Snobbery in Art (Part 1)

Posted in Opinion by Adele Todd on August 28, 2008

A few years ago I was in mixed art company, meaning, contemporary heavies against traditional painters, and I observed a clear divide between them. The traditional painters did not ‘understand’ what the contemporaries were doing, and the contemporaries were disdainful of the traditional working processes and moreso, the themes of choice of the traditional painters.

For such a small country, where everyone should and does more or less get along, one can watch in dismay at the divide and conquer rule. Particularly when there is really nothing to divide up in the first place. It is not too dis-similar from the gang activity in the island where people fight for turf that does not belong to them in the first place.

So what is it about the sort of schism between these two ‘factions’? Why the cut eye?

One of the things that fascinates me about Art in Trinidad is the variety of it. You have Carnival first of all. That is all by itself a discussion. Then you have the painters of landscapes, seascapes, gingerbread houses, birds and flowers. You have your abstract painters, a few ceramicists, you have your Afro-centric, Wifredo Lam followers in the guise of LeRoi Clarke, and you have your contemporary artists. It is a heady mix at the best of times.

The issue of course is the proverbial financial pie. But also the underlying concern that the hackneyed is trotted out and warmed over ad nauseous. So, the criticism should be turned on the tastes of those who perpetuate the art cycle in the first place. Or is it fair to look? Is it really true that the taste of the public, or more so, the taste of the art buyer determines the success of the work?

The art buyer always sounds like some mysterious body! Who are they? Apart from a walking wallet? And why is it that Artists feel so shy about the whole money talk thing?

I remember being on a residency where there was one sculptor who fit into the ‘commercial artist’ category, and he was talking all the time about value and costs and money, and everyone around him found him brash, vulgar and tacky…(he was American, so that didn’t help) and by extension, he felt frozen out by the other artists because he was commercial.

I would have you know that we do keep in touch and that that residency has made his work much less trite, he really grew from the experience. But it was hard won. The clear snobbery was tough to injest.

People have their views, and they are almost hard wired into their way of seeing. Trinidad is a very tiny place, and although everyone knows that the competition for standards is really between themselves and the work, there is still a need to mako what their contemporary is doing. Are they doing better, are they getting more with less and so on.

This makes for a very paranoid body of artists. As I used to say about our vagrants, ‘They are all individual, and quirky, and they are part of the larger picture of who we are, warts and all.”

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