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Guilde de la Blanchepierre
Guild of the White Stone)
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The Triptych Altarpiece of ^
Harriet Westbrook Shelley
feet (4.5 meters) tall]
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Introduction to the Argument
against the Avant Garde
would he do// Had he the motive and the cue for passion
have? He would drown the stage with tears
And cleave the
general ear with horrid speech,// Make mad the guilty and appal
Confound the ignorant and amaze indeed// The very
faculties of eyes and ears.
I am the
mouthful of teeth. The ripper of armchairs: the ghost of Tolstoy,
the right arm of Caravaggio, the sword of Cellini.
Beware Ye of
Troy, I come bearing gifts. Words that shall bring your houses
down upon you.
The artist James McNeill Whistler
subtitled his famous book of letters "Messieurs
My Enemies!" That was in 1890. But such joyful antagonism is
not stylish these days. It is one thing to quote Nietzsche, as
everyone on both sides of every argument now does; it is another
thing entirely to write like him....
This is the
age of appeasement, of subordination. The artist is no longer the
font; he is the shallow pool. Not the oracle, but the sump. The
collection point of a thousand polluted expectations. The
political tool of the untalented. The residue of education. The
handmaiden of the self-appointed in social criticism.
the critics have dished it out over the last hundred years,
vilifying all, dismissing everyone and everything that could not
be "pinned and wriggling on the wall."
artist was silent.
Usurper's rule, modern art has become like Lewis Carroll's four
branches of arithmetic: "ambition, distraction, uglification
artist was silent.
protracted squabblings among these purveyors of taste, both form
and content have deconstructed; and the homunculi and homunculae
have ascended the throne, naming their horses and gerbils
artist has remained silent.
Whistler—the Master of Badinage—put
it, "Art, that for ages has hewn its own history in marble
and written its own comments on canvas, shall it suddenly stand
still and stammer, and wait for wisdom from the passer-by, for
guidance from the hand that holds neither brush nor chisel? Out
upon the shallow conceit!"
It is time for the artist
to speak! To crawl out from under the woodpile and to stamp his
feet. To reclaim the armor of Athena and demand his inheritance
from the Witchking. To bend the bow and pierce the axeheads and
slay the suitors. To load the sling.
It may be
asked, what of the other "artists?" What of the
ironmongers, the paintspillers, the gluemen, the undertakers?
Isn't your quarrel with them? No. There are no artists in that
quarter. Only critics. Critics who flap and critics who chirp.
But the critics who chirp are the louder. It is the critics who
onanism, the mastication, the ululation and defecation who must
be outslandered, outbuggered, undercut and overtopped. Trimmed
and fluffed. Defeathered and retarred.
It is thought
that I am mad. But follow me through the gentle maze, and listen.
Clement Greenberg, the Pope of Presumption, said of painting in
started on its "modernization" earlier perhaps than the
other arts, it has turned out to have a greater number of
expendable conventions embedded in it, or these at least have
proven harder to isolate and detach. As long as such conventions
survive and can be isolated, they continue to be attacked in all
the arts that intend to survive in modern society.
is the green worm at the core. The seed of the wart. Because Mr.
Greenberg could smoke more cigs than anyone else, he got the
title page, the banner, the masthead, and everyone since has
written in very small letters I must make art
that is about art over and over until the
book is finished, the corpse burned and the ashes scattered. A
non-artist will tell us what artistic conventions are expendable.
The most galling thing though is that "intend to survive"
threat. As if the artist need justify his existence to the
critic. But I am
the primary producer here: you can justify yourself to me, you
future footnote, you Eunuch of the Muses!
wrote, in 1995,
It was as
though there were some internal historical development in the
course of which art came to a kind of philosophical
self-awareness of its own identity. In a curious and somewhat
perverse way, I thought, art has turned into philosophy. From now
on the task is up to philosophers, who know how to think in the
former philosophy professor, Columbia University. Now art critic,
The Nation. I have
only one question. A question of grammar. Does "in a curious
and somewhat perverse way" modify "art has turned"
or "I thought"?
Finito! The whole claim of modern art is
so absurd it isn't worth pursuing any further! The very existence
of such theories, their acceptance by anyone,
is cause for a decade of Weltschmerz, of weeping and rending of
tunics. It may seriously call for some sort of ritual cleansing,
an act of purification, an offering to the gods. A bevy of
frenzied virgins to tear some smug bastard in Soho limb from limb
for his sins to art. At least an off-Broadway tragedy of
Sophoclean splendor, with wild-haired Corybantes whirling in
their bacchanalian madness, depicting this catharsis.
and Teachers, I claim that analysis is not art. Philosophy is not
art. Politics is not art. Destruction is not art. Framing is not
art. Finding is not art. Thinking is not art. Randomness is not
art. Pathology is not art. Everything that a fool does easily is
Teachers, I claim that art is rare. Art requires talent. Art
requires isolation. Art requires depth. Art requires subtlety.
Art requires mystery. Art requires emotion. Art requires
inspiration. The artist tells you what he must do, not what you
Teachers, I maintain that all art stands upon two legs:
craftsmanship and character. Technique is not art. Emotion is not
art. Together they may be art. Or not.
and Teachers, to the young artist ask first this question: would
you rather be the greatest artist of the 21st century and be
unknown during your lifetime; or be the richest artist and know
the ghosts of Michelangelo and Van Gogh are laughing at you?
We must burn
the fields and plow twice and find fresh seed. The error runs too
deep. We must change the binary code from 0's and 1's to 3's and
8's. The gravitational forces have become too strong, and the
young artist cannot get out of bed, much less hang the sky and
kiss the cloudfroth. Even Vincent had to live on the outskirts of
a dying star; now he would have to survive on the lip of the
Black Hole. We need forty days of rain and a smallish Ark.
history lies at our feet. The ground is so rich it stinks of
fertility. And yet we paint, or paint over, the same things each
morning, shoe and unshoe the same horse ad
nauseum. Someone paints a saint and
someone else defiles it. A man in Jackson Hole paints a landscape
and a woman in New York City rapes herself upon it. All sequels.
All reactionary. The avant garde even more than the merest bowl
of fruit. The sage of the university says, "but there is
nothing new under the sun." Not until we create it, Brother
Ass. Refrain from breathing all the available air for a moment,
refrain from blocking all the light, and see what lovely vines
begin curling out of the earth!
28 x 18 in.
charcoal. 16 x 12 in.