June 2008


Illuminating The Eclipse

To the Editors:

Many thanks for Louis Torres's excellently considered review of The Eclipse of Art and for the retrospective Aristos Award! It all makes me realise how much I failed to do.

Words--they're so difficult. I was trying to reconnect art with feelings that we can all recognise (which seems to me one of the main tasks) and get away from abstractions--from all the words we use to wrap up artistic experiences that exist apart from them.

Hence "We reserve the word 'art' for those rare visual creations that stir our emotions and stimulate our thoughts profoundly and elusively, which we find difficult to express through other means, but which we nevertheless feel to be true to our experiences"--rather than the definition you propose: "Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist's fundamental values" (which I agree with broadly, though I would substitute the words "imaginative" for "selective" and "feelings" for "values").

I didn't mention postmodernism because I actually think it's just an extension of modernism, but I didn't want to get stuck up that creek! I'm sorry the book was so frustrating, but I was trying to do something different and didn't succeed.

I appear not to agree with you about "abstract" art. I think it can be art, but then I don't think any art is entirely abstract.

I do like some--but only some--of Sandy [Alexander] Stoddart's work, and indeed bought an early piece of his for Glasgow. I don't think all of it "works"--if I can use that word. But I would need to talk to you in front of actual pieces to discuss the fundamental issue of what one actually gets from looking at art.

I was unhappy with my summary in The Eclipse of Art of the breakdown of representation in "modern" Western art, and this made me go on to write The Art of Wonder: A History of Seeing [more]. I return to the issue of what art is changing into now at the end of that book, but I fear you might find it equally frustrating!

Julian Spalding

Mr. Spalding is the former director of the Glasgow Museums in Scotland.

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Louis Torres replies:

Tackling a complex subject from a perspective very much against the artworld grain, Julian Spalding succeeded in The Eclipse of Art far more than he "failed." Notwithstanding any criticisms on my part, as I sought to convey, he amply merits the Aristos Award honoring his book. His additional reflections on it are most appreciated.