Tag Archives: Jonathan Jones

Dada’s Success and Failure

I didn’t expect to see a painting by the Spanish Dadaist, Francis Picabia at the Art Gallery of Ontario but there it was; not from his Dada days but from the 1940s, complete with a couple of palm trees. It is like finding out that a punk band, like The Mekons have become a country/folk music group, which they have.


Jonathan Jones, The Guardian regular art critic, amongst others, can’t understand this scenario and complains that “a tiny but brilliantly subversive protest movement has become the common currency of big-money, mass-audience art – Dada’s founders would feel sick.

No indication that Picabia was feeling sick, more like a holiday in the sun.

Of course, Mr Jones Dada has become mainstream. Wasn’t that always the intention of the Dada revolutionary council of Berlin? Wasn’t that the point of disseminating the information about Dada to the world? Why the publications, the lecture tours, the exhibitions, the records if it wasn’t to get the idea out there.

Every revolution that is completed becomes the establishment; every successful revolt permanently change the system. That is the process of history. It is not a betrayal of the American War of Independence, or other revolts and revolutions, to have its relics in a museum. But if you had the right sneer in your voice you could make it sound like it.

Would you, Mr Jones, argue that Dada was a success if they were being thrown out or sold in flea markets?

It is illogical to suggest that current ownership of Dada art and relics, or anything else, implies anything about its success or failure in anything other than being owned. The collections of museums, galleries and libraries are not a proof of the objects collected success or failure.

Does every utopian movement have to continue in an eternal purity of process in the same way that the church doesn’t in order not to be “trivialised or misappropriated”?

Should we rather not be celebrating the triumph of these nihilistic bolsheviks who made the contemporary art world? Where is the big Dada parade, with the figure of death in the lead and the oompah band bring up the end? A world where art is free to be anything. A world where in primary schools and kindergartens around the world children are taught the Dada art techniques like collage. Are little children’s art “trivial” enough for you, Mr Jones?

Sure we have all moved on and what was yesterday’s rebellion has now become a museum piece, we no longer wear monocles and ransom note typography is old fashioned.

Sure the Dadaist desire to destroy culture has been converted to a desire to make art that is as boring as life but nobody stole Dada. There are no unauthorised users of an open system, you can’t misappropriate nonsense, you can’t misappropriate nothing.

Sure, Dada failed to end the war, and it has been the same imperialist war on and off for the last century, but who hasn’t failed to do that?

Meanwhile, a century later, the current rebellion against culture is, of course, not Dada. The current rebellion is hardly recognised, invisible, underground and unthinkable.


Picasso Who?

Writing about the scandal of the current Picasso Museum in Paris, there are several Picasso museums around Europe, Jonathan Jones raised the question of how relevant Picasso is in contemporary art. (The Guardian “Nightmare at the Picasso Museum” 16/10/2014).

I will considered this question. For me Picasso is definitely overrated, it is not that I dislike Picasso, although mostly I prefer George Braque’s cubist work. Often Picasso’s works look like preserved relics, hastily done and looking aged before their time. Too look at it more objectively turned to my blog. After writing hundreds of post about the visual arts this blog for seven years how often have I referred to Picasso?

Only nineteen times; compare to the number of times that I’ve references to Andy Warhol (16), Salvador Dali (10), Joseph Beuys (6), Nam June Paik (4), Jackson Pollock (3) and Henri Matisse (2). I am biased and there were too many references to Marcel Duchamp, about 75, even as I restrain myself from mentioning him, to compare him to Picasso as Jones suggests.

MaxCat, Brunswick, 2009

MaxCat, Brunswick, 2009

Of the nineteen references to Picasso only twice have I written about seeing the influence of Picasso on an artist: Maxcat and Juan Davila. “Maxcat’s innovative use of lines and the sense of poetry with the bird on the figures head reminded me of Picasso.

There have been two negative remarks about Picasso but only one was by me and that was more about Picasso being overrated in the popular media. Black Mark: “I never want to see another documentary celebrating the life of Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Van Gogh or Picasso” The other one was from Singaporean artist, Kamal Dollah: “My view is, you can bore these kids with Picasso and Rembrandts.”

Most of the other references to Picasso have been largely because he is an extremely well known artist; one of the references is about a sculpture of him at an apartment building in Singapore. He is mentioned three times regarding his sculptures from recycled material and his collage. There are three more references to the 1986 kidnapping of Picasso’s Weeping Woman from the NGV by the Australian Cultural Terrorists. One reference to a Picasso painting in a gallery’s collection, one reference to his dealer, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler and one quoting the song by Jonathan Richmond and the Modern Lovers.

In the room the women come and go, talking about Picasso – “What an asshole. Just look at his paintings.”

Street Art Critic

“Call this art?” Jonathan Jones of The Guardian critically examines the art of star stencil artist Banksy. (The Guardian Weekly, Thursday 5 July 2007 ) Jonathan Jones tries to appreciate Banksy but concludes, “after wallowing in this stuff for a while, I almost found myself hating Banksy’s fans. But actually it’s fine to like him, so long as you don’t kid yourself that this is ‘art’.”

Graffiti style is increasing entering the commercial design world, as well as, the fine art world. It is a graphic style with youth and rebel overtones that make it very suitable for commercial uses. Street art is more of a graphic style than fine art; most street artists, if they do have any formal training are from a graphics art background than a fine art background. The difference between graphics arts and fine arts is most apparent over the issues of original creativity and the meaning of the work. Graphics arts are more concerned with successful communication and appeal than original creations or artistic depth. As Jonathan Jones writes “The easy humour that makes his (Cartrain) work superficially likable removes from it any hope of being made or poetic.”

To Jonathan Jones street art is “background” art, “as in background music: like all graffiti, his is essentially an accompaniment to other activities.” Unfortunately this is poor argument because ‘background music’ is still music and therefore so is ‘background art’. To take Jones’s argument further it appears he would conclude architecture is not art as it is “essentially an accompaniment for other activities.” Background or foreground is context and not an inherent quality of the work in consideration.

Jones is on firmer ground when he examines the inherent quality of Banksy’s work. He complains that Banksy’s conceptual humour works are “one-dimensional and soulless”. That his art is conservative in its use of trompe l’oeil and “superficially likeable.” However by this critique it appears that Jones has conceded that Banksy’s work is art and is now arguing that it is bad art.

“Whereas Basquiat’s had the dirt and mystery of true graffiti” Jones writes, “Banksy is merely one of the lads, having a laugh.” One of the motivations for Jones’s criticism is that Banksy, like other street artists, is following Basquiat off the street into the art galleries and expensive collections. That same year London at auction house Bonhams Banksy’s piece, “Avon and Somerset Constabulary”, which depicted two policemen looking through binoculars, sold for £96,000 (Australian $216, 901) and “Untitled, Rat and Sword” went for £64,800 (Australian $146,426). Jones believes that the joke is on the collectors who buy Banksy’s art and Bristol council who are now preserving Banksy’s work on their streets. I wonder who will be laughing last, Jones now or the collectors?

I don’t know a lot about Banksy’s art so I am not going to defend it from all of Jones’s critique; the quality of Banksy’s art is certainly debatable. Instead I want to largely draw attention to Jones as a critic. This was the first article that I have read that is actually critical of a street artist rather than describing the social phenomena. It is important for street art to have serious criticism to expand the discourse about street art, even if Jones doesn’t think that it is art.

Jones continues his attacks on Banksy and street art in his blog. “The reason I don’t like street art is that it’s not aesthetic, it’s social. To celebrate it is to celebrate ignorance, aggression, all the things our society excels at. For middle class people to find artistic excitement in something that scares old people on estates is a bit sick.” Jones (Wed. 15 April 2009)

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