July 10, 2011

THERE SPEAKS A MAN WHO'S NEVER BEEN IN AN AMERICAN LIVING ROOM:

Are we a nation of abstract art snobs? (Jonathan Jones, July 2011, The Guardian)

Britain has never "got" abstract art. Even articles that appeared this week marking the death of Cy Twombly attracted comments of the "my child could do that" variety. It is tempting to dismiss these attacks as philistine, but that would be to ignore an eminently respectable and artistically sophisticated British tradition of disdain for abstract painting.

In a justly famous collection of essays called Art and Illusion, the leading art historian of postwar Britain EH Gombrich argued that western painting is the pursuit of reality – that in effect representational painting has a scientific vocation. This is a translation to art of the empiricism that goes back in British philosophy to John Locke. To look is to discover (although Gombrich showed how what we see is coloured by what we expect to see). If art is about trying to see things how they really are, what is the value of abstraction? For Gombrich it basically had no value at all.

It was not only theorists who believed this in postwar Britain. The best artists did, too. Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud fearsomely depicted real life as they found it – real human life, with the figure at the heart of the matter, the lonely human predicament their weighty concern. Bacon loudly dismissed the American abstract painting of the 1950s as looking like "old lace". Freud paints to this day with total commitment to reality and no interest whatsoever in abstraction.

So British sceptics who think abstract art like that of Twombly is just a load of visual guff can claim a tradition on their side.

Why, then, are we so different from Americans?


The great American artists of the modern era are C. M. Coolidge, Maxfield Parrish, Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth, Norman Rockwell, Edgar Leeteg, and Thomas Kinkade.

The Abstract isn't art. It's an intellectual rebellion against the very idea of art. One of the main features of the Anglosphere is its anti-Intellectualism. Abstract "art" never stood a chance.


Posted by at July 10, 2011 6:29 PM
  

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