Playing the Indian Card

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


"Crows leaving for South"

“I don't know much about art,” the saying goes, “but I know what I like.”

I'm not sure you ought to have to know anything in order to appreciate art. If you do, isn't the art to that extent a failure? Isn't it then just a dry academic exercise? What happened to the aesthetic experience? If a work of art needs an explanation, why bother with the art? Just read the explanation.

I guess that makes me a philistine. It certainly queers me on most contemporary art.

I like William Kurelek. For my money, he is the best visual artist Canada has produced. His work is not realistic—if you want realism, why not just take a photograph? The point of art is not to “hold the mirror up to nature.” Nature needs no mirror. It cannot see itself anyway. But neither is Kurelek abstract. Abstract art cannot convey much; it is nothing more than décor. Visual art's purpose is to depict not nature, but the imagination, which is, literally, the image-making faculty.

A Northern Nativity

This is just what Kurelek does so well. His images are like the images one sees in memory, or in a dream. They are, that is to say, symbolic. Not allegorical; they hit a deeper level. Again, if the referent for the symbol were obvious, there would be no need for the symbol, only the referent.

Kurelek is also deeply religious—a Catholic convert. It does not need to be orthodox faith, but any art that is not deeply religious is, to that extent, lousy art. Religion is meaning, meaning is religion. An art work without meaning is mere craftsmanship.

Except, of course, much contemporary art is not even that. Lacking either vision or craftsmanship, it is just neurotic narcissism, or a con.

Kurelek has both: vision, a deeply religious vision, and remarkable craftsmanship. While his paintings are not “realistic,” they are intricately detailed.

"Harvest of our mere humanism years".

One of the outstanding things about the Internet is that it brings to our monitors, right in our homes, a lot of the world's best art. Even if you get to the Louvre, you probably only get to see the Mona Lisa at a distance, over the heads of a few hundred others. On the Internet, you can zoom in and see every brush stroke.

There is a great Kurelek exhibition here. Go have a look, especially if you do not know him. Welcome to the essence of Canadian culture. I'll wait here. Or rather, I'll be there too.

I won't say anything about any individual paintings. As I say, art ought to speak for itself.

Fox and geese.

No comments: