Page 16 - Studio International - March 1966
P. 16

The Democratization of Art

      Comment by Jasia Reichardt

     Since the late 1950's it has been particularly   When the process of source transformation   anyone from adapting to his own use what he
     noticeable that art movements have tended   was completed on the London scene with   sees around him. No amount of copyright
     to make what could be best described as    JOE TILSON'S hoarding advertisement for   regulations could actually prevent a fabrio
      `instant history'. The general awareness of   Gordon's Gin in Piccadilly Circus, Pop art, it   designer from making use of a print by
      Pop art and Op art, for instance, is most   seemed, reached its logical conclusion; it   VASARELY for a fabric if one or two forms or
      unlikely to have been due to the cumulative   assumed in its outer form the very essence of   one or two colours were altered. It would
      effect of direct experience of either of these   what was generally accepted as being its   seem that to succeed in holding an Op art
      trends, i.e. the confrontation with the paint-  source or point of departure—an item of mass   show without encountering one's paintings
      ings themselves. The widespread notoriety of   media. One could say that the development   in the form of dress patterns on the day of
      these movements has been put down to the   which brought about the popularization of   opening would mean painting in secret,
      fact that we no longer speculate on the   Pop was the facility with which the news   delivering the pictures in crates, and doing the
      validity of new art forms but accept them   about its progress could be charted in the   hanging with blinds firmly drawn.
      wholesale, uncritically, and with an appetite   press, including cultural weeklies, fashion   The abuse of the artist's intent, and the
      that could readily turn any new manifestation   magazines and newspapers, not to mention   misconstruction of his pictorial ideas which
      into a fashionable one. It seems that the only   the art trade press. Pop art was the first art   firmly belong within the confines of pictorial
      difference between something new and      movement to develop social associations with   relationships, is the negative aspect of the
      something fashionable is the speed with   the worlds of Pop music, Pop fashion and Pop   democratization of an art idiom. Where the
      which its impact penetrates through to the   movies, and seemed to be given comparable   permission of the artist is not specifically
      popular press.                            publicity treatment.                      obtained, no matter how marvellous the
       Needless to say, this has little or nothing to   The democratization of art in which Pop   result, the adaptation of someone's ideas to
      do with the intention of the artist himself, or   played such a prominent part assumed rather   another field is difficult to excuse. If this
      indeed with the profundity, or lack of it, of   a different form with Op art. The term was   problem does not arise, however, there is no
      the actual works. The extraordinary develop-  first used as a title for an article in Life   doubt that where the artist's imagination and
      ment which has made Pop and Op into       Magazine in December 1964, two months     use of imagery is allowed to penetrate into the
      household names is not actually due, as one   before the Responsive Eye exhibition at the   vast sphere of commerce and consumer
      might imagine, to the lightning acceptance—  Museum of Modern Art in New York. As in   goods, the results are likely to be very
      on the part of the art consumer (those    the case of Pop, it was a term adopted, not   positive. A tray with a design by Vasarely,
      involved and interested) or the general public   by the artists involved with making optical   scarves with designs by Max Bill and
      —of anything that is new or strange, but to an   paintings, but by a journalist.    Capogrossi, the black and white Op mugs
      extraordinary process of democratization of   Long before the opening of the Responsive   from the `Britain can make it' exhibition at
      certain types of art which seem to lend   Eye show, fabrics with designs taken directly   Woollands, are extremely attractive objects.
      themselves to exploitation in other fields.   from Op paintings by BRIDGET RILEY and   It would be a pity to be so dogmatic about
       With Pop art, which was already being    JEFFREY STEELE (and without consultation   the function of art as to prevent it from
      pronounced 'dead' in favour of Op 18 months   with the artists involved) were manufactured   becoming functional in other spheres.
      ago, the basis of its vogue was involved with   in America. The opening of the exhibition   On my wall hangs a pair of Mondrian pants
      the feed-back situation between Mass media   was graced by at least as many Op art   with suspenders. The colours are fairly
      and the art object. Most Pop paintings were   garments on the visitors as Op art paintings   accurate, although the inclusion of a small
      idiosyncratic and imaginative expositions of   on the walls. If the term Op is used widely   black bow at the top and a label with POP
      those banal and common images and ideas   today it has nothing to do with the critical   PANTS in bold lettering seem to suggest that
      which are not only accessible to every film-  articles written about the paintings them-  the manufacturer did not seem to have much
      goer, city-dweller, Tv addict, and consumer   selves, but with the extensive variety of Op   of an idea as to what sort of sources he was
      of manufactured goods, but which constitute   art fabrics sold in the shops without so much   using. The garment is two things simultan-
      a sort of permanent unprovoked barrage of   as a subdued reference to the original creators   eously—a. nothing less than a crude travesty,
      information on our minds and senses. Pop   of the image. Whereas the popularization of   and b. a rather marvellous amusing object.
      art, at last, gave every journalist the   Pop was not involved with any problems of   Somehow one is bound to have an ambivalent
      possibility of relating art to life in terms that   morality, the extensive abuse of an artist's   attitude to any item that is based on
      could be generally understood. Since Pop   original idea through its free adaptation to   vulgarization, misunderstanding, misappro-
     art deals with narrative with a bias towards   consumer goods puts Op art into a very   priateness, naivety and complete indulgence.
      mass media, it was a gift to anyone wishing to   ambiguous position.                 The democratization of art assumes many
      put pen to paper in defence of art.        There is nothing that can be done to prevent    other forms—some infinitely more acceptable

      Contributors to this issue

      Jasia Reichardt, who contributes a monthly Com-  Bryan Robertson, director of the Whitechapel Art   Charles S. Spencer writes on art for several journals
      ment to Studio International,  is assistant director of   Gallery, is completing a monograph on Robert   and reports on art in Britain for the New York Times.
      the Institute of Contemporary Arts.       Motherwell. His article is drawn from a notebook,
                                                begun in 1963, on the American painter.   Robert Hughes is an Australian critic and writer who
     The critic J. P. Hodin, who writes on Kokoschka's   The Whitechapel Gallery is holding a retrospective   divides his time between England and Italy. He
      graphic work, has been a close friend of the artist   exhibition of Robert Motherwell's paintings from   writes for the Sunday Times  and various journals,
     for many years. His book,  Oskar Kokoschka, the   March 16 to March 17.              and frequently takes part in radio and television
     Artist and his Time: a biographical study, is due to be                              programmes on the arts.
     published this October.

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