The pursuit of excellence

The pursuit of excellence

by Charles Harris
article from Monday 5, December, 2016

‘In the past Art lead in the Renaissance, it assisted in the Reformation, it aided the Romantics and it ended with the Impressionists.’

WHEREAS FOR six hundred years Art led mankind in discovery, values and standards, today it has been left to Sport to entirely continue the pursuit of excellence, as that necessary ideal in a meritorious society. Yet sadly, this activity too has been the target of cheating and corruption, rather than effort, work, discipline, and endeavour. So let’s sensibly consider the time has arrived for Fine Art to also stand alongside the pursuits of honest athletes and establish its former place in the world by offering those same ideas and standards of excellence as a measure of practical quality.

In practice this must be visually self evident, offering and reaffirming the necessary reality of our lives, and particularly encouraging new beauty. We need to see this new art aspiring to those standards of the Great Traditional, which lead to huge developments for mankind, while all displaying that genuine personal achievement, as is happily valued worldwide in Sport and the Olympic dream today.

Regrettably when we consider standards for excellence in art today, a pro-modern bias for conceptual art will not allow a balanced alternative classical view, and so traditional conventional fine art has had no voice until now, or any representation either.

This occurs in dramatic contrast to new ideas for education on display this Summer; when we all witnessed and heard news of new achievements overseas, in sport, where proven results have been achieved by formal conventional education, repetition and discipline. And, unsurprisingly, the loudest squawking and clucking came from those modern art supporters in Education, who reject any standards, skills, or necessary ability.

So how does all this manifest in actions, and by comparison to the wonderful physical personal pursuit of excellence in Sport, and those practical standards in the Olympic ideal? Miserably, the reality today is that it does not; and instead we are all subjected to what can only be described politely as flannel.

Before the 20th century most people knew what to expect with art. Today many galleries in Britain blindly do not even show traditional exhibits. How sad for us, that symbols which reflect the spirit and wonderful past of our nation, are decided by people so helplessly out of touch.

I believe with many others, this ugly modernist policy is in complete contrast to public opinion world-wide, regarding the very purpose and the importance of traditional fine art. So instead of just following this inappropriate modernist creed, we should be recognising how Scotland is viewed as a traditional country in other nation’s eyes. We should be using this as a gift to our advantage. We desperately need new art today with a deep sense of what art and life is all about. We need a renewal of orthodox art - heroic, significant, touching and real, not wasting or destroying the best parts of our nature.

We definitely need this new life aspiring fine art for the viewer like Raphael’s paintings always did, allowing the illiterate to have access to God, or Leonardo, and Michelangelo’s real three dimensional visual contributions to mankind supporting every aspect of life, or politically with the French Realist painters contribution to democracy and social development. Before this occurred, Leonardo said, “Draw from life every day,” and obviously meant this quite literary, for he spent huge amounts of time drawing from the human figure at night in a mortuary. He naturally like any athlete today, realised it is a long solitary road to self-improvement and results. It most likely means hours on one’s own to manage and sustain the effort needed for achieving those personal bests, all created through hard work and private, tough endeavour. Which like the runner for example, means hours alone with nature.

This has absolutely nothing to do with that total idiot peeing in the snow this year and trying to call it art. And sadly, this was not the first trendy artistic peeing dilettante. For about ten years ago there was another, who made a self-portrait apparently peeing high in the air, and sadly our modern media were again overly interested! Why? It was painted in a flat two dimensional graphic cartoon style, with very little skill or ability displayed. They could easily have said it was not newsworthy and refused to cover this, as was said to me regarding any making and recording of our beautiful Scottish landscape in normal conventional traditional painting. Again, why? Does anybody understand that?

So in keeping with this modernist art and its anti-social disregard for public taste, I am reminded of another unpleasant occasion. It was on our world tour exhibitions programme, and the venue was in Belfast, Northern Ireland. After the event, the Lord Mayor of Belfast asked me to view an exhibition for him opening at the new Riverside complex. Happy to oblige, I went expecting to see paintings, drawing and pastels, but instead there was just an empty space with a video screen and loud speakers. This screen showed a clumsy dancer (the Sugar Plum Elephant) who when, she landed, produced bouts of machine gun fire from the loud speakers.

It was after the ceasefire, and was utterly inappropriate and tasteless. This was contrived with callous intellectual barbarity and a modern disregard for the hurting of other people’s feelings, especially following those years of suffering and war.

It was yet another example of poor conceptual taste funded with public money, and all unpleasantly presented by our modernist art establishment.

This Friday in conversation, a friend of mine said, “It’s all just constant repeats of conceptual art of the 1920’s. It certainly is not cutting edge any more, as it is nearly a hundred years now since these conceptual failures reached a high zenith. It’s simply disgraceful!”

Yet surprisingly, this ongoing corruption of our art is still neither recognised, or challenged by our media. Whilst the evidence for those cold modern ugly object ideas are on display everywhere. Unfortunately for us all, nepotism and bureaucratic support for modernist art has created a new hierarchy, a ruling establishment somewhat outside of the control of normal democracy. With questionable interests, and different to our political parties, this modernist art has no place in everyday human culture.

Today, this rotten modern policy exists in contrast to public need and must be stopped. For instead of continuing with a failed modernist creed, we should now be recognising how Scotland is viewed as a traditional country in other nation’s eyes and we should be using this gift to our advantage. So as quickly as possible, a long unacceptable programme of inappropriate modern conceptual art must end and its biased supporters in education removed or retrained again. As with drugs in Sport – which has its own advocates and defenders, the dictates of common sense and decency must prevail over cynicism, cheating and disharmony. For the pursuit of excellence is not just a cheap ‘idea’ or an ‘opinion,’ but a determined practical reality of life, providing inspiration for millions across our planet.

This was the noble role that Art also used to stand for and should be encouraged to do so again. As I have said before: ‘Examples of great past art are available to us all who visit our National Galleries and the collections of our National Heritage, with displays from the ‘Great Tradition,’ and art should again aspire to these highest standards of human activity, and art education must begin again to provide the training for that purpose.’

And in answer to a question I received this week, “Is there any sign of a change in the air yet, and when will it happen?”  

My response? Britain is the very worst for this unwholesome obsession for modernism, although a return to tradition is occurring in a range of other areas today. Elsewhere, in Russia they have lots of traditional artworks and their own great painters like Rippen, whilst on our exhibition tour, we found Hong Kong, and South Africa, excited by traditional art. In the USA, they seem to have a more commercially aware society and know the price of things much better than us; judging the value of things they see by the apparent hours of labour and self-evident quality of work. In Italy, in every town or village, every church has a traditional quality painting to be seen; and in Rome almost every church has a Caravaggio.

In Egypt I asked why they had no modern art, and they said they never wanted any, they had their own traditions. In Ireland, with the people we met, traditional art was most popular. While this week in one of the two art groups I support with members across the globe, a person declined to join us, explaining he was too busy with requests by modern artists to teach them. So I asked would he offer us a few lines to post as news about this achievement. It appears that people in the USA have become fed up with abstracts and more and more of them are buying realist paintings. So artists who have not learnt those skills have to retrain.

Modernism is not as discredited here as it will become, simply because of the degree of vested interest benefiting from it. Yet we can all see and hear from the practical evidence all around us, what we must expect will keep happening, unless reform quickly occurs. So before I close this time, may I thank those of you who have responded to these articles, as I remain very grateful for your suggestions to help bring change to this lost world of art for our culture tomorrow, and do keep writing please. While finally my thanks again to ThinkScotland for providing this wonderful opportunity of a public voice.

Copyright 2016: Charles Harris - ‘Trust Your Heart, the Validity of Contemporary Art’. Photo of Charles painting at the Waterfall at Buchanty Spout by Gilbert Griffen.

ThinkScotland exists thanks to readers' support - please donate in any currency and often


Follow us on Facebook and Twitter & like and share this article

User Comments

Although i have a very limited knowledge of all art i have really enjoyed these articles by Charles. I worry for the future of traditional art if education continues in its current manner and public money is being wasted on modern art also what happens if Charles's knowledge, expertise and skill is not passed on.

Posted on Monday 5, December, 2016 by Scott Jempson
Charles expresses the views of many artists who are not happy with what Ellen has called the fast-living world in her comment. Maybe modern art is valuable to some but the powers that be should not neglect the importance of traditional values in art. After all it is the only universal language which in times of old was understood even by the illiterate.

Posted on Monday 5, December, 2016 by Pat Harrison
i have been reading with interest Charles Harris' articles on modern art. I have often wondered how this modern abstract art developed. I believe it must be the result of this fast-living world where everything must be done as easily and quickly as possible, where human values have disappeared. Anyway, art with standards and skills has almost vanished. I implore the schools and art supporters of the world to again teach the history, skills, and standards required to paint like the Old Masters. After all, art is a cultural and societal agent of our World and must not be allowed to become empty and meaningless and void of value.

Posted on Monday 5, December, 2016 by Ellen E Hinson
Charles has made his position clear and understandable in this short series of articles. There are many areas within education that seem to be hijacked by new thinking and not necessarily for the benefit of current students or future historians. Charles has explained very well the historical context of his concerns in a very thoughtful and insightful manner. I hope that the Scottish Government is still committed to Fine Art by supporting postgraduate study.

Posted on Monday 5, December, 2016 by Susan Dunbar
The short series by Charles Harris has been extremely engaging. Charles presents his arguments clearly and convincingly and I believe his vision of true art will surely prevail. Thank you for a most enjoyable publication.

Posted on Monday 5, December, 2016 by Ash Sinclair