Postmodern vs. Evolutionary Art

Atlas Summit with Stephen Hicks and Newberry's Icarus Landing

The following is a version of my part of a joint presentation with Stephen Hicks given at the first ever Malibu Summit student retreat hosted by The Atlas Society on June 29, 2019 at Scorpiesse in Malibu, California.  

June 29th, 2019 at Scorpiesse – Stephen Hicks talks with Atlas Advocates at The Malibu Summit. 

An Impasse Between Creating and Destroying

The contrast between postmodernism and what I call “evolutionary art” is both epistemological, in the sense of how the art is made and the knowledge behind it, and metaphysical, what kind of subjects are important. Postmodern art is about seeking new means and content to challenge the very concept of art. Evolutionary art builds on the contributions of great artists and great art movements with new insights into human psychology and aesthetic means. Philosopher and The Atlas Society Senior Scholar Stephen Hicks, Ph.D, summarizes the difference this way:  it is the difference between a master making a stained glass window and the moron that throws a rock and smashes it!

Louise Bourgeois vs. Martine Vaugel 

Louise Bourgeois at MOMA. “Untitled” (1998), fabric and stainless steel at center

The postmodern works I am including are considered important by important art institutions. A defining moment and lifelong obsession of French-American postmodern artist Louise Bourgeois was the trauma of discovering her father’s affair with her governess. Bourgeois was a member of the American Abstract Artists Group and had her own salon called Bloody Sunday. She referred to her early to later work as “fear of falling…art of falling…and the art of hanging in there.” Not an abstract artist, not a competent drawer or sculptor, with no discernible standards of any kind, she didn’t use art as a means of personal evolution, to grow both technically and soulfully. Instead her works convey that she remained stuck in a regressive emotional intelligence state, which conveyed the only kinds of emotions available to a hopelessly incompetent artist – pain, anxiety, and confusion. 

A great example of her arrested development is this untitled head shown at her retrospective show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Clumps of wool clobbered together to form a cylinder base and a cotton ball-like head, which is then crudely sowed over with pink-flesh colored compression wrap bandages, wrapping the nose, stitched over mouth, and stuffed into the empty eyeball sockets. A cauliflower ear is formed grotesquely out of the same stuff. One has to call into question, not how pathetic her work is, but what is her motive for exhibiting it, and what are the motives of the critics, curators, and directors who give her a reputation that only the awesome prestigious power of New York’s great art institutions can give. Empathy for humanity may be in the press release, but there is a deeper motive that they may not want to examine. 

Martine Vaugel, is a contemporary French-American sculptor whose bronze figure and portrait sculptures are, in her words, the “expression of my love affair with the human spirit.” She is the founder of the Vaugel Sculpture Method, a method of clay modeling based on her knowledge of human anatomy and mastery of structure.

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The Sky Problem in Landscape Painting

Newberry, California High Desert, pastel on dark paper

Newberry Art Tutorials

The Problem: A Bright Sky

In real life the daylight sky is bright, much brighter than the landscape’s trees, vegetation, mountains, and water. Think of it as a large lamp. But when you paint a landscape truthfully the effect backfires, the sky will be bright but the earth part will be dull and muddy. Light on the green trees, stone buildings, and red flowers can’t complete with the sky’s light. Even though you are seeing a sun filled landscape, your painting won’t feel that way, but you’ll feel disappointed with your skills.

The Lie

Claude Monet Landscape
Claude Monet

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The Problem with Equating Form, Light, and Space with Being Old-Fashioned

A Newberry still life recreating how depth gives a feeling of movement between objects.
Olaku's use of twilight to convey depth, light, shadow, and reflections.
Abiodun Olaku, Conversations, oil on canvas, 2014. An excellent example of a contemporary artist integrating form, light, and depth. And notice the groupings of people, as if the more we look we will be able to hear their conversations. Compare this to famous postmodern artists below with their empty, flat, trash devoid of human empathy or perception.

Mediocre artists, forever disappointed that they don’t match up, have a hard time acknowledging history’s great artists.  Michelangelo, Monet, Vermeer, and Rembrandt are hard mentors. One way second-rate artists work around this is to change the rules of aesthetics. The most extreme case is postmodern aesthetics, which obliterates the importance of mastery of the medium, or using any medium at all, and believes shock concepts are the essence of art requiring no skill.

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Energizing the Eye: Abiodun Olaku

“In the broad valley, far below him, in the first sunlight of early morning, he saw a town. Only it was not a town. Towns did not look like that. He had to suspend the possible for a while longer, to seek no questions or explanations, only to look.”

The above was Ayn Rand’s description of Howard Roark’s Monadnock Valley development in The Fountainhead. Rand is revered — and reviled — as a philosopher and novelist, but to me she was also an artist. She defined art as a recreation of reality according to an artist’s values, and in her work, she recreated an inspirational world of heroes, light, and flourishing.

labour

That is why The Atlas Society chose art as an arena for intellectual and spiritual engagement with Ayn Rand’s ideas.  The 25-year-old philosophical organization capped 2016 with winners of first annual Atlas Art Contest. Over 400 entries were narrowed down to 21 artists by a panel of four judges: Sabin Howard, sculptor; Judd Weiss, photographer; Agnieszka Pilat, painter: and myself. The public was then invited to vote, further spreading the engagement with the outstanding work of our finalists.

The winners were, from first to third place, Abiodun Olaku, Eric Armusik, and Danielle Dalechek. Given Ayn Rand’s aesthetics, it is rather fitting that Olaku won first prize with his clean style, perspective, and nuanced light.

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