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Tag Archives: Lindberg Galleries

Plato, Philosophy and the Arts

Heather Betts “Raison d’être” at Lindberg Galleries is “an exploration of the trial and death of the classical Athenian philosopher Socrates”. But this post is not about Heather Betts’s paintings, or the quality of her understanding of Socrates, it is just the most recent reference to Socrates that I have seen in an exhibition. And I encounter an exhibition that refers to Socrates every couple of years.

It bores and irritates me as a student of philosophy the number of artists who will refer to Plato or Socrates in their artist’s statements. (Socrates is only known from Plato’s writing, so it is hard to distinguish the views of one from the other.) It bores me – the sheer repetition and because Socratic philosophy is useless (unless you can make a career out it).

Plato’s animosity towards the arts, he would censor all art in his ideal republic, makes him a poor basis for any kind of artistic inspiration. ‘Such representations definitely harm the minds of their audiences, unless they’re inoculated against them by knowing their real nature.’ (Republic, X.1—X.8. 595a—608b covers the rejection of mimetic art.) It reminds me of this fundamentalist mullah that I saw on a YouTube video going on about how pop music is an illusion and a distraction from ‘reality’.

The repetition of Socrates and Plato irritates me because it reminds me of the poverty of philosophical education amongst artists. But enough about Socrates and Plato, more than enough has already been said. Why is it important what philosophers an artist has read and quoted in their artist statements on photocopied A4 sheets? For ideas and inspiration as artists are interpreters and communicators of current intellectual theories, creating art informed by these theories. Artists are part of chains of influence in the intellectual community, acting as communicators of philosophy, theoretical science and theology (depending on the values of the society where the artist is working).

There is not a single major philosopher who has not written about the arts, according to Arthur Danto, who has written both philosophy and art. There are other philosophers who love art and I would recommend to artists to read them rather than Plato. Why not try reading Ludwig Wittgenstein for inspiration? Or try the obscure Max Stirner who argues that making art is one the best ways of expressing your unique identity. Or even, Jean BaudrillardThe Conspiracy of Art (Semiotexte, 2005).

And artists should remember that not all philosophers are dead like Socrates (to the great relief of logicians who use his mortality as an exemplary premise in syllogisms – all men are mortal, Socrates is a man therefore Socrates is mortal – but I digress). Living philosophers are more relevant than those that have been dead for millennia. Melbourne’s own major philosopher, Peter Singer writes in a clear and enjoyable manner about ethics. If you haven’t read one of Singer’s books then you should, not because you will necessarily agree with him, but because he is a good writer. And philosophy, what ever it is, is definitely a form of literature. So who was the last philosopher you have read or referred to in your art?

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Painting Techniques & Subjects

“London Works” by James Cochran at Lindberg Galleries are portraits of homeless men. What is remarkable about these paintings is that they were created primarily with aerosol paint. The faces and hair are made up of hundreds of dots of aerosol paint, each dot with its own small drip. Cochran’s paintings are like pointillism with a spray can. There are lots of drips in the paintings – drips are currently very fashionable in street art. James Cochran (aka Jimmy. C) is a veteran street artist from Adelaide. It is remarkable for how far street art techniques have permeated mainstream art in the last decade.

Cochran’s paintings are obviously clever, technically excellent but superficial and sentimental. These are the kind of paintings normally seen in commercial galleries located in the foyer of five star hotels. Perhaps the paintings could even hang in part of the hotel, a private dinning room; a place where the homeless men depicted in the paintings would never be admitted. The sentimental depiction of homeless by artists over the centuries has not helped changing the conditions that lead to homelessness. I suppose the homeless make cheap models.

You need more than one trick to make good art and technique will only get you so far. The second trick, the right subject for the art, has to work with the technique. At Flinders Lane Gallery there was an exhibition of paintings with more than one trick – Margaret Ackland “Histories”.

Margaret Ackland’s main trick of painting transparent fabric, lace, tissue paper and even plastic wrapping, with light paint strokes. Her compositions on the dark background make the cloth and paper glow like old masters. Some are dynamic flows of fabric are static and meditative. Ackland’s other trick is her references to the history of fashion; her sense of the histories that clothes tell. Not that all her clothes are old fashioned, there is a beautiful painting of an empty plastic dry cleaning bag and clothes hanger. I particularly enjoyed her paintings of pictures partially unwrapped from tissue paper that have a sense of the rediscovery of an archived image.

Both Cochran and Ackland have excellent painting techniques but Ackland does better paintings because of her choice of subjects.


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