“There is art and there is modern art, they are not the same.
There is also drawing and modern art drawing, they are not the same either.”
TODAY there is a great divide between the standards and reality that is art from the Great Tradition, and the ideas of modernism and modern art. The former existed for six hundred years in the form of continuous fabulous fine art – the latter in the 20th century modern art movement, which acknowledges no standards and has spent the last hundred years plus tearing them down.
We can see this attitude clearly in so many modern art claims, ideas, and statements like this one I enclose below from the Department for Education in Whitehall, which was sent to me when I was writing to them about the need to happily return Art to England’s general Curriculum in Education in Schools and Universities; and especially about the need for allowing and encouraging access to Drawing again:
‘Conceptual art is not about forms or materials but about ideas and meanings. It cannot be defined in terms of any medium or style but rather in the way it questions what Art is. In particular, conceptual art challenges the traditional status of Art itself.’
I disagree, for I do not believe this is about Art, but an ugly pretence that has brought poor corruption to mankind’s highest aspirations. Accordingly, I offer instead the following thoughts and examples:
A piece of wood with a hole in it is not Art. A piece of wood with a hole in it, is a piece of wood with a hole in it. If you polish it, then it becomes a polished piece of wood with a hole in it. It may be decorative, attractive even, but it cannot be more, even if it receives much praise, or receives other attributes, such as claims to being religious, political, etc., no matter.
Naturally the same applies to stones with holes in, or anything else in a similar fashion. Unfortunately, much of what is called modern art today, or modern conceptual art, is never anything to do with Art. Peeing in the snow is not art, despite any conceptual multimedia spin. This is just ugly lies. And these promotions remain never seriously challenged by our media. They may make jokes about it but little more.
Today, for its own reasons, the modern art movement with its continuous inaccurate corrupting message, “Anything is okay modernism,” still sadly seeks to justify those outlandish conceptual claims or abstract ideas, which they have been promoting throughout the 20th century; by suggesting that many categories of decoration or design, in a multitude of differing products and purposes, are art as well.
Previously, if it wasn’t entirely abstract, or conceptual idea-based, or modern vague and distorted abstract, then it was just prevented by our biased modern art establishments from ever being seen in a multitude of ways, or just financially blocked. And painters who wished to follow the great works of Titian, or the drawings and paintings of Leonardo, were just considered:
“Unnecessary, dyed in the wool academics, nostalgic dreamers who didn’t know the century they were born in, or gifted amateurs who couldn’t be expected to go into the deep end of experience.”
from ‘Trust your eye – an illustrated history of painting’, by Charles Harris
We must, however, now apparently ask, ‘Are decorative objects enough to be called Art too? Or are they, in truth, simply attractive art forms which may or may not play a part in a process of the completion of Art itself?’
For an example – a trailer full of shiny new bricks is not a house. Nor are packs of decorative terracotta tiles a roof; and a set of building plans is not house either. Although altogether, with a need for the property first; other products, specific processes; and any personal appealing aspects; when all completed together; these may then become a house. It’s simply a matter of basic common sense, no more.
For naturally there is nothing wrong with liking and producing decorative objects, but a problem may occur if the creator, or manufacturer choses to call them art, instead of honouring, enjoying, and promoting the benefits of what they actually are instead.
As with the conceptual statement I provided above, modern art supporters today are still seeking to replace art with modern art, and thus making something else entirely; for the purposes of self-promotion, while of course insisting this still has all the high status and stature of great art itself.
This is false and inaccurate. For those standards, status, and stature of our past Great Art and our knowledge of this art and its values today, are easily recognised in the 600 years of wonderful art we can see in most contemporary National collections from the Great Tradition. Quite naturally those artists shared or passed on their understandings, and in affect stood on the shoulders of each other; Michelangelo on the shoulders of Giotto; Raphael was a student of both Michelangelo and Leonardo; while Rubens taught Velazquez how to model in the round. They all employed this knowledge and practical skills in a working tradition that was used and based entirely upon past standards and practical proven experience.
I mentioned earlier the difference between drawing and modern art drawing. So, to help illustrate this reality, here is one of the world’s best drawings by Leonardo. It is the large Cartoon Drawing from the National Gallery in London, which was included joyfully, with its incredible standards in my book, ‘Trust Your Eye, an illustrated history of painting
And Leonardo da Vinci said, ”Draw From Life Everyday.”
I believe he meant this literally, and he certainly meant this practically. We do know this is likely to be true, as his evidence for this can be seen from the huge collection of anatomical drawings he completed live mostly at night in a mausoleum, that are still available to us today.
Interestingly, these drawings continued to be used in Gray’s Anatomy for doctors, because of their amazing visual accuracy, into the second half of the 20th Century. And this large collection of two hundred and fifty of Leonardo’s anatomical drawings are still held and can be seen now at Windsor Castle in the Royal Collection.
While the Cartoon Drawing which took four and a half years to make and never equalled, I have included here. For today it is crucial important to understand and appreciate the breath of ideas, those fabulous skills, and that high level of standards from the Great Tradition in Art, that we may know exactly what was meant by good traditional drawing now.
For past art assisted man in an understanding life. It allowed us to accurately create a description of our lives in picture form, so that we could express our spiritual needs, as well as our emotional and practical ones. Art was a seen as a perfect means to represent us, and in practice it was always the artist responsibility to hold up the mirror of life for all to see. Whether in joy or sorrow; happiness or sadness; light or dark; an honesty regarding and representing life, was always the main aim.
Art led in the Renaissance, it assisted in the Reformation, it aided the Romantics, and ended with the Impressionists. Always, it sought to express reality and did so in a deliberate pursuit of excellence. With Art from the Renaissance, this became a tradition of social realism with Light as the principal attribute. And from great painters such as Caravaggio this tradition was carried through to the late 17th Century painters exemplified by Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Vermeer, and through to the French painters David, Jericho, Ingres, Courbet and finally to the Impressionists.
Thus, traditional paintings from the Great Tradition represented this realism in art, as a measure of honesty in human affairs, the eye of absolute integrity along with a recognition of human response. The very highest of skills and efforts were naturally required to represent this traditional understanding. And these high standards, all carefully drawn and beautifully painted, exist to be seen by us all in every National Gallery throughout the world.
Whereas the idea of modern art starts at the beginning of the 20th century led by Picasso who sought to reinvent the wheel as a cube.
And what then follows, with its effect upon our education, development, and general public knowledge?
To be continued in Part 2.
Photo of replica of Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’ courtesy of Moderna Museet, Stockholm