Kovach Imre Barna* and Murray Hunter
Metaphorically, new art trends are like volcanoes. They erupt along the tectonic fault lines of colliding and shifting cultures. No one can predict when an eruption will occur. Nor can the length and magnitude be known until after the event.
Art goes through violent changes when cultures shift, leading to new trends and paradigms, due to the tectonic nature of cultural vista.
Today’s art world is a very well mapped out universe consisting of a few thousand leading galleries, museums, a few hundred influential curators and art fair organizers, writers and critics, wealthy collectors and institutions, and of course, the artists themselves.
The artwork is a USD 64 billion a year industry. It mirrors socio-economic trends and itself has become globalized, with different regions within.
Contemporary art is considered a financial asset class, where the promotion, investment, and protection of this asset has taken on priority within the art industry.
Art has become financialized. Financial institutions and fund managers have joined art collectors in creating their respective portfolios of art. Today’s definition of good art is that it is saleable and the definition of a good artist is that he or she is marketable.
The prices of contemporary art have grown to spectacular heights, where the million dollar range for art pieces is very common, and some artists sell their works for tens of millions dollars.
However, if somebody buys a painting for millions dollars, what they are actually buying is a stretched canvas and paint. The actual material value of a painting is a tiny fraction of the purchase price. The price of the art work is based on and justified by opinions within the art community which give a certain value and importance to the artist as a brand. The artist becomes a brand with a price tag.
Within the art world, stability is an important factor because nobody wants a cultural shift which can suddenly devalue art assets. However such devaluations happen from time to time and affect whole periods of historical art.
The large difference in valuation cannot be justified by artistic quality. Its real cause is the pressure on the existing paradigm for change. Certain periods of arts and their paradigms can “fall out of favour”, where the drop in interest leads to falling prices for that particular category. Consequently, art works from this category which were highly priced in their period of popularity can be bought today at ‘give away’ prices. At the same time artists whose work in some way is compatible with the emerging paradigm change, may see their art receive much greater appreciation. This would result in revaluation, resulting in the acknowledgement of their importance and higher price for their works. For instance academic painters, who are almost completely forgotten today, were well known and popular in the 19th century, where they commanded praise and high prices for their works.
The impressionists were not considered to be serious artist in their time. For example, Manet’s painting caused a scandal at the annual exhibition in Paris. However, today Manet, Monet, Cezanne, Pisarro and other impressionists (and post impressionists) command sky high prices. The once so famous academicians then lost their prestige, where their prices went down. Consequently, there is no real interest in them from collectors, art writers and museums. They wait for the moment of rediscovery if it ever happens.
The authors believe that within the art world today, innovation is carefully contrived to keep the market buoyant to make sure that the ‘stars’ of yesterday are the ‘stars’ of today.
From the beginning of the 20th Century there was a revolt against the academic style, where the concept of art for art prevailed. The modernists added two more concepts, that of creating art from art and art about art.
Today’s contemporary artists don’t really look at nature or reflect upon their inner feelings. Rather, they are much more interested in the global dialogue than taking a look at the inner world.
A new tectonic shift is coming
The familiar images of today’s modernist art works which are art for art, art about art, and art from art creations will soon be seen in a new perspective. A tectonic shift in culture and globalization will stir up art movements based upon traditions, scared philosophies and teachings, with its symbols and colours embedded within cultural themes. Patrimonial art which is embedded within cultural themes of traditional lifestyles and beliefs will collide with contemporary art, the art of global capitalism.
By patrimonial art, we mean contemporary art with the intent and knowledge of transmitting sacred tradition.
However, the two art paradigms are not compatible.
Sacred tribal patrimonial art most often consists of thousands of year old symbols and teachings which provide advice and guidelines for all aspects of life.
Patrimonial art is not art for art. It has a much higher goal of seeking to maintain the heritage of harmony and balance of traditional rite, rituals, and spirituality. Patrimonial art is embedded within nature itself. Patrimonial art has a teaching and healing function and establishes the values of humanistic community.
In contrast, contemporary modernist art is a financial asset class. Its goal is to establish a saleable brand, being the artist’s name, which creates a high valuation based upon a consensus between the players of the art world.
There is also a mythology about contemporary art. The assumption that contemporary art is one of the highest social achievements of people within society. Thereby placing the discipline on a cultural plane that is viewed as something pure and uncorrupted.
Contemporary art is consequently seen as being one of the most valued artefacts of society, being collected in art galleries, museums, and in private collections around the world, unquestionably considered to be at the pinnacle of human prowess.
In such an environment of closely connected curators, critics, gallery owners, artists, and fund managers, value is created and maintained in the interests of small select groups.
In contrast, patrimonial art doesn’t yet have a plane of entry into the art establishment. The deep meanings contained within and the sacredness of patrimonial art may not help in creating financial value. However a patrimonial art work may have deep cultural value within the community, religion or spiritual schools it originates from. Ultimately, this may translate into monetary value as well.
An eruption is coming from within the ranks too. Many contemporary artists are not completely signed up to the modernist paradigm. Many have interest in art outside the bounds of modernism. They often admire sacred patrimonial art influenced by it and resort to embedding the ideas of patrimonial art into their own works.
One example here is Picasso and his fancy of African tribal art.
There are also indicatory trends in the culinary arts and gastronomy which have parallels to the art world. Australia is going through a small renaissance of traditional bush foods and fusion gastronomy, bringing together food influences from different culinary cultures, is now the order of the day within restaurants and food malls all over the world. Traditional herbal remedies are now more popular than ever.
There are many modernist artists now working within Indian, Asian, African, and South American indigenous communities , where local artists are influencing them with intellectual and style inputs within modern art pieces.
A special case which should be followed is Australia. Community artists have transformed sacred ancient patrimonial designs into modern art where gallery valuations went through the roof in recent years.
There were many ‘natural nations’ in existence before colonialism and its child globalism. Many of the natural nations are still here upholding their culture and art traditions which influenced contemporary art. Working within these two paradigms requires contemporary artists to start looking within once again.
This is beginning to affect the appearance of modernism.
A new patrimonial art is emerging with global outreach nurtured by sacredness and cultures of ‘natural nations’, like the indigenous communities in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Australia. This trend will meet modernism and collide with it.
When these two tectonic plates collide, a process happening now, sacred patrimonial art will break the plate of modernism. Along the break lines a number of eruptions will occur in the form of new patrimonial art centres emerging across the globe.
This will cause a paradigm shift in the art world similar to the one which happened when modernism started.
The result will be a new patrimonial art paradigm that will incorporate the values and sacredness of many cultures that have been unable to express themselves in the globalized community of today. Art in the not too distant future will reflect some of the old traditions of the past and present.
The age of modernism is barely more than 100 years and thus has a minuscule timeframe when compared to patrimonial art. Patrimonial art has been in existence for thousands of years.
When we see modernism reflecting age old patrimonial art, we will come to our senses. We will stop believing that art is for art, art is about art, and art is from art. This will challenge the concept of art as a financial asset, that the best pieces of art are the ones that sell for the most.
Every artist knows deep down that his or her talent and dedication is not for developing financial assets.
The greatest art ever produced by humankind was never produced for sale or profit. Art was not pegged down by its potential of creating value, except for the intrinsic values of perfection, culture and spirituality.
The tectonic shift in the art world and the emergence of new patrimonial art styles across the globe carries with it the potential to make art free once again by unshackling creativity.
Ultimately the reason for making art and owning art will be rethought. The concept of branding and price tags developed by the organized artists of the modern era who have reverted into factory production of their pieces for profit will be challenged.
The new patrimonial art will provide a venue for valuable traditions, spiritual and aesthetic that are quickly disappearing off the face of the earth today due to globalization. By serving the community providing it with its symbols, identity and self-esteem, by making a people’s tradition alive and active again new patrimonial will have a much wider acceptance and more functions than modernist art could ever have.
* Kovach Imre Barna is an independent spiritual teacher, thinker, calligrapher, painter, and sculptor.
Strengthening Sino-Russian Ties
During her speech at the New Year’s celebration, hosted by the Russian Cultural Center in Beijing, in late December 2017, Olga Melnikova, Counsellor of the Russian Embassy and Director of the Russian Cultural Center in Beijing, said Russia has many cultural symbols that come from China. In her opinion, Sino- Russian bilateral relations are an example of “the most stable, healthy, mature and lasting relationship between countries in today’s world.” The Russian Cultural Center for years has organized cultural, educational and science- related activities to stimulate Chinese citizens’ interest in learning the Russian language and culture.
In her recent interview with Women of China (WOC), Melnikova said she hoped the Sino-Russian strategic partnership would be strengthened, and that cultural communications between the people of the two countries would be enhanced.
Had you visited China prior to assuming your post as Director of the Russian Cultural Center in Beijing in September 2017? What is your impression of China and the Chinese people?
I first visited the capital of China, Beijing, in 2012. I was a tourist at that time. Beijing impressed me as a modern metropolis that also kept well its traditional Chinese flavor. I saw magnificent ancient temples and palaces coexisting with modern buildings and small cozy streets. The architectural styles of many buildings, the decorations on streets, and the designs of parks clearly showed how much Chinese people had been respecting their history and traditions.
Now, I look at Beijing through the eyes of one of the city’s residents, not as a tourist. In modern Beijing, people are paying great attention to physical education and sports, and to taking care of their health. I have watched, many times, the Chinese citizens who gather in the morning to exercise together. They perform qigong , a system of deep breathing exercises that Chinese use to train their bodies and properly maintain the energy flow in their bodies.
My job has pushed me to travel around China, and to meet people from all walks of life, including government officials, diplomats, representatives of academic institutions, professions, teachers, students and schoolchildren. Based on my personal communications, I think Chinese are friendly, polite and kindhearted. Chinese always l isten attentively to interlocutors’ opinions, and they know how to correctly defend their points of view.
Please tell our readers about some of the events your center has organized in China to promote Russian culture.
Under the circumstances of globalization, culture becomes an important “language,” or factor, that lays the foundation to build the whole system of international relations. Cultural exchanges include communications in tourism, the scientific and educational fields, business contacts, and cooperation in the sports, mass media, art, music and film industries.
Russia is a country that has a great cultural heritage and centuries-old traditions. Within the framework of popularization of Russian culture in the world, our Russian Cultural Center regularly hosts events, such as concerts of Russian folk artists, music and dance groups, meetings with Russian celebrities in the cultural field, exhibitions of contemporary artists, photo exhibitions of Russian museums’ archival materials, film screenings showcasing the latest achievements of Russian cinematography and theater performances for both children and adults.
Every year, we celebrate our victory in World War II, the day of the first space flight of cosmonaut Yuri Garagin and the launch of our first space satellite. Soon, we will celebrate the date of lifting the blockade of Leningrad and the anniversary of the battle of Stalingrad. Those events are great and memorable, not only for Russian people, but also for humanity all around the world.
Are you interested in Chinese cultural symbols?
Developing mutual interest in our cultures helps us strengthen the “ties” between our peoples. For example, the Chinese horoscope, which includes the tradition and meaning related to the Spring Festival, is very popular in Russia. Some symbols of good fortune, such as the dragon, fish and frog, can be found in decorations that Russian people place in their houses, offices and private shops. Although the images with auspicious hints are used as decorations, most Russians do not fully understand the meanings that those images imply. Perhaps the most popular auspicious inscription is a picture of the upside-down Chinese character of “fu,” which means “happiness.”
What roles are women playing to enhance bilateral communications between Russia and China?
It is a global trend that women play more active roles in different spheres of life — business, politics and diplomacy … In some countries, women occupy the highest positions in government. There are women ministers, prime ministers and even heads of state. Women and men should complement each other while they are dealing with political issues.
Actually, the Russian- Chinese Commission on Humanitarian Cooperation is chaired by Olga Golodets, Vice-Premier of the Russian Government, and Liu Yandong, Vice-Premier of the State Council of China.
The Russian Cultural Center is the representative office of Rossotrudnichestvo — the State Agency, which is headed by Eleonora Mitrofanova, a Russian diplomat of high level with significant experience in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and in international organizations. Our center will continue to make contributions to strengthen the ties between Russia and China, advance the promotion of the Russian language and culture in China, and stimulate the development of mutual exchanges.
Reviving the Spirit of Mosul
Last week, the world made a great commitment to rebuild Iraq following the recent defeat of ISIS. Recognizing the immense courage of the Iraqi people and the depth of their suffering, the Kuwait International Conference for the Reconstruction of Iraq pledged to rebuild infrastructure so that the country can once again prosper.
Mosul is the living symbol of Iraqi’s pluralistic identity. For centuries, it was at the crossroad of culture in the Middle East. From the Sumerian cities to Babylon, from the walls of Nineveh to the Silk Road, the region has been a melting pot of people and ideas. For the last three years, this story of peace – the true spirit of Mosul – has been overshadowed by another story of hatred and violence.
The conference stressed the importance of putting the human dimension at the heart of our efforts for sustainable reconstruction. So we launched “Revive the Spirit of Mosul”, an initiative for the reconstruction of the Old City, both its physical infrastructure and restoring the dignity of its people. When war is waged against culture and education, response must be culture and education. This is the only long-term solution against extremism.
The destruction of the University of Mosul Library, the dynamiting of the Al-Hadba minaret and the pillaging of the Nabi Yunus Shrine, emblem of the religious coexistence of the three religions of the Book – shocked the world. Public libraries were burnt, music was silenced, artists attacked and cafes closed.
Thousands of children have learned war and been indoctrinated with an intellectually corrupt ideology. They have not received an education – the essential tool for building the future. To avoid raising a lost generation, we must teach peace but also reinfuse these communities with the culture of peace, steeped in Iraq’s rich history and cultural life.
The revival of the Old City of Mosul is the cornerstone of our initiative, supported by both UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider Al-Abadi. This initiative means restoring architectural symbols that bring the Iraqi people together, in all its diversity. Many key actors like the European Union, neighboring countries and international organizations expressed great interest in participating in this effort that UNESCO will coordinate.
UNESCO will bring its expertise in damage assessment to restore and reconstruct the emblematic sites of the historic center. We will work hand-in-hand with the local population and the government to restore bookshops, cultural centers and museums – including the Museum of Mosul, which was tragically ransacked.
We will provide opportunities for technical and vocational training, particularly in traditional building techniques, so that Iraqis will have the skills to actively contribute to this reconstruction.
The great civilizations of this region defined the course of humanity, through a thousand-year dialogue, which gave birth to the wheel, writing, mathematics and law. We will work with our Iraqi counterparts to ensure future generations will learn of their proud heritage, through the school materials that we are developing, including a new school curriculum, which puts humanities at its core along creativity, critical thinking and values of respect. This is the only way to ensure that fanaticism does not prevail once more.
This “Revive the Spirit of Mosul” initiative will be UNESCO’s main contribution to the United Nations’ Response and Resilience program designed to help Iraq’s government fast-track the social dimensions of reconstruction.
Later this year, we will organize an international conference at UNESCO Headquarters, with the Iraqi government and all our partners, to design a blueprint for this reconstruction.
Through culture and education, we can restore trust and create the conditions for a common future. This reconstruction will take time but, brick-by-brick, lesson-by-lesson, together we can revive the true spirit of Mosul.
First published in Asharq Al-Awsat
Music and art from the country of peaks and legends: Day of Afghan Culture
On 8 February 2018, the SCO Secretariat hosted the Day of Afghan Culture. Addressing the guests and participants of the event, the SCO Secretary-General thanked top leadership and the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan for all-around support in organising the Day of Culture.
“Afghanistan is populated by wonderful and courageous people, descendants of ancient ethnicities who cherish their sacred traditions, lifestyle, unique culture and art,” Rashid Alimov said. “The entire SCO family strongly and unanimously supports the Afghan government and people’s efforts towards a peaceful, stable and prosperous state. We believe this day is near and wish the brotherly nation of Afghanistan peace, happiness and prosperity.”
In his remarks, Afghan Ambassador to China Janan Mosazai expressed his deep appreciation to the SCO Secretariat for organising the Day of Afghan Culture. “Events like this strengthen the Shanghai spirit in the growing SCO family,” he noted.
The main event of the programme, a concert of traditional Afghan music, delighted the guests with charming melodies from the ‘country of peaks and legends.’ The programme was presented by ten talented musicians from the Afghanistan National Institute of Music led by its founder and director Ahmad Naser Sarmast.
The guests also enjoyed a display of amazing colourful masterpieces of Afghan carpet weaving art, which goes back more than 2,000 years. A special photo exhibit showcasing the uniquely beautiful nature of Afghanistan and the rich legacy and contemporary life of its people was also very popular. The guests had a taste of the traditional Afghan cuisine.
The event was attended by extraordinary and plenipotentiary ambassadors of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Mongolia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Turkmenistan, Syria, Bahrain and Singapore, as well as representatives of diplomatic missions, EU ambassadors, Chinese and foreign media.
The Day of Afghan Culture took place as part of the SCO Is Our Common Home programme.
Some 40 types of carpets were displayed at the Mosaic of Afghan Carpets exhibition. Afghan carpet weaving is known for distinct colours and traditional geometrical ornaments.
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