Saturday, 16 March 2013

Art is Art !

 "Making something out of nothing, or precisely, luring something from the unconscious and giving it material form is the closest thing to real magic there is in this world." - art critic Michael Bonesteel

It seems to me that there is only one thing that matters about art and that is "The Art". It is irrelevant who you are, who you know, what you know, what is relevant is the artwork whatever the medium. I am angered again by the distinction, and I would go as far as to say discrimination, from the established art world towards "outsiders". Whatever your sex, ethnicity or religion, art is art. This is pretty much established, but the significance of the work of self-taught and disabled artists is still largely overlooked as inferior or seen as mere accident. Are not all humans part of the cultural experience and the school of life?

American outsider artist, Felipe Jesus Consalvos. Mixed media collage.
How can the raw, unadulterated creation of these artists be dismissed. They are often closer to the source that educated artists are searching for, unencumbered by the market, technique, style or influence. This is truth, this is art, this is a connection to the first impulse of our ancestors to depict their experience in cave paintings and carvings. Before the distraction of ego and intellectualism took centre stage.

What really annoys me is if you are an "insider" artist it is acceptable to look to primitive art for inspiration. Picasso being the most obvious example of this. His African period saw the creation of one of the most seminal paintings of modern art. The fusion of these supposedly disparate arts in Picasso, gave us a creative revelation that helped rebuild the Western art world. We do well to remember that many artists revered today, were initially dismissed by the establishment. We only need to look at the history of the Impressionists or even the Pre-raphealites to realise this. Let's not forget Van Gogh, if he was painting today would he be dismissed for his mental health problems? Great art is great art, some great artists can at times produce inferior art, although their reputation and monetary value will render it great regardless.

Picasso, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. 1907.
My favourite depiction of hands is by the Expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka. Is it only okay to paint hands expressionistically if previously you have proved you can depict them accurately ? If the art world now tolerates the rejection of Western art teaching why not simply bypass it? A natural distillation of the seemingly dreaded "craft".

Oskar Kokoschka, Self Portrait
 This is a dilemma I struggle to make sense of. Look at Chagall's painted hands and use of distortion and perspective. What is the difference between this great art and great art that can be produced by outsiders? Is it a curriculum vitae? And if so, do they even teach drawing and painting at renowned art schools today? It is not so much the term that troubles me. I would argue that with the advent of the internet few artists remain untutored or without influence. It is that if you are labelled by the term your art is not deemed equal. You are an artist or you are not, whether or not you enter or even before you walk through the universities doors. It is the resistance to inclusion. The assumption that an African was ever more primitive in their version of living than us, that disabilities that limit our means of communication and education also result in the exclusion of the creative voice that shines through. It is the art world that needs to open, not the artists.

Chagall, Bride with blue face
The work of Georg Baselitz, now accepted by the mainstream, often comes perilously close to the work of outsider artists, rejecting all the rules and typical "finish" to get to the passion of our existence. He says "Art is visceral and vulgar - it's an eruption" What better way than figurative expressionism, to capture the fluids and emotions of our real lives. To me this seems a more effective way to communicate through paint than a polished, purely representational show of ability.

Georg Baselitz, [The Brücke Chorus] 1983 Oil on canvas 280 x 450 cm
Ben Nicholson, like many artists of his time, looked to naive art, such as Alfred Wallis, in his search for authenticity. It seems to me that much of today's contemporary painters are either knowingly influenced or unconsciously close to emulating the art produced by outsiders. I would love to witness the critique of paintings by the art elite if they had to judge them anonymously.

Two events have led me to this post, the first was the upcoming L S Lowry exhibition at the Tate. I happened upon a documentary by Gandalf, (I mean, Sir Ian Mckellen), highlighting the lack of recognition the artist has received in the art world, although his work is much loved by the "common" people. I was excited to discover his landscapes,seascapes and portraits which I had not previously been aware of and also the collection of ballet drawings discovered after his death.

The second, was the discovery of the art of Judith Scott an "outsider" artist who was profoundly deaf and had Down's Syndrome who may now be starting to be accepted as an "artist" without the denigrative term "outsider". Her work poses a real conundrum for the art world. If her work is accepted as art could this set a precedent for the term to be banished and become obsolete. I do hope this contradiction the established art world is faced with in the art of Judith Scott, tears down some of the limitations to which art the wider public are exposed too.

Judith Scott

 Discrimination in the art world, in Britain particularly, also extends to the medium used. A painter's worth can be diminished if they venture into sculpture or pieces that could be considered craft, such as ceramics. I love the quandary that Grayson Perry's art inflicted by creating contemporary art with the mediums of pottery and tapestry. The painters Gauguin and Picasso successfully ventured into sculpture and the sculptors Giacometti  and William Turnbull were equally important as painters. Is Gauguin's self portrait below a jug or art and is this proof that it can be both? Further, if a painter of abstracts ventures into figurative work it can diminish the validity of their abstracts and vice versa.

Gauguin, Self portrait, Jug in the form of a head.

Isn't it time for the barriers of established opinions to take a backseat and let the artists take their correct place of holding the reins. Theory can define the past, but artists are the champions of our creative future and their art should be unfettered. As my Facebook friend the artist Hannah Reim told me yesterday "Not all art is art and not all craft is craft. Some art is craft and some craft is art." Ultimately, art is art.

The organization above called Creative Growth, is giving developmentally disabled artists the chance to express themselves.


  1. Or as Keats put it in 'Ode on a Grecian Urn',

    "Beauty is truth, truth beauty," - that is all
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

    Excellent, thought-provoking posting, Julie ... thanks for sharing :)

    1. What a great quote, perfect ! Thank you for your response Peter.

  2. I love this what a fantastic blog post!

    1. Thank you so much Ruth, it's great to know I am not alone in thinking these things.