June 10, 2012

The Picturesque in Modern Art

The Picturesque in Modern Art

An essay
By Th. Halacu-Nicon

Although this essay might raise some voices, doubting my observation, from those who claim that art is free of forms and styles for that matter, (new artists usually) I am claiming that the new age is demanding a new pure form of expression.

I don't intend to talk about the way modern society changed the perception of art altogether but more about how the lack of artistic expression in our modern life is changing our modern society and the future we are building for ourselves and for the next generations.

Looking into history we see that our society experienced this same phenomenon many times before. Once, we fell into the dark ages, then, after a long time of distress, we came up with Renaissance in order to free our souls of all the ugliness those ages brought on us.

This attitude of ignorance, our modern society has, concerning art, comes from the lack of knowledge, from poor education, from the lack of art history lessons in our schools, from the ignorance the governments have for art and culture altogether while conceiving school programs.

Freedom has taken over aesthetics and the argument which most use, nowadays, for their lack of culture is: "Aesthetics is an individual matter of taste". Well, it is not, for taste in art is defined by culture.

Ajanta Fresco

Ajanta (Ancient Shiva site), near Bombay, India
2nd Century BC
This ancient painting shows use of different shapes and curves. The curves are tumultuous.

I was born in a city called Constanța, at the Black Sea, Romania, during the winter of 1970, when "communism" was at its pick and it didn’t show yet any sign of ever falling, but it did.  I got to live, until now, almost an equal amount of years, under two of the most commun forms of democracy: one which got extinct (communism) and the second, the one we call "capitalism".

Capitalism has many faces and I've seen most as I traveled all my life and kept observing, some of which, in structure, resemble very well the old gone communism, only with a much friendly face.

I spent my early years as a painter, as I began the trade with a native talent, then I studied the world of arts and the arts in this world ever since.

My disappointment grew with age, when understanding that what I was told when I was a child, by almost everyone around me, came to be true: “The life of a true artist is a life of sacrifices and sufferings, generated by a world who is not ready to understand the artist’s sacrifice."

Idealized peaceful communist woman and man by Sabin Balașa

I didn’t give it much thought at the time, because it didn’t felt as a sacrifice. I thought we only do this  to please our soul. I was young and my soul need to be fed.  My inner beliefs taught me that art is coming from deep inside; And it does.  I thought that all that defines the artist’s true reason for existence and the touch of the creative act will help make the world a better place.

I thought, we the artists, were here acting like angels and our purporse was to help people enrich their dreams with our imagination.  I was taught that sometimes we have to fight against the unfair decisions of this society with those elegant weapons called: metaphors, subliminal arguments and symbolism, all given to us by the mighty power of God: HE who have chosen us from among the others to be the angels of spiritual rightfulness in this world, once He gave us our talent... And that felt right, it gave us the reason to be creative and never think at the material side of life. We acted like angels giving our souls for the well being of art.

It was a wrong, as my convictions were built behind the iron courtain of communism, which told us we don't have to bother cause the system takes care of the rest. Meanwhile the entire world was going in a different direction and was constantly changing. Nevertheless I am one of those left behind and now, as somehow I got a glimpse over the fence and I've seen how the West was changing art and builded art markets, I also got to see what makes a succesful artists in capitalism. Although less creative and more commercial, the capitalist market is better organised and artists tend to gain something else - wealth, which in our old world ment we would sale our souls to the devil, but here it means - power. But then again, history repeats itself... some go mad, some go bust, some give up and some other profit.

In communism we were taught to believe that, as an artist, one is entitled to a decent life, that all you have to do is to work hard and be creative and the system will provide for you.  Most top artists of those times, the ones who are still alive, still take advantage of the favors of the old system: payed studios, villas for residence, titles in the union, big pensions etc.

Emmanuel Snitkovsky Portrait of Salvador Daly

The sistem was encourageing everyone to keep creating; The old system wanted to have the best talent to prove his system was the right one.

On the other hand, common people didn't trust in the future of an artist: I can still hear my grandma's voice telling me: “Look at how art has been developed thru time, observe just how a handful of artists were successful during ages of tormented history, don't you see how many of them only got to see success just after their death? Your father isn't a member of the party to build you a secure future!”

And grandma' was not the only one: Everyone close to me, people who knew me, people who didn't know me, they all had different opinions on weather is wise for me to pick up a carrier in art or not.

Most were people who cared about my future and spoken with compassion, but none of these people were concealing a definite point of view, or a stronger argument, except that of the poor material existence for an artist.

Still Life in the kitchen - THN 1997

I understood that, but as an individual with a passion I decided I should take that advice as a challenge, I thought of the energy art was generating over me, once in front of the artistic act and felt I will be sorry not to try my hand at it. 

I began my training and learned that in order to get there, I will have to resume first to observing, study a lot, get inspired and then try to create.

Right after Communism collapsed, people were complaining a lot about the censorship the old system imposed over those who wanted to express themselves freely and most still blame all that censorship on only one man: NC. At the time I thought the same thing, as I wouldn’t know better.

Later, shortly after the stronger powers of this universe decided the installation of globalization on our nation, I’ve seen an unexpected change into the borders of the free world and so the place I call home was finally taught to be a free land. I've seen people gaining their freedom of speech but I also seen them loosing their sense of beauty, much as the rest of the free world.

The face of freedom brough on us the curse of the dying dictator, as individual greed lead to our school system to rot, our health system to vanish. We came fresh on the free market with aids infested children, fleeying the East block, romanian gypsies shook the old continent with their uncivilized way of life as all of the sudden they threw away their guitars and got to stealing: The whole package just made my home country look like a God Forsaken Underworld, re-discovered by the western conquistadors in the late 20th Century, which once it gained its freedom it infested the true civilized world with sickness and corruption. In fact, the civilized world was rotten, was much corrupt then we were and it hide its flaws under a strong propaganda and unsustainable depts.

The freedom I lusted for so long, brought upon us hatred, racism, strange illnesses, hunger, suicidal tendencies, illegal drugs and all the bad things our late "communist" leader was predicted. It seems now as although communism was a rough system, based on strict rules,  somehow it keept the streets clean. Freedom gave the commoner the right to steal, the right to kill, brought kitsch to the state of art, both in the day to day existence of our society and in the visual perspective of artistic expression, raising it now to a high state of value. It is weird as none of us, subjects born under a communism system, thought it will turn out this way.

In the old system, an individual had to make the choice early in his life: what he or she would want to become. In a sense, we were forced to prepare for life and indulge: the youth could not bail school before a certain age when work was proper, as school was mandatory and free, citizens of different nationalities had to bare each other because they had no choice but living next to each other, the health system could not refuse services to anyone, because it was free and without perspectives of individual enrichment for its employees, people could not envy each other for the difference in wealth, because everybody was supposed to be equal, so there was none of the hatred starting from possession of propriety that we see today and brings people even to crime.

Back East, underground “manele” gypsy music was played only in closed circles, at gypsy weddings and fairs, so the so called cultivated music had a market and was respected worldwide. Simple citizens could not paint the façade of their own houses by their own choice, because they didn’t have to bother with that at all as the system was taking care of it. Everything was controled by law and there was order. There were no drugs addicts, mothers could have an abortion only under strict circumstances and not every time they pleased and corrupted comrades who were performing such abortions illegally for bribes were taken to jail. The system cared about the country's popularization and definitely none could advertise prostitution, violence, or bad taste on the open streets.

In fact all these and many other laws were not even written, they were just implemented into people’s conscience by the fear that they will do wrong and the system will punish them. Or so we thought! In those times the western world was banning more then a kiss on their silver screens as well - so even though I tend to make a difference, I guess the whole world was more civilized.

Back East, the country jails were almost empty comparing to the present days when they are forced to build more as corruption grew once with the lusted freedom.

Because of those strict laws, the population was growing and flourishing in most parts of the country, there was no such things as aids infected children, bums on the street, nor as many hookers for that matter. The violence was minimal, the gypsy had to behave, and even though there will be voices who will rise up trying to remember me about the hunger, it is my observation that most were lucky and manage. In fact, that hunger everyone is talking about lasted only 6 years, as it began in 1984, when Romania was forced by the West to pay our country's debts, and ended (?) in December 1989 with the fall of his system, once the West decided our president was a dictator who starved his people. In fact, now, we learn the truth: NC had his flaws, but he wanted to make this nation great: He built a huge modern industry which helped gain independence from the western world and so he payed the cosequences. His plan began earlier, the economy growth help build a strong sysyem: Everyone had a decent life, school and health services were free, everyone had a roof over his head and even arts were flourishing. (see the Romanian films of 1970-1982 - and not the propaganda ones - but the artistic ones). The West never thought he will be able to do that, therefore, once it rose concern, it began a denigrating propaganda against his system. First it imposed economical restrictions on our nation and banned us from going abroad by closing their borders and blaming all that on the president. By 1989, when the West was hit by crisis, we had pay the all the debts and had 6 billion dollars to restart our economy and maybe lend to others as well.  The democratic elite of the world realized that that doesn't look good for the free world and decided to change our history. The so called "Communist" system was destroyed, our industry was all sold as scrap and, in a matter of just a few years, with corruption encouraged, we grew our depts back to where we were and even more: supermarkets shelves got filled with western crap, which no one could affod because they had no secure income, school and health sytem were destroyed and therefore we became a nation of non-literates and sick people, our population has been downsized, our natural resorces were bought for pennies by the great powers, foreign banks got everyone in dept and our neighbours open their borders in order to gain our work force on low income as most emigrated for a better life. Artists are staving ever since as there is no market for art and there is no system to protect the artist. More, in 2016 a law was imposed: We, in the word of freedom, can get arrested if we mention, on line, any of the so called Opressing Leaders, as this perfect system definitely wants to erase our whole modern history. We bought the lie and blame it all on ourselves. 

Going back at the ideea that arts were censored during those times, I have to say that censorship came only to those who denigrated our country and yes, to those who denigrated the president of those times who, as our elected leader, represented our country. In fact arts were at their pick during that system. That system, despite its cruel atheist surface, built more churches then it destroyed (the rummors of the destroyed churches came once the system relocated some once they built the cities), helped reviving Constantin Brancusi into the nation’s memory, inspired Emil Cioran, inducing him all the hatred he transformed into philosophy and got Mircea Eliade begin his quest for understanding religions.

Onto the art scene there were great painters like Corneliu Baba, Ion Salisteanu, Sabin Balasa and many others. The system prized the ones before their time like Grigorescu, Tonitza and Pallady, and even admitted those who exiled themselves for a better life, like Victor Brauner, as they were acknowledged and taught in schools for future generations to be proud and learn from their art.

Corneliu Baba
"Girl Portrait" Corneliu Baba

A young and passionate artist had to study hard, as I remember.  Art was taken very seriously.  One had to begin with preparing himself and learn about the universal arts from a very young age until time came and he was ready to present himself in front of the examination jury at the Art Academy (as it was called at the time) where he would master all skills of the trade, polish his spirit, and grow into a true artist. There was  no way once could have just pay for his school tuition and get a diploma out of it.

The system was giving you a challenge as there were only a few Art Schools in the country, all of them located in the largest cities and each was opening only a limited number of entries each year; not more than five or six on each specialty as the competition was tough. I guess the system knew then how many artist each generation really needed, therfore there were no starving artists.

After the examination, the ones who failed still had a choice: some either gave up and head towards a different profession which suited them better, as the system encouraged youth to go towards a "Professional School" (School of trades) or some would continue learning, becoming apprentices of the already recognized artists and kept preparing and try again next year while most worked in small work shops, painting banners and street decorations to make money and pay their private classes and keep learning the skill until the next opening entry.  In fact there were candidates who tried to pass the art school examination for as long as 10 years and some kept failing. There was the freedom to do that, as well. I know a few.

Some of those who went so far and never make it, eventually gave up trying, not because they got tired of it, but because after all that time, they were finally acknowledged anyway as true artists for their years of study on a parallel market which was there to bring their content to the audience: "The Amatory Market” as it was called; It had its own galleries and its own suppliers with pieces both artistic and decorative which in fact were more at the reach of the everyday people who needed to decorate their walls and artisticly wise their work was as good as any professional. Everyone could sell and none had to own their own business or pay any taxes. They could then spend how ever they liked.

The system was far from perfect and had its flows as there were individuals out there who passed their examination resorting to acts of corruption as paying bribes to the jury and so, as well as those with high placed relatives who didn't have to work so hard. But it seems as, what ever the system, corruption always prevails, as this manner grew even much more after the fall of the old system.

Luckly though, most of these cheating subjects were later on rejected by the system and by the public, as they could not face the competition.  Some would survive by resuming to sell on the Amatory Market in order to make a living out of the skills they pick up in school, some other delt art (most of whom are the best known art dealers of today).

Now, the system was similar in all schools and as most of my generation had to flee the country, later,  after the "revolution", they made the great eastern engineers working nowadays for big corporations abroad and the great scientists and the IT developers from Microsoft and so on. 

Freedom brought chaos and as we are taking the course of history, repeating it as humans always tend to do, maybe this is our dark age from which light will prevail once again. But then again, it seems man was always more creative when under control, censorship, or a dictatorial system.

Renaissance came along from under a system where inquisition was killing everyone who even dared to dream to be creative. Impressionism appeared when artists felt the need of expressing purity under a world ruled by hunger, and modern war. Surrealism came out of a world dominated by drugs and power abuse.

We came to a time where reality is our new religion and we are now in need of metaphors to find hope once again and regain our sense of beauty and lust for life. Nowadays technology is out there as a tool for us all who want to learn it and master it. Computers are, in the world of modern art, as brushes were to Caravaggio, as sand paper was to Brancusi, as acrylics were to Warhol or as Technicolor was to Chester M. Franklin

Our need for profit, in order to survive in a system systained by us from our wage-bills, paid form our canvases and brushes and taxes on our cretivity, should not shackle our imagination and the true artist should continue to find ways to express himself and improve the art dictionary with new art tendencies for future generations to grow smarter and much more spiritual.


Judith Beheading Holofernes by Caravaggio

The 21st Century artist, should look ahead, and follow the example of artist as Jan Saudek, Annie Leibovitz, David LaChapelle, Tim Burton, Tarsem, James Cameron and many others and study composition, color, symbolism, and all the other tools in order to fulfill the people's need for story, drama and beauty.

Keith Haring, New York (1986) by Annie Leibovitz

For more Annie Leibovitz works and related artists access: artsy.net/artist/annie-leibovitz

The sincerity of a true artist does not come only from his minimal way of expression, it comes from the way he masters the sensitive; shape, color, sound, the way he sends his messages into the world and builds dreams for all of us to pass the troubled times.

Ask anyone who lived under the so called "Communism" and dreamed of freedom and they will tell you that: "Freedom is in the colors of the rainbow."  Eventually the Picturesque is the true definition of art, as after long studies, profound artists as Rothko, showed us, there are no limits to imagination, by bringing out picturesque from the deepness of his colors to the level of spiritual.

Mark Rothko

So lets just keep learning, then teaching, and creating... as for a better world to come, even if some of our children will be starving true artist and others will be wealthy art dealers... for the true art does need sacrifices, for the world to keep go on. 

June 23, 2011 - June 10, 2012

1 comment:

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