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What future for the fine arts?

By Peter Sellick - posted Tuesday, 4 January 2011

For most of its history Western civilization has been defined by a single story, the story of the gospel. It is this story that informed us of the secrets of the human heart, that structured history from beginning to end, that informed our morality and our politics. We may argue about how faithful various parts of that civilization has been to this story but overall, Western civilization has its origin in Christianity.

Although our civilization remains largely Christian it is less so as the years progress. We are in danger of losing the story of our origins. While we may bemoan the loss of native culture and point to the despair that that produces among members of those cultures, we do not apply the lesson to ourselves.

The loss of THE story does not mean that our lives are not informed by stories. Novels, plays and films continue to fascinate us and those who boast of ignoring these seem to us naïve, unfurnished, locked into the technical.


Stories are very much alive and well for us.

A brief look at contemporary cinema and writing demonstrates that we are producing works that penetrate to the heart of the human dilemma in a way unprecedented.

But it is no surprise that the best novelists and filmmakers are those who are still, even unconsciously, informed by THE story. I am thinking of John Updike specifically here. For the art of story telling, the art of penetrating to the heart of the human dilemma was first taught to us in Scripture.

Having said all of this there is one aspect of the arts that stands out as having lost narrative altogether, the fine arts of painting and sculpture.

The initial move of the impressionists to allow the paint to be paint, to show the brush strokes, and to abandon the effort for accuracy of representation for that mystical something that makes a painting say more than a photograph was welcome. Painters were set free from the planned and the intentional to respond to the scene in front of them.

The preoccupation with colour and paint led to the abandonment of the object altogether and to just have the paint, or the bronze or the marble to produce pure abstraction. This also produced beautiful works of art.


The problem was that it looked easy but in fact was more difficult than objective painting. It also broadened the idea of what a painting could be until breadth became license and resulted in the frankly silly.

The progression to abstraction could have, should have, been a small expression of the painterly genre. However, artists and arts entrepreneurs became caught up in a neoism that insisted that all new art had to be at the edge of some movement.

We still hear of exhibitions that they will challenge what we think art is. This has become the cliché of the art world. The fact is that they do not challenge us at all, they bore us to the extent that the general pubic has simply lost interest in the fine arts to the extent that we must question taxpayer funding.

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Peter Sellick is a director of Coondle Art Presentations who are agents for the religious work of Bob Booth.

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About the Author

Peter Sellick an Anglican deacon working in Perth with a background in the biological sciences.

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