StuckismSir Isaac Newton, I believe it was, in one of his famous laws decreed that, "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." He was speaking in terms of physics, of course, but social scientists have long noted that what he had to say often, if not always, applies to the affairs of man as well. They might have to modify the statement slightly to say that "For every action there is, eventually, an equal and opposite reaction." And it seems to me, that the same law could also be applied to art. A movement develops, thrives, dominates, and in so doing angers a significant bloc of individuals who formulate their own pendulum swing back in the opposite direction. And so it goes, from Academicism to Impressionism, from the Pre-Raphaelites to Dada, from WPA art to Abstract Expressionism then to Pop, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. The pendulum swings, the clock keeps ticking.
Postmodernism is about a generation old now, and it's not surprising that "eventually" has finally come upon it. The opposite reaction, though not yet equal by any means, seems to be a sort of anti-movement art movement which has developed in Britain as the result of some of the worst excesses of Postmodernism as identified mostly through conceptual art. Like the Impressionists, they take their name from an intended insult - Stuckism - though in fact they hate the term. They claim not to be an "ism." The "stuck" part they seem not to mind. The cofounders of the non-movement are Billy Childish and Charles Thompson. The group got their name when Tracey Emin (remember, her unmade bed at the Tate) screamed at her then boyfriend, Billy Childish, that his art was stuck, stuck, stuck! Along with Emin's work, Stuckists also hold in extremely low regard that of Damien Hirst (embalmed sheep) and Chris Ofili (no need to elaborate on him).
Personalities aside, and I don't intend to discuss the art on either side of the fence, one of the most interesting aspects of Stuckism is its two-year-old manifesto. A few lines are especially compelling. "Artists who don't paint aren't artists." That leaves out a lot of artists. "Art that has to be in a gallery to be art isn't art." That leaves out a lot of art. The Stuckists believe art should be displayed in homes with tables and chairs and sofas and tea, not in sterile, all-white surroundings. "Success is getting out of bed in the morning and painting." I rather like that one. "A Stuckist is not a career artist but...an amateur." The point this one makes is that professionals fear failure; amateurs don't, because they have nothing to lose. There may be some truth to that but I've known a lot of amateurs who were also inhibited by a fear of failure. Stuckists abhor novelty, shock, and gimmicks. Postmodernism tries to ape the past and foresee the future. Stuckists try to ignore both. Stuckists champion process over cleverness, realism over abstraction, content over void, humour over wittiness, and painting over everything else.
Notwithstanding their blacklisting of many of their British counterparts, the Stuckists hold in greatest contempt not so much the Hirsts and Ofilis of their generation but the educational establishment which fostered them and the Saachis and government subsidies which have isolated such artists from the "real" world of human artistic expression. They deem commercial success as the death of personal expression in painting. And they see the educational institutions that gave birth to the iconoclastic aura of conceptual art as nothing more than bureaucratic money machines trapping untalented students and milking their wealthy parents in the name of "success" in the art world rat race. Stuckists call for all art education institutions to make their facilities and faculties available during off-hours for the enrichment of the community at large. Sounds like a good idea to me. Like all art manifestos, there is much in the Stuckist's document that is pure B.S. (not bachelor of sciences). But there is also a fair amount of C.S. (common sense) as well. Stuckists take as their motto, "We only denounce that which stops at the starting point - Stuckism starts at the stopping point." As a self-confessed Postmodernist, I'd make no claim to being a Stuckist, but I do get stuck pretty often. And sometimes, stuck ain't bad.
Contributed by Lane, Jim
19 July 2001