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newbohemia and its discontents

Post #85 • August 18, 2003, 9:57 AM

Reactionary art organizations like NewBohemia (thanks, ArtsJournal) always pique my interest. I’m sympathetic to traditional skills in art. A significant portion of contemporary traditionalism is quite bad, but a significant portion of other kinds of contemporary art is also quite bad, and the skill level prevents the former from falling as far. My patience for it is greater because I feel that I am being invited to look instead of being given the artistic single-digit salute. There’s a place for the assualt on one’s sensibilities, but a little of it goes a long way.

Supposedly the art world is pluralistic, with no particular ascendant style. But if it were truly pluralistic, the entire gamut of creative production would be represented in our galleries and museums, and societies like NewBohemia would never form. Consider the following from its website:

Founded by Stuart Pivar, an eccentric collector and inventor, in a Greenwich Village studio, The New York Academy of Art soon won the support of Andy Warhol, who was seriously interested in the revival of traditional academic training for artists. Warhol’s support for this traditional type of academy resulted from the lack of such training in his own education and his prediction that the course of art history would be changed if one thousand students could be taught Old Master drawing and painting techniques. Warhol eventually became a member of the board of The New York Academy, and after his death the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts awarded its very first grant to the Academy, to which it eventually provided major funding. ... In 1988, the fledgling New York Academy of Art applied to the National Endowmentfor the Arts for a grant, but was turned down. The rejection letter opined that, “such traditional education would stifle creativity in young artists.”

The notion that skills stifle creativity is unique to contemporary visual art. Contemporary musicians, architects, writers, and chefs do not feel this way. Andy Warhol, apparently, also did not feel this way. But this kind of willful ignorance was driving the NEA in 1988 and is probably still present in many granting bodies in the arts.

One might also consider the Miami Art Museum. Its mandate is to collect and exhibit art of the Western Hemisphere from WWII to the present. When it put on “Miami Currents” late last year, it became clear that not a single realist painting was in its collection. If you were visiting from outer space and trying to figure out what had gone on in art for the last sixty years, you could safely conclude from “Miami Currents” that realist painting had never been attempted. Although I sympathize with realist painting, that isn’t really the point; the point is that an entire line of artistic inquiry is being snubbed by the museum. That’s bad in itself. It’s easy to see why organizations like NewBohemia form.

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