Andre Wallace

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Grayson Perry at the Royal academy summer exhibition

Musing upon this years RA summer exhibition and Grayson Perry's remark that taste is woven into our class system led to considering the quality of current art education provision in the UK. Discovered something significant from Peter Abbs, an article; "The poisoning of the Socratic Ideal," in the Guardian of 13th January 1986. 
Peter Abbs (who always defends aesthetic education) makes a number of statements that are undoubtedly true but which point up how all education has been corrupted by dubious ethics, and how far it has been turned into a business with the concept of an active learner replaced by the incredibly stupid notion of the student as a customer. Sally Gardner has argued that Michael Gove's new national curriculum will make this worse. It also chimes with the Head of Ofsted stating that the poor white children are a victims of bad schools. What has changed in the past 27 years?

In the article Abbs makes these salient points which explain exactly what is wrong with state funded education :
  • Our ruling elite assert that state education exists to serve the economy, business and the government but where are their credentials for these priorities and what right do they have to do this? 
  • Putting the government in charge of state education is a monstrous poisoning of the system and cause of all our educational ills.
  • Asking the question what is teaching? - he argues that the primary task of any teacher is to teach the student to use Socratic dialect or elenchus, to teach thinking.
  • Education is not an object that can be bought or sold, it cannot be unambiguously handed over to the student. To acquire it requires an active participation by the student.
  • Elenchus, works to clear away the rubbish which clutters the average mind and blocks insight, understanding and truth.
  • The best educational innovations are due to the ethical dimension of the elenchus, the teaching of virtue through thinking, which works upon existence and develops the personality.
  • An educational encounter should embody a human advance of some kind. Can we approve of any education that only serves business or industry?
  • Education has become little more than an instrument to serve the status quo.
  • Education is never about skills, training, business, industry, organisation or management.
  • Education is about the mind struggling at whatever level, through the various symbolic forms in all their variety to discover the meaning of it's own experience. It is intelligent exploration and anything else is training.
  • The task of a teacher is to secure the necessary conditions for the autonomy of teaching and the freedom for their students to learn.
Bearing these sobering facts in mind it is enlightening to reflect upon the achievements  of the latest 2013 crop of students at the RCA, the Slade and the RA schools. As the jackdaw puts it "Don't you find it exhausting traipsing around all those degree shows? Me neither!"

Having now seen the RA summer exhibition can only state how depressing it is, all the usual suspects in all the usual places. Wish that the academicians would make more space for the unknown and struggling artists instead of hanging their work around the galleries so that that it elevates some of the real dross on display around it, to the level of acceptable. i guess that it has to be all things to all people, judging by the number of red dots around there is little evidence of a food banks here.

And as Grayson Perry explains; "I now find myself agreeing with the cultural critic Stephen Bayley that good taste is that which does not alienate your peers. Shared taste helps bind the tribe. It signals to fellow adherents of a particular subculture that you understand the rules. Within the group of, say, modified hatchback drivers, there is good and bad taste in loud cars in much the same way as there is good and bad taste in installations within the art world."  
Nuff said, but there are some arcane and dimwitted tribes within the artworld and here they all have their enthusiasms aired.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Tempus Fugit

Recent research on contemporary art criticism threw up this apposite quote from of Images of God  by Peter Fuller and published in 1984; Fuller was the UK's greatest art critic at the time but he was unfortunately killed in a car crash in 1990. It was he who coined the phrase anaesthetic art to describe the alienated art that he was appearing then and he was writing about.

"The Saatchis spend their working lives promoting a dominant cultural form, advertising, which allows no space for the social expression of individual subjectivity. It is therefore predictable that, unlike merchant princes, aristocrats, Dutch Innkeepers and others who possessed both wealth and taste, they prefer fine art forms that are nothing but a solipsistic infantile wallowing in the excremental gold of the otherwise excluded subjective dimension. Schnable and Waddington are entitled if they so wish, to serve the tasteless sensibilities of the advertising tycoons, but it is one thing for such people to pursue their degraded taste in private and quite another for our leading modern art institution, the Tate gallery, to indulge that taste in public."

This was written 30 years ago, and what has changed ?  -  nothing, zilch, not one thing, we are now all that much poorer because degraded taste is now state art orthodoxy. Even the recent Tate rehang serves only to consolidate the utilitarian exploitation that advertising interests have made of economically vulnerable fine artists.

In "My name is Charles Saatchi and I am an artoholic" Charles Saatchi was asked how do you tell the difference between a good Picasso or a bad Picasso or a good Hirst or a bad Hirst? His answer was, that if you cannot tell the difference then your collecting days are going to provide you with limited satisfaction. The key was, he says, to have wobbly taste like he does. Is it not time that both he and Sir Nicholas Serota  relinquished the taste stranglehold they have had upon the UK contemporary art world for now over thirty years? Do we not deserve so much better than their now historically malign influence upon UK contemporary art?

By co-incidence this Sunday the Independent has an article about the influence of Charles Saatchi upon UK contemporary art over the past thirty years - In it a surprising supporter, Brian Sewell, argues that without him a lot of art would never have been created. Very true, but for 90% of it to have never existed would undoubtedly have been a very good thing. The problem has always been the scattergun scope, and size of his patronage.
David Lee editor of the Jackdaw gives an excellent  summary of Saatchi's malign influence upon artists and art education. Particularly a remark about the RA professor of painting ( Gary Hume ) who cannot paint and the RA professor of drawing (Tracey Emin) who cannot draw, neither of whom would have become the establishment without Saatchi's malign patronage. Lee argues that Saatchi succeeded in transforming the sale of art into a sleazy futures market where quantities of art are used for personal aggrandisement, investment and profit taking.

No bread and more circuses.

This morning we read in the press that due to the coalition's welfare reforms there has been a 40% rise in people seeking assistance from the CAB. 458,000 problems with benefit claims have been reported to the service so far this year and the CAB are having problems coping with demands for help. Everywhere new food banks are opening up to paper over the cracks and the CAB say that the worst is yet to come.

However panic not - Richard Reed, the co-founder of Innocent drinks and backed by the Tate is going to flood the streets with art reproductions on billboards in August. The usual suspects, Damien Hirst and Bob and Roberta Smith are reported to be supporting the effort and they are keen to fill the unused advertising space.  Sir Nicholas Serota says that it is all about public ownership, and that it will remind the public that museums and galleries are free entry.  At least the Romans were thrown loaves of bread at their circuses!

Friday, June 07, 2013

Michael Landy at the National Gallery - and aging YBA's

Our dear old YBA's seem to be hogs in the limelight at present -

Michael Landy - the National Galleries eight associate artist has been working in the gallery for two years.......The resulting mechanical monsters are interesting riffs on Jean Tinguely (i.e. they are an acceptable genre) and their elements are selected from saint's images throughout the gallery. Landy's main market is destruction and it is good to see an effort based in the National Gallery that is thought out - even if it is only an unconsidered take on martyrdom. He can also draw, which is a very rare talent among his peers.  Adrian Hamilton got in first in the Independent with this review which damns with faint praise, emphasising the utilitarian nature of the show which he says, will encourage children to search for the bits of saints depicted and re-assemble them? No mention of the quality of the art on show there then? Have you noticed how all our art galleries are all being turned into playpens for kidsLaura Cumming, state art acolyte, effuses about Landy in the Observer, she plainly has a very low level understanding of the concept of awe or the sacred and an even poorer awareness of the concept of blasphemy, - you do have to believe in something other than effete, lily livered, western liberal secularism before you can blaspheme.
Chris Harvey in the Telegraph and Adrian Searle in the Guardian are at an utter loss. Searle cannot resist putting his own white liberal prejudices on show, betraying the usual state art critic's total incomprehension of other's christian cultural values. What is so depressing about this sort of right-on drivel is that it invariably abnegates the immense debt that western civilisation owes to Christianity, without which there would have been no progress or western civilisation and without which the National Gallery wouldn't have any art for these critics to mock. This doesn't come into any of their world frames of course, as Searle says, the re-constructed saints are a mildly contentious and provoking joke. Waldemar Januszczak in the Sunday Times suggests the show is the best show of the year so far, for more considered reasons - He considers that Landy is the first associate artist to have used the National Gallery collection successfully as a surreal resource for visitors. The mood of the fairground visited upon the world of saints - quite so, but with a catholic background why does Landy pick on poor saints?

Gary Hume the RA professor of painting is the recipient of the usual obsequious text from the pen of  Sean O'Hagan in the Observer who explains that Hume is the contemporary painter of everyday life in it's beautifully empty way, only he isn't and it isn't. Hume's work is pop celebrity, no visual content, empty surface and extremely limited skills and aspiration. More guff from Alex Needham in the Guardian. The difficulty with Hume is that his work isn't anything apart from a void, an empty, glossy and cheaply painted surface, not even a vaguely visual artist with anything  significant to say which explains the values of his followers........ So much so that without the accompanying textual explanation you wouldn't know that the empty images purport to be representational. What they do represent extremely well is the artist's own restricted vision and aspiration.

There also is an inflated self-regarding obsequiousness in the work of Gavin Turk who gets considered at the telegraph as the master of the snappy gesture. Sure but there isn't much else there either.  Derek Boshier did it far better a very long time ago.

State art supporter Adrian Searle argues that Jeremy Deller at the Venice Biennale is a universal hit, but with Deller's work there is the all pervading irrelevance. Can't he find anything meaningful in this dreadful world to moan about? This BBC page explains his ideas. Charlotte Higgins pens this remark by Deller about William Morris;"He was an extraordinary person: his politics, his writings, the way he humanised the industrial revolution, his interest in beauty. He was a true artist, with incredibly strong beliefs: artists wouldn't get involved like that today." Of course old YBA's wouldn't and why wouldn't they?
Which brings us onto Serota's bitter criticism that artists today cannot do what they like for fear of their sponsors censorship? Really? has that stopped Jake and Demos, Tracey or Hirst,  - have they been subject to censorship for the content of their product? What would one have to do to breach current censorship guidelines? All safe brands of tastelessness have been covered.

Finally Laura Cummings pens a peon of praise for Al Wei Wei in the Observer. One has to ask does the diminutive Chinese artist need any more publicity? He has already assumed the status of some sort of martyr. Not something that happens in the safely censored UK contemporary art market, is it?