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.

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

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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
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to persuade

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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

as

richly saturated with art as any in the world! Could there have been more eloquent testimony to our civilizational exhaustion, at least as far as fine art is concerned, than this

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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 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

free of ideas, far from it, alas. Their brains are fairly buzzing with ideas, or rather with the simulacra of /* 9-970x90 */ 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 src="//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/show_ads.js"> 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

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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 google_ad_height = 90; uses an expression such as ‘I am interested in…’ or ‘I am

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fascinated by…’ you know that something google_ad_height = 90; 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 as objects stemming from the exploitation of

an intimate google_ad_client = "ca-pub-3967079123942817"; space. The space
that attracted me most at the Palais des Beaux-Arts

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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 to build a small ambulatory space, 1.65 meter high

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– 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 cruelly giving him google_ad_slot = "8637400688"; the impression that his src="//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/show_ads.js"> 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 google_ad_slot = "6023194682"; he should be a street-sweeper – a useful and honourable occupation, after all – than waste his existence thus.

The problem, perhaps, is that the idea of

they are more attached to the idea of art than to art itself. They are not like

the six characters of Pirandello is search of
an author: they are would-be artists who want to express themselves and who are

Beaux-Arts – but it src="//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/show_ads.js"> is obvious at a glance that their
artistic expression comes from an inner compulsion to try to make sense of their

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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

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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, museums, foundations and other cultural google_ad_width = 970; institutions, it is in order fully to take on the role every

school should play within its artistic ecosystem: that of a space for reflection.

It is clear that for Bourriaud, teaching is at the very best secondary, perhaps not even necessary at all: for Man is a born artist, and all he has to do to achieve his innate artistry is to ‘reflect’ on what is already within him.

It will come as no surprise, I should imagine, to readers to learn that the catalogue was published with a subvention of the French Ministry of Culture and Communication, without which it would certainly not have been

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published at all. As Enrico Lunghi, director of Luxembourg’s museum of modern art and chairman of the jury,
puts it:

We could speak of an institution [the Beaux-Arts] among others, where, without seeming to, the foundations of dominant powers are reproduced and consolidated, google_ad_client = "ca-pub-3967079123942817"; inasmuch //--> as the sociology of students 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