The art historian and art critic James Elkins wrote a book in which he defended the right of the art critic to speak seriously about the strong emotions inspired by a paint- ing. He tried to find a correlation between a high level of understanding of art history and the emotional response to art. In his book Pictures and Tears, to the astonishment of his colleagues, who would from habit dissect emotions and subject them to rigorous analysis, he asserts: “If they are given the chance, pictures can ruin our stable sense of ourselves, cutting under the complacent surface of what we know and starting to chafe against what we feel. None of that is of much use to art historians looking for a definitive and efficient bottom line.” The arguments on such developments relate to the justified impartial approach adopted to the art of the 20th century. When we con- template what might have happened to painting without any reflections on the tectonic upheavals that occurred in the previous century, one recalls the masters, who returned as it were in spirals to the aesthetics of romanticism or impressionism: the London School and Ronald Kitaj, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, the Leipzig School and the figurative paintings of Neo Rauch and Rosa Loy.
The Dutch academics and philosophers Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker introduced the concept of metamodernism, a term that could be used, if considered from a specific angle, to classify all the aforementioned artists, adding Peter Doig and Allison Katz, representatives of the London art scene at the start of this century. The Triumph of Painting exhibition held in 2005 at the illustrious Saatchi Gallery illustrated all the proposed theories and definitively rebutted the latest in the series of declarations on the death of the classical genre, instead emphasising that it was flourishing.
The acceleration of chronotope (configurations of time and space) brings us closer to a return to the next section of the historical spiral. And now, 12 years later, in- stitutions of higher education, given the remit to prepare artists after the fad of further new media dictated by technological progress, are confronted by new young painters who unintentionally recall their predecessors in some way, while at the same time dif- fering in principle and requiring a new definition. Metamodernism is still forming its own concept. And, however inaccurate such definition might prove to be, it is limited to opposing post-modernism at a time when the young generation renounces any add- ons to the “modern” root.
In part, such trends in art are attributable to changes in society that are inev- itably related to the popularisation of social networks. There is no longer any acute need to document the current moment. This can easily be done with the assistance of 15-second “stories” in Instagram, which it has become fashionable to shoot, ap- proximating the frame as much as possible to a blurry image and thereby obtaining an abstraction. Can this be attributed to the desire of the artist to address personal recollections and attempts to translate them onto a canvas? Could one assert that the endless stream of photo images will replace memory or at the very least mingle with it? In this case, the pictures are transformed for the artist into material evidence of nostalgia, recollections from childhood, dreams and visions.
The painting of the new generation is egotistical: this is a mirror, the selfie camera of the latest iPhone used by artists to try and define themselves, find their own point of view in the tangled system of coordinates from numerous realities, false, temporary or borrowed identities.
In seminars at Goldsmith University the phrases “I like” and “This is beau- tiful” are banned, while anyone penning an essay in the first person is guaranteed a failing grade. Personal experience and opinion are replaced by endless citations of one and the same theoreticians and philosophers at a time when the contemporary, or to be more accurate, present art (at the very least painting) requires emotional perception and aesthetic pleasure.
In Pictures and Tears, Elkins writes that a gallery owner may be fervent about his work, but at the same time has to be a pragmatist. By contrast, an art historian is expected to become deeply involved in their periods and specialities, and such im- mersion and surrender would appear to constitute love. However, Elkins expresses himself in the words of the historian of love Denis de Rougemont and writes: “Art historians might be in love with being in love with paintings, but at the same are not experiencing love. To be in love with a painting, you need to risk being crazy, to believe a painting can be alive moment by moment in your imagination.”