Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Noble Materials

Someone wrote to me in defense of a “sculpture” made of glued together eggshells. Instead of giving a snappy answer I want to elaborate.
Across millennia art has been executed in particularly permanent materials. Artist would make a statue in marble or bronze rather than papier mache or cabbage leaves. It simply makes sense to match seriousness of commitment with permanence of the material. But when gravity of professional commitment is absent and replaced with light-hearted,spirited impishness than pretty much anything goes. It should be noted that this boldness is bolstered by vague recollection that at least equally surprising materials were already featured in “Art in America” or “Art Forum”and therefore made legitimate. Of course ever since the toilet was accepted as art-piece the gates were wide open to allow some decades later a sliced cow in formaldehyde as great breakthrough in art materials. Against that the eggshells seem shy, pallid,almost innocently bashful. The runny  egg content would be much bolder to use,but the young gluer betrayed himself as a classicist opting for less amorphous shapes.
Where this conviction came from that one can make a sculpture just by walking into mom's kitchen and glue some eggshells?Or that “sculptures” or parts of them are already everywhere and “creation” is in simply harvesting them.What is the origin of such astonishing license? 

                                           The "Peplos Kore" of Athenian Acropolis
                                                            marble and bronze

I think it is a small part of ever-growing,pulsating malignancy which afflicted Western Culture about a century ago and has been burgeoning globally in all directions. One had to be hiding deep in the remote parts of Eastern Kalamantan to be spared the affliction. People more exposed to the radiant influences of contemporary civilization get infected by public education disseminating the lamentable malignancy. Within it reality no longer is authoritative. What is true is not what is but rather what should be -and what should be is decided by some unseen committee of Liberal Thought. Almost osmotically everybody realizes that what was common sense and everyday experience is not true at all and indeed cannot be even uttered in whispers.
The root of it,of this world-view is the belief in “Equality”.Equality among people,man-made objects,equality of value,of outcomes,of endowments. Everyone deserves equally and therefore existing distinctions,differences should be corrected to bring us closer to the ideal of Equality. When those abominable differences stay true to their nature at least we all should pretend that they don't exist and plaster over the reality of the obvious. I used to think that communism was the most solid block of un-truth ever propagated : lamentably -no! The American Fog Machine is as in everything else much better. One of differences is that under communism nobody believed in their lies,whilst here liberal un-truth is pronounced with sincerity and earnest expectation that any “normal” person would chime in with agreement. It means that if some desperado would propose ,say that opposite is evident,namely that nothing is equal to anything else,that marigolds are not equal to old roses ,Kandinsky's painting is not equal to Giorgione's, people stare in embarrassed silence. They seem confounded because they misjudged your level of intelligence and now are forced to peg you down ,momentarily forgetting that we are all equal - especially in intellectual gifts.

Most damaging is the liberal myth that all cultures are somehow equal. Not that facts are proving such wild assertion but because it feels good to grant that equality on human attainments. It does take extreme refusal of the obvious to bestow such unwarranted equality on all cultures,but the reward is instantaneous. The frisson of righteous goodness,tickle of its moral superiority tinged with patronizing largess,because the lesser cultures never claim such equality. They know better and dislike both their own inferiority and patronizing phoneyness. The important element of motivation is actually a feminine one- strong wish to avoid offending anyone's feelings. It has to be avoided even at the cost of flushing truth down. Harmony , good feelings of caring for sensitive self-worth of others are valued much higher than blunt , however irrefutable truth. That is how everybody goes each morning to a well padded rooms of kindergarten for grown-ups.4 plus 4 can be 5 as long as feelings are not bruised. The vast territories of inquiries cannot be pursued,or even mentioned because they are known,guessed to be off-limits for public discourse. Just like in communism.

In that atmosphere modern art is thriving. What could be more democratic,more open to all,talented or not at all ; everybody is creative. Lack of any remembered criteria ,rampant relativism and cult of “experimentation” made the conditions in which few eggshells could be and are considered a successful piece of art. Eggshells are equal to marble or play-dough,”found objects” are equal to wood sculptures and paintings to digital assemblages.
There is two roads available to everyone interested in art. One , where black smear by Franz Kline is considered “a powerful statement” and garbage that might be Art .Or, another road,one on which five hundred and fifty years ago, as if yesterday, Jan van Eyck went .To continue our glorious heritage of Occidental Culture you have to follow him.


  1. Beyond a doubt your best piece yet, Henryk. The pervasive viewpoint of "equality" acting to undermine and level the playing field is right on target. There has long been a smirking disregard for real craftsmanship in modern culture and it is plainly wrong-headed to expect that the lowest common denominator is the judge. More permananace and dedication to materials and the long view of art that exists outside of the fickle and fleeting!

  2. The biggest problem is that art has now become one of the ways one makes a statement about his achievement, intellectual and material. That in itself would actually be good, a sort of Renaissance again, but it has been corrupted by neurotic but entrepreneurial folks wanting always more. So now in order to appear really smart, one needs to find utter purposefulness where others don't. That's the ultimate test in smarts: "I understand what you guys don't." Because that's right, I, we, don't understand what is so great in most contemporary art adored in Chelsea and too many museums.

    It is the triumph of spin, and also the invention of the perpetual money machine for art dealers, as if it does not take much to create art that sells in the tens of thousands Dollars, then, you've got a great gig.

    The funny thing is that two weeks ago I was on a sidewalk in Chelsea, trying to explain that to a couple of 75 years old folks, and they looked at me, clearly thinking that I was an old fart!

  3. Oh Henryk, I do so like to egg you on. It gives me not as much pleasure as sitting in the dirt placing delicate roots into new homes though.

    1. and besides, I see no reason to defend an eggshell as an art medium. Only to find something pleasant to muse over whilst observing things that hurt my eyes and heart. I am compelled to leave unabashed criticism to other people who have many more words than I do anyway. My cells prefer to turn away from ugliness and instead focus on creating beauty which by the way chickens and turtles do so well.