On Contemporary Turkish Art and a Global Problem
.....I will speak little on Turkish art, and more on a general global problem of the art of our time, which I think will clarify the position of Turkish art in connection with modern art in general.
.....In the meantime please tolerate my insufficient command of the English language; and also my comments on Art History, and please take them as speculations of an artist and not a scholar.
.....Turkey, as you all know, is a bridge between the east and the west. İt is the Orient of Europe, and the Occident of a vast world of the East. İn the beginning of the 20.th century, it was a great empire that was defeated in all the major wars, and confined to a small nation state. İn postwar treaties Turkey was forced to abandon all its traditional social, political and economic intuitions and adopt those of the western Eropean countries. And then on Turkey was named among the emerging democracies. To deserve the title of an emerging democracy, all traditional culture had to be negated. When I speak of traditional culture , I do not mean a national cumture of the Tudks, nor a tradional Islamic culture. The traditional culture of this land is a combination of the religions, philosophies and the arts of ancient Greeks, arabs, armenians, Persians and Slavics of the Balkans and the influences each one of these had on the others. All that the intellectuals of this land gathered from so many civilizations, from so many different peoples that lived on this land was now to be negated. This is officially considered a reform. Turkey went through this negation of traditional culture very dramatically, and adopted the European institutions in all fields of social, political and economic life.. Tendencies of Europeanisation of the country had started already in 1830'es. And that is when the history of Turkish painting starts.
.....Yesterday, when I had some of our friends visiting my studio, some of them noticed a thick book called "the History of Turkish Painting", published by the Ministry of Culture. İt Consisted of paintings done in oil paint on canvas,in the European style.
.....İn fact, many Turkish critics agree on the assumption that Turkish painting in the western style starts with the depicting of shadow.
.....Shadow ( and perspective) are, as you all know, distinctive characteristics of the European renaissance. Turks, Persians, Indians, Chinese or Egyptians did not make use of shadow nor perspective in the European sense.
.....Shadow and perspective were problems of philosophy, of different ways of thinking, of beliefs.. A very interesting tale to clarify this point is in a recent novel of Orhan Pamuk; "My name is red". A young painter working in the miniature studio of the Ottoman Sultan in the early 16th century, happens to travel to Venice and see the works of the Venetian masters. As He returns to İstanbul, very excited, he gathers the painters in the royal studio to tell them of what he saw. He says "Just imagine, my friends, they draw a street and you feel like you can walk into it." The master painter of the studio answers; "We know about this new perspective style the venetians are using. But they do not know that when we paint, we depict the world from an angle that god looks at his creation, whereas the venetians depict it from an angle which cats and dogs look at the world." The excited young painter insists; "but master," he says "They even paint shadow itself. When they paint an apple, you feel like holding it." The Master in all his patience "İf the shadow was a thing created by god and given a meaning, then it would be a thing worth painting."
.....This is a very interesting tale to remind us that when painters of different cultures painted things in their own styles, it was not the superiority of one compared to the other, that differentiated them , but their different ways of thinking.
.....The renaissance with its new style, in fact, is a negation of all painting of the previous major cultures of Persia, India, Mesopotamia, China and Egypt.. These paintings used to be a painting of intellect. İt was what they knew and what they believed in that they painted. Whereas The Renaissance introduced a painting of vision. This aspect of the art of the Reniassance could also be discussed as a deviation in the history of civilisations. As the religious subjects of the dark ages faded away the masters of the high Renaissance like Caravaggio and Velasguez and Rembrandt, turned to paint life itself, and whatever was surrounding them. While European philosophers elevated the importance of the individual; painters discovered the correct sentence to go with it;"I paint what I see". Thus the freedom of the artist came to mean that he could paint whatever he liked-the way he saw things-, and be completely free from the Aestethical preferences of the community surrounding him. This subjectivism in art was convenient as far as the market was concerned. But , as time passed by, the art public became increasingly suspicious and unconfident and unsatisfied and at last indifferent to what is being done as modern art.
.....Today we have two main trends in what we call modern art. The more powerful trend supported by the art market is what starts with Marcel Duchamps and follows up to Andy Warhol, and conceptual art and installations of ready-mades etc. The other trend is weaker, but in my opinion sticks firmly to the depiction of human drama, and is represented by Matisse and Picasso.
.....The last twenty years of modern art -or we could call it postPicasso period-is often said to be "İn crisis". İn fact, it is going through a phase of negating the negation of the Renaissance.
.....Greenberg, the American critic put it very clearly when he declared that"the painting of our time is whatever is done on a two dimensional flat surface." Today, many painters all around the world are painting, not what they see around them, but their opinions on what they see, their thoughts, their fantasies. This is already a negation of the Renaissance culture. İn a country like Turkey, this means the negation of the official negation.
.....Now, parallel to the policy of globalisation, (if this policy does not turn into the invasion of the world by the American art market), a democratic trend in modern art is rising throughout the world. Democratic in the sense that the intellectuals and artists of different cultures are getting to know, to understand, to respect and to learn from each other. This is no longer the time of the rising of nation-states. This is leading contemporary art towards new universal forms of expression that are no longer national forms.
.....And this will create, all over to world, a new democratic culture, new ways of thinking and new forms of art. This, I believe, is going to be freedom of Turkish art, and all art in the world.