Straitjacket binds artists

July 19, 1996

In his letter ("Wolf is in the art studio", THES, June 28), Richard Robbins usefully highlights the plight of art college education, and the damage caused by cuts to the important input by part-time teachers, who are professional artists and designers. But, alas, the real situation is far more alarming than he suggests.

Contrary to the received propaganda, visual art is in a parlous, degenerate state. Underlying the acute malaise and deadlock of the two factions now controlling it - the neo-media, installationist pseudo avant-garde, and the traditionalist and modernist rearguard - there is a largely unrecognised mix of educational misdirection and dereliction. This has resulted primarily from the ruling Cartesian way of seeing, which the fashions in art share with the rest of culture.

As a THES article (April 22) pointed out, this Cartesianism has produced a disabling dualist straitjacket, which splits in misleading ways, mind/body, thinking/doing, reason/the senses, form/content, science/humanities, fact/value, etc. The effect has been to stultify art, no less than philosophy itself.

Thus, generations of artists have been denied the combined, appropriate theoretical/practical study - i.e. in "visual science", critical philosophy and social science - needed for the deep grasp of perception, creativity, language, ideology, without which artists are unable to identify and implement the key, perceptual and creative, language-like principles, whereby all art, whatever its medium, can uniquely express and illuminate increasingly complex, social and political realities.

Moreover, neither of these two factions is receptive to the anti-Cartesian alternative in art, but instead, like the press, is doing its best to ignore or censor it.

This alternative is the "visual science" approach, which, over the past 20 years, has made breakthroughs vital not only for the understanding and practice of art, but for society, education, and philosophy too.

In reply to Richard Robbins, there can be no one of "power and vision" to "reverse the trend of funding", who has not reached these insights, embodied them in their art practice, theory and teaching, and is thereby able to explain, convincingly at last, the real characteristics of truly perceptive and progressive art, and why its ideas are so crucial for us all.

David Rodway 11 Cumberland Street London SW1

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