Those who have been reading Lines and Colors over time may have noticed that despite the deliberate crossing of genres, and the mixture of different aspects of visual art, there is a common thread of art that takes its basic structure from the traditions of representational art,
You may also know that I have often expressed anger at the Modernist art establishment. Not so much at Modernism itself, I have a certain fondness for pre-war European Modernism, and I can simply ignore other Modernist art that I find visually uninteresting, but at the the art establishment, an artistic elite that arose out of post-war American Modernism, and for decades has controlled the museums, galleries, critical press and almost all forms of artistic power in deciding what is of value in contemporary art.
This new art establishment, after the better part of a century in power, still likes to pretend that they are “rebelling” against the restraints of the 19th Century art establishment; and in so doing has waged a deliberate and caustic campaign to denigrate realism and the traditional artistic values that have been the basis for Western representational art for centuries.
I encountered this cultural bias when I was a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in the 1970’s, and was informed by those in the know that traditional realism was dead as far as the powers that be were concerned; and that museums, high-end galleries and critics would never take you seriously unless you were doing non-representational “conceptual” work based on a theory or an “ism” — and something “new” at that. To pursue traditional realism was to be consigned to the cultural backwaters of a no longer valid branch of art.
Populist forces have pushed back in recent years, and representational art has experienced a resurgence, but the forces that place non-representational theory-based Modernism at the pinnacle of artistic achievement, and relegate traditional artistic values as merely the path to that great achievement, and see them as the choking restraints that Modernism has freed us from in the pursuit of artistic “truth”, still hold sway in the corridors of artistic power and commerce.
Contemporary realist painter Scott Burdick has taken on this situation, looking within its story for a common thread that separates Modernism from traditional art, and set out his thoughts in The Banishment of Beauty, a one hour lecture and slide presentation that he gave at the American Artist magazine’s “Weekend with the Masters” event in Laguna Beach.
The slideshow and lecture has been made into a series of 4 videos that can be seen on YouTube. You can also read a transcript of the lecture on Burdick’s site.
While I may disagree with him on certain points, I think Burdick, like Tom Wolfe in his essay, The Painted Word, has pretty much hit on the essential reality of the modern art world.
Burdick has illustrated the presentation with examples of his own work and the work of other contemporary representational painters, as well as examples from great painters from the late 19th Century, contrasting them with examples of 20th Century and contemporary Modernism.
You can access all of the lecture parts here, though you may want to view them individually outside of the bright blue interface: The Banishment of Beauty, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.
You may also want to visit Burdick’s website and view his own work, which is exceptional. Burdick has long been on my list as the subject of a future post.
Whether you agree with his contention or not, the presentation is worth following, and you might at least find his arguments a jumping off point for thought and discussion.
[Addendum: This post has, as I had hoped, sparked a lively discussion in the comments section. Scott Burdick has been kind enough to write a lengthy comment, answering some criticisms and adding depth to points covered in the video presentation. It’s actually much more relevant and interesting than my original post. See the comments here.]
Scott Burdick YouTube listing for all 4 videos
Transcript on Burdick's site
36 Replies to “The Banishment of Beauty, Scott Burdick”
When I finished my painting program at the UW School of Painting (early 90’s), “conceptual” art still reigned, and since my tendencies were not of that ilk, I hid my love of illustration & fantasy (Beardsley, Sulamith Wulfing, Antonio Lopez, George Stavrinos), & out of favor movements (Pre-Raphaelite work, Art Nouveau, Art Deco) in order not to have the professors biased against me. I specifically took classes that offered expertise on color(a rare emphasis), but even then I was labeled as a “formalist” (as if that was a dirty word) by my peers. Although my painting style is not terribly representational (more abstract), I always cared about controlling quality (line, etc) & never had much use for the throw it on-scrape it off-let it drip crowd. I’ve been following the issue of the “art world” extricating “beauty” from art for 20 years, and I find that it’s still a current problem. That’s disheartening. The thought that an “idea” is inherently more valuable or awe-inspiring than a well-executed painting or sculpture (and to heck with quality or execution) really worries me about our society. I’ve read many articles re: this issue in American Arts Quarterly and the book “Venus in Exile”. Thanks for the post. Cheers!
thank you so much for sharing!!!!!
It was difficult for me to pay attention through his first part so I doubt I’ll make it through the other clips. If he’s arguing for a return to more beautiful work, I can’t say I want to get in line. The examples he shows in favor of beauty mostly wind up being as boring to me as the abstract works he’s criticising.
I do agree that it’s infuritating at times when many art exhibitions often exclude anything that displays great technical skill and realism. The problem there lies with the simple-mindedness of the people who present those shows, but it’s their space. It’s also unfortunate that amoung the artists at the top of the financial heap these days there are no realists.
lets make sure we look at everything out of context. let’s read artist statements satirically, and offer stupidly broad generalizations.
This is a rant, filled with poor attitude- “…It’s just so radical!”
This session of thought is illustrative of the primary reasons so many representational artists are failed to be taken seriously in today’s meta-art scene. They can’t get passed simple conceptual roadblocks, and they suffer from endless competitive anxieties. If modern art is some thing to be defeated, than poking fun at it is probably the worst way. Making commentary like this requires deep knowledge of the current situation in art and that of art history.
“It is obvious that works by Sargent or Zorn would never make the cut at modern museums if they were painted now.” Not that the world record for the highest price paid for a painting was set by Lucien Freud, one such painter who is certainly closer to painting tradition than most of his contemporaries. (33 mil just 2 years ago, for thus unawares). This punctuates two problems.
A. Burdick’s failure to have any kind of comprehensive knowledge of the contemporary art world (just go once to the Armory show in NYC, at the very least).
B. His failure to understand that no artist works in a void. Which leads to this-
“The value of beauty is unmistakable and universal”
This is simply juvenile. A claim defeated by the mere existence of any sort of counter argument. You cannot pull Sargent and Zorn out of there time and drop them into ours and pretend that this make believe data is somehow relevant to anything. The value of beauty is contextual. I doubt seriously Burdick’s own grasp on even what he may consider relevant art history- consider Degas, Manet, Whistler, Courbet, Rosetti, and the thoughts of Baudelaire. To think that somehow there is a universal truth to the value of beauty (and simply to state it in the middle of such a poorly referenced argument, lol Science) in face of these 19th century painters- who’s very careers have been recorded thoroughly as a seemingly endless battle of the different sides to this same notion.
This is insanity. To actually claim that there is some sort of consensus of modern art, (which is by the way more specific that he makes it out to be, and is typically said to have started in the 1860s- semantic yes, but again- it illustrates again how little of art history Burdick has consumed) that resists beauty on a large scale is absurd. I also love how he doesn’t point to anything representational of evidence short of the anecdotal. Again, illustrating his misunderstanding of the meta level of contemporary he chooses the Banksy documentary, (where he takes a jab at graffiti, probably unknowing that many 19th century painters enjoyed the practice, including Messioner)- who by in large occupies the fringe of the actual art community- where creators like Orozco, Ortega, Dumas, and Barney are far more important in the eyes of the institutions- and would make much more interesting pickings for his arguments- Burdick simply doesnt know about them.
And now I may be physically ill, as he suggests “if the art work of the aesthetic underground were ever to make it into the public square it would sweep away the pretenders in short order”. Again, illustrating just how far away he is from contemporary art. Ghenie, Kanevsky, López García, Doig, Currin, Richter, Le Brun. Richter! Le Brun! Garcia! ” The only shows of aesthetic beauty allowed at the major museums are the ones of …” Please.
Just another one of the jockish idiots consumed with there own athletic notions of art, not fueled by any kind of real ideas, just upset that they aren’t the coolest kid in the lunchroom, even though they worked so so hard. Such an uneducated argument. Such pitiful anecdotes.
I watched the first clip and didnt like it. His approach is amateurish, he seems philosophically far too weak to analyse modern art and to raise proper questions and his aesthetical, emotional comprehensiveness is not tuned well enough to point out the real qualities of classical art. When he started talking about teenagers reaction to Bouguereau and Picasso I couldnt take it no more. I do agree with the fact that there are problems in todays art world, but the analyses and critical approaches should be performed on academic level, while his videos seem more like family magazine material.
Great post. It will be interesting to see if this new group of painters has the ability to crack the institutional bias against representational art. Lipking and Burdick and Schmid seem to have the right idea, any artist or illustrator should be interested in this fight. Museums public funding should be used to represent all forms of art, I for one would love to see contemporary illustrators and artists in permanent displays of the large metropolitan museums.
Thanks, everyone, for the responses so far. I was hoping for some debate.
To Clark and bojan — I want to point out that the fact that this is not a scholarly treatise, simply one artist’s comments on his search for an explanation of the core difference he sees between traditional art an Modernism, goes to the essence of Burdick’s point.
He specifically points out that he is not a scholar or an art critic, just an artist who responds to beauty, and is struck by the apparent abandonment of beauty as a driving force in contemporary art (at least at the upper levels of the art world).
I will agree that he goes a bit overboard in some of his generalizations, but the notion that there is an innate human response to recognizable imagery, particularly that of the human face and form, that is lacking in non-representational art is a valid one. I also think that Tom Wolfe’s notion that the majority of Modernist works essentially “illustrate” the intellectual theories on which they are based, is a valid one.
There are more shades of gray here; where, for example does representational art step over the line into kitsch and sentimentality? Also, I think there is a considerable body of non-representational art that can be enjoyed as beautiful simply on the basis of color or texture, minus any theories or intellectual posturing, and isolated from any historical context of when it was created, what “ism” it represents or who did what first.
However, I maintain that the deliberate denigration of representational art (or “illusionistic art” as the Modernist “truth seekers” like to label it) by the post-war Modernist establishment (Modernist critics and artists, along with museums, art schools, dealers, auction houses and high end galleries) is an undeniable fact of history, and a shameful one that has been harmful to the culture.
I don’t begrudge the Modernists their art; I resent their attempts to re-write art history to put themselves at the pinnacle of artistic achievement at the expense of artistic tradition, largely in order to maintain their base of power and the value of their investments.
The history of Modernism since the middle of the 20th Century has been more about commerce than art.
“””He specifically points out that he is not a scholar or an art critic, just an artist who responds to beauty”””
Yes, but can we really take that as an argument or justification? I mean, art can be very complex and the questions he is asking himself are subject of debates among our greatest intellectuals, philosophers and art critics. He may be aware of the fact that he is not a critic, but he is not aware of the fact that he cant provide us with anything relevant. He should pick up the books of, I dont know, Greenberg, Danto, Berger and philosophers of Frankfurt school or philosophical views on art by artists themselfs (like Rothko), and make a video about how and why these people are wrong. He doesnt seem to understand how modern art works thats why he is unable to attack it.
Thanks for your discussion and input.
I think this actually goes to the heart of the issue, if you have to know the theory behind the art to appreciate, understand or respond to it, something is lacking.
While art criticism, theory and commentary can possibly expand someone’s appreciation for a particular work from any era, mid-20th Century Modernism depends on theory for its existence.
This is the point that Tom Wolfe makes so eloquently in The Painted Word. Mid-20th Century Modernism is the first time that the art has followed and been based on critical theory, a reversal of the traditional role of theory and criticism simply commenting on the art after the fact.
Burdick’s point is similarly that it shouldn’t be necessary to understand the theory behind a work in order to respond to it and appreciate it. Human beings have an innate response to visual beauty, they don’t have an innate response to “flatness” or the “truth of the picture plane”.
Charley, I haven’t looked at Burdick’s work yet, but I can very much relate to your post as an early ’70’s student at the San Francisco Art Institute. I remember reading Tom Wolfe’s book and feeling relieved that it wasn’t just me. As a student, I felt I needed to explore all the possiblities that “higher education” had to offer, and then return to what I thought was important to me at the end of the day. So, I would paint, catering to the “concepts” of the individual professors, and got straight A’s. Many of the “avant garde” students would spend more time talking about art than acutally producing it, and when they did come up with something, they had to talk about it some more. What a joke!
I use to regret my choice of schools, but now realize that the requirement for “isms, and inovations” was prevolent at art colleges across the country during that time.
You might have thought that if any school in the U.S. would have been a bastion of representational traditions at that time, it would have been the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, but when I was there the school was divided into two factions, modernists and traditionalists.
Though the traditionalist faction was stronger than it may have been at many American art schools in the mid 20th Century, the modernist faction was dominant. Second year students painting 12-foot high canvasses in random shapes made with housepaint rollers were being advanced ahead of dedicated students trying to pursue the traditional academic values on which the school was founded.
Looking back, I can only assume it was because the board and major patrons were in the thrall of Modernist values, even at the Academy.
Thanks for posting this; it’s useful to have the classical art training tea-party POV so clearly and effectively demonstrated all in one place (easier than, say, browsing around the essays over at the Art Renewal Center), and it’s entertaining to have so many varied and well-expressed responses to mull over. And fun to have a chance to indulge in some ranting of my own…
I’m totally behind the impulse to return more “classical” hand and eye training to contemporary art education. I enjoy the work of many of the Art Renewal Masters, living and otherwise, and I’m delighted to see so many fascinating but forgotten non-“moderns” resurrected via sites like Art Inconnu. I’m more than thrilled that there seems to be a genuine revival of interest in the traditional painter’s craft going on; the art materials and information available today are SO much more rich, varied and extensive than when I studied painting in the 70s. Hallelujah!
So, Go Go Go, Realist Painting! But if you’re out to defend the relevance of classical drawing and rendering skills and to celebrate the beauty of the Real World or the Human Form, why trot out Bouguereau’s stunningly silly, fashion-bound angels when, say, Ingres is sitting right there, still well-loved, and making the case so much more powerfully? Seems to be strikingly underselling the whole notion of painted Beauty, along with the potential for Painting itself.
It’s hard for me not to conclude from rants like Burdick’s, and from his strangely simplistic examples, that he and his “Classical” cohorts don’t really like Art. Or Painting. Or Art History. Or Visual Excitement. It’s hard to imagine that they actually find the World to be beautiful and mysterious and largely undiscovered, or image-making to be a serious, profound activity as dependent on curiosity as upon certainty. They seem more concerned with acclaim and acknowledgement, with limiting expression and restraining creative freedom to some essentially quite preliminary, foundational (and not that exceptional) image-making skills—not to mention the hints of some sort of repressive social vision—than with exploring the full poetic potential of their materials and skills, with design and gesture, with pattern, texture, color, with any kind of vision. They seem to have no interest in expanding either the world’s artistic legacy or their own understanding of it; they simply want to confine it. To shut the trainee down just when they’re about to set foot outside the “atelier”. And where is there any nod to imagination or even creativity in all this mourning over Beauty?
All exceedingly strange; and fortunately, not apparently having much impact on the world’s artists.
The imagined war between the Real and the Abstract is already over, or certainly rendered moot: There are exceptionally skilled and celebrated realist artists working at every level and from every artistic point of view in the world today, pushing well beyond whatever was accomplished by Tadema, Bouguereau, Zorn, admirable or trivial as they may have been; and apparently there’s more work potential than ever for skilled and trained drafts-persons, realist-visualizers and convincing renderers thanks to the virtualization of the entertainment industries. Classical realism is simply an entry-level requirement in many of today’s art worlds, and if you can’t stretch well beyond that, there’s little hope for you…
My sense is that the non-representational and conceptual waves that crashed so dramatically into the 20th Century with RMutt and the rise of photography led to two things: An incredible refreshing of the collective visual imagination of the Western world as its realist blinders were dashed away, and to a sort of vacuum with the Death of Painting hysteria in the post-Greenbergian era as theory after theory found itself eating its own tail. That vacuum is now inevitably and irresistibly being filled thanks to the obvious fact that human beings deeply love to make (and to look at) images of every sort, from the most realist and narrative to the most conceptual and abstract, and generally don’t give a crap what any Cultural Establishment may say or theoretical air-castle may imagine to the contrary.
But to imagine that this rebirth of picture-making won’t, or even worse shouldn’t, be informed and invigorated by the incredible graphic and expressive discoveries of the 20th C’s non-objective revolution, is the purest head-in-sand foolishness. Don’t worry about Beauty; it’s always available, doesn’t need rescue, and can’t be legislated.
…But a very big thanks, Burdick/ARC, for all you do to restore, revive, and reclaim the craft legacies of the days when painting loved itself unashamedly.
Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I got a chuckle out of your characterization of the traditionalists in the conversation as “the classical art training tea-party”.
I agree with your assessment of the prominence of Bouguereau in arguments by traditionalists vs. Modernism, I’m quite lukewarm on him myself and surprised when he is eleveted to demi-god status by some traditionalists. However, I think I understand part of the appeal, in that he was one of the most prominent and important painters of his time, but the Modernist historians didn’t smply villify him, they essentially wrote him out of art history.
This is one of the things I have the biggest problem with in the Modernist takeover of the art establishment. Yes, the faction in power always rewrites history in their own image, but I don’t have to like it (or accept it) just because it’s been done before.
I’m not sure where you get the impression that Burdick “and his ‘Classical’ cohorts don’t really like Art. Or Painting. Or Art History. Or Visual Excitement.”; or that they “have no interest in expanding either the world’s artistic legacy or their own understanding of it” — because they don’t appreciate Modernism? Excuse me?
I also beg to differ that the conflict between is between the Real and the Abstract (all art is abstract in the strictest sense of that word); the conflict is between those who value the the traditions of representational art and the pursuit of visual beauty, and those who consider those elements unworthy of consideration in “serious” art, and it is still continuing.
I agree that there is a subest of Modernism that is lively and visually energetic, and contributes to the overall vocabulary available to contemporary artists; but it sadly isn’t enough to offest the damage done to the course of Western art traditions over the past 70 years or so by the deliberate campaign the Modernist establishment waged to devalue those traditions and make us see them thorugh their own distorted lens.
I also still think it’s more of a political and economic struggle than an actual conflict of artistic vision.
“if you have to know the theory behind the art to appreciate, understand or respond to it, something is lacking. ”
This is superficial. Let us turn this phrase around, and point it at those who Burdick would admire. Sargent. To look at his work and admire it, it takes a sense of the theory. These are much simpler things, but Burdick doesn’t mind pointing them out for us- simple ideals of traditional aesthetic values. Rhythm, light, balance. The rudimentary components of art appreciation, described in Thomas Munroes “Art Education: Its Philosophy and Psychology”- written in the late 50s. These components are simply apart of our fashion and culture, and while are more accessible- they are still theory. There is still required theory to the appreciation of representational art as there is to anything else. So the element here then becomes accessibility. And it is at this point that generalizations cease to mean anything, because every single artist is different in this matter. One cannot put the nature of the artistic principles of Calder next to de Kooning in the same way that you cannot consider a Beroud to a Whistler as belonging to the same chapter. Calder and de Kooning are so removed from eachother, as Beroud and Whistler- it would be silly to sweep them alltogether with generalizations about the natures and qualities in their art. Heck, some may consider it wrong to put 1850s Whistler next to 1870s Whistler- a time showing an allegiance to Courbet’s realism marked by a total rejection of it soon there after. This again, is by the way, how the art scene was at the time- totally ensconced in differing critical theories- which were dispatched by way of media and exhibition.
The tradition of the theories behind art appreciation is as vast as the history of art itself, and is necessary to understanding it if you want to start saying that you know something, like how Burdick’s condescending treatment of artist’s statements implies.
But this is all besides the point, because Burdick was not making an attempt to understand or accept “modern” art (or what he things modern art is)- but trying to attack it while victimizing himself and others.
“The history of Modernism since the middle of the 20th Century has been more about commerce than art.”
Well this isn’t “true”, it may be argued. In the same way one could argue early 19th century European painting was more about politics, and before that religion, and during all of it power and classism.
“mid-20th Century Modernism depends on theory for its existence.”
This, I can dig. Moreso, I would extend it to all art. There simply isn’t a mode of appreciation that doesn’t build off of theory. This innate response your talking about is still a learned trait- basic theory but theory nonetheless. But anyways, Burdick is pointing to all modern art, including contemporary. Burdick isn’t thoughtful enough to be specific in his rants, as we have gone over.
Yes, Burdick is no scholar, but it makes no difference because he is still participating in the discussion, so he puts himself out there for scrutiny.
Not only does Burdick not grasp the concepts of modern art that he vilifies, he has a failure do understand and account for the aspects of modern art that are found in the art he admires.
Also, he begins to speak of the economies behind the modern art- as you have Charley- and the horrible things they have done. But how could one not draw the same conclusion from art of literally any era? Some of these points are not without validity, but to simultaneously make claims to universal truths in art (which Burdick has done) and then reject a peice of art, artist, or movement based on the fact that it hinges on critical theory is a blunder. It is the cognitive dissonance.
I typically try to maintain an agnostic sort of sense with these things. There are simply to many moving parts, to many complexities involving art of all kinds to really make concrete analysis. All attempts are welcome, and can be exhilarating, but Burdick fails here on so many counts, and does not even begin to nudge at the complexity of the beast he is trying to address, even when starting right at it. The hilarious musical accompaniments don’t add to it either.
I am a painter who has had a traditional education in art. In fact I went to the school half the realist artists shown in the slide show went to. I appreciate what Mr. Burdick is trying to say. (I think for a better presentation of this thesis I would recommend Burt Silvermans book Sight and Insight. Written from an artists point of view with a little better sense of history.) I think Burdick hamstrings himself with a theory about art that, while it might generate pats on the back by our fellow realists, misses a great deal by not trying to understand what much of modern art is about. I personally dont care for Picasso, but you would do well to understand where he came from, why he did what he did, etc. Most critics I know of dont universally love all his work, in fact many who admire his early work recoil at much of his late self indulgence. (To throw it all in one big bag and call it macaroni creates a sense of ignorance.) It cannot be stated to loud. Art is not created in a vacuum. You cannot put it all up on a wall and walk around saying, “Beautiful, not beautiful, beautiful…”. Who decided art was only about beauty and truth. Much of modern art developed parallel to modern thought, which Burdick seems to either not know about or find irrelevant. Some of the nihilistic philosophy responsible for some of the nihilistic art is nihilistic because of the feeling confusion and hopelessness modern life engenders. We cant use art to express this? To poo poo art that has a “concept” is to easy and again plays for simple applause. There are many artist who are able to create representational art with a concept. Jerome Witkin, Xenia Hausner, Paula Rego, Michael Andrews, Euan Euglow, John Curran, Jenny Saville, Lennart Anderson, William Beckman, Susanna Coffey, Vincent Desiderio, Mark Greewold, etc, etc, etc. The list is quite long. The days of art being accepted based on its perception of beauty are gone. It would require a philosophical/psychological shift in the outlook of humanity. Good luck with that. My personal belief is that the death of God was the death of beauty. For modern (or post modern) man, its never coming back. I love most of the artwork that Burdick loves. I love the mastery of technique. I love the sense of accomplishment. But much of the artwork is wall decoration. Beautiful though it may be, much of it is purchased for nothing more than an accompaniment to a sofa. That is the reality of the art market of Burdick and his (and my) fellow realist artists. And the reality of the current “fine” (as found in New York galleries and modern museums) art market is that it is all about money. Concept is a tool to sell art. The work is a commodity. That is the reality from here on out. It infects the museums, critics, art education institutions and collectors. Its all about money. Thats all its now about. Its all about money. Richard Prince reproduces the Marlboro man. Hundreds of thousands of dollars. Its absurd and its all about greed and money. We are never going back to Kansas. So what is a poor representational artist to do. Educate yourself to what all this is about. Realize that what might be art for you might not be art for someone else. (That is a high calling for many). Realize that this is the way it is and you can either play the game or not. I assume Mr. Burdick is not working at McDonalds to pay for his art supplies which I would also assume he is part of some art market. Enjoy your success for what it is. You are doing better than most!!!(three exclamation marks) Realize that technique is not the penultimate in art and that concept has an important place. I understand Burdick’s frustration. I have sat in on dozens of these conversations. But these videos do little to further anyones understanding of the issues being discuses.
Burdick should stick to painting.. a nice fellow and very talented but this is an absurd notion and strikes me as little more than “whaaa, nobody is paying me the attention i deserve….they wont let me play? It is better to keep ones mouth shut and be thought a fool, than to open it and leave no doubt…..
This was very interesting to me Charley, thank you for sharing. I also enjoyed reading everyone’s comments. I definitely came away from this post feeling… enlightened. :)
I did not agree with Burdick but I understand and respect his position. And I’m certain at his age and level of skill, he’s well aware of much of the theory and thinking behind modern art and simply drew a different conclusion than the rest of us. However, I think he severely underestimates what modern art means to people and our society.
Bojan, I too cringed at the teenager part… and to me, it’s a little disappointing that watching teenagers finding something, “like, beautiful” is meaningful to him, but seeing others moved even more strongly by modern art serves only to piss him off.
Burdick also linked to Roger Scruton’s “Why Beauty Matters”, which I watched and found more professional and in depth than his own presentation. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65YpzZrwKI4 They present much of the same points but Scruton has a little more polish. And that great authoritative British accent.
Anyway I still appreciated Burdick’s thoughts. I didn’t think he came off as a whiner.
Thank you for your reply; I’m pleased to participate in this discussion and appreciate your making it a dialog.
My point wasn’t to defend Modernism; I’m sorry if that wasn’t clear. I never even used the word. Nor was it to give credence to some supposed conflict between the Real and Abstract; that notion came directly out of Burdick’s lecture—from his very first sentence concerning the opening image which you posted above: Dewing against Albers, the Realist against the Abstractionist. My response was that this was a moot conflict today. And in my experience, it’s certainly not a conflict, never has been; it’s part of the blessing of art, essential to its richness.
I’m led to the idea that Burdick and other militant Realists don’t like Art, Art History, or Visual Excitement by two simple observations: They routinely demonstrate an inability to see Beauty (or even justification) in anything outside of an extremely restricted, narrow range of art, and they’re not just proud of this inability; they’re proud to the point of being angry that their limitations aren’t obviously celebrated as The Right Way To Be and aren’t therefore enshrined as the Proper Values in our institutions, our education and our culture. They give public slide shows about the virtues of this crippled capacity. If they Ruled the World, they seem to clearly suggest, then Art, Art History, and all that properly constitutes Visual Excitement would immediately be reduced to a tiny fraction of what these things currently encompass. “Modernism”, whatever that is, would go, of course, but so, apparently, would most everything else that humanity has chosen to call art since time began.
Everyone’s entitled to their preferences of course; art making and art loving depend upon deeply experienced preferences. But if I’m discussing art with someone who thinks that most, or even a sizable percentage of art is not just unappealing to them personally, but actively deceitful, degenerate and genuinely harmful to an ordered Society and the progress of Humanity, I tend to assume they don’t much like Art. I tend to think they place a higher value on control than upon appreciation and openness, or even upon freedom. I assume they’re telling me they’re offended and frightened by what they don’t understand, not curious about it, and that specifically, they are, apparently and strangely, as likely to be frightened by art as fascinated by it or unmoved by it. I tend to see them as being without the experience or even the perceptive or emotional capacity to actually understand art and the impulses that lead to art-making. (That any working artist could seriously say that “any three-year-old” could “throw paint around” as effectively as Franz Klein, or any other serious Abstract Expressionist… Sorry, that’s proof to me of a perceptual limitation, if not out-right dishonesty) And frankly, I think they’re nuts, and start to move quickly away if I can. If I then hear that they make art themselves, not just as a hobby but as a profession, I can only shake my head in wonder and remind myself that my point of view is only that: MY point of view. And, I also pray they never gain the power to enforce their narrow vision upon the rest of us.
My preferences in art are also very distinct, but they’re founded upon a deep love for all the things that are, in my experience, basic to virtually all types of art, from all times and all places. These things I love include not just the sensory, plastic and formal elements of visual creation. The power of these elements to communicate ideas, embody concepts, point to and even generate spiritual and intellectual experiences, to coalesce in fact into an amazing, endlessly surprising and endlessly capable language is all part of what makes me love art. These things offer me a refuge from and help me see the puny, ephemeral nature of other aspects of life, such as the inevitable drive to power, the impulse to make one’s preferences into a weapon of control, the instinct to rewrite reality based on your own preferences; which as you say, “always” happens. Etc. But the main thing I love about the elements that I experience as constituting Art is that they inspire me to action. They give me the clearest path to a personally meaningful life. They don’t inspire me to action against other makers of art whose products I find offensive or simply not appealing.
As to Modernism specifically, I’m not sure what you or others mean to encompass by the term. I’ve read blanket militant objections to artists as diverse as Paul Klee and Elsworth Kelly, but I can’t lump these men together in any useful category. I don’t personally love or enjoy every kind of art that’s gained currency in the 20th Century, or since I’ve been around (I’m 62). But I do love that all these kinds of art have been made, and I do love learning about why they get made. Their makers are my tribe, my people, my colleagues. Whether they would acknowledge me or not, I must acknowledge them. And I KNOW that they are not working out of deceit. I KNOW that art, ANY art, gets made out of passion and conviction, not to say love. Complex, convoluted, self-referential, culture-conditioned, not-easily-understood, tiny-elitist-in-group-directed passion and conviction perhaps, but passion and conviction nonetheless.
Nor have I experienced that any damage has been done to me, or to the course of Western Civ, by the existence or the ascendancy of modern or any kind of non-representational art. Certainly I’ve experienced the power of it’s pre-eminence in my education; I’ll never forget my delight and surprise at discovering Klimpt for the first time, in college, as an Art Major, in 1968. I’d been loving art and art history for years; how was it possible that I’d never heard of this amazing artist, or the culture that he’d emerged within? Yes, I quickly felt the distain for him that radiated from my teachers and mentors when I paraded my “discovery” about. Well, that’s weird, I thought, but that’s how the world rolls. I’m a student, so me, my tastes and my love for this guy’s work are all part of how change in art happens. I’m supposed to have different ideas than my teachers; that’s what they and all history are telling me. I wished, fervently, that they’d actually teach me something about traditional painting craft, but if not, then my path and my project is clear: Go find out on my own.
But it’s not that my teachers were militant non-realists that they didn’t teach craft fundamentals. In fact life drawing was at the core of my college training, and my outside examiner was Wolf Kahn. Never since I started to take art seriously have contemporary realists of one sort or another not been part of the art world I’ve seen around me.
I don’t doubt that the culture against representation has wounded artists and careers. But when has bucking the trend not been dangerous? And when has bucking the trend also not been part of the artist’s nature, responsibility, and delight?
So, in short. Sorry you’ve felt dismissed, Burdick, et al. But I’m even sorrier that your love of art and your choice of art as a Life (difficult as it may be for me to understand, or perhaps to see clearly, how you experience these—but I do assume your choices are also made from passion, conviction and love) hasn’t apparently been fulfilling enough to allow you to rise above the perennial realities of Social Life. I hope that changes for you…
“the non-representational and conceptual waves that crashed so dramatically into the 20th Century with RMutt”
Spot on my man.
And there it is, so well put David.
David, I feel exactly the same! Thank you for your comment!!
David, If only non realists/ conceptual artists are as enlightened as you when it comes to interpretations of art. Unfortunately, in general they are not. Instead they take the line that anything is art as, long as it is not representational.
Conceptual artists may postulate about great masterworks from dead artists, flocking around to save a piece ‘ for the nation’ when it sold at auction, but are shy to campaign, acknowledge representational art is art by any living artists ( Lucien Freud being one of the rare exceptions ).
I think it is this contradiction and the stranglehold modernism has on the media and most public galleries that riles most representational artists. Curators and critics alike patronise the public by stating this art only is for the cultural good of the nation. They ignore the fact that a majority of people (who pay for these public galleries through taxes) would hang in their own house a figurative or landscape painting, rather than an abstract piece, shows you how arrogantly they treat the public and their tastes.
Personally as a figurative painter I would like things to be equal and have a fair crack of the whip, without the undue influence of a protectionist minority trying to artificially bolster their own cultural and financial investments.
The response, both negative and positive, to my video presentation on the Banishment of Beauty has surprised and heartened me. Because of the limitations of length, there was a lot left unsaid. There is no way I can keep up with the amount of e-mails and the numerous online discussions that have sprung up around the video, so I thought I might distill a lot of the criticisms and questions raised in this post.
Let me first thank all of you who have offered support to my views. I was especially touched by the many people who told their sad story of having quit the pursuit of art for another career in college due to the constant persecution received by professors pursuing the anti-beauty agenda of modern art.
As for the modern art critics, that was to be expected. I don’t see much chance in changing many minds in this deeply entrenched establishment, but I did want to delve further into some of the criticisms that I find worth discussing further.
First is the charge that I’m claiming art shouldn’t have any deeper meaning. I’m not saying that there cannot be a deeper message associated with paintings, or that the story, history, and philosophy behind a painting doesn’t matter at all in its appreciation. Certainly many of the paintings I do contain such things – Hypatia being a prime example, as well as the paintings of native cultures. However (and this is the key) if that is all you have, then you are not making visual art, but a mere symbol to go along with the idea, like a word, or a swastika, etc. In my opinion this is not art, but philosophy, or a verbal art, at most. Words and the subject matter can add to a work of art, as with Michelangelo’s David, much of Repin’s work, or countless modern aesthetic painters like Steven Assel, Mary White, Dean Mithcel, and on and on, but all these examples would be recognized as great works of art even without the story to go along with it. My point is that painting and sculpture should move you on a purely visual level. Think of the thousands of artists who have done the same subject with the same “message” but not reached the emotional depth of Michelangelo’s David, or Mary cradling the dead Jesus. The same is true with Goya’s painting, where you can feel the emotion visually before you even know what it is about.
This is what I think is lacking in Picasso’s Guernica and most all of modern art (though there will always be a few, isolated exceptions). In my opinion the work itself is merely an illustration of the words — something that would not hold up without them. The sentiment behind the painting is laudable and to be commended, but if I were to do a scribble and say that it represented the struggle for gay rights, it wouldn’t make the scribble profound. If I did a painting that encapsulated the pain and suffering of someone being oppressed for being gay, it would only be a “beautiful” work of visual art if you felt that emotional power just from looking at it, before you even read the written story, which might certainly enhance this emotion.
I definitely think the greatest works of art exist on many levels, as does literature — as I said in the video about a poem being both about the lyrical beauty of the arrangement of the words themselves, combined with what they are saying. But would a poem be great if the poet merely said something directly like “nature is great?” No, it is the skill of crafting the words so that we feel the emotion conveyed to a far deeper extent. This is what is lacking in the blue panel, Picasso, etc. It is all about the words and the images are secondary and slovenly representations of the ideas, as Thomas Wolf points out in “The Painted Word.”
I do not personally feel Guernica would be recognized as a masterpiece of visual art on its own, or that many would even be able to tell it was worth saving in the proverbial junkyard if found there, but if you do, I respect your different viewpoint.
Many have claimed that the blue panel is beautiful in a simple way. Maybe there is a simplistic beauty in a flat, blue panel, or the splatter of paint. But if this is truly profound art that deserves being in a museum, then why have museums at all? Surely every wall is a work of art then, and every bit of spaghetti spilled on the floor. But even with this concession, few modern works even aspire to this limited qualification of beauty, where the ugly, shocking, or controversial is mostly what makes it to the pedestal.
Many critics of my video emphasize that the “meaning” of art is of the utmost importance, and what was lacking in the examples I used to illustrate the talk. This reminds me of this quote. “If I want to send a message, I’d just send a postcard.” To me, this is the essence of the debate with the modern art establishment. Painting is a visual language and the really great ones cannot be put into words. If they can, why bother doing the painting?
Several people have pointed out that my landscapes have a greater meaning because of my efforts to preserve the environment. Yes, I’m a life-time member of the Sierra Club and do a lot of fundraising and radio interviews for my local Land Conservancy. I do use my landscape paintings to illustrate the beauty that is worth preserving, but I don’t think this is what makes those paintings works of art. If Clyde Aspevig said nothing at all about environmental causes, I might think less of him as a person, but it wouldn’t make his paintings any less powerful as visual masterpieces that had the power to inspire others merely through their beauty.
Paintings like Church and Bierdstat are not important because they were used in political and environmental causes. They were important in those causes because they were powerful visually, conveying meaning and ideas that could not be though words.
I reject the modern establishments very reasoning as to what is “meaningful” when they limit art to that which depicts social or political issues. In my mind, Fechin and Repin are equally masterful, despite the differences of the subjects. This is an artificial construct of the modern art movement. Beauty uplifts the spirit of the viewer, gives hope, reminds us of what the point of life is — this is meaningful and just as valid a subject as well.
Would you say this about music, for example? Is not creating a beautiful symphony a worthy goal by itself? Yes, a song with words can be deeply moving by combining music with profound words, but does that mean that a purely instrumental work is meaningless, or that songs with words are inherently better? Would we care about the words of a song if the music and singer were off key or amateurish? Some of my paintings are pure visual representations that have no story to go with them, while others are a combination, but the visual element must be powerful for any of the words that go with it to matter. I do not think my painting of Hypatia is superior to others I’ve done because it has more of a story behind it.
This is not to say that I am advocating the banishment of Picasso, or any of the modernists. If someone finds their work meaningful to them, fine, let them have their place in the museums and the art history books as well. I am not advocating an art dictator of taste like the Salon system or the Modern system of today. But I am saying that the banishment of beauty as something superficial and meaningless is simply wrong.
So many people have advised me not to defend beauty in the pure sense, but to instead emphasize all the in-between paintings that are aesthetically pleasing, but also contain a “deeper meaning” as well. They say to defend pure beauty makes me look superficial. The logic expressed is that this would be more paletteable to the Curators and Critics, but I’m reluctant to go down this path too far, since it plays into the hands of the modern art establishment, who seeks to make visual art a verbal exercise.
Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World” does have great meaning behind the story of the girl in the painting, which is probably why it is included in the MOCA, but it still has a power even if you don’t know that story. For me, the pendulum has swung so far the other way, that the more powerful symbols are the masterpieces that are profound on the purely visual level of stunning beauty. Yes, there are all shades of gray in between, but once we can get the purely instrumental Symphony to be recognized as worthy as art again, all the ballads will have found their place as well.
I hope you understand what I’m saying. I must argue the purely beautiful with no meaning other than just its beauty to make my point that beauty itself, in its pure form, is of value. This is the essential point. It is what the modern establishment most despises. It’s like championing the Untouchables in India, even though reforming the caste system will ultimately benefit everyone. By arguing that a beautiful painting is important mainly because of its social message, then you have accepted the Modern Establishment’s definition of what art is, and I don’t.
Finally, many are simply upset at my tone, at the sarcasm I use when talking about so many of the modern works that I find so ridiculous. Well, it’s very hard not to be when you go through two and a half decades as a painter and see cans of excrement, piles of bricks, decapitated cows heads, and blank canvases lauded as masterpieces. I’m tired of the politically correct tone so many people use when discussing such works. I don’t think everything is equally valid and I really see no reason to sugar coat it. Certainly everyone is also welcome to say what they think of my work, and many have said very bluntly that they hate it – especially those in the museums – which is fine with me. But I know I am speaking the opinions of a lot of people who have kept silent, either from fear of the persecution of a professor or the larger art establishment, or out of a fear of being labeled ignorant. By saying it exactly as I see it, I want them to know they are not alone in their contempt for what is going on.
And as for all those who have commented that I’m making much ado about nothing, and that “it’s not like the Museums are selling off their 19th century traditional paintings,” you are wrong. Many are. Here’s but one recent example that Michael Innis sent me. Below is a link to an article on the Orange County Museum of Art’s disgraceful selling 18 of its 20 historic California Impressionist paintings, many of which had been originally donated by the artists or their families nearly a hundred years ago. Here’s the reason the Museum director gave for selling these masterpieces to a private collector. quote – “With the $963,000, he said, OCMA can acquire modern and contemporary pieces…” This is not an isolated case.
These paintings were sold with no public notice and without even allowing other museums to submit a bid for them. These are works that were owned by the public, not the museum director, so he had no right to sell them “under the table” to a private collector. How do we know he didn’t purposefully sell them for less for a bribe, for instance? This is a blatant looting of our cultural heritage in the pursuit of an artistic ideology. The issue would be more muddied if it wasn’t for the fact that these are the sorts of paintings that are most popular with the public. In my opinion, this curator should be fired and investigated for possible fraud.
Thanks for all the thoughtful comments, both for and against. This has been a debate that has been suppressed for a long time and I think just having it in a more public manner is a positive development that would never have happened without the internet. Even though there never will be agreement on what art is, which paintings are the best, etc. I hope we can all agree that the full range of it should be allowed in to our public museums and schools. The fact that traditionally beautiful artwork is popular should not disqualify it from consideration.
Sincerely, Scott Burdick
The continuous link between modern art and representational art (now and in the past) is that it is all religious art. The religion depicted though, is the occult.
For a good synopsis of this, you can read two books (there are more):
The Spiritual in Art: 1890-1985
by Maurice Tuchmann
The Occult in Art
by Owen Rachleff
And you can darn well bet that many of the leaders of the New Realism movement are deeply involved in the occult as well.
What i am seeing as a trend in the Art Circles is the tendency to define beauty as a classical realistic or photo-realistic image and that has the effect of confusing new artist about what kind of art is taken seriously. Another issue is the works of minority artists which hardly ever get mention in your videos. When a white artist like lipking http://www.lipking.com/ is mentioned some critics would say he is a modern Sargent
You will never hear thar said of a black or minority painter.
Thank goodness for David Coffin on this thread! He offers the best analysis and rebuttal of this video I’ve read.
“But let us not sit in judgment on the general public for betraying such weaknesses; the more sophisticated circles are quite as strongly swayed by the new. The new off-Broadway play, the latest Japanese film, the most recent novel by Beckett–all derive a value from their newness that may have little bearing upon their quality. … Under such a necessity art can be pushed to meaningless extremes. And it is a constant struggle to wrench out of the paint tube something that is still newer than new. Of course when such work becomes dated, its emptiness emerges, for nothing is so hard to look at as the stylish, out of style.”
“One of the very recherche bases of evaluation but still one that dominates both the world of criticism and that of creative art is an inversion of the common standard of popularity. The reasoning goes something like this: public taste has often failed to understand very great art, has indeed violently rejected it. This very art, however, so often has been richly vindicated by time and subsequent tastes. Logically, then, it seems to follow that if a piece of work is truly great it will necessarily be rejected by the public. Here the inversion begins to emerge, for the belief has thus become universal among refined people that if a work of art is thoroughly incomprehensible to the public it must automatically be good. And out of that non-Aristotelian reasoning comes the following principle widely proclaimed by artists and by critics: the work of art must not appeal to the public, or be understood by it. “I hope,” says one artist, “that I will never win public approval, for if I do I know my work is bad.” “I tremble,” says an eminent poet, “when I think of what will happen if the classics become available to the masses.”
Like most artists I am deeply offended by the application of public approval as a standard for the evaluation of art. But I am certainly equally in disagreement with that curiously perverse standard of nonapproval. For however degraded the public intelligence may have become through long-term, calculated efforts to pander to it, or however spoiled the public eye, it is still the public itself that is the reality of our culture. Here is the fertile soil in which to sow your lillies. He is the source of manifold instances of art, the wellspring of emotions that are not warmed-over, and of unexpected, unique detail. We, as artists, may exist upon the fringe of this reality or we may be an essential part of it; that is up to us.”
-Ben Shahn, The Shape of Content
Thank goodness for the well “spoken” and “clearly stated” intelligent and informed words of David Coffin. Here is a person who has clearly been educated on the art itself…all art and the philosophical arguments and methodology of presenting a presentation of ideas eloquently and lucidly that it includes all art making and all art presentation as valid and worthy of view, discussion and inclusion rather than stated blatantly with disregard for overly complex cultural spread of the activity of making art. Beauty is a non exclusive realm of discussion and requires a thorough visitation of many disciplines in order to feel there is an even beginning understanding of this elusive concept. Didactic pronouncements do the understanding of no service. It is this sensibility of many art seminars and sessions that have left me frustrated and wondering how could this technician understand beauty with a recipe of methodology so restrictive and excluding of other ways of working. This often made me feel that the instructor was over compensating for their lack of understanding. Those present who have not had the time of education with enough study of critical thought would quickly swoop down and take on these ideas leaving their work dead….technically perfect but dead of spirit and of certain “je ne sais quoi” that bubbles to the top after many studies and essays of comparison and self work itself…
Formless: A User’s Guide by Yve-Alain Bois and Rosalind E. Krauss is a definitive work that I feel adds much weight to the importance of study and understanding to this important discussion.
Here is a brief description of the book….
In a work that will become indispensable to anyone seriously interested in modern art, Yve-Alain Bois and Rosalind Krauss introduce a new constellation of concepts to our understanding of avant-garde and modernist art practices. Formless: A User’s Guide constitutes a decisive and dramatic transformation of the study of twentieth-century culture. Although it has been over sixty years since Georges Bataille undertook his philosophical development of the term informe, only in recent years has the idea of the “formless” been deployed in the theorizing and reconfiguring of the field of twentieth-century art. This is partly because that field has most often been crudely set up as a battle between form and content; “formless” constitutes a third term standing outside that opposition, outside the binary thinking that is itself formal.
In Formless: A User’s Guide, Bois and Krauss present a rich and compelling panorama of the formless. They chart its persistence within a history of modernism that has always repressed it in the interest of privileging formal mastery, and they assess its destiny within current artistic production. In the domain of practice, they analyze it as an operational tool, the structural cunning of which has repeatedly been suppressed in the service of a thematics of art. Neither theme nor form, formless is, as Bataille himself expressed it, a “job.” The job of Formless: A User’s Guide is to explore the power of the informe. A stunning new map of twentieth-century art emerges from this reconceptualization and from the brilliantly original analyses of the work of Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly, Lucio Fontana, Cindy Sherman, Claes Oldenburg, Jean Dubuffet, Robert Smithson, and Gordon Matta-Clark, among others.
Time to realize that the idea is the art of an evolved society and people…craft is craft, and art is rather something all together something else.
This has been an excellent forum and all the contributions bring much excellent comments to the table…and all are valid…however this is much bigger area than the making of something…it is the becoming of something into a higher consciousness. It is this becoming that nettles us into returning again and again and compels us to look beyond the substance itself but rather study the very gist (essence) of the work in question and its inherent “idea”. This is what makes the piece “Modern” and seminal. Let history worry about is conservation of artifact…for its existence and its presentation of innate universality has shaken us to our core…and within lies its worth.
A little historic context might be helpful to consider in this debate. Before circa 1700, plein air painting pretty much did not exist. During the 18th century, it grew, but it was just an exercise in sketching, not a means to create art for exhibit. Also, before the modern era (late 18th century), history and religious painting reigned supreme. If you were a successful still life painter, for example, you operated at roughly the same level as Scott does now – you were a craftsman like a cabinetmaker or a silversmith. You might have created beautiful things, but you were probably unknown outside of your township. To be a “great” artist, you had to paint things like Crucifixions for altarpieces or portraits of royal personages. And, for every Van Dyke or Goya, there were plenty of court painters who were OK painters, but who are scarcely remembered today. So, there were always roadblocks and unfairness to being admitted to the pantheon of great painters. The game has changed, but it has also remained the same in many key ways.
I’d like to add that being a craftsman in the 17th century was one hell of a lot better then doing what 90% + of the population was doing in most places, stuff like being a farmer or a shepherd or an indentured servant or a slave.
Well said Bill, very well said. Good insight and information to the discussion. Excellent.
May I recommend the following videos.
Having been both painter and art historian, I can not but agree with the main Burdick’s points. I can not pretend not to see what is obvious – that the Emperor is naked. For quite a long amount of time.
Visual works of art (in this case – paintings) are first and foremost VISUAL facts.
They can be lot of other things in addition, as well: social commentary, documents of time, political statements, propaganda, whatever…but if they do not work on purely visual level, if they do not eloquently communicate in VISUAL (not verbal) language they’re not what they’re supposed to be, they’re not visual works of art – paintings, sculptures, whatever…By saying this, I do not mean to dismissed anything, I simply state the obvious.
Such objects may be valid forms of expression (speech for example is valid form of self expression, or an essay, newspaper column etc) but not works of art.
Some Delacroix’, Gericault’s, Goya’s or Kolwitz’s pieces are nice examples of political statement and social commentary…but they are brilliant works of art in its own right because their authors masterfully spoke visual language.
Liberty Leading the People, for instance, is a first and foremost – great, masterfully conceived and executed PAINTING, and THEN a political statement.
Since english is not my mother tongue, in my effort to make myself clear I forgot to mention aesthetics.
After this sentence:
“Such objects may be valid forms of expression (speech for example is valid form of self expression, or an essay, newspaper column etc) but not works of art.”
should be added next chapter:
Aesthetics is an important component of every work of art. In my opinion, if there’s no aesthetic, there’s no art. Take aesthetics out of ballet and you get mindless running and jumping. Take aesthetic out of opera and you get something that no one wish to listen. Take aesthetic out of literature and you get, well – journalism at best.
Take aesthetics out of painting and you get – at best, again – a painted word.
Lots of long-winded, teeth grinding here…predictable intellectualists defense mechanisms at work.
A good painting needs no defense. It does not need volumes of philosophical tripe to prop a corpse up against the wall nor does it require a doctorate to appreciate it.
It lives for itself, it is self contained. Art is something that transfers emotion or an idea and should be independent of the time at which it was created. In other words if the so-called art needs reference to an event or era to be relevant, then it is not art.
There is very little art in the world and has always been that way. But there has always been an overabundance of “artists”.
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