‘The Shock of the Bland’

When I visit most galleries, fairs and shows today I am more often than not confronted with the same tired old lacklustre and illustrational daubs that one sees time and time again. Art is painted and purchased by the metre, as if one is buying carpet; with the rediculous idea that the bigger it is the better. It maybe fashionable today to create paintings based on what I would describe as my early simple art school foundation projects based on colour theory, form, texture, space, typography. But surely the reason why we produce and view art goes back to our earliest primordial roots, before fashion, business or art markets even existed. An artist endeavours to make sense of the world that surrounds him and therefore us, both inside and out, vainly attempting to enrich his environment by confronting the true reality of life via a visual language and philosophy that we have not experienced or encountered before. Of course this is a tall order, but anything of worth takes time, courage and perseverance. An artist must be like a heavyweight boxer, more often than not he is on the ropes or even knocked out; but like a boxer he must always drag himself up from the canvas and fight again. In essence he must have a self-generating passion that drives him through the chaos of the creative labyrinth until he reaches and fulfils his potential and goals.  Unfortunately I do not see many heavyweights out there at present. Our rich, visionary artistic history is now just a rotting carcass, the sychophantic vultures  circling the heavens waiting to pick over it’s carrion; and the only plaster covering it’s fatal creative wound now covers a banana. The contemporary art circuit for many years now has been just about Warhol’s 15 minutes of vacuous fame,  littered with illustration, simple decoration and interior design. Yet we live in the most troublesome of times, where man is confronted with age old demons, wars and disasters. We have every conceivable gadget at our finger tips, especially a multitude of communication aids which should make life easier; the question is, have our communication skills improved? Our arrogance deludes us into thinking because we have all this advanced technology that somehow we have also advanced as a species. Where the reality is quite the opposite, we are still mere cavemen holding mobile phones. Our lack of clarity within and our unbreakable allegiance to our tribal and religious roots still hold us to our earliest primal beginnings. Darwin’s ‘Origin of the Species’ was first published in 1859 and in 1969 Neil Armstrong was the first man to set foot on the moon, and yet we still cling to antiquated tribal doctrines and superstitions! In the entire history of man there are precious few Aristotle’s, Mozart’s, Da Vinci’s, Newton’s, Titian’s, Tennyson’s, Dicken’s, Nightingale’s, Lincoln’s, Curie’s, etc. If one considers the current world stage, we must accept Homer’s observation in the IIiad when he stated that ‘We Men are wretched things’.

 Regarding the audience, in this time of the soundbite everyone is an expert now, there is no longer any need to invest one’s time or energy into any form of study, research or analysis. Just gather a few soundbites and you become instantly informed on whatever subject is being discussed. Transformed overnight into and academic with unparalleled intelligence, an original thinker; or so they would have us believe. Man’s arrogance raises it’s ugly and unstoppable head again! Whereas  knowledge takes time to digest and make sense of, it is a lifelong journey that begins with a strong foundation, where one brick is laid one aside another, one course on top of the next; until in time it becomes a substantial and strong structure supporting numerous internal walls of thought which are never ending. Every idea interweaving with each other, like a tapestry made up of one’s intellectual experiences and journeys. The end result of this complacency is an uninformed collective that is manipulated by one type of  marketing department or another, resulting in an homogenize illiterate mass with not one original thought between them; after all, everything is a product and we are voracious consumers that follow the herd.

So if there is ever a time when we are in need of an artistic mirror to reflect our true self and nature, then there has never been a better time for art to confront or explore this age old question or predicament. When we read Shakespeare or Chaucer we delve into the psyche of what makes man tick, what drives us to do the things we do; for good or bad, the human condition, warts and all. The deadly sins that man is always internally wrestling with; trying to keep at bay, but more often than not succumbs to. Listening to Beethoven we are transported into a world full of energy and sensation, splitting the atom of illusory existence in two, shaking us out of our complacency, mediocrity and false sense of securities; whereas Mozart reveals order and perfection in the same breath. A portrait by Rembrandt confronts us with our own sense of mortality, so shocking and revealing and yet compassionate at the same time. A presence that first envelops, then surgically penetrates us into submission and acceptance. Making us realize we are not indestructible and all powerful as our ego would have us believe. Or viewing a granite Egyptian statue by artisans created thousands of years ago, showing us what man’s imagination is capable of. The list goes on throughout the centuries, artist, musician, sculptors, writers, philosophers, inventors, scientists etc, showing us what is possible; as Oscar Wilde once said, ‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars’. I love the imagery of Wilde’s statement, but I believe the stars and answers are within us and not in the heavens.

Therefore if we embrace this quote of Wilde’s, can we honestly say that when we look at much of the Art that is produced today, that it enriches our lives or lives up to Oscar’s dreams of perfection and enlightenment?  My hypothesis is that it does not, it has just become a form of sybaritic entertainment supported by blood sucking remora’s.

What do you think ?

By M. Harrison-Priestman 2017 – revised 2019.

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