I normally write about politics, not art. But I care about art. I've been drawing and painting all my life, and I helped my ladyfriend attain her degree in Art History.Crap like this
has been bugging me for years. Is there anyone out there who genuinely considers Paula Scher to be an artist
? She can't draw. She doesn't display any awareness of color theory. Her calligraphy is primitive and ugly. Her work shows no craftsmanship, no talent.
Nevertheless, her "map" paintings have received wide publicity -- and I feel certain that they fetch high sales prices. Why? Because of their literary
Too many people who should have become English majors went in other directions because it is not very easy to make large sums of money in the book business. They wandered into Art History because that's where the cash is. People pay tens of millions of dollars for paintings; there's gold in them thar galleries.
In most universities, you can get an Art History degree without taking any studio classes. These students never learn what it feels like to use pencil or charcoal to make marks on paper. They don't know what artists know.
As a result, we have had several generations of so-called art critics who place little or no value on composition, color, draftsmanship or any of the other things that I
care about. They cannot discern the difference between the beautiful and the ugly. All they care about are ideas
These poseurs discuss painting purely in terms of literary content. And they have, in turn, produced a generation of artists who are not artists at all.
Call them Fraudists.
(My ladyfriend invented that term.)
Imagine if we discussed, say, Beethoven's Symphony #6 in purely literary terms. Imagine if songs or operas or cantatas or oratorios were judged by their lyrics.
Imagine what would happen if we allowed all conversation about music to be commandeered by people who don't know C major from E flat -- and who sneered at anyone who suggested that such knowledge might be beneficial.
In the world of painting, we've seen just such a transvaluation of values. As a result, millions of dollars have been spent on vomitous canvases emitted by hoaxers whose only talents lie in the area of self-promotion.
One measure of the corruption of art criticism is its reliance on lit-crit terminology. Any poseur who talks about how to "read" a painting deserves to have turps poured down his throat and #9 bristle brushes stuck into his eye sockets.
The ultimate example of art-reduced-to-literature must be the vile Ward Shelly. You have to see this shit to believe it
. In his "History of Science Fiction," Shelly neglects the visual altogether, filling his canvas with words, words, words. Even his calligraphy stinks. (He could have used an old-school Ames guide. They're still on sale.) Worse, critics discuss his "paintings" in purely literary terms, even though these works don't have the literary value one should expect from a high school essay.
Painting is for painters
. Subject matter is the least important aspect of any work of visual art.
Only poseurs and Misplaced English Majors discuss art in terms of ideas. They refuse to learn anything about the craft -- and yet, like all lazy people, they are very clever when forced to come up with rationalizations for their laziness.
Consider, for example, this extraordinary masterpiece (on the left) by Matthias Gruenewald -- a work that changed the life of French writer and art critic J.K. Huysmans. In terms of purely literary content, how does the Gruenewald differ from my ultra-crude drawing on the right?
True, I've cut out a few figures, and my dog Bella has been cast as the lamb of God. Still, from an Misplaced English Major's point of view, the two images are pretty much the same. They convey the same idea
. Therefore, one is as good as the other -- if you are a litterateur
But if you are a painter, or if you care about painting, you will come to a different conclusion.
Because the barbarian hordes of Misplaced English Majors have commandeered all discussion of art, we have produced a generation of artists who simply do not possess the skills necessary to produce a work like the Gruenewald. Nobody encourages a young artist to learn how to make a painting like that. Those few who make the attempt encounter only derision.
Suppose a modern artist attempted to create a work similar to the Gruenewald. What would happen? In all likelihood, the painting would be judged purely on the basis of its religious or literary content -- as though anyone should give a shit about that
. The painting's beauty, or lack of beauty, would be ignored.
Over the years, a lot of crap has been written about what the Mona Lisa
"means." The most famous, most crap-filled essay on this theme begins with the words "She is as old as the rocks on which she sits..." People have written entire books about how that one image has been variously interpreted over the years.
Let me clue you in. Let me tell you how an artist sees that work.It's just a picture of a lady.
Beyond that, it has no meaning whatsoever
And yet it is the greatest portrait ever painted -- because of how
it was done.
Art is not what
The people who tell you otherwise can mount endlessly polysyllabic defenses and attacks. But that doesn't make them anything other than a parade of nude emperors.
If you have a purely intellectual idea to convey, do what I do nearly every damned day: Write an essay.
Ideas are for word people.
If you want ideas, GO TO THE FUCKING LIBRARY.
Go to a literary symposium. Go to the bookstore. Contribute to the New York Review of Books.
Stay out of the museums and galleries; those places are not for you.
Today, the money and the accolades go to notorious Fraudists like Damien Hirst and Jeffrey Koons. These poseurs have cashed in on the art racket.
It is true that Koons produces paintings that display actual skill. Koons hires other (better) artists to do the parts that require talent. Koons' job is to stand in front of the cameras and explain the ideas
behind the works which bear his signature. He does this in a very ingratiating fashion; you can't help but like him. Still, he is nothing more than an idea man, a literary figure. He is not an artist.
Koons and Hirst are hucksters conning the tackiest residents of OnePercentLand.
Last year, I read a book called The Rape of the Masters
, by Roger Kimball. Although his high-Tory political stance does not resemble my own viewpoint, I certainly agree with Kimball's disdain for the litterateurs
who have disfigured art criticism.
One of the Amazon reviewers offers an instructive summary of one section of Kimball's book:
The chapter on John Singer Sargent's 1882 painting, "The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit" gave me belly laughs galore as leading Sargent expert Professor David M. Lubin of Wake University, subjects a painting of four upper crust little girls at the turn of the century into a critique of sexual oppression and perversion. Playing on the French version of Mr. Boit's name ( i.e. boite, meaning box) Professor Lubin contends 'the Female Child is enclosed within [an]ideological and biological box'. If this is not absurd enough, Kimball shows us how Lubin's reasoning in analyzing the painting in sexual/gender terms depends upon such things as the circumflexed 'i' in 'boite' (remember the Frenchified version of the girls' father's name) as a receptacle into which the 'i' phallus plunges. In addition the word 'boite' the good Professor tells us also means 'house of prostitution'. From this he concludes that the little girls represent the father's (remember Dad doesn't appear in Sargent's picture) harem.
One could laugh one's head off if it wasn't so frightening to consider this is what young people are subjected to in universities across America.
Lubin is a literary
critic, even if he pretends otherwise. Not once does he discuss the work in terms that would make sense to an artist
: Composition, color, draftsmanship, brushwork, light, glazing, quality of rendering and so forth. All of the aspects of painting that the few remaining real artists spend years trying to master are absolutely invisible to the poseurs who affect to tell us what art is and is not.
When a Misplaced English Major stands in front of a 19th century painting, he tends to make up imaginative stories about the figures depicted: Who are these people and what are they thinking?
That's a favorite pastime of the litterateurs
. It's an exercise which may have some (slight) value in an introductory creative writing class -- but everywhere else, it is pure Fraudism.
In contradistinction to an endlessly eplanatory Fraudist like Koons, Gustav Mahler had two favorite maxims: "My music begins where words end" and "Perish all programs." In other words: To hell with anyone who tries to turn music into literature. Although Mahler was a well-read intellectual, the ineffable appeal of his complex, radiant, incredibly moving symphonies stems from their resistance to verbalization. If he had wanted to write an essay, he would have written an essay.
Our painters should take a similar stance.
Oddly enough, English majors do care about craftsmanship -- but only when the topic turns to literature. Visit a bookstore, look for the shelf filled with "how to write" books, and you'll find much discussion of elegance and style. Many people seek to give budding writers advice regarding adverbs, paragraph length, alliteration, metaphor and so forth. An author who expresses himself with the crudeness of an eight year old won't get published.
By contrast, modern critics and teachers never encourage young artists to learn the basics of drawing the human form. Today's artists are not taught about the extraordinary effects they can achieve by mixing small brushstrokes of cool and warm colors of similar value. An artist who draws like an eight year old can earn millions.
Artists are now taught Damien Hirst's maxim: Only ideas matter. Intellectual
ideas. Literary ideas.
Visualize two boxes: One is labeled "How to write" and the other is labeled "How to paint." Our corrupt society has decreed that craftsmanship belongs in the first box and intellectual content belongs in the second.
I believe that we've been putting the wrong things in these two boxes. What would happen if we collectively said: "Strike that; reverse it"?
What if we put ideas
in the "writing" box and beauty
in the "painting" box?
The result might be a new Renaissance.