Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Change without Progress

                 Most art historians think of art history as evolutionary process of evolving styles which by some historical necessity die out and are replaced by next, more advanced styles in a long creative march. Obviously this model mimics other disciplines of human endeavors and indeed not just human but of all life. We start with very primitive forms and progress toward great complexity and sophistication. This view, used as an explanatory model has great power by offering to the mind hungry for easy, understandable, all-encompassing explanation an answer of simplicity. Theory of Evolution has such explanatory power. When applied to art history it proposes succession of styles orderly following a necessary path. In this view History marches onward not just along a linear path but upward as progress.
If that is so than whatever follows yesterday should by necessity of history be better, improved over the past-but is it? One cannot deny the facts of periodicity in art styles; they do have their own beginnings, development into its own high-style and a kind of “baroque” or an equivalent of “gothique flamboyant” of a late faze of its development. That much is very true. However, those inner developments are changes not progress.
              In the history of nineteen century art Impressionism is always presented as progress over academic, stale, overburdened with artifice realism of the late XIX century. Much of what was exhibited and lauded at yearly salons of the time was indeed too sentimental, serving expectations of the middle-classes too well. Artists provided them with competently executed comforting banalities. Impressionism brought in a fresher palette of dapple light, de-materialized somewhat the objects in view so that they seemed spun of light rather than solidities. However the subject matter has not been augmented deepened or made more interesting. On the contrary; it brought picture of the world singularly boring, banal, repetitive and un-imaginative, un-engaged with the world. It surely was not a progress but a mere change and considering how much less skill, less craftsmanship and thought is needed to complete an impressionistic painting –in fact seeming more like a regress. But when one looks closer, in a less schematic, less linear way at that era it is important to recognize that the true significance of Impressionism has been bolstered, inflated beyond its deserves by the enthusiasts of the progress view of art history. Contemporaneously with Impressionists a long row of artists who rejected dapple light&purple shadows created superb art and their achievement will grow in public esteem ever higher, while the masters of orange light and purple shadows will fade as their paintings alarmingly have had.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Art of Growing Toenails

            Once I was approached by a well-intending guy in the basement of a Presbyterian church where everybody gathered after a decent performance of the excerpts from the Messiah and he said “ I hear you are also growing antique roses-that’s an art too,I’m sure” . Perhaps because I was angry having to drink non-alcoholic punchless punch with tiny marshmallows floating atop I told him,no,growing roses or raising guinea-pigs is not an art,it is a skill,like shoe-shining .We have among our activities skills, crafts and indeed art, the last one being very rare nowadays.
           How hastily and undeservedly just about anything gets to be Art! Pierced nostrils, nipples, tattoo is Body Art. Some tossed julienne-cut medley of vegetables is now Culinary Art. Significantly just when there is so scantily little real art among the contemporary arts productions, pretty much everything gets the distinction of art, Hardly any mediocre potter is considered a craftsman because his level of competence does not warrant that once proud name, but be sure he thinks of himself as an artist and exhibits in art-shows.
          There was once a different edition of the mental world .In it only art was art, while crafts had to shine with masterful workmanship, where one had to exhibit mastery in execution or else would be dismissed and considered a failure or a con-artist.
That world has been, piece by piece almost totally dismantled.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Subtle difference found! Hooray,Hooray!

In the New York Times from March there is a short, mercifully short article that reports the astonishing results and even more baffling conclusions regarding abstract art. Here it is:

Abstract Art Isn’t So Inscrutable, Study Finds

Do the canvases of Cy Twombly look like finger-painting to you? No matter how you answer, you’re probably more an of aesthete than you think.
Building on a put-down commonly directed at abstract art – “my kid (or a monkey/elephant) could do that” – researchers at Boston College tested whether laypeople and art students could distinguish between abstract paintings by professional artists and those made by schoolchildren and animals. As they report in the journal Psychological Science, even non-experts could tell the difference between finger (or trunk) painting and the real deal.
“Participants preferred professional paintings and judged them as better than the nonprofessional paintings even when the labels were reversed,” the study’s authors, Angelina Hawley-Dolan and Ellen Winner, write.
In the study, which was discussed in a story on the Miller-McCune Web site, Ms. Hawley Dolan, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology and Ms. Winner, a psychology professor, asked 72 undergraduates – studio art and psychology majors – to look at slide shows of similar-looking pairs of paintings. Each pair included a work from an art history textbook and one made by a child or a monkey, gorilla, chimpanzee or elephant. Sometimes they were labeled (“artist,” “child”), sometimes they weren’t, and sometimes the labels were incorrect.
“Art students preferred professional works more often than did non-art students, but the two groups’ judgments did not differ,” the researchers write, concluding: “The world of abstract art is more accessible than people realize.”

So, they found that this group of students in the main considered works of the great luminaries of abstract smears more preferable than ones done by monkeys and elephants. Among the comments there was an abstract painter who complained that he felt humiliated by the study [and there is always someone nowadays whose feelings were hurt-poor injured in his tender pride baby] because comparison like this would not be done in any other serious profession. That much is certainly true, but is it not telling that it seems reasonable to see why indeed the works of abstract art and primates were compared? Among the rich theatricality of his “feelings” I suggest he chose another emotional reaction. How would shame do? Sense of fraudulent behavior perhaps?
And now let’s take a look at the powerhouse of intellectual muddle-headedness of the conclusion: “abstract art is more accessible than people realize”. How that conclusion jumped out of nowhere? All we know now, after this epochal study is that a bunch of art students realized that the contrived chaos by the abstract artists can often be distinguished from the real thing done by monkeys. Secondly-it makes abstract art no more accessible whatsoever-if anybody actually wanted to access it, taking that to mean comprehend it. We know what monkeys mean by making smears; should we suddenly assume there was a different meaning when we are told that some of those things were done by grown homo sapiens?
High up the emerald canopy of Amazonian forest fruit-eating monkeys defecate very frequently making moving below full of constant surprises. If the “researchers” would place some abstract artists, conceptual “cutting-edge” pioneers of the new-york-quality new up there, would the dedicated students below be able to give equally “significant” conclusions, given the same fruity diet above?

Friday, March 4, 2011

No ideograms past toddler age!

                   Here is an important argument against modern art When a child develops he is almost always drawing, providing visible proof to his relieved parents that their offspring is normal. At that time his drawings are series of ideograms: the head is a watermelon oval, eyes are two dots and nose is a vertical line. Wavy lines would stand for water and upturn curve for a smile. How wonderful ! Now our child joined in his development aborigines of lowest intelligence. Had he stayed at that stage we would certainly worry. But the next and very significant moment in the child’s development comes by and the kid realizes that the nose does not look anything like a black line nor eyes like two dots. Observation told him so and children at that point stop drawing because it looks no more like easy playing but hard work.
Now,dear enthusiasts of Picasso, Mattise,Braque , Klee or Dubuffet- in what human endeavor would you recommend returning to child’s competence level? Would you praise the poet who writes like four-years old, a musical compositions drawing on sounds of hop-scotch rhymings? A sculptor who mimics play-dough creations in pre-school?
What spiritual deformity could allow an artist to reject the entire glory of the observable world for infantile ideograms of dots and straight lines? Look at the faces you love and think that the only available record of your adoration of them would be portraits by Dubuffet or Bacon. Modern artists looked at Reality and shook their heads with dismissal--not good enough for admiration, awe, praise, close and loving study, for tribute to its glory. Not good enough for their demanding standards!

Jean Dubuffet,considered {by people like him] to be one of the greatest French painters of the XX century. Bravo,bravo.
Francis Bacon.Another triumph.
And for all those faithful admirers of Paul Klee’s genius, one of his splendid masterpieces