Art Comment Quarterly
The Artist's Lament
In response to "Star-making and Collectability", Art Comment Quarterly, Art Comment Autumn '05, artist John Nolan has sent us his thoughtful, if exasperated, comment which we publish for your consideration and edification. (His views do not necessarily represent those of Art Comment Quarterly.)
"Many a flower is born to blush unseen and waste its sweetness on the desert air. " - Thomas Gray 1716-1771
"Why is the artist subjected to this capricious game of chance ? Why is the artist given the title "unknown artist" until the whimsical hand of God, namely the art dealer, the omnipotent one, plucks them from so called obscurity and deems them to be an "established, collectable artist"?
"This baptism of celebrity bestowed on whoever the lucky artist might be, is based on pure commercialism, " the rich becoming richer". The creative process, the quality, where the artist came from, where the artist is going, the evolution of the work, the struggle, the influences, the materials... none of these are measured, none of these are important. It is materialism at its finest. The pricing, sorry let me qualify that, the unreal pricing of art work is never controlled by the artist, it is decreed by the hand of God, the art dealer, because money begets money.
"Why is the professional artist universally expected to be unknown? An unknown art dealer, an unknown consultant, an unknown electrician, an unknown teacher, an unknown barrister.............! It doesn't sound right, does it? Other professions and jobs are deemed known or established as soon as they start practicing. The professional artist who devotes his or her life to art is doomed to the oblivion of anonymity, unless the dice is rolled in their favour, and they are packaged, promoted, manicured, airbrushed and presented to the esteemed arbiters of taste, the rich list.
"If one wants to work, for example, in the medical or teaching profession, etc, one must have the required qualifications and dedication. Why then is the art world, historically dominated, controlled and manipulated by very wealthy people who know a lot about money but very little about the process of creating art? The only thing that art history can teach us is that we learn nothing from it." - John Nolan
The "Serious Artist"
"Art lasts long, Life is short." Hippocrates 460-377 BC
This pearl of wisdom is still as relevant today as when it was written two and a half millennia ago. It could be argued (and perhaps as consolation to John's Lament above) that it is that simple truism that should be the only honest and driving force behind, and ultimate reward, for any "serious artist".
[As an aside, it is your editor's belief that, just as the monk could not pursue his religious ambitions without the support of his Church, the "serious artist" could not pursue his quest without the support and nurturing of his patrons, be they, the artist's enlightened and brave families, buyers and collectors, or indeed, dare I say, the oft lamented galleries themselves. So, thank you, supporters all.]
The Most Serious Artist I Know
In a cramped and drafty cement cubicle built by the artist's own hands, high on the side of Sleivenamon Mountain, artist Eoin de Leastar, stubbornly, plies his own futile quest for immortality. A small wood-burning stove, given to him by a compassionate supporter, protects him from total misery. Paintings in various states of completion are found, like treasures, haphazardly stashed in racks, dangling from walls or precariously supported on old wooden easels. Shelves, chairs, and floor are all littered with museum reproductions of classic paintings, his pencil sketches and studies. Everywhere are also to be found teetering piles books and pamphlets of the most arcane subjects one could ever imagine.
To better understand the inspirations and muses of this special serious artist, we are very excited and honoured to be the first public platform to be given the pre-publication transcript of the essay "The Form of Truth" by Eoin de Leastar.
We will publish excerpts of the essay in serialized format in this and following editions of the Art Comment Quarterly. [Eoin de Leastar reserves the copyright to this material, and it cannot be reprinted without his express consent. [The views expressed in the essay are not necessarily those shared by Art Comment.] So, get out your dictionaries and encyclopedias and prepare to be educated and inspired.
Excerpts from "The Form of Truth" by Eoin de Leastar - Part One
"Painting went into a freefall in the 20th century from which it has not recovered. Many artists have rejected painting in favour of some form of 'conceptual' endeavor and have pursued a course that can only be described as philosophical.
This essay studies the evolution of the painter's predicament. It is a reflection on art and its relation to truth and to sensible reality.
Any such consideration must take into account the gifts of the Greeks. Plato's concept of the physical world as a shadow of real truth has a direct appeal to the imagination of artists. But with Aristotle, the real world is evidenced by the senses. This Greek division still divides the world. Modern concepts of truth residing in patterns of ideas, language or text, in other words postmodernism, are just another annotation to Plato's other world. It is the division between shadow and science."
Problems of truth for the painter - Aphorisms, Exhortations and Prayers
from Shadows and Images into the Truth - (Epitaph of John Henry Newman)
This is not the age for painting. The painter searching for truth and casting his eye from the easel to the philosopher's desk is in for a bitter disappointment. Far from appearing as an evolution towards some understanding of truth, philosophy is more like the recent story of art; a series of conflicting systems and disputes, that are as subject as any other discipline to the vagaries of history, personality or fashion.
The key discipline in philosophy, for painters, aesthetics - the science of the beautiful - is simply a slave to the politics of post-modernism, where artists are said to be 'questioning' the very notions of art. Perhaps Socrates, for too long, has had a good press.
In former times the painter was expected to grind and mix his own colours, copy or better past masters and execute a good likeness. The artist today is a mix of many media (or none) and has lost the skills of the great painters, while portraiture has fallen into disrepute and disuse.
Having heroically overcome the concept of a hierarchy or a value system within art, the post-modern artist is now a licensed iconoclast and a champion of irony, although it may be a further subtly of this irony, that any efforts to debunk his own status as an artist, have so far proved unsuccessful.
Yet he is seen to be investigating form and matter in some sort of essential way and this may be called (with some prejudice) the stuff of metaphysics. Let us look to the past to study the phenomenon of the humble artist turned ironic iconoclastic metaphysician.
Archaeologists tell us that homo sapiens (wise man) began to make images other than or independent from tools at least 30,000 years ago and that painting began or evolved at a time unfathomably distance from us. The earliest marks appear to be zigzags and waiving lines, crosses, swastikas and dot patterns that have survived on bones.
Art as play or as symbolism? Waiving lines could represent a serpent or a river. Crosses or swastikas might have stood for the four phases of the moon. It is a pleasing conceit; the artist with a few simple strokes, chipping, scraping and painting his way into consciousness.
A dominant image of prehistory appears to be the female idol. She is the goddess/mother/venus (depending on one's politics) of Laussel, Lespugue and Willendorf (circa 20,000BC); pregnant, full breasted, generous of thigh and buttock. It is tempting to imagine stone age people living in her womb, the caves, which they painted with images of her fecundity; bison, bulls, horses etc., animals of the hunt.
Whether one can accept this maternal metaphor, or not, early man must have lived in thrall to the forces of nature, ever sensitive to her moods.1 Anthropomorphism runs in the blood and could be the key to our creative nature; to find meaning in pattern, to see by analogy. Metaphor may have given birth to culture. What is genius after all but a propensity for similes.
Considering the ubiquity of these figurines, which dwarfs the time scale of western art (that of early Greek to the present day; less than 3,000 years), this personification of nature as feminine could be the great act of art. The story could be over before we begin. It may well be that a heavyset woman with strong sexual markings is the defining image in the story of art.
Perhaps the early image-makers were shamans or priests who believed they were drawing spirit into shapes of bone or clay. Such figurines were originally considered by some archaeologists to be pornographic. But we do not know whether our ancestors had any separate concept of the sexual as opposed to the spiritual; we project back our romances to the 'noble savage'.
But history is the story of the time after writing began and this only happened when the Sumerians of Iraq (3500-2,000BC) began making clay pictographs (waiving lines can now be translated as 'water' and combined with a head means 'to drink'). From about 10,000 B.C. onwards, permanent settlements begin.
The irrigation of the Tigris and Euphrates ('the cradle of civilisation') allowed small settlements to grow into cities, built of baked mud-brick and wonderfully decorated. Human intelligence appears to have exploded. Extraordinary advances were made over a short period from the wheel to the astronomical calendar. Society became graded and specialised.
Image-making must also have become a professional occupation. In the valleys from which Adam and Eve were expelled, perhaps the artist too lost his innocence and became a slave. Thus 'civilisation', so recently with us, marks the beginning of the decline of art as a spiritual pursuit and it's inevitable march towards profanity: from the fetish to aesthetics.
Is the contemporary artist then, attempting to realise a long lost sacerdotal function by investing even the most humble objects with some spiritual otherness? Is this why so many artists, lovingly arrange the common stuff of life to reveal anew the quiddity of things?
So many institutions and academies
A few thousand years before Christ, art became the slave of kings, a tool for propaganda and aggrandizement. But the personification of nature continues and can be read in the myths of early cultures.
So many philosophers, lecturers, curators and critics
So many teachers and graduates
So many, many artists
Generations of peasants stolen from the land
So much cannon fodder gone to waste.
The marriage of seed and soil, the cycle of birth, death and rebirth, is told in the art and in the stories of the Mediterranean and the Near East. It is the story of Isis and Osiris in Egypt, Anath and Baal in Canann, Demeter and Persephone in Greece (mother and daughter), Cybele and Attis in Turkey and Venus and Adonis in Italy.
Inanna was the Sumerian goddess 'the queen of heaven and earth' who would die to be reborn. In her sacred marriage with her lover- king Dumuzi, the fields will again be fertile and there will be rich grain.
Through the goddess Inanna the life cycle continues, world order and the laws of religion are restored. Besides 'truth', these are: 'descent into the underworld, ascent from the underworld, the art of lovemaking, the kissing of the phallus. The Old Testament patriarchs had a lot of trouble divesting themselves of religion that is rooted in a response to nature and fertility.
Yet the intense character of human sexuality, this longing between humans, is not just the ultimate religious metaphor (as the Old Testament itself shows), but over the many millennia, it must have honed our response to shape and colour and touch and line and curve and symmetry, and in no small part informs our sense of beauty."
"Art is amoral only if beauty has no truth"
- Eoin de Leastar, 2005
Read Excerpts from "The Form of Truth" by Eoin de Leastar - Part Two in the next isue of Art Comment
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