Cultural Marxism’s long march through the institutions is well-nigh complete. Emblematic of art imitating life, the 2021 Archibald art competition is a classic example. This is evidenced not just for the works which were included as finalists, but just as importantly, those that were deemed—by our 21st-century arbiters of taste—as being unworthy.
Take for instance the portrait of Jacinta Nampijinpa Price by Johannes Leak, this article’s illustration.
You don’t have to make a living as an art critic to appreciate the skill and the power which the piece demonstrates. But what is particularly perplexing, is why Leak’s was excluded when the following artworks were.
Significantly, Christopher Allen—the art critic for The Weekend Australian—gave the following explanation:
One can only assume a work as striking as this was excluded because the Trustees were afraid of implicitly raising the real questions that need to be asked about Aboriginal communities. It’s so much easier to get kudos by including some harmless Aboriginal portraits and filling up the Wynne with bland dot paintings.
Likewise, professional cartoonist Paul Zanetti wrote on social media:
Several weeks ago, when Johannes Leak stopped by for a visit, he told me he was taking a couple of weeks off to start his portrait painting for this year’s Archibalds Prize. His subject is Jacinta Price.
I didn’t say what I was thinking to Johannes at the time, but I feared he would suffer the same fate as his late great dad, Bill, who year after year painted by far the most outstanding portraits amongst all the entries, but was never recognised by the elitist socialist rabble on the voting committee because Bill’s politics didn’t conform.
Johannes’s stunning entry was the hands-down winner this year.
A few weeks ago, he texted me an unfinished preview.
So much power in one painting.
The Archibalds unfortunately are no longer a portrait prize, but another sad victim of ‘progressive’ wokism, more a political expression than a recognition of the best artistic skills or creative imagination.
Johannes has inherited his brilliant father’s genius. Bill was the best artist to never win an Archibald, a prize in itself.
The Archibalds no longer have any artistic currency.
On a deeper level, what is missing in so much of today’s art is the goal of what Roger Scruton argue is, ‘reclaiming beauty’. In other words, beauty is that transcendent virtue which reflects the truth and goodness of the universe implanted in us by our Creator.
Having largely abandoned any such belief for atheistic materialism, this is why we now have artworks which look primitive and childish. (Scruton develops his argument even further here in a feature-length documentary for the BBC, which is worth watching in full.)
But maybe it is time for conservatives in particular to reclaim the arts. To invest in their own art competitions to promote works of enduring value. For the answer to cancel culture has to be courage. Courage to create and reflect that which is true, good and ultimately, beautiful.
Mark Powell is Associate Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Strathfield.
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