I heard a tease for CBC's Cross Country Checkup and was surprised to find it was dealing with dad, art and critics, whether or not the art establishment is out of touch. I had not heard the controversy dad's McMichael show had caused, too popular to be real art it seems. To dig in you should first read Sarah Milroy's review of the show and for a little more fun read the web forum comments.
This prompted me to send the note below to CBC, alas is was not read on air.
Hi Rex, I thought I should throw in my two cents worth, I am a second generation Bateman artist, although not a wildlife artist. I have seen both sides of the of the art world. I spent five years at art collage here in Nova Scotia, an institution that puts you on the “High Art” track, and I have watched my father’s career. My wife and I (an artist as well) have supported ourselves and family for 20 years on our art sales. I have not used the grant system, and understand that the perception is that public funds are there to support artists whose work is not about earning a living, but about exploring the boundaries of art; stuff that wont hang above your couch. In my opinion all art is worthy of discussion, and as in literature some art is good for you, although subjectively unpalatable. What people in the High Art world need to understand is that everyone is allowed in to the discussion. If someone thinks their kid could paint like Jackson Pollock then the art world has not done its job. We humans love to have our clubs and hierarchies, we all have someone we turn our noses up at and for the Art establishment my father is that person. I am afraid that this judgment is no more noble than fashion, and as a working artist with friends in all areas of the arts we admit that sometimes the emperor has no clothes. Shame on those who are so sure they know better than the pedestrians who find my father’s or any other artists work below them. Glass ceilings are unhelpful to the future of all the arts. And public collections of art should represent a cross section of ALL art. Sarah Milroy’s article is a stunning example of what not to do, divisive and unhelpful, no cause is furthered, where my father’s work could be used as a launching point to a deeper understanding of art any “Bateman” fans will find their intelligence insulted and surely not venture to the
Yesterday Birgit (my dad's wife) sent me a copy of a letter to the editor that Ross Bateman (dad's youngest brother) sent to the Globe and Mail (they published it) I have pasted it below:
Re: Sarah Milroy’s A tale of two shows.
In her criticism of the Bateman show at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Sarah Milroy has a point-of-view that neatly wraps a common anxiety of her profession. Her challenge is so over-the-top that it provides an easy target for rebuttal.
Her worry… a hackneyed one at that… is that the public is ignorant, and if it is unfortunate enough to stumble upon an art show that panders to this ignorance it becomes bewildered and confused. If true, good that this was brought to the public’s attention. I don’t think it had noticed.
As a younger brother of Robert Bateman (and an art educator in my own right), I am intimately familiar with his influences and development from earliest times. The most interesting visual artists notice things in their own environments, and take the time to represent some of this in various materials of their choosing. In drawing, painting, and print-making, colours, textures, actions, emotional representation, and/or compositional elements are recreated, often with the purpose of sharing these points-of-view with others.
Robert noticed his environment… what was to be seen around our backyard, ravine, and summer cottage… and was seriously painting from these images from the age of twelve. Later, he was impressed by the compositions of artist such as Franz Kline and Clyfford Still, who had stripped away much of the easily identifiable specifics in their subjects, and created works that almost stand on their own, in isolation from the obviously seen.
After experimenting with this more pure abstractionism, Robert returned to representations of nature, carrying with him some influences of what he sees as gifts from those artists who exercise interpretations with plenty of the personal larded in.
I believe that Robert is known to be the first nature artist to have taken back something from the abstractionists, and to have been able to paint, not just animals, but with his decades as a geographer and naturalist, create pictures that uniquely represent environmental specifics. This has indeed “pushed the medium forward” (using a Milroy phrase), and with his countless imitators, Roberts influence is surely seminal. He has achieved fame and fortune, truly not by design, but as an offshoot of being dedicated and true to his vision.
It must be hurtful to your critic to observe the crowds that seem to have noticed these qualities in his prolific display (as well as in his photomechanical publications: the usual way artists share their work widely). Although Robert does march alongside Sarah Milroy, loving the works of many of the same painters, Ms. Milroy doesn’t seem to notice that Roberts work is also art, and much of it provides a new vision, and illuminates the world in a useful and happy way.
Your critic seems to hope-against-hope, through the pages of this newspaper, that the public’s perception will narrow down to her outlook, and sadly, she expresses this in a really unfriendly way.
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