Something is Happening in the Art World Part 2: Enter the Stuckists

Richard Bledsoe “Prospecting” acrylic on canvas 16″ x 12″

(See Part 1—Something Is Happening in the Art World, and the Establishment Hates Ithere.)

London in 1999 was seen by many as the world’s art capital. Much excitement, and more importantly money, was being generated by the YBA, Young British Artists. These were Conceptual artists, hailed and bankrolled by the establishment as the Next Big Thing. The works of many conceptual artists largely consist of carrion, excrement, pornography, debris, and the appropriation of objects produced by other, more skilled craftsmen; this is the elite’s idea of what is cosmopolitan and significant in our culture.

One of the success stories of the YBAs was Tracey Emin, who made a splash by displaying her own filthy unmade bed in the Tate Gallery. Tracey was dating a writer, musician and painter called Billy Childish. Billy wasn’t buying into the Conceptual art con game; he was struggling in the traditional medium of painting, trying to express himself. Tracey sneeringly insulted him: “Your paintings are stuck, you are stuck, stuck stuck stuck!” Billy shared this with his friend poet and painter Charles Thomson, who recognized how many great art movements were named after the derision initially directed at them by the establishment.

Thomson and Childish founded the Stuckists, a movement to champion the creation of personal, expressive art. They created a manifesto, defining the failures of elitist art and offering positive alternatives: “Stuckism proposes a model of art which is holistic,” they wrote. “It is a meeting of the conscious and unconscious, thought and emotion, spiritual and material, private and public. Modernism is a school of fragmentation — one aspect of art is isolated and exaggerated to detriment of the whole. This is a fundamental distortion of the human experience and perpetrates an egocentric lie.”

The two artists quickly realized Stuckism was just one aspect of the greater renewal of art that was beginning that they termed Remodernism. The experiments of modern art could be redeemed, utilized, and made part of greater society again. Art could be about integration instead of fragmentation, and regain its role as a communal experience and an explicitly spiritual act. In their Remodernism manifesto they wrote “Remodernism embodies spiritual depth and meaning and brings to an end an age of scientific materialism, nihilism and spiritual bankruptcy…We don’t need more dull, boring, brainless destruction of convention, what we need is not new, but perennial. We need an art that integrates body and soul and recognizes enduring and underlying principles which have sustained wisdom and insight throughout humanity’s history. This is the proper function of tradition.”

Individualistic Billy Childish soon left the Stuckists to pursue his own eccentric course, but Charles Thomson and other Stuckists have continued to paint, exhibit, write and speak out on the need for cultural change. The protest the Stuckists perform, dressed as clowns, against the pretentious selections of the Tate Museum’s Turner Prize has become part of the annual tradition. Under Thomson’s guidance 237 Stuckist groups have been founded in 52 countries around the world.

This growth has happened despite the active hostility of the arts elite towards Stuckist ideals. An art journalist has admitted to Thomson the idea is to starve the Stuckists of the oxygen of media coverage because they don’t fit in. Fortunately we live in the era of the internet, where the establishment filters can be bypassed. Stuckist shows have been held across the United States and Europe; a recent exhibition was in Tehran, Iran. The Stuckists have made the grassroots a global phenomenon.

In January 2014, the Stuckists came  to Phoenix, Arizona with a special small works travelling exhibition. International Stuckists: Explorers and Inventors held its opening reception January 17, 2014 in The Trunk Space, a long standing independent multimedia arts venue. Stuckism founder Charles Thomson had work on display, along with Stuckists from England, Wales, Spain, France, the Czech Republic and the United States. They showed alongside Arizona artists who work in the same independent spirit.

When asked what Stuckism and Remodernism contributes to the contemporary art world, Charles Thomson states: “A sense of art with inner strength and lasting content, not superficial and fashionable art made with gimmicks in order to achieve media attention, celebrity and high auction prices paid by people with too much money and too little discernment.”

Stuckism, Remodernism, and other artistic movements like them are needed to address the massive dysfunction of the art world, and the oblique havoc has caused in our societies. People need to reengage with the arts, and make our moment of the great continuum of history less embarrassing. Positive improvements can happen, but it needs to starts in the art.

The so-called Post Modern era, this kingdom of sophistry build by the chattering classes of arrogant yet incompetent technocrats that we’ve been living with now for decades, is crumbling. The people are rising to overthrow these vain usurpers with a healthier, more accountable and realistic mode of thought. For over a decade now, the Stuckists have been acting as the harbingers of these coming changes in the collective unconsciousness.

A version of the article originally appeared in The Western Free Press

Richard Bledsoe is a Phoenix, Arizona painter and writer. 

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