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J.A.A. Purves

Art Renewal International

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So, I looked and couldn't find a thread here yet devoted to the Art Renewal Center. This place has a huge online gallery of thousands of classic paintings.

For a quick introduction, check out their -

Mission Statement - which includes statements of purpose like -

6. To repudiate the idea that development in art requires destruction of boundaries and standards, pointless emphasis on 'newness,' or pursuit of the bizarre and ugly as ends in themselves, and to expose as artistic fraud those works conceived only to elicit outrage.

Also, check out their Philosophy section. Again, this is the best, largest, and highest quality collection of high-resolution paintings on the internet that I've been able to find. And what's even more fun is these guys are very serious about advocating a particular point of view in art (and I happen think that their point of view on art is aligned with Christianity).

Here's some favorite excerpts from the philosophy section that would help fuel almost any art discussion -

Brian K. Yoder -

What is the purpose of art? Some would say that the purpose of art is 'anything', 'nothing', or 'impossible to define', but that's as foolish as claiming that chairs, hammers, or buckets can be used for anything or that they are impossible to define. Art exists in order to express ideas, and it does this through a specific means (means different from those used in journalism, temper tantrums, or exposition) which is to selectively recreate some aspect of reality in order to represent the idea ... This means that good art (which would include any art whether painting, drawing, sculpture, literature, music, drama or what have you) is any art which is very effective at expressing its idea and accomplishes that expression through the means peculiar to art, but not if it happens some other way, like with a press release or a punch in the stomach. If the expression is weak, vague, unclear, or prone to misinterpretation then it is not an effective means to the goal of expression either.

Damn it if Yoder isn't saying that there are objective standards that determine if something is good or bad art, or even "art" at all. I like this. The purpose of art is to reflect outside reality in order to express a particular meaning. Yoder then proposes an answer to the question - "How can you say bad things about Picasso, Pollock, and Rothko? They were great artistic geniuses!"

I can say bad things about them because they were not geniuses and because they didn't create good art. In fact, they made their fortunes based on the idea of producing things that were not even close to being good art, or art at all. Instead, they one way or another produced poor or non-art and 'got away with it.' There are objective ways of measuring the value of art (as I outlined above) and none of these 'geniuses' came close to creating good art. The fact that they were famous and that many people have said and written nice things about them is no proof that they were geniuses or even artists. Objective truth is the proper measure of genius, not fame.

Paul Soderberg has some interesting thoughts as well -

In 1913, the arrival in America of a simple idea drastically revolutionized the Art World. The occasion was the Armory Show in New York, the first exhibition of Modern Art in this country, and the simple idea was this: The proper role of the artist is to express himself. That was utterly new. It turned all the preceding centuries of Art History on their head. Fast-forward to the end of the same century: that same simple idea, that the proper role of the artist is to express himself or herself, was being taught as gospel in virtually every college and university in America, as well as in the art departments of essentially every high school, middle school and elementary school across the country. All major art publications accepted that idea as an unassailable given, as did virtually all art critics and art writers. And virtually every city council with a public art program anywhere in America supported that same idea, using tax money for the purchase of public artworks that were, almost always, examples of the artist expressing himself.

Meanwhile, Modern Art set about claiming the Art World for itself. Any artist who refused to believe that idea was simply excluded from galleries and not shown; any art reviewer who refused to voice the new truth was fired; and vast collections of art that predated 1913 were sold off or hidden away in basements and closets, having been rendered quaint and obsolete by the new idea's artworks … The second thing wrong with the 1913 idea is that when all the focus is on the artist, his or her choice of subjects is finite. If your focus is, instead, the beauty and power of the natural world, then your subjects are infinite; but if your focus is yourself, then there really isn't a whole lot to say. To coin a phrase, the world is much bigger than any one artist.

But the third and by far worst thing wrong with that idea is that it trivialized the public clear out of the Art World. That idea turned the spotlight squarely on the artists, leaving the public in the dark. As the artist became all-important, the public became unimportant, even irrelevant ... Thenceforth, the public was irrelevant except as a source of tax dollars and as a target-the goal was not to uplift and inspire but to offend and incense. The mindset was this: ‘I am an artist, and therefore if you do not like what I create then you are anti-art and stupid and therefore desperately in need of the art I shall give you which you then obviously must pay for.’

I'm really impressed with these guys. And some of these art prints are going to have to go up on my walls.

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jfutral   

While I agree with the sentiment about the current art "establishment", and apparently so does much of the U.S. if the recent NEA studies about attendance are any indication. As I mentioned in one blog elsewhere, there is a good chance that what is dying off needs to die off in the same way a forest fire is good for forest growth. I disagree with his opinions of Pollock, et. al. I am very fond of the Modern artists of the early 20th century.

Joe

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I am underwhelmed. The material you quote is full of wild generalizations, questionable logic, and narrow definitions.

The tendency to speak of an "art establishment" as if it was a monolithic tendency is, at the very least, highly debatable. There is tremendous diversity in the world of art, which is not the same as saying that it is all good.

This sort of Us. vs. Them approach is good for beating the ideological drum but simply does not describe the world as it is.

Moreover, the notion that all modern art destroys boundaries, standards, traditions, etc. is just not true.

Great modernists like Stravinsky and T.S. Eliot were intensely traditional. A modern Christian artist like Georges Rouault specifically grounded his work in medieval stained glass.

The "realistic art is good and modern, non-realistic art is bad" ideology is certainly not a necessary corollary of Christianity.

Persiflage, you describe yourself as Chestertonian. Well, Chesterton believed that the non-realistic art of the Middle Ages was superior to much of the realistic art that followed it. He believed that the medieval artists' interest in transcendence meant that they had the freedom to diverge from the "literal" reality to portray things in abstracted, altered ways. As a modern artist, Rouault embraced this Chestertonian vision.

Modern Christian philosophers like Jacques Maritain and Etienne Gilson echoed this vision: they pointed to the fact that "realism" paralleled the rise of modern materialism and empiricism -- the sense derived from scientism that only what we can observe is real. The rise of modern art, according to Maritain and Gilson, made it possible once again for art to explore transcendence and the inner truth of the heart rather than make art the slave of the camera.

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NBooth   

What Greg said. I'm not terribly versed in the visual arts, but I find the work of modernists fascinating and illuminating. This whole defense of representational art reminds me of the so-called "New Formalists," who levy similar claims about post-Eliot poetry. In either case, I think the impulse to reinstate a sort of representationalism as the "standard" of art is understandable, but not wholly admirable, or even practical. Moreover, the whole enterprise smacks more of a desire to avoid difficulty than anything else. For instance, this:

If the expression is weak, vague, unclear, or prone to misinterpretation then it is not an effective means to the goal of expression either.
is just silly. Not only does it ignore the fact that interpretation itself is intensely subjective, and proceeds from the interpreter's context--and not only is the very idea of "weak, vague, unclear" etc. enormously subjective, but it inadvertently strikes at the very base of Christian language--that is, the metaphoric and parabolic communication found in, for instance, the words of Christ. Now, language and art are different but what's good for the goose, etc. If a painting is unacceptable because it is vague or liable to misunderstanding, then so too are parabolic declamations. If the standards here are to be believed, we must denounce Jesus for telling so many easily-misunderstood parables!

Then there's this:

Art exists in order to express ideas

which strikes me as wrong-headed in a fundamental way: art can communicate/does communicate more than ideas--that is, rational propositions; it also communicates non-rational elements like emotion and fundamental understandings that cannot necessarily be verbalized, and which are therefore ideas only in the most general sense. To argue that art has no purpose beyond communicating rationally approachable ideas strikes me as wallowing in a kind of discredited Enlightenment rationalism. It's not appealing at all.

As to Picasso, well. When one of their "living masters" produces something as apocalyptically heartbreaking as "Guernica," I might give them a hearing. But if this is all they've got, I don't think such an event is terribly likely.

[EDIT: Lest I sound too negative, I will say I rather like this piece. But I like it precisely because it doesn't communicate "ideas" in the sense mentioned above; indeed, it seems to break from the purely representative bent of the other "living masters" and tends instead toward a surreal dreamscape. If Michael John Angel tried to sit me down and explain all the obscure symbolism in his work, I might be mildly interested, but I doubt it would make my appreciation of the work any greater].

Edited by NBooth

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jfutral   

Well, I do think there are many artists who were contemporary to the Modern art movements that would not be classified as Modern Artists. But there was a definite philosophical underpinning in Modern Art that makes it the logical result of the Enlightenment project. While Kandinsky may not have been a realist or representational artist, his philosophy is directly rooted in the material/immaterial dichotomy created by the Enlightenment project. Obviously many of the artists mentioned in rebuttal would not fit into the Modern Art machine that helped create the High Art elitism that is still holding tightly today. Just ask anyone involved in the Lowbrow art movement. The whole Dada movement was actually about ridiculing and parodying the Establishment, but was quickly consumed into the Art machine.

But in Modernity, that is to be expected. Each new movement in Modernity is "postmodern" in that it is at war with what came immediately before. I do think over the last couple of decades much of that has been eroding and the hyper-individualism that Modern Art, and Modernity in general, was built on is what is driving much of the backlash NEA studies are witnessing. So while I think Modernism has failed, I love the art that resulted from those lofty attempts to define and discovery some unifying theory. I do not think there is anything more inherently superior in representational art. Sometimes it is even a stumbling block. I think all we have to do is look to music, which makes no attempts to be representational except briefly, deliberately, or for effect.

I mean, ultimately it is the search for what it is that makes one painting of a flower more moving than another, whether it is a hyperrealistic painting by Josef Nigg, the impressionism of Renoir or Monet, the post-impressionism of Van Gogh or Cezanne, or the abstract of Klee or Picasso. And where would O'Keefe fit in?

Anyway. Just some more thoughts,

Joe

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To say that "Modern Art...is the logical result of the Enlightenment project" is a little like saying that "Shakespeare is the logical result of Aristotle's project." Well, maybe...a bit.

In logic the fallacy is called "post hoc, ergo propter hoc."

Sure, the Enlightenment and a whole lot more fed into "Modern Art," but MA is not merely the Enlightenment-on-Wheels.

Art can also seek ways to speak back to its sources, even to try to refute or reform them.

Maritain writes well about how the individualism of modernity is not something that we can discard -- that genie is out of the bottle. But "Modern Artists" like Rouault, Stravinsky, and Eliot all sought ways to demonstrate modern individuals seeking to re-connect to ancient traditions, communities, etc.

But the very aesthetic methods they used incorporated the experience of modernity.

That's why the group raised in this post is so profoundly misguided. It really believes that we should go back to late nineteenth century Academic painting -- as if that would truly address either the glories or the miseries of our time.

By the way, art movement have always been at war with each other. The Gothic was at war with the Romanesque. Mannerism was at war with the High Renaissance. That's how Western art movements...move.

Well, I do think there are many artists who were contemporary to the Modern art movements that would not be classified as Modern Artists. But there was a definite philosophical underpinning in Modern Art that makes it the logical result of the Enlightenment project. While Kandinsky may not have been a realist or representational artist, his philosophy is directly rooted in the material/immaterial dichotomy created by the Enlightenment project. Obviously many of the artists mentioned in rebuttal would not fit into the Modern Art machine that helped create the High Art elitism that is still holding tightly today. Just ask anyone involved in the Lowbrow art movement. The whole Dada movement was actually about ridiculing and parodying the Establishment, but was quickly consumed into the Art machine.

But in Modernity, that is to be expected. Each new movement in Modernity is "postmodern" in that it is at war with what came immediately before. I do think over the last couple of decades much of that has been eroding and the hyper-individualism that Modern Art, and Modernity in general, was built on is what is driving much of the backlash NEA studies are witnessing. So while I think Modernism has failed, I love the art that resulted from those lofty attempts to define and discovery some unifying theory. I do not think there is anything more inherently superior in representational art. Sometimes it is even a stumbling block. I think all we have to do is look to music, which makes no attempts to be representational except briefly, deliberately, or for effect.

I mean, ultimately it is the search for what it is that makes one painting of a flower more moving than another, whether it is a hyperrealistic painting by Josef Nigg, the impressionism of Renoir or Monet, the post-impressionism of Van Gogh or Cezanne, or the abstract of Klee or Picasso. And where would O'Keefe fit in?

Anyway. Just some more thoughts,

Joe

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jfutral   

What Greg W. said!

I've had a lot of exposure to the "figurative is good, abstract is bad" way of thinking (mostly via Swiss L'Abri, back in the late 70s) and... I really believe that the site the OP wrote about is much more about a kind of political ideology than it is about art. (They're not the 1st people to conflate art and politics and I'm sure they won't be the last. ;))

While I don't really like to flash credentials... I have a BFA in studio art (painting) and continued on with an MA in art history... Suffice it to say that I'm only one person, and don't think this training makes me special or necessarily any more equipped to evaluate art than the next person. (Except maybe in terms of craftsmanship, etc.)

But to posit that there's an Evil Monolithic Art Establishment - oh c'mon, please! imo, that's in conspiracy theory territory. ;)

over and out,

e.

Conspiracy theory, no. But a mechanistic institution and prevailing method, built on consumerism and finding the next bigs thing to monetize that certainly does create an elitism, yes. Like I said, just ask the fore runners of lowbrow art who got shunned by the Modern Art institutions. Of course all they did was create their own thing.

I agree about the aesthetic thing and the whole "return to realism". In the end that is just a preference and theological and philosophical theories are just that.

More later,

Joe

Crap. I just lost everything I wrote by inadvertently closing the window I was editing in. I am completely deflated. Maybe I'll get back to this later. Drats.

Joe

Edited by jfutral

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jfutral   

To say that "Modern Art...is the logical result of the Enlightenment project" is a little like saying that "Shakespeare is the logical result of Aristotle's project." Well, maybe...a bit.

In logic the fallacy is called "post hoc, ergo propter hoc."

Sure, the Enlightenment and a whole lot more fed into "Modern Art," but MA is not merely the Enlightenment-on-Wheels.

I do want to address this. I don't appreciate being misquoted or flippantly mischaracterized. I did NOT say "Modern Art is the logical result of the Enlightenment". I DID say "there was a definite philosophical underpinning in Modern Art that makes it the logical result of the Enlightenment project." Big difference. _Modernism_ is absolutely firmly rooted in the Enlightenment. That is not a logical fallacy, that is simply being mildly observant. The whole secular/sacred, reason/emotion, material/immaterial bifurcations, eschewing of tradition, and exaltation of self that Modernism tends to take to caricature if not from the Enlightenment, then where? Have you read Kandinsky or Klee or Rothko (or any of the Bauhaus group)? Or even Cezanne or Van Gogh?

Now if you mean there are other forms of Modernism, I won't disagree with that.

"Enlightenment-on-wheels"? Really?

Joe

P.S. "By the way, art movement have always been at war with each other. The Gothic was at war with the Romanesque. Mannerism was at war with the High Renaissance. That's how Western art movements...move."

While I am not quite so quick to say Gothic was "at war" with Romanesque in the same sense, I certainly agree over all, especially from Enlightenment on. This is a primary characteristic of Enlightenment process and the notion of "Progress" with each new movement being superior to the last. That you fail to see this characteristic not only carried through, but heightened and accelerated, in Modern Art, surprises me. Novelty is what drives the machine. Just ask Dada.

JF

Edited by jfutral

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M. Leary   
Maritain writes well about how the individualism of modernity is not something that we can discard -- that genie is out of the bottle. But "Modern Artists" like Rouault, Stravinsky, and Eliot all sought ways to demonstrate modern individuals seeking to re-connect to ancient traditions, communities, etc.

Which is why I love Chagall so much. For a modernist, the guy had redemptive chops.

But the very aesthetic methods they used incorporated the experience of modernity.

In very odd ways. Much of Monet's sense of color was influenced by scientific developments in color theory that had been published by a French scientist early in his career. This take on how the eye sees was based in very modern forms of scientific theory, and demonstrated that what the eye sees as one color is actually the combination of many colors synthesized through distance. Monet's paintings became increasingly interested in this idea, to the degree that his last paintings were complete abstractions of the idea based on pan and scan visions of ponds, gardens, etc... Monet essentially relativized the positivist Enlightment sense of seeing and observation even though he took his cue from an Enlightment product. D. Stephen Long talked about how Post-Modernity is just the logical ends of Modernism skipping like a scratched record - late Monet is a great example of this.

That's why the group raised in this post is so profoundly misguided. It really believes that we should go back to late nineteenth century Academic painting -- as if that would truly address either the glories or the miseries of our time.
Edited by MLeary

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jfutral   

Brief attempt 2.

While it would be easy to discount the OP quoted website as a frustrated malcontent who either isn't getting the notoriety (or money) he feels entitled to since he is pursuing a genre that might require a high degree of discipline, either directly or as preference. And while this may be true enough, the discussion concerning the machine is not new. The debate still rages as to whether Warhol's art was the works he produced and hangs on walls versus how he played the system. Dada was partially parodic response to the people who proclaimed what is and isn't Art. Christo's art (and others like him) was purposed to avoid the whole art gallery circuit. Back in the 80's Suzi Gablik asked the question and and sought to answer in her book _Has modernism failed?_. There she pointed out that (in the 80s) the US graduated more artists every 5 years as existed in Florence in the 15th Century. George Will updated that when he said this occurs each year in the US. Just about a year ago an NPR show aired a panel discussion (shortly after the first round of Wall St. scandals) that tried to answer the question that went something like "Is the Art world more corrupt than Wall St.?"

And even as someone who makes my living in the performing arts and often runs around the crowd implied in these discussions I don't have the academic credentials of e2c. I only have my experience as an artist and through encounters with the power brokers who do firmly believe it when they say "It isn't art until I say it is art".

And we are all having this discussion in the professional arts world as most organizations are reeling at the drop in public support, not just in dollars, but also attendance. Not all of this can be attributed to the current economic climate. Many see the NEA's attempt to make excellent art a part of everyone's life a failure. The discussion usually focuses around making it accessible. I say the issue isn't accessibility, but approachability. And I place that blame squarely on the ideologies and institutions of Modern Art and it's influence over all the art world, i.e. artists have no one to blame but ourselves.

At the same time, the individualism some of us decry is either new to other countries and cultures (like Georgia and Armenia) or merely the stuff of dreams in other countries. I am not one of those postmoderns who thinks Modernism is all bad. I just don't think that's all there is or should be. What Modernism addresses it addresses fairly well. But that is not all there is to address.

This is a larger discussion and mostly OT from the OP, I suppose.

So in a nutshell-"realism good, abstract bad" needs to be nerfed. But yes there is an institutionalized way of thinking in the art world that resulted in an anointed few getting to say what is and isn't art. But I think that is largely being reduced to irrelevance through the decentralization of the machine (NYC may be an important center, but it is no longer the primary center) and the large democratization of art that is occurring making the gate keepers less and less relevant. Things are changing whether the art world likes it or not.

joe

Edited by jfutral

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Conspiracy theory, no. But a mechanistic institution and prevailing method, built on consumerism and finding the next bigs thing to monetize that certainly does create an elitism, yes. Like I said, just ask the fore runners of lowbrow art who got shunned by the Modern Art institutions. Of course all they did was create their own thing.

You could apply these words to nearly any time period in history. Again, this drifts perilously close to guilt-by-association. Is there something uniquely consumerist or elitist about the Modern Art establishment? Something radically different than, say, the High Renaissance -- which was a more populist era? (All you have to do is read about certain art-loving cardinals who were looking for the Next Big Thing they could find and shape to their liking to understand that nothing much really changes in the art world.)

Even if there has been hyper-consumerism in the modern era -- the commodification of art -- is it accurate to say that this is fundamentally what Cezanne was aiming for when he ushered in a new era in art?

Where is the link in the chain of causality between Cezanne at his easel and what some art dealers in Soho got up to in the 1980s?

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I do want to address this. I don't appreciate being misquoted or flippantly mischaracterized. I did NOT say "Modern Art is the logical result of the Enlightenment". I DID say "there was a definite philosophical underpinning in Modern Art that makes it the logical result of the Enlightenment project." Big difference.

I apologize if what I said sounded flippant. It was certainly not meant that way. Surely there are times in debate when we can use colorful expressions to convey a point?

_Modernism_ is absolutely firmly rooted in the Enlightenment. That is not a logical fallacy, that is simply being mildly observant. The whole secular/sacred, reason/emotion, material/immaterial bifurcations, eschewing of tradition, and exaltation of self that Modernism tends to take to caricature if not from the Enlightenment, then where? Have you read Kandinsky or Klee or Rothko (or any of the Bauhaus group)? Or even Cezanne or Van Gogh?

Well, yes, I have read many of those artists and, no, they did not all understand themselves as embodying Enlightenment principles. That's a huge generalization.

What I am suggesting is that we not demonize some time period -- the Enlightenment...Modernism -- and then say that everything that follows is tainted by that bad, bad era. Sure, modern art reflects a culture shaped in large part by the Enlightenment, but these artists were also shaped by other forces.

I've already argued that artists can simultaneously embody and critique the forces that influence them. I'll stick with that.

While I am not quite so quick to say Gothic was "at war" with Romanesque in the same sense, I certainly agree over all, especially from Enlightenment on. This is a primary characteristic of Enlightenment process and the notion of "Progress" with each new movement being superior to the last. That you fail to see this characteristic not only carried through, but heightened and accelerated, in Modern Art, surprises me. Novelty is what drives the machine.

I still don't believe in a monolithic "machine." And novelty is at the heart of Western art from nearly day one. Just look at the changing styles in the history of Greek art.

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I've had a lot of exposure to the "figurative is good, abstract is bad" way of thinking (mostly via Swiss L'Abri, back in the late 70s) and... I really believe that the site the OP wrote about is much more about a kind of political ideology than it is about art. (They're not the 1st people to conflate art and politics and I'm sure they won't be the last.)

How is it more about political ideology simply to posit that one can use objective standards to judge art? They are essentially making the strong claim that some art is much better than other "art" ... philosophical, yes. But political?

But to posit that there's an Evil Monolithic Art Establishment - oh c'mon, please! imo, that's in conspiracy theory territory.

I think by "establishment" the ARC has mostly universities in mind -

If you studied art history anytime between 1945 and 1980, you were told that there were great old masters that existed from the early Renaissance to the time of David, Constable and Turner in the early 1800's. Then you were taught about Corot and Courbet and the Pre-Impressionists and then finally the Impressionists themselves who led the way into Modernism. Most of the period from 1850 to 1910 was described as a terrible cesspool of official art where petty academic artists painted inane silly paintings that cared only for technique, that were devoid of emotion and who didn't recognize the genius of the Impressionists. Maybe one paragraph about that long was all you read ...

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The tendency to speak of an "art establishment" as if it was a monolithic tendency is, at the very least, highly debatable. There is tremendous diversity in the world of art, which is not the same as saying that it is all good ... Moreover, the notion that all modern art destroys boundaries, standards, traditions, etc. is just not true. Great modernists like Stravinsky and T.S. Eliot were intensely traditional. A modern Christian artist like Georges Rouault specifically grounded his work in medieval stained glass.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. I'm sure there are some modernists who tend to the more traditional and derivative, but their doing so is going against the general tendency of "modernism" in art as a whole. Sure, I'm getting some of my ideas from Francis Schaeffer here, but the philosophical proposition that ARC is arguing for is that the main purpose of art is NOT supposed to be self-expression.

The "realistic art is good and modern, non-realistic art is bad" ideology is certainly not a necessary corollary of Christianity.

Again, this depends on how you define these ideas. But if art is the skilled reflection of either the Creator's truth or the Creator's beauty, then poorly skilled attempts to reflect either truths or untruths are not art.

Chesterton believed that the non-realistic art of the Middle Ages was superior to much of the realistic art that followed it. He believed that the medieval artists' interest in transcendence meant that they had the freedom to diverge from the "literal" reality to portray things in abstracted, altered ways. As a modern artist, Rouault embraced this Chestertonian vision.

You'd have to refer me to the essay he wrote on that, I'd like to read it. I wouldn't be surprised if he preferred Medieval art. But I bet he also would have argued that there were objective standards that can be used in order to judge art.

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M. Leary   
If you studied art history anytime between 1945 and 1980, you were told that there were great old masters that existed from the early Renaissance to the time of David, Constable and Turner in the early 1800's. Then you were taught about Corot and Courbet and the Pre-Impressionists and then finally the Impressionists themselves who led the way into Modernism. Most of the period from 1850 to 1910 was described as a terrible cesspool of official art where petty academic artists painted inane silly paintings that cared only for technique, that were devoid of emotion and who didn't recognize the genius of the Impressionists. Maybe one paragraph about that long was all you read ...

That is completely accurate, and is still the thrust of most Art History primers I can think of (e.g. Janson). But is the historical point being made correct? The Salon tradition was a very homogenizing commercial machine, and didn't exactly produce the most breathtaking art.

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M. Leary   
Again, this depends on how you define these ideas. But if art is the skilled reflection of either the Creator's truth or the Creator's beauty, then poorly skilled attempts to reflect either truths or untruths are not art.

I think this misses the same point that the OP quoted material misses. Picasso, Matisse, these guys were well qualified in classical techniques. The Picasso museum in Barcelona is arranged chronologically, and the rooms from his training periods feature mind-boggling studies of classic works. In successive rooms, you can then see how he began to think about these classical forms and techniques in different ways, ways that abstracted what you refer to above as the "Creator's beauty" (which is too slippery a theological term to be of any use) into forms that contained movement, rhythm, and other inherent qualities of matter. Same thing with Paul Klee or Malevich, two more painters who produced realistic studies during training, but became entranced by what the eye actually sees rather than what classical painting tells us the eye sees. Kandinsky is a case in point. Celebrating creation involves more than rote mimicry of observable, defined moments. It involves a celebration of form and pattern that can be expressed in multiple, relative ways.

If you want to start posing this realism/abstract dichotomy in modern art, you will quickly run into biographical trouble. Would you consider Chuck Close to be a realist? Richter in his hyper-realist stage? Where is Sister Wendy when you need her?

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M. Leary   
get physically close to a portrait by Frans Hals or Rembrandt, by Titian or Velasquez, even by J-L David - and you will see plenty of bravura "passages" of pure paint - in other words, an abstract shorthand for the depiction of many things in their paintings.

Great point. What I also find borderline offensive about the OP quoted material is that there is no allowance in their perspective for material arts/crafts. I find something inherently doxological in the bravura re-arrangement natural or artificial material that experiments with form, texture, and memory.

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In either case, I think the impulse to reinstate a sort of representationalism as the "standard" of art is understandable, but not wholly admirable, or even practical. Moreover, the whole enterprise smacks more of a desire to avoid difficulty than anything else. For instance, this:

If the expression is weak, vague, unclear, or prone to misinterpretation then it is not an effective means to the goal of expression either.
is just silly. Not only does it ignore the fact that interpretation itself is intensely subjective, and proceeds from the interpreter's context--and not only is the very idea of "weak, vague, unclear" etc. enormously subjective, but it inadvertently strikes at the very base of Christian language--that is, the metaphoric and parabolic communication found in, for instance, the words of Christ. Now, language and art are different but what's good for the goose, etc. If a painting is unacceptable because it is vague or liable to misunderstanding, then so too are parabolic declamations. If the standards here are to be believed, we must denounce Jesus for telling so many easily-misunderstood parables!

I'd say you're taking that analogy a little far. You'd say something was weak, vague, unclear, etc. in the context of the purpose of goal involved. Christ's parables had a particular purpose other than art. Paintings have a particular purpose - and that's to reflect objective reality in some way, whether it's ideas, truths, feelings or emotions about outside reality. Skilled artists are successful in this. Unskilled or pretend artists are less successful, and THUS their attempts at art are more "prone to misinterpretation."

Then there's this:
Art exists in order to express ideas
which strikes me as wrong-headed in a fundamental way: art can communicate/does communicate more than ideas--that is, rational propositions; it also communicates non-rational elements like emotion and fundamental understandings that cannot necessarily be verbalized, and which are therefore ideas only in the most general sense. To argue that art has no purpose beyond communicating rationally approachable ideas strikes me as wallowing in a kind of discredited Enlightenment rationalism. It's not appealing at all.

Let's try taking this a little more in context.

What is the purpose of art? Some would say that the purpose of art is "anything," "nothing," or "impossible to define," but that's as foolish as claiming that chairs, hammers, or buckets can be used for anything or that they are impossible to define. Art exists in order to express ideas, and it does this through a specific means which is to selectively recreate some aspect of reality in order to represent the idea ... Scoping down a bit to the particulars of drawing and painting, there are thousands of visual, design, and implementation tools that an artist can bring to the taks of expressing himself through drawing and painting ... To generalize though, a good painting or drawing has a good compositional design that helps direct the attention of the viewer in ways that advance his expressive purpose. It has the lines, colors, and patterns which were intended by the artist (as opposed to being hampered by the presence of random factors or accidents which inhibit the intended expression) ...

The whole nature of evaluating the goodness or badness of something arises from how that thing relates to some purpose or goal ... The fact that something impedes or promotes a goal is a matter of objective fact which can be studied and evaluated and there are right and wrong answers to the question. It's not just a matter of subjective or relativist opinion, it's a matter of objective fact ... In general the purpose of art is to express ideas, and in particular it is the expression of ideas by the means of selective recreation of aspects of reality (as opposed to other means of expression of ideas like journalism, exposition, lecturing, screaming, etc.).

I can understand the argument that art can express emotion, not just ideas. But I don't think the point of ARC is trying to argue against art being able to express emotions. Music is art that expresses emotion through sound. Painting is art that can express emotion through images. But in order to express emotion through images, you need an idea of that image - in other words, an image that you are going to reflect from reality. There are obviously different styles on how to do this (realism, academicism, impressionism, etc.) but all these styles work within a set of rules and lines and limits. The philosophy of modern art was essentially to do away with all those rules, lines, and limits - and thus essentially, do away with art itself.

Thus the argument goes that, this, this, or this is easily said to be much BETTER art requiring more skill than this, this, or this.

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jfutral   

I apologize if what I said sounded flippant. It was certainly not meant that way. Surely there are times in debate when we can use colorful expressions to convey a point?

As long as the colourful expression is actually conveying a point and not obfuscating one.

_Modernism_ is absolutely firmly rooted in the Enlightenment. That is not a logical fallacy, that is simply being mildly observant. The whole secular/sacred, reason/emotion, material/immaterial bifurcations, eschewing of tradition, and exaltation of self that Modernism tends to take to caricature if not from the Enlightenment, then where? Have you read Kandinsky or Klee or Rothko (or any of the Bauhaus group)? Or even Cezanne or Van Gogh?

Well, yes, I have read many of those artists and, no, they did not all understand themselves as embodying Enlightenment principles. That's a huge generalization.

I certainly did not say the necessarily understood themselves to be embodying Enlightenment principles, although I doubt any of them would find that objectionable. But, take Kandinsky for instance. his whole position in _Concerning the Spiritual in Art_, while condemning materialisms insufficiency to provide answers, accepts the material/immaterial divide created through the enlightenment. He actually has harsher words for materialism (I'll get to more of this in another response):

"This all-important spark of inner life today is at present only a spark. Our minds, which are even now only just awakening after years of materialism, are infected with the despair of unbelief, of lack of purpose and ideal. The nightmare of materialism, which has turned the life of the universe into an evil, useless game, is not yet past; it holds the awakening soul still in its grip."

It is also this split that separates the Renaissance thinkers from the Greek philosophers they looked back to for inspiration. And it is this and other divisions like this that permeate from Enlightenment through the early 20th century. I think a good friend of mine explained this the best in a conversation we had over the problem of universals and I pointed out the Enlightenment concepts as a return to Greek thinking and ideals (keep in mind he is far more anti-modernism than I ever was):

"This is a critical juncture in the conversation, because in my opinion we cannot view realism as pondered by Plato and Aristotle as anything like Modernism. I say that not in fuddy duddy Professor mode but in detective mode. Somewhere down the line Meaning was murdered, and I am trying to find out who did it.

And its in meaning that Plato and Aristotle are at complete odds withe Locke and (as far as I can tell Berkeley).

Because for Plato and Aristotle, and for that matter Augustine, and Aquinas, and Hugo de Groot for that matter, what is ultimately Real, is meaning, whereas for the Enlightenment to search and find meaning occurs only if one has not cleared away superstitions or worse metaphysics, what the Enlightenment wants to find are facts, universals which are devoid of meaning, which require no organic whole in which that fits."

What I am suggesting is that we not demonize some time period -- the Enlightenment...Modernism -- and then say that everything that follows is tainted by that bad, bad era. Sure, modern art reflects a culture shaped in large part by the Enlightenment, but these artists were also shaped by other forces.

I've already argued that artists can simultaneously embody and critique the forces that influence them. I'll stick with that.

You won't get any argument from me on this point. I tried to write earlier (which got ultimately lost to the internet black hole of destruction) and hinted at briefly, I think the Enlightenment was a necessary corrective. I was speaking with a friend just the other day. She was bemoaning "evidence based healthcare". I just said "Well, it may not be a perfect approach, but it certainly is better than the village witch doctor telling everyone sex with a virgin will cure AIDS."

As I think I said, Modernism is fine as far as it goes. I just don't believe where it goes is all there is.

I still don't believe in a monolithic "machine." And novelty is at the heart of Western art from nearly day one. Just look at the changing styles in the history of Greek art.

Again, and I won't belabour this point further, "monolithic" is the wrong adjective for machine. It is definitely a monolithic attitude. I've been in the same room with the people with money, not just for my projects but for other major organizations' projects. There have long been people you need to dub your work as acceptable before your work can be accepted, and not just critics. I think it is safe to use Pilobolus (my former employer) as an example. If Charles Reinhart at the American Dance Festival and the Joyce Theatre in NYC did not take these guys into their fold early in their career i have serious doubts that Pilobolus would have been taken seriously by anyone. They already had and still have issues with much of the dance community (Mark Morris never has anything nice to say).

Here is hoping my html formatting holds!

Joe

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jfutral   

You'd have to refer me to the essay he wrote on that, I'd like to read it. I wouldn't be surprised if he preferred Medieval art. But I bet he also would have argued that there were objective standards that can be used in order to judge art.

I don't know about his essay, but this one I found very intriguing:

horror-vacui

Joe

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jfutral   

Even if there has been hyper-consumerism in the modern era -- the commodification of art -- is it accurate to say that this is fundamentally what Cezanne was aiming for when he ushered in a new era in art?

Where is the link in the chain of causality between Cezanne at his easel and what some art dealers in Soho got up to in the 1980s?

While I don't argue that Cezanne was somehow obsessed with consumerism, but that consumerism has found its birth in Modernity is hard to discount. And since Cezanne lived off his father's wealth, he was probably least concerned with his work being commodified. Although, he does somewhat typify the isolated individual that Modern Art finds appealing, someone removed and misunderstood.

My point (and I do have one!) is not so much that the chain begins with Cezanne, only that he was part of the chain. But Cezanne is important in the course of Modern Art. Realism is concerned with depicting things as they really are and that usually, at least, implying as we can see them. The impressionists signaled a further thought that what is really there is not what we really are seeing. But the impressionists, IIRC, seemed too subjective to Cezanne. He was seeking the objective universal. But even Cezanne did not feel he could achieve this by depicting the apple as it was visible. And he, too, went further down the road of the separation of subjectivity and objectivity.

One art historian calls Cezanne the father of sorts to Cubism. Matisse influenced a different form. But it was Cezanne's angular forms that seemed to capture the most attention and was a major influence on Picasso as well as Kandinsky. It was Guggenheim who brought Kandinsky to the notice of NY and America. And he went on to present and house many of the early 20th century modern artists. The galleries in Soho, Chelsea (Dillard for instance, since Fujimura came up in another thread), and elsewhere all seek to replicate that success and influence. It is how artists and galleries make a living. They get noticed and eat or they don't and find other work to pay the bills. That is the machine that exists. The only people I can think of who don't believe there is a machine are people who don't have to exist in it.

Joe

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Granted e2c, art and political power can work together. Political power can use art. Art can reflect the ideals of one particular political power. But, the only political element I can think of that would relate to the ARC’s arguments against the Modernist philosophy of art would be opposition to the dominance of only one viewpoint in the universities, or opposition to travesties like the NEA.

Also - and this is very important - there is no single "Modernist" school of anything.

There have been many artistic trends and movements throughout history, but to characterize 20th c. art as being Modernist vs. something else is to radically misrepresent (ha!) what actually went on (and is still going on). There is no "Modernist" manifesto, and there is no "Modernist" creed.

Sometimes I think the people who write in this way (as if these things were true) are actually attempting to alter history - that they're revisionists. And that *does* have tons of political connotations/baggage.

But ... if one is a "modernist" in art of any form whatever, then that is precisely what you are supposed to claim. There is no "Modernist" creed because "Modernist" art is the rejection of all creeds, forms, rules and limits. This doesn't mean we can't refer to the style and philosophy of the art produced in a particular time period as "Modernist", or that we can't generalize about the characteristics and ideas that this art had in common - rejection of traditionalism, experimentation, a tendency toward abstraction, etc.

Painting is intended to reflect "objective reality"?! Sorry, but I don't buy what that guy is selling.

Or you could say painting is intended to reflect either beauty or truths about our objective reality. Roger Scruton essentially argues the same in his recent City Journal article. He uses examples of even modern artists who still thought art was about reflecting beauty instead of just self-expression, but suggests that these modern artists were the minority -

Of course, there were great artists who tried to rescue beauty from the perceived disruption of modern society—as T. S. Eliot tried to recompose, in Four Quartets, the fragments he had grieved over in The Waste Land. And there were others, particularly in America, who refused to see the sordid and the transgressive as the truth of the modern world. For artists like Hopper, Samuel Barber, and Wallace Stevens, ostentatious transgression was mere sentimentality, a cheap way to stimulate an audience, and a betrayal of the sacred task of art, which is to magnify life as it is and to reveal its beauty—as Stevens reveals the beauty of “An Ordinary Evening in New Haven” and Barber that of Knoxville: Summer of 1915. But somehow those great life-affirmers lost their position at the forefront of modern culture. So far as the critics and the wider culture were concerned, the pursuit of beauty was at the margins of the artistic enterprise.

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jfutral   

Joe, a quick note re. Kandinsky...

...

Kandinsky was very interested in various explorations of - and attempts to revive - pre-Christian beliefs (including visual symbolism) in Russia; I also seem to recall that he had a lot of respect for the more mystical, contemplative aspects of the Russian Orthodox tradition; was intrigued by Madame Blavatsky and Theosophy, etc. etc.

I really don't think you can reduce his views to a "reaction against the Enlightenment." And there's a larger context - political, social and cultural - that nurtured him: Pan-Slavism. (i don't have references handy; Google should, though! :))

Also - we were made to do copious research (so that our prof didn't have to - pretty unethical!) on other ideas and topics that intrigued Kandinsky, including occult topics as well as scientific discoveries and the early 20th c. understanding of atoms, light as both wave and particle - in other words, basic physics with a slight lean toward the quantum side. Kandinsky certainly wasn't the only artist of his time whose ideas about painting - even the media he used (and understanding of what it was made of) was radically altered by science.

I know this sounds nerdy, but I think I would have enjoyed you prof's class! I still think if I go back to school I am going to study art history.

As for Kandinsky, right. I do know and understand that (although probably not as much as you, much less your professor). I believe his beliefs are what got him booted out of Bauhaus, IIRC. If I said his beliefs were a "reaction to Enlightenment", then I mis-spoke. But I do still stick to the idea that his mysticism accepts and relies on the material/immaterial division built up in the Enlightenment and that objectivity and subjectivity are divisible and is the basis, or at least part of the frame work, for his diatribe against materialism. To me these are all variations of the similar "secular/sacred" divide of many churches.

Joe

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jfutral   

a parenthetical note: Peggy Guggenheim (Solomon R. Guggenheim's niece) figures into this equation, too... as collector, gallery owner, promoter of then-contemporary art, etc. Just sayin'... ;)

As did artist Hilla Rebay, I think.

Joe

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jfutral   

Hey Joe -

Just curious: Have you read Tolstoy's "What is Art"?

There's also the whole music connection with Kandinsky, but I have to admit that I'm (sadly) not up on that at all - at the time I was in school, that was somewhat out of favor and i've not done any real reading on it in over 25 years. :( (Wagner and Kandinsky's ideas about creating a "total work of art" excepted - can't recall how to spell the German word for that, either.)

I've only read the "What is art?" excerpts I've found on the web. Good stuff.

The whole music connection is what got me fascinated with Bauhaus and I believe why I was so cued in to Klee. Many theatrical lighting designers think in terms of creating a series of pictures. I've always taken a musical approach since I am a musician. To me, theatre is rarely static, even if geographically so. The lighting for me always as to breathe. And I remember being told to study sax and horn players if I wanted to be a better guitarist.

OK, WAAYY OT.

Sorry about that. Carry on!

Joe

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