I WILL begin this week by discussing those streams of unspoken thought that separate us as human beings from each other, and how exceptional art from the Great Tradition marvellously allows us ‘to see the world through somebody else’s eyes’ This communication, private, and unique, renews the excitement and wonder of human life. It is a strong experience of truth, with immediate visual understanding, an amazing encounter occurring directly with another soul, past or present. For the viewer this encounter is priceless. While practically, this magic can only happen when the standard of art has reached that level of high magnificence, using all of those lost and unpractised skills today, from that wonderful craft library and ability, which was normally known in the great tradition.
The works of Raphael allowed the poor illiterate to experience God without words; or with Caravaggio we see the true drama and companionship of human life. With Rembrandt flows an understanding of the experience of old age, with David and Delacroix, came the majesty of Justice; and with Corot, a deep love of Nature. Happily, there are many more in this list of brilliant artists from the great tradition, allowing sincere artists today, the thrill and pleasure of walking in the footsteps of these giants.
I mentioned these wonderful standards first, for this week a good friend was deeply offended by an inappropriate object made of knives, which were apparently used in knife crime, and the claim this was a sensitive art sculpture. So let’s begin again, and ask why would anyone make such an inappropriate thing? Of course it was a modern conceptual artist. And who would promote it? Unfortunately it was our media. And all this occurs again and again, despite there being no shortage of common sense in the 21st century, where we can all see and properly express our revulsion for these low activities.
Unhappily, this object was not rejected because it was distasteful and disgusting, but promoted because it might appear interesting or controversial? Obviously people can justify anything, but I believe my friend was right when he wrote,
“These cynical people always attach themselves to some cause or event in order to gain credence. If he had stupidly just made a sculpture out of knives, it may or may not have received any mention, but to associate it with crime itself and the miserable suffering of its victims, apparently guarantees huge publicity. It is deplorable that peoples’ private suffering and their lives should be commercially exploited in this way.”
So whether you care about art, we must all surely care about this loss of our culture, and along with many others, I do think we have seen enough today of ridiculous modern art lies, or that vile reaching into the pit, for the sake of cheap sensation. And regrettably we should look to the media with disapproval for not rejecting this practise. Equally by contrast, when and where we see a story about a traditional artist painting a landscape that makes us proud of our country, or hear about the painting of a portrait that makes us happy? I was told in the past by the editor of a leading Scottish newspaper, “This is not newsworthy.” I don’t believe that, and I hope you won’t too.
This matter sadly reminded me of another distasteful blasé habit, the placing of irrelevant monstrosities, on the columns at Nelson’s monument in Trafalgar Square. Like many others, I consider this a special place, created as a respected monument to a hero who gave his life for the Nation. So upset by those repeated signs of disrespect – in Spain last year I spoke of my concerns to a Senior Deputy Official from London. And publically he said, “I quite like it.”
Standing shocked, for me his answer was symbolic of a cheap modern view, which now exists regarding the status of art. I then thought of St. Peter’s in Rome, Michelangelo’s wonderful sculptures, and wondered what he would have to say about this idea, that there are no standards in art today, and how its values can be just expressed in an everyday social media comment?
Unquestionably, we must now try to reenergise our visual world with real genuine Art, and change the criteria again about what can be called Art. It is not true, that we must continue to be confused or confronted with low art forms, or art statement objects. With just a small effort and support, we can experience beautiful genuine classical art instead; offering pleasure and joy, renewing honest contact with that complete reality of life, with art that shows the love we can find for human experience in all its wonderful complexity; or the love and passion we find for our own endeavours, or again for our country, all of those things which make us happy and proud. We can easily have normal conventional portrait paintings, or proper conventional portrait statues of our local heroes – not just stale plastic figure objects made of cheap cement-fondue, all doing weird unnecessary things.
This will never do for the future! We should and must have traditional portraits, with images that are not distorted to fit those strange ideas of non-reality and modernism. And we certainly don’t need to be told: “I don’t want any portraits or busts of dead people,” by vested modern interests. As this is exactly what we do need. For our communities we do need an opportunity to show respect and acknowledge the works and efforts of other people we love and admire. And then see them properly commemorated with admiration, for known achievement, for public work, for service and personal endeavour.
So through public necessity, I will continue a little further here and ask for your help to put an end to what appears a ‘David and Goliath’ struggle with vested modernism in art, which allows practically unqualified, non experienced, ill-equipped, and poorly motivated people, to make the wrong decisions for us all. Happily, we can ask for a continuous improvement in the standards and traditions of new art that lifts the spirit instead. For we certainly don’t need to be shocked or challenged any more. These are old dirty dishes, from a dishonest gravy train and one I have spoken about previously. Where unfortunately this mess in our shabby art world today is simply a business proposition of supply and demand, where accepted standards and that pursuit of excellence in art are not supplied, whilst an apparent demand for poor modern fakery is only presented instead. We do need reform badly here and right now alas.
After the Second World War, the need for restoration and modernisation was paramount, and the word ‘Modern’ became symbolic with these improvements. This occurred across society in differing degrees and activities, but with modern art the idea was carried too far. A fashion became an obsession, skill based art was frowned upon as old fashioned, and reality considered obsolete. However, in practise this was utter nonsense, for a modern society does not just need modern art, but appropriate art, like any society, at any stage in history. Yet sadly this situation has continued to the present, bringing a tragic loss to our society with the absence of great art, in keeping with that Great Tradition. Whose standards for art, lasted for seven hundred years, and helped continuously with the development and improvement of mankind.
Unfortunately this black hole in art, also affected the outlook of many cities. It lead to poor modern attempts at public art, later described as ‘conceptual installations,’ yet claiming the status of art, whilst clinging onto the coat tails of modern architecture to justify their existence. However, like those brutal high rise buildings of the 1960’s, they have proved equally unsuitable for the realistic needs of human life, and proper communities.
Happily, our new Smart Cities’ no longer have to be soulless places for its citizens without traditional culture or proper proven art. Alongside food, and entertainment, cities can now encourage a genuine taste of new art for its citizens. Not just those expensive cold modern fashion objects, like decorative kerb railings, lifeless knobbly lamp posts, or flowery metal waste paper bins; but ‘new conventional traditional art’ which truly celebrates its heroes, with proper realistic portraits; or realistic new city landscape paintings, revealing the actual beauty of the city itself. These can also be supported by greater local art education; with new inexpensive academic drawing classes, and new traditional art appreciation for all ages; allowing city people the opportunity to describe their own visual pleasures, seen within their own communities and experience the true joy, the pleasure of recording, or sharing their love of life and human reality.
New works could then be displayed in public halls and museums; ‘with scenes of lighted shops and streets, the assortment of trade, the businessmen, the bars and restaurants, the cars, the buses, the traffic, the dodgy dives and the elegant promenades; the romance and the drunken scenes; city life, the crowds, the dust and clamour, the sunshine as it falls upon those walls and pavements, food for the soul, which fills the heart with gladness, showing those familiar local views of shared human life. While out in the countryside, the landscape, be it a forest, glen, hill, mountain, river, or the sea, remain scenes of joy for us all to share in new realist art, which links the present landscape with our past.’
(From Charles Harris 2016. Trust your Heart the Validity of Contemporary Art.)
Photo by Ian Potter of Charles with a full size portrait of ‘The Dancer’ celebrating life in the community.