Those are questions asked by the artist in the illustrated poem – PALIA HORA – which is Greek for Old Capital City (or town). Palia Hora of Aegina island once was the home of the entire island. It was in the centre of the island and afforded (and still affords) magnificent views over the entire Saronic Gulf – which was it’s downfall, as the inhabitants turned to piracy – and the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire ordered his General (Barrabus) to destroy the town and kill all its people – as a matter of a lesson to all – The Greek people built the town over a thousand years – and each important family had their own Chapel to worship God (Greek Orthodox) . Barrabus – (who mother was Greek) however left 32 chapels standing in remembrance of his brother (who died at the early age of 32) and out of respect for his mother. Today the Chapels have been restored (respectfully) by the Greek Church and visitors can now see murals in the chapels from the 12th to the 15th century by master Greek painters whose names have faded with time.
I strayed across an interesting old video on You Tube. It was was on those that you find popping up on a feed after you have watched something similar, which is annoying. But, it got me thinking about the relationship between Artistic freedom and Modern Religious Art. This particular You Tube discussion, come lecture, come educational piece, was presented by a line up of tenured academics and young post graduate teachers.
The panel argued how Contemporary Art institutions reacted negatively to work that was based in some sort of religious subject.The discussion started after an initial lecture by one of the Academics, David Thyrell. So began two hours of surprising statements, amusing quotes, some fairly logical reasoning, heart felt speeches and many contradictions from an art academic viewpoint.
Thyrell reckoned that… “Only Art that is critical of (western) religion of faith is acceptable as Contemporary Art. And all other art that could be read as religious, is translated to one of a post minimalistic view.” (And)…”that all references to faith and religion is edited out at source”. (And)…”the contemporary Art world does not seek any debate on this form of art because they see it as non-progressive, as propagandistic and not supportive of an advancing culture or indeed, enlightening mankind for the new centuries ahead of us.”Thyrell spoke with passion and summed up his lecture by stating…”it seems, that religious work that is non-specific, for example, non-stated religious, ambiguous or totally abstracted with very loose associations, are acceptable as Contemporary Art. Providing the images are not from a Judeo Christian slant. However, the tribal, the Asiatic or the cultism subjects are OK.“
Judaeo-Christian made up the bulk of the audience (note: it was held at a Roman Catholic University) I guessed they must have been appalled by the status-quo of the implied bigotry against religious art levelled against the- ‘Artists of Faith’ – as they call themselves. For me personally, there is no need to be religious specific to appreciate (or create) Art that is good, even if that Art owns its very existence to institutions of any religion persuasion who sponsored it, or indeed created by an artist that holds a particular belief system or faith.
Good Art is what floats my boat, I don’t care who or why or for whom it was created for.
As for the rest of the Art that floods the web and the mass media art reviews, much of that Art that personally I find sort of shallow, egoistically based, trendy or with intellectual invested admiration intentions, I simply pass quickly by, metaphorically speaking, without so much as a cursory thought. For me to be anguished by an Art as the above, only goes to validate it as important to human cultural advancement, which I think it is not.
Most artists, (those I do know personally), when looking at a work of art that could be deemed as ‘Religious’, tend to ignore the possible original intended propaganda or dogma of it, but rather they concentrate on the pure magic of the Art work in front of them. For example some the work of by Pontormo and El Grego, to mention only two (religious) painters of the far distant past, whose work I greatly admire and gain much from. After a while I began to feel that the lecture, come debate, was myopic, but Thyrell’s argument did instigate an examination of my own thoughts on the subject of Modern Art & Freedom of Creation and Modern Religious beliefs in our, so called, multi-sectarian developed Western societies.
If a contemporary artist can go beyond an intellectual subject matter and demonstrate a visual power conducted via an innermost and deeply held belief, then surely that is still a vital and sustainable contemporary Art, is it not? No matter what religion the creator of that art subscribes too, or not as the case maybe. After all, isn’t atheism a brand of religion by another name?
If we look closer to our own time, rather than the centuries when the Church and Monarchies of Rome and Spain dominated major art commissions, say from the early and middle centuries, we can find a new sort of religious art. Malevich, Kandinsky, Mondrian and the like studied theosophy and talked of a ‘spiritual’ art. Pollock, used the practises of the the Indian Sand Painters, which involved connection with ancestors souls or spirits. Rothko and the gang of colour field painters also spoke of mediative involvement and introspection. Are all those artworks a form of religion? If you have ever visited the Rothko ‘Chapel’ in Texas, you’ll know what I am talking about. And what of Chagall. Are his paintings nothing more than illustrated nostalgia based on childhood memories of stories taken from the Old Testament? Or let’s take Vincent Van Gough, was not his paintings a projection of the love of nature reinterpreted through his own deep seated belief in a universal God? How about Agnes Martin or Sam Francis, each with a Buddhist inclination for transcendentalism or meditation. Is that not religious Art ?
In the early 20th century the word nihilistic art was being brandished about to describe the work of the Futurist (Italy), whose dogma was Machines and War to cleanse society and shock it out of it’s perceived malaise [of the time]. The Dada movement used the same framework with banal poetry, non-sensical drama and outlandish visual presentations [to hide away from and in reaction to the horrors of World War One]. Again, the essence here is that the Dada movement believed in something – however abstract that was – rather than nothing. And this obtuse oddity of their belief carried on manifesting itself decades later as the impatience of post-modernist [young] artists and the ambitious driven post-post modernists, and the current belief that ‘selling art, means that it must be good ‘Art’ – And made by a succesful artist (rounds of applause by living painters, can be heard here on instagram and facebook) which where I guess we find ourselves in today’s visual art world.
Though, just maybe the web is changing the ground rules. I don’t know about you, but when I view art on the web, I find more and more of it has a growing and obvious ‘belief-structure’ of some kind behind it. And much of it is good Art, mostly created by ‘unknowns’. Sure, there is still that twee stuff and the obvious bash it out to sell it for financial gain ‘ hamburger art’, not forgetting the overly academic art whitterings of art professors and so called art intellectuals who try to convince the audiences in the cities of the world, that this piece of stuff or that offerings of purely conceptual ideas, is great progressive Art (and not just simply a novel or good idea). After all it does put a high monetary value sticker on it, provided it is accompanied by the obligatory academic recommendations, especially if the Art has the blessings of Art Directors of state run institutions.
So, do Artists have total freedom to create what Art they want? Maybe not entirely, if you agree with David Thyrell in the You Tube video I mentioned earlier. Is Religious Art (in all it’s manifestations) making a comeback? The Zeitgeist signs suggests it may well be, but not in the ‘normal’ sense of the word. In this world of the politics of infusing the inhabitants with psychological terror, global climate change fear, mega disaster predictions, the accelerating greed for money and power, irresponsible political leaders and not forgetting the inhumanity to humanity we witness daily, a world that we live in today (and perhaps always have). Maybe it’s not such a bad ambition for visual artists to ascend to a higher level and start to transmit messages of hope. And if you’ll pardon the religious, (come 1960’s hippy reference and of course the Artist known as John Lennon) visual art messages of Love and Peace, for all who reside on this tiny insignificant planet tucked away in the corner the limitless time and space of the universe.
As David Byrne once wrote,
“Heaven is a place, where Nothing ever happens.”
So, now I have to gather my courage and meander slowly to my studio, where another blank space awaits. I wonder what will appear? I guess I just have to have faith that something of real artistic value will show itself, maybe even holding the restorative creative power of the universe itself ?
One never knows, that’s one reason to be an Artist, isn’t it?
©2018/2019 written by Denis Taylor, Artist and Editor of painters Tubes magazine
…way back in 1986, I decided to become a full time artist (painter). At least painting full time when it was possible. My self imposed rule #1 – was “to live for Art, and not live off Art.” – which sort of boxed me in, as I still needed to earn a living. This I did by working in a variety of jobs, writing articles and catalogues and selling the occasional canvas to interested parties, or taking on commissions, but only when someone asked me.
Somehow, years later, I found myself ensconced on island called Aegina. The island is close to Piraeus (19 kilometers) and thus Athens, where I could buy (piecemeal) oil paint, when I had the money, for Art supplies that is. It was here that I confronted the age old enemy of creatives – Ego – And it was here that I defeated it, albeit with the help of an invisible helping hand, which many people call their God. Unlike my home in Northern Europe, the Greek belief system was strong, and it would be unnatural for any creative not to absorb the atmosphere that surrounds them. The outcome was work which, up to then, I had never envisaged painting. This was linked to an incident, one that is too long to explain here, but let me just say, a miracle occurred that saved my life.
Time passed and my collection of paintings grew. Eventually I met my future wife, on another island, where I had accepted a commission to paint ‘Walls’ for a Greek friend who was setting up a ‘Rock and Roll cafe on Anti-Paros, a very small island in the Cyclandic’s. This chance meeting led to a Gallery exhibition in Stockholm (1995) and another one in the same year, before I knew where I was I had several shows, created a ‘radical’ group of mixed media Artists and curated, designed and participated in three major exhibitions, one of which was a commissioned [non paying] job for the Swedish Government Estonia Trust Fund and the International Support Group, that one took over four years to complete [sic: Heart 2 Art- Stockholm January 2002]. And all the time, keeping to my #1 artists rule, I was earning a living doing other things [in the UK] remotely or directly.
Almost twenty years later, and now an artist in the Grey hair sector, I and my wife could scrape together enough time and money to spend a month on Aegina [July 2018]. And, as luck would have it, we were able to take my ‘Greek-Niece’ up on her kind offer to stay at her family home – which just happens to be above my old studio from all those decades ago. Hence the ‘time travel’ headline of this post.
The studio had not been lived in or attended to for some years (my niece no longer lives there) And nature had began to take the place over. I resolved to spend the cooler mornings and late evenings bringing the place into ship shape. Mainly because I couldn’t bare to see it in that condition, and I wanted to ‘feel’ what I felt when I was a much younger artist, how I’d grown and developed in comparison, which was insightful. I recalled every single canvas I had painted there, in that place, the struggles, the ecstasy of a breakthrough and the disappointment of failure. I remembered the people, those characters who became more than close friends, now most of them, passed to the other side. At the back of the house I found my white plastic chair, and another for visitors, who would sit with me to discuss the painting I would have been currently working on.
I was time travelling, inside my mind, as I doggedly swept and moped, and swept and moped again and fought the weeds that had embedded themselves in ever crack and cranny. My human form bled salty water from every pore in its body, to cool itself down, but my mind was far to busy ‘travelling back in time’ to take any heed or warning to rest up and drink water.
At the end of all this, my voyage ended with a realisation of what I had actually achieved in Art per se, despite my rule #1, or because of it – And a truly personal sadness, that I could not share with them, that their high expectations, ones they were convinced that I could achieve in Art, had been.
So, ‘Time Travel’ is not easy – for many reasons – but I am sure it’s a trip everyone takes at some point in their life, the good, the bad, the tears the happiness. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
posted and written by Denis Taylor. Artist and Writer.
Weltgeist is a German word that describes a sort of world spirit, perhaps it can be best explained as a sort of awareness of your own consciousness. The artistic weltgeist experience is not uncommon, especially for a painter and many have recorded experiencing it at one time or another during their lifetime, i.e. Van Gogh, Rouault, Gauguin, Malevich, Chagall, Pollock and Rothko, just to mention a few. I guess another way of describing the ‘weltgeist’ of an artist is arriving at a state of mind of a momentary spiritual connection, whilst simultaneously creating art. What that connection point is, or what that spiritual link is for, remains a mystery. But it seems to depend on the personal history or the deeply held beliefs of the Artist themselves. Be that of a religious nature or of a wider secular view of what humans are here on earth for, where we come from and where are we going. Summed up in modern language as, “what’s life all about?” Answers to the basic questions that humanity have been seeking to discover from the very beginning of time. Gauguin was probably the first artist to make visual that question in his famous painting of 1897 (see header photograph).
A weltgeist or inner awareness, could also be explained as an Artistic epiphany.
The American art critic Donald Kuspit mentioned the word when discussing his book, “The End of Art” (2004) in an interview that was critical of contemporary Art at the time. Much of what he outlined in the interview reinforced many of my thoughts about the ‘Post Modern Art’ movement of the late 20th and into the early 21st century. Kuspit’s book insistence that the “End of Art” had arrived was not a new idea. The (UK) Art Review magazine published an essay written by Brian Ashbee in the January issue of 2000, which had exactly the same title. Although the front page did show the ‘End of Art with a question mark. At that time it the magazine was Edited by David Lee who is well known as the creator of the term ‘Art Bollocks’ In his splendid article, Brian Ashbee questioned the validity of the philosophy of Post Modernism and its application to the Art World. The Art Review’s front page illustrated the ‘End of Art’ by a rather horrific yet gripping [detail] of a painting by an artist who I came to know quite well over the years. In the interview Kuspit pointed out that he avoided using ‘spiritual content’ as a description for Art. “I hate that word (spiritual] and prefer the German word weltgeist, because it holds a greater width to explain the artistic process.”
Although Kandinsky was obviously unconcerned at using the term ‘spirituality’ in 1912 when he published his book “Concerning the Spiritual in Art.” Perhaps it did not hold the same narrow understanding that it probably does today, i.e. ‘spiritual = religious.’ – To describe an artwork as ‘spiritual’ these days is still a bit of a turn off for many in the contemporary art world. Perhaps that’s a reaction to the over use of the term that was used by the masters of 20th century Art, of which Kandinsky and Rothko are a very good examples.
By the late 20th century terminology for the ‘creative force’ had become cerebral, not spiritual. Art is innovative by nature and it has been common for one movement or terminologies to give way in favour of another. For example, the Dada movement, was a reaction to a perceived stagnant and corrupt culture. The Dadaist art ‘innovation’ was to present totally banal unscripted artistic absurdity to ridicule the establishment. Futurism, Expressionism, Abstract Expressionism and other such terms were put forward to categorise the various ‘weltgeist’ of artists throughout the 20th century. Indeed, manifestos of Art, at one time, seemed to be raining from the skies. Art works were categorised, labelled and bought by museums, which inevitably resulted in their acceptance and absorption into the annuals of Art History. Once accepted as: ‘of real Art Historical value’ – these movements lost their street cred and the uptake of the ideals by other artists evaporated as quickly as they had appeared. Perhaps a more dogmatic movement that has had a high uptake with the support from Art institutions in recent decades is post Modernism.
‘Post Modernism.’ Is an open-ended theory, one which is wide enough to allow anyone to make anything they so desire and call it Art. Be it banal, absurd, sexual, political, beautiful, naive or totally mundane, a non-art or art created by someone else. The term Post-Modernism covers all modes of Art with a large un-bigoted cultural umbrella, one that the Art Institutions and the culture media open at regular intervals. For the Art World Post Modernism seems to be the answer to eliminate, “that old Modern Art”. And the intellectual elites, who prophesied to understand it – far better than anyone else possibly could… click link and read the full article..