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I would not dream of pretending that the phenomenon I have been describing is specific to works shown at the Royal Academy, merely that I am particularly conscious of the way that artworks can have a sacramental dimension in some of the recent exhibitions which have been held there. So, I want now to consider three other occasions where I have been conscious of what I am calling the extra-artistic — the idea that there might be an evocation or an experience of transcendence in the experience of contemporary art.

The first is the work of Alison Watt, the Scottish painter. In fact, the first time that I was alerted to the significance of the sacred dimension in contemporary art was when, some time ago, the late Tom Devonshire Jones asked me to be a judge on the annual awards for the organisation he established called Arts and Christian Enquiry (ACE). I saw an awful lot of bad art, quite frankly, ham-fisted attempts to brighten up churches with what someone thought might be a good idea and too often wasn’t. But we saw one work which remains in the mind. This was a piece which Alison Watt had done called Still in Old St Paul’s in Edinburgh. I hadn’t been to the church before, even though it is quite close to the Fruitmarket Gallery in the centre of Edinburgh and near the National Gallery. One reaches it by what feels like an old medieval corridor and then it is quite dark. To my surprise, I’ve discovered that the church is Victorian, not late medieval. To the left of the high altar is a memorial chapel dedicated to those who lost their lives in the First World War. But what sticks in the mind is not the architecture of the church, but a work done by Watt, of cloth, nothing more than a large image of white cloth hanging in folds. I want to read what she wrote about the experience of doing the painting because I think it conveys very clearly the sense of the sacerdotal. You don’t have to be religious to understand the meaning of the draped cloth:

I worked on Still in my studio for about a year; visiting Old St Paul’s almost every day. I needed to go back again and again to the Memorial Chapel to remind myself of the space. It’s the largest work I have ever painted and the most physical thing I have ever done. It was also the most mentally draining. Making Still became an obsession. The scale and design of the piece was a carefully considered response to the physical structure of the space, yet ultimately I wanted to convey how I feel when I was in the chapel. It was an overwhelming feeling of sadness. It was extraordinary. I thought I knew every inch of the painting but as it started to be installed, I was astonished how little I recognised it.

It’s a nice piece of writing because it conveys very clearly how a work of art can become something that its artist did not necessarily expect or intend it to be, the takeover of emotions which enables artists to produce something beyond intention.

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amcdonald
February 28th, 2017
2:02 PM
Perhaps the author has `lapsed` into `western-Buddhism`. Tim Marlow at the RA claims the RA is both traditional and radical (so it`s not just a twee and quaint jumble sale). This `western-Buddhism` tartling favoured by Frances Morris and Sarah Munro (the new Directors of Tate Modern and Baltic here in the NE)and the anti-Brexit artists, is all pervasive in the artworld. It`s the official public relations language. Would that be because they haven`t discovered Akiane Kramarik or refuse to mention her marvellous works because Jesus taught her ? Her parents were atheists when it started. No Remainers are interested. Which is interesting to us Object Oriented Ontologists who voted for Brexit. Keifer,Kapoor and Gormley have never mentioned Akiane either. A Michelangelo sculpture of a naked Christ is to be shown in London. It`s been stored away for hundreds of years. What will muslims say about it? Akiane is even better than Leonardo. The Curse Of The Tate Modern Curator is not eternal.

MarkL
February 21st, 2017
1:02 AM
People will drift back to the church, just as they did in the nineteenth century; now that the politics of wishful thinking has finally collapsed, where else can the soft-hearted go?

amcdonald
February 4th, 2017
10:02 AM
The Louvre has lost 2 million visitors (even before the recent terrorist attack) and Brit museum visitors are declining . The new figures are at the Guardian online. Terrorism and austerity politics are blamed. Artists who voted Remain run the Royal Academy . The BBC is run by a Remain voting management. It`s `analysis` of Brexit and Trump is lazy and sloppy. Not a single word about Camille Paglia or Julie Burchill on the subjects. Isn`t the will of the people sacred? At least David Hockney is capable of a good interview in the Sun online.

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