Pet criticisms

June 30, 2000

Well, I never! David Hockney says there's "no such thing as a dumb artist"; and that Cezanne (who stated "painting is optics") was "anti-optical" ("An optical disillusion", THES, June 16).

True, Cezanne was no pre-Raphaelite or photorealist for whom reality is created camera-like by depicting every endless detail. But what he and Monet et al at their best elucidated were the universal structure and economy of key, interdependent space-depth cues, that make possible, for art and science, the coherent seeing of form, space and ever more subtle patterns of similarity and difference. This refutes the fashionable relativism that both sees art as arbitrary, with no testable criteria, and hands judgement to the market. And it confers the visual grammar to build art's language-like potential (that is, via metaphor and so on and Gestalt effects).

Yes, art education needs to reinstate its elemental media of painting and drawing, with their special insights side-stepped by film and installation. But not to see that artistic significance is mediated by belief and ideology, needing informed, academic analysis, is to surrender to the "innocent eye".

Contra Royal College of Art rector Chris Frayling (Letters, THES, June 23), that is no mark of an "enfant terrible" but one of a cosy pet.

David Rodway

Lecturer in art and philosophy Kensington and Chelsea College

London SW10

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