I am not sure exactly how to start because a lot of this was covered in two beginnings which I can no longer find on the blog.So I will assume they are gone and begin from scratch. First of all While all of us believe that the avant garde rubric under which the art establishment has operated since its pallid acceptance of AE after the fact, is phony, no one has, as yet, spelled out what the differences between the two are and also given an alternative ideology.
First of all the avant garde began with the impressionists, and in my view ended with AE. In every case the artists produced work which the official as well as most of the unoffical art loving and art buying public, the museum directors and their curators, and the critics believed to be terrible art. Sometimes it wasn't even worth writing a word about. Sometimes it was worth a diatribe. Usually a different group of people from those in the official art world were the early collectors, they were offten foreigners to the country in which the art was created and the artists developed. Eventually some large portion of the work was seen to possess virtues which gave it merit beyond all of the establishment work being produced, and it became the art of its period, while the establishment art became the footnotes.
I will not spell out the differences, socially, economically and politically between that scenario and that of the work which is now going by the rubric of Avant Garde as it also garners all of the attention of publically funded gallery spaces, foundations, and of course the critics, collectors and museum people. It is a huge difference. The use of the word can not stand the comparison.
But on some levels, all of these people, who want to buy contemporary art and help define the artistic future, the critics, curators and collectors are people we can be proud of. They badly want to do something for contemporary art in their own countries and across the world. They mean to do good, but in fact they are doing ill.
First of all let us define the work process of the artists after romanticism began, but before the rise of the avant garde. Romanticism was the movement which began by calling for new art and new sensibility. It also was a movement which initiated the use of the word "interesting", rather than the word "classical" as a value word of approbation for new work and new motifs. Another of its words was nature as in natural. Natural opposes artificial, thus rendering work more acceptable because of its more "natural" rendering of nature. When the first Constables reached France early in the 19th century, one of the things which so awed the French was Constable's ability to paint rain on the foliage placing the painting just after a shower. His "natural" brushstroke was influenced by William Gilpin's idea of the picturesque "roughness joined to irregularity," and found also in Gilpin "on Prints" as "the artist's sketch, his first statement is preferable to the final work because of its roughness.[this is my approximation]" So, Constable already had new ideas about painting articulated by a well established countryman of his, whose reputation, especially for landscape gardening stretched all over Europe. They led to his larger brush stroke, and his freer work from the motif. Although his work did fit into the establishment of his time, some of his ideas were more acceptabkle to the French than the English. He became a member of the Royal Academy with the support of the genre painter Charles Robert Leslie, also his biographer.
A number of the other radicals, on the French side of the channel, Delacroix, Gericault, Corot and Courbet. had some new strategies for self development. Between the four of them there was without doubt many fewer years of study at the Academy than among an equal group of the more conservative painters of their time. Neither Courbet nor Corot had recognized teachers for most of their study years. Courbet never had one. Both Gericault and Delacroix were known to have produced hundreds of painted studies of the model in teacherless classes, and studies from the old masters in the Louvre, also the favorite place for study for both Courbet and Corot. They taught themselves, but in the context of great renaissance and baroque art. When they finally began to exhibit, the work in each case was radical including both landscape painting directly from nature, and carrying into larger paintings many of the qualities of the sketch. Even though Corot's sketches were similar to those of classicizing landscape painters of his and the previous geneation, it was work which none of the classicists would ever show. Also he was working towards a complete painting, therefore his sketches use the pictorial devices for a fully developed painting, but within sketch size and paint application. When they finally became well known it became clear that much of their quality was the result of a radical restatement of baroque and late renaissance models, French, Italian, Flemish and Dutch. Their chosen models were often not the same paintings by their sources to which the academics gravitated. Nor were all of them relating particularly well to the same pictures. Their choices were idiosyncratic. Thus it would be fair to say that, while they were each looking for models for their own future work, the combination of their art culture [what they looked at and what it meant to them] and their idiosyncratic desires for themselves as artists within the great tradition, bore the largest responsibility for how their work turned out.
Now, most of the artists whose work I respond to the most of my generation and younger can be called post abstract painters. This is true of all of the Jane Street GAllery members [Kresch, Bell, Blaine, Matthiasdotter, Rothschild]. It is also true of Larry Day, Natalie Charkow[a sculptor], George Rose, and a little younger, Stanley Lewis, Richard Chiriani, Richard LaPresti, Stanley Friedman and Barbara Goodstein [a sculptor]. It is also true of the members of the Midwest Paint Group and many of the members of the Bowery GAllery, some of whom were students of Leland. What that means is that the opening to figuration which they followed included a sense of the abstract construction of the forms and colors and their rhythm in light and space. This kind of construction was not only found in abstract art, but in the first 40 years of the 20th century it was found in figurative painting by the master painters of the school of Paris.
Now, what is my alternative to the theory of the present and future belonging to the avant garde?
Clearly, the model of pre Avant Garde procedures for development are a much better model for us now and in the future. These include, as of most importance, knowing your own pictorial culture, studying it intently and with the desire to learn what makes it make pictorial sense. A painting like Courbet's Les Demoiselles a bord de la Seine which is full of non perspectival ways of describing both space and form is a development out of much earlier work where these methods were mixed with perspective. His radicality develops out of the existing pictorial tradition. Similarly, to begin with the degree of quality blended with our own vitality in our brush stroke and and its rhythmic flow, we need time studying the masters who already had it. But it seems to me that from such a process blending work from the masters and from the motif, the most intense and full future may come.
At this moment with so much abstract art full of cliches, and even worse being made by artists who have never even heard of the need for painting to express, through its actions, the subject. We must realize that this is one of the two elements which must remain paramount in our work. The other is our full involvement in the quality of the painting of our motif. This will be also basic to the fulfilled quality in our work. It seems to me that with this renewed contact and achievement within nature, we should become truly fine artists. But we must have the highest possible standards for a completed work, and keep it up there and try always for more, or the work will not justify a new success for us.
We should also realize that this is an alternative to the Avant Garde ideal which is behind all the nonsense covering so many establishment walls. Is it possible to be an abstract painter, today? It is, but if the artist is so involved with his own pictorial verities to ignore the pressure to become an eccentric, and his work is ultimately independent of his original sources, without negating their value. Such artists are probably rarer even than we are. And their process more restricted, limited by all of the success images on gallery walls.
If this what they are, they will deserve their success.