Painting Blog > Artist-Art > Poetic integrity

Poetic integrity

Originally posted on March, 13, 2009

It has never failed to amaze me how we become stuck in our ruts. Most of us change slowly if ever. I’ve done a fair amount of travelling. And at one time I was inclined to talk to many people. Numerous times I’ve found people living close to a scenic wonder they have never seen. When I say close that could be Montana where people are found who have not been to Glacier National Park. I kid you not. I found several people in Montana who had not been to this mind blowing natural splendor.

The point I want to make requires a strong qualification. I lived in the US most of my life. I’ve been living in France 15 years. One of the first things I observed in French people was a natural or genetic interest in art and painting. I was flabbergasted. Here there is much more apparent interest in painting than in the US, much more. Notice that I said apparent! The interest I fear is somewhat superficial. I have found many who knew very little about the history of art in France. Many were not familiar with the names of major French painters of the recent past. And these individuals are actively engaged in the arts.

Let us take a glance back to before the First World War. The integrity of the French painters was intact. You have innovation along with a tradition. After the war the School of Paris managed to install itself as the only paradigm. It becomes the only game in town. Today, this spirit continues in France although there are cracks in the façade. Its influence on art in the world at large outside France is near zero. Quite a radical turn of events when you think about it! What could have possibly happened to bring this about?

The questions from this point quickly multiply. Answers are in short supply. The balance, in any case, between poetic and literal expression was lost.

A painting does not begin with an idea. If it does I believed the artist has lost his way. If a painting is to be successful it becomes an object: a work of art that create experience. Ideas come into play as a result or a by product of that experience.

If a painting conveys immediate experience there is a huge hole in the modernist theory that form is content. I have written on these pages that there is NO content. Just experience! And after that initial experience we have ideas as to its meaning which may or may not have occurred to the artist.

So what happened? I think that in the aftermath of the horror of the war we find pundits establishing the modern day equivalent of the Academy. Along with that we have the professionalization of the art, with that the ideal that the creative person was an active moral force in society was lost. Before this there was a certain respect for someone dedicating their life to artistic production. What followed was a withdrawal of that respect. Degrees and “official” recognition become necessary for survival. Respect is no longer possible.

Coming back to what I said. I said that this apparent interest was superficial. I believe that along with the professionalization of the arts you also lose something in society. Most in our society become twice removed from the reading and the experiencing of poetic expression. It is somewhat ironic that in the US this professionalization took place only within the last 30 or 40 years. How this will play out is anyone’s guess. I’m encouraged by the vitality I see in some young painters. Can they keep it up? It is not easy in today’s social climate.

What is my point? I guess I’m being my provocative self. The artist today is entering a precarious economic situation if he or she is not an established artist. Along with this challenge is a big, big caveat. There is unprecedented potential for real creative change at both the aesthetic and as a consequence the social level.

Published in french as Integrité poétique

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