For the past years I have given slide and powerpoint talks on the works of Clay Spohn, 1898-1977, one of the innovative and prominent artists of the 20th century. As an abstract expressionist, admired by his contemporaries, he was the first to break through into pure feeling on the canvas, but unlike his friends of the New York School, he died impoverished and his works are neglected.
My book Understanding Modern Art; the Boundless Spirit of Clay Edgar Spohn with 18 pages of his paintings in color tried to remedy this neglect but it is in vain. At the last venue in Palm Beach, Florida, no one appeared at my lecture—possibly because it was not well promoted by the museum but probably because no one recognized his name and the populace, including the art students and staff, lacked the intelligent curiosity that people used to have, even just a few years before , when I gave several lectures in Florida that were well attended. Has the anti-aesthetic, conceptual art that followed after the high-point of abstract expressionism turned the public against modern art?
In my book on the art curator Douglas MacAgy I quoted a critic: “Much of the art practised today is, in its shallowness, the direct consequences of the producer-consumer orientation, and it is experienced and assessed from much the same viewpoint. When this viewpoint is still further undermined by the trivialized perception and mental processing of a public created by mass media, false values are inevitable…. Indiscriminate visual or perceptual infantilism, together with a lack of aural sensitivity, prevails for the overwhelming majority of people who are already illiterate as readers through sparse education, or because the activity of reading has been undermined by the assault of easier and swifter alternatives…. Eventually a mindless vacuum could be attained, undisturbed by the slightest emotional, intellectual or retinal challenge but confirmed from time to time by the reassurance of nostalgic clichés.”
It appears from the present panic over education in our schools that the critic has been proven right. Spohn, above all, emphasized the importance of emotion in art. It is time that educators became interested in his work and absorbed his ideas.
I invite comments, particularly on the emotionally sterile conceptual art of today.