Skip to comments.Reign of modernism will end in 21st century, critics contend
Posted on 01/20/2003 8:53:41 AM PST by vannrox
"I look at modern art as very much like what happened with communism - it was an idea that was a house of cards and couldn't work," says Allan Banks, president of the American Society of Classical Realism and vice chairman of the American Society of Portrait Artists.
"A lot of the rubbish that we've been handed (in the 20th century) has pretty much played itself out," Mr. Banks says. "I think you're finding generations of (artists) who are really interested in getting back to discipline and tradition."
While American artists are enjoying this return to tradition -- Mr. Banks says leading portrait painters now report being "booked two and three years advance" -- public tastes have likewise turned toward the traditional.
There is renewed interest in 19th-century artists such as The Pre-Raphaelites -- a movement begun in England in 1848 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and others -- as well as later Victorian painters like John William Waterhouse and neo-classical artists like Sir Lawrence Alma- Tadema.
Canadian artist Jonathon Bowser says such artists were long ignored by educators.
"Those Victorian painters were swept under the rug -- we didn't learn about them in art school," says Mr. Bowser, who specializes in landscapes and fantasy paintings in a style he calls "mythic naturalism."
Mr. Bowser says he believes "art should speak to the universal human condition."
"Modernism, by definition, cannot be universal, because if you're not conversant with the lexicon, you're not invited to the debate."
Nothing exemplifies art's turn toward tradition as much as the revived interest in William- Adolphe Bouguereau, the 19th-century master of the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris.
Bouguereau's carefully finished mythological scenes and romantic genre paintings were attacked as "sentimental" by admirers of the Impressionists, and later critics relegated him to the role of a villain in the story of modern art's triumph.
Modern critics are unreserved in their scorn for Bouguereau. The New York Times denounced him as "bland and boring" when his paintings were exhibited in Hartford, Conn., in 1984. Six years ago, the Christian Science Monitor sneered at Bouguereau's work as "official art" that was mostly "purchased by rich, undereducated Americans."
But his work has risen sharply in value in recent years. Bouguereau's painting At the Fountain, displayed for years in an Evanston, Ill., library, was appraised at $100,000 in 1992. Auctioned last year by Sotheby's, it sold for $900,000. An auctioneer from Sotheby's called the Bouguereau a "show stopper."
Critics may still sneer but, as the London Daily Telegraph admitted in 1997, "Bouguereau is among the few painters who has become ever dearer ... as the rest of the market slumps."
Among the collectors of Bouguereau's work is actor Sylvester Stallone. In May, Bouguereau's Charity' sold for $3,528,000 -- the most ever paid for one of his paintings, eclipsing the $2.6 million paid for his Alma Parens in 1998.
Among Bouguereau's most enthusiastic admirers is collector and critic Fred Ross.
Bouguereau is "the greatest painter in the history of the world," says Mr. Ross, a New Jersey businessman who has founded the Art Renewal Center, dedicated to encouraging artists in what he calls the "humanist" tradition.
"We have to go back to where art was at its peak and build from there," says Mr. Ross, who locates that peak prior to the 20th century: "Real art is about life. Modern art is art about art. It's about 'pushing the envelope.' It's about time somebody stamped that envelope 'return to sender.' "
The revival of traditional art owes much to Boston painter R.H. Ives Gammell, who trained dozens of artists before his death in 1981. Mr. Gammell felt the need to pass along the tradition he had absorbed from his mentor, William Paxton, who had been a student of Jean- Léon Gérôme, who in turn studied under the French master Jacques-Louis David.
Mr. Gammell "woke up one day and realized that this tradition was not being passed on," says Mr. Banks, who studied under Mr. Gammell. "He took it upon himself to teach a handful of students at a time and worked with them from scratch."
Those efforts, along with Mr. Gammell's 1946 book, Twilight of Painting, helped spur a traditionalist movement that has grown steadily in recent decades, though with little recognition from established art critics. The hostility of art critics is a pet peeve of traditionalists.
"We have put our artistic culture into the hands of philistines and I'm just trying to find a jawbone of an ass," says Mr. Ross, referring to the Israelite hero Samson's feat against the original Philistines.
Though most people prefer traditional art, the opinions of critics prop up the reputation of modern art, he says.
"Real people will reject modernism every time, if they're given a context that justifies the feelings they've always had," Mr. Ross says, likening modern art's critical hegemony to "the emperor's new clothes."
One artist who bemoaned the influence of modernism in art was the late sculptor Frederick Hart.
"Art is a dying force in public life," said Mr. Hart, whose Ex Nihilo at the National Cathedral is perhaps his most famous work. "It is now in the world of art as a cult, where you have to know the peculiarities, the rites, and that makes art meaningless to the vast majority of people."
It is not corporations, but a generation of enthusiastic young amateurs who have created a burgeoning Internet universe devoted to promoting traditional art.
Iian Neill experienced "the iron grip of modernism" while an art student.
"A couple of years ago ... I realized that fine -- and unjustly maligned -- artists like Bouguereau, Gérôme and Alma-Tadema were excluded from our art galleries, museums, textbooks and university courses due to the iron grip of modernism," says Mr. Neill, an Australian whose Renaissance Café site features an extensive gallery of works by 19th- century artists.
Alan Linh Do of Frederick, Md., set up his Web site devoted to English painter John William Waterhouse after he became "hooked" on the artist's portrayals of Arthurian legend.
"I am hoping to help revive the interest in classical art through Waterhouse," says Mr. Do, a recent graduate of Drexel University in Philadelphia.
Last year, he visited England to view the paintings of Waterhouse and other Victorian artists. "These works are classics and unbelievably stunning up close. I was extremely emotional when I saw those of Waterhouse," Mr. Do says.
Valerie L. Criswell, an Internet consultant from South Carolina, "first became aware of the Pre-Raphaelite art movement when I took a course on Victorian history while in college," she says.
"There are close ties between historical periods and the art that is born from them," Mrs. Criswell says of the inspiration for her Nouveau Net site. "The fusion of Victorian ideals into Pre-Raphaelite art captivated me.
"The art clearly demonstrates the Victorians' struggle between religious morality and innate human sensuality."
The combination of Internet technology and traditional art has proven potent, according to Mr. Banks.
"Now we are seeing, with the computer, we are finding that a lot of (traditional artists) are able to communicate," says the painter, who notes he has received inquiries from artists as far away as Spain and Taiwan. "I think it's going to be a major factor in bringing people together."
"The Internet is the greatest thing," agrees Mr. Ross, whose Internet connection allowed him to reach as far as Australia to hire Mr. Neill to design the Art Renewal Center's Web site.
Mr. Ross says he hopes to revive the 19th-century tradition of the Paris salons, "a competition between the greatest artists in the world."
He is working with sponsors, galleries and museums to develop a series of annual salons he hopes to begin as early as next year.
"My goal," Mr. Ross says, "is to build this as the focal point upon which a movement for renewal can be built."
Reprinted with the kind permission of The Washington Times, and was originally printed on Sunday, the 29th of October, 2000.
Reprinted with the kind permission of The Washington Times, and was originally printed on Sunday, the 29th of October, 2000.
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What a great remark.
Two Victorian painters I like are Thomas Eakins and Dagnan Bouveret - both swam against the tide, were "realists."
"A lot of the rubbish that we've been handed (in the 20th century) has pretty much played itself out," ...
That is Wonderful News to those of us who love art. Art should be communicative, something that is grasped by the common person, not a cipher of artist narssicism.
Smeared feces is not art, no matter what the inspiration is.
Neither is an empty room with a light blinking on and off.
Same goes for a room filled with cheese.
Placing objects in jars of urine or hangins sexual aids from strings inside libraries isn't art.
Mutilating yourself isn't art, it is sick. If anyone else without 'artist' as an occupation did that, they would be put into a 'facility' to undergo observation for mental illness.
If my 3yr old can reproduce your work, I can not take your or your 'pieces of art' seriously.
If I go into a junkyard and pull out scrap metal that looks like something that is in front of a building, that isn't art either.
If you make an everyday object 1000 times its normal size or make it 1000 times smaller than normal, it might be neat or interesting as a second rate tourist spot, but it isn't art.
OK, I am done ranting...
Lord Leighton bump.
Do you blame me that I sit hours before this picture?
But if I walked all over the world in this time
I should hardly see anything worth seeing that is not in this picture.
I believe Botticelli was a contemporary of Michaelangelo who said:
It is not sufficient merely to be a great master in painting and very wise, but I think it is necessary for the painter to be very good in his mode of life, or even, if such were possible, a saint, so that the Holy Spirit my inspire his intellect..."
Some wasn't so bad ;-)
I was a guard at the Walker Art Museum, a modern art museum in Minneapolis, for three years in the late 70s. I had lots of time to look at their collection and the reaction of the visitors to the art.
I would guess that 99% of the visitors had no idea why 99% of the stuff was called "art". The only ones who seemed to have an appreciation for the modern art were the guards who were art students. And amongst them, they all had one or two favorite artists that they had studied and thought the rest of the stuff was junk.
The only time the general public enjoyed the exhibits was when the museum had a big Alexander Calder show (he made large mobiles and had a number of circus toy collections) - the show catered to children, and was sort of "fun".
It was killed by photography. It died during the last half of the 19th century. It is not just resting.
Brings to mind a story about Henry Ford and his wife Clara.
Henry had very little in the way of formal education, but by 1920 or so he was of course wealthy, and perhaps the best known industrial tycoon in the world.
Yet his tastes remained, shall we say, simple.
He and his wife were visited by some art collectors who felt that persons of their socioeconomic stature should have invesmtments in fine art. So the collectors brought catalogs of color reproductions of available masterpieces and went over these with their hosts, explaining the virtues of each piece and its artist. It was understood that the catalog itself was a gift to the Fords.
At the end of the presentation, the collectors discreetly brought up the subject of acqusition of some of the works illustrated in the catalog.
One of the Fords (I do not recall which) replied, "but with all of these wonderful illustrations, why would we need the originals?"
As a coda to this little anecdote....
Henry's son Edsel was a very different soul. Although he was denied an education by his father, he (with the help of his society wife) became interested in the arts. He became a patron of the Detroit Institute of the Arts, and was responsible for bringing Diego Rivera and his mistress Frida Kahlo to Detroit for some time, to paint a monumental mural, depicting industrial America, at the DIA.
I don't know, it's true that photography ended the need to send artists all over the place to record events and scenes, clearly that part of art is about dead. But art has always been much more than that, even in the days of cave paintings.
IMO, photography, an art in itself, freed and inspired fine art painting to go on and find new horizons. And computer generated art will have unforseen effects on all the previous fine arts.
It seems to me that American society, whose freedoms have allowed a standard of living and education unheard of in the past, has also allowed a pursuit of art that continues to gain strength.
I think it is no coincidence that they are actually the very same people. And that today's artists overwhelmingly count themselves as part of the Left.
At least you'd think the artist would want some audience. Some of the late 20th century museum hangings leave me wondering who that audience could possibly be.
Modern electronic sound enhancement and reproduction has killed liver performance, until one actually goes to see a really good show.
What has changed is that there is now little need for mediocrity. It used to be that even a mediocre painter could expect to find work, since his renderings may be the best his customers can afford. Nowadays, however, if an artist can't beat the work of a cheap camera and has no ambition of doing so, there's far less value in persuing it for anything beyond personal satisfaction.
freedom fighter : freedom :: fire fighter : fire
Understand that, and the terms make sense.
While I'll admit that artistic merit need not always be apparent to the casual observer (random-dot stereograms are kitchy at best, but they have some artistic potential even though one needs to look at them 'just right' to see anything). The "Gray" painting, however, showed no such subtleties. It looked instead like someone had taken a canvas and slapped some gray paint on it (which is no doubt what the artist, in fact, did).
Thomas Cole, 1801 - 1848.
I alway liked Hughes' "Home From Sea" Here, a little boy is told his father had passed away while at sea. It's pretty powerful.
This was true during the era of "high-fidelity stereo records". It also imposed a deadening uniformity on music.
However, it seems that the Internet and cheap digital reproduction are loosening the grip of the recording companies. MP3s on web sites and short-run CDs published by the musicians themselves are creating more interest in a wide variety of music played in clubs and small venues.
Hey, I like that.
Dollars to Donuts, it was Joseph Beuys, generally considered in the art world Germany's greatest artist in the second half of the 20th century.
Chair with Lard (1963) Joseph Beuys
Those kind of fliers are a sure sign the art sucks, IMO. I was recently at the art museum in Syracuse with my daughter. It had some truly beautiful paintings, but there was one, in a place of honor, that seemed unusually crappy and obtuse. Of course, it was the only one there that had a large printed poster next to it explaining all about how it was fighting for social justice and all the other leftist causes.
Lucky it had the note, nobody would have necessarily even known it was art otherwise, much less that it stood for a lot of crap, too.
During the 60's, and I don't know how long after that, the art world, as represented by academia, actively discouraged representational art. They wanted everything to be "cutting edge." Only problem is that what is "cutting edge," or to put it more prosaicly, "in style this year," is usually out of style a year or two later.
In times past, artists strove to make their work timeless, which is why the best of it survives and is revered today.
That's the way I see it, anyway.
Tell me about it.