Thursday, November 17, 2005

Modern Art or criminal acts. Does the past justify present evil?

by Professor Hovhanness I. Pilikian

Why is it that Art in our own post-modern (1) times means no more a recognizable painting or a piece of sculpture? Even modernists like Picasso, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Brancusi, you name it, make no more sense, except of course as objects for investment and money-making – wealthy collectors preserve them in bank vaults to augment the worth of their wealth.

Van Gogh, unable to sell his work, was driven mad by poverty (to the extent of cutting off his ear and shooting himself), today must be also turning in his grave endlessly every time one of his Sunflowers are auctioned for tens of millions of dollars.

Even the “–isms” of the labels signifying artistic movements are out of fashion – Impressionism, Futurism, Dadaism, Cubism, Orphism, Surrealism, Modernism…all gone, now we speak of Performance Art, Installation…elephant dung (what made the name of a British-African ‘artist’), and soiled knickers (by now the ‘famous’ bed of a British born Turkish female ‘artist’, with handbag and used-up tampax next to the slept-in bed) are all equally valid Museum objects on a par with a Picasso painting.

A post-modern work of art can be anything, even nothing, like a light going on and off – the 2001 Turner Prize winner, who received 20,000 English pounds for it, disgracing the name of Britain’s greatest Painter of all time – the Shakespeare of British Painting.

An art-object today is what anyone can convince Mr Nicholas Serota, the Supremo of the mighty Tate in London (and his lieutenants with tentacles to private collectors of barbaric tastes like Saatchi) that it is so! As to how Mr Serota’s mind works, who can tell? If the junk-filled Tate Modern is anything to judge by, then Mr Serota must be hovering on the verge of insanity. He and the ‘artists’ he makes need very long term therapy.

Charles now Lord Saatchi for being once Britain’s awful prime minister Mrs Thatcher’s bosom companion, a most un-educated man who makes and breaks British artists by his… cheque-book, according to a piece in the London Guardian newspaper (29 September, 2005) “used to live with a Damien Hirst dead sheep in his hallway, a gynaecologist’s chair with exotic fish swimming round it in his kitchen.”

Culture (Art, Music, Theatre, Literature…) always manifests the social relations of the society that creates it. The social relations (the time-specific relationship between socio-economic classes and the individuals that constitute them) are the constructs of the economic structure of that society. These are classical Marxist diagnoses that seem to hold true for all historical times and social spaces.

(European) Medieval art was subservient to the absolutist power-interests of the Catholic Church (which was only ultimately defeated by continental Freemasonry led by the French Revolutionaries of the Enlightenment and the Grand Orient Lodge)(2).

Renaissance art in turn served the social power-interests of the individual proto-capitalist Renaissance Princes (the Medicis, the Sforzas and the Borgias…the Popes themselves turned Renaissance Princes, as some of those princelings became Popes!) The individual princely power replaced the institutional power of the organized church. Art (mostly Painting, and some Sculpture) was mostly ideological in the medieval times, illustrative of religious themes and notions. Renaissance art began the process of the secularisation of the aesthetic experience.

Aesthetics came to denote and define the philosophical framework that sustained the artistic expression down to the modern times. It was based on the cult of the Beautiful – the Greco-Roman ideal and idealization of ‘natural’ beauty, and its continuous cultivation.

Granted that ‘Beauty’ is something impossible to define precisely, and one man’s beauty may be another man’s ugliness, so totally it is instinctive and in the eye of the beholder. People perhaps could agree at least about what it is not – most definitely, it cannot be linked to sewage and lavatory ejections as glorified by the post-modern art-Establishments of New York and London (and their minions in Paris and German capital cities).

Furthermore, an understanding of Plato’s pure Forms may be helpful to appreciating beauty, as the etymology of the above mentioned word (aesthetics) demands. It stretches back to the classical Greeks, and superficially seems to have nothing to do with Beauty – aisthanomai means to perceive, meaning literally to see inside (which is what perception is in psychological theory), but also to see from the inside out, which can only be indeed clarified by its link with Plato, the world’s first philosopher.

Plato’s philosophy (of life) was based on the notion that one was born to pursue instinctively the divine ideal that was the Good and which was Beautiful, hence Goodness and Beauty became synonymous in man’s search for the Ideal that he had already experienced in a past life – Plato believed in the Hindu concept of Reincarnation.

In other words, according to Plato, man is born with an internal knowledge and experience of the Forms of which the divine beautiful is the ultimate, though forgotten at birth (hence coded within the human instinct). To be virtuous, individual human life must therefore be spent to re-capture that mystical experience present inside every human being, via the exercise of Reason.

The inherent ‘dialectical’ (3) contradictions in Plato’s thought (Mysticism Vs Reason is one of many) was first noted by his student Aristotle, whose arguments, with his teacher’s, were ultimately converted into the Christian dogma by the pre-Christian neo-Platonists (Plautinus – the greatest of them), and the Christian Medieval thinkers – the early Church Fathers of the Patristic period (St. Augustine), and the Scholastic philosophers (Thomas Aquinas, John Duns Scotus, Bonaventure, Meister Ekhart)(4).

The search and hunt for goodness and inner beauty was made the cornerstone of medieval art. During the Renaissance, the “goodness” dropped out of the aesthetic formula, but the manifestation of Beauty still remained the purpose of the artistic endeavour albeit exteriorised – internal beauty being too vague a concept for the ‘avant-garde’ Renaissance artists to pursue.

The modernist-classical Beauty of the Pre-Raphaelites in 19th c. Britain – imitating belatedly French Neo-classicism a hundred years earlier – gradually and slowly but surely evolved into the horrors of the Cubist women in France, to finally turn totally ugly and stinky in our own times in New York, and now in London, and everywhere else in the Western world.

There is however some worth to the junk and dung of post-modern Western ‘art’. Worthless as works of aesthetic art, they nevertheless freeze as a sociological document reflecting the horrors of the war-ridden 20th century, the most genocidal yet of mankind’s history – not one, but two massive genocides (of the Armenians, and the Jews) attempted during two World Wars in succession (with 30 million dead and countless maimed), not one but two atom bombs exploded (Hiroshima and Nagasaki), the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cambodian War, Wars in the Congo, Algeria, Ethiopia, Somalia, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Sierra Leone, Apartheid in South Africa, the genocide of the Ibos in Nigeria, Tootsies in Rwanda, the Iraq-Iran war, the Falklands war, War in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Colombia, Karabagh, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Israeli-Arab war, and the Bush-Blair war on Iraq merely to steal its petrol still going on…

No wonder warmongering American and British Establishments glorify their junk and dung via poor, pathetic, drugs-and-drinks infested, mentally ill ‘artists’, leaving the sane, balanced, disciplined beauty-hunting traditionalists well alone, and as commercial ‘failures’.

The First World War was a terrifying experience for mankind. Until then, people only knew the horrors of war at the local level. Although Napoleon’s invasion of Russia had been throughout Europe, nevertheless the rest of the world was more or less at peace.

With the World War I, there was no escape from the evils of global imperialism. The Armenians of the Ottoman Empire became its first and greatest victim, slaughtered openly in the eyes of the whole world (the Nazis learnt from it to do their dirty jobs in secret!) There had never been in human history a state-organized genocide of a whole people shamelessly perpetrated on such a vast scale, although genocides have been mankind’s staple murderous diet from time immemorial – there was even one going on in secret in the African Congo, swallowing 11 million victims, so that King Leopold of Belgium, a ‘senior’ member of the incestuously bound Royalty ruling the European roost, may fatten himself on Rubber – the Black Gold of the day. Mark Twain, the American comic writer of genius, who rang the alarm bells, was not heard…

If Prostitution is the oldest profession, then Genocide is the oldest mass crime of which the Old Testament is full to the brink – tribes are always at it, trying to massacre each other to extinction (5).

In 146 BC, the Roman Empire had marked the end of its third Punic Wars with the city-state of Carthage (in Africa) by a genocidal destruction of even the earth – they covered it with a thick layer of salt, to ensure that nothing could grow for the foreseeable future. Ironically, a hundred years later (in 45 BC), colonists from Rome (which included the descendents of the Carthaginian exiles) settled there, and turned it into the wealthy capital of the (Roman) province of Africa…

A thousand years later (in 1213 AD), Genghis Khan began the conquest of Northern China, dreaming of genociding the Chinese tribes, to convert the whole of China into grazing fields for his horses …he died in 1227 still fantasizing of his Chinese genocide even though his empire extended from the Yellow Sea to the Black Sea (via Northern India).

Like the Armenians (for example, in Istanbul today), the Carthaginians, and the Chinese had survived and blossomed. But when the attempted genocide of the Armenians was reported in the world press at the time, as it was happening (unlike the Nazi genocide of the Jews perpetrated in secrecy during the Second World War), the world was disgusted and shocked into total impotence.

The creative artists were the first to move. The traumatic experience produced in Art and Literature (which always reflect socio-economic problems) the masochistic nihilism of Dadaism (6) – a movement founded in 1915 in Zurich (Switzerland) by a Romanian exile, the poet Tristan Tzara, as the Young Turks were madly mass-murdering the Armenians.

Soon, other Dadaist groups mushroomed in America (New York – founded by Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray), Spain (Barcelona – by Francis Picabia), and Germany (Kurt Schwitters – he survived also the Nazism of his country by escaping to Norway, and then to Britain where he died in 1948).

Dadaism evolved into the lunacies of Surrealism under the influence of Sigmund Freud’s ideas, the founder of Psychoanalysis, who was himself rendered mentally ill by the anti-Semitism rampant in Vienna, as the great Armenian composer Komitas had lost his mind several decades earlier eye-witnessing the genocide of his people.

The Armenian Komitas displayed the dignity of silence, and died speechless in a Parisian asylum. Freud, alas, mutilated his own nose with a surgical knife (convinced that he could control his sexuality that way), and snorting cocaine (initially for the pain) to the end of his life, became the greatest single destructive influence on American culture, which today dominates the world with its mafia violence, porno sex, obesity-producing Hamburgers, teeth-rotting Colas, and general dumbing-down of Everything, including the annihilation of the drug-infested human mind (7).

The New York American Marcel Duchamp, shocked the art-world in 1919 by exhibiting a reproduction of Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece Mona Lisa, with a moustache and a beard added on it. Then, in the first international exhibition of Dada in Paris (1922), Duchamp placed a ready-made “pissoir” (a urinal bought in the market) as a piece of sculpture. He had at least turned it upside down, as a creative act, showing some kind of minimal inventive intelligence.

Little could Duchamp then guess that the time would come when under pressure from his country’s ... Beef-burgers and drugs-Barons, paintings and sculptures would be eliminated altogether (genocided!) out of existence from the museum-world. Today, the work of art is anything else, including elephant dung, human faeces, Andy Warhol’s piss-made prints, Tracy Emin’s dirty knickers, electric light bulbs and switches (at least they don’t stink), narcissistic sado-masochist pornography like Performance Art – there is an American ‘artist’ whose exhibited work is himself sitting in an art-gallery masturbating – pointless constructions (Installations), and last but not least dead bodies, yes, the human dead desecrated and distorted into despicable blood-lust.

I know quite a few London artists who cannot live by their art alone lacking the sewage links to the Tate Modern directorate. They cannot find fame and fortune in the art-market because they still paint on canvas, and believe that Art must express life and beauty.

Cinzia Bonada, a Portraitist who would not paint a decrepit witch bitch and say it is Her Majesty the Queen (Lucian Freud’s portrait of the British monarch!). Bonada has at least the consolation of being an RBA (a member of the Royal British Artists association). Olga Sienko, a master print-maker, of true formal eroticism (without Tracy Emin’s menstrual gunk), compatriot of Mariusz Katdowshiego, a delicate Polish soul whose romantic themes are full of the exile’s Chopin-esque nostalgia for the homeland. Paolo Carraro, a Theosophist, creates the most puzzling wordless books of exquisite beauty that you would love to ‘read’! Artour Oshakantsi, the first Abstract painter of Soviet Armenia, now resident in London, whose world contains a whole world of forms representing the whole world of Nature – people, plants, animals, female nudes, all in edible sun-soaked colours…

Ben Swift, a sculptor who can shape a human pose in an instant in the most perfect manner, shapes his students’ works at the Mary Ward Centre instead of selling in a Cork Street Gallery. Stephen McNeilly, a painter, designs at the London Swedenborg Society heavy spiritual books so light and ethereal; they almost fly away like white doves in a blue sky. And Marc Balakjian, whose prints are as complex and subtle as those of the Old Masters, could not even be bothered to exhibit, instead wastes his life doing the dog’s work for some of the grandees at the Marlborough in London, who would not know how to paint let alone print!

And what hope for massively talented young artists I personally know who are as innovative as any post-modernist, but paint and draw traditionally, on a frame-worthy surface, and would want nothing with junk and dung.

Ugliness generally, and coprophilia in particular (dead bodies also stink!) constitute the post-modern ‘aesthetics’. The ‘beauty’ of the beast has become the rallying cry of the Serota and Saatchi museum-ed ‘artists’, unworthy of the label.

The much-trumpeted conversion of the electricity generating building of the Tate Modern itself is a prime example of fascist architecture. No amount of interior re-decoration and architectural conversion can erase the early 20th c. imperialist male chauvinism of the external structure – a massive chimney-like phallus perverted on each side with … squared testicles! Inside – a hell-hole for the cult of Ugliness and bodily ejections – a paean to the barbaric tastes of the British ‘nouveau riches’ born of Mrs Thatcher and Saatchi…

When 15 years ago (in the 1990s) Charles Saatchi bought a totally unknown Damian Hirst for pennies, it was no more than a dead sheep (or was it a calf? perhaps a shark) preserved in formaldehyde.

Hirst’s employment background was in the morgues. He loved the dead – he did not hate his job in the dissecting rooms – Oh No. He was not a mere professional earning a livelihood. He made a TV documentary to extol the excitements of the morgue. But even he dared not predict the spawning of the German lunatic evolving from him and loose in London – and I can hardly bring myself to writing down his name – a Gunther von Hagens, a Professor Doktor on top of it…

Hagens could be arrested as a common criminal, not celebrated as a creative artist. He has made a fortune by collecting dead bodies, buys them from the dollar-hungry Russian and Chinese government mafias, and in the name of art vulturizes them into torn bits of blood-stained sculptures. He wears a Greta Garbo hat, and I bet he thinks he is she.

The question is why did Hagens chose London for his ‘artistic’ but really criminal antics on 20th November 2002, and was allowed by the Sunday church-going Tony Blair’s government to cut up a dead body in public, and on television (televised by Britain’s Channel 4)?

It was advertised in the London press as “autopsy” (8), which it was not – autopsies are done by medical professionals, in private, to establish the cause of death. Hagens’ openly criminal deed was a costumed performance – why else did he have to wear his black Greta Garbo hat! – as he himself announced in a Freudian slip for a commercial break – “let’s have integh mission fogh zis peghfoghmance”!

Besides his direct “artistic” ancestry from Damian Hirst’s dead animals – in turn an evolution from Marcel Duchamp’s pissing-bowl, and Tate Modern’s Turner-prized elephant-dung – the horror of this mad German is that he manifests the “clinical” work of Nazis like Dr. Mengele – Doctor? My foot! – the inhuman wretch used to smash helpless children’s heads on the walls of his laboratory, splatter their Jewish brains for “scientific” research (his claim!) and record the results…

In the name of post-modern tolerance and stretching boundaries, one viewed Damian Hirst-s and Tracy Emin-s as harmless funsters. Can one, should one do the same with Hagens’ dead bodies of real human beings?

Perhaps, for the sake of human decency and/or sanity, some boundaries should stay firm and fixed and never be stretched. In Nature, there is what is called the species barrier, which protects and preserves the life of the different species from the diseases of each other. The AIDS virus was the first to arise destroying that barrier, giving its unfortunate human victims the horrendous diseases of other animals. The most feared SARS flu is another such virus evolving, jumping the human species barrier from birds, and may in the near future cause a pandemic killing millions of human beings globally.

With false claims to being scientific, public approval of ‘work’ by people like Hagens, may soon bring into scientific circulation the results of Mengele’s “work” – I dread the day when members of the British Psychological Society (BPS) may be quoting Mengele’s data as respectable science, and use them to produce new “scientific” theories globalising nazi practices.

History has a way of repeating itself and pulling into the mainstream fringe practices – Fascism in Italy, turning into Nazism in Germany – and vice versa (Soviet Communism thrown into the fringes).

Snuff movies (where women and children are truly murdered for sexual fun) sold for porno under the counter, may soon surface as Hollywood films – why bother hiring stunt men, the American studios can save a lot of money killing the US destitute and the homeless on film, saving the US Federal Bank some money too in unclaimed welfare!

One could be forgiven for thinking that British Conservatives would at least pretend to be shocked by ‘liberal’ camp antics displayed by neo-nazi flashers like von Hagens, but nay, a distinguished right-wing intellectual Christopher Hudson signed a big article in the Right-est of the Rights, the Daily Mail (9) justifying Hagens’ nazi antics by proving it “to be part of a theatrical tradition which goes back hundreds of years”.

So what, Mr Hudson, why should we as a civilized society want to replicate man’s inhumanity to man endlessly, the genocidal barbarism of past empires and mad men?

Should the exercise of past evil justify the present misdeed? As a British Armenian intellectual, I say, NEVER.


Notes


(1) Recent critical consensus considers the late 19th c. as the beginning of
Modernism, and the 1960s hippy Flower Power as the dawn of Post-modernism.

The conventional wisdom was to regard the Italian Renaissance as the precursor of Modern times, although the Renaissance values of humanism displayed its shoots in the Armenian culture (of Cilicia especially) by well over a century earlier.

It is almost certain that the Crusaders, on their way to the Holy Places, passed through the Armenian homelands of the Byzantine Empire (and frequently ended in the Armenian Jerusalem!) were influenced by Armenian Art and Architecture (especially castle-building) and carried the concepts, with Platonic manuscripts plundered from Armenian monasteries, to kick-start the Italian Renaissance.

There can be little doubt that the proto-Masonic Templar Knights imbibed the Jerusalemite Armenian esoteric tradition to the full. One of our great philosophers, David Anhaght (=the Invincible One, of the 7th c.) was titled Trismegisthus (=thrice great), a loaded term of the Alexandrian esoteric tradition.

(2) The Vatican could finally forgive the Jews (a few years ago – it took them two thousand years to do so) for the murder of Jesus, the Protestants for the erosion of Vatican’s power and loss of empire, but still cannot bring itself to forgive the Freemasons for the secularisation and liberation of Europe from the Vatican’s clutches of medieval ignorance and the genocidal barbarism of the Inquisition. Although there are Catholic (and Anglican) priest-Masons and Jewish Masonic-lodges, the official Vatican decries the first, and un-brotherly Masons decry the second!

(3) Not only in the Platonic, but also in the 18th c. Hegelian sense of the term, derived from the Greek philosophy anyway.

(4) Vaughan Pilikian, Mysterium Tremendum, Metaphysics and Epistemology on the Border of Eternity and Time, May 2002, Harvard University Paper.

(5) This word Genocide was invented by the American-Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin, in 1944. He was aware he wished “to denote an old practice in its modern development” (Genocide, an anthropological reader, ed. by A. L. Hinton, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, p. 27). But of course Lemkin shows no awareness of its Old Testament practice. One could argue that the latter constitutes the world’s first documentary evidence of such evil.

For example, the great prophet Samuel (though why ‘great’? I cannot tell), orders Saul the 1st anointed King of Israel (anointed no less than by Samuel himself!) to genocide a neighbouring tribe, not only “without pity for the old, the women and the children”, but also their animals!

There seems little doubt that the Young Turk government Order to do the same to the Armenians (“without pity for the old, the women and the children”) is a direct verbatim quotation from the Old Testament, in a cynical mockery of their victims’ Christian faith, something that hitherto has escaped the notice of the historians of genocide.

Saul does sheepishly as Samuel commands, but suddenly reasons to himself in the nick of time that he need not kill the innocent animals; instead he could sell them to make money for his people. Delighted with his own clever idea, he returns to Samuel hoping for his approval. But Samuel, the power-mad prophet that he was, won’t have it, and curses his own anointed to destruction, for which reason Saul one day commits suicide by falling on his own sword.

His son Jonathan’s bosom friend, King David succeeds Saul. When he finally conquers Jerusalem and enters the city, he roasts his enemies in “ovens”, teaching the Nazis a very bad lesson in cremation!

(6) There is no critical consensus as to what the label Dada means. Some take its derivation to the Russian word da meaning Yes, which would not of course do conceptual justice to the self-negating mode of the Dada-philosophy. Others have gone as far as suggesting that it is a camouflaged variation on the French infantile expression of caca.

Others still suggest that it is a consciously meaningless derivation pointing up the absurdity of life itself, that all is Vanity – the theme of the Old Testament book, Ecclesiastes, attributed to King Solomon – the 3rd King of Israel, son of David and the non-Jewish Bathsheba, whose Hittite-Armenian husband King David sent to the wars to be killed, that he may ravish the wife upon whose bath-taking nakedness he had peeped!

In formal philosophy, Dadaist nihilism I think contributed to the birth of (French) Existentialism with Death-affirmation as its central theme.

(7) No wonder American Presidents (since Dwight Eisenhower but excluding him) have become notorious with their inability to speak grammatical English – George Bush Senior could not even complete a sentence! On an official visit to Tokyo, he arrived drunk and vomited on the Japanese prime minister at an official dinner. His predecessor President Reagan had addressed Princess Diana on an official visit as Prince David! And Bill Clinton’s brother jailed for cocaine offences used to protest claiming that his president-brother was the greatest “snorter” of all time.

According to a recent study reported in the New Scientist magazine, “fast food, sweets, fizzy drinks and a lack of vitamins may be a key to the loutish behaviour of young people.” (“Lad Food, Poor diets could hold key to yobs’ behaviour” by Stephen Moyes, Daily Mirror, 14 November 2002).

“Britain faces a public health disaster because of the widespread use of cannabis… the cannabis available on the streets today is 15 times more powerful than that of three decades ago... regular consumers are also at higher risk of developing schizophrenia... the findings will shock many who have formed the view that cannabis use is relatively harmless...” (“Cannabis cancer risk is 50 per cent higher than cigarettes, say scientists” by Elaine Galloway, Evening Standard, 11 November 2002).

(8) For example, “Storm over autopsy on TV” by Maxine Firth and Laura Burkin, London Evening Standard, First Page, 20 November, 2002.

(9) “Theatres of Horror”, Daily Mail, 23rd November 2002, pp. 44-5.

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