Postmodern - or not?

6th June 2003 at 01:00
THE ECLIPSE OF ART: Tackling the Crisis in Art Today. By Julian Spalding. Prestel 2003 (orderline 01235465500) pound;12.95

Art is not suffering from a swing of the pendulum but is benighted by a total eclipse." This mixed metaphor introduces a very mixed bag as Julian Spalding passionately presents the case for the prosecution in the dispute as to the merits of postmodern art forms and, as with all contributions to this debate, his diatribe contains the seeds of its own contradiction. It is, none the less, an entertaining and informative read.

Although unashamedly partisan with an introduction entitled "Why you are right not to like modern art" (he claims never to have met anyone who does), it will inform secondary and higher education practitioners who are interested in the bigger picture and struggling to square the circle between the need for contemporary contextual studies and a raft of skills based on a traditional view of art production. With chapters addressing what he regards as the eclipse of Language, Learning, Content and Judgement he argues for a revival of an apprenticeship system in the arts.

He harks back wistfully to the days of studio apprenticeships and the dry acquisition of perspective and anatomy skills. He quotes Ruskin as an authority yet at the same time derides the perennial school art canon of sliced peppers, crushed coke cans and tatty trainers, all symptoms of an atrophy which can be traced directly to the door of the old pubephobic.

I would suggest that it is a postmodern approach to school art teaching which has brushed away such tired methodology. Akin to Canute, Spalding stands at the edge of a rising sea-change in the public's attitude towards postmodern art which will drown out such reactionary sentiments.

His attempt to debunk Duchamp's contribution to postmodernism through the concept of "readymades", for example, seems a little late in the day and reveals a dearth of humour but, considering that his baby, the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art was turned into a conceptual art museum after his departure, I guess he has a right to be a little grumpy.

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