Friday, October 13, 2006

What happens when the 'art world' oppressors of the past play the role of victim today? My thoughts on ARC

Once upon a time the academic tradition had a strangle-hold on the 'art world'. Rules were applied to every type of artistic expression (Though one could debate that works of the time were more like regurgitation of old rules rather than a form of self-expression. How can you express yourself when rules apply?).If one were to break these rules he would be considered unskilled, untalented, or the Devil himself.

Eventually there was a clash between those who followed the academic tradition and those who broke free from the mold in order to create modern works of art. In the end we find ourselves in a world that is mostly tolerant of all forms of art.

The early experimental artists had an uphill battle against a highly structured ideology of how art was supposed to be applied. These free spirits risked being beaten in the street, locked away for charges of insanity, or ostracized from their communities.

In a sense, these New Masters made the way for all of us who create today. However, there are still artists devoted to the academic tradition (Nothing wrong with that.) and it would seem that some of them are just as narrow-minded as their forefathers (Big problem with that.).

In my opinion, the best example of this can be found on the Art Renewal Center (ARC) website. You can observe the site here:

According to the fundamentalist academic traditionalists of this site one is not an artist unless he or she creates art with the discipline of the academic tradition. Everyone else is some form of parasite that has plagued 'their' art for several decades and should be stamped out.

One controversial feature on the site is the 'ARC Philosophy', a scathing manifesto of artistic hate written by Fred Ross, Chairman of the Art Renewal Center. The text reads like the paranoid ranting of a madman (Or am I just brainwashed?).

On Modern art as freedom of expression:

"Freedom of expression? Ironically, this so-called "freedom" as embodied in Modernism, rather than a form of "expression" in truth became a form of "suppression" and "oppression." Modernism as we know it, ultimately became the most oppressive and restrictive system of thought in all of art history." - Fred Ross

On art education:

"Our children, going supposedly to the finest universities in the world, being taught by professors with Bachelors or Arts, Masters of Arts, Masters of Fine Arts, Masters of Art Education ... even Doctoral degrees, our children instead have been subjected to methodical brain-washing and taught to deny the evidence of their own senses." - Fred Ross

On what modern artists discovered:

"Ladies and gentleman, they proved ... amazing, incredible, and fantastic as it may seem, they proved that the canvas was flat ... flat and very thin ... skinny ... indeed, not even shallow, lacking any depth or meaning whatsoever." -Fred Ross

On the Old Masters:

"And, as far as holding our works up to the old masters, that's what we want to have happen. If we are to accomplish things of true merit and excellence, we must germinate and nurture great masters in the next millennium, too."-Fred Ross

On what a work of art is:

"Just because something causes you to have a feeling of aesthetic beauty does not make it a work of art." -Fred Ross

On abstract art:

"The usual description of a modern "abstract" painting is that it is "a painting about paint itself". Its subject matter is paint, or the formal principles of painting. The first claim is nonsensical: saying a painting is about paint is like saying a poem is about the alphabet. A poem uses the alphabet to represent words, which can in turn be used to convey knowledge or express ideas. The second claim is just as banal. A painting that is "about" its formal principles is, again, like a poem that is about rhyme, about onomatopoeia, or about iambic pentameter. In other words, it is art as a jigsaw puzzle of the lowest order."-Fred Ross

On abstract artists:

"The people who are splashing paint on a canvas in pretty patterns, or brushing it on in aesthetically pleasing color combinations, are not doing anything abstract. They are merely depositing little tangible blobs of paint that do not stand in for anything at all."- Fred Ross

On why modern art is accepted today:

"Let me state in the strongest possible terms that the art history textbooks since the middle of this century are filled with nothing but distortions, half truths and out and out lies in their description of this era. They have failed in their responsibility as historians to report the truth of what occurred as objectively as possible. These texts amount to no less than propaganda brochures for modern art."-Fred Ross

ARC claims that over 200,000 people have viewed the text and they hope that professors and students will read it and be inspired to return to the academic tradition.

Had enough? I have. However, I would suggest that you all read the 'ARC philosophy' just to get an idea of how things once were for non-traditional artists as far as pure hate for their work is concerned.

The negative remarks that Mr. Ross spews upon his website is a dull reflection of the hostility academic traditionalist and their supporters once had for new art of any kind. Most of them became angry over the slightest changes throughout art history.

Never forget that the academic traditionalists were once the majority. However, society changed and with it art changed. In my view the public changed this. The art you see today is the art of the people. What you can do with your brush is no longer dictated by religion or a select few who are in power. It is no longer the art of governments and the wealthy (though they may be the only ones who can afford some of it. ;p )

How can Mr. Ross say that modern artist and their supporters are oppressing academic traditionalists? Do you see people who try to paint like Rembrandt locked up in an insane asylum? (Though it would make a great story.). Do you see them beaten out of town for creating their vision of art? He is naive for even trying to compare it!

How can he say that modern art is nothing more than propaganda? When it is a fact that artists of the past created propaganda for royalty and the church. They were puppets. (I will even go as far as to say that many of the Old Masters were puppets). In a sense, what they were allowed to paint was controlled by who was in charge at the time or who paid the highest fee. Does that sound like artistic expression to you?

Think about it. The religions and leaders that have control in the United States and Europe today may try to censor our work, but they have not been able to do away with it all together. Even Hitler failed at this! Why? Because of the people.

People today have more power than the people who lived when Mr. Ross's heroes were still alive. Thus, the art that is held in high regard today is the art of the people. It is the voice of the people. The public decides what is good art. Perhaps Mr. Ross would not come off so paranoid if he would simply accept this fact.

The state of art today has nothing to do with what the Old Masters might have thought. I appreciate their work, but aside from that they have no rule over what I do as an artist today. (I do sketch from live models, but that is for my own study.) I prefer to call them Old Artists, because that is what they are. They are gone, we are here. True, art today captures the same emotions that the Old Artists embraced, but that is dictated by the human condition. Nothing more. (Artist today convey it in ways that are more pure to the human condition in the sense that their creations do not have to follow a guideline.)

It seems to me that art reflects the society in which the art was created. Art may have been more structured/strict with rules in the past, but so were the governments and way of life of those times. Today, many of us live in governments that are, for the most part, free (compared to the rulers of the past). Thus, our art reflects that? True?

It is all about sociology and the plight of the people. We have seen what happens when a modern governments tries to enforce strict rule over their people. For example, modern artists in Germany were ordered to no longer create 'degenerate art' during Hitler's rise to power. Many switched to a more traditional style of work while creating modern works in secret. Those who continued to create modern art were kicked out of the country, imprisoned, or executed. What does this tell us? More often than not, if the people are oppressed, art is oppressed.

I'll hold my tongue as to where Mr. Ross should move in order to be surrounded by the type of art that he holds dear. There are a few 'good' choices. However, there are more rules to follow as to how art can be created depending on how strict the government is. (Some governments do not allow artists to depict the human form at all.) I wonder if Mr. Ross would accept that?

I would not want to live in a society that embraces the academic tradition over all other forms of art. I know what the implications of that are. In my opinion, Mr. Ross and his supporters are not victims. They are fools.

Take care, Stay true

Brian Sherwin


A Manifested Destiny said...

I can't get too heated up over the ARC or Fred Ross' rantings. I find him mildly amusing, in the way I find most embittered crackpots amusing. I suspect he's a realist painter who has either had a hard time finding gallery representation, or hasn't become nearly as famous as he hoped to, or--more likely--both. It has no doubt chapped his ass for years to see experimental and conceptual painters lionized while he remains obscure.

He really needs to brush up on his art history, though. Many of the "academic" painters favored by the ARC were controversial--and even reviled by critics--in their own day. Many of them were not members of their national Academy; many of them painted in defiance of academic standards (and still found an audience). The Pre-Raphaelites are a good example.

But I don't think Ross cares that any of those artists were seen as radicals or moral degenerates in their own time because he and the ARC are obsessed with pure technique, not the ideas those techniques served. They are obviously willing to champion technically brilliant traditional realism no matter how conceptually empty the work in question may be--hence all the icky, nasty Bougereau love. They don't want to have to think too hard; they just want teh Pretty.

How can Mr. Ross say that modern artist and their supporters are oppressing academic traditionalists? Do you see people who try to paint like Rembrandt locked up in an insane asylum?

I've painted like Rembrandt, and I haven't been locked up yet.

Being "oppressed" for working in a traditional realist manner? Huh? It's never happened to me. Granted, I dropped out of art school because none of my painting instructors knew enough about the traditional techniques I wanted to use to offer real guidance. None of them tried to discourage me, however. I did have excellent drawing instructors who also understood what I was trying to do. I was in the wrong school, but was I oppressed? Not by any means. Never have been. And I'm sure realist painters with traditional roots such as Odd Nerdrum, Jack Beal, Donald Roller Wilson, Rackstraw Downes, Lucian Freud, Neil Welliver, Andrew Wyeth, Jamie Wyeth, Sylvia Sleigh, Philip Pearlstein, (and a host of others I can't recall right off the top of my head) would have even more interesting things to say on the matter than I do.

Balhatain said...

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"The Art Renewal Center is an organization dedicated to classical realism in art, as opposed to the Modernist developments of the 20th century. It exists primarily as an online art museum.

The Center was founded in 2000 by a group of artists, art collectors, historians, and enthusiasts, and chaired by Fred Ross. Its collection of images of artworks includes many works of Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Romantic and French Academic art. It includes some Impressionist artists such as Monet and Manet, but does not have any of the Post-impressionists, such as Gauguin or Cezanne, or any other Modernist schools than the type of Surrealism exemplified by Salvador DalĂ­ and Yves Tanguy. The group is critical of much 20th-century art on the grounds that it demonstrates weak technique and conveys ideas ineffectually if at all, and focuses on false, obscure, or trivial subject matter in addition to being weirdness for weirdness' sake. Exceptions include such 20th-century artists as Maxfield Parrish, Norman Rockwell, and a number of contemporary realist painters featured in its Living Masters List.

The group actively promotes the French artist William-Adolphe Bouguereau, believing him to be not only the greatest French artist of the nineteenth century, but also "unquestionably one of history's greatest artistic geniuses." Several Art Renewal Center members are involved with the "Bouguereau catalogue raisonnée" project.

The Art Renewal Center also encourages the development of traditional painting styles and methods such as instruction by atelier for painters, and has held an annual ARC Salon Competition since 2003.

Daniel Gerhartz won the Best in show for 2004 [1], with Paul G. Oxborough winning the Best in show for 2005 [2]. Donato Giancola won first place at the figurative Category in 2004."

Balhatain said...


I don't really know where Ross is coming from with his charge that traditional art and techniques is being avoided in school programs.

I can remember doing still-life images and portraits in junior high. Works from the imagination were set aside. My district was not that great of a school either. So I can only imagine how strict a more structured public school would have been.

In college my art was censored many times and my instructors were constantly leading students in the direction of traditional methods. Those who did their own thing often seemed to be punished. So I think there is a balance between the two 'schools of thought' on art. That is the way it should be.

Ross just does not seem to have much knowledge about graduate art programs. It is like he has this 'us against them' mindset that keeps him from accepting the facts. The fact is, it can be very hard to get into most good MFA programs if you lack life drawing skills.

Thanks again for your insight.


A Manifested Destiny said...

In college my art was censored many times and my instructors were constantly leading students in the direction of traditional methods.

One thing I probably should have said in my earlier post was that while a couple of MFA painters at my art school couldn't draw, the school's new administration was restructuring the undergraduate program so future students would have a solid foundation in drawing, color and design. The year I entered (1985) was the first year Freshmen had to take a Core Program of required drawing and design classes. These included basic and intermediate drawing classes, life drawing, 2D- and 3D design, and something else I've forgotten.

You couldn't sign up for anything else until you had completed the Core Program. It didn't matter if you wanted to major in Painting, Photography, Fiber Arts, Glass, Architecture, or Film; you had to take--and pass--those classes.

So even though this was a period when Neo-Expressionism and perrformance were all the rage, and the big superstars were Julian Schnabel, Keith Haring, and Cindy Sherman, the faculty and administration still believed that drawing from life and learning about principles of color and composition were essential.

And while I had to do a lot of outside research in order to learn certain Old Masters painting techniques, nobody put me down for it. In fact, people were genuinely interested in what I was doing, and how I did it. If I got any harsh criticisms it was because I was too busy mastering technique at the expense of ideas. Then again, I was 19 years old, and didn't have a whole hell of a lot to say, anyway.

The group is critical of much 20th-century art on the grounds that it demonstrates weak technique and conveys ideas ineffectually if at all, and focuses on false, obscure, or trivial subject matter in addition to being weirdness for weirdness' sake. Exceptions include such 20th-century artists as Maxfield Parrish...

Okay, this cracks me up. Parrish's best work is masterfully crafted. Some of it is lovely. But if its subject matter isn't trivial, what the hell is?

The group actively promotes the French artist William-Adolphe Bouguereau, believing him to be not only the greatest French artist of the nineteenth century, but also "unquestionably one of history's greatest artistic geniuses."

Bouguereau was an accomplished technician; there's no doubt about that. But that's it. He never explored any great themes, and never painted anything with profound meaning. He painted happy, rosy-cheeked peasant girls for affluent customers. In a way, he was the Thomas Kinkaid of his day, presenting an idealized vision of a simple, rural life that completely ignored the realities of that life. His work, however decorative it may be, is utterly vacuous. That's genius? Not by my definition...

Balhatain said...


(Dan and I communicated about this topic on another site.)

The following text is the comment I made about 911 art.

"SOme artists do exploit situations. I remember during the months after 911 there was an artist that had an ad in ARTnews with his trade center paintings. Before that point he simply had ads for pop art. I think he cashed in on the situation. I think his last name was Perez or something."

In response to this:

"I disagree. i think more times than not art rises and is at its most powerful during times of opression. this is when art that truly represents the people stands out and brings about awareness to the masses. of course this will also bring out the cliches'. 9-11 is a good example.

this is where, i think, modern art wins over traditional. again, using 9-11 as the example. a painting that depicts tears juxtpositioned over the shadow of burning buildings and a plane wing addresses 9-11 but in no way makes a person more aware than the way CNN does. it is in these times that "deeper meaning" as a result of 9-11 begin to surface. i think a deeper conceptual piece inspired by 9-11 holds more merit than say a simple illustration of the event( the cliche'). 9-11 as a catalyst instead of THE subject. its late so this may indeed make no sense" - David Bass

I did not say anything about 911 inspired art being revolutionary. As stated, I think a lot of artists exploited the tragedy for personal gain. Hence, I gave the example of the artist who switched the style of his work to fit the emotions of the time.

There seems to be some confusion.

Anonymous said...

I don't see what people like the ARC are afraid of. There are plenty of artists who paint like the "Old Masters" and I for one, admire their skill and patience. But I can't paint like that. I'd go crazy. I am in awe of that kind of art, but it's other types of art that make me smile, or laugh, or cry, or have new thoughts.

I am just as thrilled to look at an abstract that makes me see how beautiful certain colors are next to each other when the light hits them just right, as I am to see a painted nude that looks like it could step off the canvas and breathe.

I am glad that there is such vaiety in the world and people that we get everything from paint thrown on a canvas to meticulous realism. I may not understand or even appreciate it all, but it opens my eyes.

Anonymous said...

Good read, but I think you left out the fact that the real "art of the people" is done by graff artists. Urban wise anyway.

There is a lot of amazing "folk art" out there and I think graff artists would fall into that catergory.

"rural folk art" has a long history too. Sometimes simpler in its vision but full of fascinating detail.

"folk art" has a rich variety of work that has begun to have a lot of appreciation in the last 70 years or so. Starting essentially with Grandma Moses who made it big in the 30's and 40's, the artist Wolifi, and continuing on to Howard Finster ( folk artist superstar) a well collected folk artist can extend their vision and still be "true" to themself.

Anonymous said...

Name one artist that can create natural sunlight in their paintings like Bougeruau can. Case in example is Work Interrupted. A girl is knitting but her eye falls on someone attractive and cupid is playing with her heartstrings. It captures a moment familiar to everyone - you see someone who attracts you and you freeze. What is spectacular is how the sunlight falls on the scene. I have yet to see someone who has mastered painting to such extent. Bouguereau himself admitted that he used to work for months on each of his paintings with an incredible amount of work to get the result he managed. He reached God like staus in his field. Painting is not just subject matter. There is a basic aspect of art to do with technique and in this Bouguereau was the greatest.
I agree that any extreme view with regards to art is undesireable and beauty is in the eye of the beholder but at the same time in order to explore that freedom we must not belittle artists like Bouguereau.

Anonymous said...

Soon your kind will fall into poverty, mediocrity and obscurity because modern art can not express ideas; ideas are made by forming pictures in your head.

Modernism, communism, nationalism and positivism are the devils work and the devil is a jew who sits on a throne of skulls. That is an idea and modern art is supposed to grant me the freedom to express that idea. But it does not grant me freedom and neither does academic art. But academic art grants me truth. The truth of Christ and the Bible.

nessuno niente said...

The ARC people are mainly oddballs who simply can't appreciate the good modern art. But their championship of Bouguereau is fascinating because even though it is glaringly obvious that he is an essentially "false" artist they insist on his greatness. There are many artists today painting in a realistic way, but it is odd that none of them are as good as Bouguereau was. That makes me suspect that technically Bouguereau was probably one of the best around. However his work is designed to tell the world how good it is and never questions the status quo. I can look at his work for hours and wish to emulate it, but in the long run he is lacking in soul. If you want to understand why someone can paint with amazing ability and still not be an artist study his work. He is strangely inhuman.