Thursday, 27 January 2011

Modern British Sculpture at the Royal Academy

Modern British Sculpture at the Royal Academy

Initial impressions of the exhibition were good with examples of works by Epstein, Gill, Moore and Hepworth, amongst others. However it is when one enters a room with work by Carl Andre and Richard Long that it all starts to go wrong; there is a marked deterioration in both technique and imagination. If one applies the scrapheap challenge, where works of art are placed in a scrap yard and people are invited to save anything they deem to be art, then most of the sculpture in the following rooms would be left in the mud. I am not sure the Caro in the previous room would have passed that test either.

Another test for great art is that it surprises the viewer, eliciting a response from the viewer and having an unconscious appeal to their emotions. In the latter rooms in this exhibition the artists have tried to surprise the viewer by producing work that previously would never have been considered as art, and only is now by reason of being placed in a gallery. They have used the unpleasant and the vile to shock us with their artistic audacity, seeking publicity through controversy rather than talent. They have produced complex explanations to elevate their work, without which the work would be meaningless, and, as such, fail as a piece of art; the art itself should convey the message. Art should surprise but it should do it through technique and the power of the imagination.

Anyone who visits this exhibition will think that for the last four decades we have produced nothing worthwhile, nothing that elevates the spirit, nothing that shows a degree of skill or imagination. This is not an exhibition about modern British Sculpture; rather it shows a very restrictive sample of what has been produced in the last 40 years. For that the Royal Academy should be ashamed, if they think this exhibition represents modern British sculpture they should open their eyes, and their minds; for there is great art out there but, unfortunately, the art establishment has spent decades and millions of pounds of public money promoting the banal, mundane and mediocre. Art colleges continue to churn out ‘artists’ that lack technique and imagination, who have been conned into believing that this is art, where mediocrity is not only acceptable, it is celebrated.

Needless to say this exhibition made me both angry and depressed.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Wildlife Art - The Future

Once the definition of wildlife art defined in my previous blog is adopted we can also dispel the myth of ‘traditional wildlife art’; there is no such thing. Wildlife art has evolved over the millennia, from the earliest rock art to the contemporary styles used by some artists today. It has always been in a state of flux, adopting different genres and methods to interpret the beauty of the natural world. Wildlife art as we know it today is a relatively recent phenomena, only beginning to emerge towards the end of the 19th century. The early practitioners were concerned that much of the wildlife they saw would soon become extinct as man encroached on it’s territory and destroyed habitat. Their purpose was to produce an enduring record of what they saw before it disappeared. Similarly others wanted to produce images of the wildlife to show the public the beauty of the newly discovered natural world that most had not seen before. That production of a record of the natural world is now fulfilled by video and photography.

So what is the role and purpose of wildlife art in modern times and how can we elevate its status in the art world? If realism is to return as a force in the art world then we cannot continue to just provide a record of what we see, and we cannot just repeat the style and type of art that has gone before. We, the artists, have to do more; the work must be truly inspired; we must put something of ourselves into the work, and we must do it in a modernist style that reflects our times and concerns.

In addition we also have to leave space for the viewer to interpret the artwork and use their imagination to fill in what is suggested so that the viewer can connect with the art. A piece of art, on a superficial level must encapsulate beauty, it must uplift the spirit and enhance its surroundings. That is necessary for the viewer to engage with the artwork. But on a deeper level it should resonate with the viewer and have a subconscious appeal to their emotions, whether those emotions are the same as the artist intended is not important, what is important is that the viewer connects with the art.

Picasso spoke of the tyranny of the thing seen, how the artist should use only what he wants and discards the rest, how he should control the artwork and not let the subject matter dictate the finished piece. How he should not put in too much detail but give an impression of what is there and let the viewer fill in the gaps.

I would propose a variation, ‘the tyranny of the thing photographed’ too many artists use photographs rather than their minds and let the photograph dictate the finished artwork. An artist should observe their subject and decide how they want to portray it, or take a theme or emotion and work out how they can use a wildlife subject matter to illustrate it. They should not go out and take a lot of photographs; flick through them until they find one that you feel would make a good painting. As a piece of art it lacks integrity and emotion; it is an illustration and would have probably have been better as a photograph. Photography should be a reference tool not the start of an artwork.

Inspiration comes from a variety of sources; from observation blended with thoughts and beliefs and the profound experiences of ones life, thus much inspiration comes from the sub-conscious and cannot be controlled. There is no formula for repetition and, if there were, it would lack the vitality and excitement of subconscious inspiration. As Paul Gauguin wrote’ I close my eyes in order to see’. Contemplation will provide as much inspiration as observation. One of the elements of inspiration that fascinates me is the human mind; because it is extremely complex many of the elements within a piece of artwork will come from the sub-conscious, as indeed did the original idea, and therefore the full meaning behind the piece will not be evident, even to its creator.

The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape…Pablo Picasso

Art should be a reflection of the artists inner feelings’ Arthur Dow

Friday, 24 September 2010

Wildlife Art - a definition

There always seems to be confusion surrounding the definition of wildlife art; it all to often treated as a genre or a movement, but that is incorrect, it is not like impressionism, conceptual art, abstract art or any of the other movements that have come and gone over the centuries. The style of any of those movements can be used to depict wildlife, but wildlife is the subject not the style.

Dr Adam Harris’s definition in his book ‘Wildlife in American Art’ is, I think, perfect ‘Art related to Wildlife’. To put it simply any piece of art depicting wildlife is wildlife art; thus Andy Warhol’s Endangered Species series is wildlife art but the art movement he was involved in was Pop Art; Damien Hirst’s shark in formaldehyde is also wildlife art and the movement or genre is Conceptual Art. Both Bob Kuhn and Robert Bateman are influenced by abstract art and that can be seen in many of their wildlife art paintings, indeed, the latter was an abstract painter before he changed his subject matter to the natural world.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Sculpture and beauty

For me, sculpture, must be beautiful; I don’t mean that in the sense of niceness or prettiness, I mean it must uplift the spirit and enhance its surroundings; it must encapsulate beauty. On a deeper level it should resonate with the viewer and have a subconscious appeal to their emotions, whether those emotions are the same as the artist intended is not important, what is important is that the viewer connects with the art and responds to it.