The Fate of Fine Art

Too late to turn the clock back on fine art,
Egregious oxymoron that it may
Be called today, but where to find the start
Of this, the slow beginnings of decay?

For once we found our world inside the space
That we saw bounded by a frame. The height
Of charm resided in the commonplace
Where now the commonplace is merely trite.

And in that world we knew the things we felt,
We recognised, the life we saw and thought
We knew, the things we touched and heard and smelt
And learned and read, the things that we’d been taught.

And then it seems the Fauvist movement came
Along, divorcing outline, colour, shade
And form, each from the other. Should we blame
Matisse, for one, the hotchpotch he portrayed?

Technique and skill no longer score in art,
Nor presentation. Concept counts for all.
When craft in execution lost its part
For art it proved the writing on the wall.

Today’s great works of art are meant to shock,
Are often vulgar, utterly debased,
Designed to ape the loathsome, out to mock
The twee and every benchmark of good taste.

The more ephemeral a work of art,
Like children’s castle carvings in wet sand,
The greater chance that it will fall apart,
The higher price it seems it will command.

Artists today will brush aside our fears
Of transience. They’ve no concern, at heart,
For what effect will have the passing of the years
On shoddy work and shoddy works of art.

Long gone the days when artists would have ground
And bound their own pigments, who had the sense
To choose the methods that they found were sound
While having due regard to permanence.

No more can art astound us or confound
Our visual acuity or raise
Perceptions and our awe, where once we found
That it would open up our eyes, amaze

Us, make us look and look again in ways
We couldn’t see till artists lent their sight
To us and then on nature we would gaze
Anew to see more clearly in the light.

As poetry today must be opaque,
Have scant regard for scansion, feet or rhyme,
So too in art the rules that we can break
Can only lead to anarchy in time.

A bandwagon for those without restraint,
A permit to create without constraint,
A licence to bespatter, daub and taint
Their canvases with cheap emulsion paint.

Too late to rescue art from all the wrong
Publicity it draws, the ridicule,
Perplexity and disbelief along
With scorn for what shows not a minuscule

Amount of talent or ability.
The cutting edge of art today is all
About sensation and celebrity
And arrogance, audacity and gall.

It shows how far the talentless can stretch
The boundaries of what they’re able to:
Some wretch can spend five minutes on a sketch
That ends up as a seminal breakthrough

For vorticist post-futuristic art.
An etching smaller than a postage stamp
In fetching multi-squillions, apart
From all the kudos for the little scamp,

It gets his latest retrospective flown
To all the seven continents and sent
Off to the Venice Biennale, shown
At every single pseudo-art event.

Why paint a portrait of a man and try
To catch his likeness if you can? Just do
A daub with jumbo dung and let it dry,
Entitle it “Untitled, Number Two.”

If only artists could just stand apart
From flagrant self-advertisement and hype
And put more effort into so-called art
They’d churn out ten times more appalling tripe.


The Dark Ages

What cultural wasteland could have produced
The Book of Durrow and the Book of Kells,
A barren tasteless age that introduced
The Gothic with the greatest church at Wells.
And dark their ages were but for their part
They’d not the consummate effrontery
To call a pile of bricks a work of art,
To pickle sharks, make the discovery

That hype and bluster and a name that sells
Can turn the most outrageous bottled fart
Into the most dramatic work of art.
The Book of Durrow and the Book of Kells:
Those humble scribes, their fame no-one proclaims:
How could we, for they didn’t leave their names.


Peter Hartley is a retired painting restorer. He was born in Liverpool and lives in Manchester, UK.

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13 Responses

  1. T. M. Moore


    You write:
    Those humble scribes, their fame no-one proclaims:
    How could we, for they didn’t leave their names.

    Be encouraged. Some of us are doing are best, like you in this fine sonnet, to put this period and its artists, scholars, and humble everyday saints before the world today.

    T. M. Moore

    • Peter Hartley

      Dear TMM, Thank you for your remarks about “The Dark Ages”, and it is good to know there ARE people like you who want to bring to light the authors of such amazing historiated manuscripts as these. We need to try to uncover their authorship if we can, as part of our investigation into that period of our lesser-known history, and our attempts to understand it. But not, of course, for the sake of the scribes themselves fifteen hundred years ago who never sought acclaim but gave ALL credit for their meticulous labours to God alone.

  2. David Paul Behrens

    These poems offer a grand depiction of the state of modern art and how it lacks form and precision, much like modernist poetry.

    I have often wondered if I could have been a good artist, but I never bought a canvas or any paint. I suppose that could be true for many of us.

    I enjoyed these poems.

    • Peter Hartley

      David – glad you liked them. It’s difficult to avoid drawing that parallel between the decline in fine art and the decline in other art forms including verse (and the sort of poetry that could be described simply as bad prose, typically with arbitrary line divisions and only the left margins justified). By the way, I bought acres of canvas and gallons of paint and found that I wasn’t.

  3. C.B. Anderson

    You paint a grim picture, Peter, and sadly I cannot find much here in your poems with which to disagree. In the last stanza of “The Fate of Fine Art” I find that I’m not quite sure what you are getting at. Are you saying that if artists set aside the hype, then things will only get worse? That’s what it sounds like. Am I misreading it? Perhaps you are saying that so-called artists are beyond redemption. In any event, I applaud the stand you take against the fall of night.

    • Peter Hartley

      Dear CBA, Many thanks indeed for your kind remarks about this little poem. What I had intended by the last stanza is exactly covered by BOTH your interpretations, that these so-called artists are indeed beyond redemption; that the decline in craft and in the ability to clothe artistic creations with a consummate technique is an inexorable progress that I fear can neither be halted nor reversed, that even if some of our infected poets and painters could manage to eschew self-advertisement I’m afraid once they are settled in, the seats on that bandwagon are far too comfortable to relinquish. Abandoning the hype will simply provide more time to produce more tripe. More are going to get on board than alight, if I may pursue the metaphor from two sentences ago, which is in any event not as good as yours. “The Fall of Night” would have been a far better title for my poem!

      • C.B. Anderson

        I have eaten tripe a time or two, and I found it hard to chew and much too salty. More of it is the last thing we need.

  4. Peter Hartley

    My grandfather, of whom you may hear more anon, subsisted on a diet of pigs’ trotters and tripe. He had a bullet lodged in his brain at the first Battle of the Somme in 1916 which probably explains this and his penchant for dancing around his local parish hall dressed in a tutu with a yellow top-hat and green aigrette feathers. De gustibus non est disputandum.

  5. Monty

    Different gravy, Pete.

    I was in Asia for 17 weeks (5 in India: 12 in Nepal), and the wifi (especially in Nepal) is still in a deliciously-primitive, nascent state, with constant teething problems. Hence, I find it easier to just leave it alone when I’m there; and just check my emails, etc once every 10 days or so . . and only reply to important ones.

    I’m now back in France, with adequate wifi; thus I’m starting to back-peddle through recent SCP offerings; and I’ve just bumped into the above two high-class, impassioned piss-takes about the modern commercial-art world.
    Quality words, Pete: ya’v got a such a rich vocabulary.. and an effortless way with diction/phrasing, etc.

    I gather that yer still wearing a Tag since yer release from Endrime House: thus it’s with the utmost relief that I consider the rhymes ability/celebrity and effrontery/discovery to be no more than borderline cases regarding the use of near-rhymes as end-rhymes.
    It would’ve saddened me (if they had actually ‘crossed’ the border) to see ya get carted back to Skem.

    After reading the above, and also yer previous submission earlier this year; I henceforth know the standard of poetry to expect from ya in the future.

    p.s. I feel I might have a pleasing dream tonight about ‘The Fate . . ‘ finding its way into several established Art journals.

    • Peter Hartley

      Monty – welcome back to western Europe, and thank you for your very kind remarks about my poetry once again. A lot has happened during your seventeen weeks’ wifilessness and it’s difficult to know where to start. The upshot is that Endrime House has been forced to close down after its last inmate was summarily executed last month for transposing a dithyramb for a heptastich, using mixed metaphors while ironing out bottle-necks in the fire regulations and making minatory gestures with a Latvian pole-axe. I don’t think Skem will ever be the same again without its iconic panopticon’s poetic occupant.

      • Monty

        So, the revered institution of Endrime House is no more? It’s like an early-80’s scally fanzine: The End.

        Oh well, that’s a sign o’ the times, what? Another public-service closed-down; the premises of which will doubtless be converted into plush pads, or student accommodation. I wonder if it’s a listed building? My immediate thought was on the potential impact it could have on Skem’s bookshops; quickly followed by the jolting conception that there may be none there anyway!

        For geographical reasons, I imagine the closure will only reinforce your commitment not to re-offend. You won’t need reminding of the favourable proximity between Mancsville and Skem; but I must inform you that the next-nearest establishment offering similar modes of correction . . is in Merthyr Tidfil. Would the dutiful loyalty of your visitor to Endrime, Christine, extend to such distant climes?

  6. Peter Hartley

    Unfortunately my loyal visitor’s staunch and stalwart support would be unlikely to survive my transfer to a Cambrian house of correction owing to her searing hatred for anything Welsh. The mere mention of conical black hats, leeks, male voice choirs, Welsh dressers, badgers, Latvian pole-axes or spinning wheels, even accidentally, is wont to send her into an incandescent rage accompanied by spitting fits, protracted bouts of diarrhoea and pitiful retching from which she can take months to recover. Upon the discovery, you will remember, that the present Queen is descended from the House of Tudor she ordered her chief handyman, Gareth ap Llewelyn, to burn over a thousand signed photos of the Queen’s corgis that had once proudly decorated the walls of her en suite. I am irresistibly reminded of that well-known Harlech aphorism “Llygwy yr llan hafod pwll dydd”.


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