Who cares what sculpture means? What’s good art and what’s bad?
I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)
“I know what I like and I like what I know” isn’t just a line penned by Pater Gabriel, when still a member of Genesis, on the album “Selling England by the Pound”. Before Phil Collins came to the fore… and the less said about that the better!
It’s, essentially, the definition of “post-modern”.
To all intents and purposes it suggests (and, for some people, demands) that there is no objective standard by which to judge the value of any work of art, be it a painting or a sculpture; a symphony or a song; a novel or a film. Basically it’s all supposed to be subjective. Or is it? Peter Gabriel or Phil Collins? Who is the better artist? For me it’s a no brainer but I fear, in the very depths of my soul, I may be in a minority. But I know I’m right, or at least I think I am.
Una passione per l’arte
As a young man I travelled through Italy. I was mad keen to see as many of the “greatest” works of art ever created as I could manage. I dragged my then girlfriend, and now wife, bonkers but uncomplainingly down the seemingly endless corridors in galleries of Renaissance art.
We could never afford to buy a guidebook, but every now and then, we would find ourselves drawn to a particular painting when all the others had barely registered. Invariably, and without being aware of the small description accompanying the painting, you were aware of a presence. Your senses became engaged and alert…. And totally unsurprised, you found out the artist was Leonardo Da Vinci or Raphael.
Or, more arrestingly, you’re confronted by Caravaggio!
The bad boy of the Renaissance, Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio’s definitely “hard wired”. He makes Damien Hirst’s work look like an illustration of “Peter Rabbit” by Beatrix Potter! Sentenced to death for murder following a brawl, he blazed a terrifying trail of mayhem and high art from Troublesville to Troubletown before dying at the age of 38, possibly murdered. His body of work is stunning, frightening and disturbing.
But being hard wired does not necessarily mean dark, disturbing or pessimistic. Beauty can arrest the onlooker as much as the Beast.
The high point of my Italian adventures and, the most moving experience I’ve ever had in the presence of a work of art, was the “David” at the Academiai Gallery in Florence. Even my wife was grateful for having endured the queues to see it and to feel its profound effect. Michelangelo’s David is not sexual but is the nearest an artist has ever got to perfection. It transcends the daily toil and points upwards to something better in our souls than we knew we had.
Michelangelo was, without doubt, the supreme hard wired artist. Even though, for me, his other work, including his work on the Sistine Chapel, never quite pulled off the transcendental perfection of David again.
Higher Than The Sun
So what’s left now that David has been released from the enormous block of Marble which once confronted Michelangelo? I think the point is that to be meaningful, art has to have a higher aim.
The composition of his work on the Sistine Chapel contains clues as to Michelangelo’s aim. His achievements were immense. He points the way, even though the best of the rest may never travel half as far as he did. Should that deter us from trying to create something objectively meaningful?
I don’t think it should.
No matter how far we are able to travel, it’s worth the effort to aim at something better. And if it’s a bit rubbish? Don’t try to pass it off as post-modern. That just doesn’t wash!