"The Stuckist movement has offered the Tate 100 paintings by its members for their collection. If the Tate accepts these ridiculous daubs the Jackdaw will dance naked - except for his favourite swastika armband - down Whitehall singing Mamma Mia." - David Lee, The Jackdaw, 2005 (on the Stuckists)

"These vociferous opportunists are revealed to be nothing more than a bunch of Bayswater Road-style daubers, without an original idea between them. Typical of the laughably bad work are...crude portraits."
- Sarah Kent, Time Out, 2002 (on the Stuckists)

"How can the government dare welcome such a collection of inanities into a museum? Why, have you seen the collection? The state the ward of such junk!" - Gérôme, L'Éclair, c 1894 (on the Impressionists)

"The impression given by all these clumsily daubed portraits is truly painful; they bear witness to a fatal impotence." - Sarradin, Les Debats, 1904 (on Cézanne)

"I have seen people rock with laughter in front of these pictures.... These would-be artists... take a piece of canvas, colour and brush, daub a few patches of paint on it" - columnist, 1876 (on the Impressionists)

"Here is nothing, we are sorry to say, but the desire to attract attention at any price." - Gautier, Moniteur, 1865 (on Manet's Olympia)

David Lee and Sarah Kent are normally on opposite sides of the artistic debate. David Lee advocates 'traditional' values in art and can be seen on television outside the Turner Prize slating the exhibits, as well as anything else featuring pickled sea creatures and stained bed linen. Sarah Kent goes to Damien Hirst's private views and works for Charles Saatchi and the White Cube Gallery, editing catalogues and writing essays. She skilfully combines this with the strict impartiality of her other job as Art Editor for Time Out, promoting exhibitions by the White Cube Gallery, Charles Saatchi and Damien Hirst.

They personify the current state of art in this country. On one side are the 'modern traditionalists' whose drawing standards derive from the High Renaissance and whose painterly inclinations are Post Impressionist. They communicate, but with minimal content as the subject area is largely already mapped out by genres of still life, landscape and portraiture - but they 'can paint'. Unfortunately the frequently tired appearance of their output is what has given painting a bad name.

On the other side is anything which sabotages that ethos and which currently can be termed for convenience 'conceptual art'. The 'conceptualists' have lots of new ideas for art, particularly an obsession for using materials which have not previously been used for art and a willingness to address the previously unacceptable in art. This certainly makes an initial impact on the gallery visitor, but the initial impact is its main content, as it is mostly an incorporation or reflection of that which is already in common use outside the gallery. No one had ever seen a bed in the Tate before 1999, but there was hardly a shortage of them at large in the world. The conceptualists do try hard to come up with something new - you've got to give them that. But it is their over-zealousness in this respect (and consequent neglect of other important respects) that has given their art a bad name.

Stuckism is a synthesis of the best qualities of the two schools. It recognises the enduring capability of the painted image to communicate and evoke, but insists that content drives style and generates its own technical standards. It refuses to adopt a codified approach in this respect from 500 years ago: for the traditionalists it is (often) bad painting - daubs in fact.

Stuckism accepts the necessity of freedom of thought and, if necessary, transgression. However, it also insists on the value of truth to self, emotion and experience, disregarding the fashions of the current supposed 'avant garde'. Matthew Collings stated this clearly in Art Review (December 2004):

"The drift in the art world for years has been to come up with pseudo-popular forms for formerly (that is, in the 1970s) genuinely elitist or obscure conceptual art contents. But you can't get it wrong - wrong popular is punished with sneers. (Grayson) Perry is right popular like Tracey Emin; both are victims of abuse, use text, do multi-styles and are willing to be embarrassing in a controlled context where the codes of the conceptual academy are confirmed. (The Stuckists are of course wrong popular: they do the fourth thing but only the first half of it.)"

{What he - and other detractors - fail to recognise is the conscious choice to occupy this position: he assumes that being naive is the result of naivety.) The Stuckists have the challenging values that are to be commended, but take this too far by challenging and thereby discomforting the art elite who are meant to be in on the joke, not the butt of it. This lack of compromise and flattery does not allow the easy evasion of taking the work as ironic or knowing-dumb. It insists on facing the reality of it, and reality isn't the surface of acceptable high gloss - it is the depth of the less palatable 'daub'.

It might be worth pointing out here how the two schools both adopt the part of Stuckism that suits them. The traditionalists are only too glad of a vocal and 'alternative' group that condemns conceptual art and defends painting, though they politely avert their eyes from actual Stuckist work. Indeed David Lee himself has done exactly this, writing previously in a foreword to The Stuckists book (2000):

"Anyone who is prepared to stand up vociferously against this spate of state-sanctioned flairlessness and effrontery is worth supporting."

Many conceptual artists are envious of the Stuckists' ability to command media attention with novel stratagems - indeed the conceptual proto-Mu group in Birmingham gave me their award for Conceptual Art for our Turner Prize 'clown' demos . Prominent Brit artist, Gavin Turk, expresses the most tolerant view possible (interviewed about The Stuckists Punk Victorian show at the Walker Gallery, Liverpool by the BBC) without actually falling off the edge of the art code:

"I'm not against the Stuckist thing. I find the whole thing quite interesting because it's a sort of counter cultural movement, which was set up to try and discuss the idea that the way that British art was moving was incorrect; and they wanted to try to bring British art back to something that dealt with more vernacular issues more carefully. I don't actually think the Stuckists do deal with vernacular issues carefully, but it's very interesting to find a kind of collective - an art collective, if it can be called that. And I think there are some interesting paintings in there. I would definitely say that people, if they're in Liverpool, should try and go and see the Stuckist exhibition as well."

Gavin Turk has the intelligence and independence to put himself in a position which embodies risk, but as Collings would say he doesn't "get it wrong". Three years ago his statement would have got it wrong, but the art code changes through various pressures (media exposure being a major one). Adrian Searle, art critic of The Guardian, is, like Sarah Kent, taking the less astute risk of burning his bridges:

"So dreadful are they that one might be forgiven for thinking there must be something to them. There isn't, except a lot of ranting."

If we were only to declare the whole of Stuckism a giant ironic piece of conceptual art, all would be forgiven and we would be featured in Modern Painters magazine.

Anyone who can write off an exhibition of thirty-seven such varied artists as were in the Liverpool show with one technical evaluation is simply not bothering to look at the work. Even applying the 'traditional' standards of a body such as the NEAC (New English Art Club) must give credence at least to Charles Williams, as he is a committee member of it, frequently exhibits at the 'traditional' Mall Gallery, and was the top student in his year at the Royal Academy with the prize for anatomical drawing. Peter McArdle is a consumate craftsman who spends six to nine months on a painting applying up to seventeen layers of oil glaze to achieve his effects. He was praised by Paul Clark (Evening Standard, 10 Jan 2001) as "a top draughtsman".

Obviously then, Lee's accusation of 'daubs' is not what one would normally mean by such a term.

Likewise in the arena of conceptual art, Stuckist paintings can prove quite acceptable in themselves. Billy Childish (Stuckist co-founder and now ex-Stuckist) has been accommodated in the Hayward Gallery and the British Art Show alongside Brit artists such as Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas. My own work was chosen by conceptualist Mike Chavez-Dawson for a show which also included the fashionable Bob and Roberta Smith. Richard Cork, staunch supporter of the conceptual academy (and at the time art critic of The Times) told me he thought my work was conceptual (though he failed to write one review of it or any Stuckist show).

In these contexts, the condemnation of 'daub' does not seem to be evoked, which leads us to the question of 'When is a daub a daub, and when is a daub not a daub?'

The answer seems to be that the same work of art which is quite acceptable in the context familiar to the perceiver, turns into a 'daub' when it is put in the context of being a Stuckist work of art.

It is then not the work itself which is objectionable, but the ideas behind it. In a conceptual context, it is the conceptual aspect of the work which will be stressed. Likewise in a 'traditional' context, the traditional aspect (or shortcomings thereof) will be highlighted. But neither of these is the most important aspect of the work and in a Stuckist context it is the most important aspect that will be brought out.

It becomes obvious in a Stuckist context that the rigid demands and assumptions of neither the traditionalist nor the conceptualist are being met. Individual works may well meet those requirements, but that is not the point. In a Stuckist context even the works that would in another context be acceptable are stating by association "I can work to your values, but they are not my most important values. If they were, I would not be prepared to be seen in this context. The fact that I am prepared to be shown with these other artists tells you that the values I share with them matter most to me."

So Stuckist work which has a strong 'conceptual' element will not satisfy the conceptualist, because it is minimising it in favour of the collective general 'anti-conceptual art' Stuckist ethos. Likewise 'traditionally' sound work commits the offence of being exhibited on an equal basis with work which is grossly 'unsound' traditionally. Ella Guru painted life models for three years at art college; she states:

"I care very much about ability and technique.... but I also admire work which is untrained but inventive."
Charles Williams reiterates the same attitude:
"My RA training has been invaluable, but I always feel uncomfortable when people with my training laugh at those who haven't but are still creative and sincere. I value their paintings."

This explains why the magazine which David Lee once edited, Art Review, was quite happy to conclude in a review of Peter McArdle's work in his pre-Stuckist days that it "augured well for the future of British painting". "Now," laments the Stuckist McArdle, "I am a dauber."

'Traditional', 'conceptual' and 'Stuckist' works are all made now and have overlaps through sharing a contemporary experience, but they are orientated at different angles to the contemporary, and, as time moves on and the direction of travel is maintained, the divergence becomes greater. It is the sense of that which creates the friction. The different ideas behind the work will lead to an even more marked difference in the future, and that is what the battle is for.

It is essential for the future of art that the values that do emerge are not 'conceptual' or 'traditional' but 'Stuckist', namely the primacy of truth, both through content which has experiential, emotional, and philosophical veracity and also through expression which has fidelity to that content by making, in the artist's own fashion, symbolic visual creations, which allow the 'transference' of consciousness from creator to viewer. To put it more simply, it is about making a picture that means something real. It is not about ephemeral fashionable art games; it is not about adhering to rigid out of fashion technical standards. It is about the vitality of the living spirit in the now.

This creative result is, it would seem, known as a 'daub' and the practitioner of it as a 'dauber'.

Yet again history repeats itself as if it's got nothing better to do, and as if nobody ever bothers to study it. The insult of the worthlessness of 'impressionist' art was transformed after a few decades into paintings bought for millions. Likewise Picasso was deemed even by his closest supporters to have lost his mind when he revealed Les Demoiselles D'Avignon, now considered a major, and by many the most important, Twentieth Century artwork.

To be dismissed as a dauber of daubs is the contemporary version of this.

Nevertheless, the Stuckist position is being increasingly recognised, understood and taken seriously. Susan Mansfield wrote in The Scotsman:

"..the Stuckists have a strong philosophical base...It’s also remarkably difficult to pigeonhole. Stuckist work is often far from traditional or conservative. A few paintings in Punk Victorian are as shocking as anything Jake and Dinos Chapman could produce."

Velocity magazine in a section headed "The exhibitions and productions at the top of Europe's cultural agenda" stated:

"..the Stuckists' show is a worthy argument for painting as the fundamental medium of artistic expression, and brings a refreshing willingness to be understood in today's world of oblique messages."

Simon Pia in The Scotsman, not being bound by the rules of the art code (and with a sound grasp of the fundamentals of history), simply predicted:

"...the next big thing in art will be ... The Stuckists."

During the last Stuckist demo outside the Turner Prize (2004), Paul Myners, Chairman of the Tate Trustees, remarked confidently that he had seen our show at the Walker in Liverpool and it was "a travesty." His main assured condemnation was directed at our exclusive employment of one material - paint - which he termed "the medium of yesterday."

"Yes," I replied, "and of tomorrow."


Charles Thomson

Gavin Turk onThe Stuckists Punk Victorian show, Liverpool, BBC website listen here
Adrian Searle in The Guardian
Susan Mansfield in The Scotsman here
Velocity here
Simon Pia in The Scotsman here
Quotes by Charles Williams and Ella Guru are from The Stuckists Punk Victorian (National Museums Liverpool 2004)

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