Stuckism Wales logo

Art is for Me

Summer Fun
by Philip Absolon

To answer the question 'What is art" to the satisfaction of everybody was always going to be a hard task, given the stature of those who have already tried. But, in looking at various alternative theories of art, we have found much to admire in them and much to retain in our artistic and critical "armoury". At the end of this process, we are left with little respect for Conceptualists who so casually threw away the accumulated artistic wisdom of centuries.

Even if we haven't managed to answer to full satisfaction the question "What is art?", we seem to have managed a much clearer understanding of the question "What is not art?" as we considered in turn the many inadequacies of Conceptualism. Reaching a conclusion that Conceptualism is not art is a solid and worthwhile outcome for our investigations into art in the 21st century.

For me personally, the essence of art is it's ability to make visible, usually in a painting, the life of the spirit within us.

In coming to this conclusion, I have been particularly impressed by what John Ruskin, Paul Klee and John Bourne have written about art.

First, John Ruskin said in his "The Two Paths" lecture of 1859 :
"Fine art is that in which the hand, the head and the heart of man go together."
and this definition of art seems to me to unite intellect and feeling in a critical partnership with the hand. So, the spirituality of an artist is manifest in the work of his hands when guided by the concepts of his head and the promptings of his heart. There could hardly be a stronger, more effective, critique of Conceptual artists than this, for the hand and the heart are much neglected by them.
Secondly, Paul Klee went to the heart of what art is about. In his "Creative Credo" of 1920 he wrote that:
" Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible."
Later in the same statement, Klee wrote:
"Formerly we used to represent things visible on earth, things we either liked to look at or would have liked to see. Today we reveal the reality that is behind visible things, thus expressing the belief that the visible world is merely an isolated case in relation to the universe and that there are many more other, latent realities."
It seems unlikely that Klee would have had much time for the obsessive re-arrangement of readymades and the restrictions they place on the creative imagination.

My third "touchstone" quote is from John Bourne, an artist painting today, who rejects Conceptualism and paints representationally using all his powers: intellectual, emotional and spiritual.

John Bourne writes:
"There appear to be two kinds of reality: the reality of the world available to the senses and the reality of a possible world lying beyond. The conceptualist seems happy to exhibit chunks of reality (of the first kind) whereas the non-conceptualist seems to feel the need to re-present reality and this ' re-presenting ' business is a very mysterious process! It's not a copy and this leads to a difficulty: if it's not a copy, does that mean it is untrue? A partial answer to this question might be that art seeks to select, order and generalize and that it seeks to make visible the reality of the second kind."
These three views about the purpose and process of art seem to me to make room for the life of the spirit within us, without which art is a meaningless activity. I believe that a return to spirituality in art will increasingly become the mainstream and that the Stuckists already embody this philosophy which shines through their Manifesto and other statements which follow. More importantly, it starts to shine through their paintings.

For, at the present time, it is fundamental that all those who believe, as I do, that Conceptualism is not art, should encourage others also to turn away from it. Enough time has been wasted by our society on anti-art. There is a growing hunger for an art which nourishes the soul and such art should be placed in that central part of our society which is reserved for something really important. Let's not pretend for a moment longer that Conceptualism ever did, or ever could, fulfill that role.