National Gallery of Prague New New Painting Symposium

A'Viewpoint' by New New Painter, Gerald Webster. April 11, 2002

Every day, children all over the world are engaged in an activity that is basic to human existence, which separates us from other creatures. In whatever medium is available to them, be it pencil, crayon, paint, clay, or just a stick in the sand, children are expressing in a concrete way what they see and how they feel about the world they know. Their art may be joyous and hopeful, or it may be dark, full of fear and confusion.

The art of children is simple, direct, and honest. It is unpretentious and full of life; fresh, spontaneous, and spirited. The forms their art takes can be startling at times, and quite surprising in their â€oerightnessâ€ÿ. The art of children, no matter how crude and unsophisticated or abstract it may appear, can be understood by all people from all walks of life because it expresses what is common to us all, our humanity.

As beautiful and spirited as the art of children can be,it is not complete,limited by inexperience. As mature artists we can bring a richness and depth to our creative work that is not yet available to a child. As we encounter a larger world and contemplate a vast universe, trying to grasp its scale and meaning; as we work to place ourselves and our actions within this mysterious, seemingly unknowable expanse - we come to a place where our inner world and the external world meet. As our search for meaning deepens we strive to give form to an overwhelming sense of sublime beauty and transcendent spirituality. As humans, we have a need to express the mystery of this beauty that both surrounds us and is within us, no matter how uncomfortable the form natural beauty may assume. As we define ourselves as human beings, the appealing innocence of the incomplete child grows into the fertile musings of mankind, revealing the rich complexity of human capability.

Humans are capable of much oppression and destruction. We can be superficial, vain, narcissic, cynical, and nihilistic. We sometimes lack courage or hope, being weak of heart and feeling sorry for ourselves, dwelling on the misery we have created in the world. Humanity is also capable of much love and generosity. We can be noble and strong of character, full of joy and spirit. We can recognize our weaknesses yet not submit to them. We can celebrate the gift of life even as we lie on our deathbeds.

Every past civilization and culture has left a legacy for us to examine. In their architecture, sculpture, painting, literature, philosophy, poetry, and to a lesser extent their music, these cultures and civilizations have given us concrete evidence of their search for meaning, for a validation of existence. Regardless of how primitive or sophisticated the forms these expressions assumed, the content remained the same. What moves us to create is also what moved them: a magnificent, universal, courageous beauty of the spirit that is fully and uniquely human. Their legacies are a testament to what we are and what we choose to be.

At the dawn of the 20th century artists began to realize that the forms of visual expression could be non referential and more abstract, more musical, without any loss of quality or meaning. The birth of modernism was a fertile and vigorous time, its expressive spirit as strong and noble as any previous culture had achieved. For better than half a century modernism expressed our world and was central to its culture. Its powerful spirit is still with us, inspiring the best artists of today, but the vision of modernism has been pushed to the fringes of consciousness by a world that has lost its courage.

In a century that endured two world wars of ferocious violence and genocide, in a world capable of total self-annihilation with weapons of mass destruction, it is understandable how an existential, cynical, nihilism has come to dominate the philosophy and culture of our time. To speak of beauty, transcendence, and the sublime seems totally irrelevant, and naïve. The creative, spiritual basis of life is now called into question as the challenge to the existence of a divine creator permeates modern thought. Museums and galleries are filled with work that reflects this cynical nihilism. Is this our legacy?

Someone I know once observed how rare it is to find an artist who dared to be great, who courageously aspired to the sublime beauty of which we are capable, despite the overwhelming misery in the world. As artists, I feel it is our responsibility to provide hope, to lead the way, to shine a light. I reject this legacy of nihilism. I reject hopelessness.

I have known the New New Painters for a long time and I know their art very well. We are stubborn and contentious. We have on occasion tried to write a manifesto that we all could agree to, but we failed. It has been said of us that if we were all put in a room together we could not even agree on how to make a cup of coffee. Some of us are extroverts, bold and aggressive in our artistic visions. Others are introverts, dealing in subtle nuances of creative expression. Our art is sophisticated and masterful, both in conception and realization. It celebrates the child while offering the richness that only a searching soul can give.

If there is a New New manifesto, if there is something we can all agree on, I think it is this - that after all the theories and philosophies have been examined and exhausted, after all the criticisms have been made and the imperfections within our work exposed ,and after our paintings have yet again been dismissed by a cynical art world - our art will remain exactly what it is: paintings that celebrate the fullness of life with joy and hope, passion and spirit. In a world that once again appears to be in its darkest hour, with fear, and terror, and bloodshed on all sides; our paintings are a gift, a gift of unconditional love from the depths of our hearts and souls.