In which Theo talks about the Stuckists

Although this blog is vaguely subtitled Arts, Opinion and Things Going Wrong, the amount of time I spend writing about Art is very small. The main reason for this is because the instant you write anything about Art, somebody comes along and tells you that you are quite wrong about everything. Much as I like a healthy debate (I’ll argue with myself if other people aren’t available), I’m far too lazy to look anything up and so cannot be certain that they will not be correct in their assertations of fact.
I am also aware that there are no right or wrong answers about Art. The first thing I was ever taught at art school is that a critique is never held subject to the artist’s original intentions. You may have painted the wall by the fireplace green because you thought it would add a nice bit of colour to the room, but we say you were making a statement about the destruction of personal identity and on some level, we can be right.

Of course, many people fail to understand this. I’ve lost count of the amount of journalistic hand wringing I’ve read over the years in which the absence of “proper” art is lamented and sly comment is passed about Michael Craig Martin or the YBA’s, let along the amount of people who take pride in not “getting” modern art. As far as I am concerned, they are on a slightly lower level as those who take pride in saying things like “Oh, I haven’t read a book since I left school!” If you prefer to spend your time on things other than literature, grand, but revelling in one’s ignorance is a good look for nobody.

Groups like the Stuckists, who abhor conceptual art and advocate a return to the figurative painting, are worse still and not just because of their particularly hateful website in which every option seems to open a new window. Maybe it’s some kind of statement about something which I’m failing to grasp due to my annoyance with it. It’s hard to be sure these days.
While it is all very well to rail against dead sharks and unmade beds and the emptiness and pretensions of postmodernism (although that actually is slightly the point), I’m rather underwhelmed by the work of many of the Stuckists themselves. To begin with, some of it just isn’t very good.
If artists who don’t paint aren’t artists (as specified by point 4 of the original Stuckist manifesto), surely it is necessary to have a level of understanding of why we are painting as oppose to, say, producing a photograph. The poster child of Stuckism, Charles Thomson’s “Sir Nicholas Serota Makes an Acquisitions Decision”, has many things to recommend it, but an example of a great painting it is not. For a start, it might as well be a print, or a computer graphic, or a collage; it would have the same impact. If a group is going to advocate painting as the only valid way of creating art, it would be nice if they could inspire with its possibilities as a medium.

Why painting should be held in higher regard than any other medium remains a mystery to me. I would quite like it if we could all just get along. After all, what is the difference between a readymade sculpture and a painting which has come from the studio assistant production line? Jeff Koons doesn’t paint all of his own work. Neither does Bridget Riley. This is how it has been for hundreds of years and how it will continue to be.

In order to have value as an artist, it is necessary to develop a brand. Some of this may depend on technical ability but that reputation takes a while to build up. Instead, it is easier to fast track a brand with media exposure. In order to get exposure, one needs a gimmick so we end up with things guaranteed to wind up The Daily Mail. It is just one of those sad facts of life that an exciting brush technique has a severely limited ability to generate column inches.

This is something else which narks me about the Stuckists. If painting is the One True Medium™ and you are the champions of all that is great about it, why are you better known for your publicity stunts than your paintings?
Who would have heard of S.P. Howarth if he had not been expelled from Camberwell for exhibiting paintings without any accompanying development of ideas? While I sympathise, because I am somebody who stopped keeping a sketchbook the second I stopped being marked for it, criteria marking is criteria marking. Either like it or else save yourself the tuition fees.

For me, any kind of art is at its best when there is dialogue, both with the viewer and for the viewer. A good piece of art should make you want to tell somebody about it. All I want to tell you about the Stuckists is that they do figurative painting a great discredit.

4 comments:

durdlin said...

I'd like to visit a gallery with you so you can tell me things.

durdlin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sarah said...

this whole blog post i chose to read `stuckists` as `suckists`

and i was like, they are called SUCKists? bwahahahahaaaaaaaaaa

name change!

ditto, durdlin

i would to like to peruse a gallery with you in tow. thank you

Theo said...

You don't want to walk around with me. I use the word juxtaposition a lot.