Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Influences of environmental, political & social circumstances on artistic imagery.

Note the general feeling of disorder,sense of chaos.

Influences of environment & attitudes on artistic imagery.

The connection between artistic output, and the political, and social conditions in any particular period of time, are often overlooked by the general viewer when confronting works of art. This lack of understanding robs many of the full enjoyment of their experience. Historically, there has always been this relationship between the visual arts and meaning. Very much like a mirror held up to the world at a fixed point in time. It is the cement that gives the work its’ intellectual meaning.

This is nothing new, looking at a roomful of Roman busts one is left in no doubt about the patriarchal nature of Roman society.  The mannerist sculptures of Michelangelo and his fellow mannerist, such as Parmigianino or Tintoretto take on a new meaning when viewed from the perspective of the Counter Reformation, and the persecution of each other by Catholic and Protestant alike. The moral corruption of the papacy, the French invasions of Rome, the sack of that city in 1527 were just a few of the external forces creating a world in crises in the artists’ mind. Likewise the Rococo paintings of Watteau, an 18th cent world of over indulgence that prepares us for the blood bath of the French Revolution. Why do people love the Impressionists so much, may I dare to suggest that most likely these paintings offer us a window onto a middle class world created by the industrial revolution, with the increased living standards of a leisured class..
Note the lack of security surrounding baby Jesus.
The sense that this is the end of the world, day of judgement.

“Serious” painting to a great extent [ excluding the decorative] has generally served this purpose, and anyone viewing the extreme volatile nature of 20th cent visual art would not be surprised to acknowledge that the continual social and political crises of our times are suggested by the century’s visual art. In addition we have the extreme pursuit of materialism and decline in religious belief in the west at least reinforcing this century’s visual art.

The main purpose of this discourse was to encourage the viewing the work of the British painter Frances Bacon in this light. The 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s in Britain were hardly Utopian. The trauma of the 2nd World War, rationing on into the late 60’s, followed by a watershed in moral and sexual attitude in the 60’s. Bacon  a  homosexual must have experienced hostility socially in general. There was still little tolerance in such matters then or even now, the isolation he must have felt makes its presence felt in his paintings during this period. His inner feelings of lostness, and the enclosure of the figure within a suggested room reinforces this feeling. These figures although enclosure are still accessible to society at large.

This break down in social values in general did not disappear with Bacon’s death, but is only too apparent today. However much artist attempt to hold up the mirror to reality, the general public does not wish to look, learn, and hopefully correct its’ course. The current output of conceptual work, and sense of poverty of idea does not give confidence, but I may be wrong!

Francis Bacon.
Man in an open room, his figures are isolated in an unfriendly world

Monday, March 18, 2013

Letter from Smyrna.

A few years ago while visiting Izmit [historic Smyrna, Turkey], I became for some reason overwhelmed with emotion. Whether it was because people were identifying me as Armenian is hard to say, I had always felt that I looked fairly international in appearance without any particular racial trait. Little did I imagine that one day I would visit the ancient city of Smyrna, a city filled with all sorts of horror stories from the not so distance past. Memories kept alive by its former Greek and Armenian citizens. A city that witnessed the final expulsion of its cosmopolitan population whose residency stretched back thousands of years to Ancient Greece.

During my travels I fill many sketch books with drawing rather than taking photos, and occasionally am moved to write a short poem or prose impression about a location or experience. Last week I re found the following piece in my cupboard, and on reading it again felt I would like to share it with you.

Armenian letter from Smyrna.

Like any other day,
Seconds draw into minutes,
Minutes into hours,
Mahmud's voice, clear above the minaret's cries
Across echoing stones.
"All are now welcome George".

Armenian, Greek, Turkish blood now congealed in
Creaks around harden knuckles.
My room is white.
White titled floor and walls,
Unstained by history
Still gleaming in half light.

The world turns full circle
Smyrna now filled with youthful laughter.
Girl and boy walk hand in hand
In search of happiness.
Eyes bright without distance memories
To dim their gaze.

This morning
I passed a freighter moored by the quay,
Rusty earthen tints
Blending one with each other,
Like the rich Smyrna delta,
so often soaked with blood.

The city has been rebuilt,
Still decay makes its presence felt.
Behind the old bazaar
Alleyways spread out tangled webs,
Like life, each intent on catching light,
Waiting for springs' brushful
Of white lime, to begin life anew.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Tasmanian Wine Industry.

Tasmanian Wine.

Recently the Tasmanian Premier announced in the Mercury [6th March} under the heading “ Grape Expectations” that some $1.2 million was to be made available for further expansion of our viticulture industry. Given that a film of a similar name is currently being shown in local Hobart cinemas, I thought there must be a misprint. It seems extraordinary that so little research has been done to find out what is required to make our Tasmanian’s wine industry hum. This Government effectively stopped many small grape growers from marketing their product direct to the public with the introduction of new licence fees, even though they already held a perpetual licence or so they thought.

The Government needs to take a close look at how the French Government restructured the Beaujolais wine production area in the Southern Rhone villages. Like Tasmania, every farmer made their own wine with uneven results. The Government required all the villages to pool their crop into a semi-Co-op cave [winery] under their control to lift and maintain wine quality. The Beaujolais wines have never looked back.

What does this have to do with Tasmania’s wine industry? Currently we have some 120 odd growers, plus how many hobbyists’ vineyards, and over 170 different labels with a very wide range in terms of quality. Only recently a local grower sold his Riesling grapes to an interstate winemaker, he was shocked to find his fruit had been turned into a sweet wine which was fair enough, but the finished product was marketed as Tasmanian wine, hardly a good advertisement for our wine industry.


What does this have to do with Tasmania’s wine industry? Currently we have some 120 odd growers, plus how many hobbyists’ vineyards, and over 170 different labels with a very wide range in terms of quality. Only recently a local grower sold his Riesling grapes to an interstate winemaker, he was shocked to find his fruit had been turned into a sweet wine which was fair enough, but the finished product was marketed as Tasmanian wine, hardly a good advertisement for our wine industry

If Tasmania is serious about lifting our impact on a world market with this $1.2 million grant more research needs to be done on the best way to market and produce a quality product. Like the Beaujolais districts of France, Tasmanian needs an appellation system, were our vine growing regions are classified by soil types, yield, climate [early or late] with a controlled winery for each area. The current larger producers will throw collective arms into the air, but they are not supportive of small growers and charge two to three times to press small amounts of grapes. There are small vineyards in the Southern Rhone region of France that are only two or three acres, but produce fine wine. We need a change of attitude, large is not necessarily better. I see no reason why Government can’t play a decisive role in the establishment of regional wineries with quality control. Over the years various Ministers have told me this is not the Governments’ roll, private enterprise needs to solve their own problems. However, if we look at our Tasmanian Apple Industry when a not dissimilar system existed with every grower marketing their product under their own name. Only when Tasmanian Apples were marketed as Tasmanian product did the industry boom. If small villages in France can do it why can’t Tasmania.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Eat Drink & be Merry. Life according to Epicurus

Eat, Drink and be Merry, the life of an Epicurean.


The vast number of food and cooking programmes currently being aired on Australian TV suggests a huge surge in Epicurean belief. How the Ancient Greek philosopher became a symbol for over indulgence is difficult to say, certainly the philosophy of Epicurus has little in bearing on modern day interpretation.

Historically our present situation offers parallels to the last days of the Roman Republic after years of civil war, a desertion of religious belief and general lax moral behaviour. The Roman poet Lucretius popularised Epicurean views on how to live a pleasurable life. Lucretius, however was driven to suicide at 39, after being driven mad by an excess of a love philtre. It would appear that he did not take kindly to Epicurus advice of abstention from sex.

The strange thing about modern day Epicureans and their fondness for gastronomy and fine wine is how far removed they are from Epicurus' Philosophy. How a simple philosophy may be bent and resharpen to meet new masters desires. His true philosophy revolved around the idea of the human purpose in life was to maximize pleasure. Not in the sense of living from moment to moment, but to live a life of full contentment without any nasty after effects. We all have desires of one sort or another, but we must keep them simple in order to lead a fully happy life. It is our desire for excessive pleasure that results in our down fall and discontent.

Epicurus divided our desires into three compartments. Those considered natural and necessary for life [food and sleep], things we are unable to do without. Others he considered natural but not necessary [sex, raising or having children], and finally those we should avoid at all cost. It is not continuous drinking and revelling, nor satisfaction of lust, nor the enjoyment of luxuries that produce a pleasurable life. Rather sober reasoning, searching out the true motives for all our choices and actions and avoidance and banishment of mere opinion to which are due the greatest disturbance of the spirit. Epicurus  was perfectly happy living on bread and water with the odd enjoyment of some fine cheese. Excess in all things he felt produced after effects that did not lead to pleasure. One final point about desire and religion, most religious teaching tell their follows to look forward to the next life for some reward. This is the major problem, whether there is a next world or not, such teaching introduces a pleasure outside our life span. Epicurus did not believe this to be possible as it was beyond life, no doubt this is why he fell into disfavour after the Christianizing of the western world, nor would the Islamic scholars be pleased. After all  they where the ones to hand down Classic philosophy to the western world in the 15th cent.


His views on life were to simply maximize pleasure, without the assertion of extreme discomfort was best. Only desires that are obtainable lead to full happiness. Unfulfilled dreams lead to discontent. Religion also was to be avoided as it taught people to dream of a world beyond the present, a world that did not exist in terms of now. Resulting in the creation of false hopes, hopes that are impossible. Insatiability is a disease. It would be fruitful for all of us to reevaluate our desires in our present materialistic world, were real happiness is rarely realised due to unfilled desires. Epicurus’ philosophy still has much to teach us today. It retains a freshness even after 2300 years. The fundamental condition for happiness is simple sustenance and friendship. One final point about desire in terms of religion. If one looks forwaed to pleasures in the next life, this suggest there is such a place. Epicurus did not beliece this, he felt the only pleasure was in this life, after death there may be another world, but it had no bearing on how you lived your life. The Greek gods were fairly indifferent to human behavour.