I do love the sound of a fine rant in the morning. And Bill was up for it.
He had an bone or three to pick with the poncy wassers that dominate our 'art' exhibitions. Bill has not time for cant and flatulence-in-oils. He pokes fun at any falseness, in cartoons. Pretty damned funny cartoons at that.
He is as good as my other favourite cartoonist, Zeg. (I must give him some wall space too one of these days.) But, to Bill and his rant. He took a look at the 'Premier' (well, most popular amongst the farteratti at any rate) art competition in Hillary's Village, The 'Archibald'.
The Archibald brings out the 'portraitists' who choose a subject from amongst the (mainly left-wing) glitterati. The prize is awarded to the best sychophant by the most aclaim-seeking art critics.
The guys in the back room where the paintings are unpacked also get to choose a winner. The two 'winning' paintings are never the same.
So, let it rip, sir.
Archibald hanging offences
When it comes to the Archibald Prize, I’m best known for having lost it, lots of times. When, one day, the definitive history of the Archibald is written, I fear I may warrant a mention in an amusing little chapter called The Biggest Losers.
[Art] exists in a sort of mysterious realm protected by an impenetrable barrier of spin, written in arcane but deeply politically correct language. And no one dares question it for fear of revealing they don’t know what it means.
The spin doctors of art have been very successful at making the world of art an inhospitable place, inhabited only by the cognoscenti and shut off to everyone else.Great paintings are a source of unadulterated aesthetic pleasure… The world is a confusing place, but there’s nothing confusing about the transcendental power of art.
You never hear two people arguing about whether the sunset they’re looking at is beautiful; similarly, you never hear two people looking up at Michelangelo’s ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and arguing about whether that’s beautiful.
Like the glimpse of the universe you get when you look at the sunset, the Sistine Chapel ceiling has the capacity to take your breath away. To make you go weak at the knees. To swoon.
You’ll swoon, too, if you go to the Frick Collection in New York and stand in front of a painting Turner did in 1826 of a boat arriving in Cologne…
The mistake many people make is to make it complicated.
Instead of experiencing paintings, many people try to read them. Picasso, whose work has been subjected to more interpretations and explanations than just about any other artist, once said: “People always want to know what a painting means. Why don’t they want to know the meaning of the song of a bird?”
The trouble is, of course, we’re all being told that’s how we should approach paintings by highly qualified and internationally acclaimed art historians and academics.
Standing in the middle of the Simpson Desert and looking into the clear night sky is the sort of visual experience that can give you a sense of the numinous, to put you in direct contact with something too awe-inspiring to even begin to understand.
Standing in front of great paintings can be overwhelming, too. Looking at great works of art and wondering how they were created is like looking at the night sky and wondering how all the stars got there.
The difference, of course, is you know what you’re looking at was not created by an unimaginable God but by an almost — but perhaps not quite — imaginable human being.
There are plenty of academics and art historians who find it impossible to believe anyone could exist whose genius makes them seem rather dull by comparison.
You wouldn’t want to argue with a bloke with a title such as the Charlotte C. Weber professor of art at Wake Forest University, North Carolina, David Lubin, BA, MA, PhD, now would you? He’s written more books and articles on art than I’ve had abusive letters from people who don’t think my cartoons are funny.
So, when he looks at a beautiful group portrait painted in 1882 by John Singer Sargent called The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit he doesn’t see four attractive young girls at home in a very comfortable Paris apartment like the rest of us. He sees “an unhappy psychodrama fraught with exploitation, anxiety and tension”.
Sargent, bless him, thought he was simply painting portraits.
Instead, according to Lubin, “Portraiture was an acting out in sublimated form of the artist’s own sexuality. It was a means of declaring the otherwise indeclarable, a method of externalising and temporarily reconciling that highly unstable, even volatile, sexual difference that was felt within but not understood."…
After a break of 10 years from attending the Archibald exhibition I was hoping this year to see portraits that would make me feel positive about it and what it says about the state of art in Australia today.
I am genuinely sorry it did not.
The trustees want to make sure there’s something for everyone who visits the show, so they throw in a smattering of paintings such as Peter Churcher’s exquisite portrait of his mother Betty and Robert “Alfie” Hannaford’s beautifully painted self-portrait as a sort of sop to boring old farts like me who think the artist’s statement is the one written in paint, not in the list of instructions next to it.You might be forgiven for thinking Kim Leutwyler’s painting Start the Riot is just a portrait of a woman called Ollie Henderson if you didn’t read the accompanying notes that tell you that it is, in fact, an emphatic statement about “the fluidities and complexities of sexual identity” and “the unrealistic modification of images that set unattainable standards of beauty”. It’s not a painting, it’s a teaching aid, and Leutwyler painted it because you need to be taught a lesson.You can also learn a thing or two if you read the notes first and then look at Tim Gregory’s Self-portrait as Ancestors. To ensure you have an educational, as distinct from a transcendental, experience when you see it you have to know that “white painters (particularly male painters) in Australia, and the white population more broadly, cannot contribute in any significant way to cultural, political or social evolution until we acknowledge that we arestill a colonial country, absurdly and violently layered on top of the world’s oldest, continuous culture”.
There you go. You’re a white supremacist and you should be ashamed of yourself because Gregory, who lectures in art at the University of NSW’s school of art and design and whose research focus is the spatio-political potential of pornography, says so.
As for Nigel Milsom’s winning portrait, I’m sure if I saw it anywhere other than in the context of the Archibald Prize I’d just think it was a really great painting and a damned good portrait of lawyer Charles Waterstreet.
The trouble is, in the context of the Archibald Prize it becomes something else.
It becomes a statement spoken in a loud voice by the trustees of the gallery, who want you to know that they know you know the artist, Milsom, may have been jailed for bashing up a shopkeeper and robbing his convenience store in Sydney’s Glebe a few years ago, but they’re going to award the Archibald Prize to him anyway.
That way, you see, they can demonstrate not only how compassionate they are but they can show you how transgressive they are, too.
They want to be seen as anarchic and progressive, the type who are willing to “push the boundaries”.
'Nuff said. I cannot find anything to disagree with there, and you know me by now. I can disgree with the Pope on a sunny day with the wind behind me.I’d bet that if Milsom had gone to all the trouble of getting diagnosed with depression, getting a drug habit and getting caught knocking off a convenience store and then turned up with a portrait of Piers Akerman or Andrew Bolt he wouldn’t have got a look-in.
Take care Bill. The Lefti-Ignorranti will be after you. But then you are used to that. Truth is on your side.