Out of the Shadow of God
by David Hamilton (January 2012)
For most of our history art was produced within the Christian tradition and presented a Christian message and awe-inspiring, positive feelings. In more recent times with the growth of secular ideology art has become negative and spreads misery and unhappiness and, what is worse, this is largely sponsored by public money; by money taken off the population in taxes and distributed to people who are destroying our art.
These works are produced in the shadow of god. That is to say, with the eclipse of the sacred we are left with negativity, nihilism and the destruction of things of value by contemporary artistic production.
The artistic elites no longer seem to know what art is and so there is a need for distinctions and classifications to bring some order out of the chaos. First, the qualities that make something art are intrinsic, not external. It is in the artifice, the organising of elements, perspective, choice of colour and so on that makes it art because the result is obtained by transforming reality and thus nature, through human imagination and is realised by skill and technique.
An example of the difference between nature and art is when I point my camera and record natural phenomena. If I take a sunset, for example, I am recording a natural scene which is not art but nature. But if I then use the zoom function, it has the effect of condensing the distance and thereby magnifying the gold or red which is moving from nature to art by introducing technique.
There are those who say everything is art. Apparently, all we have to do is suppress our thinking minds and in that state look at an object and it produces and artistic experience. Well, it does not. It produces the subjective sensation of intuitive apprehension. In recent times Art has been supplanted by an anti-Art movement that is funded and driven by wealthy oligarchs and which attempts to destroy our traditional art. Anything and everything can be "art" if they say it is.
Again, by looking at beautiful natural phenomena like flowers, waterfalls, forests, mountains, landscapes and some city skylines with the naked eye, we can automatically appreciate their beauty. These belong to the numinous aspect of life which ranges from a mystic experiencing God to one enjoying the view or a fine building. Aesthetic experience is a species of that. It is what Freya Stark in Perseus in the wind, when looking at the night sky, described it as a glimpse of God.
What brought us to this pass?
Rationalism is the dominant mode of thinking aimed at producing solutions in politics and in the arts. Rationalists think reality follows explicit principles and can be changed by adopting the right principles or ideology or, as in a syllogism, if you get the premise right the correct conclusion will necessarily follow. A prominent feature of rationalism in art was the use of a manifesto that members of the group had to adhere to, as art movements of the twentieth century did. If any followed an original path they would be criticised for diverging from the manifesto as in 1934, Trotskyist leader and theorist of the Surrealists Andre Breton put Salvador Dali on "trial"and formally expelled him from the group. In art as in politics people formed groups around principles and revisions of principles.
This conforming to theoretical art is like having to conform to the orthodox Ideology or be "corrected" as in Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany. Ideologies of this sort are the secular version of religion with utopia on earth instead of in the after life.
Rationalists analyse: “what is painting? What is music?” Then found a new school, a new style, or an “ism” which signifies an ideological perspective. As in politics through the twentieth century and beyond artists formed groups based on theory and ideology.
The principle came to dominate and, as with abstract impressionist painters, usurped practice to such an extent that the success or otherwise of the practice was assessed by its conformity to the principle. Tom Wolf has described this as “the painted word.”
Picasso was a natural genius whose outstanding early achievements degenerated into self indulgent experiments. From painting in a realistic manner through his childhood and adolescence his style changed as he experimented with different theories, techniques, and ideas. His revolutionary artistic accomplishments brought him universal renown and an immense fortune. He is regarded along with Henri Matisse and Marcel Duchamp as one of the three artists who defined the revolutionary developments in the arts in the early 20th century. They brought about significant changes in painting, sculpture, printmaking and ceramics.
The problem of Abstraction
Painting traditionally used colour, representation, paint, symbolism, perspective, canvases to convey the artists' meaning, not to embody a theory or explicate an essence. Modern art and the ideological “isms” try to emphasise one aspect of what they regard as the essential characteristic of the form: to describe rather than exemplify it as in the three movements that led to abstract art – Romanticism, Impressionism and Expressionism. As patronage from the church diminished during the 19th century so private patronage from the public replaced it but the sense of awe went and the need for the sacred was not fulfilled.
Early intimations of a new art were in James McNeill Whistler's Nocturne in Black and Gold: The falling rocket (1872). It also began the blurring of divisions as nocturne, which is from the French and means nocturnal from Latin nocturnus, was a musical composition inspired by, or evocative of, the night. Nocturne is an old term given a new meaning and applied to night Offices and, since the Middle Ages, to divisions in the canonical hour of Matins.
This changed the emphasis from the depiction of objects to visual sensation, in contrast to, for example, John Constable. The slow disappearance of the subject in painting can be traced to J.W. Turner and from thus to the Impressionists who continued the en plein air (the open air) painting of the Barbizon school. Cezanne began as an Impressionist and his aim was to make a logical construction of reality based on a view from a single point with modulated colour in flat areas. This became the basis of a new visual art. This was later developed into Cubism by George Braque and Picasso.
Expressionist painters developed a striking use of paint surface, drawing distortions and exaggerations, and intense colour. They produced emotional paintings that both reacted to, and were perceptions of, experience. They were also reactions to Impressionism and more conservative works of late 19th century painting. The Expressionists changed subject matter to portraying psychological states. Artists like Edvard Munch and James Ensor were influenced by the Post-Impressionists and led to abstraction in the 20th century.
Matisse's Fauvist colour and drawing came close to pure abstraction. The mystical movements in Eastern Europe in the late 19th century, like the theosophy of Mme. Blavatsky, were very influential on early geometric artists like Kandinsky the progenitor of abstract art and a leader in the movement to free art from tradition, and Hilma af Klint. The mystical teaching of Georges Gurdjieff and P.D. Ouspensky influenced the formation of the geometric abstract styles of Mondrian and his associates in the early 20th century. Artists began trying to paint mystical experiences which is alright for a group or sect, but not necessarily as an art movement for the population as a whole.
The idea of the original genius has declined into the attempt to baffle the beholder. The corollary is that the true artist is not understood by the public and only gets acclaim after his death. There are a few who struggled for recognition like Van Goch , Franz Schubert or Thomas Chatterton but usually geniuses are popular with audiences. Of contemporaries Bob Dylan had this sort of experience several times. At the Newport Festival in 1964 when he was barracked by horrified folk fans for doing an electric set, then in his famous 1966 tour of Britain when fans booed him. One fan at The Manchester Free Trade Hall famously shouted “Judas!” In response, Dylan exhorted his band to play even louder. Despite frequently leaving his audiences behind, Dylan was very popular. Those he left behind were the musical ideologues and purists who did not want him to diverge from the correct ideology.
There have been several musicians who were original but far from geniuses like Stockhausen and John Cage in music and all of the contemporary anti-artists. That is a worrying thing: the absence of genius. That there are very few artistic geniuses is a natural thing but they may also be stifled early by rationalistic modes of thinking.
The contemporary age is one of interpretation not creativity; of developing specialist technical skills but not of developing our culture. Our mass society is dissociated from its culture and developing antagonistic identities drawn from pop culture, fanaticism for a football team or the pre-occupation with such as television talent shows like X-Factor and reality shows like Big Brother and graffiti in art. The only real art is from the past and needs renewing.
The current lack of art stems from two main causes: State patronage at a time when the New Left took over and waged the “Culture Wars” against us from within the artistic establishment, and the fact that Christian faith (or at least the belief in the transcendent) is in decline.
A comparison of two of London's principle galleries tells the story. A walk around the National Gallery in London amongst the figurative and representational art of our traditions gives feelings of warmth, awe and humility; the Saatchi Gallery in Kensington creates negative feelings from irritation to disgust. On my last visit I remarked to the lady showing me around the works that the only artistic thing was the window that opens on to the beautiful Cheltenham Crescent. She replied that many visitors had made similar comments. This was an admission that few people like contemporary art.
The origin of this self-aggrandisement of people with little talent and no genius was Duchamps Fountain, a urinal which he signed R. Mutt. We are bound to like individual works or favour certain artists but the movement as a whole was negative.
Contemporary artists can only make an impression is by provoking negative emotions like disgust, shock or just contempt for the corrupt establishment that finances such un-artistic works.
There was Equivalent VIII, a stack of firebricks. These comparatively inoffensive installations give an insight into the dearth of contemporary artistic talent. Another production of the time was a submarine shape made from thousands of used tyres. Called Polaris it was by David Mach and burnt down when installed outside the Hayward Gallery, London, during the exhibition British Sculpture 83. He is a member of The Royal Academy.
In 1986 Drexel Burnham Lambert, the New York bank, credited with inventing the junk bond, were the sponsors of the Turner Prize, the British art world's most important award.
The £10,000 award from an anonymous benefactor went to Living Sculptures alias Gilbert & George. William Hill, ran a book on the Turner Prize and made Gilbert & George the 11 to 8 favourites. It was the second time they had been shortlisted..
One of their pictures in the Tate Gallery is Coming, in which they look up admiringly at a shower of soiled Y-fronts. They have produced large 'photoworks,' with scenes of fellatio and photographs of human excrement. Another of their works was a video of them getting drunk on Gordon's Gin. Its the triviality of their work that concerns me but not them I think; the state has made them very rich. (1)
Other works of that period were a man sitting in a bath of Bull's blood. Another castrated himself. He should be followed up for a psychological study. Earlier I gave an example of how when taking a photograph I move from the recording of nature to art by introducing technique which begins the transformation, but what happens in this instance? Well, nothing. The only aim is to to disgust and that is not only negative but petty. It is the product of one with little talent and if it were not for state patronage most of these insignificant anti-artists would have to do a proper job. As it is they are being made rich with public and corporate money.
The use of paedophilia as art.
Grayson Perry produces Grecian vases but not to delight as in the deep, poetic insights expressed by Keats but to harm others by promoting the abuse of children.
Perry’s “Golden Ghosts” were described by the Satchi Gallery:” Unhappy expressions on the little girls’ faces in Golden Ghosts contrast sharply with the idyllic country cottages stencilled in the background.
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal - yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!
To Perry, it is implicit scenes of child abuse and misery which is spreading evil rather than nobly keeping his problems to himself. He is thoroughly New Establishment and was an arts correspondent for The Times. In 2011 he was curator of the Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman at The British Museum and is often on The BBC, in Question Time, Hard Talk, Desert Island Discs and Have I Got News for You. He has been the subject of a South Bank Show in 2006 and was the subject of an Imagine documentary broadcast on 1 November 2011.
Much of his work has been described as “obscene sadomasochistic sex scenes. We've Found the Body of your Child, 2000 suggests emotional child abuse and neglect. (2)
The Chapman's stuck erect penises on child mannequins but it is taken farther in Dino's book of cartoons. One image depicts a sweet, grinning boy sporting a helmet made from a folded newspaper and waving a wooden sword underlaid by another drawing in the style of Philip Guston which shows an arm holding a long serrated blade that seems to stab through the boy's grinning face into another body, spurting blood over the back of the boy's head.
The real evil is that these are propped up by taxpayers money so they go through no artistic struggle in their lives. There is no agony over what to do or how to achieve artistic effects. In fact they do not produce art but devices to break down the public's resistance to child molesting. The McDonald's-themed primitivism of the Chapman Family Collection of sculptures was bought by the Tate for £1.5 million. "I am sure we can do six figures," said Jake. "You look at the pedigree of people on this list - we have got people in there who could sign their knickers and sell them for more than that." (3)
Individuals and organisations can apply to the Arts Council for funding from its own budget or from the Lottery. Arts Council England is the national development agency for encouraging this attack on our civilisation. The selection of those awarded grants is based on prejudice against our traditional standards and values. Public money from the Government and the National Lottery is given to the arts organisations who share their ideology. It is institutionally approved, state art which is meant to destroy not build up. We have had 50 years of this.
Contemporary art is not art but it is a financial asset for the global elites who buy and sell it and run the galleries and arts Councils that manage artistic creativity. It is exhibited by commercial art galleries, private collectors, corporations, publicly funded arts organizations, contemporary art museums or by the artists themselves who are supported by grants, awards and prizes as well as by selling work. These are interlocking and exclusive relationships. Individual members of the elite are highly influential - Charles Saatchi lost a large collection in a fire but few were moved by that; if there had been a fire at the National Gallery the whole nation would have gone into mourning.
There is something disturbed, evil, about the modern artistic imagination which is not formed by higher, spiritual sources.
The art world is independent of public response apart from the childish pleasure they get in shocking people. It is hermetically sealed and separate from the rest of society and finances itself through state and corporate sponsorship. It is like the world depicted in Herman Hesse's Glass Bead Game where an elite of specialists entertain one another through public expense in activities that have no relation to the wider culture.
Some say it has all been done. It does seems like it because we are unable to say what new forms will arise but we can say the way things should move. We can try to point he way. It will require new forms to express certain emotions and feelings like awe, reverence, the sacred, holy, the transcendent – all positive and healthy human feelings.
Some like critic John Berger used to argue that Art had been corrupted by capitalism but even in great periods of art like 16th century Venice or 17th century Holland, a form of capitalism existed.
We must avoid the un-Conservative activity of theorising which - this is about recreating our traditions within which the next generations would practice not theorise. The numinous is a religious experience and differs from ideology and is comparable to the beautiful in aesthetics. Far from being “translated to the skies” we have been dropped into a wasteland without God and without hope just protection from life by state benefits. Moralists lecture about the scroungers on Social Security but these anti-artists are far bigger drains on public funds.
They have no aesthetic qualities nor do they provoke an aesthetic experience but aim to call forth negative emotions. They are mass-produced students from art colleges. The conformity to the taught orthodoxy is evident in conversation with young art students. They all like mainly what they have been taught to like. There is a depressing lack of individual vision.
Traditional art develops within traditional forms and also develops the forms. Real Art grows out of tradition and provides sustenance, spiritual or worldly, for people rather than negative emotions like shock or offence.
Neither context nor a list of reasons make a work art. Art is defined by its intrinsic qualities and the artifice used. That last is: development from nature through human imagination and technical ability. The technical ability must be with the imagination or it is only skill.
My criticism of Banksy is not that his work is on the side of buildings or motorway bridges but that it is surface and has no depth. Because of his fame a street art movement has grown up in his home town of Bristol. I am reluctant to be critical of this but I must make a couple of points. In one of his works on Park Street a man is hanging from the window ledge while an anxious woman and her irate cuckold look out to see the fleeing miscreant. It has been splattered with blue paintballs by a fan of the rival Bristol soccer team to the one Banksy supports. Has our art been reduced to this? Paintballing one another's graffiti? The image is on a wall of a sexual health clinic in Park Street, Bristol. (4)
I walked round the famous home of this street art movement in Stokes Croft. It is certainly exciting and creates a sense of a culture of resistance to outside interference. The area gained international fame in 2011 when mass protests or riots greeted the opening of yet another Tesco Express. The argument is that local people want local shops and local produce.
What I would suggest is that the street art is derivative of the legendary cartoonist of hippy and spaced-out characters, Robert Crum. It seems that they have the task of finding a style and content appropriate for our time.
Nelson Street in Bristol has been brightened up by street art.
Out of the Shadow of God Back into the Light
What then can we do?
We are dominated by ideological thinking which grows from rationalism and everything is tested against theory. However, an art for our time must be developed through practice within a tradition. If the traditions have been destroyed then re-link to the appropriate ones. There must be no more conformity to the specialist the ethos created by journalists and art school tutors but take an independent not to say rebellious approach and eschew the anti-art movement for renewing our deeper artistic traditions.
The idea is to renew or re-link to the important traditions. This is not setting down ineluctable principles to obey but making helpful suggestions.
We can look at the Western course of art as an arc that has decayed into ruinous negativity. That suggests a new starting point, a return to holy and sacred productions. For those who think our civilisation is nearly spent I suggest looking back at the art of its beginnings in the middle-ages. We need to recapture those early feelings of awe in the face of God and life but frame them in a different form for a new age. What the poet Wordsworth described as looking at things with the wonder of a child.
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.
The spiritually uplifting works in the Early Renaissance rooms have themes of rebirth, development and change of consciousness. Virgin and a Child - birth, creation; the Crucifixion, transformation; Transfiguration, a transformation of a man or woman into someone having the aspect of the divine.
Study of our artistic origins in the middle-ages, not to borrow forms, but to cast those early feelings of religious awe and sense of growth into forms appropriate to a new era. Art must allude to a higher reality.
The evil of pornography as art is that it breaks down the barriers to child abuse and that it drives out positive aspects of our lives like the sacred and awe-inspiring.
Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Wassily Kandinsky
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