Since the 1990s, the phrase Conceptual Art has been unfairly manipulated to become an all-encompassing term, generating derision, which some erroneously apply to the Turner Prize, and other anti-figurative art.
As change comes politically, so it follows artistically with art imitating politics, reflecting its time. And so it was, that under former-President George W. Bush art moved towards temporary sculpture, with artists remembering 9/11 as a ‘sculptural’ event based around two Giacometti-tall Judd-shiny minimal ‘sculptures’, razed to the ground. Demolished as a Happening art-from. Now with President Obama in charge, figurative artist Shepard Fairey was selected to paint Barack’s official Presidential portrait. Deem it au courant for artists to investigate the ‘self’, promoting the figurative back into art, back into vogue.
Putting the ‘F’ word, figurative, into ‘Neo-Figurativism’, Go Figurative – a new web site gallery championed by co-founders and Directors Sally Perry and Janine Collins – respects the value and importance of reality-based fine art. With creative ability, aesthetic value and sound artistic judgement, Go Figuratives’s Figurescapists depict life, retaining strong references to the real world and the human figure understanding what Picasso projected, when he said, “There is no abstract art. You must always start with something figurative.”
As our visual appetite demands something that is visually easier to understand, Go Figurative believes traditional artist’s skills, which have been lost amid cries of ‘my child could do that!’ are reworked and brought up-to-date by ‘Neo-Figurativists’.
Working from reality and object sources referencing the real world, creative rationale is being brought back to contemporary art. Reinforced by representational masters from the likes of Giacometti, Bacon, Freud and Hirst, who all appreciate strong figurative references (marked since Egyptian idealization through Classical sculpture, the Realism of Courbet and Manet, through to contemporaneous modern art today) in fine art, as aesthetically satisfying.
Principally, the philosophical question is not whether a work of art is, indeed, a work of art, but, does it need to be aesthetically pleasing? Well, yes, it does. If art does not aim at having aesthetic value, what then, will set it apart from non-art? Making the ghost-of-Rubens proclaim of us again, “This Island seems worthy the consideration of a man of taste…by the incredible quantity of excellent pictures and statues.”
Ivan Massow (one-time Chairman of the Institute of Contemporary Arts) and Kim Howells (once Culture Minister who denounced the Turner Prize as “cold, mechanical, Conceptual bullshit”), think that which is artistically deficient, posing as Conceptualism, appalling. Even the banknote-rich culture-poor agree these vacuous non-aesthetic DIY efforts fall apart, on many levels. It is only saved from degeneration, with the talent and skill that is Martin Creed, Rachel Whitread, Simon Patterson, Simon Starling, Bethan Huws, Douglas Gordon and Liam Gillick. Even Tracey Emin’s ‘My Bed’ is effectively ingenious.
Don’t misunderstand; there is some wonderful, breathtaking, eye-popping Conceptualism. But it’s dated 1960/70s. When it was truly brilliant, it responded to political and social changes of the time, and of Dadaism, Surrealism, Suprematism, Abstract Expressionism and Fluxus. It was awe-inspiring, humbling even. Yet Conceptual artist Sol Lewitt said, “Ideas can be works of art; ideas need not be made physical as a work of art may be understood as a conductor from the artist’s mind to the viewer’s. But it may never reach the viewer or it may never leave the artist’s mind”. This is the problem with today’s unskilled ‘Bob-the-Builder’ artist, refilling Duchampian type urinals with copycat tins of Manzoni-faeces. It’s been done before, only better.
A difficult symptom of the mentality of the amateur Conceptual artist is his disproportionate concern with manifestos and unintelligent commentary, absolutely necessary in explaining his political aims and methods. All hype, this badly-made tat – unfortunately posing as Conceptual art – gives art a bad name. With no aesthetic value, its best described as rubbish-tip utility ware. A craze mercifully not lasting its anti-establishment anti-consumerist spirit longer than Warhol’s prescribed fifteen minutes.
Wave goodbye to the shocking ‘wannabe’, devoid of originality and ignorant of any creative craft that fine art labour alone brings with competence. The second-rate artist fraud recognised by the way he despises the delicate tools and beautiful material great artists always delight in handling. So he fails to draw on them.
As we see the beginning of the end of this quick slick Art Star, we are now buying art for sheer enjoyment and attraction to the art itself, created by the enormously talented. Those now reinventing the objective that is present in figurative art, focus on the positives of the aesthetic; beauty and skill. Cherry-picking from these Go Figurative’s perhaps lesser-known artists means you pick art that will increase in value as their career credentials and sales increase. Furthermore, as the buyer, you are rewarded from living with the artwork.
And no better time than now in a recession, to buy art, and to consider the valuable lessons we’ve learnt from the 1930s Great Depression; when money is limited, people find distraction and calm in art. As Wall Street opened the art world to new talent and ideas, artists started making worthy, affordable, intelligent, original and innovative art.
Also remember that after the UK’s last financial crash (late 1980s), the art world’s tightly guarded gates opened up to new talent, with fresh ways of thinking and seeing, which proved magnificent with the YBAs (Young British Artists).
The virtual internet gallery and community, Go Figurative, is the latest innovative on-line market place for talented sculptors, painters, photographers and print makers to form collectives with like minded professional artists, buyers, art critics and art historians.
The response from figurative artists has been significant. Whilst many have websites, most do not, and even those that do lack the traffic to be able to create significant awareness through them. Perry adds, “The artists I have spoken with have responded well to the idea of community based website focussed purely on figurative art. They like the idea of having a platform dedicated to the work which has references to reality at its core”. The concept of the future is figurative. www.gofigurative.com
© Estelle Lovatt FRSA