I am currently seeking an educational program to help me improve my drawing, composition and painting from life. I was very pleased to find a website for a program not too far away that has workshops that exactly fit this bill. Sorted, right? Well, maybe not. perusing the school’s website I came across its mission statement, which included this little gem: “The twentieth century saw the decline of ‘realist’ art and a move away from both the aesthetic values and moral values that predominated in previous ages. A move towards a more conceptual form of art was also made. It is the belief at [school’s name here] that much of contemporary painting fails on both a technical level and a conceptual level.”
Ouch. Now that strikes me as a bit of sour grapes. So, apparently much of the 20th century art many so passionately love is actually sub-par hackery by artists too greedy, lazy, conceptually bankrupt, or uneducated to produce something more realistic and therefor conceptually and technically worthy. Also, given the importance the school founder puts on both realism and western classical philosophy as the foundation of conceptually and technically sound art (according to an interview of his), then much of non-western art and that which was produced outside that brief slice of time between the renaissance and the end of the 1900’s also “fails.” Seems a little narrow, no?
Being a philistine, I believe that the age and the place forms and chooses the art. The 20th century was a topsy turvy time with its only constant being change. The 21st century is no less so. It only makes sense to me that there was a seismic shift in artistic expression. The Artists – educated and naive, greedy and moralistic, lazy and disciplined produce art which helps them put voice to their version of reality and/or puts food on their table. Their public chooses to view, purchase, promote or laud that which moves them, pleases them, gives status or value – or goes with the furniture. As (probably) ever. The school founder states that he believes the tides will turn back to realism and “craftsmanship” (as if 20th century art – including that which was tied to the latter part of the Arts and Crafts movement – was devoid of craftsmanship). He may well be right. But it will not mean that, as a whole, it is either technically nor conceptually superior to its predecessors. It only means it will be “of its time.”
Anyway, though the school offers what appear to be excellent programs and the instructors (including the school founder) are obviously exceedingly talented, dedicated and skillful – I am not so sure about this one. After all, an education should broaden, not narrow the student’s mind. Besides. I am a bit afraid of their reaction to my inevitable spirited and not-so-eloquent debate about the merits of contemporary art.