Australia has just commemorated the 50th anniversary of the presentation of the Yirrkala bark panels as a petition to the Australian Commonwealth Parliament in August 1963. The panels are an example of visual art as argument, as I noted here.
Here is a listing of visual artists whose work I like. Minimalists and geometric abstractionists are over-represented, relative to their population in the world. In due course, I will add posts about each of them.
It is 100 years since the Armory Show, an influential exhibition of European and American visual art that toured New York, Chicago and Boston. Some 70,000 people attended the New York exhibition (which ran from 1913-02-15 to 1913-03-17), and almost 190,000 the Chicago event. The viewers included former President Theodore Roosevelt, who wrote a review of the show, here. Although not a fan of the cubists and futurists, he was surprisingly open to innovation. An excerpt:
The recent “International Exhibition of Modern Art” in New York was really noteworthy. Messrs. Davies, Kuhn, Gregg, and their fellow members of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors have done a work of very real value in securing such an exhibition of the works of both foreign and native painters and sculptors. Primarily their purpose was to give the public a chance to see what has recently been going on abroad. No similar collection of the works of European “moderns” has ever been exhibited in this country. The exhibitors are quite right as to the need of showing to our people in this manner the art forces which of late have been at work in Europe, forces which cannot be ignored.
This does not mean that I in the least accept the view that these men take of the European extremists whose pictures are here exhibited. It is true, as the champions of these extremists say, that there can be no life without change, no development without change, and that to be afraid of what is different or unfamiliar is to be afraid of life. It is no less true, however, that change may mean death and not life, and retrogression instead of development. Probably we err in treating most of these pictures seriously. It is likely that many of them represent in the painters the astute appreciation of the powers to make folly lucrative which the late P. T. Barnum showed with his faked mermaid. There are thousands of people who will pay small sums to look at a faked mermaid; and now and then one of this kind with enough money will buy a Cubist picture, or a picture of a misshapen nude woman, repellent from every standpoint.
In some ways it is the work of the American painters and sculptors which is of most interest in this collection, and a glance at this work must convince any one of the real good that is coming out of the new movements, fantastic though many of the developments of these new movements are. There was one note entirely absent from the exhibition, and that was the note of the commonplace. There was not a touch of simpering, self-satisfied conventionality anywhere in the exhibition. Any sculptor or painter who had in him something to express and the power of expressing it found the field open to him. He did not have to be afraid because his work was not along ordinary lines. There was no stunting or dwarfing, no requirement that a man whose gift lay in new directions should measure up or down to stereotyped and fossilized standards.”
What with TR’s imperialism and all, it is easy to forget how good a writer he was, being a published author before becoming President. Like another Nobel-Peace-Prize-winning President.
Theodore Roosevelt : A Layman’s Views of an Art Exhibition. Outlook, 103 (29 March 1913): 718–720. Reprinted in Roderick Nash  (Editor): The Call of the Wild (1900–1916). New York: George Braziller.
When the wild bird cries its melodies from the treetops,
Its voice carries the message of the patriarch.
When the mountain flowers are in bloom,
Their full meaning comes along with their scent.
I have remarked twice before that modern westerners, even very clever ones, fail to understand the nature of synchronicity in Taoist and Zen philosophy when discussing the art of John Cage. If you believe the universe is subject to invisible underlying forces, as Taoist and Zen adherents may do (and as Cage did), then there is no chance, no randomness, no lack of relationships between events, only a personal inability to perceive such relationships. The I Ching is intended as a means to reveal some of these hidden connections.
In a recent essay on Silence in the TLS, Paul Griffiths ends with:
Another of Cage’s favourite maxims, this one taken from Ananda Coomaraswamy and delivered five times in Silence, was that the purpose of art is to “imitate nature in her manner of operation”, which is almost another way of stating his first catchphrase, since natural objects and phenomena have nothing to say. They are not, of course, saying it. We say it for them. And in our doing so, experiencing their voicelessness and taking it into ourselves, a great deal comes to be said. There is no message in the changing pattern of cloud shadow and reflected sunlight on the sea. It may, nevertheless, thrill us, calm us, and fix our sustained attention.”
But, of course, for a Zen adherent there are indeed messages in the changing patterns of clouds and in sunlight reflected on the sea. Even more so are there message in human artefacts such as musical compositions, even those (perhaps especially those!) using so-called random methods for creation. For Cage, the particular gamuts (clusters of sounds) that he selected for any particular one of his random compositions were selected as the direct result of the spiritual forces acting on him at that particular moment of selection, through his use of the I Ching, for instance. Similarly, under this world-view, the same forces are active in those compositions allowing apparently-random leeway to the performers or listeners.
One can criticize or reject this spiritual world-view, but first one has to understand it. Griffiths, like so many others, has failed to understand it.
Will Gompertz has a London-Tube-style map of movements in modern art, here. I don’t agree with all his expressed or implied linkages, and he evades the challenge of meaningfully classifying most current art by simply calling it “Art Now”, but the chart does provide a good starting-point for reflection and discussion.
A list, sometimes annotated, of various exhibitions I have seen over the last while and wish to remember:
For the record, a listing of fine art galleries and museums I have visited (AFAIR), in alpha order:
Why do we draw?
Here is a first list of reasons for drawing:
More on drawing-as-thinking here.
Robin Boyd called the prevailing post-war urban style of anglo-saxon architecture “Featurism”, with each building shouting to passers-by, “Me! Me! Look at Me!”. Such self-promotion contrasts markedly with the dialectical approach of continental European architecture, where buildings engage in dialogue with the buildings and spaces around them. A nice example of the latter can be found in Liverpool, UK.
The Foundation Building is a modern, glass-fronted office building between the Metropolitan (Catholic) Cathedral in Liverpool and the University of Liverpool. Since its private-sector construction in 2006, it has been occupied by the senior administration of the University.
Upon first seeing it, I was intrigued by the 6 columns that navigate its semi-circular front. Why are there exactly 6 columns, and why are 4 of them equidistant, while the last 2 (shown here on the right of the photo) are much closer together? Such design decisions are rarely arbitrary; either there are engineering reasons for them or they indicate some great architectural subtlety. In this case, it the latter reason.
For, just across the street is the red-brick Mountford Hall, dating from 1911, and now part of the University of Liverpool’s Guild of Students.
The street facade of this building has a semi-circular first-floor balcony, supported by 4 equidistant columns, and a ceremonial front door, supported by 2 columns much closer together. The door is on the left in this photo, directly opposite the 2 closer columns on the Foundation Building.
I note here the architectural tip of the hat by the designer of the Foundation Building, and thank him or her for this pleasing subtlety.
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