Friday, April 5, 2019
ARTISTS SHOULD NOT LEARN TO DRAW (NOT!)
Or so says Professor Martin Lang in a post on Facebook that my Friend Edgar Jerins put up a while back, and I think Edgar's post to the contrary makes an excellent.
Edgar wrote: This [following article represents] ...the idiotic thinking that is being preached across the land. Makes me sick.
"Life drawing was developed as a pedagogical tool to train Western artists to make figurative painting and sculpture. The reason that it still exists in some art schools is mostly down to tradition. While life drawing may be useful for some types of artist, it is not applicable to all. I am not saying that its teaching necessarily prohibits the development of good, exciting and relevant artists. My argument is that it is not necessary and does more to hinder the development of such artists than it does to encourage them. To teach it is to enforce a hierarchy: representation over abstraction, traditional forms of art over more avant-garde kinds. It is also to deny art’s radical potential: must art activists first learn such conservative lessons? Embedded within this hierarchical and authoritarian position lies a reactionary and conservative politics. Nostalgia and fascism have always walked hand in hand. Think of Mussolini harking back to the Roman Empire, or Hitler’s love of classical art and architecture. Today we might think of Trump’s slogan “make America great again” and Brexit talk of “taking back control”. We urgently need free thinking artists able to critique contemporary nostalgia, populism and even outright racism and sexism. For that we need a pedagogical approach that is progressive, inclusive, and libertarian. This will allow for more progressive forms of art to develop and emerge – including non-Western kinds. For these reasons, I am against the teaching of life drawing."
Art Professor Martin Lang. University of Lincoln 2017
"Life drawing was developed as a pedagogical tool to train Western artists to make figurative painting and sculpture."
Right out of the gate Martin Lang shows us how deeply limited his knowledge of art history is. Has he not seen Goya’s and Rembrandt’s etchings, the line drawings of Ingres, Van Gogh’s hundreds of ink landscapes (some of his strongest work in my opinion), Leonardo’s endless books of sketches and anatomical studies, the studies and fresco cartoons of hundreds of excellent draftsmen and women, the graphic works of Kathe Kollwitz and countless other artists for whom drawing was an art in and of itself? And if he doesn’t know this work, what business does he have teaching art?
"It [teaching drawing] is also to deny art’s radical potential: must art activists first learn such conservative lessons? Embedded within this hierarchical and authoritarian position lies a reactionary and conservative politics."
Neo-Modernism needs to continue seeing itself as radical, even though it is today's tired status quo whose "radical" efforts have led it into endless and mind-numbing repetition of exhibits that lack any individualism whatsoever. To continue to see representationalism as "conservative" is perhaps the biggest crock of horseshit being shoveled into the minds of today's art students. To begin with the assertion (and its, it-goes-without-saying-typ
That this kind of weak-minded rhetoric has gained any traction with today’s young students so pisses me off. Below is a photo of Hilary Hahn, a major star of the contemporary music world. She is Mozart brilliant and when she was 17, already a graduate of Curtis (she was accepted into Curtis at age 10), she released her first album. She won a major award for one of her own contemporary compositions and funds a project in which she commissions dozens of other young contemporary composers to write more. She is the definition of a modernist.
She plays Bach every day. She says, “Bach is, for me, the touchstone that keeps my playing honest.” By Martin Lang's yardstick, that makes her a hopelessly conservative, sentimental fascist and not the modernist - one of the foremost musical modernists writing today - that she is.
Do you believe for an instant any musician would be a musician at all, if they were not a master of their traditional craft? If, as would be the exact equivalent of an artist deciding that drawing is irrelevant, a musician decided that knowledge of his/her instrument and of music theory in general, decided that the core of an education in music, were suddenly specious? That practicing and learning to play with skill were mere conservative, sentimental, fascistic trends that should be abandoned? If a musician ceased to make sounds altogether?
The argument and general belief of Martin Lang, dufus extraordinaire, and the rest of the neo-modernist establishment is why I believe art needs a new definition that grounds it in visual expression with drawing (think of it as visual perception and response to nature, for those who have a hard time with the actual word “drawing”) as its cornerstone, or Core. Craft is not art, but there is no visual art without craft. Teaching its opposite and the seriously weak logic and type of thinking that led Martin Lang to his conclusions is teaching poor habits of thought as well and encouraging the worst kind of philosophical deduction-making, a kind of logic that necessarily denies further exploration (talk about conservative!), and to my mind is flat-out dangerous.
Musician & Composer Extraordinaire Hilary Hahn
Written by Doug Ferrin
“The unexamined life, said Socrates, is not worth living. The memoirs of Julian Schnabel, such as they are, teach that the converse is also true. The unlived life is not worth examining. Writing his memoirs at 35, Schnabel has set some kind of record for premature retrospection, at least among artists.”
Although Robert Hughes wrote the article that this is an excerpt from in 1987, his summary of the art market and modernist trends is still spot on. The “aspiring collectors” he mentions at the beginning come from the new Wall Street wealth that began in August of 1982, when the Dow Jones soared and stayed up for 5 years.
“There is a crack of doubt in the soul of every collector. In it lurks the basilisk whose gaze paralyzes taste: the fear that today’s klutz may turn out to be tomorrow’s Picasso. Thus nothing except the manifestly out-of-date may be rejected with impunity. This hardy little reptile was particularly active at the moment [Julian] Schnabel came on the scene. ...the demand for hot, young, new, exciting, contemporary art shot through the ceiling. ...scores and the n hundreds of the very new rich— ...all manner of important folk whose uncertainty in cultural matters matched their socioeconomic vanity—decided that, being amply entitled to Everything Now, they would also become “major” art collectors.
Most of the aspiring collectors, some of whom would duly end up on museum boards, or even with their own private museums, could not have told you the difference between a Cezanne watercolor and a drawing by Parmigianino. Their historical memory went back as far as early Warhol, where it tended to stop. Their sense of the long continuities of art was, to put it tactfully, attenuated. Insofar as they thought about the matter, they were apt to see 20th-century art history as a series of neatly packaged attacks launched at the frowning ramparts of “tradition”—first the Fauves, then the Cubists, then the Expressionists, then the Constructivists, and so on, to Abstract Expressionism and Pop. This reflex, applied to the present, meant they all bought essentially the same painting by the same artists—a herd instinct that explains the monotony to which one is condemned when passing from one new collection in Beverly Hills to the next.
By the time this new class of rich fashion-victims irrupted into the market, the old scenario of avant-garde confrontation had already collapsed in America, whose entire cultural life was based on models of diversity and novelty. The struggles of the avant-garde, as enacted, say, in Max Beckmann’s Germany or Wyndham Lewis’s London, had dissolved in the ’60s and ’70s into something much more rationally American, more suited to a middlebrow culture that had come to believe in the therapeutic and educative powers of art. “Modernism” was telescoped into “newness,” and newness was promoted as a value in itself. The art market embraced the aesthetics of Detroit, a new model with styling changes every year, and “radical” restyling every five or so. We see this still, as hot Neo-Expressionism is gradually nudged off the showroom floor by the hotter (because cooler) footnotes to Minimal art and the Duchampian ready-made that, for want of any “movement” name, go under the meaningless label of “Neo-Geo.”
The article is a review of Julian Schnabel’s auto-biography; In the book, Schnabel had included an entirely fictional account of a meeting with Hughes that portrayed the critic as a fat, Jew hating pervert with a penchant for S&M bondage and chains.
Schnabel said, “"When you make art, people try to stop you from doing it, and everything's sort of designed to stop you from doing it. So the fact that it exists is a wonderful thing." Funny, I don’t remember anyone ever trying to stop the guy. He had his first museum show at 24, got into the Whitney’s study program at 22 based, in part if not entirely, on his too-clever-by-halves submission with slides of paintings between two slices of bread.
So who tried to stop him? No one. Certainly not Mary Boone who made him a very wealthy person at age 29. Like his story about Hughes, this is a fiction made to sustain the image in general, and of his image specifically, of the downtrodden and spurned modernist fighting for the essence that is the core element of what makes us human and of what makes modernism the super-extra-fabulous thing it is, we are talking here of nothing less than, “THE TRUTH”. A pity this champion of THE TRUTH is a fibber of, much as his paintings were described, big and bold proportions.
I also find it disturbing that Schnabel has become a sort of TRUTH-torch-bearer, in that he has taken to making dramatized documentaries about art and artists, his first about Michel Basquiat and his next about Van Gogh. But I must admit, he is a true modernist and continues the modernist tradition - core to its false but much publicised “heroic” nature - of egocentrically co-opting history in order to guarantee its validity and continued dominance of the art world. Warhol said of a visit to Schnabel’s studio in 1985, “Bryan Ferry was there. Julian has all his own art in the place and he tells you about each one, he stands there and reads into his own work. I mean, he literally stands there and…tells you what his paintings mean.”
This notion of the indomitable-spirit-in-the-
Nice fantasy, that, but the truth of modernism in America is the story of a few very wealthy people in the museum business systematically consuming and monopolizing the art world, in what can only be seen as a hostile take-over. Owning, if not the art press, at the least its most influential writers, the few very wealthy people set about dismantling art as it was known and inserting their dominance as the keepers of taste and culture in America (which includes, naturally, THE TRUTH). Modernists like to say this kind of reading of history is a “conspiracy theory”, as if that kind of deliberate manipulation of the economy and of the truth were anything but an American invention. If one pauses for 30 seconds to reflect on the history of Standard oil and the railroads, and on the newspapers of William Randolph Hearst, one realizes that not only such a reading possible, but that it is likely.
It will become harder and harder for modernism to maintain the look of the battle hardened revolutionary soldier on the front lines of the arts and the battle for TRUTH, now that it IS academia (against which it supposedly fought and, absurdly, continues to fight), now that it literally owns the art world. Far from being downtrodden, modernists through the last century were some of the highest paid artists in history, most gaining success like Schnabel, almost literally overnight and having the kind of celebrity formerly known almost exclusively to movie stars. Something that could only have happened to a cultural form so roundly misunderstood, if not disliked, by the very people pouring billions of dollars into its purchase, if there were rivers money and great energy being committed to it by wealthy Americans who had, because of their wealth, great cultural influence. Very much as film - and with equal wealth (and later television) - was promoted, although film was appreciated and even adored by its public.
Hughes has more insights into the rise of the new modernism in his review of Schnabel's autobiography, which I highly recommend. Here is the link:
If you want to read about one of the few wealthy people I mentioned:
A note on Clement Greenberg: Florence Rubenfeld, who wrote the first full length biography of him since his death, tells us “When Clement Greenberg was 5 he beat a goose to death with a shovel.” Adam Gopnik in a review of the book in The New Yorker says, “The book is an absorbing, fair-minded biography, yet the Greenberg who emerges is a repellent personality--grasping and cruel, cold and powerhungry, predatory and lecherous. According to Rubenfeld, he bullied and lied, fell into a cult-like psychoanalytic group, neglected his wives and children, and regularly engaged in physical violence with anybody who argued with him. “
In short, a bully, and another liar defending the TRUTH. Here’s the link:
GREENBERG AND HIS LANGUAGE
“Picasso, Braque, Mondrian, Miro, Kandinsky, Brancusi, even Klee, Matisse and Cezanne derive their chief inspiration from the medium they work in”. (Greenberg, 1939, from “Kitsch & the Avant-Garde”.) This is Greenberg's entire, primary argument for modernism and his enthusiastic flagellation of painting, the wobbly foundation on which the tyrannical throne of modernism resides. It is an extremely debatable premise that Greenberg co-opted from a lecture by Hans Hoffman, who painted supremely repetitious and monotonous paintings of colorful, blurry squares and rectangles. Here are a couple of quotes from some of the artists he mentions:
“I do not literally paint that table, but the emotion it produces upon me.”
“The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.”
“Art is the path to being spiritual.”
“The works must be conceived with fire in the soul but executed with clinical coolness.”
None of that sounds to me like the calculated materialism of Greenberg and Hoffman, nor does it sound like a basis for an “objective” intellectual pursuit, which modernism and its spawn have always claimed to be. It is an invention of personal fancy, simply a projection of what one wished early modernist painting to be.
When people talk modernism, they talk Greenberg. When they talk “Narrative of process” and “continuum of art history”, they use fantastical contrivances of Greenberg, not the objective “truths” or rational systems that the expressions pose as representing, or that modernists and their later kindred would like them to be. When people believe they see the “relationship between an artist and his materials” when they look at a minimalist painting - any painting that strives to speak through materials and not imagery - more than come to an understanding of what the artist intended and how he or she went about his or her work, they are merely inventing stories about what they imagine they see, or would like to see.
Greenberg may not have invented all the vocabulary and notions of American modernism, but he consolidated them, including bits of Duchampian gospel (the two worked together to build the collections of both the MOMA and the Whitney museums), and gave voice to a pseudo-scientific, quasi-Marxist package that rolled off the tongue nicely and that propped up the strident arrogance of Newman and his “Uptown Group”, Hoffman and the rest of the pack, and that continues to be the self-confirming and disdainful language of neo-modernist doctrine.
Supporters of modernism and neo-modernism often say that there’s more to modernism and it’s later iterations than Greenberg and his talk, and if you agree, I challenge you to do so with an earlier quote by an earlier writer that uses key elements of the movement and its ideology that are broadly held and used, and that precede the all-but now universal patter Greenberg so unfortunately gave to the world.
Thursday, April 4, 2019
Click the image to play 2-ReaL Vol. 1 No. 1 "There is a Void: Drawing",
This is both the podcast & the Bonus Feature.
There is a Void. Neo-Modernists run art academia and have effectively gotten rid of painting and drawing from most art school and university art department curriculums. Museums host show after show of faceless readymades that lack any compelling visual content, and almost never contemporary realist painting and drawing. It's time to fight back.
Or Click this link to see it on YouTube:
2-ReaL, The Podcast: Vol. 1 No. 1 There is a Void: Drawing
Listen to, download, the embedded version to the right.
PART - 2 Podcast
Many of you know that my friend and step-father of one of my closest friends Charles Segal died last week. I already miss him. A few mont...
THE VERY FIRST ONE
THOUGHTS ON NEO-MODERNISM Mulling over Martin Lang’s essay about the harm learning to draw does to “art” students this morning, it occ...
The absolute best of Belgium art at the Venice Biennial!
The Venice biennial which represents the best of the art world is filled with exciting art. Here is Britain's contribution by the Turn...