What if the stuckists are right? Just a thought. Stuckism, for better or worse, has entered our language. It refers both to an actual organisation and, in art chatter, to the belief that British art is dominated by conceptual values to the point that it puts figurative painters at a serious disadvantage.
I’ve argued with the stuckists – indeed I’ve abused them, calling them the enemies of art. I object to their obsession with conflict and polemic rather than actually getting on with training themselves to be great painters (because great painters never stop learning). By insisting that painting v conceptualism is an ideological battle, they invite a similarly ideological tone from their opponents. They have coarsened the debate.
They also miss out a third part of the equation – abstract painting, a profound tradition that evolved in the modern age. By setting “traditional painting” against conceptualist “modern” art, they ignore great modernist painters from Picasso to Cy Twombly.
But what if – in spite of their follies – they are right in their basic claim? In Britain today, there are more galleries and museums than ever before dedicated to the promotion of “modern art” as it is defined by the Turner prize. In this week’s funding announcements, the Whitechapel gallery, the Serpentine gallery and other contemporary art venues got increases. David Cameron is getting Tracey Emin to do a neon for 10 Downing Street. The hegemony of Turner prize art crosses party lines, and is as evident in the Telegraph as the Guardian.