by David Hamilton (January 2010)
Our high traditions of sacred and imaginative Art have nearly died with the decline of religion and the spiritual uplift it brings to the artistic imagination and our higher natures. Religiously inspired art has been replaced by a negative attempt to destroy those traditions. The benefits of a firm common religion to art is the transforming of creative imagination into something higher and raising it above the base and the mundane. The driving force of our civilisation has always been creative imagination and the sense of striving for something higher while rooted in the human and everyday. Western civilization has largely sprung from a sense of piety and holiness and reverence for God and his creation and not just the need to secure one’s position in life. As, George Frederick Handel put it: “If I merely entertain them, then I have failed. I wish to make them better.”
The Avant-garde do the opposite and actually try to destroy the higher aspirations of art; they pour scorn on the high and noble to make them seem base and trivial. Those with influence promote this view and we seem not to have any spiritual defences. Ordinary people loath it, their reaction is instinctual, but the opinion formers make only mild criticism and generally accommodate the gradual destruction of our artistic traditions.
Our contemporary culture is unpropitious for nurturing the necessary outlook to renew civilisation – which needs renewing with each generation. There is a tendency to make a joke of everything and the general mood is to be frivolous, be facetious, trivialise everything. We see this on television programmes and in newspaper articles. People are frightened to make bold statements in defence of our civilisation in the face of Political Correctness and anti-Britishness. To represent us and our lives seriously is too much for the orthodox, conforming ones. They lark about like children in a classroom and bring sex into everything.
You expect a certain kind of artistic product but art today is often reduced to leg pulling. Recently, I was looking at an oil painting of a couple embracing near to an atmospheric steam train in a sort of “Brief Encounter” image. The description told us that the artist wanted us to question whether the couple were meeting or parting which reduced it to a childish puzzle.
Art is not treated with due reverence but belittled and undervalued if not used as a commodity for buying and selling. In his exhibition at the Cornerhouse, Richard Whitby, used Blu-Tack to hang the pictures. His reason is the work is largely produced in poster form, to satisfy his preoccupation with disposable, quick burn media and, more importantly, as a homage to the source of his images, many of which are taken from or refer directly to familiar advertising campaigns and methods: “The work reflects certain things I experience as someone who is living in contemporary society, by which I mean someone who visits shopping malls, goes on aeroplane flights, buys cinema tickets, looks on websites and is bombarded by advertising.” There is an occupation with the trivial and no striving for something higher.
Artists often have technical ability but lack the imaginative ability to conceive something profound or higher. Glenn Brown has technical ability but appropriates images from other artists. His exhibition at the 2000 Turner Prize, had a painting based on a science-fiction illustration from Tony Robert’s 1973 Double Star. In 2009, Brown claimed that “to make something up from scratch is nonsensical. Images are a language. It’s impossible to make a painting that is not borrowed — even the images in your dreams refer to reality.” This shows a failure to understand inspiration which works through the unconscious or heightened powers of intuition and these are increased by a religious spirituality and reverence for the effects of real art whereas “appropriation”, or using other people’s images is widespread in contemporary art and shows the limitations of the contemporary artistic imagination.
From the 60s contemporary art began merging with popular culture as in Peter Blake’s the famous LP cover for Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles. Artists are now promoted as stars and have agents arranging events and interviews for them.
Individuals and organisations can apply to the Arts Council for funding from its own budget or from the Lottery. Arts Council England is the national development agency for encouraging this attack on our civilisation. The selection of those awarded grants is based on prejudice against our traditional standards and values. Public money from the Government and the National Lottery is given to the arts organisations who share their ideology.
Contemporary art is not art and should be by rights called something else. But it is a financial asset for the global elites who buy and sell it and run the galleries and arts Councils that manage artistic creativity. It is exhibited by commercial art galleries, private collectors, corporations, publicly funded arts organizations, contemporary art museums or by the artists themselves who are supported by grants, awards and prizes as well as by selling work. These are interlocking and exclusive relationships. Individual members of the elite are highly influential – Charles Saatchi has dominated the market in British contemporary art for twenty years and is a major sponsor and collector.
I looked at one of my favourites: Vermeer’s View of Delft. How does it differ from contemporary stuff? There is no intent to provoke negative feelings and the vision is realised by a remarkable technical talent; the content is appropriately expressed by the form. It shows a beautiful partly cloudy sky in the early morning and beneath the skyline of Delft is clearly demarcated. There is a shaft of sunlight illuminating the rooves of the houses along the Lange Geer canal, the tower of the Church and a striking contrast between where the light falls and the tower and their shadowy surroundings that creates a sense depth. This masterpiece has luminosity and has produced awe in viewers since the 17th Century. On closer viewing, one can see that despite the clarity of light, it is raining, and water droplets splash on the water and cling to the rooftops. The image is of a cityscape that is united in the composition and enveloped atmospherically into glowing light of Vermeer’s hometown – an uplifting transformation through a great and artistically pure imagination of nature.
By contrast there is something disturbed, even evil, about the modern imagination that is promoted by art elites of the Arts Council and Turner Prize. The artists’ imaginations lack guidance from higher, spiritual sources and are corrupted. Channel Four show promotional films for this which they claim subconsciously influences the public. (1) They are acknowledging the corrupting power of contemporary art.
The Tate Modern “Pop Life”exhibition had a video installation of artist, Andrea Fraser, who paid a stranger $20,000 to be filmed having sex with her. There is a room of Jeff Koon’s giant canvases of sexual acts, another room is lined with images taken from pornographic magazines by Cosey Fanni Tutti, a former porn actress. We see a hackneyed similarity in subject matter and a lack of individuality among the anti-artists who are financed in part by public money appropriated from taxpayers to promote work that plays a part in reducing the moral barrier towards the sexual abuse of the publics’ children.
A young woman told me that an exhibition at the Ikon gallery in Birmingham had photographs of people being sick. Her university tutors had recommended it to the students. Tutors like teachers are the promoters of orthodoxy and seem incapable of standing against fashion. She explained that now people think anything is art and the boundaries have gone. Well, yes, but the underlying motive is the destruction of our artistic tradition and the undermining of our civilisation. Is a urinal, say, an artistic subject? No, it is intrinsically unartistic, even though it might have pleasing curves, and to write about it as such does not make it artistic but conceptually separates artistic form from artistic subject.
Contemporary art degrades us by destroying our need for something holy to guide us. Every year these time-warped artists stage a ritual by setting up an ordinary member of the public. The script is this: an elderly person takes a youngster, say, grandchild or niece, to an exhibition and is shocked by something on display, like an unmade bed, and complains to the press. Then the curator is quoted as saying, “Art is to make people think, and to provoke feelings”. This hackneyed response has been used on each occasion for the last 30 years.
They use the names of proper artists like Turner to give them credibility but degrade the name. John Ruskin described Turner as the artist who did “stirringly and truthfully measure the moods of Nature.” Sublime meant awe-inspiring and was related to the Sublime and Beautiful in aesthetic experience. By the late 18th century, the rationalist ideas from The Enlightenment were being overthrown by instinctual responses to beauty and sublimity. You do not look at a pleasing curved form and rationally decide it is beautiful – ones response is simply human instinct which comes naturally.
‘Sublime’ – the grandeur of nature demonstrated the power of God. Turner saw light as the emanation of God’s spirit and he refined his later paintings by omitting solid objects and detail, concentrating on the play of light on water, the radiance of skies and fires and tried to express spirituality in the world not just a response to the physical view. His imagination transformed the physical view.
In early works, such as Tintern Abbey (1795), he followed the traditions of English landscape but by Hannibal Crossing the Alps (1812) had developed the tradition by introducing the destructive power of nature. He used watercolour technique with oil paints to create a light, almost weak representation of the scene and ephemeral atmospheric effects. In all these there is a striving after something higher.
But Tracy Emin reduces art to sex-themed works include a Zebra with an erection – a crankshaft that operates a model of a zebra, which in turn is copulating with a model of a woman in Victorian dress – the hackneyed image of prudery. It is pretentious and has no intrinsic merit – only that bestowed by the elites. If the Victorian woman were replaced with, say, Cherie Blair or Diane Abbott, the pseuds would be filled with shock and hysteria.
A main feature of contemporary art is paedophila. Grayson Perry is known for vases depicting the sexual abuse of children. David Bowie’s 1975 concept album “1.Outside” had a story about the dismemberment of a teenage girl. Bowie also promoted an androgynous image with the concept album Ziggy Stardust. It was the basis for his 1972 tour, which was sponsored by The Sun newspaper, and the gigs were filmed by BBC television.
This spreading of evil through art is exemplified by Marcus Harvey’s painting of Moors Murderer Myra Hindley who was jailed for life with her lover Ian Brady for the sadistic murders of four children between 1963 and 1964 which included taping their crying and pleas for mercy. Increasing the evil (and hurt for families and relations), Harvey’s painting of Hindley was made using the handprints of children. With this on exhibition we get a glimpse of the corruption of the art Establishment.
“I’m a Celeb” contestant chef Gino D’Acampo has been charged with animal cruelty for beheading, cooking and eating a rat for a reality TV programme. He could face three years’ jail. He and fellow contestant Stuart Manning, claimed to have caught and killed the rat before Italian Gino turned it into “rat risotto”.
Australian police said the two were served with notices to appear at court on February 3 for the offence animal cruelty. In another reality programme participants ate live bugs and spiders. This behaving cruelly towards lower animals simply because they have been told to recalls the Millgram Experiment.
I wrote in “Contemporary Art and Reviving Civilisation” of how it seems we are descending to human sacrifices as art. I maintain art is only intrinsically artistic if it is something that produces an affect on our emotions ranging from pleasure to spiritual uplift. It triggers something aspirational or transcendent as the subject is transformed by human imagination and skill. Art begins as wholesome and aspiring to the spiritual, but in a declining civilisation it becomes both corrupted and corrupting.
Self-centred contempt for other people is widespread among art elites. Roman Polanski, the film director, was arrested in Switzerland for the rape of a 13-year-old girl in California 32 years ago – His actual crime was to drug and sodomise a 13-year-old girl.
He had admitted unlawful sex with a minor but escaped the US to France to avoid prison, yet many artists defended him. Film directors Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese called for him to be freed, writer Ronald Harwood, who wrote the screenplay of Polanski’s film The Pianist, defended him: “It seems to me very odd that America, which calls itself a Christian country, is so entirely lacking in the ability to forgive.” (See Mary Jackson’s article, “Roman in the Gloamin’ – Polanski’s Murky Friends“.)
Modern art elites are pretentious because they make grandiose claims for themselves, but their minor efforts belie their claims. Koons’s Exaltation 1991, which shows oral sex in close-up, and Glass Dildo 1991 is described by the Saatchi gallery as a “watershed moment in the interaction between the art world and celebrity culture”. Saatchi likewise describes the pornographic images of Fanni Tutti, as “rooted in a highly personal and mediated form of performance, enabling her to move from the porn and music industries to the equally reified context of the art world”. Of Andrea Fraser’s video of her having sex with a stranger in a hotel room it says: “By offering ‘herself’ up for sale, she pushes … the viewer’s desire for intimacy with the artist to the logical extreme.”
The way to attract government grants is to conform to what the Arts Council(UK) want you to do. The elites promote exhibitions of flesh, skinned corpses, starving dogs and tins full of faeces.
This lack of substance gives a clue to what creates civilisation – confidence in one’s own people and the sense of the civilisation’s permanence. Traditional masterpieces have such individual detail and are so deep one is enrapt for the entire day after first looking at a work as a whole. We need belief in those values inherited from our ancestors and the confidence to transmit them to our descendants. We know that what gives meaning to life is our emotional experience, our relationships, our beliefs and values. Our values are bolstered by a sense of continuity: We receive them from our forbears. They tell us that we have long endured and we will continue to endure. The reverence and holiness that raise the works of art are transmitted to the viewers and outwards to communities as a whole and this revivifies civilisation; but now it is the opposite, as our civilisation is declining and the base are in influential positions, so everything is dragged down, tainted and destroyed.
Youngsters need courage to be different today. Not the kind of difference that means you sleep around at thirteen and can’t stay married, or sober, for two minutes, that is encouraged by magazines and their promotion of celebs as role models, but the kind of individuality that enables you to say no thanks to the enormous attraction of joining the herd and getting the opportunity, fully paid for and approved, of attacking your heritage and your civilisation.
To combat the anti-art movement a young artist would need not only great talent but also independence of mind and an imagination developed through respectful study of tradition and a sense of reverence for God and his creation and the courage to stand alone against the artists and elites who have a stranglehold on artistic productions and the colleges that pass the fashionable methods on. The brave ones would need to study the great masterpieces and re-link themselves to appropriate traditions in order to begin reviving our civilisation.
To comment on this article, please click here.
To help New English Review continue to publish critical and informative articles such as this one, please click here.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more by David Hamilton, please click here.