Tuesday, 21 March 2017

What’s more important than political change?



In the long run, what’s far more important than any amount of tedious political yammering? What trumps political change?  Answer: what trumps both is a change in the culture -- of which political change is simply a consequence, not a cause.

So further evidence of “a resurgence in masterfully executed, beautiful representational art is a great thing,” says a Facebook friend. Like him, I think this reaction against a century of dumbed-down nihilism “mirrors the budding growth of reason in economics and other areas.”

In an ironic twist of history these traditional artists are perhaps the most radical and marginalised group of artists living today. And yet their numbers are growing.

This is great news.

These are highly skilled painters, sculptors, and draftsmen trained in ateliers or academies who are not embarrassed to utter the word “beautiful” at a time when that word is generally scorned by the contemporary art establishment. You’ll hardly ever see their works in major museums or at major galleries for longer than a short stint. Most of their works are whisked away by private collectors or are sitting in their studios, waiting to be discovered.
    These artists value quality over quantity, sincerity over cynicism, intrinsic value over marketing hype, and the Western tradition of fine art over the avant garde fixation on newness…
    Mostly awkward or humble when they try to describe their own work, they don’t fit into any radical stereotype. Suspicious of labels, they don’t know what to call themselves because they are too immersed in creating visual art to be able to think about words. They have decided to continue the Western tradition of art that has a reverence for mastery and skill and to learn the fundamentals of a visual language that developed over 700 years.

And with today’s postmodern art screaming for attention the more it self-confessedly has less and less to say, it is these young artistic heroes learning so much from the past who truly do represent the artistic future. And perhaps civilisation’s.

Exciting times.




  1. Great post. Step daughter fancies herself as arty and lasted 3 months at fine art at uni. Someone prattling on for 20 minutes about the square rectangle they painted monochrome orange (Trump wasn't even on the radar) was the final straw. I dragged her away from Warhol's show at Te Papa to the old masters exhibition (or something like that) next room over and she had her eyes opened to well executed and beautiful paintings that quickly drew her in.


  2. I'm going to commit heresy: I actually think there's a place in art for things like 4:33 and non-representational art. It's all about the audience. Non-representational art (if done well) is intended to show off a technique to other experts--it's not intended to be viewed as art, necessarily, but as a demonstration of skill. Or, in the case of 4:33, it asks us to question assumptions about the field, specifically: What is music? Where are the limits? Okay, 4:33 went outside the limits--but it's not inherently wrong to ask such questions.

    I recall in college listening to a horrible piece of music when visiting a friend. He found it fascinating. It was a sax player demonstrating an incredibly difficult technique--the musical equivalent of a perfect game in baseball--and my friend, a fellow sax player, found deep meaning in the piece. Me not being able to carry a tune in a bucket, it meant nothing to me. THAT is what I'm talking about.

    The problem is, this sort of art should be a small portion of the total. It's the in-jokes of the group, which every industry has. But this is the only sort of thing art schools want these days. Which allowed outright cons--who had neither an understanding of art, nor technical skill--to take over, and claim depth by virtue of the fact that no one could figure out what was going on.


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