Chora, Alpine Fellowship theme 2017

Mind Map of ideas on this Theme is available in the Hard copy format

I have made an application to join The Alpine Fellowship for their conference in Venice. I met one of the founders, Alan Lawson at TRAC ( The Representational Art Conference) in California two years earlier and have been following the development of the fellowship since. They hold an annual conference, and request a 3 minute video as application to join them. Below is my slightly longer version:

Unfortunately the conference times clashed with the MA final weeks, so I need to apply again next year. They produce a series of videos of conversations and texts which explore the critical themes surrounding representational work in our current times. It has served me as a point of departure for my research, and offered access and links to philosophers and thinkers that I may not have known about otherwise. The theme of this year's conference "Chora" with a special focus on the landscape gave me great food for thought and reflection. As a painter of the landscape, and as a plein air painter I enjoy a special relationship with the process of painting within the outdoor environment. The painting produced during the filming of this video was accepted to the Royal Society of Marine Artists and is being exhibited at the Mall Galleries, London during their Annual Show in October 2017.

An introduction by Prof Roger Scruton is as follows:

We are an association of writers, artists and scholars who wish to define and pursue our common interest in the humanities. As we see it, the world of scholarship has been fragmented by specialisation, has lost some of its vital connection with the arts, and has also retreated before the advance of scientism. Many questions confront us in our attempts to imbue our lives with meaning. Some of these are scientific questions, concerning the function and evolution of the human brain, the nature of the cosmos, the ultimate structure of the matter from which we are composed. But some of them are not scientific questions, since they do not seek to explain the world but to interpret it. The world is our world, imbued with the aspirations through which we aspire to a total conception of its meaning. Questions surround the phenomena of consciousness, beauty, morality and the sacred; the meaning that we seek and find in art and music; the poetic use of words and the power of metaphor. They are not scientific questions, and the attempt to squeeze them into the mould of scientific theory leads all too frequently to caricature and even nonsense.
Our Fellowship is neither a dogmatic sect nor a career path. We are a diverse group of people who enjoy the life of the mind. We want to release the imagination, so that it can flourish again according to its own innate principles. We would like to explore the boundary where scientific explanation stops and the true humanities begin. Our goal is to encourage meetings, discussions, publications and performances that will bring together those who share our concern for the future of the intellectual life, and who wish to restore the links between philosophy and culture. We reach out to creative people of every age, who want something better than the education that has in so many ways put a barrier between them and the real knowledge that they are seeking – especially in the arts of painting, architecture, literature and music. Most of all we want to explore and learn from imaginative worlds, to turn away from the things that reduce and demean us, and to restore confidence in our human capacity to transcend the obsession with ephemera.

The Theme for this years conference is introduced here:

The Alpine Fellowship 2017
Reflections on landscape

In the Timaeus Plato refers to the Chora as ‘that which gives space’, as the site of the event in which things take their shape. This sense of the shape of things, a sense of their taking, losing, solidifying, exhibiting and hiding certain forms and shapes, will be our main concern this year. We will ask whether there is such a thing as a coherent style in this day and age, or whether there is, to paraphrase the art historian Sedlmayer, ‘a loss of the middle’: is this age characterised by the striking absence of a coherent guiding principle present in our buildings and objects? A historian of the middle ages could relatively easily read of such a guiding style from the churches of the time – what are the objects and buildings that carry such centrality today?

We will ask about the landscapes that we have created to surround ourselves with, or the landscapes that we have been allowed to inhabit. A landscape is also always a mindscape: it is a reworking of the natural world as a picture of our fears and longings. The study of landscape emancipated the art of painting from the human figure and turned our eyes both outward to the world in the art of Corot and Turner, and inward to consciousness in the art of Van Gogh and Cézanne. This fusion of the world and its observer can occur in poetry, in painting, in music, in abstract argument. It forms the background to the philosophy of the later Heidegger, who referred to Plato’s Chora with the German term Lichtung, as much as it is the foreground to the music of Sibelius.

But our landscapes today are no longer visions of nature. Through video games and special effects the masters of digital imagery have created new worlds, which transcend our comprehension. What does it mean to create landscapes and objects which we can travel to, and increasingly inhabit, virtually? What makes a landscape real?

I have found the somewhat conservative, Christian bias of Prof Scruton, alongside the traditionalist thinkers of the (largely American) philosophical schools he appears to align with somewhat troubling. Perhaps I am taking too broad a brush with my concerns, it's something that will need further study and attention.

The representational community in the US does, from my personal observation, seem to fall into two camps. On one hand we have those that reject Modernism and Post Modernism, and have great nostalgia for traditional painting, as well as "old time" traditional values. They may be polemical in their rejection of a great deal of the art of the 20th Century. Those in this camp are often Christian, and may have very conservative sense of morality and political leaning to the right. My conversation with some of these artists has become quite uncomfortable. Despite some protests that they want to keep their art world free of politics it is clearly quite firmly embedded in the discussions and forums I have encountered.

Those in the other camp are not concerned with tradition except in the manner in which it can inform new representational work, and these artists use traditional art's craft and aesthetics only as a way to inform and facilitate work. The new Representational Artist seek to integrate the skills and achievements of former movements in the creation of forward-looking artwork. These artists include those that work in digital formats and outputs, and have an inclusive rather than exclusive attitude to what is part of their Artworld.  Certainly the admission at the end of the theme recognises the new nature of the digital.

 Shingle Street, Panoramic photograph by Jennifer Sendall

Shingle Street, Panoramic photograph by Jennifer Sendall

As a Metamodernist, I find myself much more naturally aligned with the latter.  Metamodernists are never purists, preferring the integration or oscillation between former schools of thought. I do better to integrate the lessons of the Modernists, Post Modernists, with say the Pre Raphaelites, Renaissance or Fauvists, rather than rejecting or deconstructing them as the Postmodernists would. Photography and digital manipulation is welcomed as tool, yet rejected as a master. Obviously one cannot mash the whole of art history into one thing and hope for anything good, discretion has to prevail. It seems foolish to support either the total rejection, or the complete return to former art movements. We live in our times, our contexts. We have tools at our fingertips never before enjoyed, we have access, at least digitally, to the art world on scale and depth never before enjoyed. Surely our best work will be that which takes full advantage of what the past offers fully combined with that of the present?

Proffessor Scruton has a long and distinguished career, and it is not surprising he has stuck to his traditionalist guns. Other members of the fellowship are much younger with currently less illustrious careers, and hopefully the fellowship will not become entrenched in the traditionalist thinking.