Scott Burdick About the Art Establishment and Beauty

These are some very interesting arguments by Scott Burdick about beauty in art (thanks to Sjan for pointing it out). Himself being a figurative painter, he criticizes the modern art establishment for completely excluding this style from museums or the collectors market. These four videos are not only thought provoking, but also filled with jawdroppingly beautiful art.

(Scott Burdick: “The Banishment of Beauty”)

Here are links to some of the contemporary figurative artists he’s mentioning:

Himself and Susan Lyon
Richard Schmid
Matt Smith
Camille Przewodek

I suppose when making such a video one has to go for simple statements. His observation of the state of figurative art in museums is absolutely on the spot – I noted the same when I wrote about my Dresden visit. Aiming to open museums and collectors for this art form is the right thing to do. But the more I think about it – I must I disagree with most of his explanations.

Maybe the biggest beef I have is the things he leaves out (or doesn’t know). He can complain about Duchamp’s urinal. But back when this was created it was similar idea as these videos: to complain about the undemocratic state of the art establishment. Back then it was the skilled academically trained artists that locked everyone else out.


Pablo Picasso - First Communion (1895) age 15

Pablo Picasso - First Communion (1895) age 15 - not skilled?

Mark Rothko - White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose) (1950)

Mark Rothko - White Center (1950)

Not beautiful?

Beauty for one is not as easily definable as Burdock makes it seem. In a game of poker, a great hand is beautiful. It doesn’t matter if its pretty paintings on the cards. That is actually measurable – the irises of your eyes will widen (which is why many players hide their eyes with shades). So beauty can be in abstract concepts, not just in girls with kittens. And beauty is specific to tastes. As a friend pointed out, maybe he is confusing pretty with beautiful?

Anime huge eyes, food:  Your pupil widens if you see beautiful things.

Scientific fact: Your pupil widens if you see beautiful things.

I can see beauty in modern art as Pollock, and in some work of Picasso. And there can be beauty in ugliness. The “trash dump test” is misleading. Would we really want to loose all art that is not understandable on the first look?

Pablo Picasso - Guitar (1913)

Pablo Picasso - Guitar (1913)

Does beauty really need to representational?

Tawaraya Soutatsu - Ivy Lane (ca1600)

Tawaraya Soutatsu - Ivy Lane

... got'cha with this one, didn't I? I'ts modern art from around 1600 - before the collectors bubble.

The prices for modern art are not based on any real value. That is true – but how much is this not true for classical art? The whole art market is a bubble – it just won’t burst as long as we can afford culture. It has no basic value needed to survive. If any of us would be on the edge of starvation, we would sell a Rembrandt for a carrot. Beautiful or not.

I think this is a typical example of how we humans are generally bad with higher concepts. Things like beauty and “what is art” defy explanation nearly by definition. If we stick to the simpler down to earth questions like: Should museums be more democratic? Should the art establishment stop shutting out entire art forms? I think then we have a ground we can all agree on – and I am totally behind Scott Burdick on his mission.