The Dead-end of Novelty

Western Art

Joukhadar, during his talks on art and initiating his own aesthetic research, considers it important to understand and situate oneself in the evolution of Western art. He notes that Western art, after taking a particular direction starting from the Renaissance, had reached an upper limit after the first half of the nineteenth century. It had literally become frozen. There have been emerging currents, such as British Neo-Raphaelism, which consisted in producing works in the style of Raphael and in his spirit. It was very neat oil painting, from photographs, since photography was just beginning.

This evolution is closely associated with that of the academies and the conservatories. Before the first half of the nineteenth century, there was no academy, strictly speaking. Artists were sent to the School of Rome to learn by copying the ancients, but no academy existed. Liszt and Chopin did not study in conservatories. In Paris, the first conservatory was created by Cherubini. Tchaikovsky (but in reality Rubinstein) was one of the founders of the Moscow conservatory. This blossoming of academies was positive at first, but eventually turned into a tyranny. So many dramas about pictures refused at official exhibitions!

From the second half of the nineteenth century, this upper limit did not remain unnoticed. In France, against the fixed style of the Academy of Fine Arts, the Salon des Indépendants organized from 1884 onward large exhibitions of artists from a different point of view; the motto of this Society was ‘No jury nor reward’.

It is in this context of anti-establishment reaction that we must situate the evolution of Western art after the second half of the nineteenth century; sensitive people demanded more freedom. Now we can only observe that this movement of salutary liberation has transformed over time into an incessant movement of reaction / counter-reaction, in which only the will to surprise, even shock, remains constant. The revolt against the yoke of the institution has become anarchy; new currents are born, last for fifteen years, are exhausted and give way to a new current, one tyranny driving out another.

Impressionism emerged. The paintings ended by resembling each other, Pointillism appeared, applauded as a great advance. The Fauves surpassed this movement by deploying even more audacity, relying on the power of unworked colours, enhanced by great touches of vivid paint. After the shock of the war of 1914, Cubism gained considerable momentum, leaning on the work of a Cezanne, who was much appreciated. It is interesting to note that when Cezanne arrived in Paris, there were methods to simplify drawing, which consisted in using cubes and pyramids to succeed in creating any composition. One might think that this had inspired Cezanne, who, a little disenchanted, decided that all that was seen could be seen through cubes and pyramids. Although this current did not last more than twenty years, this desire for simplification remained in the air of the time, with Picasso, Braque, but also with the materials of construction. The primordial aim of these artists was to liberate art from academicism.

In the 1970s and 1980s, it had become inconceivable to make a figurative work of art! Hence the reaction of neo-Realism. It was then possible to show the public sculptures representing simple passers-by. Surrealism lasted two or three decades at most, followed by Dadaism. Abstract art resisted a little longer.

Joukhadar notes a certain hypocrisy and a lack of discernment in this evolution. Why banish the figurative when it is so appreciated in museums and when the same critic, an intractable supporter of modern art, admires the work of a master of the sixteenth or even the eighteenth century? Why exclude an art form that has its raison d’être and has proved its worth? These creations are not just pieces for the archives, since they continue to move a large audience; the same style can still produce beautiful and great works. Joukhadar remembers exhibitions of Flemish painters of the 17th century, in Paris, at the Grand Palais. The museum was crowded. The works caused a great stir. Thus, they were not outdated. A refined audience is able to appreciate a diversity of works.

Today, in the West, figurative art has been so set aside and banished, that in the minds of modern artists mastering drawing is no longer fundamental. Joukhadar considers this to be a serious mistake. A good musician must be, above all, an excellent piano technician, otherwise he cannot compose properly. This was the case with Beethoven, Berlioz, and Liszt. The wonders of the latter, for example, could not have been composed without a thorough knowledge of the piano.

The Illusion of Novelty

It is obvious that there is a veritable continuity in art and that at each point in history, geniuses are born from the preceding accumulation of cultural strata. There is not a single art that has emerged from nothing overnight without being based on previous experience. This accumulation of experiences and solutions exists in all fields of art. Even the cinema, considered as a new art, has taken root in the theatre and pictorial art: the problems of framing, lighting, layout of characters, staging …

Moreover, art relies on a culture and an entire context, economic, religious, political etc. If Beethoven had been born elsewhere at the same time, in North Africa for example, would he have produced his symphonies? And if Leonardo da Vinci had been born in Turkey, in Constantinople in 1453 or in France in 1895, who would he have been?

If, in the Quattrocento, Italy had been in a phase of great poverty, if the country had been withdrawn into itself, the Renaissance would not have taken place. With the golden age of commerce in Flanders, the wealth derived from the herring trade and the development of their maritime fleet, the Flemish came into contact with Italy and brought back icons and altarpieces. All this trade generated considerable wealth and an elevation of the quality of life which was manifested by the acquisition of valuable objects and precious works … It is the soil on which geniuses have been able to arise.

It is this wealth which allowed the patrons to obtain luxury objects, more elaborated, with precious materials. Through this trend, the taste for quality developed and refined, and the level of demand rose. This openness and human contacts were vital. Thus, since members of the clergy moved about more than ordinary mortals, they could see that more satisfactory works existed elsewhere and became more demanding with their craftsmen. Princes, kings, tribal chiefs received precious presents of high quality, which made them become demanding patrons, especially after having seen the brilliant Flemish colours or the quality of rendering, the trompe-l’œil… This economic context and the proximity between patron, artist, and public contributed to the virtuous circle that allowed the Renaissance and its geniuses.

Even going back in time, one finds that it is often a powerful personality that provides the impetus. Akhenaten had the bust of Nefertiti realized in alabaster, and it is of an inimitable grace! When seen in profile, one can only appreciate the extreme subtlety in curves and angles: the inclination of the neck, the light angle of the head, that of the headdress …

Other patrons have endeavoured to promote a literary or musical movement. There was a concentration of great French musicians under Louis XIV, himself a lover of music and dance. It is precisely at this time that the ballet was born!

Peter the Great is the most striking example; he launched a great movement that established the prestige of Russia, bringing great artists to build St. Petersburg, Frederick the Great received Rousseau, etc.

Artists also open new paths, but without the support of great patrons, great works can remain long or forever unknown to the general public.