Roger Fry and the trap of the luxury art object

Beware the shallow gleam is a favourite phrase whilst advising students of sculpture who are toying with stone. The sourcing of fine stones from all corners of the globe takes real energy. The fine polish imparted thereon, the magical colour exposed – or depth verging on the chatoyant – is often found a stage too early in the development of the work. A preciousness emerges in both sculptor (Tolkien’s Gollum-style) and object, which has the capacity to divert from the finding of form.

Those lustrous stones will be grey and lichened in two thousand years time. Will they stand the test of time to be worthy sculptural works when unearthed by some future civilisation?

This support’s Roger Fry’s 1930s Slade Professorship of Fine Arts lecture on Vitality. Discussing Rembrandt, he stated that the artist was rather successful until his pupil Gerard (Gerrit) Dou stole his market because an enchanted public wanted to acquire Dou’s paintings in which all traces of brushwork were effaced in a polished and licked surface.

Fry went on to cite three dangers to entrap the intending artist:

Firstly, an inner need for order.
As the fashioning of form is difficult, it is a plausible conclusion that our power is further demonstrated through mathematical perfection; a tendency to regularity and evenness.

Secondly, the luxury effect.
The craftsman’s urge is to suppress traces of his or her own sensibility; that sensitivity whereby the worker’s nervous control, nervous condition and even state of mind might be felt or perceived in the work. In our competing with the infallibility of the machine, mechanical perfection is sought.

Thirdly, the craftsman’s pride in his skill.
If the craftsman happens to be also an artist then he may recognise that the expression of his own sensibility is significant and may even be content to pass as a clumsy craftsman rather than obliterate it. But the pride of the craftsman as such will always urge the suppression of sensibility in an art object. 

Perhaps it is a sign of the public art forced into our lives that the majority displays an indifference to sensibility? Let us seek out those which have arisen as private works of art. If you are in the M4/M5 area during the Summer, drop in to see:

Alan Thornhill – A personal exploration of the creative process
Stroud Museum, Gloucestershire, 9 June-27 August 2012

Roger Fry: Last Lectures (1939) Cambridge Press. (Foreword Kenneth Clark)

another post referring to the lectures of Roger Fry here.

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