Art Critcs and Academics should stop talking nonsense and try actually painting

Just finished a lovely book Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Vanora Bennett.

It centres around the family of Sir Thomas More and the painter Hans Holbein the Younger.

Who is, by the way, my second favourite painter of all time. Probably the best portraitist who ever lived and I do not say these things lightly, nor am I sponsored by Carlsberg in any way. The man was truly and obviously brilliant.

His silverpoint sketches are even better than his paintings, in fact. So immediate and alive – you would recognise these people walking down the street (and not just cos of the funny outfits) and you’d already know which ones you’d want to befriend because he showed their character so clearly in their faces.

Anyway, I loved the book, apart from its tendency to insist on oodles of secret meanings in every painting. Such nonsense.

Okay, so renaissance painters used symbolic imagery – but it wouldn’t have been secret to the people looking at these paintings. Symbols like a dog for fidelity or a skull as a memento mori to counter the inherent vanity of having one’s portrait painted, were well-known and understood by educated people then.

Its just us who have forgotten, or never learnt, what it all meant.

Which brings me to my rant proper. Why do critics and art academics feel the need to read layers of spurious meaning into artists’ work? Can’t they just marvel at how the artist has mastered the light of a morning or the richness of a velvet texture, or how they can show a person’s soul in their expression?

The only painters who fill their work with abstruse symbols are pitiful creatures like Dali, who was not an artistic genius and, I suspect, knew it (hence the pity). He was simply a talented draughtsman with nothing to say other than ‘ooh, aren’t I weird?”.

I was at a Private View of an new exhibition of abstract landscapes recently, chatting to the artist (who was hiding in a corner, naturally) while other people wondered around spouting twaddle about being able to see all sorts of stuff symbolising everything from Global Warming to an Oedipus Complex in them.

I mean, for heavens sake. Can’t they just be gorgeous colours and textures and patterns? Can’t you see how that little splash of turquoise makes that burnt bitumen orange positively throb?


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7 Responses to Art Critcs and Academics should stop talking nonsense and try actually painting

  1. piereth says:

    Art critics need to talk themselves into a job. Hence the waffle. If art critics were able to stand back from, say, a Jake & Dinos Chapman sculpture and say, ‘what a load of old cobblers’ the art world might catch my attention more. As it is they shriek about how conceptually brilliant it all is. Terrified someone might think they didn’t ‘know’ what it was ‘all about’. It ‘s all about making a packet from undiscerning moneybags collectors. Give me a decent portrait artist any day. Hambling. Freud. I love a portrait. That’s real art.

  2. azahar says:

    An American friend of mine here who is a working artist, and also teaches art at an American school, has helped set my mind at rest about ‘not knowing anything about art’.

    The Art World™ is basically a self-serving elitist bunch of wankers who care more about dollar value than personal expression.

    There is a wonderful scene in the very wonderful film I’ve Heard The Mermaids Singing that is all done in ‘art speak’ and shows all that crap up for exactly what it is. It’s hilarious.

    Being totally uneducated about Art™, it turns out that my friend here actually quite values my opinions on his stuff because he knows I’ll be speaking from my real gut reaction to something, not from some pre-conceived idea of what is considered ‘Good Art’.

    And the fact that so many artists only became ‘rich’ after they died speaks volumes for how society truly appreciates art and artists in general.

    Oh look! A mini rant of my own. 😀

  3. Ivan says:

    I quite enjoy wandering around art galleries, pointing and sniggering when I see Professional Art Explainers in action. I don’t mean the staff or the guides, but the people who are trying desperately to make other people see things as they see them.

  4. Enjoyed the read! But who is your first favorite painter of all time?

    Insert two cents:

    Art critics and such like hurt their own cause. After decades spent convincing everybody (or at least themselves) that aesthetics (i.e. beauty) and authorial intent had no meaning or value, they discovered their opinions didn’t really have any authority anymore. Oops.

    But they didn’t want to go back to the Old Way (since that would be admitting they were wrong, and aesthetics and authorial intent were/are actually worthwhile), so they just decided to invent a whole new set of rules so esoteric and so inscrutable nobody could usurp their authority ever again. Once safely ensconced in their impenetrable fortress of Special Art Knowledge, the art gnostics née critics lived happily ever after.

  5. truce says:

    Hurray for mini-rants!

    I can’t help but feel a little sorry for art critics though: partly because I am convinced they are all frustrated artists, who would desperately like to be able to paint or sculpt something truly beautiful and meaningful but have to live with their inability to do it, and partly because I suspect they would really hate to be pitied. Heh Heh.

    I hate the art-world elitism of today – especially because it goes against thousands of years worth of experience which tells us that many great artists (certainly all the ones that I can think of) have some from a working class (for want of a better phrase) background, not some hot-house art college full of nombrilist nonsense.

    Oh and my favourite painter of all time is Da Vinci. Despite all the fatuous rubbish written about him and his paintings recently, that man could really paint people. And plants. And landscapes. And animals. And architecture. 🙂

    Do I get a point for using the word nombrilist in this mini-rant?!!

  6. piereth says:

    You get 10 points cause I don’t know what ‘nombrillist’ means! I know what ‘pointillist’ means, if I get a bonus for that….?!

  7. Skippa says:

    Wait a minute…(puts pint down)…I remember, years ago, at a Dali exhibition, looking at his _early_ work which, if I recall, was of a classical nature and really rather good. I can’t help thinking that Mr. Dali painted a lot of his later stuff firmly tongue-in-the-cheeky. (picks pint up again and stares at dartboard).

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