Page 17 - Studio International - September 1965
P. 17


                                  Are  the  days  of  abstract  art  numbered?  Sir  John  must have been apparent to any one of discriminating
                                   Rothenstein. a former  Director of the Tate Gallery who  intelligence,  namely,  that  the  good  is  good  in  any
                                  therefore  speaks  with  a  wealth  of  experience  behind  context  and  that  figurative art is  bad  usually  because
                                   him.  has  publicly  declared  himself  as  believing  that  of  its  dissipation  of  pictorial  motives  across  a  canvas
                                   this  is  so.  for  two  reasons:  one.  that  human  beings  that  tries  to  be  too  many  things  to  too  many  people
                                   demanded that art should make  some communication  at once.  whereas abstract art is generally a concentra­
                                   about themselves and the human condition generally;  tion of  means upon one wave length.  as it were.  and
                                   and two, that abstract art appeared to rest on the flimsy  if it fails upon this selection it fails on all counts.
                                   philosophical  assumption  that  there  was  some  true   The  'flimsy·  philosophical  assumption  to  which
                                  reality behind  appearance  which  only the artist could   Rothenstein  refers  is  no  less  than  the  truth.  The
                                   portray.                                          'reality' behind 'appearance· is something that only the
                                    There  are.  however.  more  than  two  reasons  for  artist can reveal; he does not 'portray' it. Turner did not
                                   believing that Sir John is wrong and the first of them is  portray nature in his scenes of clouds and seas. so much
                                   paradoxically enough the same reason that he cites so  as identify its essence in the form of paint and colour;
                                   confidently,  namely,  human  nature.  Not,  it  must  be  by  his very abstraction  of nature he set the course  of
                                   said.  the  human  nature  of  the  patron.  the  museum  many modern artists in whom it is easy to spot parallels
                                   trustee, the collector. whom it is assumed the eminent  from  Kandinsky to  Jackson  Pollock.  neither  of whom
                                   speaker  was  considering.  For  this  nebulous  person.   it is safe to say would have been offended by the com­
                                   this  largely  non-existent  being,  exerts  only  a  passive  parison. The idea that all art begins from a drawing of
                                   influence  on  the  art  of  our  time  in  the  sense  that  no  a given scene is so outdated that even the landscapists
                                   really outstanding artist in the world is listening to his  of the bigger artists' societies would seem to be losing
                                   wishes.  his  ideas.  his  expressed taste.  Artists  are  the  their confidence in it.
                                  deciding factor in art. now and always; if art changes   Probably the greatest figurative painter in the world
                                   it  is  because  artists  change.  None  who  was  of  any  today  is  Francis  Bacon  and  it  is  a  fact  that  his  great
                                   account ever delivered a good painting or a  sculpture  popularity  with  young  painters  everywhere  is  not
                                   as  a  result  of  a  specification  given  him  by  a  patron  because of his basic figurative qualities but because he
                                   except  in  the  sense  of  a  general  theme  in  an  area  to  uses  paint  in  a  fashion  that  is  fully  personal  and
                                   be covered by paint or in an architectural setting to be  expressive.  But  Bacon  is  inimitable  as  van  Gogh  is
                                   filled by a sculpture.                            inimitable.  as  Munch  was  inimitable.  These  artists
                                    And the signs of the times as they can be read. though  painted  as  they  did  not  because  they  believed  the
                                   Sir John might differ, are that artists far from becoming  human race was demanding that they should reflect its
                                   bored  with  abstract  art  are  developing  into  channels  fascination  with  itself  but  because  they  had  to  tell
                                   that  leave  conventional  materials  and  formats  far  themselves  what they saw and felt about life through
                                   behind.  Kinetics is a field of activity that in the past few  the medium of paint.  Art is a soliloquy. the spectator is
                                   years  has  gained  enormous  ground;  one  gallery  in  an  eavesdropper-and  his fascination is  fortuitous.
                                   London  alone  is  almost  exclusively  devoted  to  it.   Far  from  the  days  of  abstract  art  being  numbered,
                                   Optical  art  with  derivations  from  patterns  that  owe  it is just possible that abstract art is beginning to break
                                   more than a little to the designs of Art  Nouveau is not  through the resistance it has endured for roughly  fifty
                                   a spent force; having had its popularity in  London and  years.  Abstract  expressionism  with  its  excesses  has
                                   New York. it has yet to gain support in Paris and Milan  passed its peak in the U.S.A. and the newer abstractions
                                   where it inevitably  will.  Pop art is not really a  mature  of  artists  such  as  Frank  Stella.  Ellsworthy  Kelly  and
                                   flowering that can be hailed as a return to realism.   others  are  not  assuming  to  find  a  reality  behind
                                    In  Sir John  Rothenstein's speech to the audience of  appearance  but  to  create  reality  itself  with  a  new
                                   an  English-Speaking  Union  course  at  Oxford.  he  appearance. What the artist today is creating above all
                                   maintained that human beings were too fascinated by  is  not  a  representation  of  appearance  but  something
                                   themselves.  their lives and the world to be indefinitely  with an appearance that is of itself. of paint. of canvas.
                                   satisfied  by  an  art  that  could  not  make  any  precise  and  as  such assuming  an  identity that is  not allusive.
                                   communication  about  these  enthralling  subjects.  But   If history teaches  us anything  it  is to try  to avoid the
                                   confusion could here arise from the acceptance of art  succession  of  events  that  have  created  history;  for
                                   as a static vehicle of  expression.  It is a commonplace  human history in general is the remembrance book of
                                   that the most modern art of all is in the cinema and for  misfortune.  Artists  today,  replete  with  art  history,  see
                                   the  human  beings  who  require  the  satisfaction  that  staleness in expired mannerisms-this explains today's
                                   Sir John Rothenstein describes a visit to a cinema could  'personalisms·  that  the  artist  himself  will  change  for
                                   provide it.  But the existence of the cinema has by itself  himself tomorrow and thus achieve rebirth by suicide.
                                   removed from the orbit of the artist a  sphere he is no  And  abstract  art  would  seem  to  be  the  only  way  of
                                   longer interested to operate in.                  creative  hara-kari.  Any  artist.  however.  who  can  find
                                    If the arts of painting and sculpture were to be entering  a  new  way  of  presenting  reality  without  abstraction
                                   a phase of disenchantment with abstraction.  the signs  and  without  dullness  will  be  welcome-and  to many
                                  would have been present long since in some quantity.   people.                                    ■
                                   The fact that there is a lessening of quality in abstract
                                  art should  not be  held to imply that  inversely  it must
                                  mean a strengthening in the figurative side.  For certain
                                  people  abstract  art  has  never  been  of  much  account
                                  and  for  them.  if  their  standards  are  high,  neither  has
                                  been  much modern figurative art.  In  this  year's  Royal
                                  Academy Summer  Exhibition. a large abstract painting
           Studio  International
           Volume  CLXX  No.  869   by  Sandra  Blow  hung  in  Gallery  Ill,  traditionally  the
           September,  1965       most important.  Its  presence asserted the truth  which
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