A week before the auction at Sotheby’s we visited their London Auction House. It was the first time since mid-March that we had taken public transport (or any mechanical transport for that matter). The trains were nearly deserted, and most people complied with current travel instructions (mask worn at all times and maintaining a social distance of two metres). The exhibition before the auction was titled “Rembrandt to Richter” and was huge, covering, it seems, every available room, and again, uncrowded.
The art on display ranged from the classical to the frankly, ridiculous and the prices reflected, made sense only if we understood that fashion is as important a driver in the art world, as taste.
Taste is subjective. You may analyse a work of music or art to greater appreciate it, but it remains an emotional response. For some artists and their “critics” The pursuit of aesthetic perfection and technical brilliance has been largely discarded, giving way instead, to art that ‘shocks the senses’, delivers a message; sometimes it is simply beyond comprehension and occasionally, the description attached to the work is so profound in its articulation, it attaches greater importance than the work itself. So, imagine a work of ‘art’ where the use of text is the central artistic element. Or the use of materials, that instead of creating a statement, is the statement. Or imagine a canvas, its use of colour so reductive in application as to render any interpretation redundant (because anything born of the imagination would do).
What defines virtuosity is the skill to create something of genius. Even when the person is largely self-taught there exists an inherent quality to the product generated. Many artists have spent a lifetime inventing and reinventing their style but still, we can instantly understand that this is something we could not have done and can only ever appreciate in observation. And some artists spend a lifetime perfecting their art but remain largely unrecognised.
Now look at much of the postmodern art that sells for obscene amounts of money and what is instantly apparent is just how little creative or actual energy, thought or skill will have gone into the creation of this artistic masterpiece. Having a savvy manager has become more important than possessing the skill to create something sublime, meaningful, beautiful.
Returning to our exhibition, there were paintings and drawings (cartoons) by Rembrandt, Paolo Uccello, Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, William Hogarth, Fernand Leger, Lyonel Feininger, Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Egon Schiele, Peter Paul Rubens and JMW Turner and the list of artists represented is by no means complete. On the other side there were works by Banksy, Louise Bourgeois, Andy Warhol, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. There was a canvas by another artist whose name I mercifully fail to recall but more about that monstrosity next.
Two dirty rags glued to a canvas and painted (?) in various tones of grey and black was a snip at just under £1mil (apologies if I this is incorrect). It does not appear in the catalogue of items sold. On the other hand, a triptych of mediocre 19th Century coastal seascapes reworked by Banksy to include scattered lifejackets (painted on) was estimated at £800,000 to £1,2000,000 and sold for £2,235,000. What must be appreciated here is that this was over double the price paid for a gorgeous painting by Renoir, four times the price of a Cubist Picasso or a painting by Bruegel the Younger, just under the price paid for an exceedingly rare painting by Uccello (1397 -1475) and under double the price of Turner. A Basquiat word on a canvas (titled “Slingshot”) went for £735,000 and my favourite of the night was a mannequin performing acrobatics (“arched figure”) by Louise Bourgeois that was estimated at £300,000 to £400,000 and sold for the kingly sum of £1,215,000.
I am an art appreciation counterrevolutionary. I despise the postmodern philosophy that denigrates thought and celebrates the impulsive. In a world of debased or vulgarized nihilistic self-expression, art and culture expresses that diminution of humanities most earnest dreams to aspire towards greatness. This is the art of the philistine. It is the belittling of and hostility towards culture and intellect as an active pursuit. It is not that we want to make art, culture, and the benefits of intellect accessible to all, as is sometimes the claim (excuse) given but how populations become more easily controlled. It can only lead to greater violent confrontation, intimidation, and fear.
Our universities are already there.
The Dark Ages of European Civilisation did not end with the Renaissance (14th to 17th Century). The darkness encompassed both the Reformation (mostly 16th Century) with all its bloody terror, and the Institution of the Inquisition, which lasted throughout the entire period of the Enlightenment (the 18th Century.)
And the only things missing from university life today are the stocks, the rack, and the gallows. It does not make them less present in the minds of vicious “woke” activists and their fascist, intersectional buddies. And as a result, at the very least they are a constant and fearful presence in Academia. Has the Institution of the (Woke) Inquisition already transferred to art?
A rag doll doing its callisthenics, a reworked and mediocre triptych and a dirty rag on a canvas would indicate that the answer is a resounding YES!
We are not seeing common sense in the market place but the threat of Mao’s Cultural Revolution where “The Four Olds” (Old Customs, Old Culture, Old Habits, and Old Ideas) were to be destroyed to make way for the “New Order”. During the Terror, the era of domination by Communist Russia and Nazi Germany, Art and Society were inextricably interwoven in formulating a direction, a prejudice, and a common enemy. This was accomplished to mobilize the population towards unity by viewing all those who opposed their singular vision as the existential enemy to be destroyed.
It is not blasphemy to question the past or to take issue with present policies or actions. Equally, when we venerate “the word,” as the Woke generation do, we slaughter all those people who do not offer the same degree of reverence.
I appreciate that I come across as alarmist but with respect; any work of art that is likely to have been the product of a five-year-olds imagination, planning and execution is not my idea of artistic labour. It may be touchy-feely, it is the “Emperor’s new clothes syndrome.” The mentality is behind the debasement of the current art scene. If we want to understand the disintegration of society, we need look no further than our aspirations; what society aspires to achieve. Post-modernism represents this society at its worst.