by David Hamilton (September 2013)
The subtitle is from line 4 of Hexagram 64 of the legendary Chinese Book of Change, the I Ching. The following is taken from David Hamilton's new book.
How does Vermeer's Delft differ from contemporary works of art? 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 of 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 home town – 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 shows promotional films for this which they claim subconsciously influences the public. 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…
I later went to the National gallery and crossed 'the bar' from the fetid and neurotic to a different plane – the positive and uplifting. The exhibits are deeper and meant to help people not to degrade and offend. As things stand we are at the other end of the arc of civilisation, that of decadence and the negative attempt to destroy rather than a positive era of growth and this has to be changed.
The Early Renaissance rooms are awe-inspiring, not sickening, and transmit positive feelings – joy, transcendence and aspiration rather than misery, perversion and destruction. The sense of entering or aspiring to different consciousness is redolent in most works that go deeper than the media or the stories they grow from. A common feature is that they are set in a mystical light and symbols point to something higher and deeper about our existence than rolling around naked clutching fish or meat or blood daubed on canvases.
The creative imagination needs something to work on like fire on wood. This is what artists, poets, musicians, actors do. They use their art to create a world within the piece they're working on but the world is developed from a source.
These spiritually uplifting works in the Early Renaissance rooms have themes of rebirth, development and change of consciousness. There are several versions of Virgin and a Child – birth, creation; the Crucifiction, transformation; Transfiguration, a transformation of a man or woman into someone having the aspect of the divine.
To sum up the evil being conveyed in modern art: Jake Chapman of the Chapman Brothers was quoted as saying that the boys who murdered Liverpool toddler Jamie Bulger had performed 'a good social service'. It is easy to understand why child abuse is promoted in contemporary art.
Since the end of World War Two, Britain’s towns and cities have been transformed for the benefit of local councils and commerce. Grievous damage was done by Luftwaffe bombs, but the Nazis were outdone in gratuitous destruction by postwar urban planners….
After the war, a sense of shame at our past and achievements became widespread amongst the intelligentsia, and led to an ineluctable weakening of our national identity. Our elites began wittingly or unwittingly to dismantle the very idea of England. Social engineering started to be used in architecture and planning as much as in education and entertainment. Its aim was to change the physical and mental environment, and thereby change people, who were seen as plastic and malleable. The theory was that planned council estates could change people for the better…
An effect on locals of rebuilding cities like Birmingham and Sheffield to a vague, international idea is similar to the anomie described by the great sociologist Emil Durkheim. It helps cause a sense of futility, of no future, as it removes a lot of the grounding people need to thrive. But the use of traditional buildings maintains the town’s core identity and gives local people a definite sense of belonging and well-being…
Canadian Plains Indians, the Innu, were moved by government into specially built estates. The Innu were effectively forcibly transformed into Canadians, just as Britons are being forcibly transformed into ‘citizens of the world’. Like us, the Innu are having their past erased and are being offered nothing for the future – despair has set in, as it is setting in on Britain’s sink estates. One important difference is that the Innu have been dispossessed by a different ethnic group, whereas we are being dispossessed by our own elected representatives. In many young Innu, their deculturation manifests in drug and alcohol abuse and petty crime.
More and more of Britain’s young people are similarly aimless, lacking in self-respect, without tradition or a sense of being part of something. Many of them have likewise started to prey on their own people. There have always been people at the bottom of the pile, but they used to develop within a cultural tradition to which they belonged, albeit peripherally. Most Young people do not misbehave out of endemic wickedness, but because they have been decultured…
Local councillors are only elected by a minority of voters and are not therefore fully representative of the public. We need an office appointed by the Crown like a lord lieutenant with responsibility for protecting communities not factions of it. The Office of the Lord-Lieutenant dates from the 16th Century and has the force of tradition behind it at a time when we are victims of unrestrained change for profit at our communities’ expense.
A significant force in The Culture War was nihilist and subversive dramatists. Their technical abilities are excellent and their facility for embodying nihilism and ideology into dramatic form exemplary. An aspiring young playwright would do well to study their use of styles and genres to explicate their message. Their works were frequently televised, films were made of them and they were performed in many countries especially on Broadway…
Agitprop and Dramatised Ideology
There are overtly Socialist writers and here we move from well-written nihilism and negativity to cultural warfare, violence and advocacy of revolution….
They frequently re-worked classic plays from our cannon to undermine our cultural traditions and were redolent of brutality and violence…
1968 brings the rise of The New Left who replaced Liberalism. There were race riots in the States, the French Government was nearly brought down by student riots and Russian tanks suppressed the Prague rising. The war in Vietnam had a major impact because it was seen as not in the American national interest but a Capitalist invasion. These events helped to form the outlook of a new generation of young dramatists…
The nihilists and the ideologues are passing into history while contemporary playwrights merely write Politically Correct platitudes leaving a vacuum crying to be filled by a contemporary explanation of our world expressed by new Traditionalist or Conservative playwrights. As they would be refused money by the Arts Council and refused a stage by the theatres they would need places to develop plays, practice and perform….
Twentieth-century drama is nihilistic and subversive and moves from order to chaos; whereas, Elizabethan drama, albeit gory, moved from barbarism to civilisation and these exciting plays have a positive sense of things coming together not being dislocated.
There is the consideration of The Problem of Justice which had been defined by Francis Bacon:”Revenge is a kind of wild justice; which the more man's nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out. For as for the first wrong, it doth but offend the law; but the revenge of that wrong putteth the law out of office. Certainly, in taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior; for it is a prince's part to pardon.“
Overreachers, were Christopher Marlowe's type of tragic hero. The most famous Overreacher is MacBeth, but Marlowe's two defining types being Tamburlaine the Great and Doctor Faustus. There is a sense of opening out, of expanding, a sense of growth not the contraction and collapse of the twentieth-century negative dramatists.”
We are not merely natural but we are natural in the sense that our lives are held together by emotional relationships rather than ideologies and the numinous things in life like art and religion and a need for countryside as well as beautiful landscapes. We are natural in the sense that we form emotional relationships, families and communities and need our countryside as solace or relief. A varied and open countryside is beneficial to the physical and mental health of the population. We have a duty to pass on the environment we have inherited to our children, as they, in turn, will have a duty to pass it on to their children….
This is not an abstract discussion in a university common room but a practical need to conserve what we have inherited. On my travels I constantly find scenes of beauty and history. This pack horse bridge in Bakewell is a beautiful bridge which harbors waterfowl around it. It was built in about 1300 and has five Gothic arches and triangular corner stones over the buttresses. We have responsibility to see it is passed on to our children to enjoy. Little platoons of fisherman help conserve the waterways to facilitate the practice of their sport…
With the idea of progress life was sped up by rapid technological expansion. Economists, technocrats and scientists put their faith in science and technology and tried to create an artificial way of life as efficacious as nature. But artificial in such as processed foods, with harmful chemicals and poisons like hydrogenated fats. There are big increases in diseases such as diabetes and heart disease caused by the unhealthy amounts of sugar and fats the food manufacturers use. The industry is bent on short-term profits, not the long-term impact on flora and fauna – the natural environment.
The hydrogenated fat or hydrogenated vegetable oil in processed foods contain trans fats which are as harmful to the heart as is saturated fat. In the manufacture liquid oils have hydrogen bubbled through them in a process called hydrogenation to improve their texture, flavour and longevity. This produces a more solid fat, hydrogenated fat or hydrogenated vegetable oil, which is used in many processed foods…
The latest in a long line of wonder drugs, 'statins', is so invested with irrational optimism that many medical practitioners have enthusiastically called for them to be prescribed to everyone regardless of health problems. They suppress the body's production of cholestrol and are expected to save us all from heart problems and strokes. In practice they are causing memory loss and forgetfulness. Statins may well help people at serious risk of heart attacks and strokes but the irrational enthusiasm with which they are prescribed is worrying – medical people will not listen to their patients who complain of severe side-effects such as muscle weakness, memory loss and bouts of confusion. They imagine that we are on the way to another little utopia – a world without heart problems!…
Animals – A benevolent dominion
In the prosodic English of the great King James Bible Genesis tells us: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”
Animals are part of our environments and our pets are part of the family. They perform valuable services: dogs warn of trespassers and cats keep rats and mice from our homes, young children love caring for and riding ponies and they in turn depend upon us for care and food. This is a reciprocal relationship and suggests that our dominion over them must be a benevolent one.
One constantly sees posters stuck on lamp posts, bus stops and placed in shop windows for pets that have gone missing and many of these are taken. Children and elderly people in particular become very attached to their pets and form emotional bonds with them. They become part of the family and need stronger protection in law; not because of some abstract rights but because of an emotional connection – an emotional bonding between animals and their owners.
There is a discursive introduction to important aspects of history, art and literature, legends and stories expressed in English cathedrals and churches with reference to some I have visited recently. It discovers a constant interlinking of symbols, meaning, history, art and literature, legends and stories between cathedrals and churches. A walk round an English church is to enter a world of religious observance but also a world of continuity and expressions of meaning….
St. Pauls monastery church in Jarrow is where Bede was based. It has two features shared with Durham cathedral. One is the connection with Bede the other the old windows. There are three small Anglo-Saxon windows high on the south wall. Two of which have stone shutters which were presumably put there because of the difficulty of making enough glass in the monasteries' workshop. The middle window is a link with our roots and is unchanged since A.D. 681. It holds a window of reconstructed stained-glass made in the Saxon monastery workshop and is the oldest glass in western Europe. It was found during excavations of the site in 1972-3 and inserted into the historic window in 1980. The glass has a profound affect on the staff: one told me it gives them a spiritual experience when they think that it was there when Bede himself lived and worked there. That is the power of continuity…
Rochester, like Durham, was Benedictine. It was founded in 604 A.D. by Bishop Justus and the existing cathedral began in 1080 by French monk, Gundulf. The glorious Norman architecture of the nave, parts of the crypt, as well as one of the finest Romanesque facades in England, and some fine examples of later Gothic styles as well as the magnificent 14th century Chapter Library door which is hidden from view but can be viewed by request.
It contains an inspirational fresco of John the Baptist which was the first real fresco to be created in an English Cathedral for 800 years. Dedicated on St. John the Baptist day 2004 it is a narrative painting by Sergei Fyodorov and attracts visitors to both admire the artwork and to meditate and pray.
There are smaller artefacts that link us to our history. The Wheel of Fortune in Rochester or the decapitated figures on the tomb of Sir John Neville in Durham cathedral tell a story when searched for. The Wheel of Fortune is a 13c wall painting and discovered in1840 hidden behind a pulpit but only part remains: The figures on the up are there, but those on the down have vanished.
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