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An email conversation with Peter V. about art

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I had mentioned to the writer Peter V. that I thought a great deal of art (high art, elite art) had become a strangely conventional form of following a kind of fashion: the new aesthetics, ‘spectacularisation’, existential fed-up-ness etc. …). I said that I was inclined to avoid this; after all, as Musashi had long ago stated: ‘Do not act following customary beliefs.

Peter replied in January 2020 by email. Here is his message:

Dear Rob – here are my ‘rules of art’:

1 There are no rules
2 Don’t join a school – be one
3 Paint what you see
4 Every picture tells a story
5 The picture will tell the artist when the work is finished …

… and do keep in mind Musashi’s rules:

7 Perceive those things that cannot be seen
8 Pay attention even to trifles
9 Do nothing which is of no use

All the best,
Peter

I thought about his comments; I thought that they were very stimulating  – and I started to put together my work on magical realism. I replied, by email, to Peter on 8 February 2020 as follows:

Hello Peter,

The storm is lurking. At least we have had a few lovely days full of sunshine and the blessing of a fine crisp morning air.

I suppose my main news is the ongoing experience of the MA. I don’t regret doing it and I am surprised at how generous the resources at UCA really are. For example, the technical tutors made huge plinths for me as well as shelves and supplied the paint for my recent show on ‘Intimate narratives‘ – all at no cost. The screen-print tutors have been on hand to help me or to give me advice throughout the last 3 full days – and the facilities for giving a presentation and lecture on the day of our recent symposium were and are superb (as was the venue.)

I have also been struck by the nature of the younger students that I have met; they are studying subjects like illustration or textiles or animation and they are surprisingly positive and agreeable. Often they smile – and are even willing to engage with an old chap like me! There is a good mix of nationalities and ethnicities and, in the very large majority of cases, the students work hard – and in a very focused way. I am pleased, now, to be aware of the processes that generate the people who work in the creative industries – graphic design, illustration, product design, fashion, animation, computer games, ceramics, glass, pottery, and all manner of 3D work.

Fine Art (my domain) now occupies a rather strange place; since all the other fields produce highly skilled, very effective technical outputs (for example, the illustrators produce better (well, more polished) figurative stuff than the Fine Art artists) the only thriving refuge for Fine Art is in expressions of the weird, wonderful, bizarre, unexpected, spectacular, plain odd, recondite or esoteric. There is some room for expressing intellectual ideas as well as personal phantasies. (I like the last two areas.) It is as if the Fine Artist follows an idea or concern and then finds a quirky or allusive way of ‘showing’ and expressing it. There is also space for a kind of ‘howl’ or ‘moan’ about life … as there is for grappling with that which is taboo.

So, it has been testing, demanding and exhilarating. I am now making a piece called: ‘Magical realism: last night I dreamed of shooting Lawrence of Arabia.’

Could I make it as an artist? Possibly yes. My interim shows have given me some hope! Would I be well-equipped to participate and thrive in the Fine Art world? Probably not! (I might have been a successful player if I had been under the age of 45 or so.) But anyway, that’s not why I am doing the course.

Well, as usual, thank you for your generous support and pithy trenchant comments,

with very best wishes,

R

Footnote: The photo above shows a segment of my work concerning a portrayal of Celia, the young Taiwanese woman; the photo below shows part of my ‘semi-random biographies’ that was shown in the ‘Intimate narratives’ group show.

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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Yay to you for giving it a go! I’m rooting for you to make it in the art world. I think art has always followed other trends or fashions; one artist’s inspiration, inspires emulation by other artists. In other times patrons would pay for paintings in a certain style, to show wealth and status. It’s all fashion of a sort, i think.

    February 9, 2020
    • Hello Beryls … Thank you for your generous support. Yes – I do agree with you: there is no escape from the aesthetic frameworks of the day (in other words, from ‘fashion.’) I think my concern is that perhaps too much of the art-world art is trying to be loud and showy and noticeable – and perhaps too many installations are so obscure that they become meaningless. Sometimes I think that the rather exclusive discourse that is used in the art world is unnecessarily pretentious. I also agree with you that artists stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before – and I am no exception! with best wishes, Robert

      February 9, 2020
  2. Dear Rob Well done I prefer to communicate this way rather than by WordPress Please use and re-use my comments as you see fit. In a botched wordpress comment, I sought to compare “fine” art and photography, on the assumptions that photography might make some forms of art redundant. This has not occurred, and indeed there are varieties of photography which shade into art. I remember that Tom Nebbia, a renowned National Geographic photographer, was accused by the magazine’s bemused editorial team of becoming artistic. Was he upset? I don’t think so. I further attempted to compare classical ballet, as an art, with figure skating on ice, and argued that classical ballet is in danger of becoming redundant, since its esoteric and hard to acquire skills are and must be the province of the few. (Whereas skating skills may perhaps take less time to acquire, and the results are immediately appreciated by the hoi polloi.) Here again I am sure to be wrong. Classical ballet will survive as an art form, linked to the need for culture to survive, if only as an economic outlet (and perhaps an area for the Slav personality to express itself.) Dancing on ice, on the other hand, leaves us the splendid delight of the anticipation of a really spectacular crash, and perhaps has something in common with a sport like speedway! Trepidatiously Peter Am I making sense? Not really.

    February 10, 2020
  3. Dear Peter,
    Thank you for your super reply. In fact, running alongside our MA in Fine Art is an MA in photography and we share some sessions in module on ‘critical perspectives.’ There are some very good chapters in T. Gracyk’s ‘The philosophy of art’ which helps to identify (if not solve) questions about ‘Fine’ art and photography. For example, in one, he deals with questions about the categories of existence (or being) – in other words, questions of ontology – that apply to different ‘types’ of art: It is possible to argue that since a photograph can survive even if the first or all prints of one is/are destroyed (because there is a template from which it can be endlessly reproduced), destroying something like Rembrandt’s ‘The night watch’ would mean the unique object is gone forever. There are other arguments, too, about the transparent relationship between the photo and the thing photographed which does not apply to Fine Art. Over and above this – works of art are ‘bearers of meaning’ and it is likely that a work in Fine Art bears an intrinsically different meaning to the work manifested in a photograph.
    I imagine that the distinction will be sustained. But who knows?
    With best wishes,
    Rob

    February 10, 2020

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