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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 6 (September 1, 1936)

The Aim Of Art?

page 53

The Aim Of Art?

The “Eh?” in Art.

Many who have striven to detect the motive of modern art have been carried away by the subject—on stretchers. Apparently it is as unexplainable as it is inexplicable. It is “art” with a large “eh???” It is distinguishable from art with a small “a” at about a thousand paces, with the naked eye. It is so striking that it leaves one stunned, stymied, stumered and staggered. Scarred veterans who have braved a dozen campaigns, and have bitten the dust of so many battlefields that one would imagine they could swallow anything, cry for the stretcher-bearers when confronted with superlative specimens of this deadly weapon of ultra-modern “whaffor.” Moaning, they mutter: “Sir, it ain't cricket, although they've got the ‘bats.”’

Time was when all art was spelt with a small “a” and one could breast up to a picture and say with confidence: “That is a cow,” or “That is the Leaning Tower of Pisa.” There was practically no possibility of getting the cow and the tower mixed and saying: “That is the Leaning Cow of Pisa.” Also, you were not assailed by doubts as to whether the tower got like that through the cow leaning on it, or whether the cow got lean through the tower falling on it. And finally, you did not come away wondering whether you had been looking at Pisa or pea soup, a cow or a clutch of tomatoes.

In those simple days an artist made up his mind what he would paint before he painted it. Seldom did he begin by painting “nesting chilblains” and then, halfway through, change it to “Cheeses exploding on the Zuyder Zee.” To make it easier, the thoughtful artist labelled his work, “Girl Nursing Grievance,” or whatever she was nursing, which left no room for doubt or argument. An artist said to himself: “Here goes for Luggers in a Storm,” and when it was hung the veriest dunce could see that it wasn't the Aga Khan winning the Derby.

“Con Men of Canvas.”

There were no impressionists to paint a mutton chop and a guitar inextricably interwoven with a nude ear and a lighthouse, and labelled “The Wreck of the Spanish Armada.” There were no Surrealists to throw an egg at a bun-hat and call it “Spring in a Pickle Factory,” or “Lady in Pink.” There were no confusionists or contortionists or other “con men” of canvas, and poor saps like you and me, who like their art “straight,” were able to study pictures without going through all the motions of a steeple-jack playing itchycoo. Ultra-modern art might be art or artichokes; nobody knows which——not even the artist.

But, unfortunately, we of the outer isles are so far flung that the cryptic crescendos of the crazed creators of pigmented puzzles have mainly missed us. Mild attempts have been made to admit us to the inner intricacies of the Higher Futility but we are too uncultivated. We are so primitive that we
“Scarred veterans, who have braved a dozen campaigns, cry for the stretcher-bearers.”

“Scarred veterans, who have braved a dozen campaigns, cry for the stretcher-bearers.”

can't be persuaded that a plate of mashed carrots is “Andalusian Shepherds Playing Ping-Pong.” We are despicable desciples of decadency who insist on the kind of pictures that we would recognise as pictures, even without their frames.

Seeing and Believing.

We don't mind pictures that are a riot of colour, but we object to the sort that are just a riot. We like to be frank about our art, to come right out in the open and discuss it—not to sit in a corner wondering whether “Persephone at the Telephone” was the one which looked like “Nightmare after Cheese,” or the other which resembled the “Gasworks after Explosion.” As a consequence, our galleries are draped with pictures whichafford us satisfaction and pleasure; this, according to the advanced splash-andrun cults, is a most deplorable state. They condemn all pictures which give satisfaction and pleasure as pleistocene plagiarisms and contend that no picture can be termed a picture if it looks like one.

(Continued on p. 56.)