Thursday I found myself listening to a 30 minute interview with Camille Paglia. She was in studio to discuss her latest book Glittering Images: A Journey through Art from Egypt to Star Wars. I was a little taken aback when she stated that there had been not a single significant figure of profound influence in the visual arts since the 1960’s. She explained that in architecture and performance art we have seen many important works in recent decades. Even industrial design was in a golden age particularly with products by Apple and others, but the visual arts were artistically dead.
She believes the multimedia revolution of the 1970’s has sapped artistic creativity and innovation in the arts. In the past sculptures and painters spent a great deal of time perfecting their skills long before they achieved artistic success. When you look at an artist like Monet and marvel in the length of time it took to perfect his techniques before he began to create his greatest and most admired work. While there were a few prodigies like Picasso, most great artists were Masters who spent decades refining their skills and honing their craft. Yet today’s society seems unwilling to consider the long route to greater success.
Camille felt today’s artist doesn’t know how to build or create anything with their hands. Computerization and the development of task specific software have revolutionized the ability to generate and illustrate a proposal, but it’s also created a new breed of designer and artist who are using computers to sidestep the process of actually “making” the art. The fear is that art may be stripped down to a thin veneer built around computer generated form.
I’m pretty sure it was Philip Johnston who recently lamented that students are no longer using a pencil to create architectural designs. The latest students are from a new generation of tech savvy kids who utilize the latest software written specifically to generate form. Many architects see this approach to design bypassing the essential intuitive stage of sketching, doodling and thinking with broad brush strokes. Once you turn to hard and rigid lines, you tend to turn to the logic side of the brain and use what you know best rather than take a creative risk.
One of the negative aspects of the internet is that designers look at what their contemporaries are doing and simple copy. They apply the same “visuals” to their own work and fail to realize the success of the project they are copying has more to do with how it’s played and less to do with how it looks.
I’ve always believed that it’s impossible to strive for something meaningful without philosophically understanding what you are trying to accomplish. Over time I’ve come to believe that you “can” design in emotion, rhythm, etc. into your work, but it requires understanding how each of those emotions works in built form and assessing why other examples have elicited that response. It does not guarantee you will receive the reaction you hope to gain, because emotions are personal, but you will have a better chance than those who have not considered how to create an emotional connection.
And that is the crux of what Camille is saying there is no depth to the art. Modern art lacks any attempt to appreciate or understand the great works of the past and to pay particular attention to why they make us contemplate them.
There is no permanence in modern artist’s approach because their goals are so focuses in the now, which is essentially an immediate response to what they’ve done. Because of this newfound approach Camille suggests that much of the current visual arts are done to elicit a reaction rather than contemplation. Camille felt almost modern visual art work suffers from trying to be shocking rather than even provocative.
Perhaps that is why the scale of the projects has increased, to make up for the fact the intellectual reach has declined. Artists have gone bigger and bolder in almost an attempt to say “damned it, pay attention to me,” and not because their concept or ideas need a larger canvas to convey the message but they are literally down to their last trick. In many ways golf architecture is particularly guilty of this artistic sin.
To this day I’m still left breathless when I go to the McMichael Gallery to look at Tom Thompson’s study pallets. They are often the light on a single section of leaf. When you follow a dozen of these studies all covering different aspects of the work and then see the full canvas, you realize that your reaction to the work is not just to “the painting”, but rather to the full composition and all its small and fully realized details that draw you deeper into the work. I’ve sat down occasionally and gone from leaf to leaf.
I think golf architecture is a much better place than most arts.
There has been some profound and influential work done by the golf designers of this generation. The influence of that work is clear on the next generation. Interestingly, I think the economic troubles of today are good for the long-term quality of golf design. With less work, there has been an essential “thinning of the herd.” This has also played a role in the future designers too since they have been reduced to a very small group. Only the best and most serious students of architecture will manage to last and see the other side of this decade plus long drought we can expect.
Think of it this way, they are the ones who will be spending a decade or more out on site working on their craft. Think of them as a group of potential Monet’s or Tom Thompson’s working on an individual leaf each day perfecting that one and moving on to the next part of the composition. All that repetition and experience makes them butter prepared for the opportunity that will eventually come.
Unlike the visual arts there is no fear of the computer or multimedia ruining Golf Design because we are running hard in the opposite direction. I see the busy and successful architects using less “pencil” (forget computers) and spending any additional time in the field running equipment or even shovel. We have gone back to roots on so many levels.