Panic Expressionism

 “Man is a rope, fastened between animal and Superman – a rope over an abyss… What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal; what can be loved in man is that he is a going-across and a going down. I love those who do not know how to live except their lives be a down-going, for they are those who are going across. I love the great despisers for they are the great venerators and arrows of longing for the other shore.”                   

Fredrick Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra.  

“Art that is anarchic and nihilistic as dada was, does not need to be taught in a school; but if it is, there is no particular harm… But some art is threatened and even destroyed by studio classrooms. A prime example is German expressionism and the various expressionisms that have developed from it… German expressionism, and some other kinds of German expressionisms that developed from it… depended on not thinking about some questions that art students everywhere learn to think about… German expressionism, and some other kinds of expressionism, depend on not thinking about the kinds of things that are routinely taught in studio-classes… (From a teacher’s point of view, it’s hard to imagine how to teach such a style to artists except by putting them under some kind of hypnosis and asking them to forget everything they know..).. when I was teaching the art history survey, I used to tell the Neo-Expressionist students to drop out of school. I think I’d still say that if I were teaching the survey today: it’s the only honest thing to do.”   

James Elkins, Why Art Cannot Be Taught. Illinois: University of Illinois Press, P.76 &78, 2001.

Expressionism more than any artistic movement dismays and baffles the public who cannot understand why someone would want to draw and paint so ‘badly’ and make such ‘ugly’ work. They are also baffled that such artists are admired by the art establishment. Expressionist art seems to the ignorant public to attack all their accepted notions of truth, beauty, and art. Even conceptual art is often more admired because it confirms an intellectual and rational view of art and the world. Moreover, the character of the Expressionist artist is also attacked as immature, narcissistic, egotistical, monstrous, and even insane.

Yet, since the age of fifteen, my favourite artists bar-none, have been Expressionists. I understood instinctively at fifteen that the way you looked at the world depended completely upon your psychological and emotional state. If you felt alienated, and anguished, even the most beautiful thing in the world - could take on a mocking horror. I may have come three or four generations after the proto-Expressionists and Expressionists, yet their art spoke to me as directly as if it had been painted in my day. It was a love so great it went on to encompass, Gothic, Baroque, Tribal, Outsider and Neo-Expressionist artists. My love of Expressive art is only matched, by my contempt for all but the very best intellectual or academic art.

I have based this small introduction - not on any one specific exhibition I have seen, but rather on a lifetime of looking at Expressionist art in museums, reading hundreds of books on the subject, and trying to live by its high standards of personal expression.

My favourite book on the subject was and is Michel Ragon’s L’Expressionism, published in Lausanne and Geneva in 1966 - with an introduction by Pierre Courtion. In translation, it formed part of my father’s Heron History of Art collection in our home in Howth. So, I have owned it for over fifty-two years, and it is a book so precious to me that I have kept it by my bedside throughout my life.

Ragon’s book was a populist introduction to the art of Expressionism, with an emphasis placed on the broad manifestation of Expressionism throughout Europe. Today, books on Expressionism usually talk of Expressionism as a totally German phenomenon, but as Ragon and others have shown, Expressionism was also a broader movement of loners around northern Europe. Edvard Munch was highlighted as the true father of Expressionism while Matisse’s importance is shown to be more limited. Yet at the same time, the book gave great importance to those isolated immigrants in Paris like Chagall, Modigliani, Soutine and Pascin who had developed highly personal and expressive modes of painting.  

Pierre Courtion described the nature of Expressionism in the intro: “I hate the movement that displaces lines, said the poet. The Expressionist artist could be said to affirm the opposite. Expressionism is to the eye what a scream is to hearing. Surely this is an artist’s basic gift? “Expression comes long before execution and design”, wrote Diderot in his Salon of 1776. In order to achieve this execution and design, the artist must practise repetitiously, keep to the rules and draw on his experience, whereas his initial instinct is to affirm his individuality straight away. Art, to remain vital, must constantly have its balance reassessed and reorganized, and like the air-bubble in the carpenter’s level, it can never be steady for long. Deriving in certain ways from Baroque, of which it was a technical extension, Expressionism gave new life and vigour to a conventional art. Like Baroque, Romanticism and Realism, Expressionism has always been present as a homoeopathic dose in the creation of all important art.” (Pierre Courthion, Expressionism, Heron History of Art, 1968, P.7.)

The tedious academic Merit Werenskiold (b.1942) in her anal work ‘The Concept of Expressionism: Origin and Metamorphoses’, (1984) attacked Ragon’s books historical inaccuracy and overplaying of Expressionisms origin in protest and screams of expression. It was a strange claim made by one of the worst authors on Expressionism I have ever read. For I agreed with Ragon when he declared: “Expressionism is the opposite of art for art’s sake. Human problems always assume much greater importance in it than artistic ones. That is at once its strength and its weakness. In trying to demonstrate too much and shout too loud, Expressionism has sometimes slid into caricature, a danger which Van Gogh dreaded in his own paining. But all art contain an intrinsic risk of failure: Expressionism’s stumbling-block as caricature, as Abstract art’s was decorativeness. Only the great creators were able to avoid these pitfalls... Expressionism is primarily a protest, an outcry by young men torn apart by their aspirations and the strict morality of a moribund society which thought it was immortal.” (Michel Ragon, Expressionism, Heron History of Art, 1968, P.11.)

The fundamental difference between Michel Ragon and Merit Wernskiold, was between; being a real human being in love with art and artists and wise about the human condition, and being an academic; ignorant of how to actually make art, dependent entirely on second hand texts, and utterly ignorant of what it is to live in the world. Ragon’s book made the inner lives of these artists come alive, while Werenskiold’s reduced the whole movement to a shuffling of critical texts.

Wereskiold’s book claimed to be a scientific analysis of the history of Expressionism, yet that aim left me utterly enraged. Why in God’s name would you want to talk about art based on emotional intensity, in the dry nit-picking manner of a bookkeeper!

Yes, Ragon’s book was histrionic, hyperbolic and over the top in its prose, but that was in fact the best way to treat this particular subject! All of this brought home to me why so many artists have had contempt for the writings produced off the fumes of their canvases.

As a youth, I was unashamedly partisan in my belief that Expressionism was a profoundly anti-academic, anti-art-market, anti-social and anti-authoritarian movement. However, while many of its masters were tortured, many like Munch and Kirchner were also industrious self-promotors. Although there was a fad for Expressionism in the 1910s and 1980s by and large it is a tendency that has been loathed by art world insiders and a subject for mockery for the public. Moreover, success for these artists often resulted in a loss of vision, and critics have been quick to neutralize it in texts. As Donald Kuspit has pointed out: “...Expressionist emotions seem uncontainable, to the extent that they stretch the limits of social respectability and subvert social intelligibility – undermine the social mask we all wear – as though asserting their autonomous existence. For the Expressionists the primordial self – the true creative bodily self, in contrast to the false compliant social self, to use Donald Winnicott’s distinction – is incommunicado. Nonetheless, it can be expressed in the “eureka” moment of creativity.” (Donald Kuspit, The Inner Conflict of Expression, Expressive!, Foundation Beyeler, 2003, P. 12.) Just as learning the three cords of the Blues will not make you a Blues musician - so you cannot teach yourself how to be an Expressionist – you are either one or you are not. Anxiety and despair are hard to fake, since by their very nature they born of character under stress, born from events out of one’s control. Even for Expressionist painters there are periods of creative block when the paints have to be put away in defeat - and time spent in despairing thought and hopes of another period of creative release.

No other group of painters and draughtsmen have so deeply affected my art and life, and their influence is clear in all my work. Their high standards of undiluted vision, integrity, perseverance, spiritual questing, moral questioning, and social critique - shaped my concept of what it meant to be an artist. The look, feel, subject and content of my art would have never been the same, if it were not for expressive artists like; van Gogh, Schiele, Munch, Kirchner, Pollock, de Kooning, Bacon, Baselitz, Schnabel and Basquiat. So, I would like to give a brief overview of this movement and in particular its emergence in Germany and the artists of Die Bucke.  

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Expressionism is one of the most misunderstood and shapeless movements in Modern Art. The word became so loaded that many early Expressionist artists like Emil Nolde and Max Beckman, Francis Bacon and Neo-Expressionists like Georg Baselitz and Julian Schnabel tried to avoid its implications and limitations. Expressionism is the ultimate in self-sufficiency and self-involvement, which is fine on  a personal level, but it makes it difficult to make a public career for oneself, which is why those who later found success had to broaden their art out from the Expressionist cul-de-sac. In fact, no group ever called itself Expressionist, or wrote a manifesto of Expressionism.        

It has often been seen as an aberration of modernism, a regional form of reactionary art. Clement Greenberg wrote; “Picasso’s good luck was to have come to French modernism directly, without the intervention of any other kind of modernism. It was perhaps Kandinsky’s bad luck to have to go through German modernism first.” (Bassie, Ashley Expressionism. Kent: Grange Books, P. 47, 2005.) This was no casual remark, Greenberg loathed Expressionism even when he could not avoid it in the work of artists he admired like Pollock. Was this in part because of his Jewish heritage and the horrific crimes of the Nazis? If so, he was not alone in his angry chauvinism.  In fact, the Expressionists were magnets for condemnation from all quarters, left and right, German, French, American, English, Academics, Dadaists, and Abstractionists. Personally, it only made me love their work even more. To piss-off so many different artists, critics, intellectuals, and members of the public – they had to be doing something right.

Even the origin of the word’s use in art parlance is still hotly debated. Of course, all art is expressive in one way or another. Every artist aims to communicate to a public - and in the modern Western world – the general public have typically prized works of emotional power and vulnerability in their art and music. However, the art world has typically swung from an emotional approach to art and an intellectual one. For every Michelangelo there has been a Raphael, for every Caravaggio a Poussin, for every Rembrandt a Vermeer, for every Goya a David, for every Picasso a Marcel Duchamp, for every Pollock a Warhol, for every Bacon a Hockney, for every Julian Schnabel a David Salle, for every Jonathan Meese a Matthias Weischer.

Initially in the early 1900s, Expressionism was a catch-all word used to describe art that was the opposite of naturalistic Impressionism, an art that emphasized the artist’s emotions and highly subjective interpretation of reality, not his eyesight and perceptions of light.  

Various writers in the nineteenth century had begun to use the term Expressionism in their journals. As the author Lionel Richard in The Concise Encyclopaedia of Expressionism (1984) and Marit Werenskiold in The Concept of Expressionism: Origin and Metamorphoses (1984) detailed the origin of the word Expressionism is a tangled web, complicated by nationalism and professional rivalry.

Researchers like Armin Arnold dug up a mention of a modern school of expressionist painters in an article on the poet William Wordsworth in Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine in July 1850 by an anonymous writer. The article described: “the expressionist school of modern painters [who] rebuke the richness of the colourists by the conventional ideality of their Byzantine Madonnas.”

Arnold also found out that in 1880, in Manchester, Charles Howley devoted a lecture to modern painters in which he identified some as expressionists seeking to express their feelings and emotions. No mention of specific artists were made, however given the date 1850, it is likely that he was speaking of the Pre-Raphaelite’s, who were very far from what we would consider today as Expressionists.

Arnold also dug up a novel by Charles de Kay from the US called The Bohemian from 1878 – in which a group of writers who called themselves expressionists appeared. However, none of this usage defined Expressionism in sufficiently exact stylistic terms. Other historians of Expressionism like Fritz Schmalenbach rightly dismissed these discoveries as obscure and essentially meaningless.

Other historians like the Swede Teddy Brunius have found other obscure quotes. In 1891 in James McNeill Whistler’s book The Gentle Art of Making Enemies there was this quote from an unknown source: “Mr Whistler is eminently an ‘Impressionist’… We want not ‘impressionists’ but expressionists’, men who can say what they mean because they know what they have heard [Sic!]” However, this was just a play-on-words not a real critical use of the word.

In 1901 in Paris at the Salon des Independants, the minor and forgotten painter Jules-August-Herve exhibited eight canvases under the title Expressionismes. He was clearly making a nod towards Impressionism and at the same time opposing it. However, he made no impact on French art history other than perhaps preventing any serious French painters using the term again. In addition, his use of the plural suggested that he was merely describing a set of pictures and was not announcing a new movement. The term made no mark on the French art world and only entered French critical writing in 1920 when it was used to describe German Expressionists.

In Germany, in May 1910 Aby Warburg writing about late Middle Ages graphic art, in the Journal Kunst und Kunstler, used the term “expressionistisch’ in contrast to “impressionistch.” In retrospect, some said that in 1910 in Germany, when Paul Cassirer was asked if a painting by Pechstein was still an Impressionist canvas, he replied that it was an example of expressionism. A quip they say became widely used in artistic circles and later the newspapers.

Then in 1911 within the space of four months, the term Expressionism emerged in the writings of a number of writers first in England, then Norway, then Sweden and finally Berlin. It started with Arthur Clutton-Brock in England in January 1911. In The Burlington Magazine, he wrote: “Their only end is expression… And to distinguish them [the Post-Impressionists] from the Impressionists we might, perhaps, call them Expressionists, which is an ugly word, but less ugly than Post-Impressionists.” His argument was carried on by Henrik Sorensen in Norway in February, and by Carl David Moselius in Sweden in March 1911.

All of these writers used the term as a replacement for the unsatisfactory Post-Impressionist term (which no longer described much of the art in the first years of the twentieth century) – which had been coined by Roger Fry for his infamous exhibition Manet and The Post-Impressionists in the Grafton Galleries in London from November 1910 to January 1911. According to Werenskiold, Roger Fry between 1910-11 had toyed with the use of expressionism as a term to describe those artists in France between 1880-1910, like van Gogh, Gauguin and later Matisse who had developed increasingly personal imagery, subjective emotions, and idiosyncratic use of colour and brushwork in their paintings. However, Fry finally opted to call these artists ‘Post-Impressionists’. Marit Werenskiold’s theory was that Roger Fry who was a friend and mentor of Cutton-Brock and his editor on The Burlington Magazine, had prompted or encouraged Arthur Clutton-Brock to make this new distinction. She also thought that he had been influenced by the writings of Matisse in this, and she might have been right, but she was not alone in this. She also later suggested that Fry might have been the real author of the original article.

From April to September 1911, at the Berlin Sezession, one room of invited French painters including Georges Braque, André Derain, Kees van Dongen, Raoul Dufy, Othon Friesz, Henri Manguin, Albert Marquet, Picasso, and Maurice de Vlaminck, were introduced in the catalogue as Expressionists. Yet, the person responsible for the catalogue remains unknown. Writing about the show in Der Sturm, Walter Hegmann wrote: “a group of Franco-Belgian painters have decided to call themselves expressionists.” It was from this point that the term became widely used in German newspapers and it became a recognized term.

In 1919, Henry Kahnweiler (the German dealer who promoted Picasso and the Cubists in France and Europe) in the journal Das Kunstblatt, attacked the idea spreading in Germany that Expressionism was of French origin. This was at a time, when many in Germany were attacking modernism, as a corrupting French hoax on the art-world. Kahnweiler denied that the term had any usage in France. His critique was aimed at Theodor Daubler who nearly went as far as claiming that Matisse was the originator of Expressionism and that the French critic Louis Vauxelles had originated the term.

This last claim as I have mentioned has merit. Matisse’s bold, ambitious and unnaturalistic use of colour as early as 1905 predated the less daring early work of the Brücke painters who were still trying to digest the lessons of van Gogh. In 1908, Matisse’s first important exhibition of paintings were shown in Berlin. The following year Kunst und Kunstler published his now legendary ‘Painters Notes’ (first published in December 1908 in Grande Revue) in which he famously wrote: “what I am looking for above all is a means of expression.” However while there were superficial similarities between the aims of the Fauves like Matisse and Van Dongen and the German Expressionists like Kirchner and Nolde, there was also major differences of taste, feeling and purpose.

What this convoluted and tangled tale tells me, is that there was never any inventor of the term Expressionism in any meaningful sense. The closest was probably Matisse, even though his work was very different from later German Expressionism. In fact, as an authentic Expressionist, I have to say I find such academic epistemology sickening, absurd and meaningless. Expressionism was a word bandied about by many people at the turn of the twentieth century (often as a term of abuse) or used so superficially as to be nothing but slang. That it became within a few decades synonymous with Modern Art in the mind of the German public, only confirms to me that it was a catchall word, emanating from a broad Zeitgeist. What is not in doubt is that it was in Germany that this word took hold, became a rallying-cry for young artists and a politicized subject for sceptics, academics, xenophobes and later the Fascists.

As I have mentioned, today in art writing, Expressionism is usually used to describe the art of the German Expressionists and particularly the two groups of artists that formed Die Brücke in Dresden and Der Blaue Reiter in Munich. But Expressionism was never a unified movement. It was largely a dispersed group of loners living in isolation on the edge of society – like Munch in Oslo, Ensor in Ostend, Schiele in Vienna or Rouault in Paris. Moreover, it was German artists, writers, bohemians, art galleries, collectors and museums in the 1910s that first embraced these outsiders when others in Europe dismissed them as barbarians. Expressionism in Germany was not restricted to painting, drawing, sculpture and wood-cut printing, it also influenced poetry, prose, theatre, film, music and even architecture.

The Expressionist generation of 1905-23, were in direct conflict with Prussian patriarchy and their fathers in particular, this battle of wills was made most explicit in Expressionist drama and prose. This young generation of men, were sick of the hypocrisy in German society, and at the same time they feared that real social change could not be achieved. Suicides amongst young men reached epidemic proportions. “The petty-bourgeois conspiracy to hush up matters sexual, especially when they concerned the young, can be seen by the fact that Spring’s Awakening, though published in 1891, went unperformed until 1906. Nevertheless, the issue of schoolboy suicides had already become a national scandal. Indeed, “in the last twenty-years of the nineteenth century no fewer than 1, 152 adolescents thus took their own lives.”(Donald E. Gordon, Expressionism: Art and Idea. New Haven: Yale University Press, P.27, 1987.)

The Expressionist revolution in Germany was looked on with suspicion by the rest of Europe. Remember anti-German feeling in France, Britain and America from 1914-1945 was at fever pitch. Everything German was looked upon with suspicion, fear and anger, even when its artists had often been persecuted in their own country and were politically blameless.

Even in Germany, the romance with Expressionism only lasted until the end of World War One. In its aftermath, new artists like those of the Dada movement attacked it as bourgeois, decadent and politically suspect. It was finally finished-off by the Nazis when they took power in 1933. After the Second World War and DeNazification, it was restored to pride of place in German museums, however as a creative movement it had lost all its edge. Perversely the persecution of the Expressionists by the Nazi’s resulted in their rehabilitation in the post war art world and today art works that were confiscated by the Nazi’s are the most sought after works by collectors. 

It was only in the late 1960s, that the work of the German and Austrian Expressionists were rediscovered in Europe, by a young generation unbiased by experience of World War Two. For these youthful students, who were also fighting patriarchal, capitalistic and militaristic power, these young German’s spoke to them. Its massive resurgence as a commercially viable and critically respected movement in the late 1960s in Europe, Britain and America created a professorial gold rush, where all kinds of artists were roped into its pantheon, all kinds of critics tried to lay claim to its origin, and all kinds of nations tried to claim its homeland. Thus, Expressionism has always been the lump of faeces that turns into gold, back into faeces and then back into gold. It has constantly been derided by the academics when unfashionable, and parodied and copied by them when at its peak of consumption. The truly great Expressionists alone in their studios were the lie to the academic rule, that states one has to be trained, educated and socialized into making great art.

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As I have mentioned the public and critics in Paris, London and New York have always been suspicious of Expressionism. Even today, Expressionism is a byword for madness, intellectual crudeness, and art-world trouble-making. Exhibitions of Expressionist greats like Ernst Ludwig Kirchner or Max Beckman have never achieved the viewing figures or public popularity of artists like Monet, Matisse or Picasso. Artists like van Gogh, Munch and Bacon are rare examples of Expressionists - whose life and work was eventually lauded by the critics, prized by collectors, empathetically studied by the general public, and parodied in the media.          

The autonomy and indifference of the Expressionist artist, simultaneously alienated the snobs of the art world and enraged the general public who thought them con men. Yet within two generations the very best of these artists, became heroes to those who dreamed of a similarly independent life, free from the restraints, compromises and drudgery of middle-class life.

Expressionist artists deliberately worked against the grain of social order. They prized their individuality and feelings above the learned-by-rote techniques and intellectualizations of academic art. “For the Expressionists felt so strongly about human suffering, poverty, violence and passion, that they were inclined to think that the insistence on harmony and beauty in art was only born out of a refusal to be honest. The art of the classical masters, of a Raphael or Correggio, seemed to them insincere and hypocritical. They wanted to face the stark facts of our existence, and to express their compassion for the disinherited and the ugly. It became almost a point of honour with them to avoid anything which smelt of prettiness and polish, and to shock the ‘bourgeois’ out of his real or imagined complacency.” (E. H. Gombrich, The Story of Art, Pocket Edition 2006, London: Phaidon, P.437.)

In Expressionist art, the voice of the individual was raised against civilizing academic convention, social compromise, and press-speak. Expressionist painters sought to make their own psychological understanding of the world the central axis of their art. Rendering commonplace things in an unfamiliar manner, Expressionist painters highlighted the fissure between the personal and the social. As Donald Kuspit has written: “Expressionist emotional resistance to the social status quo can be traced back to Romanticism, as suggested above. The use of art as self-expression, the notion that art transmits emotion from one person to another, and the belief that the work of art is an expressive object because it embodies emotion – all these ideas are inseparable from the modern dialectic of self and society that emerged explicitly during Romanticism and endures to the present day. It envisions a self trying to hold its emotional own against a society that threatens to rob it of its individuality, desperately trying to survive in a society indifferent to its particular existence, struggling to remain inwardly vital and human in a society that exploits vitality and humanity for often inhuman collective purposes, such as war. It is a self that is critical of the society in which it finds itself – a society that it experiences as inhibiting, even stifling. It uses whatever tactics are necessary - they seem unconventional and antisocial from the viewpoint of conventional society – to vigorously express itself in the hope of loosening the grip of society on life and art. The modern theory of expression conceives it as the vector result of a dialectical tension between instinctive emotion and social repression.” (Donald Kuspit, The Inner Conflict of Expression, Expressive!, Foundation Beyeler, 2003, P. 13.)

North and Central Europe was the home of the first Expressionists. Early Expressionism of the 1900s, was the culmination of an attitude to making art that had started in the Renaissance when for the first time the reputation and personality of the artist was considered vital to its meaning, content and value. No artist signified this shift in artistic thinking more than the German master Albrecht Dürer, whose narcissism and melancholy imbued his stupendously skilled work, with a metaphysical world weariness that was groundbreaking. Indeed, the German and Flemish painters of the Northern Renaissance like Hans Baldung Grien, Albrecht Dürer, Albrecht Altdorfer, Matthias Grünewald, Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder, were to become rediscovered by the German Expressionists, who were trying to trace the roots of their temperament. However, even the Latin cultures of Italy and Spain could lay claim to proto-Expressionists, like the late religiously tortured Michelangelo with his obsessive piles of dammed human bodies, the Venetian painter Tintoretto with his Baroque and animated canvases, and El Greco with his spatially packed and energized compositions. Personally, I date the real start of modern Expressionism to Francisco Goya’s Black Paintings of 1821-3 (housed now in the Prado Museum in Madrid.) To me they are the first major paintings to express a modern conception of man’s Godless existence in a cruel, unjust, and absurd universe.          

The three great upsurges in Expressionist art in the twentieth century, 1905, 1940 and 1980, came in periods of great social, political and economic uncertainty, and a broad fear of cultural decline.

There were many kinds of early Expressionism. First there was a pan-European, pre-Expressionism, a non-movement of isolated and highly individualistic Expressionists like Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Edvard Munch, James Ensor, and Georges Rouault, whose work tended towards the emotional, primitive, spiritual, irrational, and subjective. 

Next in Germany there was pre-war figurative Expressionism centred around the Die Brücke group, whose early work was optimistic, idealistic, and often joyous.

They were followed by a semi-abstract form of painting evolved by the painters of Der Blaue Reiter and personified in the work of Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee, which was born from an Expressionist ethos that believed in the subjective, emotional, spiritual and idealistic power of art to change the world. 

Later in Germany there was a post-war figurative Expressionism, which was cynical, despairing and increasingly neurotic.

At the same time in Austria there emerged another kind of figurative Expressionism - which was more animated, sexually fixated and anguished. This Austrian Expressionism consisted of a handful of highly individualistic artists like Richard Gerstl, Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele.

Meanwhile in France, there were Fauve artists’ like Matisse and Van Dongen who exhibited in Germany on numerous occasions before the First World War, and Jewish Expressionist artists’ like Mark Chagall, Amedeo Modigliani, Chaïm Soutine and Jules Pascin who lived and worked in Paris between the wars.

In South America, there was also an expressive art that mixed Western and Aztec influences with Socialist politics, to create the only credible socialist art of the twentieth century.

Added to these was the third great wave of Expressionism of the 1940s, which ranged from the abstract drips of Jackson Pollock to the aggressive abstract/figurative Expressionism of Willem de Kooning in America and the earthy brutish figuration of Dubuffet and the coiled nudes of Fautiner in Paris.

Finally in the late 1970s there was the emergence of a new Post-Modern, academic, mannered and commercialized form of Neo-Expressionism epitomized by the work of George Baselitz and Julian Schnabel whose work was heavily embedded within the new art gallery system. Thus trying to pin down Expressionism, is like trying to herd fifty cats in a canvas bag.

Expressionism was the total opposite of ‘art-for-arts-sake’. For the Expressionis, art was a compulsion, an obsession and literally a reason for living. The clichéd myth of the great Expressionist artist demanded that he must suffer for his art. Integrity was vital for the Expressionist artist, frequently it was all they had.

In the art world as in the real world, nothing sold better in the early days of modernism than a sob story. Thus, their life-stories were deemed vital to their credibility. Many of the great Expressionist artists were self-taught and unteachable, mentally unstable, anti-social and spiritually tortured. As Michel Ragon pointed out - no other movement not even Surrealism, was so closely linked with madness. While the Surrealists played and flirted with insanity, many of the greatest Expressionists were stark raving mad. Their biographies were a litany of childhood bereavement, neurosis, rejection, alcoholism, drug abuse, syphilis, poverty, isolation, public ridicule, depression, mental hospitals, attempted suicides and realized suicides.

Even if success did come, it usually resulted in a complete loss of the scared fire of their youth, and accusations of selling out. It also inflicted a fatal form of self-censorship, brought on by over-exposure. While those precious few that made a mark on art history were burdened with a mythology, hyperbole and fetishization, that made even them deeply uncomfortable. Madman or genius, worthless or priceless, fool or prophet, these were the only career options for the Expressionist. In keeping with their art, there were no grey areas. The tragedy of some of the Expressionist artists was that their burning desire to speak openly to everyone often resulted in nothing but rejection, marginalization and even deeper incomprehension.

From the earliest days of Post-Impressionism, Symbolism and later Expressionism - modern artists, were connected by many European writers with insanity, in both positive and negative terms. It began in 1863 with Cesare Lombroso’s ‘Genius and Insanity’, and his example was taken up by other studies in pathology by; Charcot, Krafft-Ebing, Magnan and continued in more nasty and frantic terms with Max Nordau’s Degeneration in 1895.

The Jewish medical doctor Nordau railed against the decadence and vulgarity of high art and mass-produced pornography. He took aim at many of the modern artistic movements of his time including the Pre-Raphaelites, Realists and Symbolists as well as writers like Zola, Tolstoy, Nietzsche and Ibsen and composers like Wagner. “From a clinical point of view somewhat unlike each other, these pathological images are nevertheless only different manifestations of a single and unique fundamental condition, to wit, exhaustion, and they must be ranked by the alienist in the genius melancholia, which is the psychiatrical symptom of an exhausted central nervous system… We stand now in the midst of a severe mental epidemic; of a sort of black death of degeneration and hysteria, and it is natural that we should ask anxiously on all sides, ‘What is to come next?’” (Quoted by Donald E. Gordon, Expressionism: Art and Idea. New Haven: Yale University Press, P. 10, 1987.)

This concern with the vulgarity of contemporary art and the new mass-produced pornography that was sold covertly everywhere in Europe, was perfectly summed up in the writings of Swiss hygienist Dr. August Forel. In his book ‘Art and Pornography’ in 1905, Dr Forel expressed similar concerns about the degeneracy of western civilization: “There are a few great artists, but thousands of charlatans and plagiarists. Many of those who have never had the least idea of the dignity of art pander to the lower instincts of the masses and not to their best sentiments. In this connection, erotic subjects play a sad and powerful part. Nothing is too filthy to be used to stimulate the base sensuality of the public… In these brothels of art, the most obscene vice is glorified, even the pathological.” (Quoted by Donald E. Gordon, Expressionism: Art and Idea. New Haven: Yale University Press, P.11, 1987.)

By 1912, artists like Paul Klee had begun to praise the art of the insane, and by the 1920s books contrasting the work of modern artists and those in mental patients emerged. Hans Prinzhorn, in his groundbreaking work ‘Artistry of the Mentally Ill’, (1922), observed that: “The particularly close relationship of a larger number of our [schizophrenics] pictures to contemporary art is obvious.” However he countered the view that self-victimizing Expressionist artists were the same as the truly victimized mentally ill marginalized by society and incarcerated in hospitals: “The conclusion that a painter is mentally ill because he paints like a given mental patient is no more intelligent or convincing than [the idea] that Pechstein and Heckel are Africans from the Cameroons because they produce wooden figurines like those by Africans from the Cameroons”.

The truly great Expressionist artists did not choose art, it possessed them like a fever. They emerged in a period of political, social, sexual, and religious crisis, the likes of which the world had never seen. Remember this was an age in Europe when many said that religious faith was moribund, God was dead, monarchy was considered by many to be decadent and corrupt, democracies were still in infancy and ideological battles about politics, religion, sexuality, female emancipation and the purpose of art was debated furiously in cafes throughout the West. Everyone could see that the growing arms race, and diplomatic hostilities amongst the great powers would lead to war. However, no one could imagine how devastating it would be when it arrived. In such uncertain and crazy times these artists fell back on the one thing they could trust their own gut. They envisioned art as a new form of religion, a brotherhood, a protest against society, a soothing balm for the desperately lonely and a utopian solution to modern life.

For the early Expressionist artists, personal, urgent communication was paramount. Their restless, agitated, linear and violently coloured work, expressed their metaphysical anxiety forcefully. The German Expressionist’s were never great innovators in terms of form. Their work was the summation and exploitation of a series of very different movements and influences; Impressionism, Symbolism, Jugendstil, Fauvism, Cubism, Orphism, Futurism, Gothic art, German Romanticism, African and Oceanic art, Folk art, naïve art and even Islamic and Oriental art. Which they both pumped up and debased, in order to create some of the most violent looking and aggressive art-works in human history. Perhaps only the Incas produced more blood-curdling works. However, that was their intention. They wanted to provoke reaction, which they hoped would expose the metal fist under the velvet glove of Western society. Remember the wealth and power of a small European elite and the growing prosperity of the middle-classes was based on Imperialistic military might, which had colonized; Africa, Asia and South America, and held down a teaming underclass in their own cities and countryside.

They hated the ultra-disciplined, highly-skilled, but unimaginative and conformist academic artists of their day, who sought to; beautify life, glorify the elite and flatter their patrons. They wanted to shake everything up, critique their society and defiantly set themselves above the dim-witted but cunning patrician class. They expressed abnormal sensibilities, uncontrollable emotions, primitive narratives and an increasingly doomed worldview. All of this was part of the increasing democratizing of art, and the new assertion of individual freedom in society.

They distorted and accentuated reality - in order to express their feelings for the world. They used violent, garish, jarring colours, often taken straight from the tube. Which they piled on with thick hog-hair brushes, amassing think trenches of impastoed paint, a tendency that reached its convulsive peak in the canvases of Soutine. They used explosive lines, drawn with haste and a heavy hand and sharp contrasts of light and shade. The subjects of their paintings were dramatic and animated – landscapes on fire with colour, seedy nocturnal street scenes, sordid brothel scenes, vulgar nudes, aggressive self-portraits, and even deeply religious or spiritual paintings.

They sought to do more than simply record the naturalistic appearance of everyday life – they sought to express a transcendent truth, often verging on the abstract, especially in the work of Der Blaue Reiter. Despite their uncertain faith, they were often deeply spiritual men, just look at van Gogh, Rouault, Nolde, or later expressive painters like Jackson Pollock, or Mark Rothko.

Many of their works verged on the unintentionally comic, a result of their very basic skill sets and lack of self-criticism. Many of their drawings were no better than that of talentless teenagers. However, the forcefulness of their expressive urges and their authentic (if naïve) sincerity raised the stakes in many of their works. They often saw themselves as Christ like figures, reviled, misunderstood and debased by the ignorant masses and cunning elites. They imagined their art as a transcendent expression of their self-hood, unmediated by social or aesthetic constraints and dogma. This was essentially a revitalization of the Romantic artists’ belief in the primacy of their own egos and spiritual quest. It was a mythology that was to be reborn in the art of the early American Abstract-Expressionist painters in the 1940s, even though they had little understanding of its German origins. The fundamental problem with this fetishization of the artist’s ‘vision’ – was that it was both presumptuous and elitist in an increasingly egalitarian society. Moreover, for every thousand artists at the turn of the century who believed they had some kind of privileged, ‘God-given’ power of expression, only a handful were equipped with the required level of skill, originality, dedication and relentless self-questioning required to make timeless and universal art.

The city as painted by the early German Expressionists took on an at first frightening and finally hellish quality unseen in art since Goya. Modern urban life in their eyes was electrifying, terrifying, hypocritical, and debased. They both loved its freedom and hated its decadence. In Kirchner’s paintings of Berlin in the early 1910s, electric lights shone on the creepy lives of men trawling the streets at night, for prostitutes who stood like coked-up, Gothic movie stars, on the lonely sidewalks. After World War 1, savage satirists like Grosz and Dix, depicted a chaotic Berlin teeming with handicapped and scared soldiers begging for money, axe murders dripping in blood, vengeful Generals, gross fat bankers fondling heartless whores, and men shooting or hanging themselves in their cold attics. Of course, there had been men who had survived the war intact in both mind and body, of course murder was rare, of course there were honourable Generals and bankers, of course there were sweet-natured and chaste women in Germany, of course suicide remained an exception. However, artists like Grosz and Dix were not concerned with reasoned discourse, the times demanded an art of protest and accusation. It may have been an art based on an ‘inner-image’ that distorted reality, but it was done with a moral purpose. Their art became a ticker-tape from the front lines of existence.

Expressionist artists like Vincent van Gogh, James Ensor, Edvard Munch, Ferdinand Hodler, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and Emil Nolde were typically egotistical, often technically mediocre in the traditional academic sense, and emotionally unstable. Many only worked in an Expressionist manner for a short time in their twenties and early thirties. Some like Paula Modersohn-Becker and Richard Gerstl died long before it had become a recognized movement. Some grew and developed into fully rounded masters like Max Beckman. While others like Ernst Ludwig Kirchner grew tired of the fight and their work became more decorative and conciliatory. Many like Edvard Munch and James Ensor outlived their creativity, and merely rehashed their past achievement’s. But the raw honesty of their art shone brightly in a world of fake polite paintings for fake polite people.

Many of them were sexist pigs, and their portrayal of women in their art was often cruel and misogynistic. No other artistic movement has portrayed women so savagely. Women in Expressionist paintings were typically femme fatales, fierce dominatrix’s, demonic Venuses, cunning prostitutes and overwhelming earth mothers from hell – just look at Munch, Kirchner, Grosz, Dix or later Dubuffet and de Kooning. These were old-fashioned men who often divided women into Madonna’s and whores - wives’ and prostitutes’. However at other times there was a heartbreaking tenderness to Expressionist depictions of women - just look at Kokoschka’s painting of Alma Mahler, Schiele’s paintings of his wife Edith, or Max Beckman’s paintings of his wife Quappi – and tell me these men did not have a heart.  

Moreover, if you compared their depictions of themselves and other men, you would be hard pressed to say that they did not hate themselves just as much. No one for example has ever painted fat, ugly, greedy, vicious men with such condemnation as George Grosz.

The great masters of Expressive art were in my view; Francisco Goya y Lucientes, Thèodore Géricault, Honoré Daumier, Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, van Gogh, August Strindberg, Edvard Munch, James Ensor, Lovis Corinth, Kees van Dongen, Paula Mondersohn-Becker, Richard Gerstl, Oskar Kokoschka, Egon Schiele, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Emil Nolde, Erich Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Alexei von Jawlensky, Paula, Georges Rouault, Amadeo Modigliani, Jules Pascin, Chaïm Soutine, Max Beckman, Otto Dix, George Grosz, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Asger Jorn, Jean Atlan, Francis Gruber, Jean Fautrier, Francis Bacon, Leon Golub, George Baselitz, John Bellany, Anselm Kiefer, Frank Aurebach, Leon Kossoff, Julian Schnabel, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Chuck Connelly and Hughie O’Donoghue. These were my heroes. In their work I found a depth of feeling and perception utterly lacking in other modern art. Their styles varied enormously but what they all had in common was genuine soul.    

The tradition of Expressionist painting was also one of the few strong threads that ran through Modern Irish art. For example, Jack B. Yeats in the 1930s painted in a style similar to Chaïm Soutine, his contemporary who was working in France. Later, Neo-Expressionist Irish painters like Brian Bourke, Paul Kane, Charles Cullen, Michael Cullen, Patrick Hall, Timothy Hawkesworth, Brian Maguire, and Patrick Graham all went through Expressionist phases.

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It is easy to write about Impressionism, Cubism, and the School of Paris without ever mentioning the socio-political background to their art. One can waffle on and on about high-flown aesthetic problems and art world bitching, without ever talking about the Dreyfus Affair, The Great War or European politics. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why French art has proved hugely popular as a grand distraction from life’s intractable problems. The same cannot be said of the German Expressionists.

The fin-de-siècle world of nineteenth century Europe, was one of unprecedented technological, social, and political change. It was a time of optimism and despair. In France in 1848 and 1871 two revolutionary movements had failed, and by the end of the century, intellectuals in Europe increasingly expressed pessimistic fears for society and politics. Many thought that the western world had become decadent and would eventually succumb to the stronger races they currently colonized. Charles Darwin’s theory of sexual selection and the survival of the fittest became a fearful talking-point amongst intellectuals and a manifesto of survival for middle-class capitalists and elitist Empire builders. Throughout Europe, nationalism, class-warfare, anti-Semitism, misogyny, and racism reared their ugly heads as the power and certainty of the old elites were challenged by; a growing arms race, an unregulated financial system, the rise of Feminism, and a fear of the ‘other’. Yet apart from a few honourable men and women like Gustave Courbet, Jean-François Millet and Honoré Daumier in France and Käthe Kollwitz in Germany, only a handful of major artists of the day reflected this social upheaval, decadence, corruptness, and social unjustness’ in their art. 

In literature, writers like Fyodor Dostoevsky, Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, and Søren Kierkegaard all expressed this new age of subjective, religious, sexual, urban living, and moral anxiety. However, it was the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who became their prophet and guiding light out of a corrupted world of moral hypocrisy.

In his Notes from Underground, Fyodor Dostoevsky contrasted the materialistic ethos, of the late nineteenth century (that had culminated for him in England’s building of The Crystal Palace in 1851), against many people’s increasing search for an authentic and unbroken faith in God and pursuit of a spiritual life. Fyodor Dostoevsky’s passionate, intellectual, spiritual, and even revolutionary writings exposed the unjustness and decadency of modern life. Often as in Notes from Underground and Crime and Punishment, he did this by bringing his readers into the minds of marginalized, poverty stricken and half-mad men who still strove to find the light in lives of darkness. “I admit that two times two makes four is an excellent thing, but if we are to give everything its due, two times two makes five is sometimes a very charming thing too… As far as my own personal opinion is concerned, to care only for prosperity seems to me positively ill-bred. Whether it’s good or bad, it is sometimes very pleasant, too, to smash things. Suffering would be out of place in vaudevilles, for instance; I know that. In the “Crystal Palace” it is unthinkable; suffering means doubt, negation, and what would be the good of a “crystal palace”, if there could be any doubt about it? And yet I am sure man will never renounce real suffering, that is, destruction and chaos. Why after all, suffering, is the sole origin of consciousness… [And] consciousness, for instance, is infinitely superior to two times two makes four.” (Notes from Underground, 1864, Fyodor Dostoevsky.) This search for authentic expression was to become a key concern for the German generation of 1905.

The German character was a complex one, but it was known for its intellectualism, love of the arts and philosophy, as well as its great skill at war. Goethe spoke of this to Eckermann: “The Germans really are a strange lot, they make life unnecessarily difficult for themselves by looking for deep thoughts and ideas everywhere and putting them into everything. Just have the courage to give yourself up to the first impressions… don’t think all the time that everything must be pointless if it lacks an abstract thought or idea.” (Quoted by Norbert Lynton, Concepts of Modern Art, Ed. Nikos Stangos, Chapter Three, Expressionism, Revised Edition, P.35, 1981.)

Germany for good or ill was the centre of world events from the 1900s-1945. Germany was a federal state in the 1900s. Although Berlin was the political and artistic capital, other regional cities like; Munich, Cologne, Dresden, and Hanover all had their own local governments, art schools, galleries and museums, vying for prestige. It was an age of xenophobia and chauvinism. In France right wing parties attacked Modern Art as a German or Jewish conspiracy. In Germany, it was attacked by similar parties, as a French, Bolshevik, or Jewish conspiracy.       

The battle for the heart and soul of Germany was bitterly fought between the conservative and the Liberal, the socialist and the Fascist, the avant-garde and the academic. This social, intellectual, and finally violent confrontation of ideas was anticipated and visualized by the German Expressionists and Neue Sachlichkeit artists.

Germany from the late eighteenth century untill the end of the nineteeth century had been enthralled by the achievements of the ancient Greeks. Museums heaved with masterpieces discovered in Greece, Turkey and the Middle East, the greatest of which was the famous Pergamon Alter discovered in Turkey and transported to Berlin. German architecture of the day was born from grand Greek moulds, German philosophers debated Socrates and Plato ad nausum, and countless German painters like the Nazerines made trips to Greece and Italy,  in order to educate and refine their provinical taste. The Prussian historian, archaeologist and antiquarian Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-68), who some consider the “father of art history”, led, defined and defended this love of Hellenistic culture in his voloumous writings - which had a massive influence on academic Classical theories for nearly two hundred years. Yet, for the generation of 1905, this obsession with classical order, reason, grace and power - was oppressive and cliched. In an early book on tribal art which Emil Nolde hoped to later publish, he began with these two key points which summed up the attitude of many young artists in Germany: 

1. “’We see the highest art in the Greeks. In painting, Raphael is the greatest of all masters.’ This was what every art pedagogue taught twenty or thirty years ago.

2. Some things have changed since then. We don’t like Raphael and the sculptures of the so-called flowering of Greek art leaves us cold. Our predecessors’ ideals are no longer ours. We like less the works under which great names have stood for centuries. Sophisticated artists in the hustle and bustle of their times made art for Popes and palaces. We value and love the unassuming people who worked in their workshops, of whom we barely know anything today, for their simple and largely-hewn sculptures in the cathedrals of Naumburg, Magdeburg, Bamberg.” (Quoted from Expressionism by Ashley Bassie, Kent: Grange Books, P.28, 2005.)

Seeking a new and authentic Germanic artistic voice, many in Germany rediscovered the art of the middle-ages and the German Gothic. In 1912 Wilhelm Worringer a young history student wrote for his doctorate an influential text called Formprobleme der Gothic (Form in Gothic.) In this thesis he studied the illuminated manuscripts and sculptures, the ivories and glass paintings of the Eleventh to thirteenth centuries and the oil paintings of the Middle-Ages, from the eleventh to the fifteenth century.

Worringer contrasted the naturalistic and sensual art of Classicism with the more alienated, linear, abstract-tending, transcendental art of the Northern Gothic artist. It had a profound influence on German and Northern artists who recognized the difference of their world-view from that of the joi de vivre of Mediterranean cultures. His text articulated the complex nature of “the transcendentalism of the Gothic world of expression.” Which he said required that, “uncanny pathos which attaches itself to the animation of the inorganic.” While in the warm and comforting south, man felt at ease and in communion with arcadia, in the colder and more inhospitable north, he felt estranged and troubled by nature. Which gave northern art its restless, anxious and abstracted character. “The need in Northern man for activity, which is precluded from being translated into a clear knowledge of actuality and which is intensified for lack of this natural solution, finally disburdens itself in an unhealthy play of fantasy. Actuality, which the Gothic man could not transform into naturalness by means of clear-sighted knowledge, was overpowered by this intensified play of fantasy and transformed into a spectrally heightened and distorted actuality. Everything becomes weird and fantastic. Behind the visible appearance of a thing lurks its caricature, behind the lifelessness of a thing an uncanny, ghostly life, and so all actual things become grotesque… common to all is an urge to activity, which, being bound to no one object, loses itself as a result in infinity”. 

The reason this text was so timely and important, was because it not only perfectly described the creepy, anxious, transcendentalism of Gothic artists like Lucas Cranach the Elder, Hieronymus Bosch, and Pieter Bruegel the Elder, it also gave a defining shape to the still perplexing art of contemporaries of Wilhelm Worringer like Vincent van Gogh, Edvard Munch, Ferdinand Hodler, James Ensor, Emil Nolde and even Wassily Kandinsky, in which one could find this self-same Gothic restless energy, near abstraction of reality and alienated intensification of feeling.

Another great influence came from Norway, when in 1892, Edvard Munch’s work was shown in Berlin it caused public hysteria, scandal, and rabid press indignation, which lead to the show being closed after just one week. However, it also fired the imagination of a whole generation of young painters and writers in Germany who recognized his genius.

The final great visual influence on German Expressionism was not European in origin, it was the vivid and powerful tribal art of Africa. They recognized its beauty and pathos and saw that it offered a completely different alternative to the fossilized art of the academies and salons.

As the historian Donald E. Gordon pointed out the Expressionist generation of 1905, were Left-Wing Nietzscheians, Post-Victorians, and Post-Impressionists. They were highly contradictory characters at once playing the part of rebels and social critics, decadents, and prophets of doom.

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In 1905, two young architecture students in Dresden called Erik Heckel (1883-) and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) with their friends Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1884) and Fritz Bleyl founded Die Brücke (The Bridge) - the first major group of painters to follow an Expressionist agenda. All these artists were men on a mission.        

Karl Schmidt-Rottluff coined the name. The exact reason for his choice is unclear, perhaps it was a nod to the many bridges of Dresden, often called the “Venice of the North.” Perhaps it was also an attempt to make an explicit connection with Nietzsche. “I love him whose soul is deep even in its ability to be wounded, and whom even a little thing can destroy: thus he is glad to go over the bridge.” (Fredrick Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra.) Their philosophy was embodied in Nietzsche’s ‘overman’ and his view of culture as a battle between the Apollonian (Classical order and reason) and Dionysian (Pantheistic and Baroque emotion.) Of course, they believed in the later.  

They were all very young men in their early twenties. They had virtually no training in painting or drawing, and this self-taught ethos would inform (and at times undermine) the nature of their work. They saw art as a brotherhood, worshiped nature, espoused and lived free-love, and wanted to reach the masses with their work. They befriended underage teenage models, circus people, music-hall performers, gypsies, and prostitutes, their friendships based on similar free-thinking, free-living and marginalized poverty. They sought to free their minds and adopt an almost automatic form of painting. 

A few other major artists joined this group for varying degrees of time, they included; Emil Nolde, Max Pechstein, and Otto Müller. Pechstein was technically the odd-one-out having had a sound grounding in academic skills, so it is not surprising that he was the first to really make money from his prettier, and easier to read art, and even be hailed as one of the greatest in Europe. However since then his work has slipped down the greasy-pole of critical thinking, largely because for an Expressionist painter he was too slick.

Die Brücke as a group lasted eight years. A reasonably long time given the short life-span of most modernist movements. However, once the thrill of brotherhood, was overtaken by selfish concerns for; personal glory, fame, and money, it bitterly fell apart.

The artists of Die Brücke shared studios, materials, life-models, and printing presses. They published manifestos together, staged group shows and promoted themselves as a young energetic group, trying to take on and reform the world. In many ways they were naturists and hippies before their time. It was a form of “cultivated rebellion” by largely middleclass young men.        

They were sick of the received wisdom of the academic ethos, its slick techniques, classical ideology and almost total lack of imagination or genuine emotion. Although their techniques were radically different from that of realist painters, they shared their concern with down-to-earth subjects of everyday life.

The painters of Die Brücke used non-descriptive colouring and crude forceful drawing. They loathed abstraction, which was to over-take them as an influence on Modern Art, yet it had been born from their lair. All these artists aspired to a direct, unfiltered, non-conformist form of painting, that they hoped would communicate directly with the viewer. Thus, they shaped their working methods accordingly. They prized quick free-hand drawing and painting styles, which they hoped would capture the movement, speed and anxieties of modern life. They wanted to paint manly pictures, seemingly dashed off in a day, full of youthful vigour and aesthetic confrontation. They used deliberately clashing colours, rapid and thick brushstrokes, distortions of space and architecture and intense, overall compositional schemes.

Their wood-cut prints were ideal for self-promotion. The simple, effective, and very strong look of these black and white prints worked perfectly with Expressionist grammar. Woodcuts had first been used widely in the Gothic period and reached its technical and unsurpassed zenith with Albrecht Dürer. However, it had fallen out of favour with the advent of more advanced printing methods like engraving, etching and lithography. They deliberately used crude and quick methods of carving which would be big on impact, though limited in skill.

Watercolour was also an ideal medium for their spontaneous working methods, and they produced some of the liveliest and most original works in this medium of the century. Given their poverty, it also proved a cheap alternative to oil painting. Most of the iconic masterpieces of painting in the early twentieth century were in oil on canvas, but Georges Rouault, Emil Nolde, Oskar Kokoschka, Egon Schiele, and Paul Klee in particular, were dynamic and daring masters of watercolour. 

To my mind, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Emil Nolde were the greatest of artists of Die Brücke. Though in retrospect I now find them both highly suspect men. Although Nolde had joined the group in 1906, he remained essentially a loner. Nolde was a more daring colourist, and perhaps a profounder painter than Kirchner. However, Kirchner’s scope was larger both in terms of subject, content, and mediums. He was a stunningly handsome man, who painted many self-portraits throughout his career, usually looking haggard and on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He produced oil and distemper paintings on canvas, board and paper, watercolours, wood-cut prints, sculptures and even some tapestries. He used his paint straight from the tube or mixed with petrol (to make it dry faster) and used colour combinations as daring and personal to him as Matisse’s were to him. The foundation of all this work, was over 20,000 surviving drawings in pencil, ink, and crayon. They were hasty sketches, made as he moved through the city, or quick figure studies of friends and models. He developed a rapid almost calligraphic style of drawing, which he called ‘hieroglyphs’, a kind of simplified visual coda. His subjects included landscapes, portraits, nudes, circus, and music hall scenes. The free art of Die Brücke also involved free-love, nudism, and most controversially the use of underage female nude models. This according to recent scholars, resulted in the possible seduction of Lina Franziska Fehrmann known as Fränzi or Marzella. Fränzi was born in October 1900, and she was from a poor working-class family. Fränzi started posing for Kirchner aged nine in late 1909 or early 1910. It is speculated by some scholars that both Kirchner and Heckel may have had sex with Fränzi when she was still under the age of eleven. To add to the confusion, Max Pechstein falsely remembered that two sisters aged twelve and fifteen from a variety family had, with the mother’s approval, agreed to pose for the artists of Die Brücke. This deceitful story was constantly repeated in Brücke literature during the twentieth century. However, at the time people naively believed that the artists of Die Brücke like their contemporary Egon Schiele were artists whose only concern with drawing young girls naked was innocently artistic. Only in the early twentieth-first century, did a growing awareness of child sexual abuse, and the many ways abusers manipulate their victims, force more critical eyes to look again at Kirchner’s relationship with Fränzi.

Kirchner was a very driven and ambitious artist who pushed himself to a nervous breakdown. Strangely, he also wrote on many occasions about his own work, trying to secure his place in history, but under the pseudonym of a French doctor called Louis de Marsalle! In later years, Kirchner even antedated his early work to secure an even greater place for himself in the Modern art race. This was because Modernism had put such a premium on originality and the creation of the first works of an important style or development of style, that even changing the date of a canvas backwards by less than a year could make an artist seem far more historically important. Added to this was the competition between French Fauves and German Expressionist that drove Kirchner to make it seem like his early expressive style had developed before Matisse’s early Fauvism. So, all in all, Kircher was free with his art, sex, and the truth. Moreover, in recent years the cultural appropriation of African and Oceanic art by Kirchner which was made possible by German colonialism has also come in for criticism. 

When I was a young boy, I would enjoy looking at Nolde’s medium sized canvas ‘Two Women in A Garden’ 1915, in our National Gallery in Dublin. Even then, I wondered at its oddity in the Irish National Gallery collection, where it stuck out like a sore thumb, amidst the largely seductive French Modern Art collection. Only the Chaïm Soutine hung beside it shared its spirit. It was not a great Nolde, I thought it rather over-worked and it lacked the intensity and enflamed colour of his greatest work, however it was one of the few great emotive works I could identify with in an Irish collection.

The intensity of Nolde’s creativity was evident in all his work, sometimes for good, sometimes for ill. Unlike the other Brücke painters, whose canvases were constructed through the dynamic use of lin, Nolde was a painterly painter. So much so, that his treatment of form was often crude and ignorant. However, his gestural filling in of space, gave his paintings an intensity and crude brutality, others like Max Pechstein could only dream of achieving. He was also one of the most aggressive and daring colourist of the Twentieth Century.

As he grew older, Nolde’s work became more spiritual and religious in motivation. He wanted to breathe new life into the stories of the Bible, yet his crude technique and sour and sweet plastered colours, made many believe that he was sacrilegious. Nolde felt a strong identification with van Gogh and like many in Europe, he read his letters avidly. This quote from van Gogh’s letters perfectly expressed the creative longing of artists like Nolde who followed this lonely path: “I can very well do without God both in my life and in my painting, but I cannot, ill as I am, do without something which is greater than I, which is my life – the power to create…I want to paint men and women with that something of the eternal which the halo used to symbolize, and which we seek to confer by the actual radiance and vibration of our colourings.” (Vincent van Gogh, Letter to Theo, Arles, early September 1888, The Letters of Vincent van Gogh, Ed. Mark Roskill. London: Flamingo, P. 286, 1983.) Both artists shared a burning desire to make a ‘dead God’ - come back to life through the power of art.

Emil Nolde was not the only German Expressionist painter, swayed by German nationalism before World War 1. However, he was one of the few Modern painters to be seduced by anti-Semitism and the Nazi party. (Sadly, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner also expressed anti-Semitic views and admiration for the Nazis before his art was removed by them from German museums.) I love Nolde’s paintings, but this still sticks in my throat. He was a rural man, and they are often the most anti-intellectual, reactionary, and right-wing types, regardless of the nation or era involved. Nolde the artist was a radical, Nolde the political man was naïve at best. Debates about the moral responsibility of artists - have raged throughout time. Personally, I can still greatly admire and even love Nolde’s paintings even if I despise his politics and his type, which are reborn every year in different guises. Despite his early passionate support of the Nazi party, they did not return the compliment. In 1937, Nolde was represented, by the largest group of paintings in the infamous Entartete Kunst (Degenerated Art) exhibition. He was banned from painting and his materials were taken from him. Yet he managed to paint over 1,300 small watercolours during this period in secret. He called them the ungemalte bilder (‘unpainted pictures’.) Today, Nolde is considered one of the greatest watercolourists in art history.

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By 1913, conservative critics in Germany were attacking Expressionism as the crude daubs of lunatics, desperate to be noticed. In an age of growing militarism, artists were a nuisance, to say the least. The German public too, were suspicious of the ugliness and tendency towards caricature in Expressionism.

As E. H. Gombrich has pointed out in defence of the tendency of caricature in Expressionism: “Caricature had always been ‘expressionist’, for the caricaturist plays with the likeness of his victim, and distorts it to express just what he feels about his fellow man. As long as these distortions of nature sailed under the flag of humour nobody seemed to find them difficult to understand. Humorous art was a field in which everything was permitted, because people did not approach it with the prejudices they reserved for Art with a capital A. But the idea of a serious caricature, of an art which deliberately changed the appearance of things not to express a sense of superiority, but maybe love, or admiration, or fear, proved indeed a stumbling block... Yet there is nothing inconsistent about it. It is the sober truth that our feelings about things do colour the way in which we see them and, even more, the forms which we remember. Everyone must have experienced how different the same place may look when we are happy and when we are sad.” (E. H. Gombrich, The Story of Art, Pocket Edition 2006, London: Phaidon, P.436.)

On the eve of the First World War and during its height another great German Expressionist emerged, the Jewish painter, draughtsman, printmaker, poet and writer Ludwig Meidner. He is the forgotten man of German Expressionism because he never associated with the other major groups. He preferred the company of writers and poets, yet he was an archetypal Expressionist, a lonely, isolated man with a burning desire to express his feelings and fears as immediately as possible. His work was a strange self-taught mix of Rembrandt and van Gogh gone mad with the colours and dynamics of Delaunay. His major subjects were portraits and cityscapes - which he called ‘Apocalyptic Landscapes’. Sometimes he combined the two in a terrifying edge-of-the-volcano manner. In his cityscapes, Meidner projected his fears and realities, renting buildings apart with bombs, explosions, and earthquakes. They had the feel of apparitions of a mad prophet in the wilderness of the city.

His portraits and self-portraits were ugly in the extreme, however they hook you instantly with their humble and heartbroken honesty. Meidner, made-no-attempt to flatter, either his sitters or himself. In 1912, he formed a group of painters under the name Die Pathetiker (the solemn ones) but it proved short-lived. Conforming to the general rule of Expressionism, Meidner put so much into his early paintings, that he burned himself out quickly. The peak of his art was from 1911-1916, after which he concentrated on more religious paintings expressing his Jewish heritage.

He was also a prolific and talented writer of Expressionist inspired prose and dynamic directional drawings. He loved the art of drawing and wrote about it very powerfully as this excerpt testifies: “We have loved drawing from way back, we stupid, playful, laughing humans. From the first charming stammerings of primitive people to Kokoschka and Hermann Huber; from Raphael’s disciplined style to the pornographic doodles on our piss-house walls. Drawing makes you happy, healthy and a believer. I’m always alone. No girl loves me. No woman wants to sleep with me. No friend wants to be with me. I have no home, no country, am poor, outlawed and much hated... but I can draw, freely swing here and there... and I rejoice with the pencil, sing, pray and praise the Great Almighty.” (Quoted from Expressionist Portraits, Frank Whitford, London: Thames and Hudson, P.92, 1987.)

World War One finished of Expressionism as a revolutionary movement. The optimism of the pre-war years, had been replaced with shellshock, social and political disillusion, and savage cynicism.

After The Great War, commercialized Expressionism in Germany became a bandwagon – jumped on by opportunists. Because it was the only country to foster Expressionist art, it was also the only country where its mannerisms became imitated for profit. With the result, that much of late German Expressionism, was tainted by the fraudulent canvases of opportunists and charlatans of neither talent, vision nor authenticity. Even the credible artists of the early years, began mass-producing their work to feed an insatiable market. Thus, many who had supported the first flowerings of Expressionism, became disenchanted by its growing fakeness.

After the disaster of the First World War, Neue Sachlichkeit (in English New Objectivity) artists in Germany like George Grosz, Otto Dix and Max Beckman produced work deeply influenced by the visual intensities of Expressionism, however it was given a more realistic, bitter, technically skilled, and socially conscious shape. Colour was more controlled and full of pathos and their line was more biting. All these artists, in reaction to the idealism of the early Expressionists, chose to play the part of social-agitators and critics. Gone were the utopian notions of sexual equality, brotherhood, and freedom, and in their place were powerless feelings of cynicism, condemnation, disenchantment, and disgust. 

German Expressionism was finished off in 1933, with the Election of Hitler. Many artists fled the country, those that stayed found their teaching jobs axed, their work taken off the walls of the museums, their studios ransacked, their materials taken from them, and in 1937, their work held up as depraved and insane in the Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibition. Worse was to come as historian Ashley Bassie in her book on Expressionism noted: “On 20th March 1939, around 5,000 paintings, prints and drawings, most of which were by Expressionist artists, were burned having been determined as “unverwertbarer Bestand” (property of no value.)” (Bassie, Ashley Expressionism. Kent: Grange Books, P. 172, 2005.)

After the Second world War, attempts where strenuously made in Germany to recover Germanys cultural heritage and redress these outrageous acts against human creativity. Those artists like Karl Hofer, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Erich Heckel, Max Pechstein, Emil Nolde, and Otto Dix, who were still alive, were showered with honours, retrospectives, and academy teaching posts. Yet the question remains, if the Nazis had not hated and persecuted the Expressionists so much, would they have been later championed so much by the art world? And does the fear of sounding like Hitler ranting about ‘degenerate art’ prevent many in the art world, and members of the public, from expressing their real feelings about Expressionist art?


I’m a Negative Creep: The Panic Blogs

“But almost no other art movement cultivates such a close relationship with the discipline of art history as Expressionism. The relationship is by no means one way, but mutual, to the extent that we may even speak of a kind of “Expressionist” writing of art history.” (Helena Pereña, Egon Schiele: The Complete Paintings, The Aesthetic of Transformation: Schiele’s Breakthrough of 1910 and 1911, Cologne: Taschen, 2017, P. 71.)

“To praise or criticize seems, on the face of it, to be as pointless as judging the weather…Yet to make no judgment is to accept complicity with a system of things which only appears natural, or at least to play down the conflict and contradiction in a structure seen as unitary and functional.”
Julian Stallabrass, High Art Lite, London: Verso, 2001, P. 271.

For someone who has written so much, I am profoundly sceptical of intellectualism and art theory – in fact I hate them. So, in my writings, I try to simply give some of the background to how, what and when I painted various works in as accessible a manner as possible. I prefer artist biographies to art theories and find them far more honest and to the point. I am not only an Expressionist painter – I am an Expressionist writer!

My girlfriend Carol calls me a binge painter and she is right. I might spend a couple of weeks manically making dozens of drawings or paintings - and then plunge into a fallow period of depressive self-criticism and nihilism - when I cannot even bring myself to draw a stick figure. But during such periods, I do spend a lot of time reading about art and looking at the work of artists I admire, hoping to find inspiration, and these weeks of research then feed back into my creative bursts of energy. As a painter, draughtsman, and sometime writer, I have repeatedly noticed that making art and writing about art require two completely different mindsets, literally as different as right-sided brain creativity and left-sided brain rationalism. Each literally inhibits the other. In fact, even when making my paintings with text or cartoon drawings, I usually split up the making of the images and the addition of the text - because they require very different mind sets. However, as they say, the origin of criticism is crisis, and often I find that in periods of artistic block, I indulge art criticism, as a way to think about art without making it. I have spent my life as an artist, mentally torturing myself about my inadequacies as an artist, intellectual and human being. Through endless nights of self-inquisitions, I have executed my artistic ego countless times. My life can thus be roughly divided between action and contemplation, painting and critiquing. Typically, I do more of my painting in the spring and summer, and more of my writing in the autumn and winter months. Though I prize the place writing has had in my life, I do not think it has necessarily made a better artist. Writing and the study of art history has help me understand the motivations behind my art and understand better the art of those I admire, but it has often inhibited my natural creativity, making me too self-critical and fearful. Which is why, when I am engrossed in my painting, I feel more alive and freer than at any other time. 

However, the dilemma of art for the artist today is that you can never know if you are really any good. Even if your work sells for millions, and is shown in countless museums, you can never really know if you are a true universal genius destined to be revered for centuries or just a fashionable success like so many others who were once hailed as the next Michelangelo, Rembrandt, or Picasso of their day only to be later reviled and forgotten. Art is not a competition with any real rules, judges, or outcome. It is in fact the worst possible way to feel important. Moreover painting, sculpture, and drawing have another significant problem – the sheer vastness of their history! Writing and poetry also have a similar problem, but it is notable that in music there are really two different music worlds, the first which replays the masters from Bach to Mahler and insists on no originality and complete technical mastery and the second, broadly speaking pop music world, that takes few cues from classical music and insists on originality over skill. Yet, painting, sculpture, and drawing are oddities, because even now there is a dialogue going on between the most contemporary art and the most ancient. People used to laugh at me when I said I wanted to beat Picasso or become the greatest artist who had ever lived. But the key phrase was ‘I wanted to be’ I never claimed I had achieved my goal. In fact, I was only admitting what any ambitious person says to themselves to give them a goal. And now I realise that the number of artists who have ever lived who are better than me are legion. That is both the beauty and torment of the Canon. 

Art as a social activity, is the ultimate in snobbery, a minefield for the uninitiated to make a fool of themselves. Personally, I can honestly say that I have never tried to belittle anyone who wants to talk about art to me, except those who are looking for trouble! On the other hand, I have sadly met many people (usually mediocre types) in the art world who try to belittle others in conversation. Yet art contemplated in solitude is an intimate form of friendship with humanity unparalleled. In an art world, that frequently works based on a lovey network devoid of honest opinion, and because I speak my mind and do not let others do my thinking for me, I have been called a snob. Even my ex, Helen Black a working-class nurse, used to call me a snob. It was a criticism that hurt, since though I might have been a snob in matters of art, I did not consider myself socially snobbish. Helen and others made me feel ashamed of my education and years of study. However, today, I am happy to call myself a snob, but I am a snob about few things except painting, art, and culture, and only because I have spent my whole life studying them and thus feel more than entitled to speak about them.

However, if you think I am a snob, you have no idea of those at the top of the art world! An extensive knowledge of art history soon proves that fellow artists are often the most vociferous critics of their peers and rivals. They may not put their thoughts in print very often, but they live their lives making countless judgments on their peers every day, especially those more successful than themselves!

Besides what is a snob? It is someone who has thought about culture, and for whom the intellectual and emotional distinctions between things is important. No one calls football fans with an encyclopaedic knowledge of football, or music lovers with an elephantine knowledge of recordings snobs. However, people assume art must be democratic. I know where this hatred of the more cultivated, educated, or informed person comes from – fear and envy. I know because I have felt it a million times in my own life. Yet repeatedly, when I have confronted an artist or writer whose work I cannot understand, I have gone beyond my initial reaction to merely reject and deride them, to actually engage and study their art and life until the answer to the riddle of their work is revealed to me.

People who say art is subjective or “it’s not my cup of tea” miss the point. Of course, art is subjective, but you must care about having an opinion and develop that opinion through learning and experience. So, saying art is subjective or “it’s not my cup of tea”, is pretty much saying you do not give a dam about art. But I would council any art lover to trust their own intelligence and perceptions and feel free to question the validity of any artwork. 

Every artist makes their art as a gift to the world, but that does not mean that world must accept the gift (I have learned this to my cost.) They say art critics are a dime a dozen, in my experience that is not the case, there are fewer great art critics than great artists. I see life as like a line at a lottery- we are all in the queue trying to win. Yet, some people are skipping the line through manipulation and hype, and I am merely asking them to get back in the queue! Everyone wants fame and success, or at least acknowledgment and respect, but wanting something does not make you entitled to it. So, for every hundred-thousand artists I see pushing ahead in the queue, only one or two actually deserve the prize. One night while chatting to my girlfriend Carol I dismissed someone as overrated, “you think everyone is overrated!” She quipped. And she was right!

A 2002 survey of the writing of art critics, by the Columbia University National Arts Journalism Program, found that the least popular form of art criticism was judgmental, and the most popular form descriptive. This non-judgmental, conversational, and descriptive form of art criticism has been the dominant mode since at least the early 1990s until today. Yet, for me this cozy arrangement between critics, artists, dealers and the art world is just another signal that we are in a Neo-Mannerist era in which rampant speculation in art, left-wing Liberalism, Feminism, sexual decadence and neo-conceptual art combine to form a new orthodoxy, and in this establishment orgy, its smug members have nothing left to criticize. Except of course anything that might challenge their Liberal assumptions, question their hypocrisy, or bring their self-indulgent orgy to an end.

Moreover, in art criticism today many artists are not even considered worthy of a bad review, I know because I have been victim to this pariah status myself. So, there are important artists who have fought for their place in the art world, and thus receive both praise and attacks, and then there is a dark tragic mass of artists completely ignored. Personally, I find this quite underhanded, since much of the narrative about modern artists since the end of the nineteenth century has been about the initial attacks of a philistine press and public followed by the posthumous rehabilitation of the dammed artist. Yet today, many artists are not even granted the prestige of press attacks, as it is seen as giving them the oxygen of publicity and platforming their unacceptable art.

Artists say that they are treated unfairly by critics and philistines, who don’t take the time to study their work. But that presumes that what they have to say is unique and has never been said before or better by others. It also demands attention from people and does not acknowledge the responsibility of the artist to enchant the viewer, and the fact that once enchanted, the viewer will then take a lifetime revisiting their art and pondering its meaning. 

In the art world, we are told to be tolerant of any old rubbish posing as art and damned as philistines if we object. We are told that contemporary art is all about the free exchange of ideas, challenging orthodoxy’s, and the freedom of expression. Yet anyone who challenges the orthodoxy of contemporary art is damned as a philistine or in the case of the art critic Brian Sewell - they try to get you sacked from your job! In the art world, you are only free to say how amazing contemporary artists, and their curators and collectors are. 

The trouble with so much of the art I see, is just how easy it is to think up and make. It is an old superstition that Modern artists are con men. This is very unfair to the handful of truly original and serious artists in the world. Nevertheless, if one wanted to be a con artist in the art world, it would not be that hard, since like the claims of religious gurus the subjective claims of artistic gurus are made indisputable by rules of etiquette and the nature of both religion and art which are both completely unproveable. However, the real problem with most artists is that they are self-deluded, they think their art is very serious and important, but they do not realize how technically incompetent, uninspired, unoriginal and stupid they actually are in historical terms. Perversely, I have found that even though they have no problem criticizing me - the minute I make any criticism of them they run!

So personally, I feel no loyalty towards other artists, even those who have influenced me. I have experienced few expressions of friendship from those I admire and naturally even less from those I critique, so if you want a friend in the art world, get a dog! There is not an artist dead or alive, that I cannot find fault with, especially myself. As a youth, I had an idealized vision of other artistic geniuses and the importance of art, however, today I am utterly disillusioned and cynical of most artists and the whole alternative religion of art. The perfect artist has never been born, so no artist is immune to criticism or debate (though naïve artists seem to think they are) and since there are no objective standards to art it is just a matter of opinion and taste.  

My real disillusionment with art, set in 1998, when I realised that I was never going to be as great as Picasso and I painted my I am a Failed Artist painting. I was also dispirited and bewildered by my constant rejections from the art world. Then reading nihilistic books on art like What is Art? by Tolstoy, and collections of scathing art reviews by Robert Hughes and Brian Sewell I had my illusions about art shattered. After years of demonisation and rejection, in late 2005, I used my art criticism as revenge upon the Irish art world. But within a few years, I felt ashamed of my hate filled prose. Meanwhile, I also redeveloped my conception of myself as a uber expressive artist and explored the history of Expressionism and Neo-Expressionism in multiple texts. When my mother died in January 2009, my whole world fell apart, and over the following twelve years I suffered acute grief, and multiple psychological and sexual breakdowns. Between 2009-2015, I also stopped painting porn and tried to make myself an acceptable artist, and although I achieved a singular coup with my sale of 54 artworks to an American collector from 2010-2011 – I continued to be shunned by the larger art world. Even though I managed to stop painting porn for years – I was even more psychologically disturbed and self-loathing that I had been when I painted porn. So, I returned to painting porn, but this time, many of my porn paintings were filled with acute sadness, and shame. I also repeatedly read the extremely pessimistic philosopher E.M. Cioran, embraced nihilism, and totally lost faith in art - seeing it as a fantasy world of fake culture, and civilization of lies. Meanwhile, I increasingly identified myself as an Anarchistic Libertarian and came to loath left-wing, Liberal and Feminist dogmatic brainwashing in the media.

In the last week of November 2005, I started posting blogs on my art and reviews of exhibitions I had seen in Dublin and abroad. I was thirty-four before I decided to write critical blogs about exhibitions I had seen. I had not started publicly criticizing other artists work, until the age of thirty-four, and after a lifetime of verbal abuse, criticism, and rejection of my own work. The art elite had marginalised me, isolated me, and denied me any opportunity to show my work, build a reputation, or make any money from my art. Then I saw how other talentless, conformist artists were treated, and the way doors were opened for them, discussions had, friendships formed, compromises worked out, and deals made, whereas I was mostly just bluntly shown the door - with the upmost distain. During the noughties, while watching the exhibition programs of the various art galleries and museums in Dublin, the penny finally dropped, they would never give me a chance! They would dig up dead artists and exhibit them, they would give exhibitions to artists ten years younger than me, they would invite foreign artists to exhibit, they would give exhibitions to any artist abroad with an Irish connection, and they would give exhibitions to female artists, gay artists, outsider artists, amateurs, and children – but they would never touch my art with a bargepole! Because to them I was not even an artist - I was a filthy maniac and pervert. Consumed with a toxic stew of grievance and ambition, I became more and more entrenched in my darkest fears. So, I developed a very biased and blinkered view of the world. My writing was not just an expression of my frustration with my failure as an artist, but an expression of my absolute disgust with how the art world worked. What was the point of being part of a profession, that in practice had no fair and objective measures by which an artist could be judged? A Gen-X, hardcore critic, I did not write blogs to get published or make a career as a commentator, because I was as dismissive of most art writers as I was about artists. I just wanted to speak truth to the hype and bullshit of the art world. Perversely the more I wrote my art blogs and tore down other people’s art (because I had never been given their opportunities) the less I felt I had any place in the art world. I was making career suicide by blog post. But the more I crystalized my thoughts on art and understood more how the real art world worked, as opposed to the Hollywood fantasy I had grown up with - the less I cared that they did not want my art.

Besides what did I have to lose by speaking my mind about the art world? What were they going to do to me? Continue to bar me from Art Colleges? Continued to not give me any grants? Continue not to exhibit my art? Continue not writing about my art? Continue not to collect my work? Continue to not invite me to their dinner parties? 

At first, such writing was merely the kinds of things I would later cut and paste into my autobiography The Panic Artist. However, because of the very positive reactions I received from readers of my blog, I started to use these posts as a means of advertising my art and getting people to visit my website. It is a common quip of those in power, that online critics would not have the courage to say what they say in real life. Sadly, for me that is untrue, I have spent my life telling people in the art world what I think of them! Of course, it has not done my career any good! 

My most intense period of writing art reviews was from late 2005 to 2009, and it was also the period when I took most pleasure in writing negative art reviews. From 2010, as I became increasingly reclusive and anti-social, my art reviews became more sporadic, and concentrated on artists I admired or found engaging. By late 2019, I became sick to death of writing art reviews on exhibitions, and I concentrated on much longer essays on artists and subjects that really interested me. I continued to see exhibitions that were important to me, but I no longer wanted to waste my time describing another artist’s work or trying to understand their oeuvres. In fact, I felt deeply sorry for contemporary art critics condemned to spend their whole life writing about the mostly meaningless rubbish in art galleries.   

Few artists have been foolish enough to become art critics, it alienates one’s peers, leads to accusations of biased self-interest and can stultify one’s own natural creativity. Writing (even after twenty-eight years) remains my second love, something I do when I have run out of art materials, or want to explain and justify my art, or try to give shape to my feelings about the art of others, not something I pursue as an art in itself. This is not to say that I do not gain great pleasure from writing – I do. Nor is it to say that I do not put a lot of work into it – I do. However, it is nothing compared to the high I get after producing a great artwork. 

Hypocrisy is a constant fault in polemical art criticism like my own. It is entirely possible to find fault with the talent, technique, or temperament of one artist, yet praise another artist with similar faults, but other gifts, or hate something in someone else’s art that is a prominent feature in your own work. So, if I were to try to avoid hypocrisy in my writings, I would probably never write about anyone including myself!

I am not a man of much formal education, since I virtually left school at sixteen. I am not an art historian and I have no scholarly basis for my knowledge in art (what I know is self-taught.) I have never taken an exam in my life, and I failed my first and only year in Dun Laoghaire Art College, Co. Dublin. I even got an E on my one and only essay written in Art College, on Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, a task I found pointless since I had never seen the painting in the flesh and knew enough about Cubism to know I could not do justice to that seminal painting at the age of nineteen and within a few weeks! I am a dyslexic, with chronically bad spelling and a knowledge of grammar that is just as bad. So, I had to teach myself so many different things in the process of writing and made every mistake in the book in the process. Another problem I had with writing critical blogs was trying to avoid the trap of moralizing which seems built into all forms of criticism, but which I loathe because I know morals change constantly throughout history. So, I tried to make a virtue of my own moral questioning. 

When I was in school, my dim-witted attempts at analysing literature were mediocre. However, I often received very high marks (A’s and B’s) in my imaginative essays, it was not something I had to work hard at, I seemed to have a talent and passion for it. However, I had no need for these skills until 1994 when I chose to write a brief manifesto on my art. Early versions of these texts were easy to write, in a blunt, aggressive, hyperbolic, and theoretical style devoid of traditional prose virtues. But as I moved on to write my autobiography, I began to realize just how crude my prose was in comparison to great writers on art like; John Richardson, Robert Hughes, Brian Sewell, Will Durant, Hilton Kramer, Harold Rosenberg or Ernst Gombrich.

I quickly realized that it was not good enough to have all the facts, one had to present them in a manner that would grip the reader. I still remember how I had to teach myself the most basic elements of writing, how to start a sentence, how to shape a paragraph, how to use similes and metaphors and how to shape a story! In learning all, this realized how much intelligence and learning art critics brought to contemporary art works, that often did not merit it. 

For over twenty-five years, I have been obsessed with art criticism, not only in terms of how it affects my work, but also in how it shapes the prestige of other artists. For me knowledge equal’s power. All my life, I have intensively studied areas of knowledge, where I feel most powerless and bewildered. So, at sixteen I read Feminist and pornographic texts to understand women. At twenty, I read psychiatric books to understand myself and the actions of my psychiatrists, and at the age of about twenty-three, I began to intensively read art critics to understand my own art and critics appraisals of others. From 1994-1998, I had written about myself in megalomaniacal and hagiographical manner. But slowly, as I read more and more art criticism, as my art career flopped, my rejections mounted, and the abuse I received increased, I became hyper critical of everything about my myself and art. I preferred to lay myself low before anyone else did. And as I became increasing mentally unbalanced from cannabis psychosis my self-loathing knew no bounds. I imagined that a tribunal of hanging art critics stood in wait - to cut all my pretensions to shreds. Because of my grandiose sense of my own importance, I thought that I would receive the same kind of critical scrutiny of the Old Masters, van Gogh, Picasso, Schiele, Schnabel, and Basquiat, and tried to imagine what Brian Sewell or Robert Hughes might say about my work! So, I have lived my life holding myself to the highest critical standards and made my life a misery. Meanwhile, I have seen so many other artists, happily filled with their own sense of self-importance, who think that everything they make is brilliant! Yet, in many ways, my self-criticism was fatal for my art, robbing me of all ambition, self-esteem, or love for my art. Critics may criticise the inflated egos of many artists, but it is only the delusions of most artists that allows them to carry on despite all setbacks. (By the way, my study of psychiatry made me realise that they had a label for everything - but they could cure practically nothing. And Feminists I learned, envied men everything, and hated men - but wanted to take everything men had created and make it their own!)

The whole basis of my artistic rants and critiques, could be described as swimming against the tide. I delight in looking at the forgotten or undervalued, I loathe the work of the popular. Whether they are musicians, novelists, filmmakers, or artists, I like to discover them unburdened by hype or groupthink. If they break through to widespread acclaim, I typically stop bothering about them. Besides, time and time again, art history has proved that few artists can do better than their first album, novel, or exhibition. History also proves in my view, that success can be as fatal for an artist as poverty and neglect. Moreover, having studied the history of art criticism, I have found that the most telling criticisms of artists, usually come early in their careers when the novelty of their vision, really causes shock to reviewers. But if artists survive this initial critical bombardment and achieve success, by their old age all they receive is thoughtless sycophantic praise.  

For me old-fashioned values like drawing, brushwork, colour, composition, and expression are the keys to a painting or drawings value. I admire artists who know their craft and have real skills, because only then do their iconoclastic experimentations have any real validity. But connoisseurship and artistic standards have become so debased today, that a crass incompetent like the Conceptual Expressionist Tracey Emin can be made a professor of drawing at the Royal Academy of Arts and be praised by a fatuous art critic like Jonathan Jones in The Guardian for her abilities and tenure! And to add insult to injury Emin can be given an exhibition like Tracey Emin/Egon Schiele: Where I want to Go in which her dire epileptic scribbles are hung alongside the work of one of the greatest draughtsmen of the twentieth century! But even a ten year old Schiele would have be appalled at how bad Emin’s drawings were. Emin the ‘draughtsperson’ was a symptom of contemporary art colleges where serious drawing had been abandoned in the mid-1970s, and there was far too much expressive drawing, and far too little academic drawing. Emin and her peers looked at the quick drawings of Rodin, Klimt, Schiele, and Picasso, and they desperately wanted to emulate that kind of spontaneity and freedom. But they did not understand just how much academic drawing was required for years even decades, before such artists could draw so freely, and at the same time so accurately.  However, Emin lacked any natural talent, skill, or originality, and her work only meant something, if you read the accompanying hagiographical curatorial text on the wall plaque. But if you did not buy in to her post-Feminist martyrdom then the work was worthless junk. 

I remember a time when it was considered gauche to ask an artist what their work meant. Modernist artists did not make art with sound-bite answers but rather posed endless questions, most of all to themselves. But today, it is hard to find any art that does not already come packaged with its own infomercial of ideas, symbolism, and socio-political agenda. Since art is the new religion in the West, it seems we are awash with artists who are not just making video and performance pieces, they are educating people, healing people, and ending war, famine, racism, sexism, and ecological destruction etc. The main thing though, is it makes them look like important and morally admirable human beings! So, buy their art!

In fact, we seem to have gone back to a very Victorian notion of art as a didactic lesson for the moral improvement of the masses. Since the noughties art has become nothing more than the yelps of identity, wealthy exhibitionism, virtue signalling and politically correct clichés. Since no one has had a major original idea in art since the early 1970s, everything is just a repackaging of gimmicks. So, it has become more important who made the work, and do they look glamorous and hot, or are they related to or friends with rich famous people, or are they battling some form of discrimination or social injustice.

But I think less about ideas, symbolism, and agitprop, and in fact, I tend to be repelled by art that tries to tell me something directly or is just about an idea or concept. I loathe politics and religion for the same reasons. I am always looking for more unspoken insights from art. So, the only new painters in the last twenty-five years I have admired have been Luc Tuymans, Adrian Ghenie and Hernan Bas, even if their art means little to my own practice.

I do not believe in artistic schools, even Realism or Expressionism, they are convenient for telling a story, but usually self-deluding fabrications of artists and historians looking for an easy summery of events. Most groups are headed by one or two men of genius - and a company of opportunistic mediocrities. The history of art is really the story of great men and a few great women, some because of the lack of written records we do not know by name, but their efforts are unmistakable. The great artist is both the culmination of civilization and its projection forward into places unknown, the expression of his culture, and its extraordinary anomaly of greatness. So, I believe in artists, not schools, individual genius not art. All artists ask the viewer to go on a journey with them, yet most are not even worth leaving the house for! But when you find true greatness, you are willing to go to the ends of the earth for it!

Uncool though it maybe, I take art criticism very seriously, and it forms a huge part of my life. Art is judged not only by sales and media interest but also in the amount of commentary and analysis it fosters. Because so much of my artistic life has been lived in isolation with few peers and almost no audience, art criticism has been crucial for my own self-education and self-criticism. Even when I read about artists whose work has very little to do with how I make art, I can find issues that also concern me and weaknesses that worry me about my own work. So, for me reading art criticism is a form of therapeutic self-analysis as much as a study of art history.

I probably have about two or three art books on the go at any one time, and also read a half dozen newspaper, art magazine or catalogue essays a week. But only a tiny fraction of this writing ever strikes me as an honest and scrupulous analysis of the art and its relative quality. Most of it is publicity, promotion, hype, or dull-witted hackwork. However, I suppose that it is so pervasive because art criticism has become so irrelevant. Today, unlike the early 1960s when the likes of Clement Greenberg dominated the art world, art criticism has little or no effect on the sales or careers of art stars, because the art world system is as effective as a political party in courting and deluding the wealthy with advertisements, zeitgeist propaganda, theoretical-spin, and sales talk. So, the art world does not rise and fall on the opinion of critics, it rests on the opening of the check books of the rich, who reduce art to a ‘who’s in and whose out’ tracking of fads and fashions.

There are many kinds of writing in art; the Art College thesis, the catalogue essay, the newspaper review, the art magazine article, the art book aimed at the general reader, the historical text aimed at experts in the field and the theoretical book aimed at the academic. By the age of fifty-one, I thought I had read every kind of art writing. But in fact, I had left one crucial one out! Art dictionaries! I had read the dictionary of artists at the back of my Heron History of Art books which I had loved. And I had read Art a Companion Guide by Robert Cumming which had been one of my favourite books and quick source of information on artists. But I thought Art a Companion Guide was a unique kind of book! I must confess that because I had no formal training in art history, I had no idea that there was a whole genre of dictionaries and companion guides to art with quickly accessed fact and answers to key questions! So, for years when I would write about artists in my blogs, I would have to wade through monographs, catalogues, and press reviews for information! And I rarely used Wikipedia, because I did not trust its sources, and I always double checked its facts. So, I was basically running a marathon every time I wrote a blog - when professional critics armed with dictionaries and companion guides took a sprint! However, in late August 2022, I discovered art dictionaries of which A Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Art and The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists instantly became two of my favourite art books!

As a self-made intellectual, I remember dearly all the authors who educated me in my youth like; Harold Rosenberg, John Berger, David Sylvester, Robert Hughes, Donald Kuspit, Camille Paglia, Leo Tolstoy, Brian Sewell, Will Durant, Mathew Collings, Kenneth Clark, Robert Cumming, Julian Spalding, Julian Stallbrass, Ernst Gombrich and Hilton Kramer. I still to this day continue to read them simply for the pleasure of relearning their opinions and the delight of their prose.

The greatest art critics like Robert Hughes, make sense of the maze of art history and contemporary art, and provide reasons to value certain artists and reasons why one should be sceptical of others. Even if I don’t agree with their opinions or their taste (which I often do not), I can always take lessons from them. 

This is not the place for me to list every author and book on art I have ever read. But I must mention the importance of the Heron History of Art in twenty-seven volumes (though we only had twenty volumes because my father died before he could complete the collection), and I read and re-read all the volumes from Gothic Painting to Surrealism. Jacques Lassaigne introduced me to Impressionism, Michel-Claude Jalard introduced me to Post-Impressionism, Raymond Cogniat introduced me to Romanticism and Michel Ragon introduced me to Expressionism. The beauty of their writing, their wisdom and connoisseurship, not only made me fascinated about art, but it also befriended me in my solitary and lonely youth. I have still to this day not read better writing about art and it hurts me that art today and especially art writing has become so elitist, obscure, and contemptuous of the common man.

Today’s artists and writers are educated to a level previously unheard of in the past, but they have lost much of their humanity in the process. Today’s art writers wear their education arrogantly and are so desperate to befuddle their university peers that they have lost the common touch. Painters and writers of the past may not have been as intellectual as us, but their art and writing had a humanity and meaning we lack today. After my mother’s death in 2009 (when I suffered a nervous breakdown that was a combination of grief and cannabis induced psychosis after a decade of smoking to numb my pain - on top of my longstanding depression and borderline personality disorder) I found myself buying monographs in the Crown Art Library series which were written by similar French writers to the ones I had known from my Heron History of Art books. They wrote poetically about artists as courageous individualists and existential heroes, before art history had been taken over by impersonal Formalism, camp irony, Western guilt and shame, multi-culturalism, Feminism and before left-wing Liberalism had assaulted the prestige of individualism, especially if it was the individualism of white, Western, males. And before totalitarian curators and historians had reduced artists to merely disposable subjects. Besides you could not write about artistic suffering after the 1970s in the West because so many artists profited from an engorged academic world, artistic social welfare provided by governments, and a bloated art market. The wonderful French writers in the Crown Art Library collection wrote about artists as though they were secular saints, and when I was at my most hopeless, their lives gave me courage to keep on going. In fact, throughout my life, the lives of my artistic heroes have meant as much to me in my solitary vocation, as the lives of the Saints have to Catholics. And the more hopeless I have felt about my own life and art, the more I have been drawn to the tragic lives of artists, from van Gogh to Kirchner, Pollock, and Basquiat. Their lives remind me that they too suffered for their art.

So, it should come as no surprise that one of my favourite forms of art writing has been artists biographies. It is a genre that was first established by Giorgio Vasari in the Renaissance whose Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects created the foundation of art history and was replete with gossipy stores about the great artists of the day. Vasari understood the public’s interest in the lives and psychology of artists who they could not fathom. Artist biographies are still one on the biggest sellers amongst art books, but they are looked down upon by academics obsessed with theory, and they put the fear of God into art world insiders, who do not want the real workings of the art world exposed. I have often found art such a sad, lonely, and alienated practice, that I have frequently turned to the lives of artists I admire, as a source of inspiration and courage. But, because one can suffer from comparing yourself to an idol, I have also delighted in seeing their human failings exposed!

In December 1991, I bought and became obsessed with Picasso: A Life by John Richardson. It became my constant bedside companion. I filled it with notes, underlining, underlining of older underlining, numbering of paintings, the age of Picasso when paintings were made and so on. This book more than any other shaped the course of my life. I still consider it the greatest biography on an artist ever written, far out in front of my other favourites like:  Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art by Phoebe Hoban, The Shameful Life of Salvador Dalí by Ian Gibson, Modigliani: The Pure Bohemian by June Rose, Augustus John: The New Biography by Michael Holroyd, Edvard Munch: Behind The Scream by Sue Prideaux, Picasso: A Biography by Patrick O’Brian, Balthus: A Biography by Nicholas Fox Weber, Jackson Pollock: An American Saga by Naifeh & Smith, Van Gogh: The Life also by Naifeh & Smith, Bernard Buffet: The Invention of the First Mega-Artist by Nicholas Foulkes, Goya by Robert Hughes, Rembrandt’s Eyes by Simon Schama, De Kooning: An American Master by Mark Stevens & Annalyn Swan, Paul Gauguin: A Complete Life by David Sweetman, Toulouse-Lautrec and the Fin de Siecle also by David Sweetman, Portrait of Picasso as a Young Man by Norman Mailer, Picasso: His Life and Work by Roland Penrose, The Love of Many Things: A Life of Vincent Van Gogh by David Sweetman, The Eye of God: A Life of Oscar Kokoschka by Susanne Keegan, Duchamp: A Biography by Calvin Tomkins and Picasso: Creator and Destroyer by Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington. My delight in reading the lives of great artists even inspired me to write my own autobiography. The art of biography is more about the quality of one’s prose and ability to tell a story than knowledge of art theory or historical facts. Just compare the writing of John Richardson with his assistant Marilyn McCully, to see the difference between an engaging writer who can turn mere factual details into a scintillating story, and a dutiful historian who can only restate tedious facts.

Although one might assume that the purpose of art criticism is to impart an aesthetic judgement on art and artists. In fact, often art criticism is just another form of moral judgement on the art and lives of artists. Usually, this moralism is a smug bourgeois kind of morality though it can also be a bitter envious socialist one too. And the more famous, successful, and notorious an artist is, the greater the chance that critics will indulge in personal attacks and moral judgements on them. 

Apart from newspaper reviews which I devoured all my life, I was also an avid buyer of art magazines in my youth. Late in 1986, I started to buy the Irish art magazine Circa. Founded in Belfast in 1982, Circa was the specialist academic magazine for art in Ireland written by Irish historians, art critics and artists. I never liked Circa very much because it was mostly black and white, with poor quality reproductions and its texts were pretentious, left-wing and obscure. Circa’s style was academic (verging at times on the school report), analytical and sociological. It was anti-patriarchal, anti-colonial, anti-racist, anti-misogynist but pro Feminism, gay, new media, public art, and social statement. Having witnessed on my TV, over a decade of slaughter in Northern Ireland, I looked cynically at the Nationalist and Unionist political art that featured so heavily in Circa magazine and found it incredibly ugly and often criminally ambiguous in its relationship to the terrorists. Similarly, I found the socialist art featured constantly in Circa obnoxious, unsightly, and depressing. Many of its writers sounded like a weird hybrid of a sanctimonious school mistress, moralising Bishop, angry socialist worker and sneering Parisian left-bank intellectual wannabe. Because in the 1980s, Neo-Expressionist painting in Ireland was the dominant style in public and private galleries, Circa had to review far more Neo-Expressionist art than it wanted to. Leading to Neo-Expressionism being slated nine times out of ten in the pages of Circa. From the start I loathed this magazine, where academics using lengthy, convoluted, jargon-filled prose, tried to give meaning to the largely unoriginal, mediocre, and irrelevant contemporary art of Ireland. While shockingly failing to recognize the elephants in the room of quality and originality. Moreover, their blindness to anything not definable as cutting-edge and their incestuous promoting of their ex-NCAD classmates drove me mad with rage.

In 1989, I started buying Modern Painters magazine and by the early 1990s it was my favourite art magazine. I loved Modern Painters because of the attention it paid to painters and sculptors with traditional skills, Modernist and Old Masters, the clarity and intelligence of its prose, its respect for the whole history of art, and not just the latest fads and fashions, and the quality of its writers like Mathew Collings, Tom Lubbock, Brian Sewell, David Sylvester, and Hilton Kramer. It had been founded in 1988, by Peter Fuller who had transformed from a left-wing fan of John Berger into a critic of Berger and then into a Conservative reactionary appalled by Post-Modernism, new media, the dumbing down of art and the rampant art market. Of all the art magazines I read, the early editions of Modern Painters most accurately represented my views on art, though I of course wanted to take traditional skills and use them to produce highly personal, insane, and obscene work, which none of the Modern Painters writers would have approved of.

Meanwhile, I also bought many other art magazines like Artforum, Art in America, Flash Art and Parkett all of which I enjoyed, though I tended to only buy them if there was a particular artist I admired or was interested in, who was featured. Sadly, by the turn of the millennium I found myself alienated by most of the contemporary art being produced, so stopped buying most art magazines. However, carrying on my research into the Neo-Expressionist period from around 1978-1985, I raided the NCAD library from September 2007 to June 2014 and photocopied countless pages from magazines like Artforum, Art in America, Flash Art and my favourite discovery Arts Magazine which contained some of the best polemics against Neo-Expressionism I had ever read because they were so personal.

In 2016, as part of my on-going study of the Neo-Expressionist period, I subscribed to the English art magazine Art Monthly because the subject was extensively covered in its archives. I knew Art Monthly was a left-wing magazine populated and aimed at polytechnic academics in England, but I was frankly astonished by the vitriol with which they attacked Julian Schnabel and the Neo-Expressionists and by how much they judged the quality of art by the extent of its Marxist attack on established values. It was also funny to see a Marxist like Peter Fuller slowly turn into a conservative reactionary – though I enjoyed both sides of his polemics. But the cesspit of Marxist politics in the early 1980s only further served to add to my contempt for so much of the art inspired by this politics of envy. The left-wing may have droned on endlessly about the inequity of the world (real, imagined, or symbolic), but their sheer nastiness and hostility towards anyone who did not toe the party line, told its own story about their character. Most of these socialist artists and intellectuals deplored anyone who had success, and they lived to make successful artists feel guilty for their success. They were ethically strangulating, and only admired artists who had even less charisma, talent, and success than themselves. As Camille Pagila Observed: “The problem with the Marxist approaches that now permeate academe (via post-structuralism and the Frankfurt school) is that Marxism sees nothing beyond society. Marxism lacks a metaphysics – that is, an investigation of man’s relationship to the universe, including nature. Marxism also lacks a psychology; it believes that human beings are motivated only by material needs and desires. Marxism cannot account for the infinite refractions of human consciousness, aspirations, and achievement. Because it does not perceive the spiritual dimension of life, Marxism reflexively reduces art to ideology, as if the art object has no other purpose or meaning beyond the economic or political… To admire and honor art, except when it conveys politically correct messages, is regarded as naive and reactionary.” (Camille Paglia, Introduction, Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars, New York: Vintage Books, 2013, P.XI.)

These Marxists polytechnic lecturers sought to combat the relentless and remorseless drive of biology, human nature, and logic of capitalism through endless theory, and hoped to surreptitiously change laws in their favour. But under Marxism we would all be reduced to servitude and dismal equality. Totalitarian socialists could bring in any laws they wanted to, but they could not stop the way people thought or felt, or changed human nature except by force, which was the ultimate threat used constantly by the left. Marxists despised the freedom of the bourgeoisie and the decadence of Modern Art, yet the art they offered as an alternative like Russian Constructivism, Socialist Realism, Conceptualism, The Pictures Generation or Identity and Woke Art, was abysmal crap that fetishized its own lack of talent, skill, and charisma. 

More importantly, I could not think of any profession less in touch with real people than narcissistic, egotistical artists, who were really just self-employed entrepreneurs trying to get rich and famous by making handicrafts and virtue signalling. They simultaneous declared their love and concern for humanity, while grabbing every scholarship, grant, or tenured position they could from the state and at the same time hung around at openings like prostitutes trying to catch the eye of rich dealers and collectors. Moreover, anyone who really knows the dog-eat-dog art world, knows just how rare it is for artists to help other artists.

A few months later, I subscribed to Artforum, so that I could have access to their archive which also extensively covered the period of Neo-Expressionism. Apart from notable exceptions like Rene Ricard and Thomas Lawson, I was very unimpressed by the quality of writing in Artforum which I found too verbose, obscure and actually revolted by art and artists. The writers of Artforum wrote like politicians of the aesthetic, declaring what was approved and disapproved form, and what psychological traits had been superseded by intellectual reason. It was pious nonsense written by people who thought they were more elevated artistically, morally, and psychologically than the plebs. So much of the writing was about ideas, not experiences with art, and reflections upon those experiences. But it was not the almost unreadable text in Artforum that mattered, it was the 70% of the rest of the publication made up of glossy adverts for art galleries and the artists they represented! The schizophrenic paradox of these left-wing writers was, that they depended upon an art world founded upon art as the ultimate capitalist commodity, to fund and give a platform for their critique.

When in the early 1970’s, Harold Rosenberg described the new education of artists, that stressed research, over manual ability, or talent, he noted that: “Begin by explaining a single contemporary painting (and the more apparently empty of content it is the better), and if you continue describing it you will find yourself touching on more subjects to investigate – philosophical, social, political, historical, scientific, psychological – than are needed for an academic degree.” (Harold Rosenberg, The De-definition of Art: Action Art to Pop to Earthworks, Educating Artists, New York: Collier Books, 1973, P. 48.) Unfortunately, Rosenberg was right not only about artists, but about art critics to come like those of Artforum. Although with patience, I could read and understand all of the philosophical, sociological, political and psychoanalytical references made in Artforum essays, I found it a headache, and I did not think that many of the artists or artworks deserved such metaphysical or political speculation. Years before, when I used to smoke a lot of hashish, I was fond of writing such philosophical rubbish, but I had re-written or deleted most of it later. Such grandiose interpretations of art, that sought to show off in every paragraph, everything these young writers had learned in their Liberal Arts Colleges, struck me as pretentiously sophomoric. The greatest difference between Artforum writers and say Robert Hughes or Hilton Kramer was that the Artforum writers felt the need to filter all their judgements through Marxist, Feminist, Post-Structuralist and Psychoanalytical approved group think, whereas Hughes and Kramer prized the authority of their personal opinions based upon a lifetime of connoisseurship. Personally, I found the constant left-wing bitching of Artforum grating, and thought most of these writers would have been better off taking their commercial, political, sociological, Feminist, and moral grievances somewhere else. But where else, but the art world, could they go? Finally, the overall impression I had of the New York art world in the early 1980s seen through the eyes of Artforum, was of a bitchy, envious, back-biting (yet glamorous) cesspit of competing egos, styles, reputations, and generations, all fighting for column inches and ultimately immortality, where artworks were just the tickets of entry to this snobbish, sadomasochistic club.

Perversely, it was my study of the history of Neo-Expressionism which was so lambasted by left-wing intellectuals, that made me realise just how intolerantly and dogmatically left-wing most in the art world were, and how quick they were to label anyone who disagreed with them or did not fit their model of art as Nazis! This was only confirmed to me by the age of social media where so many left-wing artistic people felt the need to ram their political views down my timeline. 

As a boy I was fascinated by Margret Thatcher who I thought was a revolutionary needed to end the malaise in Britain under the Labour party. But I was never a fan of Ronald Regan who I thought was a moron, though in retrospect I thought he was one of the best American Presidents. For decades I ignored Irish politics, because I despaired at how backward our society was. Most of my youth and twenties, I was a non-voting anarchist. Though I initially admired Tony Blair, I was later disgusted by him after the Iraq war (which I had went on my one and only protest march to stop), his open door policy of immigration from Europe, and his ultimate destruction of the British economy. In 2011, I had supported the Irish Labour Party who had said they were going to stand up to the EU and banks and famously declared it would be either, “Frankfurt’s way or Labours way!” It was Frankfurt’s way!  And to add insult to injury, Joan Burton who had moaned for years about social injustice, became head of the Social Welfare and took delight in cutting social welfare benefits and chasing down the petty cheaters of the Irish welfare system, while forcing all of us to pay for the billions in gambling debt, of a tiny elite who were never made pay for what they had done to Ireland. It was socialism for the rich and capitalism for the rest of us. Personally, I felt the laws of capitalism should have been obeyed, and the banks who had lent recklessly, forced to go bust. It was around then that I stopped watching the Irish news because the sight of Irish politicians began to make me feel so angry and disgusted.

It so happens that I am the least macho man you could possibly imagine, and I am far more of a liberal than a conservative, so, I listen to BBC Radio 4, the BBC World Service, NPR, Times Radio, and watched BBC News, and Channel Four News. I have tried listening to Fox Radio and it makes my skin crawl. But for the last decade I have been infuriated by the constant stream of liberal left-wing propaganda on mainstream media. Growing up in the 1980s, I had delighted in the culture wars and the battles for free speech, expression and sexuality and the destruction of the Christian, Conservative and right-wing ideology of the West. I had foolishly though that with the complete discrediting of Catholicism and the Conservative far right, I had seen the end of hypocritical, moralistic lying about human nature. But the vacuum left by traditional morality, was taken over by left-wing progressive Liberals who turned life into a politically-correct minefield. Using the idea of progressive morality, they acknowledged the evil of the world, but then claimed that through new laws and re-education they could make people behave correctly. I realized that the left had become as authoritarian as the old conservative forces, I had happily raged against as a teenager. I suddenly understood the expression “give an inch and they take a mile”. It seemed that the most Liberal society in history was not enough for the left, they had to manufacture new complaints and annihilate anything that did not conform to their ‘progressive’ ideology. It is typical of extremists to deny the authority of the past, they want us to start again at year zero, as though our ancestors knew nothing, and everything they did know was wrong. But any student of history knows that past civilizations have achieved things we could never do again, produced things we could never make again, and thought deeply about things we understand nothing of today. The shutdown of free speech in American and European universities by the loony left and the creation of safe zones for snowflakes who are confronted with ideas and opinions that triggered their Liberal sensitivity infuriated me. What was next? Snowflake art students demanding the closure of the museums because they made them feel inadequate! So, by 2012, I realized that Liberalism had not only become triumphant, but it also now sought to silence any debate, and I found myself nauseated, because I valued honest debates.

The problem I had with Liberal controlled debates in the 2010s was the same as I had with conservative controlled debates in the 1980s, most public debates on morality on TV are fixed by fear. The likelihood of true, socially damaging honesty is tiny. Few sane people are willing to express opinions which run counter to moral cant or confess moral transgressions that might lead to social humiliation, condemnation, or worse still, the loss of their jobs, legal action, or imprisonment. Likewise, few people in such competitive debates, are willing to lose points by confessing the flaws in their own arguments, or their own hypocrisy, or moral failings. So, the staging of such moral debates is inherently dishonest and coercive.            

From 1980-2012, I had applauded the decriminalization of homosexuality, gay and lesbian rights and gay marriage, but then came along transsexual rights. Which I at first was indifferent to at best to. How many transgender people were there in the population, a tiny fraction, so why had it become an issue that the Democratic party chose to highlight? By 2017 when schools in England started letting boys come to school in dresses, when little boys and girls were encouraged to be whatever sexuality they wanted to be, despite not having even reached puberty, when debates were had that we should remove the terms boy and girl or man and woman. I frankly had had it! For me identity politics had become decadent and toxic. I had no dog in the Trans fight, I never supported the abuse or discrimination of Trans people. But I did not think you could change a shared communal language to suit a tiny minority. I also thought Trans women were not real women because they did not have a uterus, though many I had seen online looked more beautiful than many women! Though I thought that it was highly ironic that after spending decades deconstructing everything about masculinity, patriarchy, femininity, and heterosexuality, Feminists were apoplectic with rage that some men decided that they had been born in the wrong bodies and they were in fact women! Second-wave Feminists suddenly defended femininity in a way they never had before! And I laughed my ass off! Witnessing the hysteria and witch-hunt of the #MeToo campaign in late 2017, where women without any corroborating evidence - called out men for sexual harassment and threw out centuries of law and the principal that one was innocent until proved guilty - in favour of mob attacks on public figures - made me nauseous. Even though I was shocked by the disgusting and perverted behaviour of many men, I did not like lynch mobs of any stripe or cause.

It seems to me that since September 9/11, everything in the world has changed drastically for the worse. We have had terrorist attacks, wars, economic collapses, environmental disaster, animal extinctions, political extremism, and the COVID-19 epidemic. Its seems like we are living in an increasingly chaotic and senseless world - near its end. Unfortunately, I have always been a news addict and so I have spent much of the last thirty plus years watching the rolling news channels. But it has deeply traumatised, angered and dispirited me. So much so, that I must ration how much I watch and avoid certain channels that trigger me. When I was growing up, TV simply gave facts, but today news is totally manipulated by politics and ‘news reporters’ who spend more time giving opinions than establishing facts with reason and proportion. News channels have also become moralistic bully-pulpits for activist journalists and political hacks who have no compassion, empathy, or forgiveness. Now every time, I watch the news, I must remember try to imagine what the politics of the journalist is, watch the framing of the narrative, watch what subjects they devote most of their time covering, who they really give a hard cross-examination to, and who they throw easy questions to. But all the time I watch the news, regardless of the channel I am watching, I feel like I am being manipulated. It especially seems that I woke up some day in the twenty-tens and a Woke agenda and extreme left-wing Liberal bias had taken over virtually every news channel I watched or listened to. Had I missed some meeting? Who had decided upon this?

In 2009, if I was American, I would have voted for Barack Obama, but I did not see him as the second coming of the messiah as so many libtards did, even before he had done anything, because to them identity politics was everything! Then the Liberal establishment gave the Nobel Peace Prize within a month to Barack Obama for just getting elected president, because he was half-black! A month for a prize - others had worked a lifetime to achieve! 

Meanwhile, seeing the likes of Pussy Riot praised for their art and activism and featured constantly in news programs I realised talent had nothing to do with how art was used in the West in the twenty-tens. Pussy Riot may have been courageous, but they were completely talentless. 

The paralysis by analysis of the Liberals and left was highlighted for me by the directionless Occupy Wall-Street movement that could easily identify all they felt was wrong with capitalism - but they could not put forward any credible alternative. While the impotence of a protest group like Occupy Wall Street was laughable, the impotence of Western governments with regards to The Great Recession, the slaughter in the Middle East, and immigration was terrifying and tragic. 

For years, I had loved the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, (the first fake news program I was aware of), especially when he was mocking George W. Bush, who I had thought at the time was the worst president in history (in fact he was just the first of many rotten leaders in the West). But I had hoped that when Barack Obama was elected that this satirical program would have the courage to be equally critical of Obama. Fat chance! There was no critique or mocking of Obama, instead Stewart fawned over Obama and the Democrats and started doing more and more speeches to the camera that sounded less like jokes and more like rants. So, I stopped watching, because I suddenly realized that satire and deconstruction was just something the left did to attack the right, and they never turned it on themselves. 

As President, Obama let North Korea continue to develop nuclear weapons and left it to his successor Donald Trump to deal with the problem! Meanwhile, for eight years I had to listen to Obama patronizingly lecture us on morality, while the whole of the Middle East imploded! 

When the vote to bomb Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian government forces took place in the Houses of Parliament in 2013, the Labour Party those Liberal moaners - voted against it! In 2003, under Tony Blair they had lied to us and taken us into an unjust war in Iraq which wreaked havoc in the Middle East, they then stopped us helping in a just war to stop the slaughter of innocent civilians! So as men, women and children were blown to bits, gassed, starved, raped, and terrorized by Bashar el Assad and ISIS, we in the West debated idiocy like white privilege, everyday sexism, mansplaining, man-spreading and transsexual rights! Meanwhile, seeing manginas on the left, in the late twenty-tens, wearing “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” t-shirts made me sick at how pathetic and emasculated some men in the West had become. The talking, talking, and talking of the Liberals and Obama, while the Middle East imploded, and ISIS took over huge swathes of Iraq and Syria, made me sick. 

While countless people looking for democracy were slaughtered in Syrian by Bashar al Assad, neither America nor Europe did anything, allowing Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iraq, and Russian enter the battlefield with their proxy armies. But hey, we only attacked countries with twentieth rate armies and air defences! Because we had become so cowardly, selfish, decadent, and morally corrupt, that we could not be bothered doing anything except look politically correct! Naturally, since so many Syrians talked to sympathetic news reports and got the idea that people in Europe really cared about their plight, and since it was beyond the West to provide safe areas for refuges to live in the Middle East, they decided to try to get out of the hellhole of Syria. So, Europe, forgetting over 1,500 years of conflict between Europe and Islam, just let hundreds of thousands of Muslim immigrants enter Europe, with many of them dying in the process and with unknown numbers of terrorists amongst them. Because we were too lazy and feckless to defend our boarders or have any plan for those genuine refugees fleeing horror and who will need so much from our housing, medical and social services, which are already at breaking point. And seeing that Europe couldn’t hold off a single drunk Russian battalion, hundreds of thousands of more emigrants from all around the world and looking for a better life - came with many more of them dying along the way. But hey, we looked so humane in our indolence! So, Angela Merkel let them come to Germany without asking the German people how they felt about it in a vote, and then tried to foist these refugees on everyone else in Europe! Dominated by a Liberal elite that espoused limitless human rights, immigrants thought that getting into Europe and America was their right. And the Liberal elite were OK with this because they were rich, could pay immigrants to do their menial jobs, rent them properties, avoid the ghetto in their middle-class enclaves and personally, professionally, socially, and sexually benefit from espousing Liberal values in the arts, media, and politics. But most people in Europe or America never voted for this invasion. Never mind that there were tens of millions of people in Europe who were unemployed or were living from pay-check to pay-check and did not have cushy jobs in the media! Moreover, CNN, Channel 4 and the BBC seemed to think that their job was as greeters, advocates, and apologists for illegal immigrants invading Europe. In a complete inversion of national laws and allegiances, these activist news reporters cast the illegal immigrants as blameless innocents and heroes, and the legal citizens of Europe who criticised this chaotic invasion as evil Fascists. With the result that the real German far-right re-emerged for the first time since the Second World War! But hey, Angela Merkel was amazing, what a Feminist icon, what a leader! Yet, the so-called stability of Germany of Angle Merkel was nothing but stagnation and the pursuit of profit made possible by NATOs protection. Merkle completely fell into the trap laid by Putin by closing Germany’s nuclear power plants and signing off on the Nord Stream pipeline and making Germany almost totally dependent on Russian gas. She also continued the completely irresponsible German pacifist policies and use of America to protect them while they could make money and virtue signal.

Up until the end of the millennium, I rarely saw people especially men crying. But after Princess Diana’s death in late 1997, it seemed that on 24 hour rolling news, people became more and more hysterical, and by the twenty-tens it did not seem possible for anyone male or female to have an interview on TV without bawling their eyes out. Yet less and less of these tears seemed genuine to me. From the turn of the millennium, the so-called ‘nanny state’, and government agencies, had turned to the news to promote health and social issues and ‘nudge’ people into behaving in the way the elite wanted them to. And soon, ‘news coverage’ was filled with loaded stories about the dangers of junk food, sugared drinks, illegal drugs, prostitution, pornography, domestic abuse, female equality, sexual harassment, and God knows what else. None of these were conventional ‘news stories’, they were cynical attempts to re-educate the public and change the behaviour of the deplorable masses. Meanwhile, activist or advocacy journalism that became hyperactive in America and England in the noughties was claimed to be a positive effort to change the world for the better by its practitioners. However, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Activist journalism and the hijacking of news channels for a partisan Liberal agenda, made countless traditional or conservative people feel that their opinions were no longer give any credence. This led to the flight to online news and the blurring of facts, fantasy, and conspiracy theories. Which led to the success of Trump, and the storming of the US Capitol on 6th January 2021. The crazy rioters who stormed Washington, no longer believed anything the mainstream media told them, because for decades it had become so intolerantly left-wing and biased against them, so they preferred the blatant lies of Trump to the arrogant reason of the Liberals. 

And so, we had all these extreme progressive Liberals to thank for the rise of real fascists in Europe and America! With Brexit and Trump, I also realized that in today’s media world there was a chasm between what people were happy to say on camera and what they were no longer allowed to say. Like suggesting that they wanted controlled immigration, because if they were foolish enough to say that - they were attacked as racists and Nazis’ and re-educated by a panel of Liberal commentators! In this polarized world, there seemed to be no common-sense ability to allow controlled immigration, and ‘impartial’ debates on CNN (which laughably claimed to be impartial) usually meant ten Liberals in a room with a Republican patsy used as bait. Moreover, on CNN ten minutes of reporting would be followed by fifty minutes of Liberal spin. Don’t get me wrong, I tried to listen to Fox News radio and watch Fox News TV, and I felt even more physically sick.

Shortly before the 2016 American election, I watched Michael Moore in Trumpland, Michael Moore laughed and joked about the decline of white men in the American population, and said: “No woman has ever built a smokestack, no woman has invented an atomic or hydrogen bomb and no women, no girls go into schools and shoot them up…” (Michael Moore, Michael Moore in Trumpland, November 2016, 18:52 min.) Moore continued, condemning men for murder, rape and arson. Hearing the likes of Michael Moore, ranting about male decline and expendability, and declaring that men had destroyed the planet and done nothing in 10,000 years but murdered, raped, started wars, created nuclear weapons and climate change – I was fucking disgusted and frankly his speech did more to make me want to vote for Donald Trump than almost anything else. Oh really, is that all men had done in 10,000 years? What about law, medicine, religion, philosophy, art, literature, architecture, technology and so on! And what about caring for and loving their mothers, wives, and daughters? Or what about working themselves to death in dangerous jobs or laying down their lives in battle to protect their loved ones? Moreover, it was male police, ambulance drivers and medics that rushed into school shootings to save the pupils and deal with the shooters! And I suddenly realized that I was not a Liberal anymore. I had thought that the Liberal battle for equality and people’s rights had been for fairness and justice, I suddenly realized for the new left, its end game was the mockery, marginalization, and eventual emasculation of white men like me. 

Every assertion of identity is ultimately a division of the world into competing identities, so after decades of Feminist, black, gay, lesbian identities, why were the Liberals surprised that white men might also claim their own identities in opposition.  

So it was the extremes of the loony-left in the Democratic Party in America that I held responsible for the election of the deplorable, narcissistic bully, pathological liar, misogynist and racist Donald Trump, because you cannot just condemn poor, disenfranchised white people and expect them to vote for their own marginalization or dam the whole history of male civilization and ask men to vote for their own emasculation or ask people to vote for someone like Hilary Clinton just because she would be the first female president, no matter how untrustworthy, corrupt and part of the establishment she was. Rather than discus the real issues that got Trump elected like immigration and globalisation, Democrats and the Liberal media just spent years ridiculing and critiquing Trump the person. But for Republicans and conservatives, Trump had achieved more for them than perhaps any president before. 

On CNN, which is a globalist project, day after day, month after month, years after year, like monomaniacs they analysed every single sentence and character trait of Trump, but not once did I see them look in the mirror and ask what it was about them that had led us to Trump. Just like most of the news channels in England that backed remaining in Europe and denigrated anyone who wanted Brexit as racist and ignorant, the patronizing superiority and fixed ‘debates’ on CNN led people to turn off the news and vote the total opposite of what these Liberals wanted. How dumb did CNN think their viewers were? Because they failed to stop Trump, and in fact, in promoting crazy progressive issues, they made him! So, I blame CNN for the election of the monster Donald Trump! Sadly, I also realize that as a Western, white male – I am the enemy of the new Liberal left. Which is only compounded by the fact that I am a conservative painter who unapologetically paints porn.

Seeing museums in America in 2017, buy up anti-Trump protest art and stage countless exhibitions of it made me sick. Oh, so this is how it really works! I thought. It has nothing to do with talent or quality after all! It is all about confirming the prejudices of the Liberal establishment! Left-wing Liberal activist artists were shielded and promoted by ‘invisible forces’ but they were not really ‘invisible’, they were the people whose real agenda was being served and promoted by these artistic activist mascots. The problem was that Liberal art could only change the world the same way all other authoritarian cultures did from Christianity to Communism and Fascism, by bombarding the individual with propaganda, censoring evil, and then telling you it did not exist, and hyping all those that conform.

Salvador Dalí was convinced that painters were stupid, and I tend to agree with him. No sooner had artists abandoned the pious utopian nonsense of Christianity than they adopted the even more stupid and naïve politics of Marxism. Like Christianity, Marxism was impressive to naïve young people who had no experience of how the real world worked, or how people really behaved. Both ideologies were hopelessly unrealistic, and could only be made real though force, fear, intimidation, and the threat of punishment. By middle-age, I realised why so many left-wing intellectual books strained and thrashed around trying to deconstruct our capitalist reality, because they were endlessly fighting the unstoppable dynamics of biology and human nature. For their endless texts to have any effect, they would need the power of a totalitarian state to establish; a thought police; take everything we own so that they could redistribute it to others they deemed worthier like their party members; annihilate anyone foolish enough to disagree with them; and reduce us all to slaves of their ideology. Yet, as history had proved, if given their totalitarian state, they would become as selfish, corrupt, and dictatorial as the capitalists they decried.

Created with a Libertarian utopian belief in the right of everyone to express themselves, the early internet was the wild west of expression. But within a decade, governments around the world sought to censor text and images, and punish users starting with uncontentious issues like terrorism and child abuse imagery, it soon progressed to issues of racism, sexism, the glorification of self-harm and suicide, hate speech, porn etc. However, as a student of the human animal, I cherished those early days of free speech and expression on the internet for one significant reason, it proved that centuries of Enlightenment philosophy, Liberal politics, Feminism, Multiculturalism, and utopian pities in Western society and culture – had done nothing but create a grand façade of civilisation and humanity behind which many people were still rotten to the core, criminal, and insane to boot. While, all the above culture wars were happening, and people fought for supposedly important issues, we were being subsumed into a corporate and governmental surveillance state. But we in the West were told that we were free, unlike the poor Chinese, even though our governments were doing some of the very same things in the name of Liberalism and the fight against terror and political incorrectness! We are now living in a world with a leviathan of national and international laws, mass surveillance, and online monitoring - where our every word and action can result in potential social ruin and imprisonment. 

To some people, I am a white male painter who paints sexist images of women, but I am also mentally ill, I was born into wealth, but also starved as a child after my mother had a nervous breakdown and could not look after me, I have been physically and emotionally abused as a child by my mother, physically bullied by boys, and verbally humiliated and bullied by girls, I have gone to private schools and poor schools, I have entered Art College and been expelled, I was a bisexual and now I am a heterosexual voyeur who has not had actual sex with anyone since early 2011 and I do not want to ever have actual sex again, I have made money from my art and I have also been rejected by over 99 arts bodies and galleries, and I am a sensitive artist who also loves watching combat sports and greatly admires those men and women who fight for a better life. If life has taught me anything, it is that you cannot rely on the social services, doctors, psychiatrists, social workers, or left-wing Liberals to save you in this rotten life! And there is a chiasm between the promises made by politicians and bleeding-heart Liberals, to help the unfortunate, and the reality of the indifference, powerlessness, and fecklessness of the social services. The Irish psychiatric and social services destroyed my mother and then they destroyed me. 

Personally, all my life I have considered myself an anarchist. I want nothing from the world - except to be left alone. I have continued to vote for left-wing parties, but I have absolutely no faith in their ability to change the world for the better (though, I know from history, that like the old Cardinals and Popes of the Catholic Church, they will improve their own lives for the better) and I live my life as an anti-social libertarian disgusted with all forms of group think and coercion. Since most of my self-education has been in isolation and locked away from the world, I am morally ambivalent. It seems to me most morality is hypocritical bunk, expressed to others to virtue signal, and declare oneself a part of the group. But I know from history that morality is constantly changing. What is far more important to me than mere politics, is freedom of speech and expression, which is the enemy of both the far-right and far-left and indeed all the news channels both Liberal and right-wing. So today, I find I believe in virtually nothing - especially myself.

The first art critical book I ever read (when I was about fifteen) was Harold Rosenberg’s The De-Definition of Art’, I loved Rosenberg’s laconic reflections on the madness of avant-garde art by the late 1960s and into the 1970s, and I continued to re-read it time and again. I found Rosenberg’s writing witty, inventive, subtle, and lacking the Formalist dogma and partisan quality of Greenberg. The kind of writing I have aspired towards in middle age, is the newspaper review that grips the reader and sparks debate and consternation as much as praise and admiration.

In this genre, I think Robert Hughes and Brian Sewell are unsurpassed, but for different reasons. Hughes is by far the more modern and tolerant of the two. He is also the better writer – conjuring up more quotable observations on art than any critic I know. I identified with Hughes’ Romantic and early Modernist view of art, his admiration for craft, his belief in the general intelligent reader and his succinct and telling prose, that could condense complex perceptions and ideas into a few sentences. Hughes was criticised for not being an original art historian and relying upon the work of others he did not give any credit to. This was true, but the undisputed talent of Hughes was to take the longwinded, pretentious, and badly written work of other historians and condense it into the most memorable phrases ever written by an art critic. Hughes was a savage and telling critic of Neo-Expressionism and became a bogeyman for Neo-Expressionist painters like Schnabel who imagined Hughes masochistically asking him to chain him up, and David Salle who imagined putting Hughes’s head in a vice.

When I first started reading a connoisseur critic like Robert Hughes, I too was filled with rage at his bitter dismissal of my youthful hero's (like Basquiat, Schnabel, Baselitz, Clemente and Chia) and I was perplexed by his high praise for artists I thought boring or totally mediocre (like Elizabeth Murray, Sean Scully, Richard Diebenkorn, Susan Rothenberg and Malcom Morley.) However, as I grew older and came to appreciate the role of a polemist, I came to adore Hughes’s writing. Hughes cut through the verbal garbage of the art world and saw through the hype and propaganda surrounding contemporary art. Often reading the writers of Artforum bewildered me, left me with a headache, and made me avoid ever re-reading them. Hughes on the other hand, made things suddenly become crystal clear - even if I disagreed with him. And I revelled in re-reading him. To me Hughes’ art reviews are the closest art criticism has come to an almost poetic prose because all his sentences are so well constructed and contain so many ideas, some made explicit, but many inferred. Unlike many of the art critics who write for Artforum or October, who make you never want to look at art again or re-read their turgid prose, Hughes illuminates art and makes you want to look for yourself. Like Robert Hughes, I regarded traditional skills in drawing, painting, and sculpting as central to the artistic credibility of any innovation. Yet, if you were a speculator in art in the 1980s you would have been advised to buy everything the likes of Robert Hughes hated. Since what mattered by the 1980s was not what critics wrote about you, but the volume of writing on you, even if all of it said you were talentless! Still, I admired Robert Hughes’s insistence on realist drawing and painting skills which chimed with my own admiration for craft, though I did not share his almost myopic belief in them to the exclusion of almost everything that did not exhibit these qualities.

Robert Hughes’ writing was so good, that I read almost everything he wrote even when I had no interest in the artists he was writing about. Hughes could not only tear to shreds the bogus claims of contemporary artists, he could also write with love, conviction, and intelligence about the artists that he admired like Frank Auerbach and Lucian Freud. And while I would not agree with all the artists he admired, there were few embarrassing choices. Nothing if Not Critical his masterful collection of art reviews and essays on artists and the art world, became my most treasured book, which I nearly always kept by my beside. I even took it with me as a comfort to doctor’s offices and hospitals. Despite his cult-like success with the general intelligent reader, Hughes work had virtually no significance in the academic world other than as a bugbear. His position was too conservative to appeal to left-wing academics trying to deconstruct capitalist society from within. They might have admired his scintillating prose, but they questioned his rhetoric. Sadly, Hughes like Sewell had few friends in the art world because of his honesty and lack of corruption.

Personally, I loathed the kind of left-wing academic writing espoused in the likes of October – the bible for contemporary left-wing critics with contempt for conventional painting, drawing and sculpture and a fashionable fixation on video, performance, and other publicly loathed art forms. I thought it a paradox that many of the art critics of the left who were supposedly representing the common man and disenfranchised - often wrote in the most jargon filled and elitist way imaginable. While the right-wing critics, who were supposedly representing conservatism and those in power, wrote in the simplest and most assessable manner. I have drawn, painted, and read about art for thirty-nine years, yet a lot of the time I do not have a clue what the writers of October are trying to say. But then I don’t filter the whole world through a Marxist, Feminist, Multi-Cultural, Psychoanalytic and Post-Structuralist screen. Nor do I try to make everything a matter of political correctness. Nor do I quote every obscure academic book I have ever read, and I only ever quote readable portions of these kinds of books. So, I loathed the vast sea of left-wing writers who used art for their own socio-political agendas, showed no actual engagement with the art object, and refused to deal with issues of quality. In this left-wing world, all art was equal but some art, namely that which mirrored their own rabid socio-political agenda, was more equal than others, to paraphrase George Orwell. If Hughes was transparently conservative and reactionary as a defender of the Western genius (though he himself described himself as an old school Liberal), left wing writers were obscurely Marxist, Feminist, Post-Structuralist and Multicultural in their - anything but a white, male, painter agenda. Since the art they promoted could not be accepted by any established Western set of values, they had to demolish the whole edifice of Western civilization in order to compare rubble with rubble. As Simon Schama observed: “Art historians like to correct romantic fantasies about great art issuing from the visions of a few sublimely inspired Prometheans. Masters, along with masterpieces, are now just so many bourgeois fetishes in the moribund temples of decayed capitalism. Quality is ideology. Instead of the breathless hush and the deathless genius, we have image and sign, in no meaningful sense separate from a welter of other images in social circulation – Renaissance helmet decorations, rococo snuffboxes, tobacco-store Indians, movie posters, subway graffiti. The images are said to be the products of the market, the critical zeitgeist, the patron-painter-public nexus, or in traditional art-historical literature – just another link in a long chain of predecessors, and role models.” (Simon Schama, Hang-Ups: Essays on Painting (Mostly), London: BBC Books, 2004, P. 33-34.) As an individualist, I lamented the situation. 

It took me far longer to appreciate Brian Sewell’s even more conservative and abusive writings. I first read his great book Alphabet of Villains in 1995 and hated it, but by May 1999, after years of rejection, I had come to adore his assault on the pompous reputations of conceptual artists. Sewell was a slight, gay man, with a ridiculously posh and camp voice, which made him something of a public laughingstock. But his art criticism is some of the most hardcore and vicious I have ever read. Sewell’s writing was a weapon he used in his one-man war against the art world. And as I entered middle-age and I was plagued by doubts about so much modern art, and I found myself embarrassed by my youthful gullibility, I found Sewell’s writing a hilarious satire. What most infuriated the art world establishment was the fact that Sewell had an encyclopaedic knowledge of art history that left most contemporary ‘experts’ in the dust. They even tried to have Sewell fired from his post on The London Evening Standard! So much for arty Liberals’ love of free speech! Even though Sewell seemed to be libellous in his writings, he was in fact just very well read. So, he knew all about the sex lives and financial details of artists from biographies and was merely putting the details into his reviews. Many other art critics would have known similar details but never had the courage to repeat them. After a dreadful review of his work by Sewell, the moderately successful but minor American painter R. B. Kitaj, blamed his wife’s death on Sewell, and spent the rest of his life burning with hatred for him. I thought the review typically spiteful in a way unique to Sewell, but accurate in its appraisal of Kitaj and I wondered at artists who could not tolerate any criticism of their art - as though they were untouchable Emperors. 

Brian Sewell had studied art history at the London Courland Institute and worked in the Old Master section of Christies auctioneers, his specialty was seventieth century painting and drawing. And it should be noted that seventeenth century oil painting was probably the most technically advanced and cinematic in art history, when painters astonished viewers with levels of draughtsmanship, naturalism, anatomical realism, compositional complexity, and the evocative manipulation of oil paint on canvas rarely seen before or since. So, comparing the likes of Caravaggio, Rubens, and Rembrandt with the fashionable, but incompetent, and gimmicky painters of Modernism and Post-Modernism it is no small wonder Sewell found so many of them wanting. Sewell had not only a vast knowledge of art history, but an awareness of what art found a home in museums, what found itself gathering dust in the storeroom of museums, what sold well at auction, what languished in artists’ studios, and what often ended up thrown out with the rubbish after the artists death to preserve their reputation. But that often lead him to miss the wood for the trees. He became so fixated on the quality of a work of art, that he often failed to take any interest in its theoretical, social, historical, or philosophical meanings. As a critic obsessed with the achievements of the likes of Michelangelo, Titian, and Rembrandt, Sewell had nothing but undisguised contempt for the conceptual punks straight out of Art College who were feted in the London art world in the 1990s.

Sewell revived the character of a Victorian art critic who loathed almost everything about Modern art and fulminated in writing against charlatan artists. Yet, for me, in an art world wholly lacking any real critical dialogue he played an important role in debunking the myths and propaganda of contemporary art. Sewell’s writing was more vitriolic than Hughes, and could descend into mere insults, though much of this was done with such hysterical ‘grumpy-old-man’ humour that it was hard to be mad at him. However, Sewell was not as convincing when writing about those artists he admired, because so many of them were Old Masters whose reputations and importance was already so well explored by earlier critics and historians, and Sewell added little to the conversation. So, Sewell’s essays praising Old Masters had a rote and dutiful air about them.

Later, I learned that I had may things in common with Sewell. Like him, my love for art, painting and drawing, had started very young, and with adoration and self-education. Like him, I had a difficult relationship with my suffocating mother, and found maintaining friendships hard. Like him I was extremely shy. And like him I had a love hate relationship with my sexuality. Like Brian Sewell, I was contemptuous of most contemporary artists, especially those of a conceptual bent. If you thought that all contemporary art should be talked about and rated only in terms of its novelty and its own era’s talents – then you would utterly hate Sewell. But if you thought contemporary artists were a joke compared to the Old Masters and suspected that in a hundred-years-time most of the so-called ‘important’ art of our time would be found wanting, then you would love Sewell. Near the end of his life, Sewell lamented that looking at paintings his favourite pastime had gone out of fashion. In fact, Sewell was ignored by the art establishment and the likes of the NCAD library in Dublin did not possess a single book by Sewell when I used to haunt its endless bookshelves. Yet, back in my house, his books alongside Hughes’s were constantly by my bedside.

As a result, I tend to not take seriously any modern critic who does not acknowledge that 95% of contemporary art is incompetent, plagiaristic, or a con, perpetrated by utterly self-deluded, technically incompetent pastichers, utterly incapable of self-criticism, or insight into themselves, or their art. While art before the French salons of the 1880s could be good, bad, or indifferent, it was only with the dawn of modern art that it could be an utter swindle! A key moment in this shift was in 1883 when the humorist Alphonse Allais hysterically showed in the ‘Incoherent’ exhibition his work ‘Anemic Young Girls at their First Communion in the Snow’ - it was just a blank white sheet of paper! Later, from Duchamp onward, art turned into a series of gags hosted by museums eager for heated press attention and paying and gawking simpletons.

Around the same time as I got into Brian Sewell, I also first read Leo Tolstoy’s What is art? Which had a profound effect on my views on art. The best part of What is Art? was Tolstoy’s nihilistic assault on all the presumptions and affectations of artists and the art world of his day, which frankly would only have to be updated a little and the numbers multiplied by a thousand, to speak about the art world today. Less persuasive was what Tolstoy thought art should be, since it was so moralistic, traditional, and low brow. Still, I would periodically re-read What is Art? during particularly pessimistic and nihilistic periods of my life, and became a lover of similar diatribes against art like; The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe, The Eclipse of Art: Tackling the Crisis in Art Today by Julian Spalding, The End of Art by Donald Kuspit and What Good Are the Arts? by John Carey.

In fact, much of the most gripping and most vitriolic art criticism, has been written by critics in their fifties and older, disappointed that the art world has changed so much from their youth and everything that they once held dear - is mocked in contemporary art. Their writing is often as much about what has been lost, as what they claim to be criticising in new art. And in my case, I would add, that I am a man who has given his life to art, I think about art every day, and I have painted seriously almost without a break since the age of ten, but because I have been immersed in art so intensely, I am also aware of its absurdities, failures, and limitations.

The problem with polemics on art by the likes of Tolstoy, Tom Wolfe, Julian Spalding, John Carey, Robert Hughes, or Brian Sewell, is when they try to proscribe what art should be. Tolstoy’s notion of goodness was a fanciful lie, Wolfe was a total philistine, Spalding’s notion of art was low-brow, dumb, kitsch and reactionary, Carey’s visually illiterate, Hughes’s was stuck in the 1950s, and Sewell’s was stuck in the Renaissance.  

To those like Tolstoy and Spalding who thought art is a form of communication and must do good for society, I would counter with my interest in anti-social expression. Namely the individual works or total oeuvres of extraordinary artists like Franz Xavier Messerschmitt, Goya, Picasso, George Grosz, Otto Dix, Hans Bellmer, Henry Darger, or indeed myself. They felt the need to express aspects of their psyche, they knew would not be immediately acceptable to others, or find any commercial, moral, or social acceptance, yet they were compelled to be true to themselves. Many of them were disgusted by their societies! They may have hoped that eventually their vision would find an appreciative audience, but they could not be sure, yet they carried on regardless. For me this kind of art is infinitely more important than most of the art that is cynically created for a readymade audience. In this sense, much of the early work of the great Romantics and Expressionists was initially, also anti-social art, though success often turned their originally authentic expression into a cynical performance. Sadly, I have also learned that the art world has a cunning ability to turn the success of artists they despised into a renewed affirmation for the system. The rebel artist who through popularity becomes a commercial success, becomes a mascot for the supposed freedom of the art world. 

The trouble with polemics against contemporary artists is that they fail to accept that since Modernism, the most interesting and thought-provoking artists have created work that causes intellectual and critical problems. These problem artists, refuse to be patronized by critics, or fit neatly into their world. The question is, does their good qualities, out-weigh their faults. Moreover, even for a contemporary art agnostic like me, the joy of the chaos of contemporary art, is that occasionally an artist emerges from the confusion, with a voice that is unique to them, but also addresses everything that their time questions and worries about. So, I am neither foolish enough nor totalitarian enough to suggest what that artist should be. Though I do think that the very greatest artists combine both the ability to speak to the public and fascinate the cognoscenti, they are both intelligent and emotionally fluent and they combine craft, skill and originality with a vison that is both unique and grounded in art history. Great artists maybe stronger in one area than another, but they are all well-rounded. 

Another conservative critic I loved was Hilton Kramer, mostly because unlike Greenberg or Rosenberg, he paid fair critical attention to Expressionism and did not write its masters off, the way others in America had. Kramer later encouraged and in fact coined the term Neo-Expressionism at the start of the 1980s. Though he later regretted it. Like other conservative writers, Kramer’s prose was beautifully lucid, built upon actually looking at art in the flesh, thoughtful and devoid of jargon. Like Hilton Kramer, I looked at most art after Abstract-Expressionism as a debacle and I loved his critical dissection of Pop Art, Minimalism and Conceptualism. However, I had less time for his later obsession with persevering his own very idiosyncratic notion of Modernism, which in effect was just a backlash against everything that had happened in America since the Counter-Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. While I loathed what had happened to art in the 1960s and 70s, I did not share Kramer’s disgust with the other cultural changes that had also happened at the time. Still, I remained very fond of his earlier writings from the 1970s until the early 1980s.

What did the likes of John Ruskin, Roger Fry, Clement Greenberg, John Berger, Robert Hughes and Brian Sewell have in common? They were all failed artists, who turned to art criticism to gain what they could not through art, power and domination. As Brendan Behan quipped, “Critics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it's done, they've seen it done every day, but they're unable to do it themselves”. Most of the art I have seen by art critics has not only been mediocre, academic, uninspired, and completely unoriginal – it has also been dead on arrival. So, being bombarded by the art reviews of critics and then seeing their own art, is like being menaced by a male flasher only to discover - he has a one-inch penis when erect! Moreover, when you see the incompetent, crap crazy-lady art of Mira Schor you are left wondering at her presumptuous, Feminist sense of entitlement to speak on so much more superior painters like David Salle, or other truly great art critics like Robert Hughes and Hilton Kramer! Some critics like Brain Sewell on the other hand were smart enough to destroy their art, so no nasty comparisons could be made between their ideals and actual abilities. 

The other great Achilles heel of art critics is the artists they champion. Critics are often at their best in dissecting and lampooning the art of artists they hate. Yet, when they venture to praise their contemporaries, they are in mortal peril. Critics who claim to know who the greatest artists of their day are, will often be doomed, if not in the first few seasons, then in the following decades or centuries. Clement Greenberg built his reputation by championing Jackson Pollock and the Abstract-Expressionists, and he was right. But he became obsessed with his pet-theory of flatness in Modernist painting and went on to champion the far less substantial work of Colour-Field painters and claimed that Jules Olitski was the greatest painter of the day. It was a laughable declaration! Meanwhile, Greenberg had nothing meaningful to say on Pop Art or Conceptualism apart from deriding it as ‘novelty art’. Sometimes I have read art critics like Jed Perl who have annihilated in prose the efforts of most of the successful, critically admired, and celebrated artists of their day, only to then praise some kitsch academic rubbish or work that is little better than the efforts of a Sunday painter on the railings of a local park! So, after seeing the art they admire, I often find it hard to take anything they say seriously. Also, while there are many female, black, and minority critics I admire, there are also too many who have an axe to grind with white male artists, and they are far too uncritical of the artists they promote for purely political reasons. 

John Berger aside, most critics are also ugly buffoons who lack any traditional good looks or charm. Indeed, the number of handsome critics like Andrew Graham Dixon is as rare as the number of manly ones like Robert Hughes. It is a profession that seems to attract the asexual neuter, the repressed homosexual, or the ugly troll. 

There are two kinds of art reviews I like most, the first are those fond or elegiac stories of the life and work of artists I admire, and the second kind those that deconstruct their supposed greatness. For me they serve different needs. With my heroes like van Gogh, Schiele or Basquiat I take courage from elegiac essays that give full account of their achievements and martyred lives. And I delight in reviews that make me look with fresh eyes at my heroes. But I also enjoy art reviews that have the courage to see the flaws in even my heroes. I also like reading withering attacks on the art of artists I loathe like Duchamp, Warhol, Koons, or Hirst, because they give me ammunition for my own contempt. With other critical essays on hero’s whose work I love, admire, and emulate but are not popular with critics, like Schnabel, I take the critiques of his work as instructive in the ways my own work might be criticized even more fiercely. That is why I can equally love Julian Schnabel’s work and Robert Hughes’s polemics against him! What I do not like, is art critics for whom everything is amazing and great! Such critics serve no use at all, other than as cynical re-publishers of artist and gallery press releases. They may in the short span of their lives, have a charmed life amongst artists and galleries, who don’t fear them and reward their sycophancy, but their value as critics is virtually nil and their place in art history is the dustbin. 

The problem I have with theoretical writing on art (genres like psychoanalytical and philosophical writing) is its lack of a direct relationship to the art under discussion. Frequently one feels that the observations are too general and could be applied to almost any artist (this was certainly the complaint that Greenberg had with much of the Existential writing on Abstract Expressionism.)

Remember the origin of philosophy is in slavery. Had the Greeks like Plato not had slaves to do all the manual labour, they would not have had the time to sit around and debate the meaning of the shape of their navel. I have the time, because I am mentally ill and on a Disability Allowance! Today subjects like philosophy, and sociology thrive in the modern university and art magazines like Artforum. 
I used to think that none of this idealistic nonsense had the slightest impact on, or value to society, outside the college or publisher’s walls. But sadly, it has shaped the loony-left in politics today and the smug, patronizing, intellectual, bigotry of TV news commentators.

In the past thirty years, one of the tricks galleries have used to fill their catalogues with harmless sycophantic fluff in praise of artists of dubious quality, is to hire poets or philosophers to write obscure essays that look impressive, but mean nothing, and never raise toxic questions of character, quality, or the market. But if you think that only private galleries produce this kind of hagiography you would be wrong. Most museum catalogues and monographs are equally devoid of critique. So frankly the only place in art publishing that you will ever read dissenting voices is in art criticism in art magazines and newspapers.

A good example of the kind of philosophical waffle offered up by a private gallery was Thomas McEvilley essay for Julian Schnabel’s Fox Farm paintings catalogue for The Pace Gallery in 1989. Thomas McEvilley was the onetime editor of Artforum and his essay ‘Read This’ was a wonderful example of philosophical spin. In it, McEvilley trounced the tradition of aesthetic good taste that started with Immanuel Kant and praised Schnabel’s wilful disregard for conventional good-taste in his wilfully bad paintings. But I doubt that Schnabel ever read, never mind understood Kant’s Critique of Judgment (1790)! He then tried to promote Schnabel as an identity artist concerned with issues like cruelty to animals, the environment, and the AIDS crisis. All this at a time when the critics had fatally lacerated Schnabel’s reputation, and worse still, the art band wagon had moved away from Neo-Expressionism to Neo-Geo and Identity-Art. But what McEvilley failed completely to do was pass a judgment on the actual quality of the work (I liked Schnabel’s work and actually thought the Fox Farm paintings were some of Schnabel’s best, so I would have enjoyed a technical and intellectual justification for his style and personality.) McEvilley famously believed that: “The living critic comes to realise that the least interesting thing he or she has to offer is a value judgement – that such dicta are finally about as relevant to the rest of the world as if the critic publicly and authoritatively declared what flavour of ice cream he or she preferred.” (Thomas McEvilley, Father the Void, Art & Discontent, New York: Documenttext/ McPherson & Company, 1993, P.177.) However, I felt that a critic that did not make judgements was really only a cunning operator unwilling to show his hand, and who chose to highlight some artists, while casting others into the oblivion of silence. To paraphrase Orwell again, it was a case of every artist being equal, but some artists being more equal than others! As the years past, and I read McEvilley’s book Art & Discontent (1991) and then his Art & Otherness (1992) my exasperation rose. Most of this philosophical waffle seemed to tell me nothing real about art, or the machinations of the art world. It seemed to me that McEvilley’s work was just stoner, mental masturbation - in the cause of justifying the lunatic extremes of the art world. 

Although I have known a number of journalists, musicians, philosophers, poets and alliterative types in my adult life, of about two-dozen close friends, only half a dozen were artists. So, I have never known or befriended many Artforum types, but I have wondered what kind of world they inhabit? As a young pimply art student, I voraciously read these kinds of magazines, and really thought (along with these writers) that the art world was the center of the universe. But that was before I started making friends with real people! The world and people I now know, ridicule most contemporary art and are indifferent to art in general. In fact, art might as well be an alien language to them. It was interactions with ordinary people that made me realize that in my youth, I had been seduced and lost in a cultish view of art and life, that bore no relation to the real, resistant, and cynical world.
I loathe academia, I loathe writers who use jargon and I chastise myself whenever I descend into it myself. As a constant reader of over forty years, if I come across three, four or five terms and words I have never heard of my hackles rise! If I continue to read the text and find myself getting more and more lost – I rebel! No matter how grand or revolutionary the concepts are in such a text, if I as a general reader cannot understand them - then I see no point in them! Symptomatic of the purposeful unintelligibility of art world texts was the anecdote by the ethnographer Sarah Thornton, in her book Seven Days in the Art World, when she observed that between 1988 and 1992, Ida Panicelli took over as editor of Artforum, “… but as English was not her mother tongue, Artforum suffered from what one insider called “the wrong kind of unreadability””. (Sarah Thornton, Seven Days in the Art World, London: Granta Publications, 2008, P. 148.) Thus, I have little time for most of that obscure and convoluted French Post-Structuralist writing (and American and English versions of it) which have become commonplace in art writing. Too often, the academic sitting in his college library spends more time thinking up more and more obscure philosophical observations, to persuade you your instincts, taste and learning are all wrong, and that you are not looking at just a talentless, parochial, propaganda piece.

The problem with academic writers was summed up for me in a quote by James Elkins in his otherwise gripping book What Happened to Art Criticism? (2003.) Elkins talked of how he wished there was more of a two-way discussion between academic writers and newspaper critics and vice versa. “In order for that to happen, all that is required is that everyone read everything. Each writer, no matter what their place and purpose, should have an endless bibliography, and know every pertinent issue and claim. We should all read till our eyes are bleary, and we should read both ambitiously – making sure we’ve come to terms with Greenberg or Adorno – and also indiscriminately – finding work that might ordinarily escape us.” What he should have said is “We must look and look and look again at art in museums and galleries and only then back up our perceptions with reference to artistic texts.” And hey what about actually talking to artists? Or learning how to draw, paint, sculpt, or throw a pot! 

My attitude to historical texts (like those major retrospective exhibitions commission for their catalogues) is one of mind-numbing boredom brought on by an overdose of historical minutia. Most of the facts in an historical text are of interest to only the most rabid specialist in the subject. That is bad enough, but when they start analysing the composition, colours, tonal arrangements, and passages of paint in individual paintings, and turn a glorious masterpiece and feast for the eyes, into something like the construction manual for some flat-pack furniture - I lose all interest. While some of the tedious research work that many historians do is invaluable, far too often it results in a pedantic and joyless regurgitation of dates and facts, without any interpretation of their meaning. Historians are also reluctant to criticise the artists they write about, which means their texts lack drama or bite. Which is why it is usually better to let a great writer like Robert Hughes to summarize it! I have frequently marvelled at how great art critics can take a seemingly boring artist and make a great drama out of their lives, pick out crucial biographical details, and bring their work into focus! 

I am also equally sceptical of formalist critics like Roger Fry, Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried, since in its own way this kind of writing is incapable of dealing with the nature of the art market, the personality of the artist, or art movements like Expressionism, Dada, Surrealism, Pop and Conceptualism which are not based on formal values. However, Clement Greenberg was my first art critic hero. Watching Greenberg being interviewed (while he chain-smoked and drank heavily) on ‘Modern Art and Modernism’ on the Open University on BBC2 at the age of eleven bewitched me. Greenberg’s authority was based upon his daring to pronounce painters like Pollock as revolutionary - and being right. His prose was also enjoyable to read and satisfyingly intellectual. When I was in my late twenties, I read all four volumes of his collected essays and criticism on art (covering 1939-1969), and a biography on him by Florence Rubenfeld. His reduction of the story of Modern painting (from Manet through Cézanne then Picasso, then Kandinsky to Pollock ending with Jules Olitski) to a pursuit of the flatness of the abstract canvas and limiting of painting to its unique qualities was compelling, because it explained so many French and American artist’s oeuvres. However, like most art theories it was theoretically limited, historically selective, and destructive to the craft and skill of Western art, life drawing, realist painting, and naturalistic sculpting. Personally, I came to dislike Greenberg’s inability to value expressivity and his loathing of Expressionism. And when I learned what a bully he had been in the New York art world and hypocritical critic of the moral failings of artists, when he was an alcoholic, drug-taking, womanizing, wife-swapper, and member of a therapeutic cult, I regretted my early love for him. 

But my doubts about Formalists were nothing compared to my fury at Marxist’s critics like John Berger and his classic book Ways of Seeing (1972.) The television series and accompanying book Ways of Seeing was John Berger’s riposte to Kenneth Clark’s Civilization. Berger saw his role as a Marxist liberator of people from authoritarian manipulation through art and media. He felt people were hypnotized by advertising into entering a dream world of consumption. He contrasted the reality of peoples’ messy daily lives with the airbrushed and archly manipulated images of advertising. He showed that they were often based on old master tricks, developed over centuries to beguile viewers. These adverts and paintings seduced the libidos and minds of the viewer through subtle sexual and social suggestions, which played on their deepest fears and longings. His book has remained a standard text for art students for nearly forty years, however, his aggressive style of deconstruction has never achieved the success with the public that Kenneth Clark’s more inviting, aggrandized, and reassuring vision of culture. 

I find John Berger’s writing impossibly moralistic, politically correct, and historically dated (it is all very 1970s.) Berger’s utopian Marxist critique of the capitalist commodity aspect of painting and his view of women as passive victims of ‘the-male-gaze’ I find hopelessly simplistic (about as 'intelligent' as a woman saying all wars are started by men.) He pretty much stands for everything that I am against in art, politics, and philosophy. Like any critic, he was wrong about so many artists he praised, and so many he attacked. Yet, despite my many reservations about Berger, I enjoy reading his work a lot, because unlike later Marxists his writing is very readable and has a good heart. 

I would like to write a vicious review of Jacques Derrida and especially his book The Truth in Painting’ (1987) but frankly I can’t make head-nor-tail of it. Years ago, I tried very hard to understand it, but it was utterly beyond me. I even got my friend who was a lecturer in philosophy in Trinity University to explain his work to me, which only showed me that even he did not really know what Derrida was on about. Another friend of mine, in fact the most intelligent person I have ever known, dammed Derrida’s work as “the dance of the seven veils”. But what I do know is that Derrida (and his massive influence on art bullshit) stands for everything I hate about the so-called intelligentsia today. I have read others who have said that Derrida’s work makes no logical sense and it was all just a Dada joke. 

One writer who takes a psychoanalytical approach to art is Donald Kuspit, and I have enjoyed his writing for at least ten years. His analysis of artists’ psychology and the pathology behind many modern art masterpieces I found fascinating. He was also one of the very best advocates for Expressionist art. However, I disliked Kuspit’s use of psychoanalysis to morally judge artists in terms that were even more damming than anything written by Brian Sewell, since they presumed so much intellectual authority. In fact, that could have been said for many of the writers of magazines like Artforum or October. They were not just saying as connoisseurs they thought such and such an artist was talentless, they were saying as spokespersons for Marxism, Feminism, Multi-Culturalism, or Psychoanalysis they had decided that such and such an artist was an enemy of the people and artistic community. Still, I remained very fond of Kuspit’s writing, even though it was often too jargon filled and moralistic.

The writer who in my opinion best described the art world of the 1990s was Mathew Collings writing for Modern Painters magazine. If you wanted to know how artists really thought about art and discussed it amongst themselves, Collings was your sardonic and befuddled man. Collings disliked thinking of art as either or, and preferred think of it as both, and in this Collings mirrored the dumb bumbling of most in the art world. His slacker prose style, which admitted constantly to his bewilderment and fascination with trendy artistic and philosophical ideas, rang true to how many really look at and try to understand new art. Collings showed how much of the art world of the last forty years has been driven by the whims of novelty and fad. Collings reported on art in the disconcerted manner of a fashion reporter describing a new season of fashion in Paris, and that was the honesty and weakness of Collings’s style. But Collings like Peter Schjeldahl writing for the New Yorker, seemed utterly incapable of criticizing art and when you analysed their writing for substance, its supposed meaning evaporated. That meant that other writers like Julian Stallabrass (an excellent successor to John Berger) proved far more acute judges of the art world of the 1990s.

As for the army of Feminist writers on art, I have found many of them bigoted, self-serving, mysandristic, politically-correct, and academic. Their connoisseurship, frequently tainted by their politicized and aggravated gender, leads them to over-praise minor female artists, and right-off great male artists they find too macho or successful. Now part of the reason for this is no doubt because of women’s powerful identification with the art and ideas of other women, just as men in their way identify with male artists, if only in a competitive sense.  Maybe it is sexist of me to dislike so much female art, but most of my aversion to it is based on quality and not gender. I loathe hype and being told what to think and especially what to love. There are literally countless actresses, or female singers, musicians, writers, thinkers, models, and porn stars that I have never needed a Feminist think-tank to re-educate me into admiring! Likewise, there are a handful of female artists I genuinely love despite all the Feminist propaganda surrounding them. But in recent years, having been force-feed so much propaganda for female artists by an art and media world (that has almost totally emasculated white male artists), I am as much revolted by the hype around female artists, as by their art, regardless of its quality. For example, I thought Cindy Sherman was a pretty good photographer/artist, but I was bewildered by clueless critics hailing Sherman’s originality and brilliance in creating self-portraits in which she took on the appearance of other women, and other characters, as though this was unique to her! But male artists including Durer, Rembrandt, Corinth, and Schiele had done the very same thing! I was also baffled that while the same critics could be vicious in their condemnation of the narcissism of male artists, they remined silent on Sherman’s even worse narcissism which verged on solipsism.

I have also noted that female artists have a weird aversion to the work of acknowledged male masters and exaggerated interest in mediocre work by other women. Yet, as Camille Paglia pointed out: “Women’s studies has not shifted the massive structure of art history one jot. It is scandalous that our most talented women undergraduates are being tutored in attitudes of juvenile resentment towards major male artists of the rank of Degas, Picasso, and Marcel Duchamp, who have become virtual untouchables. We will never get great art from women if their education exposes them only to the second-rate and if the idea of greatness itself is denied.” (Camille Paglia, Vamps and Tramps: New Essays, London: Penguin Books, 1995, P. 115.) Dismally failing to dig up a truly great female artist, Feminist ideologues have turned on great male artists and demanded they be no-platformed for sexism, misogyny, or moral crimes. So, perhaps the day will come when we will have nothing but male and female museums! However, there are a handful of female painters like Paula Monderson-Becker, Alice Neel, Lee Krasner, Paula Rego and Jenney Savile whose work I do like and admire, even if I do not rate them anywhere as highly as the Feminist virago’s that run today’s art world do. 

Indeed, since the 1990s, it has been impossible it seems, to say anything critical about a female painter. Cunning and unscrupulous Feminists use political correctness and victim culture, to prevent any critical analysis of female artists. And the hype and praise of their minor and cack-handed work has become so ubiquitous, I feel I am living in some weird parallel universe of feminist hyper-normalization. In 2013, when Georg Baselitz in an interview with Der Spiegel stated, “Women don’t paint very well. It’s a fact,” and went on to add, “And that despite the fact that they still constitute the majority of students in the art academies.” He was merely repeating what many like Brian Sewell and I had already said. Yet, predictably, he received heated opprobrium from female critics and artists. However, he was only really stating the bloody obvious, even if he was only a low-ranking, second-rate painter himself. When the likes of the radical-Feminist and Marxist Professor Griselda Pollock of the University of Leeds countered that, “Only few men paint brilliantly and it’s not their masculinity that makes them brilliant. It’s their individuality.” (Griselda Pollock, interviewed by Nick Clark, The Independent, Wednesday 6th Feburary, 2013). I nearly gagged. To be sure, if women did paint as well as men, we would never hear the bloody end of it!

As Simone de Beauvoir observed in 1949, “Painting, sculpture, literature, all are disciplines that require a hard apprenticeship and demand solitary effort; many women try them, but they soon give up unless driven by a positive desire to create; and many who persevere never do more than play at working. They may pass hours at the easel, but they love themselves too much to have a real love for painting and so end as failures.” (Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, 1949, London: Picador Classics, 1988, P.647-8.) 

In the past thirty years despite all efforts to cripple male painters they have continued to be the best of the era including Luc Tuymans, Neo Rauch, Matthias Weischer, Hernan Bas, Adrian Ghenie and Jonas Burgert. Quietly these white male painters produced serious, skilled, and intelligent paintings while superficial, trivial, and mediocre female painters like Marlene Dumas, Elizabeth Peyton, and Cecily Brown were uncritically overhyped. 

From what I can see, female students in Art College are often as talented as their male counterparts, though the very best are still often men, despite the fact that they are vastly outnumbered. However, it is in the crucial decade after Art College that a small fraction of the men go on to prove themselves more than merely promising or technically talented, and produce work of real enduring quality, while the vast majority of women give up art altogether. They could have been stars in the academic system, where they were supported by their female tutors because they were part of the sisterhood and adored by their male tutors (I wonder why?), but once stripped of the encouragement and support of Art College, they have no capacity to self-generate the desire to create art. Stripped of narcissistic supply, many young women lose all interest in art. And it is usually in the long years after Art College that an artist moves beyond glib, unoriginal facility and pastiche, to a truly profound form of expression.

I think the main reason many women do not live up to their potential after Art School, is because art is such a solitary and lonely vocation, and much of the time one is creating in a total vacuum of obscurity and indifference. So, it requires a fanatical vocation to carry, on despite years of apathy, rejection, and criticism. And success, fame, gossip, and critical attention, can bring even more unbearable pressures on the artist to keep producing art to an excellent standard, and to remain stylistically consistent and relevant. So, whether an anonymous failure or exposed success, the artist must remain true to themselves at all costs. Most women are far more realistic about life than men and they have so many other things that they consider important. But many artistic men, are naturally solitary and fanatical, so they are suited to lonely studio life. And no matter how talentless they are, they have massive egos, and refuse to quit, or they burn so many bridges they have no option but to carry on. 

Which is why today, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of Art Students are female, that women often get more grants and funding for their work (which tends to be performance or installation art about trendy social outreach subjects - and thus has no real market), where boys are made ashamed to be male, where every Liberal news channel promotes women beyond reason, where new laws to protect and advance women in every way possible are constantly being made in the West, where there is a gender-gap in female criminal prosecution, and we in the West live in a world where apparently female empowerment and fashion in Islamic states was an issue worth going to war for after 9/11 - the vast majority of major mature artists are still male! While women in the West carp about their lack of support, the reality is they have far more than most men have ever had and most of it is earned simply because of their gender. 

Truly great art takes you out of yourself and makes you a part of the artwork. It is not just merely technically skilful, original, or full of content – it transports you to another realm! This realm of true greatness has nothing to do with gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, or politics, it is absolute and pure of such trivial crap. I have seen such a pure realm in the works of artists from the cave painters, the Greco Roman Fresco painters, Giotto, van Eyck, Michelangelo, Titian, Bernini, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Goya, Rodin, Picasso, and Pollock, but never seen it in any work by a female artist. So at the age of fifty-one, I still fail to see any female artist of the first rank in art history and I am not alone, Brian Sewell thought that: “There has never been (and is not now) a woman artist who has had the slightest influence on the history of art.; if all the paintings ever painted by every woman from Sofonisba Anguisciola to Gillian Ayres were thrown into the Atlantic, the history of art would not be a jot disrupted and the only complaint could be that together with much futile dross a few pretty boudoir things were gone – only the works of Kathe Kollwitz would be a matter of serious regret…” (Brian Sewell, The Reviews that Caused the Rumpus and other pieces, London: Bloomsbury, 1994, P. 170.) I would not have gone that far, and just because there have been no great female artists of the first rank in art history, does not mean it will not happen. Especially since so much government money is being spent on it, and since so many bigoted female historians and curators live their lives to find, or manufacture, a female Picasso. Not to mention the glaring fact that the art world has experienced a gradual white, male, heterosexual flight from an arena increasingly determined by identity politics and victim status - not mastery and merit. So, since the mid nighties in the West, the art world has become predominantly a female world. Yet, despite being vastly outnumbered, men continued to triumph through talent, skill, and originality, despite the poisonous hatred of straight white men in the increasingly female dominated art world. In what is left of Fine Art, the likes of the sculptor Louise Bourgeois and the painter Paula Rego are just about lower ranking second and third-rate artists, and I love their work - though I am sure they would hate mine. Mediocre art can be found at two extremes, one is prettiness the others are ugliness and violence; both are shallow and superficial. Much of the worst of female art suffers from prettiness though in its angry Feminist manifestation it can indulge in shallow ugliness and violence. Male art can often suffer from too much ugliness and violence. However, truly great and profound art finds a kind of equilibrium between both extremes. The trouble with Paula Rego and Louie Bourgeois is their love/hate relationship to men, ambivalence towards the phallus, casual misandry and misogyny, as well as their relentless negative vision of life, and I have never wanted to look repeatedly at their work like other artists. I also find their work too agitprop and illustrational to be truly great or transcendent. For example, although Paula Rego could draw better than most contemporary artists, her artwork never transcended illustration. Similarly, George Grosz and Otto Dix will always be historically important artists, and greatly respected, but let’s be honest, they will never be loved by the public, and only misogynists will maintain their memory. Likewise, Louise Bourgeois and Paul Rego will always be historically important artists, and greatly admired by Feminists, but the public will never love their work and only misandrists will maintain their memory. 

In my opinion, many Feminist inspired curators, critics and writers (from the 1970s onwards) have sought to give far too much undue attention to eighth rate female artists simply because by accident of birth they were born women, and thus are part of the sisterhood. With the instincts of movie producers, female curators and creatives go after catchy stories of female artistic heroines and in a sense Frida (2002) an otherwise brilliant movie was the ultimate in this. The story of a female, Mexican, handicapped and bisexual artist, it was like politically correct nirvana for the left! Yet Frida Kahlo, although very talented and intense, was despite all the Feminist hype, never a major artist of the Twentieth Century, she was too monotonously narcissistic even solipsistic. Moreover, like far too many female artists, Kahlo’s narcissistic art was nurtured by a man, her husband and far more universal artist Diego Rivera. 

The aesthetic war of reappraisal waged on the canon, by visually blind, historically ignorant, yet haranguing loudmouth women, has done more to damage connoisseurship than nearly any other theoretical movement of the late twentieth century, reducing art to mere gender and identity politics. Since the 1970s, ideological feminists have critically torn to shreds the work of truly great male artists and at the same time given cynical praise to clearly mediocre female artists and many male critics have simply gone along with it all. Leaving me wondering if I am living in some weird parallel universe. From the birth of Modernism in the 1870s, critics have prided themselves on their cynicism, impartiality, refusal to fall for hype, and critical dissections, but since the 1990s, all that has been abandoned in favour of rabid political correctness and rigid critique. So, the female-artist no matter how talentless has become a deity beyond critique. Yet, “Feminism, for all its boasts, has not found a single major female painter or sculptor to add to the canon. It did revive the reputations of many minor women, like Frida Kahlo or Romaine Brooks. Mary Cassatt, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Helen Frankenthaler were already known and did not need rediscovery. Artemisia Gentileschi was simply a polished, competent painter in a Baroque style created by men.” (Camille Paglia, Vamps and Tramps: New Essays, London: Penguin Books, 1995, P. 115.)

Far too much female art is sickeningly pretty, shallow, narcissistic, low-brow, unoriginal and soulless. Not only has modern Feminist criticism and re-revaluation singularly failed to produce a Picasso or Pollock it has failed to produce a Manet, Monet, Cézanne, Braque, Dalí, de Kooning, Warhol, Rauschenberg, Twombly or Kiefer. I admit that female artists like; Artemisia Gentileschi, Käthe Kollwitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, Germaine Richter, Lee Krasner, Vija Celmins and Ellen Gallagher are of third-rate importance, and that artists like Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, Gwen John, Leonora Carrington, Louise Nevelson, Bridget Riley, Eva Hesse, Yayoi Kusama, Susan Rothenberg, Marlene Dumas, Jenny Saville, and Tracey Emin are of fourth rank interest. 

However, as for other contemporary female artists of my era like; Agnes Martin, Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman, Sherrie Levine, Sylvie Fleury, Kiki Smith, Marina Abramović, Sarah Lucas and Cecile Brown, I have nothing but contempt and regard them as sixth rate at best. The question might be “is their gender holding them back”. However, the answer is that today, their gender is hurtling them forward beyond reason. 

When it comes to female artists like; Sofonisba Anguissola, Angelica Kauffmann, Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun, Rosa Bonheur, Suzanne Valadon, Sonia Terk Delaunay, Gabriele Münter, Vanessa Bell, Tamara de Lempicka, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Barbara Hepworth, Helen Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchell and Rachel Whiteread, I can admire their skills, technique and style, but frankly I fail to see what they actually contributed to art history that was original or important. Their work is too slight, too dependent on male models already arrived at and too technically, emotionally, and spiritually bland to inspire anything in me. Their work is hopelessly mediocre and aesthetically weak compared to a legion of fourth rate male artists of their day already consigned to the waters of oblivion, while these female mascots, bob up and down on the life-rafts of female empowerment.

Simone de Beauvoir, an unattractive woman of incredible intelligence, who could not rely on beauty to get attention, wrote extensively about the problem of narcissistic female artists, and in way that would put most male misogynists today to shame. “She really does not like to paint: art is only a means; it is not her ambitious and hollow dreams that will reveal to her the import of a colour or a face. Instead of giving herself generously to a work she undertakes, woman too often considers it simply as an adornment of her life; the book and the picture are merely some of her inessential means for exhibiting in public that essential reality: her own.” (Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, 1949, London: Picador Classics, 1988, P.716.) Beauvoir’s lines could have been written about the drawings and paintings of Tracey Emin. But Emin would not care because she has ridden her celebrity cash cow to the bank. In fact, Beauvoir suggested that the only way for a woman to avoid the trap of female narcissism was either to be born ugly or to live in isolation. Although the talent of female artists today is far greater and more realised than those of the post-war period, there are countless examples of female artists who produce a brilliant first autobiographical exhibition, album or book but fail to grow creatively and live up to their early promise. And their brilliance is essentially melodramatically narcissistic. “Woman’s narcissism impoverishes her instead of enriching her; by dint of doing nothing but contemplate herself, she annihilates herself.” (Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, 1949, London: Picador Classics, 1988, P.716.) Of course, there are literally countless examples of talentless male artists who were similarly narcissistic and vacuous and have rightly disappeared into oblivion. There are even many examples of truly great male artists afflicted with narcissistic personalities. But the likes of Dürer, Rembrandt and Picasso also proved that they understood more than themselves. Others like Egon Schiele seemed to have nothing else to say, though his early death may have prevented him from suggesting otherwise. Still, Egon Schiele aside, there is a blatant, shallow, relentless quality to female artists’ narcissism that has few parallels in serious male artists. And none of these female artists have even a tenth of Schiele’s preternatural ability or frankly his desire for the opposite sex. 

Feminist’s like to carp about male artists’ objectification of women in art, but when you see women’s depictions of other women you are astonished by how crude, morbid and unsympathetic they can be, and since Feminism in the 1960s, female artists have created frightful images of other women and themselves, almost more hateful than anything made by extreme misogynists like George Grosz or Otto Dix at their worst. So, even if one restricts art history to art after 1900, when there was a sizable number of professional female artists, the overwhelming majority of the most beautiful and profound female nudes were made by men. And that is not even to mention the countless sexy images of women created by men. Moreover, so much contemporary female art is so narcissistic and devoid of any real understanding or even interest in anything but the most gross and simplified notions of masculinity, that the male, and love for the male, is the vacuum at the heart of their art. Although women were excluded from the life drawing rooms of academies up until the end of the nineteenth century, the fact that what male nudes we have by female artists from 1900 onward are so pitiful and caricatured only leads to the suspicion that female artists are too narcissistic to think of anyone’s body except their own. We only have to look at the abundant male nudes created by both heterosexual and homosexual male artists over hundreds of years to realise that the male body can be erotised and sexualized but such sensuality, empathy, compassion and desire seems totally beyond most female artists. Women complain of men ‘thinking with their prick’ but from what I have seen of female artists, women cannot see anything else about a man except his penis. Just look at Linda Benglis, and her Artforum advert from 1974 in which she posed naked holding a double ended dildo between her legs, which crassly seems to suggest that the only thing that makes a great male artist is his penis. With misandristic bigotry of this kind amongst female artists, it is no wonder they have never created even a historically great second-rate artist. To this day, the sexiest, most beautiful, and profound paintings and sculptures of boys and men have been drawn, painted, and sculpted not by women but by gay and straight men from the Greeks and Romans to Michelangelo and today’s Hernan Bas. If Sigmund Freud over a hundred years ago wondered what women wanted, we are all still left wondering. Thus, female artists seem incapable of showing any desire for men and when they try to, it is usually embarrassing like Sylvia Sleigh’s or Alice Neel’s laughable male nude paintings of heurist men lolling around, whose only point it seems was to parody male painter’s depictions of passive women. The various other male nudes made women reveal a shocking lack of desire for male bodies and misandristic mockery and satire. Maybe women are so inward-looking, narcissistic and passive sexuality, that they find in impossible to sexually hunt with their eyes, and visually desire either men or women, and make that desire palpable in art.

Worse still in literature, is the international best-seller Fifty-Shades of Grey, that everyday tale of a billionaire sadist, and his endless and complicated attention for his slave. Feminists decried its tale of sadomasochism. But it was less a tale of a male sadist than a needy female masochist. Because the truth about S&M is that the dominant serves the submissive woman/man. She/he decides how much they can take. Carried out in any other way and it would stop being roleplay and become actual criminal assault or rape. So, if you cannot handle my writing, you can always take the helicopter from my billionaire mansion and go back home! Personally, I am far too lazy to be anyone’s sadist. Female literature which constantly talks about romance in fact portrays the most stereotypical even caricatured ideas of a male lover and in fact their stories are often overwhelmingly about the female heroine’s greed, snobbishness, solipsistic neediness, desire to be desired and need to feel power over a man’s lust - even if it is only to reject it! The fact that so many of these male characters are stereotypically successful materially, even rich beyond the wildest dreams, and do everything to please the woman is tragically regressive and reactionary. Over fifty-seven years, Feminist art has only served to prove that ancient male painters and thinkers like Sigmund Freud were right in seeing women as narcissistic, vain, self-obsessed, and morbidly preoccupied with their body image. Of course, both men and women are narcissistic, but whereas male narcissism is quickly checked by the indifference and mockery of the world - female narcissism is constantly rewarded by the attention of the world and thus reinforced.  

Meanwhile, watching the news from Britain and America constantly as I do, is quite a schizophrenic experience regarding Feminism and female equality. Because one minute one is being ranted at that women are the equals of men! Then they are hyping women, who we are told can do everything a man can do and even better! But moments later, we are being told that women need special positive discrimination! Or that women need to be protected not only from the physical violence of men which is fair enough. And they also need protection from male coercion and bullying which is also fair enough. (Though this is pretty much what Western civilisation and patriarchy has always done for women.) Then we are told women need protection from online tolls. (Again, you can be against crude rape threats made by stupid ignorant bigots, and still feel that articulate criticism should be defended. Though many would argue that this is elitist and designed to silence ordinary uneducated people.) And in the end, we are told that women need protection from any form of criticism in texts or artworks! (We are also told that misogyny should be made a hate crime, but how exactly does one define misogyny? And who exactly defines misogyny? A panel of accredited Feminists? And how can you make half the population free from any criticism?) Which only makes me wonder, if I am living in some updated schizophrenic Victorian suffragette/puritan nightmare, where women want total freedom and equality with men, but at the same time they want men and the state to protect them in every way possible, and monitor and censor everything men say, do, write, or paint. For decades poisonous feminists used the free speech and free expression invented by male intellectuals and politicians in the West to attack men. But once they secured their power, they quickly turned around and demanded censorship of any man who spoke critically of them. Yet, if men had deemed misandry a thought crime in the late 1970s, Feminists would have been stripped of their platform. So many women today demand total equality with men in all the good things about being a man, but none of the bad parts, or in any of the responsibilities or curses of masculinity. Then many women also claim that men and women are different, so they want to keep all the good things traditionally associated with being a woman and continue to be treated in a privileged special way by men. 

The one ‘Feminist’ writer that I immediately took to was Camille Paglia (her Feminism was dubious to me because so much of what she said about the sexes seemed to sound like misogyny.) Like with Hughes and Sewell, I admired Paglia’s rebellion against the politically correct balderdash of the late twentieth century and early twenty first century. Her masterpiece Sexual Persona laid bare the psychosexual dynamics behind art and was one of the most exciting, original, and honest cultural texts I have ever read. It was also a quotable machine! However, Paglia was not just a conservative lover of art history, she was also a libertarian who was; Pro-Porn, Anti-Censorship, Pro-Sade, Anti-Rousseau, Pro-Capitalism, Anti-Marxism, Pro-Freud, Anti-Lacan, Anti-Academic, Anti-Political-Correctness, Pro-Gay, Anti-Lesbian, Pro-Abortion and so on! In fact, there didn’t seem to be anything she did not have an opinion on! In interviews on television, she was a firecracker exploding with learning, aggression, and controversy. I fucking loved her! I did not care if I did not agree with everything she said, I simply admired her honesty and courage. As a lesbian ‘Feminist’ Paglia was able to attack many of the assumptions of Feminism in a way impossible for male critics. The Alt-Right loved quoting Paglia, but while they quoted her on men’s cultural achievements, they left out her belief that men feared and were in awe of women. In her masterpiece Sexual Personae (1990) Paglia clearly dammed both genders. She fully credited the genius of male creation but described it as at war with Mother-Nature, a battle it always loses. Paglia dynamically highlighted the visceral power of female beauty and fecundity over men, and all man’s attempts to master it in civilization.

You would think that the best writers on art would be artists. This is not the case.  In fact, in my experience, almost the total reverse is true; the worst writers on art are artists! Not that it matters a dam! Jackson Pollock could barely string a sentence together - but his art did enough talking. Most artists’ writings are full of egotism, hyperbole, propaganda, sales talk, self-pity, or sophistry - just look at Giorgio de Chirico, Julian Schnabel, Tracey Emin or even me! Despite my best efforts, I am as bad if not worse than most artist writers are. Artists are usually the worst judges of their own work, and their observations on the art of other artists, are usually hopelessly impressionistic and competitively subjective. I know my own observations on art have been shamelessly partisan and have even changed radically over time. I have been immature in my likes and dislikes and poor in my reasoning. Thus, I have been an unreliable critic and many artists whose work has interested me in the past, I have later come to hate.

There are of course exceptions to the rule against artist writers like Vasari, Celeni, Delacroix, and van Gogh who all produced written work as great as anything in the canon of art writing. My personal favorites are the latter two, for I find such humanity, honesty, and intelligence in their personal battle with art, and in the way they tell their personal story - while still singing the praises of other artists. Though, I now wonder if van Gogh’s letters are maybe the most deceptive and misleading version of his life story - written to persuade his brother to support him, concentrating almost purely on his art, and carefully omitting any of his real personal struggles with mental illness, drink, prostitutes, confrontational incidents with people (that led most of them to think him insane and to be avoid) and facts about his suicidal tendencies. Which has paved the way for writers at least since Robert Hughes’s Van Gogh: A Sanity Defense from Time magazine in 1984, to downplay his mental illness. So, that the great and good can appropriate him, and continue to shun the mentally ill in their own lives.

As an avid reader of art history, I am frankly sick to death of writers (often friends of the artists’ and with a financial motive to stay friends) assuming that artists have read all kinds of difficult or obscure literary, philosophical or socio-political texts. Just because art historians have the time and inclination to read such texts in libraries does not mean that artists do. And even if they had read such texts, it does not prove that they understood them, or that they had any impact whatsoever on their art, unless they have said or written something relevant about them.  Of course the reason these writers impose these texts into their stories of famous artists is to prattle on about their own pet issues from Marxist utopias to Feminist tales of victimhood.

In conclusion, in my writing and in my blogs, I strive to be as personal, subjective, and individualistic in my response to art as I can be. I also try to take a fundamentally realist attitude towards art. For example, while all paintings of genius are so much more than paint on canvas, most painting is nothing more than that, paint applied to a surface by a human being in a certain way with the hope of achieving praise from their family, friends, art world and critics or to gain a certain sales price. The internet is full of impersonal badly written and frankly boring lists of facts about art, which is why personal writing about art is so important. It is also why I see the future of art criticism to be in blogs written by ordinary people and artists outside the mainstream, with an unpaid passion for their subject. For me the twelve most important issues around an artist and their work are as follows:

1. Their vision.
2. Their ideas.
3. Their emotional depth.
4. Their style.
5. Their skill and technique.
6. Their humanity. 
7. Their character/psychology.
8. Their biography.
9. Their sexuality and gender.
10. Their career history.
11. Their market place history.
12. Their race/politics/religion.
13. Their society and times.

The following list is my favourite art critics and writers and those that most influenced my own writing:

1. Robert Hughes.
2. Brian Sewell.
3. Camille Paglia.
4. Michel Ragon.
5. Donald Kuspit.
6. Harold Rosenberg.
7. John Richardson.
8. Clement Greenberg.
9. Hilton Kramer.
10. Friedrich Nietzsche. 
11. Charles Baudelaire.
12. Leo Tolstoy. 
13. Joris-Karl Huysmans. 
14. Emil Cioran.
15. John Berger.
16. Robert Cumming.
17. Philippe Dagen.
18. Laura Cumming.
19. Andrew Graham-Dixon.
20. Will & Ariel Durant.
21. Oscar Wilde.
22. Rene Ricard. 
23. John Updike.
24. Roberta Smith.
25. Julian Spalding. 
26. Thomas McEvilley. 
27. Peter Fuller.
28. Thomas Lawson.
29. Julian Barnes.
30. Martin Gayford.
31. David Sylvester. 
32. Sanford Schwartz.
33. Waldemar Januszczak. 
34. Peter Schjeldahl.
35. Tom Wolfe.
36. Mario Naves.
37. Edit DeAk. 
38. Craig Owens. 
39. Robert Pincus-Witten.
40. Simon Schama.
41. Holland Cotter.
42. Kay Larson.
43. Michael Kimmelman.
44. John Carey.
45. Ken Johnson.
46. Charles Darwent.
47. Tom Lubbock.
48. Jonathan Jones. 
49. John Russell.
50. Herbert Read.
51. Mathew Collings. 
52. Ernst Gombrich. 
53. Dave Hickey.
54. Richard Dorment.
55. Jerry Saltz. 
56. Peter Plagens.
57. Grace Glueck.
58. Richard Cork.
59. William Feaver. 
60. Cristín Leach.
61. Mira Schor. 
62. Arthur C. Danto. 
63. Bruce Arnold.
64. Adrian Searle.
65. Aidan Dunne.
66. Linda Nochlin.
67. John McEwen.
68. Lara Marlow.
69. Germaine Greer.
70. John Ruskin. 
71. Jed Perl.
72. Griselda Pollock.