Des beaux-arts

Anthony Daniels visits a degree show at the École Nationale Supérieure

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des Beaux-Arts in Paris.


I am in blood


in so far that, should I wade no more,

Returning were as tedious as go o’er.

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 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 src="//"> 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

a 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 the man or woman who saw nothing in Van Gogh! That fate does not
at least as far as fine art is concerned, than this exhibition of the félicités of the Beaux-Arts? Surrounded by incomparable artistic wealth, the félicités produced the kind of grubby and depressing bric-à-brac that any reasonably conscientious femme de ménage would feel ashamed not google_ad_height = 90; to clear away or at least to cover up when visitors were expected. O originality, what crimes are committed in thy name!

Not that the young artists are google_ad_client = "ca-pub-3967079123942817"; free of ideas, far from it, alas.

brains are fairly buzzing with ideas, src="//"> 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 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 /* 9-970x90 */ 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 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 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

Pirandello is search of an author: they are would-be artists who want to express themselves and who are in search of a subject to express themselves
about, as well as a career. Hence their professed interest in astrophysics and the like: the universe is a mere prop to their desire to express themselves and be noticed.

The contrast could not have been greater with an exhibition of Haitian art held at the same time in Paris at the Grand Palais. Haitian artists are not

necessarily technically accomplished – though the self-taught sculptors of Port-au-Prince are infinitely more so than the sculptors taught at the Beaux-Arts – but it
is obvious at a glance that


their artistic expression comes from an inner compulsion to try to make sense of their
world and their experiences, and is therefore often very moving as well as aesthetically pleasing.

Neither the director of the school, Nicolas Bourriaud, nor the chairman of the jury, Enrico Lunghi, wrote in their introductions to the catalogue as if the school were an educational establishment where such things as skill and technique should be taught. This, it seems, would be beneath the dignity both of the teachers and students.


Instead, as Bourriaud puts it:

… if we are strengthening our ties with art centers,