Des beaux-arts

Anthony Daniels visits a degree show at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris.


I am in blood

Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more,

Returning were as tedious as

go o’er.

style="text-align: center;">Macbeth, Act 3 scene iv

No one would have understood better than Macbeth

the logic of
the inexorable destruction by the art education establishment of artistic tradition, and thereby the google_ad_slot = "7160667483"; value of practically all subsequent artistic production. The process must continue, or those who were and are responsible for it must
admit their guilt and lose their jobs. Their livelihoods, if not their lives, are at stake. Therefore that establishment must continue to see worth in worthlessness and deep significance in the utterly trivial, and to persuade the public that if it does not do likewise the fault lies with its own lack of
sophistication and powers of discrimination. The art education establishment draws aid and comfort from the following quasi-syllogism taken from art history, the kind of vulgate that is now, alas, familiar to every art student:

Van Gogh was

not understood in his lifetime and sold not

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single painting to the public. Van Gogh was a great painter. His story was typical of art history down the ages. Artists X, Y, and Z are not understood and the public neither appreciates nor buys their work. Therefore artists X, Y, and Z are great artists like Van Gogh.

The errors both empirical and logical in this syllogism hardly need pointing out; but it haunts the mind of many of those who teach art, and probably the minds of many critics too. To miss the next Van Gogh! To be quoted in the future only as

brains are fairly buzzing with ideas, or rather with the simulacra of ideas. There are interviews with them in the catalogue that accompany the illustrations of their work, conducted by art critics who speak a kind of portentous hermetic language: ‘How does your approach fit src="//"> in with the inheritance of the institutional critique of the 1960s and 70s, which aimed to critique the authority systems of contemporary art?’ or ‘The recurring problematic of these pieces is spatio-temporality and the notion of outer limits.’

Notwithstanding the ‘problematic of spatio-temporality,’ the cultural references of the artists seem rather restricted in time, the 1960s being almost prehistoric for them, of the same era, more or less, as the Lascaux cave paintings. And many of them seem to suffer from science-envy, as if art were of no real social,

intellectual or cultural significance nowadays, the action, as it were, being nowadays all in science and technology. (It does not occur to them that their own activities google_ad_height = 90; help to make this self-fulfilling.) Hence they often refer to their studios as ‘laboratories’ and their activities as ‘experiments’, using the words in the true scientific sense and not as mere metaphors. They call their jottings about possible future work ‘research notebooks’. Several of them claim to be very interested

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in sciences such as geology, biology and astrophysics, as
if charcoaling a big black circle //--> on a map of the stars to represent a
black hole was evidence of serious interest rather than of intellectual frivolity. Whenever one of these artists uses an expression such as ‘I am interested in…’ or ‘I am fascinated by…’ you know that something shallow
or opaque is about to follow. Here is


what an artist had to say about his ‘project’, which seemed to consist of cheap wooden trestles and frames with polythene stretched in them, all to the sound of a dreary voice recording:

The issue that haunted me as I conceived the project was how to position the recording instruments as well google_ad_height = 90; as objects stemming from the exploitation of an intimate space. The space that attracted me most at the Palais des Beaux-Arts was the second floor balcony. I’d  like to set up two modified periscopes through which a few objects installed on the ceiling could be observed. I’d also like google_ad_width = 970; to build a small ambulatory space, 1.65 meter high – which is to say my own height – which could be used as a partition, an installation and a space where I could share with visitors.

Reading this, I felt almost sorry for the young artist so dishonestly congratulated by the jury, thereby

giving him the impression


that his work and his vapid reflections upon it (haunted, indeed!) were of value,
and possibly setting him on a lifetime course of pointless and worthless endeavour. Better that he should be

of an institution [the Beaux-Arts] among others, where, without seeming to, google_ad_client = "ca-pub-3967079123942817"; the foundations of dominant powers are reproduced and consolidated, inasmuch as the sociology of students google_ad_client = "ca-pub-3967079123942817"; prefigures the art world, which is not particularly open to social diversity.

Or to artistic diversity, for that matter.

Anthony Daniels

The Jackdaw, March-April 2015