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Monday, January 7, 2013


Sir Isaac Newton, in one of his famous laws decreed that, "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." He was speaking in terms of physics, of course, but social scientists have long noted that what he had to say often, if not always, applies to the affairs of man as well. They might have to modify the statement slightly to say that "For every action there is, eventually, an equal and opposite reaction." And it seems to me, that the same law could also be applied to art. A movement develops, thrives, dominates, and in so doing angers a significant bloc of individuals who formulate their own pendulum swing back in the opposite direction. And so it goes, from Academicism to Impressionism, from the Pre-Raphaelites to Dada, from WPA art to Abstract Expressionism then to Pop, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. The pendulum swings, the clock keeps ticking.

The first Stuckist show, 1999, Shoreditch,
(east end of London)
Postmodernism is about a generation old now, and it's not surprising that "eventually" has finally come upon it. The opposite reaction, though not equal by any means, seems to be a sort of anti-movement art movement which  developed in Britain as the result of some of the worst excesses of Postmodernism as identified mostly in conceptual art. In some ways it's not too unlike Dada movement of a century ago. Like the Impressionists, they take their name from an intended insult--Stuckist--though in fact they hate the term. They claim not to be an "ism." The "stuck" part they seem not to mind. The co-founders of the non-movement were Billy Childish and Charles Thomson. The group got their name when Tracey Emin (remember, her unmade bed at the Tate) screamed at her then boyfriend, Billy Childish, that his art was stuck, stuck, stuck! Along with Emin's work, Stuckists also hold in extremely low regard that of Damien Hirst (embalmed sheep), whom they also accuse of plagiarism, and Chris Ofili (no need to elaborate on him).

Sir Nicholas Serota Makes an
Acquisitions Decision, 2000,
Charles Thomson
Personalities aside, I don't intend to discuss the art on either side of the fence. However, the most interesting aspects of Stuckism is its manifesto. A few lines are especially compelling. "Artists who don't paint aren't artists." That leaves out a lot of artists. "Art that has to be in a gallery to be art isn't art." That leaves out a lot of art as well. The Stuckists believe art should be displayed in homes with tables and chairs and sofas and tea, not in sterile, all-white surroundings. I can see the logic in that. "Success is getting out of bed in the morning and painting." I rather like that one. "A Stuckist is not a career artist amateur." The point this one makes is that professionals fear failure; amateurs don't, because they have nothing to lose. There may be some truth to that but I've known a lot of amateurs who were also inhibited by a fear of failure. Stuckists abhor novelty, shock, and gimmicks. Postmodernism tries to ape the past and foresee the future. Stuckists try to ignore both. Stuckists champion process over cleverness, realism over abstraction, content over void, humor over wittiness, and painting over everything else.

The Stuckists are perennially critical of the Tate's Turner Prize purchases.
Notwithstanding their blacklisting of many of their British counterparts, the Stuckists hold in greatest contempt not so much the Hirsts and Ofilis of their generation (and especially Britain's annual Turner Prize) but the educational establishment which fostered them; not to mention the Saachis (a London art gallery) and government subsidies which have isolated such artists from the "real" world of human artistic expression. The Stuckists deem commercial success as the death of personal expression in painting. And they see the educational institutions that gave birth to the iconoclastic aura of conceptual art as nothing more than bureaucratic money machines trapping untalented students and milking their wealthy parents in the name of "success" in the art world rat race. A valid observation. Stuckists call for all art education institutions to make their facilities and faculties available during off-hours for the enrichment of the community at large. Sounds like a good idea to me. Like all art manifestos, there is much in the Stuckist's document that is pure B.S. (not bachelor of sciences). But there is also a fair amount of C.S. (common sense) as well. Stuckists take as their motto, "We only denounce that which stops at the starting point--Stuckism starts at the stopping point." As a self-confessed Postmodernist, I make no claim to being a Stuckist, but I do get stuck sometimes. And sometimes, stuck ain't bad.


  1. Stuckism is more forward than a swing back. More anti-anti, than anti. It's the only truly contemporary art movement, as it's the only one relating to the true state of contemporary art. It recognises we now have opportunity, and the idea of trying to seperate the conceptual from art, is an attempt to build another wall. Stuckism doesn't rebel against the artistic values modernism established, just because there's no oppression left to rebel against. Postmodernism wants to be seen as radical, so much so, that it forgot about the art. Stuckism looks back, and sees how figurative painting in particular has proved such potential for artistic expression, and how conceptual art has proved to be a waste of time. It's not a popular thing to say, but someone has to say it.

    1. I can't say as I disagree with anything you've written. In fact, that's pretty much what I said, perhaps a bit more well put, coming from inside, the rather than outside, and an ocean away. Art is like a living creature breathing, in and out, expanding and contracting. The Stuckist contraction of the resperatory art definition was/is both inevitable and healthy. In my book, Art Think (available soon from Amazon) and it's e-book version, Learning to Think Like an Artist, I liken this to a kind of a back and forth tug-of-war.

      Thanks for your intelligent comment.

    2. thanks Jim. Just seen your paintings, really beautiful. My blog has further writings on stuckism if interested. Congratulations on the book. Edgeworth Johnstone

  2. Just for the record, the formation of Stuckism as a brand and vehicle was a reaction to the YBAs, but the content of Stuckism was not a reaction to them, as the artwork had started in the mid to late 1970s. It was not then a reaction against anything, so much as a natural and instinctive development of what had gone before. The art predated and will postdate Britart, because, unlike Britart, it is the true mainstream evolution of Modernism, which itself is struggling to fuse Mediaeval and Renaissance art. Stuckism achieves that effortlessly.

    1. I think this marks the first time I've ever had comments from anyone whom I've written about. And coming from a founder, who am I to disagree with your assessment. Thanks for your input.