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When two worlds collide

One of the great pleasures and advantages of living in Pimlico, in central London, is its proximity to one of the world’s great art galleries, The Tate, a fine classical building looking over the Thames. Recently my girlfriend and I went around two separate exhibitions and had two contrasting experiences not far different in extremes from the North Pole and the Sahara Desert.

The first exhibition was a display of Pre-Raphaelite art, from that group of talented, romantic and at times eccentric group of artists in the middle of 19th Century England. They took their inspiration, as the word pre-Raphaelite suggests, from the Renaissance artist Raphael. Some of them were intensely religious, while others took a passionate interest in the natural world.

I must say I have mixed reactions to their art. Some of the paintings, particularly the coastal seascapes and the depictions of the Swiss Alps, were stunning. Others, while rendered with incredible attention to detail, left me rather cold. There is something almost rather mannered about this art, as if it was produced by someone trying too hard to impress. On the whole, however, I could not fail to be struck by the descriptive lust of these artists, their desire to convey the world as they saw it and as it could be.

And then, after a slurp of wine – we were at a private viewing – we set off to another part of the Tate for an altogether different experience, namely, a selection of ‘art’ (I will explain the inverted commas a bit later) by some of the world’s newest artists, including the so-called enfant terrible of the Brtitish art establishment, Damien Hirst., and Sarah Lucas, about whom I had not heard before.

Some of the exhibits featured dead animals inside tanks containing fluids, bits of sausages, live fish, a brain, bottles of wine, a bucket, and other bits and pieces I could not readily identify. Two exhibits were models of people undergoing surgery, with nothing showing apart from their genitals. Several large oval-shaped boards were covered with hundreds of dead butterflies. An empty full-size truck cab, plastered in its interior with tabloid newspapers, had a man’s arm pumping up and down in a familiar sexual act. In fact, several exhibits seemed to portray human bodily functions, as if the exhibits had been assembled by a sniggering, slightly conceited 12-year schoolboy trying to shock his elders.

I will not deny Hirst and others like him are folk with a certain talent. They are talented in much the same way that pickpockets can be said to be talented. But to what effect? So much of his art seems to shout, “I am taking the mickey out of you stupid, repressed middle class wankers”……No doubt Hirst thinks he is being ever so clever and subversive, and judging by the large audiences for his work, he probably is. What perhaps is forgotten is that the image of the artist as the mocker of bourgeois sensibilities, far from being daring and new, is in fact very dated, and bang in line with the ethos of the Modern Art establishment. They are the bores of our age.

There you have it. About 150 years from the Pre-Raphaelites, we have gone from the ability to portray nature with passionate concern for accuracy, and an essentially warm embrace of human life, to lumps of meat in tanks, and to images of human beings sitting on the toilet, smoking a cigarette. Perhaps these folk really have caught the meaning of Blair’s Britain, after all.

Addendum: if you are as disgusted as I am by the bogus nature of much modern art, but cannot always put that disgust into words, then I strongly recommend the book, What Art Is, written by Louis Torres and Michelle Marder Kamhi. It unashamedly defends representational art, questions whether certain forms, such as abstract painting, really can pass muster as art, and perhaps controversially, argues that photography does not pass the test. I do not agree with everything in the book but it is well worth the attention.

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29 comments to When two worlds collide

  • Only two ideas underpin modernist-to-modern-day art: a Dali-style, piss-taking whimsy and a Dali-style interest in money. Neither require draftsmanship or, God forbid, a love of beauty – though these are the things for which our aesthetic sense cries out. We’ll just have to keep on crying because the shattered urn of traditional representative art cannot be pieced together again, even by artists of genuine goodwill.

  • The phrase “a load of old wank” sounds particularly descriptive of this exhibition.

    I am also as cynical about modern architecture- do the in-demand darlings of the industry reverse-engineer their explanations to sound credible /plausible /pretentious?

  • David

    I have a theory that the current sorry state of the art community comes from the traditional association of artists and the aristocracy. Artists for centuries catered to those who had the money to pay them while their talent gave them entrance into the upper reaches of society. This seems to have bred into the art community the idea that they are superior to the rest of the masses.

    As the European middle class became more numerous and more powerful in the mid-nineteenth century, they became serious art consumers. Although many artists welcomed the opportunity to sell to these former peasents, I think some artists rejected the concept of art as a commercial product – which it had always been, only to the elite.

    The Impressionists attempted to create art forms beyond the understanding of the middle class. To me this was an attempt to retain their connections to the social elite and this attitude permeates the art market today. Who buys crap like you described other than wealthy elitists who want to show their superiority over the masses? It’s almost a con game – sort of an emperor with no clothes. The artists set themselves up as intellectually superior to us, then sell to those who believe they are our superiors as well. Ironically, these tend to be leftists and government officials.

    On the other hand, art which most people would like to buy gets pooh-poohed as “common”. Frankly I’ve given up on most modern art except for aviation and space art. Here are a three examples, the first which can trace its lineage back to Turner, since we are speaking of the Tate.

    (Link)

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  • Thanks for this Johnathan – I was thinking along the same lines a couple of days ago, but without your helpful book recommendation:

    Whither Society? Look at the Art (and Weep)

  • This anonymous poem sums up Damien Hirst and his ilk quite nicely:

    A cow and calf are cut in half

    And placed in separate cases

    To call it art, however smart

    Casts doubt on art’s whole basis

  • Malcolm Kirkpatrick

    Well, I dunno. Some years ago, the University of Hawaii Art Department displayed works from the second Western States Exhibit. First among these, as visitors entered the room, were a series of three: The first was a large canvas which had been splattered, slashed, pasted with feathers, and spiked with 3 inch nails and wooden lath. The second had some of these features, while on the third, the featers, nails., lath, and slashes were painted on. It was a photorealistic representation of an abstract painting. The artist was clever and talented.
    >
    Would art be different from what we see if it weren’t subsidized by taxpayers, through politically-selected art councils? I hope so.

  • Ben

    First off, what is “taking the mickey out”? Not familiar with that phrase, possibly because I am on the wrong side of the Atlantic.

    Second, I think David is right. After the decline of the aristocracy’s fortunes and power, artists and other courtiers (philosophers, many scientists, etc.) seem pissed off at their relative lowering of status, as well as the bourgeious requirement of functionality. Peasants don’t think like the aristocracy, they have different tastes and like different kinds of art. So they make this crap, sell it to rich bourgeious, and laugh all the way to the bank.

    And never realize just how rich “pnadering” to the market could make them.

  • David,

    I like your theory. Sammie-groupies danced around this historical problem – what went wrong to produce the shift out of representative art – only a few days ago. No one, though, suggested anything as simple or logical as your idea.

    Of course, you are surmising about social developments that, whilst common to all newly industrialised societies, nonetheless did not particularly refer to Britain. The art market of the modernist era was forged in France and New York. It is still noticeable and, no doubt, pertinent that French society retains a peculiar respect for its artistic and political elite. I’ll bet the French can still say “avant garde” without any sense of the tiresome or pretentious. We laconic, literalist Brits, so lacking in nuance, have always lagged behind in the appreciation of modern artistic endeavour, thank God.

    That said, the most interesting aspect of your idea is that impressionism, then modernism was an attempt to create a new and, necessaily, exclusive language of elitism, or a language of the new elite. This required to be an agreed process. Normal market rules apply. So the “what went wrong” meme applies not to society at large nor, specifically, to artists but to the new elite itself – surely an area of rich pickings for historians and art historians alike.

    Interesting, btw, that the artists of all three of the very nice works you link to ignore the one upsurge of populist art in the first half of the twentieth century. It was pretty much the only democratic expression in service life and lifted a lot of hearts. Nose art. Where is it?

  • Mike Tyukanov

    About pre-Raphaelites: they definitely didn’t take their inspirations in Raphael. On the contrary, they viewed Raphael, Michelangelo and other Mannerists as the source of corruption in arts. They rejected late Renaissance, embracing Medieval and early Renaissance artists such as Botticelli. Hence their self-chosen name ‘pre-Raphaelites’, i.e., those who follow the styles of art that were before Raphael Santi.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Mike, thanks for that comment. I read somewhere that the pre-Raphaelites had taken inspiration Raphael, and so wrote what I did. Hmm. Not sure if you are correct. What you say may make sense but I honestly don’t know. Anyone got a place to check this?

  • S. Weasel

    Mike’s version is the one I’ve always heard, that it was a reaction against the formalism and artifice of Raphael.

    “We begin by telling the youth of fifteen or sixteen that Nature is full of faults, and that he is to improve her; but that Raphael is perfection, and that the more he copies Raphael the better; that after much copying of Raphael, he is to try what he can do himself in a Raphaelesque, but yet original manner: that is to say, he is to try to do something very clever, all out of his own head, but yet this clever something is to be properly subjected to Raphaelesque rules, is to have a principal light occupying one seventh of its space, and a principal shadow occupying one third of the same; that no two people’s heads in the picture are to be turned the same way, and that all the personages represented are to have ideal beauty of the highest order…” –John Ruskin

  • Johnathan P

    S. Weasel, looks like the Ruskin quote nails it, then! I guess Raphael was the bookend, rather than the inspiration.

    BTW, pre-Raphaelite art has become very fashionable these days. Andrew Lloyd Webber recently had a huge exhibition of his personal collection at the Royal Academy, which was slagged off by the usual snobs of the modern art literary establishment.

    “Taking the Mickey” is an English expression for mockery.

    Not sure how the development of the art world, particularly in the 19th and 20th centuries, really influenced the changing patterns of art. Another author worth reading on this subject is Peter Gay, who is an expert on the Victorian art collecting period. And of course there is Jacques Barzun, always worth studying.

  • toolkien

    Degustibus non est disputandum.

    As a general definition, art is anything contrived by man that transports a person to some other level of thought or consciousness. It is where you’re transported that is the key. I prefer not to be transported to a sty if I can help it.

    The above relates to the personal level experience. Art, though, isn’t all about the personal experience, but turns into ‘art appreciation’ and all the baggage that goes with any association man creates for himself, the lying and half truths that are required to show that one ‘belongs’. It’s not hard to get a group of ‘intellectuals’ together and rave over a pail of pig entrails.

  • S. Weasel

    I saw the Andrew Lloyd Webber exhibition, Johnathan. Like you, my reaction to the pre-Raphaelites is mixed – some of them are stunning, and some leave me cold. As usual when I visit a big exhibition, it’s somebody I had never heard of who impressed me most. In this case, it was a painter named Atkinson Grimshaw. He did some night scenes and London cityscapes that, unfortunately, don’t reproduce very well, but are jaw-dropping in person.

    And, yes, the critics rubbished the show the way they rubbish all but a few “approved” classical or representational painters (you can get away with liking Turner or Goya, but heaven help you if you enjoy Ingres). It’s almost worth choosing shows by scanning the newspaper for the most savage critiques.

  • Shawn

    The difference between the pre-Raphaelites and the modernist shock-sleaze is simple. The first was produced within a culture informed by Christian values. The second was produced in a society informed by a rejection of those values. When a defenceless baby being ripped limb from limb from its mother’s womb is considered a “right” and a valid “lifestyle choice” then the kind of modern art described above should not surprise anyone.

    A society reaps what it sows.

  • S. Weasel

    Ooooh, Shawn, I dunno that I’d think of the pre-Raphaelites as particularly informed by Christian values (with apologies to William Holman Hunt). They did an awful lot of recreational laudanum and sleeping with each other’s wives.

  • Shawn

    Sure, but they lived within a Christian culture, and that is clearly reflected in their work.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Shawn, methinks you are being a tad disengenuous. It is true these artists “lived within a Christian culture”. They also lived in a culture roiled by the growing discoveries of science, a culture that was still coming to terms with the Englightenment, the French Revolution, and the stirrings of what would later be known as feminism. Not all of these artists were religious dogmatists, although they took a great deal of their inspiration from the enthusiasm for Arthurian legends, Medieval history, and so forth. Some were socialists and rebelled against what they saw as the ugliness of industrial Europe. But they cannot really be bracketed inside a tight box.

    As for Hirst, his inspiration seems to come from imbibing a lot of illegal drugs.

  • Paul Marks

    A couple of weeks ago I went to see the paintings in the event you describe.

    Due to crowds in the first few rooms when I went in I walked to the last room and worked backwards.

    Actually this proved to be a good way to see the paintings – as the early one tended to be beter than the later ones.

    This might be a good idea in going to see art – start with the recent works and work backwards (that way one will get an impression that there is progress in art).

    However, when I was at the Manchester art gallery yesterday I found the recent works a welcome relief. I have only a limited cultural edcuation and seeing to much fine work had left me feeling drained – then came the rooms with recent works andI could walk through untroubled, not dragged over by any of the paintings.

    In the rooms with modern work I felt the same as I did when I went through the gift shop area and cafe, and then the cloakroom. No more strain on my emotions or understanding.

    On the other hand some of the older works have remained in my mind – whereas I find that I can not remember of the modern works.

  • A_t

    “On the other hand some of the older works have remained in my mind – whereas I find that I can not remember of the modern works.”

    This is interesting, & says something about you, but doesn’t necessarily say anything about modern art as a whole. I could say quite the opposite; there are a number of modern, some abstract some not, pieces which are firmly embedded in my head. I struggle to think of many pre-20th century works which have impressed me as much.

    Now, the only way you can explain this is to dismiss me as stupid, easily fooled, or otherwise weak-minded & impressionable. I think i’m less so than average, so you’re unlikely to convince me.

    Where do we go from there? (other than to say “If you only like older stuff, fine fine, I have no problem with that, but trying to deny any virtue in most 20th century art is a foolish quest, and furthermore is fighting a battle already lost years ago”).

  • Johnathan Pearce

    A_T, if you are more impressed or struck by looking at modern art, that by and of itself says nothing as to the value or quality of such. I think the problem is that around the early part of the 20th century, the idea that there should be any objective criteria in judging art — such as skill in depicting what one sees, ability to communicate a sense of life, etc — was replaced by the idea that art was whatever the artist felt it was. The definition of art became increasingly meaningless. It also increasingly meant that folk with no talent other than the ability to bullshit the public could go around calling themselves artists. Hence the current worship of charlatans like Hirst.

  • A_t

    ” the idea that there should be any objective criteria in judging art — such as skill in depicting what one sees, ability to communicate a sense of life, etc”

    Yes, & there was a good reason for that; if you want a lifelike, accurate depiction of something, you can take a photo of it, or film it if you want motion. No artist can compete with film in terms of utter accuracy. There’s no point. So suddenly the value in a piece of art was not the perfect reproduction of things, but what the artist brought to their depiction; their “style” as it were; the inaccuracies or idiosyncratic ways of portraying things. It only seems logical that some would take this to extremes, divorcing it entirely from the original idea of trying to represent some original visual scene.

    ” if you are more impressed or struck by looking at modern art, that by and of itself says nothing as to the value or quality of such”

    Well… from my subjective point of view, which is the only one available to me, & the only one that really matters when it comes to art, it says quite a lot about both the quality AND value of such. To me, the works that have moved me, calmed me, made me think etc. have far more value than those which have not. I can admire craftsmanship also, but my “techno epiphany” as it were; the realisation that listening to a bunch of machines, controlled, but by no means conventionally ‘played’ by a person, repeating the same thing over & over again could be rewarding & enjoyable to hear, led me to realise that conventional ideas of “skill” matter less in our current machine-facilitated era than do original ideas & conceptions (not that skill’s irrelevant; not by a long way, but one of the great benefits of much of our 20th century technology has been that if one has a good idea, one doesn’t necessarily need to spend 20 years as an apprentice in order to be able to make good that idea). If one is still hung up on means of production, & the idea of seeing all the way back to the artist behind the painting, fair enough, and some do play on this, but it’s hardly the only way to look at things any more.

    Also, people here are complaining about the impersonality of much of the art, & the level of abstraction involved. Have you stopped to consider the world we actually live in? Many of us do more interacting with people via machines than we do face-to-face. Indeed, many folk spend much more time interfacing with machines (sometimes to people at “the other end”, sometimes just with data) than with their fellow human beings, let alone any kind of “natural” environment, which would have been the most common experience up til fairly recently. Do you expect this strange, abstract, fragmented world we live in, where technology is constantly progressing, traditional social ties are broken, one speaks to one’s parents through a plastic voice-box, and many traditional ‘skills’ are worthless; replaced by other skills or relatively un-skilled jobs, to produce art like that of the 18th or 19th century? Utterly unrealistic expectation.

    ” was replaced by the idea that art was whatever the artist felt it was.”

    Welll… yes, but that’s worthless unless the public believe whatever the artist feels his art is (or whatever they feel it is) is actually worthwhile. They may get to feel this through hype, or they may get it through inherent properties in the work. Skill was never the sole criterion which allowed one into the pantheon of great artists; it just let one be considered.

    I suppose the key thrust of your point is that this lack of strict entry criteria allow people who are, in your view, charlatans to enter the domain. This is true, but does not mean that relaxing the entry criteria was wrong, nor that all modern artists are charlatans.

    (& on those who are hyped, you could argue that in this era of branding, they are creating an etherial artwork which is a composite of their public/media profile and their work, combining to make the public feel/think a certain way… much as most big stars in modern music are not judged solely on their musical ability but the larger ‘image’ which surrounds them, & the social meaning of various appearances/positions/sonic choices they make. This has prob. always been the case, but with ever-growing media availability, it’s increasingly common. Again, something which has negative consequences, certainly… but which we just have to live with, & is not without it’s own pleasures.)

  • Johnathan P

    A_T, you make a lot of interesting points, but can I just deal with one of the initial ones, since what you say about the interaction between humans and machines opens up such a big vista that it would take up too much space to explore. (another time, perhaps).

    The idea that all art is subjective is not one I entirely share. Art, if it is to have any meaning in my opinion, involves the selective recreation of reality in order to convey a value of importance to the artist, which needs to excite a response and be grasped by the viewer/listener. This definition definitely does not mean that all “modern art” is therefore crap; what it does is require art to possess a quality that is intelligible to the viewer/listener as relating to their perceptual experience. That is my problem with the “conceptual art” of Hirst and co. Daubs of paint which relate to nothing whatsover might make nice decorations, but I don’t think that is the same as art.

    A_T, I strongly recommend you take a look at the book I mentioned in the original post. Rather than hear me drone on on the subject, those authors in my mind excellently lay out the issues and the problems. Rgds

  • Harry Powell

    Scrolling through the teacher’s pack pdf that accompanies the exhibition’s web site I was interested to read that contemporary critics of the Pre-Raphaelites questioned whether their art was indeed Art at all. The minutely detailed mimetic naturalism of Burne-Jones is self-consciously at odds with the academic, idealized, classicising tradition that preceded it. Perhaps we should recognise that the values the Pre-Raphaelites held to – spontaneous, unmediated experience of nature and the unteachable power of observation that that requires – has more in common with Seurat or Lucian Freud than it does with Ingres. The fascinating thing about this exhibit is that it places the Pre-Raphaelites firmly at the start of Modernism.

    For my money the best introduction to Modern Art is still Robert Hughes “The Shock Of The New”. Hughes deals convincingly with the crisis of representation that Guestworker mentioned as being a solution to the problem of representing the changed nature our experience of time and space. For more on that topic see here .

  • A_t

    Johnathan,

    The book does look quite interesting from the few pages amazon (US) have on their site, but the opening words “Early in the twentieth century, for the first time in history, works purporting to be art were created that were not, in fact, art at all…” kind of set out the agenda. The authors have made their minds up right from the start of the book, & will spend the rest of the pages justifying their opinion with reference to various sources which happen to agree with them, be they “public opinion” or “learned critics”.

    I find that any kind of dogmatism in art, although it may be creatively useful to an artist, helping them to keep focussed, in an observer, just impairs one’s appreciation of things; limits what one can appreciate. I’m more interested in ideas that will *extend* the range of things I appreciate, & have little-to-no interest in someone trying to convince me that pleasures I enjoy are somehow “wrong” because of some network of philosophical justifications they happen to have cooked up. Similarly, I don’t share the authors’ trust in the “common sense of the people”. If one took this as a given, then it would logically follow that the finest music made in the UK today was by Gareth Gates or perhaps Engelbert Humperdink, who’s riding high in the album charts at the moment. The same goes for any popular form of entertainment… take any type of thing you know well and enjoy, be it wine, cheese, cigars, cinema…. That which you enjoy may well not be appreciated by most people; it may taste weird to the uninitiated. The idea that anything which is not immediately accessible is useless holds no weight that I can see. If that were the case, I would have to have given up coffee (disgusting & incomprehensible the first time i tried it), whisky (similarly) & many musical & artistic pleasures.

    So thanks for the discussion, & sorry i’m not going to read the book, but I hope the above provides some insight into why.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    A_T, I have actually read the book and the authors most certainly do not start from a dogmatic assertion which they later seek to justify through selective use of evidence. They begin by defining what role art plays in human consciousness and then proceed from there to analyse the issues.

    And the sort of approach outlined most certainly does not mean shutting one’s mind to new forms of artistic expression, and I would certainly not want to be thought to endorsing some sort of narrow, theological definition of artistic “correctness”. But remember that, partly as a result of state subsidised museums, a group of folk have managed to make a very comfortable living out of exhibiting mediocre, talentness rubbish called “art”. Without any objective definitions, we are left at the mercy of charlatans of every hue.

    Of course, in the ideal free market of libertarian dreams, if people want to pay zillions for whatever daubs or noises are produced by self-declared artists, then they should be allowed to do so.

    Final thought – it is true that the authors of “What Art Is” do cite the bafflement of ordinary people as a reason for why so much modern art has failed to serve a purpose. Well, the authors posit the idea that communication is a part of what good art should be about. I think they have a point.

    Anyway, I think that is about all I can add to the subject. Thanks for your comments.

  • Harry,

    I well remember Robert Hughes’ TV series, also called Shock of the New. I watched it avidly but not uncritically. As I recall, he explained the crisis of representation entirely in terms of a responsive and evolutionary development in aesthetic interpretation.

    There are, however, one or two small problems with this. It raises the question as to whether straightforward representational art possessed the capacity to express the subject of man and the machine age. Was its failing to do so really a failing of the art form or one of the artists? I don’t remember his answer – not sure he offered one.

    In the event, modernism gave us the most direct and vigorous expression of an industrialised violence to the soul in a godless universe. But for me the modernist perception of humanity is curiously myopic and may not, in reality, ever have got beyond the clanking mechanicity of an artistic mind fallen prey to the fad of socialism.

    The industrialised age and even the industrialisation of war did not, after all, drive all virtue and love from the hearts of men. In other words, the most enduring and meaningful subject of art – if I may depress A_t a little – was beyond the capacity of modernist thinking. These guys may or may not have been poor draftsmen. But they were poor philosophers and poor psychologists, just short-cut thinkers. And they were chiefly so because – yes, thank you Marshall McLuhan – the medium had become the, er, thingy.

    Of course, that was all a long time ago. But one is entitled to ask: if the violence of social change and the rise of radical left politics informed modernism, why the hell are we stuck with its lazy, selfish, experimental great grandchildren today? What is there is twenty-first century life that precludes the possibility of representative art expressing our (actually unchanging) humanity? Why haven’t angry, rebellious, creative young painters and sculptors gone back to their real roots to express the human story today?

    The answer is that they can’t because they don’t know how to. “Isms” are they can do. But as well as that, there is the suggestibility of the weak and uncertain, and the seductive power of language, especially a language of elitism – which is why I found David’s “New Art Market” theory so interesting.

  • Harry Powell

    Guessedworker, I don’t want to give the impression that I endorse Hughes wholehearted, but I do think he posed the aesthetic and cultural problems that Modernism addressed rather well. One of which is, as you rightly say, the dehumanizing effect of modern life. My recollection seems to differ from yours in that Hughes doesn’t present to us 20th C art as a private discourse amongst aesthetes but as an attempt to solve that very same moral problem; for example witness the way in which the Dadaists, Surrealists and Abstract Expressionist embraced irrationality in response to the mechanization of experience you mentioned. Would it not be startling if the artists of the age ignored their own times and give us the sedative and emollient art that some people seem to long for? The pleasure of the last century’s art is the same as it has always been, namely to be told something we didn’t know about ourselves, even if that is an unpalatable truth.

    As for the contemporary scene, I think I probably share everyone else’s despair at the banality of it. But I’m not persuaded that there is a libertarian issue here. Sure Hirst and his ilk spout generic leftist rubbish, yes some public money is squandered on their work yet what they do is absurdly popular. Perhaps it’s the way the YBAs play with pop cultural forms like newspaper images or children’s toys, or maybe it’s how they practice the black art of publicity but the number of books written about them, the volume of their ticket sales and the human traffic at Tate Modern testify to the size of the audience they have. They may be diurnal, they may be derivative, they may be vacuous, but elitist? Nah.

  • Harry,

    A couple of points. The artist is not a member of the elite but a keeper and exponent of a language agreed with them – a very profitable, socially rewarding position. It is the mystery of this language that is the unqiue selling point of contemporary art. Salvador Dali considered it one huge joke. I agree with him.

    Your remark about learning something of ourselves from the artist is, I think, very modernistic. Art really does not open our eyes to ourselves – not nearly as well as this blog does, anyway!. An artist is not wise, not a priest, not – as I said – a good psychologist (in the Dovstoeskian sense). Artists are frequently poor at verbal communication and in no way impress with their mentative capacities. The notion that they have some special insight or a creative capacity that bestows the gift of seeing is a simple lie well and frequently told, a la he of “no balls at all”. The genesis of it lay with the possessed, unhappy and, sometimes, self-destroying souls who, from Van Gogh to Rothko and beyond, have found an artist’s life convenient and condign. But wisdom is there none.

    Still, by their astonishing draftsmanship, their maturity of mind and the warmth of their feeling for their fellow man a few old boys once showed us something. It is one of the lesser tragedies of our age that we have been deprived of that.