ART STUDENTS LEAGUE OF NEW YORK
215 WEST 57TH STREET NEW YORK, N.Y. 10019 212-247-5410
CONTEMPORARY ISSUES IN THE ARTS
PAINTING AND SCULPTURE IN NEW YORK
Moderator Ronnie Landfield's Introduction.
I was taught somewhere that great painting and great sculpture are expressions of being, of humanness; capable of enlightening an audience with unspoken visual understandings of life through a wide range of emotional means/the record of existence/ memories and perceptions of an individual that reveals both a private and a collective unconscious/an aesthetic pathway of perception. Perhaps the quality and the depth and the power of the universal river of feeling that is expressed in great painting and sculpture depends upon the level of candid and personal revelation that an artist is willing to expose. Exposing the nerves raw and having the courage to follow your feelings without compromise can be a perilous path; without maps, or codes, and can sometimes lead to the creation of great works of art.
The compelling mystery of the cave paintings may be interpreted and re-interpreted depending on your point of view. Were they illustrations of existence? Or do they contain long lost political ideologies? Or are they records of lives lived? Or are they creations of spiritually advanced and aesthetic minded souls who needed to say something?
Throughout the long history of Western Civilization we have the record of the complicated and prolonged struggles of mankind to survive, to live, to thrive and to go to heaven or to go to hell expressed and preserved through great works of art.
Modernism in The Twentieth-Century ushered in through spiritual epiphany the means for artists to metaphorically transcend the materiality of existence and express through abstraction or any means necessary the urgency of their visions and the character of their insights. New eyes saw new visions, new ears heard new songs, new tongues spoke new words.
Artists created a resistance movement to the suppression of thought. The politics of repression while very much alive throughout all the countries of the world Fascist Germany, Russia, China and even here in America spawned new ideas and compelling reasons for seeking to preserve freedom of expression in the arts.
These are the best of times and the worst of times for the creation of painting and sculpture. It is the best of times because the opportunities that exist today for artists to do their thing through scores of galleries, museums, the media, universities, technologies and potential economic prosperity are unprecedented. You can do your thing, find your niche, keep your head down and hope for the best. Politically disenfranchised groups have a voice, there is a spirit of democracy in the arts and anyone can be an artist if they choose.
So why are we here? Perhaps because these ARE the worst of times for serious painters and sculptors. Perhaps because we feel disenfranchised. You'd have to be a painter from Mars if you didn't feel oppressed by the goings on in the art world these last twenty years. Perhaps because our very existence is threatened by the political and economic climate that has infected the visual arts. Perhaps because it doesn't matter what we say, it doesn't matter what we do - the museum of modern art will have no relationship to you.
The officially sanctioned art media, certain critics, certain writers, certain collectors, Art World Institutions The New York Times and more specifically the people and corporations running them like the modern, the Met, the Guggenheim, the Whitney and museums across the country and Europe have sent a clear message to artists around the world - and that is that THEY WILL DECIDE what the dialectic will be. They have their own agenda. Someone is playing a compelling tune that these institutions are dancing to and it ain't us. Ironically as one fellow said here a couple of months ago we ARE stronger than they are we do the work we can do the work and yet aesthetic suppression plays so rough. Aesthetic suppression has become a big problem.
They tell us we can't paint or make sculpture they ignore most of us when we do, because its irrelevant, tired out, boring, beside the point. Since when is intimacy and feeling irrelevant? Since when is beauty beside the point? Whose revealed human soul is boring? Why are some souls revered? Why are some deaths mourned? Why are some souls reviled and some deaths forgotten? How much money does it take to get to heaven? The appetite for great painting and sculpture is real and it is unabated and it is unfulfilled. But the real question is are THEY BLIND? OR ARE THEY DEAF? OR ARE THEY DUMB? or does the propaganda they spawn just spew from their mouths like so much water from the tap. I think its really pretty simple- making great painting and sculpture has to do with communicating directly to people. Experience tells us that it won't be denied forever.
So as the Twentieth-Century comes to a close and we contemplate what Gauguin said nearly a hundred years ago "Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? I hope some of us are close to finding the answers to those questions. I'd like to think that even Velazquez had he been reborn today would be mindful and aware of the coming of a new millennium, whatever that means. Even if great painting has nothing to do with social consciousness whatsoever as a great painter pointed out to me recently I'd like to think that if Velazquez was reborn and was painting today someone, somewhere would give him a show . . . and he'd get a good review in the New York Times.