The Landscape Dilemma.
Why landscape painting is perhaps more important than ever… written a couple of weeks ago whilst waiting to see the doctor.
I’m waiting for an appointment with the doctor and tapping this out as it has played on my mind for a while. It’s something that put the brakes on my painting practice for over a decade. It’ll cause a stir, no doubt. Talking with a student about “The negative critique of landscape painting”, a PhD thesis by Dr Rob Newell; she asked why I continue to paint landscape (even include them in the narrative paintings) If there is such a negative perception of the genre in the high end art market? Conceptual art has long been bound to a false rebellion against the art establishment and the contemporary critique. There were some who genuinely wanted to poke fun at the system but most played a clever game to boost their profile and their bank balance in the process. They liked to be seen as rebels. A rebel is often embraced as a hero by those they poke fun at. The art establishment loves a rebel. Rebels are cool as sources of dinner party discussions. Collectors of expensive art love to show they are down with the trends. If you can afford a Banksy or a Doig then you clearly know something about art - don’t you? Cynical of me? Not at all. I enjoy some of the conceptual work. I love the serious fun in Banksy’s stencils. It often brings a smile to my face whilst unsettling me because his work always has social and political commentary. I like the “Blood Head” by Marc Quinn and his sculpture of Alison Lapper on the fourth plynth… drawing attention to Thalidomide. This undoubtedly came from the career boost Quinn got early on in his career and it’s arguable that these works would not have come about without the intervention of a very crafty player. Charles Saatchi (a marketing master - instrumental in getting Thatcher elected) had a plan to fill his own already healthy accounts by selecting a group of Young British Artists (in a ‘movers and shakers’ art college in London) to promote. He knew the art establishment would snap it up if enough money was thrown at it. My attempt at an equation… Financial Precedence (big Money collector) + established art college = perceived value + confidence (for more collectors). It worked like a dream. The work, in a lot of cases, was interesting enough to cause a stir and fitted in with the fanatical fallacy of “cutting edge.” Collecting these artists was and is the blue chip hobby for those with obscene wealth, with a blind faith in financial markets that had worked for them in the past. They understood how money makes money. The pursuit of originality came at a cost of the pursuit of long established traditions of skill and pleasure for the artist and the viewer. Skill became irrelevant because a tiny number of wealthy manipulators have done what they do best. Skill no longer mattered. Concept rules. Why learn how to paint spots of colour when you can pay fellow students to do it for you? Or why bother learning to sculpt when there are others far better qualified to produce what you want? After all, it’s the idea that matters. After studying for a master’s degree in fine art, I found myself in a creative wilderness for over a decade. I’m a Swansea Valley boy, who wanted to paint landscapes and figurative work. It was clear that the pursuit of either was cliched, unless an element of abstraction, or figures often poorly rendered and repeated, became the signature style. That’s fine for the likes of Peter Doig (not that I think all his work is poorly rendered. I’ve been seriously impressed with some of his work). His paintings change hands for £11 million (and he’s still only 64 - oh, and another graduate from the London circus of art Colleges - there’s that formula again). The problem for most of us is the lack of academic pedigree or a inability to believe that our attempts to emulate the Doig’s or Hirst’s of the world, and ever be taken seriously like they are, and, more to the point, could we honestly comfortably sit in front of a crowd and justify it? I suppose we could if a critic from the Guardian is in a good mood when they write a review. A large number of ducks need to fall in line to be taken seriously when working like a “cutting edge” artist. One of those ducks is the college. That duck opens doors to opportunities to show and, more importantly, undoubtedly influences the preconceptions of art critics. You’re more likely to be taken seriously if you’re a graduate of Goldsmiths or the RA than if you studied at a college outside of London. Geography plays a part. Big name mentors do too. If you studied under Francis Bacon you’ll already have a head start. I saw a Facebook advertisement for a print by Doig. It was the price that had me thinking about all this. Like I say, I actually like some of Doig’s paintings. Like Hockney, Doig explores landscape in his compositions too. The figurative elements are there but the world in which the figures reside is not ignored. The concept is usually interesting, but to see a limited edition giclee print offered for $20,000 is mind blowing. Sour grapes? Not at all. Good luck to him. He’s riding the wave that many of us fine art surfers would like to wobble on for a while. But here’s my point… The glaring conclusion for me should be… if landscape is so hated by the establishment, but loved by the majority of people not immersed in the art college system, that gives me even more reason to paint it. It has taken me all this time to realise I should just paint what I want to paint and try and get better at it. If people like it, or get something out of it, that’s a bonus. I’m fast approaching my 63rd birthday and I’ve awoken to the realisation that the game holds no importance to me any longer. And I love painting again. Two fingers and a few £&?@ yous to the ‘high art’ establishment.