Humanitas Back to the Street

I wish to share with you an excerpt from a reading I was given during my second year studying visual art:

Can we ever regard the Icon seriously again? In every aspect iconicity appears a preposterous anachronism within the urbane disbelief of a vision now arrayed as “the culture of the image”. For the image has fashioned its own discipline and doctrine that are, strictly speaking, aesthetically iconoclastic. Adherence to the Image is founded on a renunciation of both the originality and the finality that consecrate a pictorial instance as an Icon. The Image is resolutely secular and practical; it invites reading not absorption; it does not elicit veneration but activates scrutiny. Ironically, this is because the Image insists on its superficiality and promiscuity to deface the propriety of the Icon, to undo its priorities, its articles of faith.

This was written by Edward Colless in 1985 and was given to me in 1996.

I think the author is saying that religious images are less worthy than secular images in the context of a modern urbane environment in which people see a lot of images every day. He believes that artworks need to be de-mystified after being mis-used as a source of religious meditation.

In the 90s in universities we were bombarded with this kind of pretentious academic writing. I don’t think things have changed much. After a while, students stopped asking questions and fell into passive trance states. The people we had entrusted with the shaping of our ideas regularly delivered this kind of material, free of context or background.

To be properly educated is to possess the basic information needed to thrive in the modern world. We need access to the ideas that have developed our civilisation, and therefore ourselves. The modern psychology developed alongside the modern world. In order to understand our psychology, we need to understand the world we are part of. We need to be able to locate ourselves in time and space, not just as an intellectual exercise, but to find harmony within our own beings.

Currently universities are vocational institutions where we are taught all we need to know to function in a workplace. Achieving cultural literacy has become the provenance of the elite. The remaining 99% of us have become content with the stingy offerings of the media to quench our thirst for meaning. We “get on with the jobs” we are trained for and leave the juicy stuff to the smarter types.

Culture belongs to all people, not only (and perhaps least of all) the minority that currently dominate these areas. One of the problems in reclaiming our heritage is the intimidating idea that anyone with the guts to put their head above the parapet and initiate a dialogue in this area needs to be 100% perfect in their understanding of the material. Therefore, if you can be found ignorant of one time period, or event, a date or an important artwork, you have no business discussing the arts at all.

It is my intention to create a venue where we can discuss what we need to discuss to become re-connected with our ancestral legacy using whatever language is most comfortable for us. We can expose ourselves by asking seemingly ignorant questions for the sake of curiosity. We can play with the ideas of philosophy and reinvigorate them by bringing them back to the street, out of the institutions where they are gathering dust.