Friday, November 19, 2010

Mediocre Emulations

A thought-provoking comment by American art historian James Elkins in Why Art Cannot Be Taught (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2001), p. 68—

Art school catalogs from the turn of the century are filled with reproductions of student paintings that look like slavish copies of John Singer Sargent or Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, and exhibitions catalogs from the 1950s show hundreds of students works that emulate abstract expressionism. The lesson I draw from looking at older art school catalogs and graduation exhibitions is that fifty years from now even the most diverse-looking work will begin to seem quite homogeneous. Works that seemed new or promising will fade into what they really are: average works, mediocre attempts to emulate the styles of the day. That's depressing, I know: but it's what history teaches us.