Wednesday, June 21, 2006

flogging on...

This is first in a series about the Art Renewal Center.

Let's just say i feel a bit whipped. Having gotten through Fred Ross's diatribe, I can honestly say I probably agree with about 85% of what he writes. I encourage anyone who stops by here to read his philosophy closely. His assertion that the 20th century has been a disaster for the arts is probably a bit over-stated in that any honest look at the 20th century should show quite clearly that it was a disaster for lots of other things too. In fact, it was a disaster in just about any field that one looks, art education being just one obvious example.

Our influence and reach are growing daily, and our goal is to right the wrongs of 100 years of decadence, decay and decline in the fine arts of painting and sculpture.... to expose the hoax of modernism and the destructive of empty conceptual concept. [sic?]
Well, I wish I could say "more power to him." It is a little difficult to criticize a shrieking advocate of "realism," when the view of realism, the definition of realism is so harpishly anachronistic. That is not to say that Ross's reading of history, particularly 20th century history is not at times brilliantly accurate.
I am always amazed at modernist critics like John Russell or Hilton Kramer of The New York Times. They will review museum shows of old masters such as Raphael,Caravaggio, Titian or da Vinci, refer to the exquisite drawing, the balance of composition, accuracy of perspective and modeling, subtlety of coloration, and then conveniently fail to notice over-sentimentalized subject matter or over-dramatized gestures. These same critics will then look at Bouguereau, Gérôme, Burne-Jones or Alma-Tadema and totally ignore all of the above-mentioned parameters and with a "double-think" right out of Orwell's 1984<, see nothing but the so-called sentimental subject matter.
Hilton Kramer ? This cutting gives you a bit of the tone anyway. Now seriously, it is going to take me a few days to thoroughly digest what is going on over there. I will say that, as shrill as Ross's estimation of the 20th century is, I am interested in pursuing this because I think that any movement to get past the shittiest parts of the last 10 years do necessarily require a re-newed understanding of many parts of the late 19th century art-world. That is not to say I support a return to the "realism" that I am pretty sure Ross advocates. I do think a continued assault on the thinking that led to the kind of crap we are seeing is necessary, though absolutely not on conservative grounds. Ross's screeching misses the fact that much of the hysteria of early modernism against his "old order" was commited by working people against an entrenched aristocracy. It is like the conservative argument against Soviet paraphernalia that misses the vision and dreams of communists, both devout and merely sympathizing. A communist world is imaginable, many have of us, including anyone whose grandfather was in a labor union, have indirectly benefitted from communist activism.

I sincerely hope I never sound like this guy, though I think I am sometimes confused with someone who shares his views. What I am interested in doing here is filling in the gap between what he thinks and what the people I surround myself with think. As Ross says:
[...] if you are a Modern or Post-modern artist, every possible method of expressing these feelings and ideas has been removed. Story telling, drawing, illusion, perspective, modeling, and harmonious blending of these with color, tone and design are all forbidden to you. Nothing at all from the real world or even your dreams is permitted. But in the late 19th century it is increasingly being recognized that the greatest artists were not establishment old order supporters, but are more appropriately thought of as liberal activists, both for the advancement of our culture and the righting of societies wrongs.
Now, I really have seen a lot of dejected, unhappy and angry MFA students in the United States, who realize bold-facedly that they are being scammed, that these programs really are set up to rob them, as university cash cows that offer NO real learning. If not to advocate for a return to "realism," at least these arguments could be made for a return to actually teaching, rather than merely pretending to teach.

And so at this early stage, I think my hat is 85% off to Ross. Read more tomorrow.
Image, William Bouguereau, The Flagellation of Our Lord Jesus Christ. 1880, Oil on canvas, 121 5/8 x 83 3/8 inches (309 x 212 cm). Cathedral of La Rochelle, La Rochelle, France

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