Remembering Kenneth Noland

Kenneth Noland, 'And Half' (1959)

It’s sad to learn, as I did here, that Kenneth Noland died at his home in Maine on 5 January, at the age of 85 years.

For those who like reading the labels before scanning the pictures — and also, perhaps more to the point, for the substantial majority of readers who’ve doubtless never heard of him — perhaps I’d better explain that Noland was one of the last surviving giants of colour field painting, a major figure surviving from the age in which the United States produced some of the greatest art it’s ever likely to produce.

Yet if Noland’s critical reputation has, over the past few decades, suffered from the mainstream conviction that, in order for the Next Big Thing to be any good at all, whole categories of older things must be deemed to be dated and silly, if not downright malign — a sloppy way to construct art history, admittedly, yet so much less risky than taking the time to look at individual works and evaluate them both with honesty and a degree of humility — well, then, this surely says more about the blind-spots of present-day connoisseurship than it does about Noland’s paintings. Deceptively simple, their surprising conjunction of incandescent Magna colour with cool-headed formal rigour ensured that they always added up to considerably more than wan illustrations of someone else’s theory or whim, spectacularly illuminated now and then by the blaze of critical cross-fire, in the same way that they always felt like more than potential historical relics, flat surfaces tinged with thinned-down nostalgia for yesterday’s more hard-edged hegemonic certainties.

Or so, anyway, it seems to me today, prompted by the news of Noland’s death to recall my single moment of real contact with the artist’s work.

First, however, before we come to all that, let’s attempt a quick biographical précis, if only because — as implied above, however much this may shock American art-enthusiasts of pleasantly mature vintage — there really are quite a lot of people out there for whom the name ‘Kenneth Noland’ conjures up neither museum-quality genius nor indeed revisionist contempt, but instead, absolutely nothing at all.

Oh, it’s tempting, if tendentious, to tell the story of Noland’s life in terms of his art-related influences, which were catholic, complex and significant. Noland was born in Asheville, North Carolina — a rather beautiful town, incidentally, nestled amid the lower slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains, retaining a surprising amount of good late Victorian and Art Deco architecture, blessed both with clear air and sudden luminous mists — in 1924. His father was a successful pathologist as well as an amateur artist. At the age of 14 years, a chance encounter with Monet’s canvasses during a visit to the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. prompted young Noland to borrow his father’s paints. Drafted into the US Army in 1941, Noland spent most of the Second World War in the Middle East, working as a cartographer and glider pilot for the Air Corps. Soon after his return to Asheville in 1946, he enrolled at Black Mountain College, where he began to study art.

Although it lasted only about a quarter of a century — from 1933 and 1957 — Black Mountain College was an eccentric liberal arts institution which employed or taught, at one point or another, pretty much everyone who turned out to be anyone within the American modernist pantheon. The arts staff included, at various moments, Josef Albers, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Walter Gropius, Franz Kline, Jacob Lawrence and Robert Motherwell. During Noland’s time at Black Mountain, two particular influences were Albers, whose alleged dogmatism frustrated him but whose methods proved at least an irritant against which to react, and also Ilya Bolotowsky, from whom he learned to appreciate Mondrian’s grid, white ground and schematic use of colour.

A (GI Bill-funded) year in Paris towards the end of the 1940s brought, among other things, first-hand contact with Matisse’s brilliant colour — this, let us remember, was long before the days of affordable, ubiquitous, at least semi-accurate colour reproductions — while relocation to Washington in 1949, and visits New York thereafter, introduced the young artist to first to Morris Louis, then to Helen Frankenthaler. Clement Greenberg became an important ally. The 1960s would, in time, bring friendships with Jules Olitski and Anthony Caro. (Caro’s recent tribute to Noland, perceptive and generous, is here.)

But it was back in the early years of the 1950s when, following Frankenthaler’s lead, Noland first developed an interest in staining raw cotton canvas with clear, diluted pigment which formed the basis of the rest of what turned out to be a highly successful, productive and sustained career.

Later would come variation. After the famous, concentric circles — ‘target’ paintings which could hardly have been a more total refutation of Jasper Johns’ oeuvre — there would be shaped canvases, diamonds, stripes, chevrons, yet more ‘targets’, late flowerings of interest in tonality and mark-making, and what look like amateurish designs for new tartans. The continuity, though, and also the most obvious strength, remained Noland’s extraordinary feeling for colour. The result integrated all the various influences name-checked above, somehow producing from them something that felt clean, new, stripped of distractions and inessentials — a coolly unsentimental, unapologetically beautiful art, neither ironic nor socially engaged, concerned with very little, indeed, except some sort of alchemy of beauty itself.

Yet while some of us may find in that a thoroughly legitimate sphere of interest for visual art, not everyone does. All of which explains why, in recent years, Noland’s reputation has, in some quarters, suffered. True, Noland’s luminous pigment and elegant reserve tend not to attract the full brutal force of near-psychotic hatred so often directed at Greenberg, admittedly mostly by those who’ve never actually read his writing. Noland’s work must, surely, be rather hard to hate. No, the assault on Noland has been marginally more gentle, if no less dogmatic — its weapons condescension, guilt-by-association (it’s that Greenberg thing again) and a slow, certain drift towards curatorial oblivion.

For surely, Noland’s work really does need to be seen in order to function. Art engaged principally with colour, surface and gesture requires more than most that moment of face-to-face confrontation for which the undifferentiated gloss of a printed illustration and the ambient glow of the laptop screen provide no sort of substitute. All of which, finally, explains why I’m not simply engaging in some sort of ritual modesty when I protest, as I am about to do right now, that I simply haven’t seen enough of Noland’s work to say very much more about it.

It’s likely, of course, that the North Carolina Museum of Art, in its long-vanished downtown incarnation, permanently underpopulated and smelling pleasantly of camphor and floor-wax, in which so many of my happier childhood hours were spent, owned a Noland or two — their website, alas, doesn’t stretch to clearing up this point for me — but if so, I don’t remember it. Anyway, during my American phase, I was much more likely to make a bee-line for ancient Egyptian funerary kit or Flemish Old Masters than waste my time on home-grown modernists. Here in London, in contrast, I can’t remember ever having noticed the Nolands apparently stabled at Tate Modern. They would, I suspect, in any event struggle against the big white spaces, the faintly nasty light and unsympathetic hanging that blights displays of the permanent collection there. Most paintings do.

No, there’s only one occasion on which Kenneth Noland’s work made any real impact on me. The year was 1998. A brief trans-Atlantic hop to New York City — as it happened, my first return to the land of my birth quite a while — coincided with the epic Rothko retrospective at the Whitney. After the requisite rituals of mental and spiritual preparation, I duly made my pilgrimage to those two full floors of ultimate High Art sub-sacramental transcendence.

The experience was, almost literally, overwhelming. Having finished reading the J. E. B. Breslin biography of Rothko only hours before, giddy with the moodiness and majesty of some of those paintings, numbed by the radical unfamiliarity of the USA in general and NYC in particular, my head and heart were overloaded. Leaving the Rothko rooms, a quick courtesy-call on the Hoppers downstairs left me startled with the revelation that Hopper’s work is, in fact, rather better in reproduction than real life, where the shoddy quality of the painting proves a fatal distraction from what actually works in those strange, sad images. Nor did I feel particularly attracted by the Whitney’s more prominent offerings that day — for some reason, I’m thinking of Bruce Nauman right now, which may be wrong, but will at least stand as a legible emblem for whatever was actually the case. These, anyway, were the sorts of things running through my mind as I went to look for the exit, the stairs and the relatively unmediated world beyond.

Unfortunately — although one might well take it as evidence of Noland’s subtle curatorial sidelining — the Whitney’s website doesn’t allow me to figure out which Noland it was that I saw there, positioned next to the way to the stairs. Certainly, though, it was one of the ‘target’ paintings — concentric rings, bright colour, plenty of clear open space.

Although I can’t now remember the name of the work, though, the impression it left was unforgettable. Having been coached by Robert Hughes’ criticism — of which I was reading quite a lot at the time — to regard these ‘second generation Abstract Expressionists’ as a waste of time, watered-down and derivative — the beautiful impasse, the last exhalation of symbolist nuance in America, the eloquent sigh of transparent colour that was soon to be a period style’, to crib Hughes’ dismissal of Morris Louis — the actual Noland painting came as the most enormous shock.

Put simply, after Rothko, after Hopper and whatever else the Whitney was showing that day — for context mattered here, as it generally does with me — there was something unforgettably fresh, clean and apparently simple about that Noland painting, something direct and uncomplicatedly strong, that refuted in a moment everything I had thought I knew about Noland and his work. The lack of bombast was welcome. So was the lack of narrative, sentimentality and biographical special pleading. And so was the beauty, man-made yet wholly authentic.

There was, in short, just a moment of powerful conjunction between one individual and a painted image. But although it made quite an impact on me at the time for all sorts of reasons, back in 1998, standing there in that noisy white-walled corridor, contemplating this rather modest canvas and the extent of my own ignorance, I don’t think I really could have put any of these things into words.

Never mind. Today, reading some of the commentary on Noland’s death, I was struck by something written by the artist Walter Darby Bannard in Artforum, back in 1971:

Noland’s is a high art and a modern one — more clarity than abundance, more pressure than expense, more tension than energy, more grace than sensuality. It is a style of cold fire and control. This kind of modernism has faults and its own peculiar risks, but by the hand of art history it is the toughest thing we have now, and our best artists measure themselves against it.

‘Cold fire and control’ — this, perhaps, is the sort of thing I should have praised that day at that Whitney — although ‘more clarity than abundance, more pressure than expense’ are pretty spot-on, too.

As for the reflections on ‘this kind of modernism’, though, have they held up? It’s convenient, I guess, that by swaddling Noland’s work in a protective blanket of art-historical condescension, hiding much of it away and confining the rest into some sort of cramped ghetto of historical specificity, our present-day arts establishment ensures that the comparison between Noland’s modernism and contemporary practice is the sort of comparison that our most prominent artists, if not our best ones, can avoid, at least in the short term. Long term judgements, of course, are another matter entirely — a truism from which those who mourn the passing of another great American artist may, at least, derive a degree of comfort.

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21 Comments

Filed under art, RIP

21 responses to “Remembering Kenneth Noland

  1. I’d never heard of him before, reminds me somewhat of Terry Frost

  2. Worm, I am truly delighted that you’ve never heard of Kenneth Noland, as it would be rather embarassing for my point about his diminished reputation if everyone who turned up here knew more about him than I did!

    The point about Terry Frost (see a few examples of his work here) is almost worth a post in itself, because while there are quite a lot of affinities — more or less exactly the same generation, shared interest in colour and edge, ‘target’ compositions, etc — Frost was, I think, very insistent that the inspiration for his abstract works lay squarely in the landscape — specifically, the Cornish coast, with its distinctive quality of light. Whereas this is not the sort of claim anyone would dream of making about Noland.

    Thinking about some of Noland and Frost’s contemporaries, there’s something in this distinction which tempts one to make a larger point about the differences between British and American post-war painting — so much larger, in fact, that I’m not going to make it here. Not yet, anyway. But thanks, as ever, for your thought-provoking comment.

  3. As a young chap I once spent a jolly fifteen minutes chatting with Terry Frost, I was with my art teacher on a school trip to St. Ives, and we sat on the sea wall in the sunshine as the old man with an umbrella (in the summer?) asked me what I knew about art and how I enjoyed art at school. He was obviously an aquaintance of my art teacher, who told me all about him afterwards. Of course at the time I had no idea who he was!

  4. What a charming story! Not least, isn’t it satisfying when public figures remain ‘in character’ even when one encounters them in random contexts?

    Minor digression: a few years ago, when my son was still a baby, I was pushing his pram through St James’s Square when I happened to notice that the rather grumpy-looking man approaching me was, in fact the actor Geoffrey Palmer. For some reason, this realisation made me smile. Palmer caught my eye as he passed — and glared. All of which made me happy, of course, because this is what he’d have done in any of his better roles. It was almost like being in an episode of ‘Reginald Perrin’, minus the great 1970s ambience, of course. Bliss!

    All of which is a long way of saying that, as I’ve always regarded Frost’s work as manifestly ‘happy’, I’m pleased to have this view reinforced by the discovery that, in real life, he seems to have been a pleasant, friendly, sociable sort of person. Thanks!

  5. Liberanos

    In a previous incarnation my work brought me into contact with many well known actors. (Of those I met, undoubtedly among the nicest were the late Paul Eddington and the still very much with us, Barbara Windsor.)

    Another invariably played cads, on TV and stage. In real life he was abhorrent in every way and universally (though admittedly in a small universe) disliked.

    I’m not sure I share your satisfaction with actors who manifest their roles, but with him we experienced the phenomenon in excelsis. He still performs, brilliantly.

  6. To be fair, it probably helps my case that Geoffrey Palmer plays grumpy but basically decent people, rather than manifestly evil people. Which is to say, I suppose that if we were talking about meeting an actor who habitually played e.g. axe-weilding psychopathic killers, and that actor somehow ‘stayed in character’, the situation wouldn’t be quite so satisfactory …

    I’m glad about Paul Eddington and Barbara Windsor, though — that, at least, is all very much as it ought to be.

  7. Rococo Liberal

    The example of Nolan’s work that you provide is very decorative, yet it can’t intrinscally sustain the level of analysis you apply tp it. This is the same for all non-figurative art. In fact I postulate that such work is only really made ‘art’ by the valiant efforts of those like yourself who seek to explain why it moves them.

    I have often wished to curate a show in which the totally abstract works on display are reduced to the size of the labels and the wonderfully pretentious descriptions are blown up, because in truth it is the latter which are the real art. And that is what modern art is all about: the critic as artist.

    And whilst I think abstraction has absolutley no merit unless it is also pleasing on the eye, I still applaud the modern art critics as the ultimate Tories in that, without any State interventiopn or without excessive credentialism they have created a market for much that is really quite mundane and silly. That is what freedom is al about.

  8. Rococo Liberal

    Oh yes, and the remark by Bannard could be applied to anyone. It is in truth quite meaningless.

  9. Rococo Liberal

    Sorry to keep coming back., but I should add that you are the best art critic I know, because you write so well and you have the ability to put us where you are. The entry above made me feel what is was like for you to discover that painting in 1998. And even though I cavil about modern art, I still repct mightily a piece of writing that can really put me somewhere else and see through someone else’s eyes.

    Now I come to think of it, some years ago when you wrote those great articles for the High Tory e-magazine, Electric something or other, you and I had a brief email correspondence about the zip pictures chappy. It’s great to see that you are still writing.

  10. And whilst I think abstraction has absolutely no merit unless it is also pleasing on the eye…

    RL, I have a fairly serious commitment to abstraction, and in fact maintain the archive of Bannard’s writings linked above. I say “fairly serious” because I don’t paint that way myself, for reasons of creative temperament, but I regard it as the major artistic achievement of the Twentieth Century. And yet I agree fully with the above statement, and predict that Bannard would as well. The purpose of abstract art is to please the eye as much as possible without resorting to recognizable form. None of the labeling is necessary or even desirable in most cases.

  11. Isn’t one of the big points about art, qua art, that it ought to be ‘pleasing on the eye’?

    Anyway, RL, I admit to struggling slightly with your comments. For instance, how can I be ‘the best art critic [you] know’ when you clearly regard my analysis of e.g. Noland’s work — or at least the short, more allusive than extensive tribute I gave it here — as incorrect?

    Perhaps the most tactful approach, then, is for me to acknowledge that we’re coming at this from rather different angles. Not least, you obviously care deeply about whether pictures are figurative or not — whereas I care more about whether a particular picture engages me, when and why — rarely bothering much about the labels. For just as I’ve never understood how some people claim to ‘hate classical music’ or ‘love film’, I can’t really get to grips with embracing or dismissing whole categories of practice, tout court — let alone judging Noland’s life-work on the basis of a scaled-down jpeg, when of course he worked in full-sized acrylics, not tiny digital images.

    But I sense my own drift away from the territorial waters of tact here, so should probably turn back towards shore …

    First, though, the comment about Bannard’s words being applicable ‘to anyone’ — ‘quite meaningless’ — won’t really do. For one thing, the comment about ‘our best painters’ it’s entirely specific to a time and a place, which is why I went to some effort to include both pieces of information. Secondly, if you invert the ‘more … than …’ phrases in the first second, the meaning is also inverted, which rather suggests that, in their original form, they cannot apply ‘to anyone’, but only to anyone who fits the qualities they invoke. Which, err, would seem to be the point of criticism. Which, ahem, is why I cited them — because I thought they were very good criticism indeed.

    Finally, I do often wonder whether the conventional praise — ‘you write so well’ – coupled with the habitual dismissal of what I’m actually saying, doesn’t signal some broader problem with it is that I do. ‘You write total rubbish but you make it sound quite good’ isn’t, really, the aim of all this. And yet it strikes a chord.

  12. Rococo Liberal

    My compliment was genuine. What I wanted to say was that your writing is brilliant because it puts me where you were and tells me how you felt in connection with a piece of art. That should be the aim of all good criticism.

    I agree that beauty and pleasure should be the cardinal virtues in viewing paintings. My beef with modern art has not been its practitioners, but those critics who dress up few unrelated patches and lines of paint on a canvas as being socially significant or somehow worthy of a long-winded exegesis on critical theory.

    You are definitely not one of that school. And your writing is wonderful.

    I will concede I was a bit harsh about Mr Bannard, but for some reason his words held echoes of the typical boosterism of so much criticism of modern ‘art’ which often seems designed to create a market for some very flimsy creations by seeking to differentiate between one lot of blob painters and another on some socio-political grounds or some other rarified measure dressed up in impenetrable jargon.

    Unlike those critics, you have the ability to make us think; whether we agree with your conclusions or not. And that is a gift which few art critics possess these days.

  13. Rococo Liberal

    And what I meant to add was that the Noland picture you used to illustrate your post became ‘art’ for me because of your writing.

    Most critics of modern art usually convince me that the works they are reviewing are not art.

    So take a bow:)

  14. Waldemar Januszczak

    I’ve been reading your blogs with growing interest. You write so well about so many areas of art. So why spoil your presence with all these silly reactionary asides and showy claims to being a High Tory. Let me spell this out: you write too sensitively about art to pass for a conservative. You need face up to your own aesthetic truths.

  15. I’ve got to admit that my initial reaction to your comment was to wonder which of my friends was messing about, impersonating famous critics — stop it now, Julian! — but then it eventually occurred to me that, insofar as there must be some marginal possibility that you really are Waldemar Januszczak, it might be a good idea to hedge my bets and reply to your comment. So, here goes …

    First, thank you very much, genuinely so, for your kind remarks about my writing — and also for your solicitude, doubtless equally genuine, for my apparently somewhat neglected ‘aesthetic truths’. It’s nice that someone cares.

    Perhaps, however, you do not appreciate the full gravity of the problem here. What people who know me only through Fugitive Ink may not grasp, but what is all too clear to people who know me in that parallel world which we all too casually label ‘real life’, is that I am, and always have been, a political person. And indeed, ‘Tory’ seems a better word for the kind of political person than any of the alternatives, because while it implies a sort of gloomy pessimistic attachment to the Conservative Party of the day, it also — to me, anyway — suggests a political identity more intuitive than programmatic, less the product of rational calculation than emotional necessity.

    So while I’ve been a member of the Conservative Party, admittedly on and off, for more than two decades now, have worked in Central Office and continue to take a bemused if persistent interest in party affairs, my conservatism — or whatever one wants to call it — is very much who I am, not a pose or an affectation. The more telling truths about me are, in short, not likely to be the aesthetic ones.

    Amittedly, context matters. Looking back at the circumstances under which I started this blog, the ‘take it or leave it’ agenda was always pretty central. This is not, let us remember, a newspaper, magazine or public forum. I’m not here to attract, let alone sustain a wider audience. Indeed, when it’s working properly, Fugitive Ink is a sort of glorified private diary in which I’m able to tease out, more for my own benefit than anything else, my genuine responses to a wide spectrum experiences — some politician’s vacuous remark, a good exhibition, a flawed but engaging book, a heatwave or a school holiday. Admittedly, the ‘diary’ stays open on my desk, if only because this seems such a low-key, humane way of letting friends see what I’m thinking — or, alternatively, giving them ample scope to ignore it, in a way that face-to-face conversation or even an email would render much more difficult. I’m never sure whether the comments feature is a help or a hindrance. Honesty and thin skin aren’t a great combination when it comes to blogging — unfortunately, both come all too naturally to me.

    What I am sure about, though, is that if I started choking off whole facets of my responses just because I was worried that my politics might scare someone off, this wouldn’t be any fun any more, and I wouldn’t bother to do it. Most of the time, though, I like to think that I don’t actually care whether anyone’s scared off or not.

    Under other circumstances, I should perhaps now make a slightly cheap remark along the lines that, if my ‘claims’ to be a Tory are somehow ‘showy’, this perhaps says something about the relative homogeneity of the politics allowed into mainstream arts journalism, which too often seem to run the whole gamut from centre-left to, oh, maybe left-liberal or thereabouts.

    But when it comes right down to it, I don’t think criticism ever stands or falls on the politics of the critic. There are Marxist critics whose work I admire (T. J. Clark, Julian Stallabrass), and conservative critics who bore me (names redacted, as I suspect I’m not the only thin-skinned art writer out there). No, what I require, when it comes to criticism — not just art criticism, incidentally, but critical writing in general — is some sense of real, three-dimensional, authentically complicated person, encountering the world and trying to make sense of it. And I can’t for the life of me see why it would help that project to swallow indignation, stifle ironies or imply assent where none exists. Sure, the result of doing so would, I guess, produce something that sounds a bit more like ‘proper’ criticism. But why not leave that to ‘proper’ critics, some of whom do it so well?

    Finally, though, I hope what I’ve written above doesn’t sound grumpy. For all its charms and conveniences, the internet doesn’t convey tone as well as one might sometimes wish — which is why I suppose I ought to spell out, for the avoidance of doubt, that I really do appreciate your comment, and very much hope that, ‘silly reactionary asides’ and so forth notwithstanding, you’ll continue to find something to enjoy here.

  16. Rococo Liberal

    “you write too sensitively about art to pass for a conservative”

    What a silly sentence!

  17. Gaw

    From Fugitive Ink’s comment above (I could pick many more):

    ‘I care more about whether a particular picture engages me, when and why — rarely bothering much about the labels. For just as I’ve never understood how some people claim to ‘hate classical music’ or ‘love film’, I can’t really get to grips with embracing or dismissing whole categories of practice, tout court.’

    This seems to me to be a conservative statement. The concern with the particular, the admission of doubt, the avoidance of sweeping generalisations: if we’re looking for a particular label, isn’t Oakeshottian more or less right?

    It also seems a highly sensitive position: intuition and the use of one’s senses are more important as guides than some predetermined prejudices (or less pejoratively, organising theory).

    So the comment about writing ‘too sensitively about art to pass for a conservative’ leaves me bemused. It also demonstrates how misled into irrelevance we can be if we ‘bother much about the labels.’

    As for the snide comment about the ‘asides’ and ‘claims’ it shows a misunderstanding of the personalised nature of the blog format. And anyway I can think of few people less ‘showy’ than our habitually modest critic (who really has so little to be modest about).

  18. Thanks for the super-kind comment, Gareth — but let’s not be too hard on Mr Januszczak, shall we?

    For one thing, I think we ought at least to entertain the possibility that his denunciation of my out-and-proud conservatism may, perhaps, have been made slightly tongue-in-cheek. That, more than anything else, was the point of my complaint above that the internet doesn’t convey tone very well. How can we be sure one way or the other?

    But then, even assuming that Mr Januszczak’s comment was intended to be taken at face value, surely the central assumption presumably informing it — i.e. that a specific strand of conservative taste in the visual arts is the natural concommitant of a conservative political position — is hardly an unusual one?

    Nor, as far as that goes, is it completely nonsensical. Put bluntly, the sterotype mandating that all true-blue Tories must embrace as their central art-critical text Sir Alfred Munning’s brandy-enhanced 1949 speech to the Royal Academy may well be widespread for the simple reason that it does, in fact, have a certain predictive value. At the same time, it would be madness to suggest that modernism and left-of-centre politics haven’t enjoyed a persistently close, if often spiky and problematic relationship, in Britain as elsewhere.

    Further, plenty of perfectly sensible conservatives spot an affinity between, for instance, the flatulent claims made on behalf of much contemporary art by its professional class of praise-singers, and the claims made by a broadly similar set of people regarding how the rest of us ought to conduct our lives — increasingly backed up not only by plangent nagging in the Grauniad, but also by the state’s monopoly of coercive force. Who amongst us would say, for all the art-historical innocence they sometimes display in their assaults on our self-appointed arbiters of taste and decency, that such conservatives don’t have a point?

    All of which is a long way of saying that, having ended up feeling just as eccentric when it comes to the art-critical implications of my own conservatism as with, well, pretty much every other aspect of my conservatism, it comes as no great surprise when commentators disagree with me!

    It is, though, marginally wearying to have to fend off complaints from conservatives who seem to think that my guarded admiration for even single works of modernist art is silly — whilst simultaneously fending off complaints from art enthusiasts who apparently regard my conservative politics as downright malign.

    Time for a holiday, perhaps …

  19. Liberanos

    Eliding belief with scholarship is no way to judge anything, in my view.

    Art and religion in particular.

  20. Rococo Liberal

    But much modern art (being so tied to the critical community) serves a different function to art, as we conservatives understand it.

    Modern art isn’t meant to interest us or even move us, it’s meant to shock us, change us, affect us. Modern art critics, they who really are the modern artists, don’t want us to have an aesthetic experience but a political one.

    We Tories bridle at that. And quite rightly (pun intended) so. Art has nothing to do with politics or with movements whatsoever.

  21. Liberanos, thanks for the comment, but in truth, as the comments above illustrate, there is no unitary ‘conservative’ understanding of art.

    Personally, despite being a conservative, I disagree with pretty much everything in your comment. Leaving aside a boring quibble about the distinction between ‘modern art’ and ‘contemporary art’ — and also leaving aside the slightly more informative point that, ahem, modernism is more generally attacked, at least by people who know something about it, precisely for giving priority to aesthetic values over political ones, with your final sentence ringing, rather ironically, as a bit of a modernist credo — I simply think it’s silly to generalise about contemporary art in the way you do.

    I’d further say that while most contemporary art is quite bad, some is passable, and some is actually pretty good. There’s a slightly more interesting debate to be had over whether these proportions differ much from the situation at any other point in history, but to be any use, that debate would have to be informed with a level of detail, scholarship and humility that seems thin on the ground right now, particularly in this corner of the online universe.

    And now, a bit of housekeeping. Faithful followers of this blog will notice that posting has been thin recently. There are reasons for that, none of them sinister or sad. I do hope to start posting a bit more at some point in the near future. But in order to concentrate on other things — including writing something worth reading — I think it might be a good idea to pull the plug on the comments facility, at least for the time being.

    Let me emphasise, Liberanos, that this is absolutely nothing to do with you — your contributions to this site are heartfelt and welcome — or with any other commentator here.

    Anyway, thanks to all of you for taking an interest in Fugitive Ink. See you around.