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Andre Wallace created "The Whisper", initially as a maquette, featuring two girls sitting on a railing. It was fully commissioned by Sainsbury's and exhibited at the Royal Academy in London. There it was spotted by Milton Keynes Development Corporation which commissioned the sculpture in bronze for a prime site outside the town's library. Now it is returning to Taunton where the inspiration for the piece was born - and it would be perfect if the models could be traced. Andre said the idea for The Whisper was developed from observing how people interacted in the town centre and formed one of a number of works that depict people from all walks of life going about their daily business.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The state of the "Critical Condition"

An informative article from a french art critic Claire Fontaine which gives an apt thoughtful summary of the current contemporary art critical condition. Excuse the verbiage - her heart is in the right place

She writes; "The poignant lack of reference points, the feeling of being faced with both a virtually infinite field of possibilities and a fear of being unable to escape repeating, however unwittingly, something that has already been done—these are the consequences of this state of affairs; these are the demons with which every contemporary artist must converse, starting with their first experiments within school walls, up until the end of their days. Unbeknownst to them, the arbitrary has multiplied singularities, but made them whateversingularities: every artist develops his or her own language and nurtures the impression of being the only one to speak it. We no longer write or create in order to intensify life, for life is no longer something we all share, something in which we all accompany one another, but an individualized affair of accumulation, labor, and self-affirmation."

"We live like this with no hope for political change (however necessary) in our lives, nor a common language capable of naming this need or allowing us to define together what is particular to our present. This condition is new, no doubt unique in Western history; it is so painful and engenders such a profound solitude and loss of dignity that we sometimes catch ourselves doubting the sincerity of artworks that are created under such conditions—for we know that their fate is uncertain, and will most likely disappoint.

Nevertheless, the field of art has never been so free, vast, and attractive to the general public—and this is perhaps precisely what makes our present condition a profoundly critical one."


Perhaps forces are building for real change and we are not aware of the fact.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The downhill path no 2

Contemporary art was once a very serious business, engaged with serious meaning and issues whilst failing to change the world. Now alas, sculpture can only aspire to entertain or amuse consequently there are acres of dross meaningless works out there to be googled. Some examples of risible efforts by lost and bewildered "artists".

State arts BBC4 Dada season, dada is now technically antique. Do we not need to move on and start make to more meaningful art or are we in a time-warp of reaction to WW1? Public art is always a good hunting ground for risible efforts trying to pass themselves off as art.

Recent examples include the eyeball by Tony Tasset


The poverty of aspiration of Duncan McDaniel is unsurpassed anywhere.


The paper aeroplane in Chicago.




X marks the spot



Neon Teddy in New York.


Last but not least a reject University Don.

That is about enough for now but one does have to ask this question; How is it possible that any of these puerile efforts at making sculpture actually achieved the status of being funded. How could those who commissioned these works have had so little taste judgement and sensibility.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Silly Season

Little or no contemporary art of note around at the moment, but that will change? 

Note that the number of students in UK education at present studying A Level art is down 33% this year, a third no less. Inevitably as the Ebacc begins to bite art will vanish from UK schools, maybe for ever and our culture will be all the poorer.

Talking of the poverty of our culture noted a lesson from social media this week. An education consultant wrote a perfectly reasonable article questioning the use of "Young adult" literature in schools in the TES. He promptly received from all interested parties in the market place a twitter drubbing. The article must have plucked a few feathers because what was so depressing about the response was that not one of the kidults who posted their abuse mentioned his argument. They all expressed their ad hominem abuse of the author. Their response proved that his article was accurate. It seems that exclusively reading and writing young adult fiction completely addles your brains.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The path of progress runs downhill

Evidence of our declining visual culture.

Firstly on a positive note, the BP National Portrait award continues to attract and exhibit some of the best portrait painters in the UK. Some such real awfulness though, such as this so called portrait of Actress Barbara Windsor by Daniel Llewelyn Hall.

Secondly, in 2015 the UK allotted £320million to the arts from the national lottery, a tax on the poorest members of society, and what do we have to show for it in terms of artworks? Zilch!

Thirdly, not so sure about the Orbit that Sir Anish Kapoor created. The fact that it now has a slide running down it at five pounds plus the twelve pounds it costs to climb up, it's hardly sculpture or value for money as a slide.

Fourthly, those creative paragons of insulting graphics, Gilbert and George will be opening a new museum in Spitalfields just around the corner from their long time domicile. It will have free entry but only by personal application. Why do artists who achieve a huge level of pecuniary fame have to foist their taste upon the rest of us by opening a personal museum? It was ever thus!

Fifthly, There is a show at White cube by one Raqib Shaw who does a strong line in challenging pseudo-realism. Suffice it to say that it has attracted the attention of Waldemar Januszczak who thinks the artist needs to show one image at a time - so overwhelmed was he by the content. Yet the weird thing is when one analyses carefully the actual meaning and content of the blatantly plagiarised imagery - it is the same old, same old, right on denigration of major achievements of renaissance painting by an artist who is incapable of creating visual perspective in his own efforts. 
Offence is all, to take an image of the Angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary as this person does and then rework it as a load of insults to christianity is inane, inept and says nothing of value. But then state art has too long been about personal insult, to the extent that insult or offence are now completely redundant strategies - devoid of meaning or value. 100 years out of date to be precise.

Sixthly, we hear that a usual suspect has donated his Last Supper to the National Gallery in Washington DC. If this conjures up visual images of the apostles around the table - forget it. It's merely a series of packages of food or suchlike. Needless to say this art free zone means that the words were created by the graphic artists in various agencies. Did they get recognition? Did they, no did they?

Seventhly it has come to notice that one of the most inept and risible efforts at making a portrait sculpture in recent times has been scrapped. It has been replaced by this pleasant and passable bronze by Carolyn Palmer. Needless to say the paragon of social media, Facebook, claimed the kudos or blame depending on your viewpoint.

Eight, Jonathon Jones continues on his ever revolving roundabout with this drivel which contains no contemporary art? A hype for a thames and Hudson book entitled Bizarre.

Nine, Masayoshi Matsumoto in the Guardian is promoting Balloon animals as works of art but Jeff Koons got there first did he not?

Ten and lastly, this is what happens when you eat your paints, or it did once upon a time, again values c/o Jonathon Jones. Guess you would only be at risk today if you used the very finest pigments - but they do cost don't they?


Monday, July 18, 2016

New Tate Modern extension

The recent press has been pre-occupied with the opening of the £20million extension to Tate Modern. Most of the press cuttings have remarked upon the disappointing artwork in a truly wonderful setting. Be that as it may, we are now approaching a situation where there are huge numbers of public venues in the west for showing contemporary art but no work of any merit to place in them. So the Tate has been forced to explore the widest diaspora.

The big exhibition to coincide has been the Georgia O'Keefe at Tate Modern. Inevitably the subject matter of her work is subject to much prurient speculation of little use when viewing the actual artwork. We do live in strange times, so the vacuous, empty aspects of her imagery provide room for speculation and misinterpretation. What is evident is that the artwork is not up to the hype, and there is little to distinguish it from poster art. Indeed her images of the desert are little more than advertising posters for mid-west holidays. They lack a sense of real visual engagement and are extremely undemanding as images.


Thursday, May 26, 2016

Ebacc to the 1800's


The UK government is set to remove the vestiges of public arts education by ensuring that the arts are no longer a part of the state secondary school curriculum. This will be done by imposing the EBacc on all schools so that art, design, dance, drama and music will soon be squeezed out of the average school pupil's curriculum. The shortsightedness of this imposition is beyond belief, but in this culture the lead that the public schools have in all arts education provision (which has been discussed in the press) has to be secured and the market peopled only by their products.

As a child, one remembers very precious time spent on enriching one's knowledge of the real world, not the virtual substitute of the IPad, in museums (now for entertainment) and local art schools, now alas they are all vanishing or as in the case of art schools gone from the UK. It seems that not only was the past another country, but that it was an infinitely better country, in the real life learning experiences it offered.

It needs to be argued again and again that all students should have at least one arts subject in order to acquire the flexibility they need to deal with a life in the 21st century and in the interests of a civilised and humane balanced curriculum. The Grad-grind imposition of basic skills that will all soon be performed by dumb computer technology, (which will make no mistake, eventually include all research, teaching, law, medicine, management and practically everything else) will in time be completely counter productive. It is time that politicians seriously considered the nature of the society they are creating. In particular how the majority of young men are going be employed during their lifetime, - a question that is already answered by many young men in the third world with 10-15$ kalashnikovs.

Be that as it may, if you are reading this and are concerned about the loss of the arts in UK secondary education - you can write to your MP - here is the link.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Laura Cumming

Laura Cumming is fast becoming the only UK art critic with any gravitas. Here is a selection of her recent writing to consider.

Occasionally, the gallery lighting catches the glint of the Humbrol paint and the picture suddenly looks like an object as much as an image. Shaw has often been asked why he works with this intractable stuff that runs like new blood and has no lusciousness, traction or thickness, that is so difficult to move or manipulate. His answer is that enamel has no historic associations, can keep its distance from the grand tradition. But though he has remained faithful to this tough and lowly medium, despite the lure of the oil paint all around him, he takes it in new directions, achieving the blue of a Titian sky or a Madonna’s cloak, turning a Tile Hill tarpaulin into something like silk."


Of Pablo Bronstein at Tate Britain she says:

"It is good to be reminded of the inherent theatricality of these pillared spaces, and the architectural mishmash that is Tate Britain. But this spectacle is deliberately self-limiting. It has the stylised aestheticism of a Peter Greenaway film, and the pleasures are similarly slim." 



It gets worse in the Hirshhorn Museum’s immense Triptych, where the bodies appear thrashed to a pulp and contained in some kind of glass case raised up on a platform. An observer, hanging on the phone, peers at them through the glass. And in an anonymous hotel room with a deep blue view some terrible bloodbath has apparently occurred: or are these simply bloodstained clothes tumbling out of a case? It is hard to know what is going on in this sequence – as hard as Bacon wanted it to be."


Looking and seeing, that is what is going on here and one doesn't have to be reminded that she is discussing visual art unlike so many contemporary critics.


Lastly there was an odd article by Catherine Shoard in the Guardian of 28th April. She writes:

" Last summer, researchers in Germany designed a deep learning computer algorithm that uses image recognition to distil and comprehend the essence of how a great work of art is painted – style, colours, technique, brush strokes. This year will see the publication of a book that claims it’s possible to know with 97% certainty whether a manuscript will hit the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

The system at work in The Bestseller Code crunches themes, plot, character, pace, punctuation and word frequency to predict success. Its findings range from the obvious – a smattering of sex scenes helps, likewise a dog and a 28-year-old heroine – to the less easy to predict (such as, devote 30% of the novel to two specific topics).

Granted, neither the German researchers nor the boffins behind the code are creating original content. But the programs they are devising are either mimicking it perfectly or computing it fully. And once you understand a formula back to front, it becomes possible to pinpoint its genius, then do it yourself. Over and over and over again. Writers’s block is not a problem."


There is a dispiriting emptiness in this very facile assessment of what art actually does that is quite depressing. Claims for technology always avoid confronting the human element. What makes Toy Story amusing is not the animation, great achievement though it is - but the jokes. Even Wittgenstein was aware of the complex humanity in the mechanism of a simple joke. Besides when everything is done by slave computers from surgery to the law, what will any humans do - apart from make art that is? Before that can happen the knotty problem of finance and work will have to be addressed, and don't see any evidence of utopia on the horizon yet. The problem is the combination of power with payment for work which William Morris's - News from Nowhere attempted to address.



Usual suspects yet again

Damien Hirst is crawling all over the media promoting the latest show at his gallery in Vauxhall where his collection of artworks by his good friend Jeff Koons is being showed. There isn't much to say about Koons which hasn't already been said, so won't add to the hubris. However it seems that Jonathon Jones is beginning to defer, he writes this accurate piece of criticism in the Guardian;
"A giant ice-cream sculpture has no joy in it, only a cold contempt. Toys and inflatables, elephants and ducks – Jeff Koons has it in for the kids, to judge from his art. He sees their innocent playthings through the eyes of an evil Walt Disney. He is, you have to grant him, very clever. There’s a ruthless intelligence behind this inhuman stuff. He looks almost diabolic hunched over Ilona. A genius made in hell."

But to support Jeff Koon's work with reference to a satirical stance is to self-delude, there simply isn't a stance. Needless to say, the show is getting lots and lots of media coverage for it's huge entertainment value. A new book promoting the YBA story was published in late April. Called "Artrage the story of Britart" it charts the rise and fall of the last gasp of post-modernism and it has to be asked why there has been nothing of note since from the dead avant garde. Post modernism is deceased but there are still many artists quietly working away in their studios making no great fuss and going about changing things. They rarely if ever, get any sponsored BBC state art coverage though.

Turner Prize 2016.

Sat through BBC 2 Artsnight on Friday, and t'was Sir Nicholas himself arguing about the importance of contemporary art to the health of any society. It was an interesting programme for the range of claims Sir Nicholas made for contemporary art's wonderful ability to renew run down inner city environments, particularly Middlesborough. Have no argument with the aspirations but am suspicious of the claims made for it's relevance in ordinary people's lives as a substitute for religion. 

Meanwhile back at the Tate we have the unveiling of this years Turner prize contenders and it really ought to be given a five year break. Why? because it has entirely lost it's relevance and it's purpose. The guardian reports:  " The judging panel this year is Cotton, director of Bonner Kunstverein, Bonn; Tamsin Dillon, curator; Beatrix Ruf, director, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and Simon Wallis, director, the Hepworth Wakefield. It is chaired by Farquharson." All so very predictable and  it says it all, particularly when you read the chat lines at the bottom which give a good idea of what the public think of the chief state art prize in the UK - mainly that they are sick to death of having their sensibilities insulted by the last gasps on post-modernism. Then we have the pure hype penned by Jonathon Jones whose writing has become weird. He writes: 
"Nguyen and Khayatan are much better artists than (Jasper) Johns. Where he laboriously “made” a pair of glasses, like some obsessive medieval craftsman, they have made the true Duchampian leap into instant simplicity. These glasses are just glasses, no different from any other pair. What turns them into art, then? Being put on the floor? No, it cannot be that, for many works of art exist that are not on the floor. The Sistine Chapel ceiling, for instance – although compared with this utterly unpretentious gesture Michelangelo’s years of being spattered with paint up on his scaffolding do seem somewhat wasted."

Which is the writing of one whose aesthetic and artistic value system has quite literally gone down Duchamp's pan.

What makes one so sad is the fact that none of what is on offer here is either new or interesting - Carl Plackman did it all in the seventies with a far far superior, sensitivity and intelligence.

A past winner is George Shaw who is now artist in residence at the National gallery. I recommended his work on this blog some time ago and he appears to be maturing into a rather special visual artist - note 'visual'. According to Waldemar Januszczak; " The past is being yanked up to date. But - and this is what impresses most about the show. The new versions continue to sparkle with elusive meanings and magical pictorial possibilities. As all the best art does." Quite!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Keeping the faith?


Recently came across this bronze cast in an exhibition of land art! It begged the question as to how this much very expensive bronze got cast in such a meaningless sand form. 

Be that as it may it brings up the question as to why some artists go on keeping their faith in avant garde lite despite all the neglect and rejection they encounter over the years. One such has been Phyllida Barlow who is now enjoying a huge resurgence in interest in her enormous sculptures at the tender age of seventy two! She will be representing GB at the forthcoming 2017 Venice Biennale and one has to admire the sheer persistence of her career. She has gone on playing with basic materials and ideas despite everything. One could say she is getting somewhere after years in the wilderness.

Then there is this YBA Nicholas Fudge who destroyed everything and gave up art but who now years later wishes to be taken seriously as an artist. Throwing ones toys out of the pram invites a late risible response. Especially when the original gesture was aimed at deriding success.
At that moment, pressure was high to produce work (or make a name/brand from one’s work) for the heady 1980s art market. In a gesture of critical defiance, the artist destroyed his work two days prior to the much-hyped Goldsmith’s graduate show."

Then there is the much vaunted Mona Hatoum show at Tate modern. This according to the erstwhile Torygraph is one of the shows of the year! Mark Hudson says ; "Far from being cornily horrific, the impact of these objects is completely deadpan, and everything is beautifully, indeed at times almost too tastefully made and presented."
Well that argument relies upon the tolerance of horror movies by the viewer. seems like keeping the faith in small concepts and achievement.  The Guardian informs us that in the kitchen display of the exhibition all the objects hum with live electricity and are behind a safety barrier. Perhaps the artist wishes to electrocute all her fans?
"For example, one of the largest pieces, HomeBound 2000, is of various kitchen utensils and furniture all hooked up to a live electric wire. There is an audible buzz in the room and visitors are kept back by what looks like an electric fence." Not really visual art is that?

Much as one would expect it is the visual exhibition of the artists innards that attracts the most attention. Having seen this medical study way back in 2007 the response was that it was quite interesting as an abstract study - but we have seen many copies of digital projected images on the floor since. Tis become almost a "genre" as the man said.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Revising recent art history

This week a purely revisionist piece of retrospective art history at Tate Britain has cropped up disguised as art criticism from Adrian Searle. It is hyping a show of revisionist curatorial desperation intended to give added legitimacy to conceptual art's history. Such slight concepts as the pile of sand by Barry Flanagan ( concept of questionable origin) and the pile of stacked oranges by previously unheard of Roelof Louw. Inevitably art and language crop up, essays by Kosuth of doubtful validity and a rehash performance of underneath the arches by the usual suspects. All very tired, tedious, tendentious and pretentious. 

One paragraph struck home forcefully for an unintended joke:

"At its worst conceptual art in Britain was as doctrinaire and stultifying an influence on young minds as anything else, badly taught. Working one’s way through these contradictory approaches as an art student in the early 1970s was difficult and confusing – you were constantly up against the problem of intractable differences and impossible choices. We muddled through." 
Sure we did and then threw the whole pile of pretentious meaningless twaddle into the bin whence it came with it's supporting specious continental philosophy in favour of empiricism. You know where you are with empirical evidence.

One thing remains that is vividly illustrated here, there is not one lasting, significant piece of work to emerge from the entire 1960's rehashed heap of Neo-Dada. Not even a one that says anything visually significant about the human condition.
Searle concludes:  " 

"At best, all art is conceptual, and all exists in a political context. Which doesn’t mean it has to be framed in an exhibition as bleak and pleasureless as this."


Then there has been new effortless promotion of the usual suspects. Elizabeth Fullerton in the Guardian of 16th April writes two pages of hype for her book "The story of Brit Art" explaining the role Charles Saatchi played in their creation and promotion. She finishes the article with this :  “If you talk about pop art and minimalism, abstract expressionism, and then you look at the time frame, what’s really shocking is it was five, six, seven years and then that moment is over,” says Schubert. “What’s extraordinary about this one is that it carried on for the longest time. It feels like nothing has taken its place. Now that’s an odd phenomenon.”

Really, a very predictable outcome? One wonders what could cap the YBA movement in tastelessness? All conceptual arts progress seems blocked by the Chapman bros Hell.
Francis Morrison writes: " Education: that’s the most important thing that wasn’t there. It has to be central. If we don’t have a proper visual arts education, all the other things that we are told to do, like diversification of our audience, will never happen. We won’t have a diverse community of curators; we won’t have a gloriously diverse cohort of students at art schools. At the moment, our audience has for the most part received some sort of visual art education. It is a scary idea that over the next 10, 20 years, as young people encounter museums for the first time, they won’t have had that – apart from the ones that go to very privileged private schools. And I think that is really tragic.”

Yes quite! but is it not all interconnected and interdependent?


Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Columbia university

This morning's Guardian contains an article that demonstrates academic intolerance. It seems that some students at Columbia university object to the installation of a Henry Moore sculpture on the grounds that it will despoil their precious academic environment. These petition creators – Jeremy Liss, Alex Randall, Daniel Stone and Hallie Nell Swanson – reportedly said in an op-ed for the school newspaper: the Columbia Spectator, that the sculpture “suggests a dying mantis or a poorly formed pterodactyl”. Now that is news!!!!
The Protesters also expressed anger over how the installation of the sculpture was announced.  In a blogpost by Roberto Ferrari, curator of art properties at the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library. “Either those responsible for this move were oblivious to the significance of this decision, or they wanted to preclude any discussion of it,” they wrote. ""The opinion piece has angered commenters, who referred to the authors as “lunkheads”, “entitled little shits”, and “spoiled Columbia nitwits”. "
But one wonders seriously how these "students" attained such an immense  sense of hubris that they believe that their aesthetic judgements should really be considered.
Jennifer Wulffson Bedford, an art historian working at the Rose art museum has said: “Gathering signatures agreeing that a sculpture is unattractive in the opinion of the signatories does not in any way translate to the sculpture not being an excellent addition to the campus, both in terms of aesthetics and, more importantly, to its teaching of the humanities,” Quite so, but the sad reality is that she has actually had to state this to support of the university's decision to exhibit the sculpture.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

What future for Art Schools?


" Change is in the air, prompting questions about what art schools are for, what they will look like in the future – and what they were like in the past. Looking beyond the campaigns and heated commentary surrounding the relocations of the Cass and Central Saint Martins – not to mention the earlier move of UAL's Chelsea School of Art in 2005, and the restoration of the Glasgow School of Art after a fire in 2014 – to a recent plethora of talks and books on the history of art schools, nostalgia for what has gone is the keynote." 
Truth be told - like all revisionist commentary, only those who were there are entitled to comment on the fact that the art school product of today or what successful students become. They are little more than a dilettantes. Big on theory and discourse and very poor on actual performance. She concludes with this criticism of one of the free alternatives to the university contemporary art dept: " John Lawrence was an associate at Open School East in 2015 and found the experience liberating. “It was great to work in a truly collaborative fashion, and to have real agency in providing cultural activity at the highest level to local audiences and the London community,” he says. “A DIY ethos requires a lot of energy from all involved, but it also allows for the possibility to engage and react to things on the fly.”
"While initiatives like this are exciting, it is unlikely that they can or will usurp mainstream art schools – nor is this something we should hope for. As Lawrence admits: “Ideally, alternative art school models wouldn’t need to exist. Really, they are papering over the cracks that some mainstream education models overlook and providing free education at a time when £9,000 in tuition fees simply isn’t a viable option for many.” 
The truth is that the mainstream art schools are in long overdue need of a complete rethink, dispensing with all the misbegotten fly blown marxist crap that has marred their correct function since the 1980's. Someone needs to to take on the challenge, and to force the universities to consider the intellectual and visual content of their art and design courses.
This is supposedly the truth about the status of our art schools - enjoy!


Some recent research has pointed up the fact that most artists throughout the history of western portrait painting have spent an enormous amount of time drawing and painting folds in drapery. Waldemar in his recent programs on the Renaissance discussed venetian drapery and a recent exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite drawings includes several studies of draped cloth. An unexplored area for someones PHd.

This cropped up this week - although what it has to do with contemporary art is anyone's guess?


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Visual arts dying in London?

Sir Nicholas Serota is complaining about the high cost of property in London. This, he moans is forcing artists to live elsewhere in the UK and the cultural capital of visual artists is dying. The Guardian agree with him as they argue many creatives are being driven out by the cost of property. Over to Labour MP Sadiq Khan:
  
"Mr Khan, a former transport minister, also said he would protect artists, musicians and creative industry workers by establishing Creative Enterprise Zones, where planning protection for small industrial workspaces, affordable space and possibly reduced rates and grants would be offered.
He also discussed plans to draw up the capital’s first cultural infrastructure plan involving key arts figures and organisations from the Tate to Adele and Idris Elba to identify what it needs to remain globally competitive and keep London’s “cultural crown” over the next 15 years and beyond."


Ah well, and how many times have we heard this kind of "let new blossoms bloom " cant over the past fifty years yet nothing changes. The real problem that no-one will actually address is the appalling state of Art and design higher education which is long over due for a root and branch reform. The present incumbents care not a fig, and are presiding over the greatest decline in visual arts education in the UK since WW2. They are busy removing it from secondary schools where it can be relegated to after hours - alongside sport as prescribed in the budget yesterday. Free schools and academies no longer have to teach art and the national curriculum is now completely defunct. Secondary schools have a deepening staffing crisis. The YBA's are ageing badly and the internet has replaced the gallery system. Which puts Sir Nicholas's complaints in a sad light. As the Kipling put it ; 
"Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:"
There will be no building up with worn out tools anytime soon!

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Mark Wallinger

It is significant that there is little or no art being promoted today that deals with the great issues of the day - one may ask why this is so? Why is there so little serious agitprop being produced by contemporary artists? This is a serious question,  - is it that artists are no longer interested in dealing with serious political issues because they see their role as entertaining or amusing patrons and not as in the recent past challenging the status quo? It's not as though there are serious issues from the current US election, to the problems in Syria, and the migrant crisis.

Meanwhile Mark Wallinger is in the news with a show at Hauser and Wirth London called ID. The usual critics line up to hype it up with praise.  Needless to say it contains some thin ideas, including filming his shadow. The best thing has has done recently has used a 3D printer to reproduce a horse.

However this is as nothing as compared with the issues thrown up by the V and A exhibition based upon the Botticelli Venus. It had to happen sooner or later, but this is a truly shocking exhibition for a major public gallery to mount. The fact is that here two unwitting curators have given cultural vandalism a spurious and undeserved validity. Boyd Tonkin in the Independent writes ; "The museum has assembled perhaps the grossest heap of kitsch and dross ever to litter its eclectic exhibition halls."

The fact is that the net is rife with art abuse courtesy of net site worth 1000 which showed the kinds of trash produced by kids and the feeble minded who believe any old master painting was game for Photoshop modification. The result is always meaningless rubbish that has the ultimate effect of degrading the true value of the original artwork. Interestingly the plug has been pulled on the website Worth1000 which no longer exists and this is a very good thing. Try typing Mona Lisa modified into Google image search and observe the thousands of dross images. This photoshop abuse has moved on to other great paintings and here in the V and A there are soft porn versions of Venus given spurious and stupid validity as if in some way equal to the original Botticelli.
The original becomes contaminated, because the truth is self evident - Not all images are created equal!

Monday, February 08, 2016

Stem Stinks

Stem stinks, it is being rigidly pursued by western governments despite the considerable evidence that it fails to produce educated students. What it's imposition is doing, as the article argues is putting students off all education permanently. 
This is only half the story, there is required consideration of the total effect of technology on the dumbing down culture. This education experiment is the part of the effort to turn education into a business which is downright cretinous. Every parent is aware that education is infinitely more complex than the simple minded consumption of consumer goods but the current incumbents are hell bent on creating business opportunities, this in spite of the huge mass of available evidence that it simply doesn't work that way. Ask any teacher why they need to create their own teaching materials, because using other peoples sources never works, students detect second source values instantly. Teachers have to teach from their own value systems to be effective.
The politicians will probably rue the day if still in power, because people are not simple minded consumers, they exercise discrimination and choice according to innate complex value systems that lie well outside the simplistic ideas being applied by politicians, companies and curriculum designers who do not know what their decisions truly entail. These keen social engineers may well find that down the line, the decisions that they made have created exactly the opposite conditions to those that they had intended to bring about despite their blaming teachers for failure. The harder politicians impose so called regressive "reforms" the more they fail, despite all their efforts and they do not understand why. Much like communist Russia's efforts to stamp out christianity. That real problem is that schools Heads and senior management teams are now so results driven, focussing all their efforts upon the EBacc subjects to which funding is closely tied, any subject that does not get included in their results scores is of little or no interest despite the pupils real needs and interests. So much for the future of the creative economy.
They could have taken the trouble to ask any experienced educator to discover this prevailing truth, - cause and effect does not work in education at any level. Fortunately, people are far more complex but politicians go on stupidly reinventing the wheel. One by-product of removing the arts from the state education system may well be more arts at other cultural levels. We see this process evolve as people turn to the arts for religious consolation in bad times. Be that as it may, without an art education system  - visual discrimination, or the capacity to distinguish good from bad does not develop, so the entire culture becomes the poorer.

Enough of the rant, this week's Observer is warning of the consequences of closing down permanently hundreds of small local authority run museums around the UK and selling off their contents. They will not be replaced and the Victorian philanthropists who donated their art to the public are being abused by local councils eager to cash in. Vanessa Thorpe writes;
"The question of how the government intends to respond to a wholesale loss of regional access to heritage remains unanswered, although George Osborne is considering tax relief for museums and galleries to encourage them to take exhibitions on tour." Loss of cultural memory, courtesy of the Banksters yet again. 

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Threadneedle Art Prize

The Threadneedle art prize is a good bell-weather of the state of figurative art in the UK and as is usual, this year is an interesting one.

The winner by Lewis Hazlewood Horner is a study of an umbrella repair workshop which illustrates how little subjects can make sound and big statements, as does Laura Smiths Shells.  Saied Dai produced the usual very high quality portrait and Tim Goff's abandoned Caravan seems to belong to a more and more common genre of abandoned and decaying vehicles. Sally Moore's Handmaidens whilst beautifully painted belongs to the Paula Rego genre of fierce feminism and Barry McGlashans After Hogarth (similarly well painted) plays with "why?" narratives. There is also evidence of very sound drawing from Richard Tomlin, Howard Read, Nikki Stevens, Graham Martin and Pauline Evans. 
If contemporary Avant Garde Lite was in as healthy a state as UK figurative art there would be no reason for this blog to exist. Sadly the avant garde patient is critical. Always worth a visit to the Mall galleries but closes on 20th February!

RA Garden art and confused values.

Much publicity concerning an 80 year old artist called Rose Wylie whom our erstwhile Sooke tells us is the current toast of the "art world". Sooke opines: "Wylie’s paintings are often described as “cartoonish” or “childlike” – terms that she finds derogatory. “They are not cartoons,” she says firmly. “They are paintings.” Two years ago, the art critic Brian Sewell dismissed one of her pictures as “a daub worthy of a child of four”, and the “worst” work in the Royal Academy’s annual Summer Exhibition." Damning with faint praise is that.
We are informed that as the wife of Roy Oxlade, once the children had grown up, , she went back to art school, graduating from the Royal College of Art in 1981. This is a puzzling assertion as the RCA fine art school has always had an age bar to students over 30years of age. However ; "The childlike quality [of my work] is difficult for some people,” she says. “They dismiss it and think I can’t draw and know nothing. But then they find that actually there’s stuff in it relating to Dürer and Cézanne – indisputable figures: Dürer, crikey! Cézanne! Then it becomes more difficult for people. I find that funny."
Germaine Greer in the Guardian wrote: "The house is crammed with canvases, because Wylie's work doesn't sell. Gallerists beg her to send them works in smaller format but, as part of what Wylie does is to magnify small motifs and lack of pretension itself to become something huge and arresting, their pleas are in vain."

It is surely a measure of how coarsened we have become that we should be forced to accept that the sophisticated inclusion of references to Cezanne or Durer immediately validates these "slurbs" as works of art. 
In the Guardian of 2nd Feb we also have a confused values problem. Our conceptually addled critic Jonathan  Jones is having a pop at HRH the Prince of Wales and a pretty stupid piece of writing this is! He moans on and on about the fact that the Prince sells his work and sends the proceeds to charity. He writes; " Gallerist Anna Hunter, who has helped Charles to sell his art, claims his watercolours “are a really good reflection of the talent that lies within the royal family for art”. It’s hard to see that talent in Charles’s watercolours. They are not awful. They are merely ordinary – and obviously amateur. He looks like what he is, a hobby artist. His pictures are nice efforts but no one would think they were worth putting on the market if they did not have his name attached."  This is pure tripe, have seen many of the Prince's watercolours over the years at the RWA and they more than hold their own. When one takes a second to consider some of the awful dross that Jones has promoted through the years it's hard not to resent this very stupid complaint. Not once does the addled critic mention the enormous force for the good that the Prince of Wales has been in the art education world, by keeping real drawing alive at the Prince's Schools when the education world dropped it, addled by Duchamp. The truth is that there are other real artistic values apart from the transient, the ephemeral, the empty and the fashionable. As a critic, reason seems to be more and more absent from Jones click bait.
The press is also full of big publicity for the Blockbuster RA exhibition of garden art. Despite Monet this has always seemed a particularly incestuous form of painting, make your garden (Monet, La Notre, Humphrey Repton, Capability Brown) then use it's growing aesthetics to paint from. Touching upon this Waldemar Januszczak writes in the Sunday Times: " Artists, he said (Paul Klee) were trees. Their creativity was the sap, rising from their roots (or unconscious) through the trunks (the artists eyes) to the branches (the works themselves).......... 
Gardens are what we make them, and painting the Modern Garden makes a fine flowering indeed."  Have not read Klee's pedagogical sketchbook since 1968? This is note, a practical and empirical process and one that the conceptual artist recognises not but would do well to consider.........
Laura Cumming is as usual understated, she writes: " All you see is water, flower, foliage, reflection, light, on and on, round and round. There is no up or down, no end to the beauty of these constellations of colour in liquid space and air. Monet’s garden is beautiful beyond measure: his field of vision is limitless." 
Truly a pseudo-religious aesthetic experience. She seems to be the most considered art critic in the popular press.
Coincidently discovered this Utube video where Tomas Gonzalez Cueto blames Monet and the Impressionists for the values of contemporary art. Shurely shum mistak that?
Finally this week's really dumb art prize goes to Ai Wei Wei for this truly insensitive stupid dumb crass trashy re-enactment. It displays a complete absence of humility and humanity.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Wanted some Avant Garde artists?

Today's 22.1.16 guardian has an article on the listing of public artworks in order to protect them. How this will work is a mystery, as lots of sculptures made of expensive bronze have been stolen over the past twenty years. Henry Moore's work is particularly vulnerable in this regard and several have been spirited away and melted down for the bronze according to the police.
"Historic England has been assessing post-war sculpture across England to build a better picture of the best examples of late 20th century sculptural art works. The exhibition will coincide with the announcement of a number of new listings, and therefore protection, of public art."
There is an interesting summary of the rebuilding of British schools after the second world war and it is apposite to contrast the forward looking ideology of local authority initiatives then as compared to the debt burden of Labours PFI constructions and conceits. To say that this was a more mature  society than that which pertains today is to understate the situation. Local authorities  managed to do it all without saddling the country with huge unsustainable debts being passed on down to the children's children.
Took this powerful exhibition in last week, which was a quiet revelation that didn't detract from the power of some of the imagery which was imaginative and very original. There were intellectual and painterly allusions to Poussin and the Pre-Raphaelites everywhere.

Meanwhile in Sunday's Times Murdoch press Waldemar Januszczak waxes lyrically about this being the year for Wimmin in contemporary art because Charles Saatchi has chosen this notion for his first exhibition of 2016. If only things were that straightforward, and he informs us that Chantal Joffe is now the Professor of Painting at the RA. Never could understand exactly what all the dribbled runny paint is supposed to do for the image? Contrast her figurative work with that of the above artist and ask which one is producing art. Then ask yourself who told you that Chantal Joffe had sufficient gravitas to be appointed professor at the RA by her Peers? Once again it emphasises just how easy it is to be the wrong kind of artist in the UK. Jelena Bulajic appears to have some promise though and her work seems to be dealing with serious issues in this exhibition.

This brings us to the Observer where the ICA supremo Gregor Muir is searching for the most significant avant garde artists of today to go beyond the challenge of the YBAs? Surely shum mishtake? Has he not noticed that avant garde lite is a pile of endlessly recycled and meaningless dross? Well apparently not so because he says: "This institute was founded by artists and enthusiasts as a place to go and make things. The reason for our existence has become more important. What happens to art if you loose that middle ground? What happens to the artist who is not yet a commercial proposition or who makes something with no obvious sales element?"
""It has never been an easy place to maintain – there have always been ups and downs,” said Muir, adding that his job was to continue the debate about what an avant-garde should be. “There is no other major venue prepared to lend its weight to territory so far away from the established view.”"

If he visits the Mall Galleries next door he can answer his own questions. But that is not the entire story; Without succinct, demanding, disciplined and intense art education you can't train any great visual artists. At a time when many actors are moaning about posh boys from Eton's drama dept getting all the good jobs - We see no working artists moaning about the fact that there are no good emerging artists. When did you last go to the ICA to see the cutting edge of art? No neither can we?


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Art education and the Ebacc

This weeks post concerns Mr Toby Young, self appointed expert on education and sub editor of the Spectator who has had a pop at Sir Nicholas Serota for criticising the governments marginalisation of art education by dropping it from the so called Ebacc. The politics of this are for others, but I cannot recall the present incumbents ever really having been a friend of the arts. Mrs Thatcher, for instance did enormous damage to the quality of contemporary visual art in the UK. Be that as it may, I would like to post this repost to Mr Young which was published in the Jackdaw.


The Betrayal of Art Education 

"I pondered all these things, and how men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name."             William Morris The dream of John Ball 1888.

Plato mentions that youths were trained as painters at Heraclea. During the Middle Ages the training of the fine artist was subject to the Medieval Craft Guilds whilst sculptors were trained as craftsmen by master masons. A Tudor statute of 1437 broke the power of the Guilds, and from the renaissance onwards apprenticeships were the most common form of training artists across Europe. The first academy of art was established at the De Medici court in Florence in 1438 and it led to imitations throughout Italy and France and later Britain. Students were taught to draw from the nude with outline, shading and polished finish. They also drew from the skeleton and and studied anatomy and perspective. Pope Sixtus V established the Academia de San Luca in Rome with studios and debates in 1593 under Zuccaro. The academy model swiftly spread throughout Europe but the Rome academy was the primary centre of pedagogic influence until Paris took over in the 19th century; drawing from life was basic for training artists for 400 years.
The first UK academy was Sir Geofrey Kneller's Academy of Painting and Drawing 1711-1716 in Great Queen Street, London, which counted such artists as Thomas Gibson amongst its founding directors. It was taken over by Sir James Thornhill and in 1738 Hogarth, who had eloped with Thornhill's daughter, set up an academy in St Martin's Lane. His academy provided life models for members but no instruction. The Royal Academy emerged from disputes at the Society of Artists where two architects, Sir William Chambers and James Paine, vied for control of the society. Although Chambers lost control his formal proposal for a Royal Academy was accepted by the King in 1768 and the Royal Academy came into existence with the painter Sir Joshua Reynolds as its President. Entry to the RA school was conditional upon a chalk drawing from the antique cast, an anatomical figure and a skeleton drawing. By the 19th century instruction by the RA keepers, or instructors, was rated as very poor, and students had to be forced to attend the antique drawing class. The RA school was reformed by Lord Frederick Leighton and Poynter in the 1880s as the result of superior skilled artists returning from training in Paris ateliers and the Ecole de Beaux Arts which had been established in 1648. Many private art schools sprang up to train students for entry to the RA school, the Slade and the RCA. They also taught interested amateurs and produced drawing masters for the middle class. The last of these to open until recent times was the Byam Shaw in 1910. The academy system of training had slowly fossilised and as Courbet remarked even the Parisian ones had become mortuaries by 1890. 

The Slade, founded from a bequest for three professors of fine art at Oxford, Cambridge and UCL London in 1871 became renowned for the teaching of drawing.  A S Hartrick asserted that drawing was the study of form and that the expression of form is the end of drawing. The rigid type of drawing in government schools of art was not permitted at the Slade, contour replaced outline, although contour is but one aspect of rendering applicable to sculpture. The Slade's great pedagogic achievement was to establish drawing as the empirical search for knowledge through observation, which superseded the tedious outlining, measuring and shading of the RCA-based government school drawing system. The Slade was one of the few schools dedicated to fine art.  As late as the 1970s it was reported that it would be a tragedy if it lost its independent outlook or crucially Slade draughtsmanship. To see whether it does survive you could check last years students' portfolios online.
Local colleges of art were established throughout the UK by the Mechanics Institutes and Local Institutes of Adult Education in the early 19th century. Local art academies joined with the institutes to teach artisans science, literature and fine art. Instruction was very poor due to a lack of teachers, but despite that, colleges spread to meet the demand from the working class. This picture is further complicated by the history of design training, via the Arts and Crafts movement, the Art Workers Guild, and the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society. In 1884 a Royal Commission addressed the fact that industrial design had been neglected and in 1886 Walter Crane was invited to lecture in the National Art Training Schools. This began the Arts and Crafts movement and Crane became the director of design at Manchester Municipal School of Art in 1899. His course was annotated and spread by his extremely popular books: Line and form 1900, The basis of design 1898, and The claims of decorative art 1892, which made him the most influential teacher in Britain, particularly in those schools located in main manufacturing centres. He took over the Royal College in July 1898 and formed a design school there in 1901. In 1896 William Lethaby was appointed principal of the Central School of Art in Southampton Row where its Craftwork facilities were superior in quality and range to those of the Royal College. It has been said that without the Central School there could have been no Bauhaus and he employed the very best practitioners in each craft that he could find. He then moved on to the RCA in 1911. 

It was the technical instruction act of 1889 that gave every local council the power to form a technical instruction committee and levy a penny rate tax for a system of art teaching for artisans though ultimately it was for British industry needs. The municipalities took responsibility for teaching art from 1890 and many industrial design schools were renamed as local schools of art. LCC schools established many craft classes following Lethaby's example at the Central School, teaching everything from silversmithing at Birmingham, to lithography, ceramics, printing, enamelling, fabric design and even piano making. The magazine Studio was extremely influential in spreading the range of crafts from Glasgow to London. Municipal art schools were originally intended to develop along lines required by local industry demands though their range was often wider than needs. Manchester Art School was typical. Essential subjects were object and memory drawing, industrial design processes and materials, lettering, drawing from the cast or nature, anatomy, handicraft, flower painting, modelling, drawing from life, animals, plants or birds and architectural drawing taught within a strict hierarchy and progression.

The Board of Education Examination in Drawing was replaced by the Ministries' Intermediate Examination in arts and crafts for which the student submitted a work in craft, a small cast of the human figure, a life drawing, a costumed life drawing, an anatomical figure, a pictorial composition from memory and a general knowledge paper. In 1946 the NDD replaced the final exams in painting, modelling, industrial or pictorial design. Students could choose to specialise in any industrial craft from pottery to dress design. We can mark the decline in visual art provision from the Coldstream Report which set up the DipAD In 1959 which was a well documented severe contraction in provision. Sir William Coldstream chaired the National Advisory Council report to set up the higher standard DipAD to replace the NDD. This required a one year pre-dip or foundation followed by three years of DipAD. As is well recorded many NND students were rejected from DipAD courses in mid-study. The motivation was to drastically cut the number of art students and in 1962-63, 87 colleges and 201 courses applied for DipAD recognition and 29 colleges and 61 courses were given DipAD course approval.

This marked the beginning of the present problems with higher level art education; students started a sit-in at St Martin's which then spread to Guildford and other colleges. The sit-in that the writer experienced at Bristol lasted one afternoon; the College principal made it very clear he would tolerate no dissent. The DipAD was characterised by a lack of teaching and the insistence upon 15% art history and written studies. Many students had already had initial training on NDD courses and just transferred to DipAD alongside the new academic intake and many were just dispensed with. The assumption was made that students were capable of self education and apart from assessment by some hard-headed professional artists with severe pruning of the student body they were pretty much left to their own devices. The writer recalls a first year of DipAd sculpture term when his group were each given a one metre cube of polystyrene and told to get on with it. No prescription, no instruction, the resulting confusion led to several students abandoning the course and 20 students became eight by the end of the first year. The unrest was caused by a number of factors that now appear comic. The main factor was the DipAD entry requirement of five O level GCEs which is now ironically the basic Ofsted results measurement for all secondary schools - so much for grade inflation. Ironic too, that research has since found that the more academically-able students were the least successful as career artists.

The arguments were actually about how to improve art and design education and students declared that the courses they were doing were irrelevant and non-vocational. There was good cause for this, course content and teaching became minimal, relying on diluted basic design theory via Bauhaus expressionist learning by doing. Visiting artists were often irrelevant.  The writer recalls a bemused afternoon spent with Hockney showing films of naked men wrestling which caused outrage among the staff and students. This was the kind of precedent that the Coldstream report set. The bitterness of the Hornsey and Guildford affairs set an example for what was to come. The Coldstream-Summerson working party formed from the National Advisory Council for Art Education and the National Council for Diplomas in Art and Design could not satisfy the radical students and teachers of 1968, particularly in that the courses were solely "to stimulate the personal development of the student and not to ensure any level of attainment". There was also the issue of the B courses which were designed to be craft-based and vocational and to produce design technicians to cater for the needs of industry. Professor Misha Black argued that the initiation of the A/B course distinction was a stupid mistake whilst Digby Jacks, the NUS leader, asserted that the assumption that all the design must be vocational was pure British philistinism. At the time it was believed that art and design being absorbed into the general Polytechnic/University system of education was to make scope for Arts Centres to develop at local level. This did not occur. 

In 1913 the Board of Education Teaching Certificate for teachers in art schools was replaced by the Art Teachers' Diploma. In 1933 for colleges of art and universities a written examination called Art Teachers' Certificate (now known as PGCE) was started in University schools of education. The breakdown of the Bauhaus in 1928 spread its teachers across America and Europe, the writer was taught very unconventional life drawing by a former Bauhaus teacher at a municipal art school in the 1950s whilst still at grammar school. It was the Bauhaus which was to break down the barriers between art and art education and this made it the most influential 20th century art school through imitation and dilution of basic design.

The teaching of drawing had started in UK grammar schools in the 1820s, whilst science teaching didn't start there until 1850. By 1850 there had developed a cogent and relevant philosophy for the teaching of art in secondary and primary schools largely through the efforts of Herbert Spencer. It was recognised very early on well before the ubiquitous Howard Gardner, that no subject in a school curriculum had any claim to superiority as a branch of human knowledge. Although the rot set in before New Labour, the Coalition has been very busy creating a profitable privatised state education system. This has been characterised by a retrograde amnesia which permits carpet manufacturers or nightclub owners to determine the content of the free school curriculum and those who know nothing of the precious, hard-won tradition of art educational theory and philosophy to foist upon the population, a utilitarian grad-grind school curriculum free of art. Lord Maclennan of Rogart said in a House of Lords debate on arts education provision in November 2014: "The extraordinary decline in professional arts teaching is something we most seriously regret .....The present secretary of state for education seems to be opposing the arts in favour of science. This is a great mistake, they are not exclusive."  How pathetically little has changed since C P Snow's Rede Lecture of 1959 when he remarked: "Between the two cultures a gulf of mutual incomprehension - sometimes (particularly among the young) hostility and dislike, but most of all a lack of understanding. They have a curious distorted image of each other. Their attitudes are so different that, even on the level of emotion, they can't find much common ground."

Poorly informed arguments for the value of an art education have focussed upon what art is good for and not upon art as a significant cohesive body of knowledge that enables the individual to negotiate symbolic meaning in an increasingly visual world. Many apologists have assumed that arts education should be burdened with any mission statement rather than examining what the actual content of art education consists in.
In the 1970's standard reference on the history and practice of art education Stuart MacDonald wrote as his conclusion "the most fascinating feature of art education is that a method evolves then thrives or decays according to the quality of the products, not the artefacts but the living products, the students." Any brief reflection upon the history of avant-garde art in the UK since 1950 provides ample proof of this depressing fact. One of the hallmarks of higher level art education has been the incipient paranoia of the product. I assert this without any sense of criticism. It is the inevitable result of a wholly defensive attitude to their desired function as an artist. No-one knows where they stand in the contemporary art world diaspora and there are absolutely no navigable maps apart from marketing strategies. Paradoxically, it is the quality of contemporary artefacts upon which controversy is centred and not the people, literally it is "by their fruits that you shall know them."  

University art education is now a top-heavy unsound market. David Barrett says: "It is through business models that we must now analyse art education". What happened to the duty to conserve knowledge or is there no knowledge? Key specialist courses have already been dispensed with. There is a reported decline of 58% in glass and ceramics courses and a 46% drop in crafts-based courses. Huge over-supply of arts graduates has led to employers exploiting the situation by filling the most menial posts with over-qualified and under-paid graduates, to say nothing of the slavery of unpaid internships, the nepotism and the closed social networks. The sector has reportedly become top-heavy with practice-based PhDs as these are more cost effective than foundation studies. This has presented business opportunities for Southbank Wide Open School, Mirza and Butlers Summer School, Open School East, John Reardon's schools, Barbican Art School Lab, Fack Forum, Wysing arts centre retreats, Turps Banana, PDF's School of Global Art and Sotheby's to set up alternative fee-paying art school models without offering any qualification. A current sit-in involving lawyers is taking place at UAL and the university says it is to lose a total of 580 foundation course places over the next two years. Barratt has remarked that "while the ivory towers are developing corporate glass atria suited to nurturing post-doctoral hot-house flowers, it may yet be the organic growth outside the walled garden of academia that will fuel future generations of artists in the UK". Without foundation, where will the PhDs to come from? 

To see where this leads we can examine the US model where several art teachers have been dismissed for refusing to force their students to purchase unnecessary digital textbooks. Zaha Hadid Architects director Patrik Schumacher has called for the abolition of state-funded arts schools, branding them "an indefensible anachronism". He said in Feb 2015: "Schools of art are not justifiable by argument, because contemporary art is not justifiable by argument, i.e. art is itself indefensible. Art is pure provocation. However, public funding should require rational justification in terms of determinate purposes and benefits. It should not be able to rely on a traditional, anachronistic reverence towards "art". Public funding decisions should not rely on an unexplained sense of art's "value" that lingers on even after 100 years of avant-garde efforts to debunk it and laugh it out of existence." This from an architect is to wilfully ignore the relevance of design education to the traces of our manufacturing industry. The purpose is abundantly clear, to push fine art out of the education system permanently. 

In 2008 Seth Siegelaub  defined art as an activity entirely absorbed by capitalism and Pavel Buchler (he who desecrated Eddie Wolfram's work) asserted that art is ruthless business and the last remaining unregulated sector of capitalist enterprise. How the does that help any art lecturer define the content of an art education curriculum? With this casuistic support it is not surprising that art education is at risk of extinction in universities where courses are said to be no longer fit for purpose. The Art Monthly discussion between David Beech and others from June 2014 contains a précis of an intellectual confusion at the heart of art education in our universities. Beech uses Michael Craig Martin as a support for his argument that art education is conceptual art education with this quote: "What's basic for one artist is not basic for another. You cannot have basics." Regardless of the truth or otherwise of this assertion, students have been asking to be taught basics such as how to paint by artists who are unable to teach them. This is the real failure at the heart of Beech's argument; the premise that art education is the creation of fully-formed artists or "market products" who have no complex practical skills set. He confidently asserts that traditional teaching reproduces obsolete theories and formats through the transmission of skills. If this were true and it is not even remotely true, then how did Hockney, Auerbach, Freud, Kitaj, Hodgkin or Moore, along with thousands of others, emerge as artists after an empirically-based academic training by the likes of the great Carel Weight or David Bomberg? 20th century modernism would not have thrived without Gustave Moreau, and the traditional atelier system. For hundreds of years artists had first to acquire the real skills, and then were permitted to experiment. The writer recalls arguments about the primacy of skill as far back as 1964. Beech's argument is further weakened by his summary of technique which he asserts "must be scrutinised, theorised, contextualised and historicised and not simply transmitted." This is totally useless sophistry: technique is one and only one aspect of skill and as such a means to an end. Michael Corris and others have pointed out that without a theory of what art is, the choice of values to be selected and conserved will inevitably be arbitrary. Without it you cannot even make a start on designing a sound curriculum. The confusion exists because the basic empirical content of art education has been slyly ditched as too expensive to run. Crucially there is a culture of indifference at university level. Writing about the necessity for the research assessment that is encouraging the development of PhDs Fiona Candlin, in a Birkbeck research paper, says: "... educational reforms are of great consequence to making art but this does not then imply that managerial recommendations determine the sort of art or theory that is produced. At Council level there is rarely any consideration given to the specific art objects made." So quality is as unimportant today as it was in 1968. All that the Coldstream report achieved was the embodiment of critique and it fostered its growth at the expense of the artwork itself. Yet there is ignorance at the heart of this form of literary theory, for every artist knows that not everything that is knowable can be articulated in language. "The limits of cognition are not defined by the limits of language", as Eliot Eisner said. To separate language and image is confused and mistaken, for to embody a meaning in a form is to give rise to new non-propositional knowledge. It is this that artists and educators should have been fighting for since Summerson but they have failed at every level of provision to defend it. As David Marquand says in criticism of our current hedonist culture, "the notion that the wisdom of the past can illuminate the ethical dilemmas of the present seems to them absurd and dangerous. For them there is no such wisdom. The past was steeped in ignorance and error. Its teachings belong in the dustbin of history."  How intelligent is that, given the evidence of today's US or UK art school product who is in essence no more than a dilettante? 

Art educationalists have been in many respects their own worst enemy; they have allowed their concerns and practice to be used and abused by all kinds of issues, yet their relevance to the curriculum is more basic than IT, sociology or media studies. Jan Jagodzinski listed these concerns that art education has been used to promote in US schools: "Contributors include arts-based educational research, electronic media interest group, committee for lifelong learning, caucus of lesbian gay and transgender issues, caucus on the spiritual in art education, design issues group, museum education division, design special-needs committee, multi-ethnic concerns, caucus for social theory in art education, etc." Things are not that different in the UK, and readers can probably find examples from their own experience. In pursuit of student popularity teachers and lecturers have generated and exploited dozens of irrelevant approaches and issues to engage students lacking any basic ability to draw. Art education has been seen as a convenient peg on which to hang anyone's social work and the blame for this passive acceptance lies firmly at the door of state conceptual art and the undesirable result that it has had upon the university product. 
Sir Anthony Seldon, Headmaster of Wellington College, has said of schools: "Students should come to understand the history of art from the classical world to Tracey Emin. Doing so will give them the means to enjoy and understand art and architecture - the environment that they live in - throughout their lives." The open threat to UK state school art education is exemplified by an article from the Telegraph in November 2014 where the education secretary Nicky Morgan asserted that: "Schoolchildren who focus exclusively on arts and humanities-style subjects risk restricting their future career path." There little evidence that art teachers are arguing their corner against oncoming cuts in provision at all levels of the system. This may be due to the mass of press coverage from the great and the good who have stuck their heads above the parapet but it is also symptomatic of the cavalier behaviour of school or college employers who need to be reminded constantly that in spite of their competitive business ethics they actually work for a student's education. It has become routine to sack art staff in ill-considered reforms and management replacement in state and public schools because often the decisions are made by managers with no background in education. Grad-grind targets deliberately belittle people and their access to holistic educational values. Business ethics have been foisted with Stalinist zeal upon all aspects of the education system. Single-minded results-driven management teams have been discouraging students from studying GCSE art in order to improve their school's position in league tables for some time, certainly since the mid-1990s. Weak institutions which insist upon the measurement of everything breed dishonesty. Endemic Stalinist psychological profiling is capable of measuring nothing apart from the ethical, moral and cognitive compromises of the text box writer or the examiner. Examination systems are certainly not capable of assessing art. Cheating has become accepted and endemic throughout the entire system, no-one is permitted to fail, but in truth the entire system is designed to fail people. And yet any art education should be the transmitter of integrity, morality and ethical right thinking. A consortium of organisations recently declared that, of schoolchildren receiving free school meals, more than a quarter have ditched subjects such as art, music and photography at GCSE level because the equipment associated with these subjects was too costly. Furthermore, of those children from low-income families who did take such subjects, the survey found that some ended up with lower grades because they had inferior equipment. It is always the poor who are cheated, particularly when Banksy is used for their art source material. Meanwhile, public school art departments go on teaching to a high standard but even here they cannot afford draughtsmen.
The Harland Report 2000 and the Henley Report 2012 have recorded the demotion of art from the core school curriculum. The Harland Report documented the fact that more outside agencies were being involved in providing extra curricula artists which in the 1990s were being funded by begging letters. The writer remembers writing numerous begging submissions for lottery or other funds extra to LA provision for Kathak dancers or theatre groups. This has resulted in patchy provision throughout the country and crucially art teaching is totally dependent upon the largesse of the antipathetic priorities of diminished LAs, Heads or specialist teachers. The Henley Report effectively downgraded the status of art in the school and legitimised the consensus that art can be subsumed under cultural education. This betrayed the fact that no-one in government or the creative industries seems to know what visual art is because (a) there is so little good art being promoted (b) little art is being taught. The teaching of objective drawing has declined considerably since the 1980s despite being enshrined in the National Curriculum because it requires discipline. To say that this puts the future at risk is an understatement.
So now we are at a wake which has yet to register. The Warwick Commission recently published their research Enriching Britain, Culture, Creativity and Growth, by Professor Jonothan Neelands from the Warwick Business School and Dr Eleonora Belfiore from the Centre for Cultural Policy Studies. In particular, the report notes that a significant number of pupils do not study any arts subject at GCSE. They say: "Education and skills, along with talent development, are key levers for social and cultural change and are vital if we are to achieve the triple win of a more diverse and representative Cultural and Creative Industries Ecosystem, powering greater innovation and growth, and full participation by all in our cultural life."  How many times have we read this and how very little changes? Yet every student has the right to a balanced curriculum. The Warwick Commission's key recommendations are these: 
  • That there should be an arts and culture premium for disadvantaged students to match the £45 million sports premium because the UK values football more than it does the arts.
  • All employers in the creative industries in receipt of public funds or tax breaks must support college and schools career pathways. 
  • That Ofsted should insist on schools providing embedded art to age 16.
  • The patchwork of commercial and public arts education centres should be mapped and co-ordinated to match demand and need.
  • Lastly the creation of a digital public space free from commercial and political interference to form a cultural library and resource retaining all the UK's cultural and artistic assets.
They quote the inevitable fashionable localism: "The challenge for the arts cultural and heritage sectors is to bring people from communities together in ways that reflect their identities and creative aspirations in a manner that can have a lasting impact on local society." Those who assert that the alternative to art education lies with new technology, should ask themselves what the student is actually learning from its use. 

In the new privatised education business, funding is being targeted very precisely away from expensive arts and crafts at all levels. The golden era of art education is dying and collective loss of memory rules from primary schools to Tate Britain. I can find no attempt to record or learn anything from those often great artists and art advisers who created a golden age. An emphasis upon drivel is ruining the entire field, typically: " A UK-wide competition is asking primary school children to think about what art means – using a toilet sculpture." (Exemplar by Korean artist Do Lo Suk and not Duchamp.) Launched by Artis, the competition challenges children and teachers to move beyond the idea that art is just a picture on the wall and respond to the question: “What is art?” This art-free nonsense is typical of precious time totally wasted, even worse - what does it actually say about the value of art?
Claire Fox said in the TES recently, "... arguments for arts as the ‘sixth pillar’ of STEAM appear self-serving and instrumentalist. They exaggerate the ‘risks’ of excluding the arts from the Ebacc, less out of a concern with the quality of children’s education than a desire to defend the interests of the cultural sector. In fact, the refusal to include arts in the Ebacc could be seen as an opportunity for a major revision of the role of the arts in schools". This is dissembling - all students have a basic human entitlement to access to at least one arts subject as part of a balanced education. Most third world countries aspire to achieving that status. Unesco argues that quantitative and qualitative data show that arts education can enhance extensive development of students such as aesthetic, socio-emotional, cognitive skill and academic development.
Carefully targeted access to a wide range of practical experience of making art is needed, but that demands from the educationalist a very firm understanding of what art is which does not always exist. If you have dispensed with aesthetic experience, you cannot teach anyone how to embody meaning in a form. To pretend otherwise is to betray the students.  Any educationalist visiting Tate Modern immediately comes up against ethical and moral problems of trying to convince their students that what they are looking at is in truth art. Students see through the obvious contradictions quickly and teachers cannot bluff without compromising their integrity.  Placing a rationale and validity of art and design education in the realm of conceptual art or naked capitalism removes any shreds of legitimacy it may have retained at any level of provision.

Content is the most significant bête noir of contemporary art as it is not just the poorly considered content of art education that is a problem. The content issue is the result of a divorce between the image and its purported meaning. There has probably never been a more serious time than now, to review the true value of visual art in education and its economic significance. Yet the 2014 NSEAD Manifesto does not do this, it repeats the tired old platitudes and mantra about the nature of art and design practice. It mentions little about rationale, content or even the reasons art education is significant for all.  The NSEAD document talks about a world-class forward-looking art and design curriculum that fosters a broad range of thinking, visual perception and visual awareness at a time when avant garde lite is dying on its feet from boredom and repetition. It also mentions making sound judgements about quality, values and meaning when this is impossible for most of the teachers trained in the past 25 years of art school critiques. Many insist that students at all levels must be exposed to what is relevant now, but why when they know little about the art of the past? Unquestioned beliefs about the relevancy of contemporary art (which in reality can be viewed as supremely irrelevant to most people's existence) are not very helpful in understanding what art is. We inhabit a completely aberrant and sick visual art culture. The result is that indoctrination has to occur everywhere from the poorest art department to the pages of the Guardian because no one will question state art as a viable basis for education values. Yet if art education is to be relevant to future generations it has to be through a concern with values, with excellence and with sheer quality. What is desperately required is an argument for the intrinsic value of art based upon value. Visual art is not about socially convenient constructs such as wealth, status, gender or discrimination, it has everything to do with the basics of life and death that are intrinsic to the human condition and this is where its relevancy to education lies.  Stanislaw Frenkiel wrote in 1982: "If art represents a realm of knowledge such knowledge has relevance to education through its concern for quality and excellence."  But how can this be taught?
The art as a language position is untenable. It assumes that you cannot teach art, despite the fact that visual art was taught for hundreds of years. James Elkins, who promotes this position, asserts that the problem with art world critiques is that "nobody knows what the terms of the judgements are." Critiques end up using the word "interesting" which is not a judgement. Elkins arcanely describes himself as a professor "who tries to prove to the world that he does not have to know what he is doing." What artistic and intellectual values does that statement represent?
This is what the NSEAD propose when they put forward an art and design curriculum that embraces "the historic, the contemporary, and the future". During the 1980s an imposition upon art teachers' autonomy occurred in UK schools through the enforcement of appreciation and criticism via the US/DBAE model. Making and creating was carelessly relegated to the status of a craft where it now is used as a term of insult. This enforced regression was enshrined in a national curriculum written by an archaeologist in 1982. One can assert that this can be viewed as the first step to disable the teacher's autonomy and impose centrally-directed knowledge.  "Conceptual art is entirely word-bound. It is, in fact, the kind of art that is exhausted in its verbal description."  (Alexander Stoddart, sculptor.)  It is also extremely cheap in art materials.  The writer felt at the time that this was a state attack upon his own value system.  Good teachers speak from their own value set; imposing Hunderwasser's artwork upon a teacher who has no respect for the artist was and is counter-productive.

As Louis Arnaud-Reid argued: "Making art is an aesthetically absorbing activity, where the making and contemplation of what has and is being made is enjoyed for its own sake and qua aesthetic for no extraneous reason."  This one suspects is why utilitarians are so keen to remove it from the curriculum. But there is of course much more to art than this, there are embodied values, meanings, ideas, expressions and historical insights. Yet no-one can discuss the knowledge content, but everyone at all levels of the art education system are dealing with distorted theories of value. A rationale for teaching art demands a complete re-examination of the knowledge and values that are being inculcated and - particularly - why. Weak and poor teachers are confused and descriptive, they spend hours discussing that which their faulty judgement system conflates as being of equal value to everything else. They openly declare and argue that anything can be art. Little wonder that they can live in confusion with art as unteachable and therefore unlearnable. Ironically, this does not stop them from practising as art lecturers but it is no teacher's bounded duty to legitimise kitsch because hedge fund managers buy it.

In 1984-5 Simon Frith was able to write that in Britain every small town has its own art school supported by the LCC, now they are almost all long gone. As David Barratt has reported: "The crisis in fine art higher education is nothing as compared to art and design's trouble in further education as the stand-alone provincial art school and institution of creative training long accessible to outsiders, misfits and all manner of local square pegs is squeezed out of government budgets." Local art schools are also a measure of the cultural value that has been lost in the attack upon local government. Despite countless cultural reports and the millions spent, will art in education vanish completely, because it provided a lone secure path for working-class students to gain a creative education or a craft training? Will Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, come to represent the interment of the once great tradition of UK art education? Sarah Selwood in 1996 raised the point that we know nothing about the long term careers of art students and whether they are satisfied with the careers that they make for themselves. This wasn't answered then and it still isn't known in 2015. 

Harold Osborne wrote this obituary for Louis Arnaud-Reid:  "If we owe anything to the future and this is the meaning and implication of educating the young - then it is our duty to work for the continued progress of the race in sensibility, feeling and intelligence ..... By giving preponderance to utilitarian and materialistic aims, man cramps his own mind and nature and proceeds backwards undoing all the advances that he has made." In 1982 Reid's "Arts in Schools" report for the Gulbenkian foundation recommended the establishment of a National Council for Arts Education with the express purpose of protecting art at all levels of the education system. Arnaud-Reid recognised that the experience of making art was a kind of love affair with the real world, and from this transaction comes a new creation. This, he frequently asserted, is how we come to know what art is. He would never have accepted that an art education was merely educating students in art. The visual arts give us an incredibly precious gift when they reflect the world back upon us. They are the true measure of a civilised society, and that is also to acknowledge the critical importance of craft and design to the industrial future of the nation.

L A Reid's generation and their hard-won tradition have been betrayed by the utilitarian domination of contemporary art and art education for specious business ends. Very high quality art education products are absolutely key to our countries future, and the state has a duty to fund them.


©  2015