The Art of Professional Amateurs

24, July 2010 · Events / Exhibitions

It has always been difficult for me to stay in showrooms and museums– especially world-class museums – for a long time. Usually after absorbing two or three good works I feel so vital that I want to escape in order to avoid satiety.

On the night of July 1 many galleries were open till midnight as part of the Tel Aviv “White Nights 2010″ project. We visited one showroom after another for a few hours. As a result, I was overwhelmed by quite opposite feelings and thoughts.

With few exceptions, the works I saw can be compared with an eggshell – empty and weightless. They were truly sickening! Moreover, besides being anemic and unoriginal, the overwhelming majority of these works were done poorly, i.e. they were done without any understanding of composition, with no sense of color and with no knowledge of the existing techniques and the specificity of materials. I will not even mention painting and drawing skills since it is obvious that a contemporary artist does not need to have them because having such skills can only harm him.

In my view, the most important characteristic of a work of art is its meditativity, i.e. the ability to arrest the viewer’s attention as long as possible. I believe that an artist’s unique vision of the world is his key trait. Very “simple” works, for instance, Rothko’s abstract paintings, can hold the viewer’s attention like magnets.

Obviously, the purpose of contemporary art works is quite the opposite: to convey the entire information contained in them to the viewer in a split second, the way a street poster does this, since the viewer is in a hurry. And the saddest thing of all is that contemporary art, especially conceptual one (by definition), is aimed to address conscience (and, consequently, understanding): as soon as the viewer catches the idea he can proceed farther. Of course, it is silly to declare war against the situation in modern culture as a whole. Man mutates, and time becomes more and more condensed. So the question arises whether the cultural wealth created over a few thousand years is not needed any longer.

New, more aggressive art capable of winning over other “stimulants” and information sources will probably emerge soon. One can fantasize that an artist will afflict physical pain upon viewers in public or that gladiatorial combats as a form of art will be organized. Maybe, something like this happens somewhere even now. However, any art with its labored ideas bears no comparison with what we experience in real life, in our age of sensorial boom. Should an artist try to compete with reality?

I firmly believe that art can exist only in the framework of certain rules and concepts. Here, the key characteristic is expressiveness. A work of art should possess an internal basis and a structure, and artists should observe objective laws of visual perception, of which Bezalel Academy students are unaware or do not deliberately recognize their existence.

Today a beginning artist knows well that the main thing in art is the idea. By urging its students to seek a central idea the Israeli Academy such as Bezalel resembles the Soviet Academy of Arts. To build a career in socialist realism times, an artist had to follow official ideology. Similarly, in the 19th century Academy the ideas of classicism and the orientation towards ancient works of art were the dominant school. The common denominator is lack of flexibility and pluralism.

In his article “Unspeakable Lightness of Art” published in the newspaper Haaretz on July 7, 2010 Gideon Efrat talks about his frustration with the situation in contemporary Israeli art. He says: “We become adults without passing through the youth stage and find ourselves at the epicenter of art – sage, cold-eyed, hard-headed and…old. I, an old man, go to exhibitions and meet old people there. I don’t want to stay in this nursing home any longer.”
I could not agree more.

Leonid Zeiger

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