Art mirrors promoters

December 26, 1997

HELLO-style journalism may be the broadsheet vogue for art reviews and features, but rue the day I find its blithe suspension of critical faculties when turning for cerebral relief to The THES.

Although not disputing your "Perspective" report on Turner Prize artists (November 28) that "the meaning of their work depends on who is looking at it", letting this remark stand will further reinforce the popular myth that art is an arbitrary and relativistic affair with no testable means for telling the shallow and perceptive apart.

Decades of benighted fashion (from the traditionalist, modernist, and pseudo avant-garde camps alike) have done their best to dismantle the antediluvian idea that practice and theory in art could embody and articulate key, yet unnoticed, insights and ideas, basic to the understanding of perception, creativity, language, and even philosophy itself.

Meaning varies according to the eye of the beholder. But this is only another way of putting the anti-realist, hermeneutic point of epistemology that interpretation and selection rest on our own understanding, or ignorance, and that perception is like a mirror or circular process that automatically filters out the perceptive ideas and findings the viewer, whether scientist, artist, or critic, does not hypothesise or know about.

If art fashions today are facile and superficial, it is only because they are a mirror of the perceptual and intellectual shortcomings of their selectors and promoters.

It means also that while the visual and philosophical illiteracy of these "experts" prevails, blocking the voice and comparison afforded by a truly progressive and enlightened art, society will stay short-changed and none the wiser.

David Rodway

Lecturer in art and philosophy Kensington and Chelsea College

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