Wednesday 20 February 2013

Art For Art's Sake: Unknown

A fair few years ago, I think it was back in 2007/8, I took myself and a couple of friends to the RHS Orchid Show and, wanting to make a whole day of it, someone suggested we do the exhibition of Aztec art that was on at the time in the afternoon.

Liking Aztec design, I agreed, and after the Orchid Show and lunch, we all trooped off to whatever museum or arthouse it was - I think it might have been the Royal Academy. Wherever it was, we presented an interesting problem for the cloakroom attendants, who had to figure out what to do with not just our coats, but with the carriers bags of orchid plants we all had!

Inside, it was very crowded, very warm, and most of the art and sculpture was as expected, beautiful and strange.

And then I made the acquaintance of this gentleman:

Mictlantecuhtli, god of the underworld. Lord Death, an important figure in Aliette de Bodard's excellent series of historical/fantasy novels, which I read much later. A huge clay figure, sculpted with impressive attention to detail and anatomy (of which, of course, the Aztecs had a very detailed knowledge), thousands of years ago by people who didn't even have the wheel, and utterly absorbing.

I must have spent nearly 20 minutes just gazing at this one piece along. Truly, the 2D image doesn't do him justice...

I suppose I must lack the refined sensibilities of the Samizdata folks, or Philip Hensher, who took some time out from whinging about gay issues to hold his nose and proclaim a similar exhibition to be akin to a display of Hitler's daubings.

Yes, the Aztecs were 'bloodthirsty' and 'cruel' by 21st century standards (though I wonder how they'd view germ warfare and the atom bomb?) but art and creativity should stand alone and above such squeamishness and revisionism.

Next month: Rousseau


Umbongo said...

. . . . and where would Philip Henscher put Arno Breker in the starry firmament of "approved" artists? Breker produced some wonderful (and some atrocious) work under the nazis. But the good stuff is still "art" (actually even the bad stuff is "art", just not very good art).

Aztec art might be motivated by and have been created in a society of which we disapprove (and how!) but so what! Some Aztec art meant and means something to you and fulfils IMHO what art is for which is to provoke an emotional reaction which bypasses the quotidian world of the five senses.

Tatty said...

but art and creativity should stand alone and above such squeamishness and revisionism.

Dunno about that since I'm not very arty meself and don't even pretend to be.

Fact is that humans are bloodthirsty and cruel. Always have been and always will be with only man-made Laws attempting to put the brakes on. Not very successfully either.

Not saying we should celebrate it but as "art" it is at least publicly acknowledged and the more delicate amongst us reminded that even modern censorship can't ever quite hide it.

I guess some people don't like to be reminded that it's within us all, always.

Demetrius said...

He should have his own TV series.

MTG said...

I have resisted the impulse to offer an opinion on Aztec Art because I share with Hensher (Henscher?) a knowledge of the subject which probably amounts to nothing. And his ignorant reference to Hitler 'daubings' tarnishes the former's standing as a serious Art critic.

Your taster now tempts me to browse through this subject, Julia. However a normally tight Yorkshire lad certainly won't resist Manet at the Royal Academy or deny himself the profligacy of return rail fare. :)

staybryte said...

Funny how the fashionable critics aren't so squeamish about Soviet realist art.

JuliaM said...

"...and fulfils IMHO what art is for which is to provoke an emotional reaction which bypasses the quotidian world of the five senses."

Yup, spot on.

But it seems no matter what their achievements, feet of clay remove them in the eyes of some. Look at the horror over Oscar Pistorius...

"Fact is that humans are bloodthirsty and cruel."

Yes indeed. Should we lie about it, for society's sake?

"He should have his own TV series."


"Funny how the fashionable critics aren't so squeamish about Soviet realist art."

Peculiar indeed! But I always thought better of Samizdata. Ah, well, Explains why I don't go there much any more.

Hogdayafternoon said...

he should be serving on a jury, somewhere near you, but the defence would challenge him too smart by far.....

Anonymous said...

Whaaat? You have a couple of friends?

And here was me thinking that you were a lonely, ugly mug, shut up in a small room spilling bile all day.

How wrong can you be? You're obviously a girl with friends. All two of them.

JuliaM said...

Nah, that was just the two who were free that day. Sorry to disappoint you.

But then, hey, you're wrong so often about who I am and what I do, I guess you must be used to it?

Anonymous said...

"Fact is, humans are bloodthirsty and cruel".
No, that statement is false.
Soldiers must be taught to fight, and it is done by mind control. eg the sergeant points at the dummy for bayonet practice and says "He is the enemy! He has shagged your sister, kicked your granny, and thrown the budgie on the fire!" etc etc.
Even martial artists have to be taught or it looks like handbags at dawn.
Violence is an exception to the norm, EXCEPT for governments. Say what you like about Aztec art, and it is interesting, but the sacrifices and slavery were government policies, as was their armed forces.