Guest Notes

Aesthetic notes

23 February 2019

9:00 AM

23 February 2019

9:00 AM

Earlier this week I attended a vast party thrown by Tim Storrier in Bowral to celebrate his and his twin sister’s 70th birthdays. 150 were present and I kept meeting people who, like me, had aged sufficiently to be almost unrecognizable. Was that really that formerly handsome young man called Pat something-or-other and his wife?

Sic transit gloria mundi and all that but Tim has surely earned his success as a painter selling largely to appreciative private buyers and far too seldom to the bodies which control the public purse. Thus he was inexcusably omitted altogether from the huge and deeply disappointing show Australia held at the Royal Academy of Arts in London at the end of 2013. A much more representative show of Australia’s worthy 200 year-old artistic history could very easily have been chosen even by me but then I, like Tim, am suspected of political conservatism which is virtually fatal within Australia’s wonderful new world of neo-Marxist education and culture. Australia was, in fact, voted the worst major public exhibition of its year by a panel of senior British critics – on which I used to serve myself. Did anyone report anything at all about such harsh rejection in Canberra?

Last week I also wrote a long review for a British paper of a book by someone who has fled the neo-Marxist world of art for a variety of excellent reasons which he explains clearly in his book: Culture War: Art Identity Politics and Cultural Entryism by Alexander Adams (Imprint Academic PO Box 200 Exeter EX3 5YX, UK). Sadly by no means everyone is interested in the visual arts any more – for very good reason many may think. 150 years ago however the Royal Academy Summer Show in London attracted half a million visitors from an infinitely smaller population base than today’s. Please don’t talk to me here about ‘progress’ or other increasingly discreditable words.  The trouble is perhaps this, neither you nor anyone else can possibly appreciate fully wonderful Australian artists such as Lloyd Rees or William Robinson, say, without developing a reasonably competent aesthetic eye. The next problem is that the subject of aesthetics is now totally verboten and dismissed as a mere plaything of the rich in our wonderful, all-enveloping world of neo-Marxist cultural theory. In Australia each of the latter extraordinary artists was represented by only a solitary, ill-chosen and utterly inadequate picture. Why exactly was that so? Those who run art and culture in today’s Western world are concerned largely with power, just as their counterparts are in more overtly totalitarian countries.

You may think that aesthetics in not a subject to interest you in the slightest but in that case at least find out now exactly how the subject is represented today in post-modernist circles. I quote directly here from Alexander Adams’s new book: ‘Post-Modernist subjectivism is used by Identarians to define aesthetics as purely an expression of a dominant class enforcing a convention upon unwilling and unconsidered excluded groups.  Aesthetics is thus a parlour game played by the elite of a dominant class, with no value, no set of effective measurements, no basis in general consensus (consensus can only cover oppression and submission according to Marxist cultural analysis) and no compelling virtues. Thus all aesthetic considerations can be dismissed.’

Madder and madder. If you know of greater twaddle which has ever been written on any significant subject please let me know. Are Lloyd Rees’s pencil drawings of Sydney from the mid 1930s therefore superlative only because a supposedly dominant – or perhaps decently educated – class says so? Yet this is the sort of nonsense which is being regularly pushed down the throats of our young. Were you in the least bit aware of this?

Western governments should set up traditional courses in the arts and humanities which offer democratic alternatives as soon as they possibly can. If they don’t know how to do this a few of us exist who can help them.  Any centre-right government which neglects education as a subject today writes not only its own death warrant but that of the whole future of Western civilisation itself. Alexander Adams’s book provides an excellent guide to the shortcomings of post-modern Western culture yet does not touch on anomalies such as Soviet art in the years before communism’s collapse. Post-modernism has crept up on us very cleverly by stealth: first political correctness, then feminism, then multiculturalism, then gender issues, say, but all presented as single entities rather than mere parts of an ever advancing neo-Marxist whole. In artistic terms classic communism pursued a much more interesting path than the verbose nonsense we know now as post-modernism. I have always bought unusual books, just one of which was leading art critic Vladislav Zimenko’s The Humanism of Art (Progress Publishers, Moscow 1976). At such a stage the Western world was critical of ‘state art’ as limiting personal expression – but just look at us now.

Soviet state art was acutely aware, in fact, of the central importance of a refined aesthetic in depicting what it chose to see as the heroic struggle of soviet socialism against opposing forces. While the USA produced an unending stream of trivial novelty – Minimalism, Pop Art, etc. – artists in the USSR underwent a much longer and more inclusive training which included such supposedly ‘outmoded’ subjects as anatomy. A strong but modest realist aesthetic underwrote paintings about the tragedy of war – whichever side you were on. I had the privilege of meeting Zimenko in Moscow in 1988 and also of seeing a major show of the art of Arkady Plastov. Few artists today could match the skills of A Nazi Plane Flew By, which illustrates the mindless death of a shepherd while tending his flock. Post-modernism’s ‘culture war’ in the West, by contrast, remains utterly artificial and contrived.

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