Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Something's Rotten with Dutch Art Part 1: The Art Zuid Embarrasment

Something's rotten with much of Dutch current day art and everyone knows it.

I may be no learned art critic, but all one needs to do is take the pulse of the industry to get a feel that the home of the old masters is producing little worth writing home about these days.

From the Art Zuid embarrassment, to the mediocre level of the Affordable Art Fair and Art RAI events, and ending in the downright disgraceful produce of the Rijksacademie, which would make Rembrandt, Van Dijk, Albert Cuyp and Vermeer turn in their graves.  But more of that in the posts to follow.

I want to start this post series with a quote by Harold Speed, author of The Practice and Science of Drawing, widely acknowledged as one of the best ever books on the subject, and now relegated to the free download section of A bad omen in its own right.

Speed says referring to the artist's correct use of old artistic conventions:

"The result is likely to be something very different from the violent exploits in peculiarity that have been masquerading as originality lately. Originality is more concerned with sincerity than peculiarity. 

The struggling and fretting after originality that one sees in modern art is certainly an evidence of vitality, but one is inclined to doubt whether anything really original was ever done in so forced a way.  The older masters, it seems, were content sincerely to try and do the best they were capable of doing. And this continual striving to do better led them almost unconsciously to new and original results.

Originality is a quality over which an artist has as little influence as over the shape and distinctions of his features.

If an artist does not have a strong original personality, it is a matter of opinion whether he is not better employed in working along the lines of some well-tried manner that will at any rate keep him from doing anything really bad, that in struggling to cloak his own commonplaceness under violent essays in peculiarity and the avoidance of the obvious at all costs."

I think Speed has summarized it brilliantly.  What we see in the case of Art Zuid is an exercise in peculiarity and little else in my submission.  Esthetics, beauty and craftsmanship have been all mindlessly sacrificed, as offerings to the goddess of "I'm so different and explorative".

Had I been a donor or sponsor to this, I'd ask for my money back and god forbid this came out of tax-payers money.

The total rejection of the old artistic knowledge and conventions, which Speed talks about, leaves us dangling in the wind with random attempts at .... well ... something.  The result is a series of, pardon my French, brain-farts made flesh.

Take the following piece, an interesting idea of wooden feet along the grass. So far so good. But then carved with what seems to be a daft table spoon instead of craftily chiseled into beautiful pieces of the human form.  Why?  Because its 'cooler' to make something with the finish quality of a 5 year old.  And lets not forget, easier, because making beautiful things is bloody hard.  And who wants hard.

Or a mirror with the shape of an ironing board. Yea, we're really breaking new ground here.

There is something about these sculptures, and current day painting that demands that we suspend all our critical faculties in favor of nonsense.  The biting remarks we would make at a crappy song or a crappy book seem to go out the window when we're presented with a crappy sculpture or a painting, because we're made to think we just don't get it.

Then our typical response: "yea, I guess it's kind of cool."

I don't hate experimentation.  There is a place for everything, but that does not mean everything should be labeled as good, or even acceptable.  Rewarding foolishness and mediocrity, and letting it go on only ensures we get more of it.

And if we do let it go, we best be preparing an excuse when people look back at Holland and try to figure out how in the world we went from Vermeer's Milkmaid:

To a plastic guy in pink with a lemon for a head:

They say every society gets the art they deserve, so I think we should make it clear to the artists and organizers that we demand better. Much better.

PS. I'm reminded by a friend that not all art in Art Zuid is Dutch, but that the choices were unfortunate and certainly made by Dutch curators.

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Photo credits: Joost Molegraaf

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