Re-Modernist Art Revolution
Essay by Mark Vallen - January. 2003.
A Sheep in formaldehyde. A Sheep in formaldehyde.
Damian Hirst's Sheep in formaldehyde.

At some point in the maelstrom of the late 20th century,
a sea change took place in the West. Everything unraveled and came undone. People had grown accustomed to the nuclear sword of Damocles perpetually hanging over their heads and so yawned in the face of mass murder. Souls were lost in the glut of supermarket isles and mass media kept all endlessly distracted with a steady diet of trivia. Art was buried under a torrent of cheap, mass produced images.

Modernism, that great driving force in creative and intellectual circles since the late 1800's, was dead... or so it was said. Enter the era of the so-called Postmodern, where there is no truth, and God, reason, and man fails us. Where the notion of a better world is impossible since humans are themselves beyond perfectibility. Where equality, liberation, and spirituality are merely unnatural intellectual constructs, and where a dead sheep in a vat of formaldehyde is considered art. By the late 1970's painting was proclaimed dead. Prestigious museums and galleries became obsessed with "conceptual" or "postmodern" works, and critics fostered the notion that anything could be art... a pile of rocks, a building wrapped in a tarp, even a jar filled with excrement. Reputable art journals soon contained little if anything even remotely resembling figurative realism. Art schools ceased teaching painting and drawing altogether. Suddenly disciplines which had been with humanity since the dawn of civilization were relegated to the realm of the amateur Sunday hobbyist.

Painting by Stuckist artist, Joe Machine
Painting by Stuckist artist, Joe Machine
Oil painting by Stuckist artist,
Joe Machine.

In reaction to this, Stuckism was founded a few years ago in England by figurative painters who were sick of the tyranny of postmodern art. The name Stuckist was based on an insult. A prize winning conceptual artist hurled an insult at a realist painter, saying: "You're stuck! Stuck, stuck, stuck!" Thus a movement was born. Stuckists were outraged that the United Kingdom's highest honor for artistic achievement, the vaunted Turner Prize, was being handed out to people who didn't even paint (the irony being that JMW Turner, the artist after which the prize was named, was one of England's greatest painters). Stuckistas released a manifesto that insolently proclaimed...
"Those who do not paint are not artists!"

The rhetoric of revolutionaries can often sound inflammatory and unreasonable, but the Stuckists do have a point. When the 2002 Turner Prize of $40,000 was awarded to Keith Tyson for having created a large black monolithic block filled with discarded computers, not a single Painter had been considered as a possible recipient of the prize. Fiona Banner, Turner Prize finalist for 2002, entered a billboard emblazoned with pornographic text. Co-finalist, Liam Gillick, offered a ceiling constructed of multicolored plastic. Previous prize winning entries included a dead sheep in formaldehyde by Damian Hirst, a portrait of the Virgin Mary "painted" with elephant dung by Chris Ofili, and a white room with a single light bulb that blinked on and off by Martin Creed. Past finalist Tracy Emin entered an unmade bed soiled with condoms and tampons.

Tracy Emin's unmade bed soiled with condoms and tampons. Tracy Emin's unmade bed soiled with condoms and tampons.
Tracy Emin's unmade bed soiled with
condoms & tampons.
A major blow to the fortress-like walls of the postmodern art establishment was delivered in December of 2002 just prior to the annual Turner Prize awards, when U.K. Culture Minister, Kim Howells ignited a firestorm of argument over exactly what art should be in the present period. Dr Howells, publicly upset over the quality of entries for the 2002 Turner Prize, stated flatly, "If this is the best British artists can produce then British art is lost. It is cold, mechanical, conceptual bullshit."

Howells went on to encourage new artists to oppose the "new orthodoxy... the art establishment is a very small elite which believes it has a monopoly of wisdom when it comes to art."

Stuckism calls for the reclamation of the perennial... the reestablishment of beauty, spirituality, and yes, artistic skill. It insists that painting is relevant in today's society, and so works to restore it to a central position in the world of art.

Liam Gillick's ceiling made of plastic. Liam Gillick's ceiling made of plastic.
Liam Gillick's ceiling made of plastic.
Fiona Banner's pornographic billboard... but is it art? Fiona Banner's pornographic billboard... but is it art?
Fiona Banner's pornographic billboard... blah, blah, blah.
Stuckists praise the likes of Vincent Van Gogh and the German Expressionists... but turn their backs on the formalism of academic art. The Stuckist credo is "against the pretensions of conceptual art" and for "paintings with ideas." Stuckists reject the notion that anything can be art. "If that is so then anything can be food." Imagine if you will, being served a set of golf clubs at your dining room table... or getting a plate of nuts and bolts at a restaurant... and then being told that it's the very finest in gourmet cuisine.

Being a working artist with a firm commitment to figurative realism, I'm more than a little sympathetic to the Stuckist movement, but I hesitate to refer to myself as an adherent. The famous American artist, Ben Shahn once said, "I believe that if it were left to artists to choose their own labels, most would choose none." Moreover, I believe that artists must have the freedom to create whatever they wish, in whatever way they wish. I've always opposed the self appointed arbiters of "good taste" and "morality" who, when confronted with something they can't or won't understand, cry "That's not art!"

However, it would be a mistake to associate the Stuckists with the assorted reactionaries who have always attempted to define, censor, or control art. Stuckists do not call for the suppression of artistic expression, quite the contrary... they demand it's expansion. Stuckists don't seek a simple return to the past, nor do they advocate that artists pander to the low brow tastes of the majority.

Stuckism is a rather awkward name for an art movement, one that implies something retrograde and backwards. It was after all meant as an insult, but then so were the names of Fauvism and Primitivism, names which have come to represent bonifide schools of art. I prefer the term Stuckists use to describe their philosophy... Re-modernism.

Re-modernist philosophy insists that art must be more than an intellectual exercise appreciated only by the art establishment.
Re-modernists strive for recognizable images created with passion and clarity of content. They understand that art has become meaningless and incomprehensible folly to most people, and when a society gives up on art it sinks into barbarism. If you agree with this opinion...
then perhaps you are also STUCK.

To read more about the Stuckist International,
visit their official website, at:

Painting by Stuckist Artist, Billy Childish
Painting by Stuckist Artist, Billy Childish
Oil Painting by Stuckist
artist, Billy Childish.

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