Category Archives: art

In the name of God, desist!

screen-shot-2017-02-12-at-16-27-44Anish Kapoor, writes Dalrymple, is

one of those many modern artists who would add considerably to the beauty of the world by desisting from their activities.

On the question of publicly-funded art, Dalrymple’s view is that

if we must have it, as seems to be inevitable, let us at least have as little and cheap as possible.

Cheap, childish artefacts

Dalrymple points out that the professional caste of cognoscenti have

consistently applauded the trivialisation of art

and its relegation to the status of

financial speculation at best, a game for children showing off to the adults at worst.

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De aardse ijdelheid en de hemelse verlossing

Earthly Vanity and Divine Salvation (front of triptych), c. 1485. Musée des Beaux-Arts de Strasbourg

Triptych (front), c. 1485. Musée des Beaux-Arts de Strasbourg. Dalrymple notes that all the ‘art’ being produced today in London and elsewhere is worth not a single Memling picture

Mother and malignant child

In 1865, writes Dalrymple, 'the asylum notes show Richard Dadd to have been painting almost every day. His thoughts were mad, but he continued to work until he became too weak physically to go on. His output was considerable, of high quality and deeply disturbing. A mother and child, painted in 1860, were clearly modelled on the religious motif, but the mother holds the child without tenderness, and the child, still a baby, stares straight ahead with an appraising look of concentrated malignity. On a ledge in the background sits a blackish bird with ruffled feathers that appears to be a vulture'.

In 1865, writes Dalrymple, ‘the asylum notes show Richard Dadd to have been painting almost every day. His thoughts were mad, but he continued to work until he became too weak physically to go on. His output was considerable, of high quality and deeply disturbing. A mother and child, painted in 1860, were clearly modelled on the religious motif, but the mother holds the child without tenderness, and the child, still a baby, stares straight ahead with an appraising look of concentrated malignity. On a ledge in the background sits a blackish bird with ruffled feathers that appears to be a vulture’.

Lost enchantment

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Utamaro, Beauties in the Snow

Dalrymple points out that the work of Japanese printmakers was widely exhibited in Paris in the second half of the 19th century. But after the First World War, Western and Japanese art, he writes,

went in widely divergent directions. Never again did Western artists—at least, those who wanted to be considered serious—express straightforward, unaffected tenderness towards the world and human life.

Western artists seem to have been overcome by

a disenchantment with the world, real or assumed, so that they would have considered a subject like feeding the ducks inherently sentimentalising, trivial, and unworthy of their attention.

By contrast, the Japanese printmakers

continued unselfconsciously to portray and celebrate the beauty of the world.

Only after 1945 did Japanese artists start to fear

direct portrayals of beauty.

Kawase Hasui, Great Buddha at Kamakura

Hasui Kawase, Great Buddha at Kamakura

Hiroshi Yoshida, Misty Day in Nikko

Hiroshi Yoshida, Misty Day in Nikko

All that is necessary for ugliness to prosper is for artists to reject beauty

Our view of the world, writes Dalrymple,

has become so politicised that we think that the unembarrassed celebration of beauty is a sign of insensibility to suffering and that exclusively to focus on the world’s deformations, its horrors, is in itself a sign of compassion.

Lenin, Dalrymple reminds us, abjured music, to which he was sensitive, because it made him feel well-disposed to the people around him, and he thought it would be necessary to kill so many of them.

Lenin, Dalrymple reminds us, abjured music, to which he was sensitive, because it made him feel well-disposed to the people around him, and he thought it would be necessary to kill so many of them

The MTV of museums

Exhibits at the Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism, Leningrad

Exhibits, Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism, Leningrad

Dalrymple pays a visit to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa,

a giant amusement arcade.

Wording on one of the exhibits invites Dalrymple to

hold a sound-shell to your ear, press the button and hear some freaky, weird stuff about nearby creations.

Exhibits

Exhibits, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington

Here are some of the museum’s hectoring slogans:

  • Everyone has a place at our place
  • Where there are people there is art
  • Is it treasure or junk? Everyone has an opinion
  • Home is where the art is

These, says Dalrymple, are

a little reminiscent of the museums of religion and atheism in the Soviet Union.

If, he writes,

one has the mentality of a child of limited intelligence and curiosity, one might have been amused or kept out of trouble for a while, but nothing more.

Not a museum at all

What sort of person runs such a place?

Certainly not a curator, because no detailed knowledge of any subject is necessary. A casino owner, perhaps.

This travesty of a museum is

the institutional exemplar of the lowest common demoninator turned into official cultural policy.

As a small concession, on the third floor,

in a bare concrete gallery, ill-lit and unadvertised, there are two rows of paintings. There are no signs to say what they are, or who they are by. For a small and young nation, not entirely sure of its cultural identity, New Zealand has a considerable tradition of painting: but the visitors to this gallery are made to feel that, by visiting it, they are doing something almost illicit. There is a dirty-postcard feel to the gallery.

Integrity in art

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 09.10.30L.S. Lowry, Dalrymple explains,

ploughed his own artistic field for years, decades, before he achieved recognition: and when such recognition came, it did not change his simple mode of life. He had a day job until his retirement at the age of sixty-five of a most unromantic and unartistic kind: he worked as a rent-collector for a property company in the days when tenants of tiny workers’ houses paid their rent weekly and in cash. He painted between collecting rents.

Lowry saw

in the bleak townscapes of the Industrial Revolution, and in the inhabitants of those townscapes, a subject worthy of artistic representation, as nobody had before: finding a beauty in them without in the least prettifying them, or without resort to sentimentality.

The Tate Gallery had a fine collection of Lowry’s work, but

for long refused to display any of it, mainly from a kind of snobbery. Lowry was utterly a provincial, he was allied to and influenced by no current of modern art, theoretical or practical, and (in the end) he was widely loved by people who otherwise had no artistic tastes. He was original in an original way. For a certain kind of aesthete, for whom the main attraction of the appreciation of beauty is to mark him off from the philistines, Lowry was all wrong.

Even worse,

Lowry did not care what anyone thought: he did what inner necessity dictated.

Ancoats Hospital Outpatients' Hall, 1952. Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester

Ancoats Hospital Outpatients’ Hall, 1952. Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester

 

Against this I raise my sword-spraycan

Heygate Estate, Walworth. Tim Tinker, 1974

Heygate Estate, Walworth, London. Tim Tinker, 1974

Enemies of Corbusian profanation do not hesitate to act

Whole acres, writes Dalrymple, of man-made surfaces are disfigured in Europe by graffiti,

in which some people, ever on the lookout for something counter-intuitive to say, claim to have found art. This is the tribute money pays to poverty without having to part with anything.

The need to assert (rather than express) oneself in some way, no matter how pointless, becomes imperative in a society in which

  • we are all called upon to be unique individuals
  • celebrity has an exaggerated importance in the mental economy of so many
  • employment is often precarious and is felt to be without dignity
  • powerlessness is obvious (powerlessness in a democracy is more humiliating than powerlessness in a tyranny)
Royal National Theatre, South Bank, London. Denys Lasdun, 1967–76

Royal National Theatre, South Bank, London. Denys Lasdun, 1967–76

Taggers tend to deface

ugly surfaces, often of inhuman size, in which modern urban spaces are so richly, or impoverishingly, supplied. It is true that tagging never improves those surfaces, but they are often in themselves of degrading hideousness.

The epidemiology of graffiti

suggests a subliminal aesthetic criticism. It is a commentary on the kind of building and concrete surface that the fascist modernist architect, Le Corbusier, extolled and desired, with the enthusiasm of a revivalist evangelical, to spread throughout the whole world. In a sense, taggers in England and France are endowed with taste.

Having said that, in Italy or Portugal,

18th-century buildings are not exempted from the attentions of bruised and inflamed young egos.

Exposed: the Saatchi trash-art warehouse blaze arsonist

Indicative of deep egotism and irredeemable trashiness of mind

Indicative of deep egotism and irredeemable trashiness of mind

Transgressive art and architecture critic and occasional performance artist Theodore Dalrymple unmasked as Saatchi trash-art warehouse blaze arsonist

Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995 (Tracey Emin R.A., 1995) has been lost in a warehouse fire along with a large number of other contemporary works owned by Charles Saatchi, the advertising tycoon. The fire, writes Dalrymple,

does not seem to have resulted in any national mourning in England. Indeed, there was speculation that a transgressive art critic, or even performance artist, might have sparked the fire.

Even those

who would normally recoil at the thought of burning a used pulp fiction paperback were not deeply upset.