Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Good art is the new "outsider art"


AND MUSIC BY MUSICIANS is the new punk rock.

Yes! So I have proclaimed it,  and so shall it be.

While googling the term "art about art" (because I got tired of encountering art about art ), I came upon this site.

"So long as most of humanity is permitted to compare and decide for themselves, Truth and Beauty, the twin sisters of the human soul projected through cyberspace into millions of homes, are certain to prevail," writes Art Renewal Center chairman Fred Ross.

Interesting. I leafed back a few pages in the journal sitting in my lap as I sat  reading Ross' words. There it is -- something wrote a couple of weeks ago:

BEAUTY + TRUTH ... are 2 sides of a coin, created by the same Creator. Truth is his Word and beauty his Work. But too often those given to Beauty neglect and scorn Truth, while those seeking after Truth give short shrift to Beauty.

I've not really kept up on cultural criticism about the fine arts, beyond perusing the conservative salvo Degenerate Moderns almost as soon as it debuted (and thinking: "Wow, those Bloomsbury people actually sound like a fun crowd...") I know a lot about conspiracies, and undeniably there has been a general conspiracy (or if you don't like that "c"-word, call it a "consensus" or a "contagion") to dumb down the American public. It also seems that modern art was part of it. Some would say the movement was skillfully siezed and its import vastly magnified by the CIA, allegedly for Cold War purposes. Encountering some skilled realists, and stumbling upon the ARC site, got me thinking again.

As I taught myself to draw from a very young age--not by attending a heavily theoretical ArtTM school but by imitating Charles M. Schulz cartoons, reading Betty Edwards, and randomly doodling during classes--my ideas about art are, let's say, outmoded and old-fashioned. I've always thought art of something involving skill and technique, beauty and form. I thought it was usually best when invoking the best of the human experience, rather than the ugliest and worst -- though I'm not opposed to portraying darkness if there is some redeeming purpose or narrative arc.
But the above notions, of course, were all thrown out the window over a century ago, beginning a line of artistic movements each of which strove to outdo the other in the jettisoning of anything having to do with craft, skill, even genuine creativity--not to mention the violent divorcement from the real environment.

ARC Chairman Fred Ross says:
Cézanne collapsed the landscape, Matisse flattened our homes and our families, and Pollock, Rothko and de Kooning placed it all in a blender and splattered it against the wall. They made even pancakes look fat and chunky by comparison. But this was only part of the breathtaking breakthroughs of modernism ... and their offshoots flourished. Abstract expressionism, Cubism, Fauvism, minimalism, ColorField, Conceptual, op-art, pop-art and post modernism ... and to understand it all ... to understand, took very special people indeed, since the mass of humanity was too ignorant and stupid to understand.  ...
Of course, to justify this whole theoretical paradigm, all the artists that painted recognizable scenes with depth and illusion had to be discredited ... and discredited they were, with a virulence and vituperation so scathing and merciless that one would think they must have been messengers of the devil himself to deserve such abuse. And to put the final nail in their coffins, all of their art was banished and their names and accomplishments written right out of history.

And on oppressor and oppressed:
Ironically it is modernism and modernists that have for nearly a century suppressed traditional realists from the freedom to express themselves artistically. It is Realism which has been virtually banned in most of the fine art departments in colleges and universities throughout the western world.
At its worst, modern art is the joke that got itself taken seriously. Or as the ARS crew says, a "cruel hoax." And in its role as long-hegemonic ideology-- as opposed to just one of many possible styles--modernism, in particular, appears to me as rebellious man's angry, angular protest against the creation and Creator: a collective temper tantrum. But I guess that's just my backwards, conservative, Christian spin on things.

It would be silly to say that none of the various 20th Century art movements entertained, provoked thought or action, or opened new doors. I don't think even ARC says this; as far as I can tell, they're protesting the  totalistic way in which these schools dominated the landscape, overthrew and purged everything that preceded them.

As I visit the Art Renewal Society page, I'm struck by the fact that I've not seen art anywhere near so riveting and beautiful in a long time. And that's not just because it features a lot of pleasingly plump, naked ladies.
While museums display realist art of the past centuries, living realists are blackballed and shunned and ignored nearly everywhere, while countless numbers of “gimmick-of-the-week” charlatans are given endless space for their “installations” or “conceptual” constructs, regardless how lacking they are in skills, meaning, poetry or grace. ...

Clearly for many people it is more important to feel that they are some part of an elitist in-group that is endowed with the special ability to see brilliance where the bulk of humanity sees nothing and is afraid to say so. Since most people aren't devoted to or educated in fine art, they have successfully intimidated the bulk of humanity into cowering away in silence, feeling foolish for their inability to understand. The average person shrinks away from believing the reality of his or her own senses in the face of seemingly overwhelming numbers of people in this 20th century "establishment" who authoritatively dictate what is great art and what everyone should be seeing....

Equally ironic is the charge that academic painting is "uninspired," a proclamation issued by critics who are unable to see beyond the technical virtuosity for which they condemn it, to see what is being said. This rich visual language is wasted on eyes that will not see. It would be no different than dismissing out-of-hand a piece of music as soon as it was determined that notes, chords and keys were used, or dismissing any work of literature upon noticing words arranged in grammatically correct sentences.

News flash for Ross: both music and literature have undergone those very developments. There have been recurring eruptions of musicless music--whether in academic or rock/pop music circles—each with its coterie of cheerleading critics. Being familiar with this fashion in the rock world, I’ll just cite the utter contempt rock-snob critics heaped upon quintessential whipping-boys like Journey -- not because they lacked stirring songs people loved, arresting melodic hooks, great harmonies, lyrical themes with universal appeal, a kickass frontman, actual live performance skills, and the love of the masses – but because they had all these things. The injection of this weird political and aesthetic fundamentalism, whether in the sixties or in the punk/postpunk era, did music no favors.

Musiclessness (disguised as “hip hop”) also has been the prevailing current in the contemporary R&B charts for much of the last decade; laziness and paucity of compositional skill and ideas, euphemized as "minimalism" and such, have been embraced by the pop music critical elite. Modern literature in recent times has had much the same problem, complete with its own self-flattering chattering in-group who pretend to "get" what the rest of us don't.

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