Mar 302014

There is nothing wrong with experiment in art.  We have evolved through an infinite number of experiments over a period of millions of years. It is nature’s way – natural selection must occur through the survival of the fittest. What is terribly wrong with our visual culture is the  unnatural human selection that has been left in the hands of incompetent experts over the last 100 years: their background is usually literary rather than visual. They have been proved wrong so many times that they have become expert in little else but cover-up. (see  for a series of uncorrected fallacies in art history)

Artists are told to express their own era in art but there are many artists who intensely dislike the direction of our establishment culture today. We despise its values and art is first and foremost about values – human values. We express our own values which are also contemporary, in the hope that they will eventually be found more valuable than the values thrust down our throats by the “experts” and their allies in the mass-media.

We dissidents (“the wrong kind of artist” according to Sir Nicolas, our dictator) believe it our duty to oppose the establishment in the hope of achieving a change of heart. This has happened regularly in art before. The Impressionists in retrospect, are now seen as the avant-guard instead of the decadent lunies they were considered in their own day.

Many heroes of art tend to have been regarded as lunatics in their time. Our establishment have taken this to heart and promote lunacy wherever they find it. This has proved an unwise policy yet they persist. Readers of the Jackdaw will have no difficulty in seeing why the establishment policy has remained so narrow and stagnant for so long. The President for Life ensures a good living for his friends through government patronage, prizes and promotion. General promotion naturally follows this forceful lead, so the favoured few receive all that is available for the arts. The majority of artists (probably more than 90%) are not heard or seen in public.  The lime-light of official backing is too powerful for any private initiative to break through their barrage of sound bites and prestigious exhibitions.

Certainly  there have been artists who have gone mad: Van Gogh and Schumann spring to mind. In our own day so many pop musicians have gone off the rails there can be little doubt that the profession ‘artist’ is an unsettling one. Establishment critics need to find some better criteria. May I suggest a way forward.

Human knowledge tends to move forward building on past experience. Science normally progresses as a result of critical reviewing of past ideas. The same was true of the arts: Poets tend to read past poets and are influenced by what strikes them as apt for our own times. The visual arts used to move forward in the same way but have been recently diverted from this time-honour process by the experts’ desperate attempts to identify the ‘avant-guard’. Sadly, the history of these attempts does not give grounds for optimism. Genuine advance normally emerges in public consciousness well after the event. The long string of pseudo avant-guards that have emerged since WWII, lauded by critics and the mass-media should be subject to regular review. An annual show of The Tate Gallery purchases of the 60’s, 70s etc would certainly amuse thirty years later and might even give a necessary boost to the humility of the present generation of experts.

One of the main tragedies of our present culture is we rely too heavily on expert advice; even when it looks crazy. The extraordinary diversity of art in our time would be much better served if government patronage was handed in turn to a different school of artistic thought every two or three years. Leaving it up to the leaders of each school to decide how to distribute the prizes and which works of art to purchase for public collections. This would circumvent the mono-culture of the experts we are saddled with at present; it would give the interested public the possibility of enjoying the wide panorama of art that exists today but remains largely unseen.

It would save a great deal of government money if the arts administrators were replaced by part-time artist administrators, elected by each school, who would look after the interests of their school. The rivalry of the different schools would be stimulating. My guess is that better informed critics would soon emerge allied to each particular school who would make a lot more sense than our alienating “artbollocks”. Genuine public interest would be restored, which would draw back private patronage to augment and guide a new era of government spending. Sadly, The Arts Council has gone horribly wrong.

The American tax system of encouraging private patronage and perhaps 40 years later accepting prize works of art for museums (as a part of inheritance tax) is so much more sensible and democratic than our system. It gives the necessary spread of patronage and time for genuine evaluation. The wild extravagance of UK government  purchases may  have successfully swung the world market behind them. But  leading a culture of pure greed should not be a source of pride. The world market is the least civilized ever; high rewards for nonsense  has undermined morale and education in art.

We should encourage diversity; diversity is necessary for evolution. No expert can be expected to predict what will survive in art but they have certainly demonstrated their ability to knock art off course!