Letter: Art without the mysticism

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The Independent Online
Sir: John Pope-Hennessey's idea, quoted by James Hall (Letters, 12 April), that use of life masks in portrait busts introduced "an interpretative element", and the latter's gloss that "it forced the artist to give the depicted body a soul", is typical art-speak mysticism.

The point about merely reproducing the shapes of "ready-mades", no matter the materials used, is whether it is really inventive, and shows anything of deep importance and interest, when it ducks the hard-won lessons and insights - including those about perception itself - acquired through the observational and analytical demands usually associated with artistic practice, and notably with painting and drawing skills.

Nowadays, the literal copying of sources or references, as in casts and "academic" art, is a poor device for addressing, and casting light on, our complex, social, cultural, ideological, landscape. The artistic bankruptcy of the jelly-mould, pseudo avant garde - Antony Gormley, Rachel Whiteread, Marc Quinn etc. - is that it relies on an easy and limited formula, and on the facile principle of "defamiliarisation" or "making strange". This conveniently skirts the more difficult, discriminating, but complementary, task of familiarising the viewer with unfamiliar things that matter - new and perceptive ideas, experience.


Lecturer in Art and Philosophy

Kensington and Chelsea College

London SW10