09 Jan 2009

The Vacuity of Contemporary Art

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Theodore Dalrymple, in New English Review, deplores the estrangement of contemporary art from tradition, technique, values, and beauty.

From having talked to quite a number of art students, it seems that art school these days resembles a kindergarten for young adults, where play is more important than work. The lack of technical training is painfully obvious at the shows the students put on. Many of the students have good ideas, but cannot execute them successfully for lack of technical facility. Indeed, their technical incompetence is only too painfully obvious.

It is very striking, too, how few art students have any interest in or knowledge of the art of the past. Do you visit galleries, I ask them?

No, they reply, a little shocked at the very suggestion, and as if to do so would inhibit them in their creativity or to condone plagiarism.

As for art history, they are taught and know very little. This is all part of the programme of disconnecting them radically from the past, of making them free-floating molecules in the vast vacuum of art.

It is true that they are sometimes taught just a little art history. I had what was for me a memorable conversation with an art student when she was my patient. She was in her second year of art school, and told me that one of the things she enjoyed most about it was art history. I asked what they taught in art history.

‘The first year,’ she said, ‘we did African art. But now in the second year we’re doing western art.’

I asked what particular aspect of western art they were doing.

‘Roy Liechtenstein.’

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

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Alan Kellogg

I wonder if the next great field of art history is going to be the Vampire Romance School.



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