Can art speak without technique?

After spending an hour with Ruth walking around the Royal Academy’s 2011 Summer Exhibition we were left rather speechless. The most poignant work being the photography in the Wohl room. These works demonstrated such incredible technique which was used to create works of real imagination. Skill was at play in these works. Wandering through the rooms seemed to be a wander through painted works where technical skill seemed less and less demonstrable – and this was set in such intense relief after we ventured to the Watteau exhibition.

The work of Watteau displays such refined technique and the beauty of these works appears to lie in his mastery of drawing. His works capture the fleshy substance of his subjects with such accuracy with an economical use of line. It is such an incredible technique that is awe-inspiring; such as the transcendentalism found in the virtuosity of Liszt and others. But does a virtuosic technique make this better art?

There seems to greater acceptance of modern art than music but do we see virtuosic technique in some works of art that adorned the walls of the RA? We were left feeling less inspired by some of the works selected for display. Perhaps these works demand more than a study of their technique – are we obliged to consider the process and the thinking behind the work? Are we indeed obliged as viewers of work created in recent years to engage with artist biography and extra-artistic concerns to enable a fuller viewing? Do we miss something by not engaging with context?

Issues of technique are beyond objective discussion. Or is it? Do we get an immediate sense of technical competency when viewing/hearing a work? Perhaps good technique is one that wills us to accept the work as art. A transcendental technique being one that not only persuades us unquestioningly that it is art, but we become embroiled in it’s existence as art and feel something. Technique after all is merely the method through which artists communicate intentions; if we are coerced into the exchange of intentions then the work of art is successful. If indeed art can be successful, or unsuccessful.

At over one thousand works on display it is a fascinating experience to wander through the rooms. Rarely can one interact with so much recent work in one space. With such a confrontation of “new” one can feel overwhelmed by the variety but there seemed to greater homogeneity – stylistically – this year. Like Times New Roman in word processing, or Sibelius in music – is art becoming homogenised? Or is it that my experiences are numbed from an over-saturation?

Can we ever separate the how from the why? A point Ruth made as we exited the RA. I prefer to engage less with the life before the art object and be able to accept it detached from the world. Art should speak for itself. Perhaps some art needs questions. I’ve certainly written enough in this blog entry.

1 Comment

  1. What an interesting post! How wonderful that such negligible art has inspired such thinking. It may, however, have been the juxtapostion of these hundreds of contemporaries with the drawings of Watteau that necessitates such worry. Certainly, individuality was sorely lacking apart from in the photographs. You’re right, there’s next to no context at the RA show forcing each individual piece to work harder – too hard in most cases. The whole exhibition also asks if there can be any such thing as an amateur artist. To be any sort of artist, the art has to be at the absolute centre of the life. One can’t dabble in art. Consummate mastery such as Watteau’s – that page full of beautiful hands for instance – required rigour, and much later at the fin-de-siecle, the poets lived and died for their art. How different things are now.

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