Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Stendhal Syndrome

I was a participant in a drawing show recently of 30 artists selected out of 1000 entrants. I expected more, perhaps something referred to as the Stendahl Syndrome.

Here is a defiition from Wikipedia: The Stendhal syndrome, Stendhal's syndrome, hyperkulturemia, or Florence syndrome is a psychosomatic disorder that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to art, usually when the art is particularly beautiful or a large amount of art is in a single place. The term can also be used to describe a similar reaction to a surfeit of choice in other circumstances, e.g. when confronted with immense beauty in the natural world.

I think we all continue to define what we think as beauty and respond to it , but in the arts according to  Jean Cocteau it is what the artist wants it to be: ergo- the justification of exhibiting a mens pissoir. Ai Wei Wei, a leading Chinese dissident artist is using his take on art to protest the censorship and cruelty of the Chinese government. Choygam Trungpa Rinpoche, a Tibetan author and lama, credited in bridging the gap for western practitioners in understanding medieaval Buddhist practices  said  " art is abused".  He felt that current art as it is practiced feeds neuroses, artists are merely displaying their garbage on a canvas.  He felt that aesthetics are powerful.

Are aesthetics powerful? Most artists that work to the highest limit of what they consider beautiful, like Jacob Collins are ignored by the powerful art media. He may sell a painting for $125K but artists with powerful reputations for rotting sharks, like Damien Hirst are selling studio apprentice paintings of dots in the millions.

When my husband was a professor at Brown in the physics and engineering labs, his acquaintances  from the Rhode Island School of Design were always asking to help make them some 'magic' material that would make their work stand out- not something to make it more beautiful. They wanted to create the next 'ism'.

When I think of all the art that was done in protest- where is it now- where are those Twin Tower paintings, those Vietnam paintings, those Nixon paintings- do they resonate with a new generation- do they even care?

What is sad to me is that some many world artists with techniques and beautiful traditions of their own are throwing these away and doing American junk protest art. Instead of instilling pride in their own culture and exploring and furthering it they are trashing it. One American artist is using an Indian traditional watercolor artist to paint his ideas. He gets a great deal of money for these and pays the Indian artist very little.

All my life I have believed in the transformative power of art, of beauty. It is not the easy way to fame these days- nor to fortune. I remember being moved to tears of joy at a Monet exhibition at the Boston Museum of Fine Art. Do we take the materials we get from our precious and increasingly fragile earth and to inflate our egos and reputations. Should we use these materials to create beauty, personal agendas or rage against something. Every time I see or hear a work of great beauty it gives me a shred of hope that humankind is enobled with sparks of genuine egolessness, and  willingness to share insights or moments of joy: that there are people who are willing to add to the sum total of positive human experience without mining the earth for every scrap of gold, glory and power thought due them. Frankly seeing contemporary art- I despair for our beautiful planet.

If we accept that art has no definitions, no boundaries, no effort, no beauty, no pride in craftsmanship: then has it completely lost its value and power. We have left the city to the Vandals.

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