Vesica Blog - Taking museum and art collections to the cloud

August 7, 2011

V&A’s Jameel Prize 2011 is weak

The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) happens to be one of my favoured larger London museums, but that’s not going to save this year’s Jameel prize. Whilst the Jameel Family and the Abdul Latif Jameel Community Initiatives (ALJCI) have done very well to raise awareness about Islamic Art and Craft (including their substantial donation for the Jameel Gallery at the V&A), the Jameel Prize 2011 is money wasted – something that would be better spent on preserving some of the traditional Islamic craft, or for that matter, helping feed people in the Horn of Africa.

Whilst it is no secret that I don’t really like contemporary or modern art, some of the quality of work shortlisted this year is just bad – and that’s the best thing I can say about it. Such contemporary art, when claimed that it is inspired by the traditions of Islamic craft and design, is simply insulting to those master craftsman who created some of the worlds most stunning textiles, calligraphy and architecture at the height of the Islamic Empire.

Contemporary artists sometimes fail to realize that the very basics of Islamic Art are about beauty, and I’m afraid that some of the works at this exhibition were far from being beautiful. Aisha Khalid’s ‘Name, Class and Subject’ , Hadieh Shafie’s ’22500′ paper scroll works or Soddy Sharifi’s ‘Frolicking Women’ are among the works included in the exhibition, and these suffer from the classic case of deficient contemporary art – don’t focus on making it beautiful, but write a fancy description about it. In fact, if you read the description provided for the works, some of them are plain wrong. Of Hadieh Shafie’s work, for instance, the V&A states that therein ‘the notion of meditative process, repetition and time  as found in Islamic art, craft and architecture is a constant element’. That’s actually quite inaccurate. Nothing about the Hadieh’s pieces in the exhibition represents this as it is done in Islamic Art. The application of the Breath of the Compassionate (or other such pattern) is representative of this meditative process and repetition, paper scrolls of varying sizes are not. Whilst I am not saying that the work is bad, it does not deserve any praise for its reference to a contemporary form of Islamic Art.

The exhibition wasn’t all bad, though. Some of the pieces were good – Aisha Khalid’s Kashmiri Shawl and Bita Ghezelayagh’s ‘Felt Memories’ tunic were some of the pieces that really stood out. Perhaps they were the least abstract of the lot and let their beauty and quality of work do the talking, which is what you would expect from a good work of art.

But don’t take my word for it – the exhibition runs until 25 September 2011. More information is available on http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/j/jameel-prize-2011-shortlist/.

June 13, 2010

Modern Art: The good, the bad and the ugly

Filed under: For Art's Sake — Tags: , , , , — Asif N @ 11:30 pm

Before I became involved with Vesica, I must admit that my interest in art was, well, quite limited. I must confess that I have heard one too many times about the modern geniuses of art – in the western world, they only have European art as we can’t trace the history back to much further than 700 years – we hit a brick wall called the dark ages. Nonetheless, for many years I wondered whether it was I who did not understand the genius of new upcoming artists, whether I was just too old at heart to only appreciate some of the traditional and classical stuff, or whether I was just not competent enough to understand what modern art was all about.

What I’ve never understood is that with everything else in life, we generally believe that simple is better. With contemporary or modern art, though, if you cannot understand it, it’s genius! I’m not sure who came up with that, but it may very well be just another scam. That’s not to say all contemporary art is bad; most of it is riddled with abstraction and squibbles of lines and paint that make no sense; many contemporary artists have to explain the piece of work they have created by retracing and explaining, in many cases, the monstrosities they have created.

Now because many of my dealings in working for Vesica have involved contact with art collectors and consultants who help such collectors put together their collections, I am sometimes baffled by the lack of foresight that goes into collecting this art. Most modern art today is painted on acryllic with synthetic paints – most of these won’t last half a century. What I’m not too sure about is why the new breed of collectors is obsessed with collecting this art. It may make for a good decorative piece or it may be a good gesture to support an emerging artist, but if you are going to overpay for a bunch of zig zag (and in many cases, nonsensical) lines to help an artist build his/her name, at least buy something that will last so that if the artist does indeed become successful, you and your heirs can benefit from the investment you made.

I suppose one of the dangers of contemporary and modern art is that those who collect it are generally not seasoned collectors – many of these collectors are the young, hip crowd that’s trying too hard to ‘understand’ art that is promoted by the majority of galleries in large, metropolitan cities around the world. Coming back full circle to the danger, a group of people who have no understanding of the subject of art are helping promote another group that’s just become invovled with the subject to make money.

I believe, and I may very well be wrong (after all you too are entitled to your opinion), if  a piece of art doesn’t speak to you when you first look at it, visually or spiritually, it’s just not worth collecting. Traditional art has a sense of perfection or passion about it; modern art is plain boring and hurts my eyes rather than pleasing them. It negates the purpose of collecting art.

I’m sure you have read about the recent event of the dynamite and bomb ‘art’ setting off police alarms and at the Pimlico Gallery in London- nothing about that was cool or representative of the fears of the 21st century in which we live. It was more like a high school prank – something modern artists have come to call ‘installations’.

Just as soon as I find a piece of modern art in the galleries of London that speaks to me, I’ll be sure to write good things about it. For now, unfortunately, I’m not seeing much good in most modern art. The bad is that those who are promoting and buying this art don’t really get what they’re buying. The ugly, the artist is also generally clueless.

Some day I will write about why modern art sucks – for now, I really, really want to give it a chance. If you can’t wait to see what I’ll write, here’s an article that you will surely enjoy reading by Jeff of High Concept Media in British Columbia, Canada: “Modern art sucks, and I’ll tell you why.”

May 31, 2010

Traditional Art vs Contemporary Art

Filed under: For Art's Sake — Tags: , — Asif N @ 9:53 pm

Since I became involved with the subject of art a few years ago, I’ve read quite a few articles from a variety of sources on the topics of both traditional and contemporary art. Whilst it is obvious that most people who write on this topic have done little or no research on the ethos or philosophy behind the 2 divisions of art, ultimately, it may very well be that the classification, like the beauty of a work of art, lies in the eyes of the beholder.

London in particular is driven by an obession with contemporary art – much of which is, unfortunately, quite overrated. I’m not saying that there is no good contemporary art (and we’re not referring to graphic design when I say contemporary art), but the English taste of appreciating the craft and skill of an artist is, I think, quite bland (like the food, perhaps?). I won’t name any artists or any art dealers who buy or create this art. That said, read what I am writing here with a grain of salt and note that not all contemporary art makes you contemporary or cool. Contemporary, like much of the rest of a city like London, is simply a word that represents a certain notion of facade that we have come to associate a little too much importance with. It is best to judge a piece of art by what went into it, what it says and what it communicates. Although appearance may start one’s relationship with a piece of art, the relationship will only become lasting if there is more behind the superficial appearance of any piece of work.

Getting on with our discussion, then. I have seen writers trace the roots of traditional art to the 12th century. Some attribute the origins of traditional art to renaissance – yet, others think that traditional art refers to the traditional forms of art, i.e. painting, drawing, pottery, etc. Truth is, and truth from my point of view, that all of the above definitions are based on people promoting their own agendas. Pro European writers like the sound of the word tradition and give credit for it to their roots. Craftsmen try to take hostage the essence of the word traditional for their benefit, but nobody ever discusses what it is that really defines traditional art.

If we take a step back in time, the Greeks were responsible for some traditional art. The Romans were responsible for some traditional Art. But with what little knowledge I have and research I have undertaken, the formal creation of traditional art was probably undertaken by Muslims. It was this effort that primarily defined the traditional arts on a larger scale – I’m sure there was and has been a major Jewish and Christian application too, but my knowledge on the subject is even more restricted there, so I will use Islamic examples to define traditional art. You see, traditional art, as it was back in the day, is also today known as sacred art by some. Ultimately, the goal of traditional art was to create ultimate beauty and harmony, that could only be attributed to God, through the heart, mind, hands and materials of a human being. Don’t mistake this for religious art – if you apply this principle to a mosque, perhaps the application become religious, but if you apply the same to your palace or to your home or to your painting, it becomes traditional art.

What this means, then, is that traditional art is built with a different purpose. The goal of a traditional piece of art is not to promote the artist or his ego (although this has to be done in the 21st centiry because everyone has to make a living) but to set aside an ego and build something of excellence – this can be anything – it’s just the intention and goal with which it is built that determines the classification. However, because traditional artists generally have to isolate the human ego, traditional art generally ends up being abstract and communicates a deeper meaning or a story. You’ll see this same common theme, whether you see a piece with a geometric pattern, calligraphy or the depiction of a scene. The focus is never one a particular person, the focus is on great detail in depicting something from God’s perfect creation. This is one of the reasons you won’t see a whole lot of portraits as part of the truly traditional art. You may very well see people in a variety of Indian and Persian miniature paintings, but they depict a scene in great detail and depth – they never focus on one person.

Contemporary Art, on the other hand, has quite a different purpose. It’s all about the artist and what he feels, thinks and wants. Contemporary art is a depiction of the artist unlike traditional art. This is why as part of many contemporary paintings you will see portraits – portraits of people that the artist admires or the artist painting portraits of those who want to be admired. Contemporary art today also includes a wide array of abstract paintings, from monstrosities to some that actually depict the state of mind, feeling or thought of an artist quite well.

Now I’m not here to say a piece of art has to be either contemporary or traditional – you also see fusion pieces where artists try to incorporate both the essence of traditional and contemporary art. Truth is, different art speaks different things to different people. Therefore, I think it is perhaps better to classify it at source – hence the definition as I see it above. Of course, the topic is always open to discussion for some and while it’s certainly open here, this is for now the way I see it.

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