Thursday, May 26, 2011

Art and Tradition

I continue to be surprised (and immensely pleased) to discover just how closely the two movements, the Restorationist movement in the Church and the revival of "Classical Realism" in the art world, are paralleled.

The two movements, in totally separate spheres of human life, came about at the same time, in much the same way and for many of the same reasons. Reverence and God-orientation in liturgy and beauty and orientation towards The Real in art.

The Traddies among us will recognise all this instantly:

...The Atelier Lack was a radical, new kind of art school that attempted to revitalize art education by reintroducing rigorous training in traditional drawing and painting techniques.In the 1970s, as Curator of Paintings at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, I had occasion to visit this atelier and to observe the students. Carefully drawing plaster casts and nude models, they appeared to be even more reactionary than the photo realists who were in vogue at the time.


Warhol's [Surprise!] support for this traditional type of academy resulted from the lack of such training in his own education and his prediction that the course of art history would be changed if one thousand students could be taught Old Master drawing and painting techniques.


At this time [the mid-70s]...returning from Florence, I asked the Dean at Hartford if they offered any traditional painting or drawing courses. Informed that indeed there was a life-drawing class every Wednesday afternoon, I soon discovered that it consisted of a nude model that the students were allowed the freedom to draw, unencumbered by any instruction. This practice was typical of most art schools at the time and was akin to teaching music by allowing students to look at a piano once a week. Apparently, no one on the faculty of the art school had been thoroughly versed in traditional drawing skills; hence, no one was qualified to teach them.


I soon realized that there were two camps when it came to art education. The larger group hardly ever thought about it, and when they did, they assumed that young artists all over the country learned traditional painting and drawing skills, then rejected such training, moved to New York, and became "avant-garde." The second group was aware of the fact that such training no longer existed in art schools and considered it to be a good thing, as such training was possibly detrimental, and certainly passé.

In 1988, the fledgling New York Academy of Art applied to the National Endowment for the Arts for a grant, but was turned down. The rejection letter opined that, "such traditional education would stifle creativity in young artists"... Of course, Picasso benefited from intense technical training in his youth at the Barcelona School of Fine Arts, including life drawing and the copying of plaster casts, without his creativity having been stifled indeed, his early and complete mastery of traditional drawing skills is evident throughout his career but a century later, official United States government policy dictated that such traditional education was in fact harmful.


In general, a broad spectrum of older artists seem almost inevitably to include shock, angst, or politics in their works... On the other hand, a growing majority of American artists who today are under 40 years old seem more intent on creating paintings that are visually beautiful, rather than emotionally disturbing.


Rather than needing time to mature and "develop an edge," these young artists are in fact very conscious of what they are doing. I recall another young painter actually poking fun at the realists of my generation for always painting the trash can behind the building and not the beautiful façade.


If we could somehow revive a man who lived in the year 1600, we could still relate to him on a very deep level, as we would both have experienced pleasure and pain, the yearly cycle of the seasons, love and fear, birth and death, the beauty of nature, all of the truly important and the major things that make up fundamentals of life. This is the reason modern man can understand and appreciate the art made in the year 1600, or even 600, and why, in the end, there is no reason contemporary art cannot echo or use the vocabulary of the art of the distant, as well as the recent past. If contemporary critics want to deny artists the right to use the visual vocabulary that evolved in the Renaissance, they should try writing their criticism without the traditional language that evolved around the same time.


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