Category Archives: art

The rot in Paris

Art as a kindergarten activity for adults who want to feel special

Ambling through the Saint-Germain-des-Prés quarter, Dalrymple notices that an exhibition, called Happiness 17, is being staged by students of the National High School of Fine Arts. Hopefully, he drops in; but favourable his impression is not — far from it. He writes:

If anyone should want evidence of the collapse of the Western artistic tradition, he could do worse than to go to the annual exhibition of the graduates of the École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts in Paris. No city in the world is more saturated with that tradition than Paris, and therefore in no city is the collapse more painfully obvious.

Free of charge, warm and dry it may be, but we will not go in there and be near that rot

Entry to the exhibition is free of charge,

but even so, not many people take the trouble to enter, not even the schizophrenics cared for in the community or homeless Syrian migrant families (actually, mainly Albanians) who hold out paper cups to passers-by for alms.

The ‘art’, Dalrymple says,

is too painful to be endured, even by them; the discomfort of inclement weather is nothing in comparison to that occasioned by the products of modern art teaching and theory.

He points out that

it is not globalisation that has produced this effect upon artistic judgment; the rot is internal to the art world itself, as has been the rot in the humanities departments of our universities.

He points out that

the loss of belief that there is anything sub specie æternitatis has rendered art trivial, no more than a kindergarten activity for adults who want to feel special and whose thirst for self-expression is greater than anything they have to express. Moral and æsthetic capital is not expended all at once, but gradually; it is run down steadily until none remains. As Felicità 17 demonstrates, none remains.

 

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Indispensable faculty in those who would produce great art

Joyce’s Ulysses on one of the shelves of the personal library of Theodore Dalrymple, Ardèche, 2017

Dalrymple points out that self-censorship

does not at the moment enjoy a very happy reputation. It is associated in our minds with an avoidance—a cowardly or dishonest avoidance—of difficult or dangerous subjects: the intellectual nullity of contemporary Islam, for example, or the nature of transsexualism.

However, he argues that the faculty of self-censorship is

indispensable in those who would produce great art.

It is the sense

not merely of what should be left out, but of what should not be said.

Without self-censorship, we enter

an arms race of vulgar sensationalism.

El Greco, El expolio, 1577-79, sacristy of Toledo Cathedral

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