We are not living a crisis but a change of time


Header image > Bill Viola’s The Raft suggests art historical references, including Théodore Géricault’s iconic Romantic painting, The Raft of the Medusa (1818-19), an over-life-sized depiction of a group of people struggling to survive a shipwreck on a makeshift raft. Additionally, the ensemble’s arrangement across the video screen and labored movements are reminiscent of Classical Greco-Roman friezes. Please visit > https://www.amfedarts.org/artroom-bill-viola-raft/

“Urinal, you are” fountain “, and on this fountain, I will build my art! “(Christine Sourgins, Mirages of Contemporary Art, yet to be translated in English)

Well, I have read Christine Sourgins’ Les mirages de l’art contemporain and, OMG !, how she whines – a true complainer. A “gilet jaune” (yellow vest) of French culture! But, believe me, the book is also brilliant, especially, the fourth part “The sacralization of contemporary art”. What a beautiful intellectual workout! Excellent inferences. Neologisms. Short phrases. Lapidary sentences. Some with no subject, no verb, no predicate.

Let’s get right to the heart of the matter. The book has three main sections: a) the first three parts; b) the fourth part; and c) the epilogue, which contains a “brief history of Financial Art”. In my opinion, this book is now a classic that you need to get, proof of its re-editing in 2018. Let’s hope for an English translation very soon. The whole presentation is very good. She offers short conclusions at the end of each part. And finally, a table of contents at the beginning of the book that breaks the French tradition. Enough about the form.

As for the author, whether she admits it or not, Ms. Sourgins is a “retired” Catholic, but a believer – as we can notice in Part IV. I believe that Mme Sourgins is also Marxist since she values ​​the artist’s “manual work”  (a necessity), that of the proletarian; the capitalist being the “great Satan of capitalism” (an example among others pp. 28-29 ). Ms. Sourgins is prudish because she considers that all art with any type of “body discharges” (déjections) is only a futile and a useless provocation  — so is it art? Ms. Sourgins lives in the past because she advocates the heyday of art. Also, she remains attached to the French franc when talking about prices —5 million francs seems much more expensive than a million euros for a work of art. In short, Ms. Sourgins is at the same time provocative, tough, conservative, cultured, and very smart.

Ms. Sourgins draws first her sources from French journals, mostly Art Press. Her book is, therefore, Franco-centric. As if New York City had not already “kidnapped” Paris – she loves the past. “The era of great explorations is over,” she writes, “no more America to discover, no moon to discover”. The artists she mentions are French first, European after. Likewise, she keeps referring to renowned art exhibitions, those that have become milestones in the field of contemporary art.

All along, the tone is acerbic, which makes reading a little annoying. As if she has had enough of contemporary art and the “heretic” Marcel Duchamp, whom she blames for all the artistic jumbled mess that we have known since the end of the 60s. Ms. Sourgins also discusses the most rebellious, expensive, and abject works of art done by provocateurs who knew how to make people talk about them. She bites the hook.

The book’s introduction and its first part are absolutely to read, reread, underline. She presents the book by telling a brief history of modern art. I agree with her that there was an “artistic schism” in the early 20th century, the Dada Duchamp being the bad apple. I believe that we need heretics. If it took Luther to reform the Church, it took Duchamp to split the comfort zone of easy-going art, the latter about the “retinal” and the “sensitive”. She writes: “Contemporary Art is not an art that arises after a break-up; it is the “art” of rupture. In other words, a refusal of art attached with a refusal of time.”

A little further, she asserts that contemporary art is totalitarian, in the sense that “everything is art” – again Duchamp’s fault. Contemporary art is also authoritarian (hégémonique) since it is invading the planet because of the globalization and the internationalization of markets. I say that there is nothing we can do about that reality and that is how it is. The Internet has changed the world as the press did in Luther’s day. Without the printing press, there would be no Reformation.

Let’s move on in quoting Ms. Sourgins concerning the characteristics of contemporary art to further emphasize her acrimonious tone: “subverted beauty, revulsive beauty, an end of harmony, abject art, mutant art, lawless law, pedophile art, torture art, necrophilic art, suicidal art, the avant-garde of crime ”. But it doesn’t stop! It’s exhausting to read. And worse, we are “grappling with contemporary art”. There’s nothing we can do and it’s too late! All these descriptions are well developed, enhanced, illustrated with judiciously chosen specific cases, to support her conclusions.

The second part rather establishes the relationships between the French State and contemporary art, “absolute official art”, “black hole” of culture, “State opium” (Marxism again!). The author reports impressive figures (for us North Americans), revealing the heaviness of the French administration: there are twenty thousand visual artists and twenty-two thousand cultural officials in France (p. 114). Imagine if this were the case in New York State, California, even in Canada! Finally, on page 122, an optimistic subtitle, “The social benefit of contemporary art”. Finally, an emotional break. I can relax. I read. But no, Sourgins falls back into whining by recounting a few cases where contemporary public works have failed to generate well-being in the community.

Let’s go on. She describes how contemporary art is now “attending pre-school” in France by practicing the “let the little children come to me” (p. 139) – she knows well her New Testament (Matt. 19-14). The elementary schools welcome “little ones to philosophize and to play politics”, the usual drawing lessons being put aside. I argue the contrary by saying to Mme Sourgins that it is necessary to teach drawing AND also the rules of contemporary art, AND also to make known “the heretics” to the children of primary schools. Duchamp is not the only heretic. They were many in the course of art history.

Walk the Arts’ conclusion

In short, I could go on and on to recount Madame Sourgins’ whiny whims, but it is time to conclude. She is accurate to write that the pleasures of culture are “delayed joys” which require cultural awareness and some knowledge. Visual arts, like all cultural expressions, reflect the society and the times in which we live. Walk the Arts’ artists are aware of what is being done in the field of contemporary art, good or bad. It is up to them to choose whether or not to venture into the contemporary department. But it is important to acknowledge that there is no turning back. Contemporary art is here to stay.

That said, in her book, Christine Sourgins only shows the dark side of contemporary art. She claims that contemporary art has “killed the art of the past”, an idea with which I strongly disagree. For me, contemporary art is just its mere continuation. We have to recognize the bright side of contemporary art. Contemporary artists do not aim to destroy the sacred, human sensibility, universalism, timelessness, and transcendence. Quite the opposite when I think of Bill Viola’s “sensitive and sensual” works, which originate from the Italian Renaissance or Neo-classical art. And what about the paintings by Kehinde Wiley? Cecilia Brown’s? Damien Hirst’s The Treasuries of the Wreck of the Unbelievable, which I talked in a previous post. Hirst’s treasuries were all inspired by Antiquity and… all made by “machines” (we replace you, proletarians!) Yes! the work fooled the international community amassed a fortune (a capitalist work), and we have to agree the work was clever, beautiful, transcendent and universal.

Ms. Sourgins does not appreciate the audacity of provocative artists, those who earn or who have earned lots of money, to wonder if money is to be despised, capitalism to be destroyed (Marxist idea). If Hirst, Murakami, Clemente, Kapoor are millionaires today, so much the better for them. Monet was living extremely well in Giverny at the time of his death. Cézanne too, despite his Nietzschean choices. And what about Picasso with his provocative Demoiselles d’Avignon? In America, earning money is well seen. Over the days of good old Christian resignation; “we have to know how to carry your cross” and “we were born for a little bun”! Ms. Sourgins is part of a reactionary Parisian clique facing contemporary art still living in the nostalgia of a Paris dating to the Second World War, where the pigment dominated the canvas when we were still enjoying the plonk drank on the Grands Boulevards. Damn you, New York! “Crucify her! Crucify her! – well, I’m Sourginizing! 😉

If I had to compare this work to that of Nathalie Heinich (The paradigm of contemporary art)? The two are very intelligent essays and they go hand in hand, they complement each other on your bookshelf. But I prefer Heinich, neutral, dispassionate, scientific, who relates without pleading, without judgment, not to say Catholic moral judgment.


By the way, we do not drink “plonk” during our painting workshops Italy and France.


1 Comment

  1. Amelia Placencia

    Well done Yves. I read your analysis and was amazed as always about your ability to see the bigger picture.

    I really appreciated you giving us so much history prior to looking at the art in the Uffizi museum in Florence. Your historical knowledge was my favorite part about seeing the museum. It would have been more exhausting if you hadn’t been there to give us perspective on what we were viewing.

    Thank you as always for continuing to persevere in your teachings.

    Mimi Placencia

    Sent from my iPhone


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We all make art! It is part of culture. It is deeply rooted in human nature as a way of communicating with others. We all need to tell our stories because it is stories that link us all. We are all one, one creative mind! Though, all unique and equipped with unique ways of expressing ourselves. We live in constant search of that unique liberating voice. At Walk the Arts we aim to facilitate our art makers to explore new territories. Our painting classes and art history trips on three continents are meant to be rounded art experiences among small groups of like-minded adults. We offer an environment that fosters creativity. As we always say, art as religion is just a matter of faith. This blog is about living fully the experience of art, about finding our single artistic path, about the joy of art-making. We believe that making art accessible to all will lead to a betterment of our society.


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“Re-situating” myself


Alone in your studio, guided by your intuition, stop, sit down, with your notes in hand, your mindmap on the wall, to gather a feel for the next avenues. I suggest you take a few days to write down a first draft of an artistic statement. It will put some order into your thoughts so as to better clarify them. Be warned, however, that this will not be your final statement, as others will follow.
Set parameters: no more than 500 words, write a seductive title, an incipit (very first line) that hooks; write in the active form. Watch out for repetition and tautology! The more honest you are with yourself, the easier it will be to write this text. The more you hesitate to let go with your art, the harder it will be.

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I always ask my painting students to memorize … “Until then, we will not rest or falter. Hand in hand with others thirsting for a better life, no matter how long it takes, regardless of support or persecution, we will joyfully respond to a savage need for liberation”.

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Can we talk about the neuroscience of art? This is the question that French neurobiologist Jean-Pierre Changeux addresses in his beautiful book The Beauty in the Brain or La Beauté dans le Cerveau (Odile Jacob, 2016). Prof. Changeux describes how the human brain behaves when making or contemplating a work of art. To make a long story short, he argues that the neural bases of aesthetic pleasure are the product of the link between cognitive and emotional brain functions, in other words, the harmony between reason and emotion. Moreover, he gives some tips on how artists can maximize the impact of their works on their audience.

Evolving in art is just a matter of faith; only believe!


We refrain from teaching painting techniques easily found on the Net. We prefer taking the necessary time (36 hours) to fully involve the participant in reflecting on her or his art — including all levels, all media […]
Rest assured that having attended one of our online classes, you will be more confident in taming the landscape in your own way while on a plein-air painting workshop.

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Ten years ago, here in Tuscany, we decided to write a recipe book but with so many good cookbooks in the market, we needed to propose a new idea. We had to find a modus operandi close to who we are and what we do as visual artists. The answer was in front of us and painting gave it to us: art and color!

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