Art theory

Some while ago I wrote a rant on art theory. E.J emails me that my essay is flawed.

E.J says that If someone thinks a trash bin full of garbage is more interesting than a Rembrandt, that is their view and they must have reasons for it. He goes on to say that Your assertion that he is wrong to feel that way and that you could walk up to him and say, "Wrong! Change how you feel and your experiences!" is crazy. He also says that we should not enlist a tyranny of the majority to decide on what is considered good and what is considered bad.

As to the first point, I acknowledge it. If someone gets enjoyment from a rubbish bag (whether displayed as art or otherwise) then so be it. Foxes do.

As to the second point, I don't think I wrote anything resembling it.

Regarding the accusation that I wish to enlist a tyranny of the majority, I do not. All tyrannies are to be avoided.

The question with any piece of art is, what is its aim? If its aim is to amuse foxes, then we can judge that piece of art by how successful it is at attracting foxes. If its aim is pleasant decoration, then so be it. If its aim is to induce nausea, or the self-aggrandisement of the artist, then again it may be successful by either of these criteria. And if its aim is to enlarge our humanity and our sense of beauty, then the artist must strive for that.


  1. In combination with your paintings, your art theory appears to lean towards the stuckists. In the sense of the much needed critical attack on modern/ post-modern art. The similarities in problems with both the art theory proposed and the stuckists is that they undermine the entire 20th century of art development. Is it not , that the real problem is that postmodernism is the by -product of the modernists realising art for what it really is. An invention?, a social paradigm?
    And then, isn't the wrong move, out of this, the move back into painting and formal art methods which have been exposed ?
    To keep in mind that practice of painting wasn't always art.

  2. Hello. EJ here. Thanks for responding to my rant response in response to your rant. Got it?
    I went back and looked at the original essay in question and I think that it is point 1 that gets me. The assumptions made regarding relativism and post-modern works.
    You accede that everyone's opinion is valid to them, and we all have different experiences and expectations that make us like different things, but then you jump to a conclusion that is relativism which says that everything is relative and as such there is no quality and the world is F*cked.
    I don't get that jump.
    If we all have different art aspects that we like, that does not follow that relativism is next and there is no quality.
    I do kind of see what you mean though. If you are an outside party looking at two people who collect art and one likes used coffee grounds and the other likes Rodin, then you might be confused because there is no consensus. If one had to look around and decide what is good and bad then it would be very confusing and seem as if there are no standards or an accepted level of quality and beauty.
    But I guess the current art world that I see does not have room for people that try to reach a consensus. It is really made up of a bunch of individuals.
    Maybe what I'm trying to get at and what is happening is that we can't make generalizations as much as we used to. Everyone has the stuff we like and it is all widely disparate. We might just have to develop a new system that values a person's opinion of loving feces as much as a person's opinion of loving Monet.
    It does sound a bit wonky when put like that though doesn't it?

    I guess I need to go back to the original hypothesis of your original essay.
    You say the acceptance of anything as art is the symptom of a dying culture.
    Or, in other word, being open to radical new forms of art is bad. Which is basically what the argument can be broken down to.

    It just doesn't ring true to make such a statement. It is the exact thing that established people have been saying about new people since time immemorial. It is such a clearly disproven, outdated idea that it is hard to consider it seriously in this day and age.

    Every generation comes along and does something new. Then they get old. Then a new generation comes along and does something new and the old generation says, "That is crap, the world is dying."
    More accurately they could say that Their world is dying. Because it is. Their world is changing and essentially "dying". But that is how it goes. Things change. If you look at art that we all consider great today, it was considered complete feces at some point in the past. It is just how it is.

    So when we see art these days that looks like crap, it probably is. Most of it is. And you can critique the art as much as you want. Go for it! We should all criticize bad art and talk about why it is bad or good.

    But to say that the act of making this new bad art, and of people liking it is bad? And the symptom of a dying culture? I can't accept that. Maybe a symptom of an uneducated culture. But then we need more discourse that clearly breaks down why it is bad and helps educate people, not discourse that falls back on the old tropes of "new is bad. world is dying." Because that just doesn't play anymore. We need some dialogue, not condemnation.

    Wow! I ranted my tookus off.

  3. Paul - I don't know the stuckists' work - are they any good? As in, would you pay good money to hang one of their works on your wall?

    I am happy with the experimentation that went on in the 20th century. I like much of Picasso, I like Gill and Epstein and Hepworth and many others. It is not the technique or the method that I have a problem with. I am solely concerned with the aim.

    EJ- thanks for taking up cudgels. Perhaps my original essay is flawed. However I think I make it clear that in the final analysis I judge art in relation to its aim, and I prefer art that aims to express beauty and to broaden and ennoble the mind to art that merely poses for the aim of creating a sensation and fame for the artist.

    See my quotation from Bach and the comment on it by Karl Popper.

  4. the stuckists? , no, nothing interesting in my opinion. They take a turn to re-modernism against the current post-modern culture, but in a bad way.

    But in terms of relativism, watering it down to 'everyone's individual judgement is okay'. when you discuss painting as being for a wall (decoration) and the mention of beauty. I believe that beauty is non-essential, a cultural thing. So to aim towards a type of beauty is to aim towards a certain perspective of beauty and I do not believe that this 'type' of beauty is purely individual but is social and cultural.

    What do you make of Duchamp?


  5. I had a look at the Stuckists' manifesto, and I agree with almost all of it.

    Beauty is not a non-essential, cultural thing. Agreed, not all beauty crosses cultural or personal boundaries, but most of it does. We like to adorn our homes with images from India and Africa. A whole set of styles is called ethnic. We stand in awe of the achievements of Ancient Egypt, different as they are from the incredible works of Praxiteles or Donatello. We like to look at images of beautiful human beings, and we glory in fashion.

    Without beauty, life decays. That is why ugly housing estates get demolished - they breed crime, and nobody wants to live there.

  6. Well, beauty as essential to life, and 'ugliness' as a cause of crime, i would call a over simplification. unless we go down to political aesthetics and anthropology.

    My disagreement with the stuckists stems from the approach to art as an invention. But an invention that stems from bourgeois ideologies. This wouldn't been that using paint as a material was inherently bourgeois but making beautiful objects would be, as they have been sustained and developed by the 'upper class'. In other words purely economic, political, social-rather than spiritual.

    Spirituality though i believe is important, and does need to be revived in such a nihilistic (post-modern)society. But a return to faith, faith in painting , faith in art after modernism and post-modernism is a overly conservative mission. The conservation should be on the spirit of the artists in a purely secular sense.

  7. by the way,
    I was thinking about developing some theory based on your own art theory document as a structure as it deals with alot of similarities with the stuckists[ but more maturity]. It will be a pdf file , was wondering if you would allow a copy of your art theory document to go in the back?

  8. Paul - yes, but with full attribution please, i.e. my name and the web address.