Professor Robert Storr addressed a packed audience yesterday at Chelsea College of Arts in a lecture entitled “When Push Comes to Shove What Really Matters in Art”.
Professor Storr, past Dean and Professor of Art at Yale, past Director of the Venice Biennale, curator and adviser to MOMA amongst other honours. In short, He is considered to be one of the most influential Americans in the art world and a keen fan of our university.
He starts by quoting W.H. Auden. “Poetry, by that I mean all art, makes nothing happen” He calls us to remember that but to remember the value of art work is NOT whether it makes a change or not. This his foundation of thought underpins a deeply held worry about the effect that the right wing administration is having on the USA. Trump (a fine verb now ruined according to Storr ) is called Herr Drumpf by him being an historic name for the Trump family who changed it allegedly (although it’s almost an anagram it reminds one satisfying of the word ‘dummkopf.’ )
Storr tells us that we are increasingly led like sheep into a sleepwalking society. We wake and look at the news of what happened in the night we just missed. We watch all the details become familiar with them and the adjacent arguments and feel that we can control them. This is simply fallacious and divisive according to Storr, and it is this divisiveness and it’s binary effects that worry him most.
He worries too about Steve Bannon, the President’s spin doctor (a ‘grifter’ (sic) par excellence, according to Storr ) and Bannon’s interest in Julius Evola, an Italian thinker and the aesthetic leading light to the Hitler’s regime. Evola is considered one of the most radical and consistent anti-democratic,anti-egalitarian, anti-liberal thinkers of his time. This insidious thread of fascism is poured in the porches of President Trump’s ear daily via Bannon. A president that Storr points out is poorly educated in matters of critical thought and someone according to Storr, who simply doesn’t read.
A thrilling, fascinating, worrying lecture, from a man who admits he is removing himself from some of the maelstrom (he is nearly 68) but stubbornly at the heart of it. Whilst many of the concerns were American, right-wing strength is growing across France, Germany, Spain and here in the form of Brexit.
He ended the lecture more in the spirit of Hannah Höch rather than the dispirited Auden, with a virtually call to arms. “This moment is propitious. Artists can start to make a difference. We are to act as the canary in the coal mine … Act locally ..Know your history via the primary sources, not borrowed buzz words… We must see ourselves as artist citizens… Plural practices are an argument against the enemy. ” Words well said and need heeding. Next time you step into the studio and engage with your practice, make it count.