new oldism: away from para-art

As a marketing term its not too sexy, a “new old master” lacks the punch and novelty, but it does express a direction for art that reverses the purely conceptual infinity that Marcel Duchamp bestowed on the world with the ready-made, the carft and drama of the banal and mundane and the whole idea of the avant-garde outliving its usefulness in a final spasm of the labored and hackneyed. Donald Kuspit even makes the assertion the the Beuys, Koons et al. are examples of the same formulas, recipes and conventions that spelled the demise of Salon art in the twentieth century, that epoch marked by the trifling repetition of the anecdote as painted by the like Rosa Bonheur, Edward Landseer, Vibert, Meissonier and others. Salon art and the avant-garde each doling out the kitsch in its own particualr way, each a corruption of form amounting to Picasso’s “sum of destructions.”

Jenny Saville. Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazine/features/kuspit/kuspit9-15-18.asp

Kuspit: ( see link at end) What I call the new Old Masterism or New Objectivism — to name names, the artists I have in mind, among others, are Odd Nerdrum, Vincent Desiderio, James Valerio, Jenny Saville, Paula Rego, Brenda Zlamany, Julie Heffernan and Eric Fischl (in his recent portraits) — is an alternative to labored and lame duck avant-gardism. The New Old Masterism is not another appropriation art — there is no manipulative quotation of Old Master artists, nor any one model of Old Master art — but rather an attempt to restore the beauty lost to avant-garde innovation (however much genuinely innovative avant-garde works ironically come to be regarded as beautiful, as the despairing Duchamp realized).

For all their differences, what the new Old Masters represent is perhaps best conveyed by the novelist, literary critic and philosopher William Gass, who writes: “I think it is one of the artist’s obligations to create as perfectly as he or she can, not regardless of all other consequences, but in full awareness, nevertheless, that in pursuing other values — in championing Israel or fighting for the rights of women, or defending the faith, or exposing capitalism, supporting your sexual preferences, or speaking for your race — you may simply be putting on a saving scientific, religious, political mask to disguise your failure as an artist. Neither the world’s truth nor a god’s goodness will win you beauty’s prize.”

Vincent Desiderio The Progress of Self Love (left panel) 1990 108 x 87 1/4 in. Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazine/features/kuspit/kuspit9-15-14.asp

The attempt to create beauty as perfectly as possible has led these artists to emphasize craft — not at the expense of vision, but as its instrument. Sol LeWitt once wrote that “When an artist learns his craft too well he makes slick art,” but the New Old Masterism makes it clear that one can never learn one’s craft too well, and the result of doing so is not slick but uncanny. For superior craft intensifies sight so that it becomes insight, which is what occurs in highly crafted Old Master art….


Kuspit may be exercising extreme severity here, but he is expressing the view that the idiom of fragmentation and anxiety has become a cliche without real articulation. Its played out, and there has to be a move to human existence to restore balance as well as to shatter the intellectual and inevitable homogenization of the avant-garde where “innovation” is a metaphor for morphing into perversity.

…The New Old Masterism restores the idea of the work of art as a carefully considered and composed object rather than an improvised sketch, that is, as an integrated, organic whole rather than a partial expression. It is a reflection not a performance or enactment — art, not para-art. Years ago Giorgio de Chirico said that the “loss of skill … the incapacity to work well … to create a true work of art” was responsible for “modern pseudo-art.” The New Old Masterism is an attempt to return to the attitude or mentality of traditional art, not to any particular traditional style, which means a return to deliberate and hard artistic work — in a particular medium, with a particular material, which must be fathomed and mastered.

The New Old Masterism is a quiet rebellion against the avant-garde assertions — they are the ironical dregs of avant-garde agonism — that “art only exists conceptually” (Joseph Kosuth) and that “art is really over with, having been transmuted into philosophy,” as shown by the fact that “the objects [of art] approach zero as their theory approaches infinity” (Arthur Danto). To which the New Old Masterism responds: “the rule of theory always rises in proportion as creative power falls” (Max J. Friedl√§nder)….

---James Valerio Translucent 1996 --- Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazine/features/kuspit/kuspit9-15-19.asp

Maybe the “new” will occur in not what we consider to be the structure of art at pres


Non-identity, a kind of energy will move outside the institutional exchange value structure of the system as we know it. Art as a temporal expression of the modern will cross boundaries and keep alive non-identity in the face of its own institutionalization; the striving for autonomy. Maybe. Maybe what Kuspit sees is a viable transitionary position.

…The New Old Masterism involves a renewal of creative power, inspired by the creative power of the Old Masters — a renewal that leaves theory in the dust, and reminds us that to define art only in conceptual or philosophical terms is to castrate it, or, to put this another way, with equally disastrous effect, to actually cut in half the baby that Solomon’s wisdom never did divide. To split off the conceptual and philosophical in art from its material and craft is a pathological intellectualization of art at the expense of its potential for beauty — a pseudo-austere puritanism (really a failure and inhibition of the imagination), eschewing the pleasure and delight it gives.

Deerstalkers Returning Restrike Etching by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer http://www.easyart.com/scripts/zoom/zoom.pl?pid=35716

The regressive sense of destructive alienation, unresolved contradiction and brutal negation that informs avant-garde art, and is the ironical flip side of its “progressiveness” — Michael Balint praised it for acknowledging “discordance” as inevitable in modern society and life in general (such discordance will not disappear with the disappearance of avant-garde art into the dead end of its own making) — remains alive and well in the New Old Masterism. But it has become part of the larger picture of the object — of an attempt to show that it is still possible to remain intact despite the experience of the negative forces in modernity — to have ego strength despite the experience of the indifference and violence that threaten it. The whole — if flawed — figures of the New Old Masterism symbolize this new integrity.

---Born in 1802, English artist, Sir Edwin Landseer is perhaps best known as a painter of animals. His paintings of horses, stags, and dogs, many of them later engraved by his brother Thomas, captured the public's hearts. Landseer often appears to have given almost human sentiments to his animal subjects, sometimes emphasising the point in his choice of title. This poignant work, "The Old Shepherd's Chief Mourner" does exactly that. It shows a dog resting is head on a shroud on a wooden coffin, pining for his shepherd master.---Read More:http://www.vandaprints.com/image/13998/the-old-shepherds-chief-mourner-by-sir-edwin-landseer

The greatness of avant-garde art has to with its subjective implications — it was a heroic visionary attempt to articulate the new sense and difficulties of being a subject and self that modernity brought with it — the new suffering, as it were. The New Old Masterism does not deny avant-garde art’s insights into the human condition as it is experienced in and defined by modernity, but suggests that there is more to human existence than fragmentation and anxiety. It insists that one can get beyond the perverse effects of perverse modern life…. Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazine/features/kuspit/kuspit9-15-99.asp

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