Sunday, 10 October 2010

Scott Burdick on the banishment of beauty.

(Above) Modern ART by Scott Burdick.

I'm a great admirer of the classical/romantic realist tradition, and an admirer of the great artists of the pasts, such as the Waterhouse, Burne-Jones, the two Leightons, Bougureau and Gerome. This is what I aspire to in my fine art, and though I hopefully edged slightly closer to it in paintings like 'The Lady of Shalott' and 'Tell Me More or Tell me Less', I'm under no illusions of being on that level yet. The frustration is that in the current art world, there is no incentive to pursue this ambition. Still I try, and by doing so gain a greater appreciation of the dedication, discipline, patience and skill that went into paintings such as those I was admiring in Oxford yesterday. I should do some more traditional painting, but I've been kept so busy lately with digital illustration commissions, not that I'm complaining.

I've just been pointed to Scott Burdick's discussion in a set of youtube vids, contrasting this tradition to what prevails in the Modern Art establishment.

He's preaching to the totally converted as far as I'm concerned. There are living artists every bit as skilled as the artists of the Renaissance and 19th century, as able to evoke elegance, beauty, emotion, grandeur, poignancy and deep humanity with masterful technical skill.

In many galleries, traditional art is represented up to a certain time (around the turn of the 20th century) and then disappears with only the modernist avant garde movements being represented. This, as Brudick argues, leads to the false impression that no one (with the possible exception of certain Surrealists) retained the ability or desire to produce technically compitent and aesthetically beautiful paintings.

The criteria of what makes art are held as valid up to an arbitrary point when experimental alternative ideas came along. This is well and good but we are led to take for granted that the experiment of modernism was valid in every respect, and that it was legitimate to rewrite the definition of art, which had essentially held good since the renaissance. Therefore none of the founders of the English Royal Academy for instance, would be considered serious artist by the present art establishment. Conversely, I doubt the founders of the RA, or subsequent members like Millais, Leighton and Waterhouse, would recognize the present members as their true artistic heirs. Contemporary traditional painting is only really well represented at somewhere like the National Portrait Gallery, presumably because abstract and conceptual artists don't excell at portraiture, for the most part.

Duchamp was significant in so far as he inspired a certain manifestation of existential philosophy that uses visual props and calls itself art. The thing is that nothing new has been said in conceptualism since Duchamp but conceptualists still rather dominate the art scene. This is a bit odd when you think about it. There are still people painting like impressionists and preraphaelites, or whatever, who are dismissed as obsolete and unoriginal and historically irrelevant by these same conceptualists who are themselves only churning out variations on a now-antiquated theme. So what it really boils down to is the establishment preferring a style than to any real progressiveness, and pretending that it is philosophically superior to classical painting. Part of the false premise is that beauty equates to cheapness or triviality, whereas in fact beauty is rare enough, hard won, and can be profound in its own right.


  1. It's upsetting that artists all over the world are receiving this reaction from the Art world. I had to endure opinions such as that and people such as that through my 5 years in art school, and it was and still is upsetting at how my art and others' art similar to mine was received. I only hope for a turn of the tides. There is only so far "Modern Art" can go with their bull-shit "found objects" and descriptions behind the art. The problem with the art that is considered the highest form today, is that it's all been done before. 50 years ago, and they just keep repeating it. Eventually I feel it will tire itself out and imagination and creation will become appreciated again, but I do not hold on to that hope.

  2. GuiseMaker
    Thanks fot the comment. I know a lot of people feel this way. I'm thinking of writing to Prince Charles to see if he'd support the establishment of a national museum of contemporary figurative art, as he's spoken out against ugly excesses in modern architecture, he might be sympathetic to the idea. I'm sure it would be popular with the public, who routinely flock to shows of preraphaelites. Meanwhile we have to endure the scandal of anti-beauty philistines controlling the art establishment.
    The irony is that the same so-called 'Modernists' who exclude anything representative and beautiful from what they consider fine art, continually go on about how modernism enshrines artistic freedom! If it wasn't so tragic it would be funny.