Page 14 - Studio International - February 1971
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asserting that, after all, comics are FUN.   The American                           who, 15 years ago, was one of a tiny majority in
       The light-hearted approach, of course, cuts                                       the London art world in providing American
     the ground away from any serious critical   juggernaut                              painting with an intelligent and sympathetic
     consideration of comics as popular art by                                           critical reception. I can speak with some
     making such criticism seem ludicrously    Hilton Kramer                             authority in this matter because it was I, as
     academic and ponderous. It also avoids any of                                       editor of an American art journal, who
     the problems raised. by popular art as such: its                                    commissioned and published Mr Heron's
     relationship with fine art, its function within                                     writings on this subject. Mr Heron was then one
     society, the sort of things a popular form can                                      of the very few critics in London from whom on
     and cannot do, its specific qualities and                                           could expect an informed, disinterested,
     limitations. It is only for what they are that                                      aesthetic analysis of painting, American or
     comics are important, and in this context a more                                    otherwise. I considered him then the best art
     serious approach might well have paid                                               critic to have merged in London since Roger
     dividends. Apart from the small section on                                          Fry, and I think his writings of the period (the
     narrative techniques the show does nothing to                                       nineteen-fifties) still make his claim to that
     actually explore comic forms and content. There                                     position unassailable.
     has been minimal research into areas like real                                         When I visited London in 1957, I had the
     circulation figures, syndication, or printing                                       distinct impression that Mr Heron was
     techniques. There is nothing on literacy, age                                       considered by many right-thinking people on
     groups and reading habits, and no attempt to                                        the London art scene as having gone 'a bit
     link changes in the comics with social change.                                      dotty' on the subject of American art, for it
     Apart from a gesture or two there is nothing                                        was not yet the fashion to take American art
     about people's use of and relationship with                                         completely seriously. But all that has changed
     comics, and nothing to follow up Orwell's                                           utterly. Nowadays, of course, he is considered
     phrase, quoted in the catalogue, that 'Probably                                     strange for questioning American dominance.
     the contents of these shops is the best available                                      Mr Heron does not write now with the kind
     indication of what the mass of the English' (and                                    of aesthetic disinterestedness he brought to
     in this context the European and American)                                          criticism in the fifties. His current attack is
     `people really feels and thinks.' Perhaps it is too                                 explicitly political. Yet he is certainly correct in
     much to expect analysis of what this quotation                                      some of the charges he is now making, however
     means, of how popular myths can indirectly or                                       much he may be inclined to overstate them.
     directly affect the way people feel and think, or                                   When he speaks of the 'world-wide
     how they can locate and give expression to real                                     dissemination of scandalously chauvinistic,
     tensions in society--as they undoubtedly can. It                                    inaccurate and insanely inflated opinion as to the
     might even be said that it is not the business of                                   quality, value or stature of every kind of
     an Art Gallery to perform this kind of                                              American art,' we all know very well what he is
     sociological analysis; but without some sort of                                     talking about. And the way some of the younger
     critical basis, some sort of attitude to the                                        British writers on art have fallen into the habit
     material, the exhibition might just as well   An American critic's comment on Patrick Heron's   of abasing themselves before the most dubious
     consist of a poster recommending our nearest   article, ' Two Cultures'.            and trumped-up American reputations has
     Popular Book Store.                                                                 passed in recent years from the realm of social
       It is true that we are given an opportunity to   Under the slightly misleading title of 'Two   comedy into the sphere of cultural pathology.
    see the development of British and American   Cultures,' the well-known English painter and   For British artists working at any distance
     comics and offered a glance at European,   critic Patrick Heron has just published—in the   from American influences or American
     `underground' and 'art' comics and some of   December number of the London art magazine   attachments, the practical consequences of this
     their uses as propaganda; and some of this   Studio International—a virtual declaration of war   uncritical worship of American art have lately
     may be of interest even to those who have   on American art and on American domination   become acute Mr Heron speaks of the
    read the Penguin Book of Comics. Then      of the British art scene. The 'Two Cultures,' in   `increasing American occupation of all the more
     there are the Works by Children, the related   this case, are the New York and London art   prestigious exhibition spaces in London.' Thus,
     works by artists, and the slide and tape show   establishments, and it is Mr Heron's contention   `the height of the summer season of 1969 saw the
     which, with peculiar insensitivity to the medium,   that the latter has thoroughly sold out ot the   Tate the Hayward and the Whitechapel given
     presents the lettered text aurally; but much of   blandishments of the former. Going further, he   over to American or American-dominated
    the space devoted to these delights might have   suggests that certain highly vaunted   exhibitions.' And Mr Heron continues : 'But
     been better used to give greater coverage to the   accomplishments of recent American art   this last summer was even worse. Look up the
    most important works —Li'l Abner's social   actually owe their origin to British artists. He is   score for yourself—unless you can't
    references have been thoroughly explored   ferociously critical of some of the younger   remember, because it already seemed so natural
    elsewhere, for example (and could we have him   reputations in American art—Frank Stella and   to you that American painting or sculpture
    speaking English next time ?) —and to provide   Donald Judd are especially singled out for   should hog the London limelight in May, June,
    comparative material from within comics    demolition—and he is openly bitter about the   July, August each year. And young British
    themselves and from books, films and cartoon   way British critics, particularly the younger   critics now preface their reviews of
    films.                                     critics, have joined the American band wagon,   retrospectives by American artists who are
       Judging by the catalogue, the response to all   denigrating British accomplishments in the   themselves still in their early ios and 4os by
    these criticisms would be that this is only a   process. He dismisses much of the American art   suggesting that they have been a long time
    comics exhibition—it's junk for God's sake, you   that commands such steadfast allegiance among   arriving in London!'
    aren't meant to take it seriously. It is precisely   his compatriots as a 'new American-promoted   `One reason why these critics' vocabularies
    this contempt for the material exhibited that I   international academicism.'        are so dominated by American examples is that
    am complaining about. q                      This attack comes from an artist and critic    London just doesn't get around to showing
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