Recently, there has been a stirring up of controversy from the recent exhibit of stained glass windows placed in Westminster Abby, the quintessential symbol of British history, by the pioneer of British modern art David Hockney; There was the usual response from the proletarians about the “childish” display of abstracted minimalist landscapes, and utter outrage from the depths of Trad twitter, especially high Toryists that lament the degradation of such a sacred cathedral that not only represents the British national faith, but the British people and history as a whole.
As someone who is in the position i am in among the TRADS, let me make the controversial claim that, at least on an intellectual level (if aesthetic beauty is a matter of taste), I understand the context of Hockney’s Ipad created stained glass display.
Hockney is a visionary in the art world because of his near prophetic insight years ago into how the art world would change in the coming decades. Today, his predictions of artists adapting to a digital world and using digital interfaces to make art has largely been correct. His approach to the Ipad in making his large print outs of minimalists landscapes was intended to preserve the genre in the digital age, rather than subvert it. Hockney wants to come to terms with technology, not simply deconstruct the old mediums and genres of visual art like so many crass and sensationalist (post)modern artists.
As for the meaning behind the pieces, Hockney in a video during the installation of the windows describes that the piece is meant to be celebratory, and that he is commemorating the reign of Queen Elizabeth. The subject of the landscape is to pay homage to the Queen’s love of the British countryside, as the royal family, including the Queen herself, have a long history of being prolific landscape painters in their spare time. The colors are minimal, vivid, the shapes exaggerated, as Hockney is also deliberately showing his life-long influence from Henri Matisse, the trailblazer of modernism that one sardonic art critics labeled as “Fauves” Fauvism, translated as “Wild Beast” for the vivid and monotonous use of color.
As for it actually going up in Westminster, I have seen the numerous guffawing and scoffing from the usual suspects, even in the video the top comment is saying it is a piece of egotistical trash, and the High Tory crowd wants to send Hockney up to the tower! From my estimation, the piece was genuinely meant to honor the queen rather then be a shallow feat of shock art, a stale iconoclasm meant to “own the Trads”. Hockney has a particular style, and wanted to inject his own familiar artistic footprint into the windows. No one can argue that His work is comparable to the feats of artistic achievement right next to it in terms of talent, narrative, replication of human form, nuance of color, etc. The Color palette is certainly jarring, but does have a stained-glass feel to it. A generous interpretation is that Hockney is an abstract impressionist bordering on representation, or rather, stretching the limits of representation, and paying homage to the spirit of the Queen’s pastoral landscapes through a modern medium, and in a modernist fashion. If Hockney wanted to spit all over traditional art, he would of smashed a window or two, or painted something objectionably mortifying, instead of pictures that are simply crude and simplistic.
What is starting to annoy me about conservative and traditionalist circles is this narrowing, knee-jerk attitude towards art and aesthetics that borders on philistinism. One cannot simply ignore the trends of art for the last 200 years, or expect some grand white-washing that will “restore” traditional art and aesthetics. How many Twitter anons with busts of Greek and Roman statues, or pastoral renaissance landscapes (which a lot are not from the renaissance, but are copies, or from the American Hudson river school painters, go look for yourselves dear readers), actually put their impotent rage where their texting thumbs are and actually learn how to paint or compose poetry? How many so-called “TRADS” actually join a real Atelier and learn about how to compose a classical portrait? The irony of it is that Hockney is actually using the same technology that anons use to compose the same tired old mass-E-produced “Fashwave” images with the usual crop of hypertext messages about the family, the nation or the collective white race.
Should the windows be taken down eventually? Probably, but is there artistic merit to these works? Given the context, of course there is, and to be even more frank, Right wing philistinism in the arts does immeasurably more harm than good. It is a key reason why the left things everyone on the right is some neanderthal or art hater. Once again, this is not to say that there is a lot of modern art that is objectively terrible (God knows that there is), and Hockney is not everyone’s cup of tea, but at least the man tries to inject some representation into it. His other works are quite pleasant, and these ones do come off as a bit too “child-like”, and not in the Picasso sense of the term. But if the right is to ignore every single instance of modern art that is grounded in the metaphysical and in the philosophic, then may I be bold in claiming that the Right then does not wish to preserve the flame of tradition in different artistic mediums and styles, but are merely worshiping artistic ashes!
Lastly, I would think that the landscape is a gigantic part of God’s creation in terms of artistic representation, and as a landscape artist myself, I consider it the landscape painter’s duty to express the magnanimity and sublimity of God’s green earth. Hockney abstracts the landscape, and thus makes it more vast and evanescent, but I suppose the context of Westminster might be a bit much, so I will end this article aporetically.