2003/11/18

John Currin

Just finished to read "Mr. Bodacious" by DEBORAH SOLOMON, an article about the painter John Currin published by the NYT this November 16, 2003.

The thoughts of the painter are summarized in the following passage: ''Progressive ideas are just a machine for ruining art,'' Currin said late one fall afternoon, sitting in his living room. ''I believe in the old idea of technique. I believe you need it if you're going to have magic and genius and masterpieces. No one would question the value of technique in any other field. No one would say that a tennis player would be better if only he could stop hitting the ball.''

I guess that I agree with the technique stuff but as I wrote many times earlier, what about technique with no intellectual content? My conclusion remains the same today. Technique and art are two different things. You need indeed to master the technique in which you express yourself but this technique does not transform automatically what you express into art. Without technique what you express seems inachieved and without intellectual content it is as if what you express is shallow. Artistic achievement, I believe, consists of rich intellectual content packaged in strong and harmonious technical skills.

I could easlily add that if art were only this technique question, then all art today would be Chinese or Russian. For proof, suffice to visit a retrospective of the best Chinese painters organized annually by China's National Museum of Arts in Beijing. But leaving a Chinese annual retrospective, one is also left to wonder. All past styles are masterly represented, some works leave us with a snapshot into the thinking of their authors about the changes China is undergoing but nowhere is there one single piece really popping up with truth, with understanding of the world we are living in today. Nowhere can we see a trial to represent in form and in content the direction of our humanity's road. Their technical skills give Chinese and Russian painters a place in galleries around the world but this does not propel them into artistic path finders. At least not presently, but with further economic development, things could be vastly different 20 or 50 years down the road.

Coming back to John Currin's work, we see technique, for sure but where is the message? Where is the artistic path? The description "comedy of manners", taking "a satiric shot at all things American" as given by Deborah Salomon is right I believe. The same words, I'am afraid, could be used about many of the European middle age painter craftsmen. They had no freedom of message, they were as the advertisers of the church but they often had "a satiric shot at all things European" and let's not forget their technique. Having no freedom of message, they concentrated on technique as their only escape towards personal freedom. In John Currin's work, I see technique for sure, I see "a satiric shot at all things American" eventually but I don't see what is John Currin's message, his vision. I'am left to wonder what kind of an escape John Currin's technique is bringing him. Surely not freedom from what I could see in the slide show. But yes, I was forgetting that "Progressive ideas are just a machine for ruining art".

It seems to me that my earlier words are gaining in strength: "without technique what you express seems inachieved and without intellectual content it is as if what you express is shallow". I'am afraid that for John Currin "progressive ideas" equate with "intellectual content". As such I find that his work belongs to a passed time.

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