingham University he plays a mean bull fiddle

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 selection…..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 craftsmanship..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/

Time to close down The Arts Council? AXIS RANT…

From the AXIS RANT page
Feel free to bark back…

hoops
Our new Ranter-in-Residence for February, Shaun Belcher, starts off on a topical, if controversial note, asking ‘Has Arts Council England (ACE) failed? Do we really need it anyway?’.

Shaun asks if the lottery years have set ACE up for a fall as we move into tighter financial times and political pressures are heightening.

Read original HERE:
http://www.axisweb.org/archive/news-and-views/the-rant/rant-30/

Beyond the crisis in art – making and doing…

artschool

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.

hornsey2

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 winnying 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 form 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

Academic Artist? Oxymoron?

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There was a time when the phrase ‘academic artist’ was synomonous with a certain conservatism and use of traditional strophes that reflected the academic virtues of fine handling of paint, drawing of a certain standard and a certain ‘resemblance’ to the world of the viewer who would recognise the metaphors and the world that produced the works. A ‘hang’ may be as crowded as the Rowlandson of Somerset House but like the Royal Academy Summer Show one knew what one was getting.

Now the phrase has more chance of pertaining to an altogether more insubstantial, less skillful and frankly bizarre world…..for now we have a new breed of ‘institutional academic artists’. These strange hybrid creatures (neither fish nor fowl) have realised that their ‘practice’ ( a cosy word for what they ‘do’ that has jettisoned the need to actually ‘do’ anything) is a fair hothouse flower that could not survive in the cruel harsh winds of UK PLC in a recession. having realised that their slender talents are unbankable in any BRITART fab cash in bank way they are flocking to peddle their wares at the feet of Symposiums and Academic meetings. spitting out acronyms like the funnel of one of Turner’s Steamships and generally trying to survive by writing as much about themselves and doing as little actual ‘work’ as in artwork’ as possible.

The Botanic Gardens at Kew do not have as rare and flimsy a bunch of Credit Crunch Orchids to maintain as the New Universities (desperate for AHRC money to keep the wolf from the door having spent all the cash the poor students have provided). One cannot turn around these days for collaborative projects, new commissions, artists in residence ( a wide term as will be seen) and lectures by people less able to academicise than actually ‘do’ anything. In the past there were often spurious connections to float the poor artist into the academic flow…

Some artists benefited from a fragile correspondence between their practice and the particular specialism of a department…Lace or plastic, car engines, botany..tie-in art flourished and some artists swiftly moved from garrett to academic offices and never left such was the increase in prosperity not to mention the warmth involved.

Now we are at a fascinating juncture in this process as the wind of time and change starts to blow back on these poor fragile blooms. As the realisation that UK PLC is not only bereft of jobs but the talents to actually do something instead of just talk about doing it University departments are clutching at new straws…economic development and regeneration are the key.

From talking about their practice these hybrid ‘Academists’ are now spouting a whole new range of acronym driven homilies….again to keep their place in the warm flowerbed….it is too cold out in Real Land..too many redundancies too few opportunities.

So as the recession bites maybe one would expect the chill wind to produce some hardier perennials..maybe a return to some of those traditional practices and skills as mentioned in the old concept of ‘The Academy’. No not a jot of it…

No it appears we will wait in vain for hardy snowdrops to bloom in their stead.

I have recently trawled through some academic notions of practice and whilst many reduce the brain to a sponge and yet others begger belief both in description and action none so far has matched my latest prize…..

An artist who shall remain nameless is speaking at a destination which alack shall also remain anonymous
on his revalatory practice of…….

‘Pouring special brew on a station platform and shouting’

I wish dear reader that I could be making this up…but alas it is true. Said artist manages to not only stupify with the nonsensical act but then to explicate it in almost Johnson like hyperbole….Dear friends what looks like the drunken action of a immature less than gifted imposter is in fact art..and not only art but art of a high order..art that bears a direct descendance form the Greek Gods and Hermes himself and yes from a tradition of lay preaching….

This is where we are good kind people mouthing platitudes and accommodating gibberish in the name of art….

I may not know much about art but I do know many kinds of shit when it travails the ear and this is 100% genuine bullshit and some of our academic institutions live and breath this kind of nonsense…..so far…

Methinks a little pruning in the gardens of the comfortably well off not amiss…and soon.

Maybe then some of those real blooms and real skills can blossom without choking in the avant-garde weed-beds of edification, explication and plain verbose drivel……and we can leave that to rot like any good remnant of verdure on the roots of the finer arts.

And a handy gardening tip if it smells like shit it probably is…treat with caution and dig it under whenever possible.

Nottingham Contemporary: The good, the bad and the ugly..

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I have recently had to pull a discussion post from the Nottingham Contemporary Free discussion group on facebook. Here I explain why and deliver a more considered version of basically the same material which less likely to offend the great and the good of this noble art city.

The post was a hasty response to seeing the effect the opening of ‘The Golden Egg’ is already having on culture in this city.

Geoffrey Diego Litherland’s show at the Castle was his reward for winning last year’s Nottingham Open competition. A well deserving winner and a good set of paintings in a show spoilt only by the ludicrous arrangement of hanging on a staircase. Meanwhile pride of place as usual went to a travelling Arts Council show. No better nor worse than many but surprising that second show on this theme in as many months…..are our curators trying to tap into an underlying theme about Nottingham..i.e. are we all trapped..or criminals?

My real disappointment was with the Castle Permanent Collection. It has always been a lacklustre space full of frankly third rate paintings and some gems. But previous visits never saw it looking quite so tawdry. When I pointed out that some of the signage appeared to be little more than blu-tacked to wall I got response..well all the money gone to the Egg. True or not it did make me wonder if Jack hadn’t given the cow away for a hill of beans…

Bad signage aside if one scans the ‘hidden’ collection (including a fine William Nicholson of downland I seen but once) one realises that very little of it gets aired. Something more than occasional Brit Art shows should be done with this space. Which leads me on to my main point. The Nottingham Contemporary..for good or ill and whatever it costs is here now….it has raised a certain part of the profile of the local art scene i.e. the pretentious outward looking side a notch from the days of Angel Row but what does that actually mean? We have lost at least three contemporary gallery spaces..Angel Row, Yard Gallery Wollaton and Bonington Gallery and gained two..New Art Exchange and The Egg. The Castle under Deborah Dean continues the kind of work Angel Row did…tied to ACE and very rarely escaping the confines of a certain tired politically correct viewpoint…..noble causes…dull art. Angel Row occasionally surprised but more often was as dull too and only at the end did it burst into some kind of life with the Parade shows..too little too late.

Love it or hate it Angel Row did occasionally show a mix of local and ‘international’ (i.e. what somebody saw in a magazine made it international…generally this meant American as most Art Press is USA dominated). There were never contemporary Spanish or French shows….I may be wrong as frankly I hardly bothered going in the place and when I did just got annoyed…

But it did (particularly in earlier days) show local ‘semi-professional’ artists. What worries me about The Egg is that it is a Tate Lite for the region and nothing more……in this sense it very similar to the Museum of Modern Art Oxford which apart from a ‘local artist’ space in their cafe (still operating after 20 plus years) never showed local artists unless they had made it to the glossies….

This may be one of the reasons that Oxford has virtually no thriving local arts scene..like Nottingham had up to now….it virtually ended ambitions before they flowered….I knew however hard I tried I would never ‘make it’ there….

So if The Egg shows international ( USA and Bradford born Hockney so far but he famous so that OK) and New Art Exchange is so heavily ring-fenced by its own mission statement (although I hear the curator there is trying to reflect the changing nature of the environment..) then with the loss of so many spaces for exhibition where are local artists to show? If you then say but look at the plethora of cutting edge spaces that sprung up recently I’d retort with yes and how long without funding will they last? A few have been primed with money by the Arts Council to create the impression of a vibrant local art scene to spin around The Egg but truth is ACE finding will not keep them alive forever…..just long enough to get through next year’s Brit Art spectacular is my guess then what…?

Meanwhile the mid-career (i.e. older not dead yet but been going 25 plus year artists) who actually created the ‘Nottingham Art Scene’ have been turfed out of their studios or faced rent rises and most scrabbling in the gutter or the studio equivalent. Apart from the bitterness this provokes this also bodes ill for the future as younger artists see the good and bad side of dedicating a life to their noble career…

Discounting local anarcho-capitalist venture The Art Organisation and volunteer driven/ace space The Surface there is little in the way of a middle ground left..in fact nothing left…for a serious artist who not on the Faberge Egg list (i.e. international by the magazines definition or on the Tate’s radar etc etc ) to aim at.

My ill thought out and pulled rant did raise one serious proposal that would help but which will not get funding. A serious space for local serious artists on a more permanent basis like replacing the tired dusty Castle collection with a proper survey of local artistic output (not the Open…that’s too much like a jumble sale) would help…..then we would have less bitterness and less frustration.

At present to be a mid-career artist in this city is to feel like a unwanted guest at a shiny teenager’s party we not invited to…and when we do arrive we constantly reminded that ‘making it’ is more important that actually making it…the art work…..it the disease of contemporary art institutions and education…..until that addressed we will continue to clutch at Golden Eggs that when cracked leak sand not gold…eggs…just eggs..

 

Damien Hirst revealed as bad painter….

Fake artists, patient fake academics..a sad low, doctor dishonest decade (to paraphrase Auden) of infantile, greedy pseudo intellectuals…
and here the best of them all…greedy bankers, brit artists, mps expenses….spot the difference?

I can’t stop laughing at Hirst’s ‘paintings’ what next Tracy Emin starts on bronze-casting? can’t wait….to hell with the whole sad bunch of fakes….

Almost every review shows him up as a fake but this beautifully precise in its derision….

http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2009/oct/18/damien-hirst-no-love-lost

If you’re going to ‘quote’ Bacon Damien at least try and do it well not like a clumsy sixth former who been reading too many Salvador Dali books ..