Sunday, 21 January 2018

Classicist challenging

“A painting by Titian is like a Leningrad, holding out against the forces of the world. Even if they’re having to eat rats in there, they still will never surrender to it. Whereas the art of Tracey Emin is a complete capitulation to the world. Cutting a shark in half and putting it in a tank of piss is just art giving up. I find it very odd when they describe art as challenging, because I always thought art was meant to calm you like a lullaby, not challenge you like some skinhead in an underpass.”

Thus Alexander Stoddart, the Scottish national sculptor working in a classicist style. His art is a subgenre of sculpture: civic monuments for public places, and brilliant in its appropriate vision and technical realization. But also: cool and impersonal.

The idea that new art should be challenging stems from the late 19th and the early 20th century, when resistance by the public to visions of life which disrupted the aesthetic context of tradition was considered an expression of an outdated, conservative attitude and thus hostile to the real creative meaning of art. We know about the mocking and scorn that the impressionists received from the public, while later-on their work proved to be of unassailable artistic value. Since that later realisation, 'progressiveness' and the idea that 'the public' is always 'conservative' petrified into a convention, which ignored the fact that that 'bourgeois public' gradually disappeared and that new generations have grown-up with the accepted idea that there is 'progress' in the arts and that 'new art' always is 'ahead of its time' and that resistance to it, merely reveals 'conservatism'. In general, there is not much protest from the public nowadays against modern art; people think it's fun, and don't feel offended because there is not much to be 'understood' in the works which don't require much aesthetic training or knowledge of art history, and if you don't like it, you simply walk on. This is the reason that modernist artists try to provoke rage with ever more crazy gestures in their work, and try to find ever more boundaries to 'transcend'. Every little spark of public irritation is jumped upon as the proof that the work has indeed achieved the romantic goal of avantgarde transgression into 'real artistic quality', for which resistance is needed in the same way sin is necessary to keep religious absolution intact.

So, any resistance from the bourgeois public, however minor, is welcomed as a proof that the 'challenges' of new art are still in place and demonstrate its artistic value. The irony is, that the 'challenging' quality of new art has become the most stale, conservative, reactionary, bourgeois and nonsensical characteristic imaginable, and art like Stoddart's is - in this context - the real challenge. But a challenge to whom? Not to the public, which has no difficulty in recognizing its qualities, they are there entirely visible for anyone with still a residu of aesthetic sensitivity. But it is a challenge to the extensive conservative network of 'art experts', curators, and theorists, who cannot find a place of such art in their progressive vision of how art develops and resort to simply ignoring it or deriding it as 'kitsch' and 'nostalgic nonsense'.

I think there is, in the arts, nothing more nostalgic - in the negative, escapist sense - than the longing to preserve the romanticized 'breaking of boundaries' of the old avantgarde, all born from the misunderstanding that in the arts there exists something like 'progress'.

While modernism has, by now for over a century, tried to stamp out any remnants of tradition in all artistic genres, through ideology, propaganda, and isolation and exclusion of artists who did not want to jump on the bandwagon of establishment art, the wish to preserve art as a repository of understanding of the human condition has not died and over the last years finds its outlet in excentric individuals outside the shallow circles of the new 'salon art': the 'art' we see in the museums of 'modern art' which is agreed upon by the network of art curators and theorists who want to keep their jobs of infinite explanation to the bourgeois public intact, the public which continues to need expert instruction - because the works themselves cannot penetrate the dumb sculls of the public's ignorance. So, Stoddart is an excentric, but an intelligent and very independent one, appearing at conferences about new art, advising youngsters, giving witty interviews. Obviously he is an instinctive artist who has enough of what he sees and feels, and rightly so: the thing which is much more difficult in the midst of an established art world.

Stoddart's stance is courageous and explorative, and comparable with movements in painting and music - although in music, things happen later, due to the long trajectory from desk to podium. But there is also other contemporary sculpture which revives the classicist mind set. Stoddart's art is public, impersonal, objective (his love of Wagner forms a puzzling contrast), which is appropriate for its purposes: civic monuments. The new classicist sculpture which is, as most art works, a personal expression, is more engaging on a personal level, as the works of Lori Shorin, Matteo Pugliese, Margot Homan and Christophe Charbonnel demonstrate (follow the links below). And these are only a handful of examples.

This art is offering an alternative to a vision of the modern world where the deeper layers of the human condition are denied, ignored or simply scorned. This makes these art forms - sculpture, painting, music - very 'modern' in the sense of relating them to the deeper concerns of what is happening in our present time: the longing for meaning and humanism in a confused and violent world, and the attempt to find beauty, in spite of the ugliness that is all around us.

www.andrewcusack.com/2010/stoddart-interview/  

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Stoddart





 

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