Aren't you just advocating traditionalism?

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Aren't you just advocating traditionalism?

From Brian K. Yoder

Published before 2005


Q: Aren't you just advocating traditionalism?

No. Traditionalism (at least in the sense I am using it here) is the preference for things because they are old or because they follow traditions. I couldn't care less whether a work of art is new or old or whether it uses old techniques and materials or new ones. (Well, I do care as a matter of intellectual curiosity, but not when it comes to issues of artistic merit.) What matters to me is the ultimate expressive effectiveness of a work however it was done. Now I do think that over the past 2500 years humanity has learned a thing or two about how to create great artistic expressions and an artist who wishes to do so would benefit from learning all he can from those who have come before, but that doesn't mean that he can't learn newer and better things or that novelty is bad. It just means that many artistic methods have already been discovered and that learning what is already known is the best foundation for moving forward.

The reason this question comes up is that modernists have been for the past hundred years promoting a false alternative. They say that one can either be tied down by old-fashioned ideas/skills/practices/themes/etc. and prefer them because they are traditional OR one can throw the whole thing in the garbage and start "fresh" by adopting the dogma of modernism which considers novelty to be the prime (or perhaps only) virtue. This is curious for two reasons. One is that nobody takes that other position... it's a straw man. Second, after 100 years, the modernist tradition is no longer new. All the stunts have been tried. Blank canvases, silent piano solos, random smearings of paint, random drippings of paint, random swirlings of paint, random selection of materials, selection of fecal matter as the medium... you name it, it has been tried, so now what? Curiously enough, the only novelty left is to create genuinely good art using good techniques... a practice mostly abandoned for the last 100 years.

What matters to me that the works, techniques, and subjects be good, not that they be new or old. My recognition that most recent art has been bad and that much of the older stuff has been better is not a matter of principled preference, but an observation of historical fact.

For what it is worth, there are growing number of professional artists taking on the challenge of learning genuinely good artistic ideas and practices. You can see examples of their work at the Living Masters(tm) Gallery and learn a bit more about the growing number of ateliers that train them at the ARC Approved Atelier Listing.