quinta-feira, 23 de fevereiro de 2023

JOHN WELSON | Art In The 21st Century


All art, music, poetry, film, dance and other modes of expression are political. Every action, thought, feeling and expression of the senses and intellect are political. Each and every reflection upon that which is around or within us is political. We are political animals, either passively or actively. Political and social energies and forces surround and affect our everyday lives, thoughts, aspirations, intentions, actions and reactions. Whether consciously or unconsciously political and social forces model who and what we are, how we behave and how we perceive and respond to those around us. It also colours how we choose to interact, who we choose to interact with and how we wish to be viewed or perceived in society, our role, function, place, or indeed, our choice not to play certain roles. Those who are not aware of the part they play or are not aware that they play a part are also displaying an observable political stance of alienation, disinterest or cynical distrust. All interaction is political by nature, social interaction, mores, social education and social modelling along with religious education or indoctrination and those who are nurtured without the interference of state or system are themselves politically affected by their choice of exclusion. Since the beginning of mankind’s connection with other humans a myriad of forms of communication and interactions have taken place, disciplines and structures of expression and control have evolved. They have varied, progressed, evolved, and been fine tuned (at worst they have been corrupted) but fall into structures that groups of individuals can at best create cohesive guide lines to best serve the disparate cohorts. Various variables have become the recurring cornerstones for “social cohesion” and they include, laws, rules, power-bases, systems, debate, aspiration, agreement, cohesion, assimilation and at worst, subjugation, oppression, control and imposition.

Throughout history there has been a relationship between the arts and politics. The Greeks and Romans were to create a theatre which acted as a magnifying glass to the activities of both individual politicians and governments, creating both dramas for the public but also reflections, comment and at times judgement upon those who govern and hold power. Throughout the generations play-writes as diverse as Aristotle, Shakespeare through to Brecht and beyond have been the commentators on the social and political milieu, observing, commenting, casting doubt and posing questions. The role and perspective of the artistic commentator evolved over the years, decades and centuries. Initially, the perspective taken was one of the artistic observation being an outsider, an observer at some distance, making a reflection upon the ills of society. The perspective often took an objective snapshot of a perceived failure in society as though it was a malady which could be rectified. Such a stance was to evolve and became an exposure of corruption and corrupted infrastructures within society.

By the mid nineteenth century there was a palpable change in the stance taken by creative energies. The age of the arts being at the service of rich sponsors and benefactors intent upon the arts celebrating their wealth, power and vanity was drawing to a close. With writers such as Charles Dickens, Emil Zola, painters like Vincent van Gough the perspective was to change. These creative energies were intent upon drawing attention to the inherent injustices in society and their focus was to draw attention to the ramifications of social injustice and the plight of those whose lives were blighted by a political system that exploited vast tranches of the population. This was to be the birthing of the role of the artist as a social and moral commentator, a reflector of the human condition. In effect the artist was to become a coscience, adressing feelings, anxieties, confronting rather than decorating.

By the beginning of the twentieth century there was to be a major transformation and evolution of the face of the arts. Its function and role was evolving. No longer was art to be the decorative appendage of a monied class. Creative energies had in effect broken the fetters of constraint. This came about by a selection of disparate variables coalescing in a truly combustable fashion. Political upheaval and unrest throughout the world brought about a questioning of the political status quo. As far a field as China, Russia and throughout Europe discontent was boiling over into war. The posturing of political leaders who had held sway for generations was coming under scrutiny and part of that scrutiny ignited the sensibility of creative artists. Added to this the new arrivals of the medium of film and camera and the mass production of printing presses, new tools for the mass exposure of a plethora of different messages and all this became more accessible to the public. A potential for the public to become informed, educated and advised of information that previously they had not been privy to. Added to this the interest in psychology, philosophy informed a wider audience about society, morality, history and political authority. A demystification by revelation. There was the potential for both individuals and society to become more informed, more critical, more considered in their perspective. Potentially this was a time when artistic endeavours could and did open many new doors of artistic expression, but later in this essay when dealing with the arts and politics in the twenty first century questions will be raised as to whether certain facets and threads of expression were nurtured and the effect this had on later generations who had been excluded or marginalised.

The first decade of the twentieth century witnessed an interesting expression of the absorbing of the potential new paths of expression. The Cubists and Russian Constructivists appeared to chose to confront aesthetic issues and the deconstruction of their apparatus for creating images. Pictorial images were stripped down to the fundamentals of design, shape and form, superficially the observer might be forgiven for considering that the artist had become more esoteric and even obscure in their outlook on the material and social world that was around them and that they were a part of. However, a more considered view might lead the observer to note that the artist was stripping back to the essence, a deconstruction as a first step in constructing a new order of observation and absorption.

Looming was European war, this following on closely from an already dramatic upheaval caused by revolution in Russia, a time of cataclysmic uncertainty and instability. Artistic response and involvement denoted a change in the artists self appraisal of what the nature of their involvement was and what the function of art was in society. In Russia the “Russian Constructivists” were moving towards utilising their creativity as a tool for social education. The sublimation of individual expression for the better aim of the education of all ? A rhetorical question, but one that was to raise its hydra head in many forms in the coming decades both by the National Socialists and their dictates on that which is “acceptable” and that which is Entartete kunst/musik. And, dangerously, in the case of the Futurists in Italy and the Vorticists in Britain where they made the choice of aligning themselves to Right Wing political perspectives and activities. However significantly, later in this essay the approach and actions of the Surrealists will offer a diametrically opposite perspective in as much as its connection with political activities is a part of the wider, inclusive and positive perspective upon human emancipation.

The First World War/Great War was to be a perhaps the first time that artists made a stand as individuals against the social, national and political order and stance. Whilst on the one side there were those artists who supported the status quo others placed themselves as the questioners, producing openly provocative pieces of art. George Grosz, John Heartfelt and the Dadaists questioned both political and openly jingoistic nationalist perspectives, being the first group to confront via art. They questioned, moral, religious and political collusion purely on the grounds of its human hypocrisy. On the other hand painters such as Otto Dix, himself a soldier in the German trenches depicted the degradation of war, the inhumanity, the sheer folly of the pain and suffering. This was the beginning of the role of the artist as a first hand commentator on the multifarious facets of the human condition. A progression of the artist from pictorially decorative reproducer through social observer to a state where they were experiencing the social/political theatre at first hand and recounting how it felt, the pain, trauma, alienation and futility, but all depicted through and because of personal experience. This is the creative energy utilising the personal experience of actions in order to portray an authentic experience.

After the First World War the embers of creative energy seem almost strained and stretched, this is a reoccurring theme both in the arts and particularly in the context of overt collaboration of the arts and political action. Periods of intense activity are often followed by periods of quiet whilst consolidation takes place. It was not to last long as by 1924 the first Surrealist Manifesto was published and Surrealist activity began. Unlike anything that had gone before the Surrealist energy spread around the world. An attitude to life and the human condition, it was to have relevance to every culture, ethnicity, sexual orientation and was open to communication, action and connection to political activity as part of its belief in the emancipation of the human condition. It addressed (and continues to address) issues relating to political struggles throughout the world in the removal of political subjugation. In the twenty first century one of the many struggles addressed by creative energies is the removal of the marginalisation of certain ethnic backgrounds. From the earliest years of Surrealism’s existence it was inclusive to all energies and participants from around the world. As a beacon for human emancipation it has been unbending in it's commitment to lucidity, hope and celebration of human potential.

In the nineteen thirties following the Wall Street Crash yet another shock wave resounded around the world and in America photographers like Dorothea Lange recorded the plight of those displaced farm workers with a poignancy and dignity that was politically motivated. In the same way as August Sander in Germany had recorded workers a decade earlier photography was an unblinking eye focussed firmly on recording an unsentimental view on society and a stark reflection upon politicians ineptitude in addressing those they were in power to govern and support .

As the old order fell into question following the Second World War empires began to crumble and the new emancipated countries around the world provided new impetus to cultural exchange. The world was an enormous palette of possibilities and potential. But as we will see later in this article, by the twenty first century respect, inclusivity and acceptance have not been easy to attain and when attained they are difficult to retain.

In the nineteen sixties Pop Art and popular culture made the arts more accessible to the public. In affluent societies the celebration of material wealth verged upon the decedent. Art celebrating the superficial and ephemeral appeared to dilute the artists role as the questioning conscience of its generation and make the artist the supporter of such unflinching opulence. There are those who would argue that in celebrating such superficiality they were in fact calling into question the premises of such a shallow materially driven society and world outlook.

And through out the whole of the century there had been Abstract Painting, from Kandinsky through Mondrian to Rothko, Pollock, Gorky and Asgar Jorn. An enormous disparate body of creative energies have continued producing a varied body of work (and continue to do so) addressing shape, form and colour. It would be incorrect to assume that there is no political perspective to their work. Earlier in this article it was stated that all actions are political and have a political resonance. Even if work is not directly addressing political issues there is a political relevance as no one creates in a void. Many abstract painters respond to issues by taking a spiritual or aesthetic path of discovery. A significant catalyst for action is based upon “feeling” and personal expression, positioning oneself to others and how you feel within yourself and your context within your social and environmental milieu. This in its own way is a social and political reaction and response to that which is in you and how you feel your context of behaviour or essence to be a valid force for expression. In the twenty first century this becomes a significant impetus for expression.

Increasingly as the century continued art became more and more a commodity with a financial value attached to it. At times the lines between kudos and notoriety, value and outlandishness, shock and vacuousness became blurred. There were artists who felt that integrity and honesty was a cheap currency and that either they were being exploited by galleries and institutions or they were being made to appear as jesters in order to nullify any political or social unrest that they may champion or instigate.

From the sixties to the nineties Conceptual Art, Art Brut, Fluxus, Mail Art, Video Art, Instillations and Performance Art surfaced as paths of creativity consciously chosen by its participants to avoid participating in the commercial art world. The influence of Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray resonated through many aspects of the output of the younger generation, a sense of revolt, a refusal to capitulate to the role of creating product to sell or be fodder to entertain an elite.

As the century drew to an end the arts had progressed a great distance in one hundred years, many changes and directions of expression had taken place. In the cinema one could watch Artaud in “The Passion of Jan of Arc" or a Hollywood block buster. The theatre could offer Ionesco or Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap”, whilst opera goers could choose between Edward Elgar or Philip Glass. Art lovers had the choice of the warmth and safety of a David Hockney exhibition or a visit to an Earth Art installation. In short, there were a myriad of different and diverse products on offer. One could be forgiven for thinking that all of them were "safe” examples of a rounded world with Arts Council and Government grants supplying the backing finance to pacify the aesthetic requirements of the public. Add to this the major state celebrations for sporting events and Royal Weddings or Funerals and the twentieth century could be perceived as having ended on a note whereby political control and manipulation of the arts had managed to castrate true revolt in the arts. After all one only needed to resort to the television to be bombarded by Costume Dramas, dancing competitions, along with programes of competing members of the public comparing their cooking skills and a nation was hooked. There were those who reflected that all culture had been “dumbed down”. A century began with such potential for hope and growth, fulfilment and a capacity for achievement as well as both social and individual development and so much was achieved and realised. In spite of hurdles placed by circumstance, the sheer vitality of creative energy, tenacity and a desire for creative energies always to express and share, communicate, it can be seen as a century of incredible importance for artistic expression.

There has to be a pulse of hope, of joy, of a celebration of the constructive in the act of creating. Artists in the main share their gift as an act or gesture of positivity. The subject matter may be serious, complex, challenging, but, when the artist extends the hand of inclusivity, inviting the viewer to share that gift and join them in the adventure then there is an atmosphere of shared extension. An example of this was the project of the artist Christo and his wrapping of the Reichstag in Berlin. This writer was invited to participate in the project and it was with pleasure that the writer observed the initial bewilderment of the public turning into a sense of awe as they watched the project unfold. As a spectacle it was an event of enormous proportions, but as a reflection upon history and politics it took on a deeper and poignant resonance. It was truly an artist making a significant political statement, but from a standpoint of inclusive and respectful partnership with the observer.

The century closed with the knowledge that the year 2000 was to be the year of the artist and this writer had the privilege of contributing works to twenty different exhibitions around the world. From Mail Art exhibitions including well known artists and children from schools in the city of Minden, Germany, both showing side by side, a real feeling of world inclusivity, to exhibitions celebrating the number “0”, a number that offered the potential to all the numbers/years that were to follow and be celebrated, a real sense of hope.

The twenty first century begun with a history of artistic expression behind it, gifts to be extended, new adventures to be experienced and nurtured. Many new resources and methods of connecting and communicating are coming of age. The internet, social media, Facebook, Tiktok, Twitter and a multitude of other means of sharing views and ideas, a blossoming of potential connection. A new millennium and new platforms for linking the threads of creativity. This is a truly an exciting time to be a part of an adventure the likes of which we have never experienced before.

It would not be a productive exercise to compare the achievements of the twenty first century to those of the twentieth century. Firstly, we are but twenty three years into a new century and secondly, you can not compare like with like as there are so many significant differences. Art and the creative pulse, the public forum, the beating heart of creativity, does not exist or function in a vacuum, its impetus for existing and driving force is the political and social milieu that it exists within and to a large extent the impetus from which it nourishes its polemic. The social and political forces and infrastructures are very different in the twenty first century to those that existed in the whole of the twentieth century. Artists reflect that difference and have become players in both directing it and formulating platforms of debate that reflect issues that are topical. The agenda for creative observation and comment has evolved and broadened, involvement and ownership has brought about a sense of palpable empowerment to express both the voice of the individual and the voice of like minded groups who previously had no voice in the public forum.

It may be fair to reflect that the twenty first century has fostered a greater sense of involvement with political and social issues. Artists have enthusiastically involved themselves with a myriad of issues including race, equality, gender and LGBTQ. Topics and subjects are now both discussed and celebrated in a fashion that was not seen twenty years ago.The use of social media has been a tool for discourse and discussion. The nature of communication and debate on social media is necessarily faster than previous methods of sharing and discussing topics and there is an energy of discourse, an interaction of debate.

The twenty first century has opened avenues of celebration that had been overlooked or suppressed in previous generations. There is a larger contextual relationship between those who create art and its value to society. Culturally, the inclusion and value of an ever widening cultural diversity reflects society. Monocultures and monocultural perspectives have always been questioned by artists. When one thinks back to the paintings of Picasso, the inspiration he welcomed when absorbing the power of African masks. Andre Breton and Max Ernst's enthusiasm for the creative and spiritual energies of the Hopi Indian Dolls. Surrealists from around the world created a shared vision of the relevance for cultural exchange and interface. Recently, the exhibition, “Surrealism Without Borders”, (Museum of Modern Art, New York and Tate Modern, London) celebrated a century of Surrealism’s promotion of cultural exchange and debate. The work on display reflects every aspect of multiculturalism in the furtherance of human emancipation.

The twenty first century is witnessing the relevance of creative energies from around the globe, but importantly it is giving voice to those who are culturally displaced, either as political exiles striving to find a new voice, or those struggling to offer a voice in countries where constrain and repression attempt to restrict or remove both debate and individual expression. Here, the internet has been a device for highlighting political repression and exchanging and sharing the effects of this repression around the world in the hope that pressure can be put on regimes to modify their oppressive regimes. Where politicians around the world may be cautious to make anything other than wafer thin objections, this is contrasted by the groundswell of continuous support made by supportive groups on the internet.

In the twenty first century there is an attempt to rectify the ills perpetrated by previous generations. Cultural repression and the denigration of cultures at the hands of colonialism and exploitation are starting to be addressed by politicians, but the healing and emotional restitution are delicate and complex issues. Artists are attempting to create a sympathetic platform for this discourse to be constructively and inclusively addressed. In a multicultural world the value of all constituent parts of each society has to be nurtured and encouraged, we have to draw together, share and move forward celebrating both our differences and similarities. Respect for all means of expression is becoming the cornerstone for artistic, cultural and ethnic endeavours in the twenty first century. Inclusion, whether it may be in new terrains or extending existing paths of adventure. This writer recently gave a painting workshop for those people who were suffering Alzheimer's. The experience was heartening, for these people were smiling and their body language relaxed as they painted. There is a cathartic quality to the act of creation and that is being fostered in the twenty first century. In a world that is for ever lived and experienced at break neck speed the need for self knowledge and a means of channelling stress and anxiety is paramount. Many worships and projects are taking place to allow and encourage people to attain an inner balance. Art is a part of that journey of self knowledge and self identification and that form of expression is as significant as any creative work produced by a “major named artist”.

It is heartening to observe that the marginalisation of the past is being confronted, in literature, cinema, the music industry and painting the myopia of past years is being seen for what it was, “prejudiced” and that destructive perspective pervaded for too long and to the detriment of human lucidity. The twenty first century is witnessing an air of constructive inclusivity and with it the world has the potential to become a celebratory platform for all means and modes of expression. Whilst attending the exhibition, “Surrealism Without Borders” at Tate Modern this writer overheard a member of the public reflecting, “look at all these women painters, Freda Kahlo, Toyen, Dorothea Tanning, Lee Miller, Leonora Carrington, so many women”. My thoughts were, “yes, we all have a story to tell and to share”. It is significant to reflect that there have always been a great many women painters, writers, object makers drawn to and participating in the Surrealist adventure and this is correctly an observation that may be made of the arts in general, however it has to be said that it has been some of the art historians and gallery owners who have not been forthcoming in reflecting this. Let us hope that the twenty first century allows us all to share and exchange our story with respect and integrity. In a world where polarised political debate is debasing considered discussion there is a greater need for social and cultural interaction to be inclusive and respectful of the gift of the arts as being a force for human liberty.

The twenty first century has the potential to be a period of excitement and empowerment, we must seize the opportunity for the emancipation of the senses, for everyone.



JOHN WILLIAM WELSON (Wales, 1953). Painter, poet, writer. Lives in Wales. Began painting Surrealist paintings at the age of 12 years. Over 350 exhibitions around the world. Has participated in Surrealist activities since 1974. In 2022 participated in, “Surrealism Without Borders”, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York and Tate Modern, London. In 2023 produced the drawings for the first translation of Ithell Colquhoun’s “Goose of Hermogenes” into the French language, (publisher, Le Grand Tamanoir/Infosurr) translation from English to French, Michel Remy, introduction by Patrick Lepetit.


JULIA MARGARET CAMERON (Índia, 1815-1879). Um dos melhores exemplos de acaso objetivo encontramos na biografia desta fotógrafa, a quem sua filha lhe presenteia uma câmara quando Julia completa 48 anos. Era a sua primeira máquina e até o momento ela não havia despertado o mínimo interesse pela fotografia. Curioso prenúncio de sua filha, o fato é que sua imediata dedicação, ajudada por um amigo, a levou rapidamente ao domínio do processo do colódio úmido – clássico processo fotográfico que se encontra nos primórdios da fotografia –, começando assim a sua carreira fotográfica. De imediato ela transformou um galinheiro em improvisado laboratório e em estúdios algumas dependências da sua casa. O resultado dessa sua identificação foi a criação de um estilo muito próprio baseado em longos tempos de exposição, na falta de nitidez provocada por um rápido desfoque, assim como na supressão de detalhes, nas manchas provocadas pelo modo irregular de como aplicava o colódio úmido e na utilização do simbolismo da iluminação. Caracterizou-se então por sua escolha de trabalhar com retratos – em especial os retratos de mulheres – e as cenas alegóricas, o que a situa como uma precursora da recriação de cenas vivas aplicadas à fotografia. Acerca de seu trabalho ela mesma diria: Eu ansiava por prender toda a beleza que viesse até mim, e por fim o desejo foi satisfeito. Nossa homenagem a essa brilhante fotógrafa, que é nossa artista convidada.


Agulha Revista de Cultura

Número 224 | fevereiro de 2023

Artista convidado: Julia Margaret Cameron (Índia, 1815-1879)

editor | FLORIANO MARTINS | floriano.agulha@gmail.com

editora | ELYS REGINA ZILS | elysre@gmail.com

ARC Edições © 2023


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FLORIANO MARTINS | floriano.agulha@gmail.com

ELYS REGINA ZILS | elysre@gmail.com




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