Category Archives: academia

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 coherant 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?

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….

Craft V Concept 1: In conversation with S Mark Gubb

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

SMG

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

SDB

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

SMG

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

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

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

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

SDB

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

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

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

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

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

SMG

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

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

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

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

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

SDB

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

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

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

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

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

SMG

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

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

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

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

SDB

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

I just not keen on the seeds it sowing…

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

How Goldsmiths destroyed British Art: But is it art?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advert for Goldsmiths courtesy of the BBC

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

Withering away in The Jackson Cage?

Bruce Springsteen lyric from The River album

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Musing on Modernism

The reflective nature of Facebook means I can post short links then muse upon responses..I then cut and paste here as a kind of ‘sketchbook’ for later theorising….a work in progress..in turn it automatically feeds back onto my facebook wall..a complete loop…

Momus
Altermodern Week 2: What’s it all about, Nicolas? | NoiseLoop
http://www.noiseloop.com
Welcome back to Altermodern Week here on Click Opera. I very much liked how yesterday’s conversations went — in the wee small hours people were exchanging recommendations for Chinese pop videos. Today I want to round up definitions of the Altermodern, from its inventor, curator Nicolas Bourriaud, but also via the Chinese Whispers about the idea that have percolated through the press and the web since the Altermodern show opened at Tate Britain last month. In a way I’m just as interested in the misconceptions as the official version, and I think Bourriaud — eager not to overdetermine the idea in advance — has kept things tactically vague

Wayne Burrows
Altermodernism is yet another attempt to build a cack-handed theory that ignores the fact that Modernism contained every single aspect of Postmodernism at its own inception, including the irony and superficiality, alongside everything else it did (read Edith Sitwell’s Facade (1923) or Eliot’s Prufrock (1917) if you doubt it). And Surrealism was pushing post-colonial positions in the 1930s, hence its influence in places like Martinique and Francophone Africa (again, look at Aime Cesaire and Leopold Senghor for evidence). Much of the art theory of the past 50 years seems to have been one big concerted effort to ignore the grey areas and complexities that have made art interesting…but I’m guessing Bourriaud wouldn’t make the waves he does if he didn’t keep manufacturing a straw version of Modernism (which contained its own opposition) to gloss the present against…

Shaun Belcher
interestingly this set of articles written by one Momus and I believe it the ex Creation singer…good reports..there is something below the hysteria though …and it looks like modernism to me.

Shaun Belcher
check out stephen hicks below which a calmer analysis of what basically a end of the frippery of postmodernism..

Shaun Belcher

Hicks says…..My second theme will be that postmodern art does not represent much of a break with modernism. Despite the variations that postmodernism represents, the postmodern art world has never challenged fundamentally the framework that modernism adopted at the end of the nineteenth century. There is more fundamental continuity between them than discontinuity. Postmodernism has simply become an increasingly narrow set of variations upon a narrow modernist set of themes. To see this, let us rehearse the main lines of development.

Or your argument entirely?

Wayne Burrows
My favourite quote (can’t remember who said it, but it stuck in my mind) was to the effect that ‘postmodernism is the mannerist strain of modernism’, which I felt then (late 1980s/early 90s?) struck the proverbial nail squarely on its head, and still does…

Shaun Belcher
I like that a Postmodern Fin De Siecle Yellow Book era seems apposite..Hirst as the Wilde, Emin as Beardsley?

Which leaves us where..pre WW1 and Bourriaud as a new Roger Fry?

I dislike the ‘tie-in’ nature of much contemporary curation…even NC guilty with its spurious and completely facile aping of 1968 recently…one of reasons I think curation at NC ‘trendy’….

Bourriaud well aware of the echoing of ‘classic’ modenism and Altermodern. Can we see a pattern maybe?

Shaun Belcher
There was an excellent radio 4 (yes I must be 50 as I finally listening to radio 4!) on Frankfurt School and it struck me that much of what modern(post/alter)ism drew in terms of its ‘terroir’ was from this particular soil..Adorno, Benjamin etc..fatalistic, nihilistic, etc etc…the shock of WW2 led to its virtual manifesto being adhered across the art world….ending in Beuys and Richter..we can only fail..someone like Fuller with his positivist message was ridiculed by its followers….so we end up with Hirst’s mock religiosity..ironically..

Wayne Burrows
Fuller’s promotion of Ruskin was taken, I think, as part of the wider (big and small C) conservatism of the time, as in Thatcher’s comment on Victorian Values, the promotion (and frequent misconstruing) of Samuel Smiles’ ‘Self Help’ and the rest – somewhat wrongly, although many of his favoured contemporary artists weren’t much help in making his case either (eg: Robert Natkin).

There also seemed to be a bit of Oedipal revolt against Berger in there that led him to move from one extreme (ex-SWP Left) to the other (books like Left High and Dry: the Posturing of the Left Establishment) so his positions didn’t seem as nuanced or ever quite convincing (I talked to Christopher le Brun last year, and he mentioned that while he felt his painting was linked to the kind of Ruskin ideas Fuller promoted in Modern Painters, Fuller didn’t like his work largely because it was linked to the neo-Expressionism Norman Rosenthal was pushing, and NR was the enemy…). So I’m not sure Fuller ever made his case as well as he might have done, really…certainly less convincing on the UK turf than someone like Robert Hughes in the US, maybe…

Shaun Belcher
Interestingly there an article published in Modern Painters after his death where he cites ‘landscape painters’ much more convincingly (including Terry Shave! *Professor of Fine Art Nottingham Trent University)..I think the ‘High Church aura’ skewed his argument as did writing for Telegraph however a lot of the good stuff he did was thrown out too especially by the Goldsmiths crowd …

I would have thought Le Brun closer to Fuller than Rosenthal’s Neo Brutalists…in long term but then Fuller didn’t have long term..wonder how he’d react to present set up?

Shaun Belcher
I was interviewed by Goldsmiths twice in 1987 then again in 1988 on second occasion I referenced Fuller and they started screeching like hoot owls! To them he was the anti-marxist traitor…pivotal moment for me I thought they clowns…was year Hirst arrived and the rest is history. Still support Fuller not Craig Martin any day.

Shaun Belcher
Ah Ruskin as exemplar of a fake Victorianism Conservatism instead of the Ruskin of the Working Man’s College??….to this day there a fundamental clouding of his name and meaning…especially in Oxford …Ruskin School of Art V Ruskin College….two sides of a coin maybe?

Shaun Belcher
Ironically Berger the winner in short term. His Ways of Seeing in a pile in Waterstones (Foundation text) whilst no Fuller to be seen let alone read..I can see how Berger fits into the altermodern scenario and his Peasant Culture texts were ahead of their time. I feel Bourriaud has condensed essential traits of the post 1968 left..anti-colonialism…eco politics and anti-capitalism into a neat construct but once it examined in detail it does seem to fall apart.

Theorists seem agreed that postmodernism shot its metaphorical bolt but nobody seems quite sure where we are now…that indecision has been cleverly built into the altermodern ‘anti-theory’ positioning.

I like Momus’s idea of it merely being a ‘placeholder’ for whatever comes next. Hopefully it won’t be generated as before by cataclysmic war…but then maybe we already in that phase it simply, in an Orwellian sense, being kept beyond the borders of our comprehension. Haiti, Kabul, Baghdad..all becomes digital chaff…we are not receiving truth so what price artistic truth anyway? Seems like a vain posturing to even care..

Beyond the crisis in art – making and doing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That tradition has never been broken it merely been supplanted by the hysterical 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?

1RowlandsonExhibition+Room+Somerset+House

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 skilful 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 benefitted 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 accomodating 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 weedbeds 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.