Our Post-critical Era of the Arts

A manifest by Artur Balder


In aesthetics, the notion of the artwork has received many uses and no less abuses over the decades that have led to the current state of confusion and decadent uncertainty of the contemporary scene. David Roberts quoted Richard Wagner and his exposition as "he set a new exploration of the stage as the site of the totalization of aesthetic forms". That sense of totalization is running today one of the most powerful artistic movements of all times in the true search of an aesthetic redemption of the individual beyond the present and ubiquitous decadence of the arts: acting, literature, poetry, architecture, sculpture... and of course painting, united for a new Post-critical Era of the Arts. Wagner's foundations takes shape in our compromised creational endeavor and responsibility, avoiding the fatality of the surrounding death of arts. This fact has not gone unnoticed over the last century to the reviewers of aesthetic theory, and certainly gained momentum in recent years with the advent of what Donald Kuspit has called the "New Old Masters": great artists not only famous, fortunately acting from an creational individuality redeemed out of the superficial manners of the late 20th century, who have rescued the Great Tradition 2 (in fact Refining the Great Tradition recalls the terms which are of utmost importance in the analysis of actual contemporary events). As the aesthetician Theodor Adorno wrote, modern art—and he was as we know a devotee and advocate of it—may claim to "will what has never existed before, but… the shadow of the past looms over everything".

In this sense, Tigran Tsitoghdzyan appeals to the visual sense of the viewer from a perspective that is provisioned in a transcendental meditation, as if the world had already occurred, or passed away, which leads to the definition of "New Old Masters" and "Post-critical Era". A first observation of its imagery seems to refer to a merely photographed universe, deceptive yet seductive, strongly present, where the author has stopped essentially a frame that has been able to freeze, however, along apparently endless sessions of work. Nonetheless, this initial assessment, as it may have happened to many others, is superficial. The painting, far from saturated, responds to a scheme of arrangement where the distribution of tones seeks constant balance. And I quote Greenberg regarding that, as he wrote "like the twelve-tone composer, the 'allover' painter weaves his work into a tight mesh whose scheme of unity is recapitulated at every meshing point." But in that sense, 'mesh' is a definition of 'order'. The extent of the shadows is essentially a leisurely game on the surface of his paintings; reducing the laws of chiaroscuro to a strict use of bitonality the painter forces the viewer to focus on the essential aspects of art: composition, clear expression, and, most of all, memory. "By 'modernity' I mean the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent," Baudelaire wrote, arguing that memory means "the eternal and the immutable."

Let's stop for a moment to examine the past of the artist. The history of art in Armenia and its religious impact is obvious when analyzing his work. It is a cultural constellation of coordinates that he cannot escape off, by contrast, is redefined and exposed. Armenian religious tradition get filtered through exhibition of the artist's spiritual and aesthetic creational positioning. It is no accident that this vision of the essential and primordial human link, the mother and child, for example, as one of the classic letimotivs of the sacred tradition, will become the focus for conducting a speech full of varied and profound connotations, even extremely personal.

In Yeveran, the hometown of Tsitoghdzyan, several Madonnas like the one of Spitakavor, in the monastery of the same name, or representations of Saint Paul and Peter Church, or the ancient Madonna of Odzun, were works that did not go unnoticed to the early artist Tigran was. In the Church of the Nativity is the only icon with the smiling Madonna (see photo). These works have not escaped the attention of the child who was Tsitoghdzyan, an infant prodigy for painting as the facts state.

smiling madonna

Smiling Mad​onna at the church of Nativity, Yerevan, Armenia

And what happens is that there was a secure place for the sacred in society, for "the space of wonder and awe, of the noumenal which remains a mystery and the numinous which is its aura," as the cultural historian Daniel Bell calls it, no matter how profane the rest of it was.

That Armenian religious experience joins, when we talk about Tigran Tsitoghdzyan, to a manifest virtuosity from an early age, and it is impossible not to remember Mozart as we examine his early and prolific works. The precocity in his understanding of the knowhow and the technic, the ability to capture color theory, speak of an infant prodigy who, unlike many other infant prodigies, did not lose his way to becoming an adult and found a no less prodigious and substantial identity.

Again, Baudelaire's idea of the "high imaginative power" of children is echoed in Kandinsky's idea of their "unconscious, enormous power," often making "the work of children… much higher than the work of adults", leading him to argue that "the artist… for his whole lifetime resembles the child in many ways". To that I can add Nietzsche's aphorism: "In the authentic man there is hidden a child, that wants to play".

However, remains necessary to remember some anecdotes of Tigran's life to understand what means a prodigy in the field of painting, as in fact it is more usual to distinguish that in the field of music. Tsitoghdzyan was able to get an exact color and reproduce it immediately mixing pure colors directly from the same tubes. This, in fact, have led to significant problems in the academies of painting he attended, places that, in a paradoxical way, wanted him to unlearn everything he already knew, which resulted in the young genius' first sort of inevitable frustrations. This is not a legend but a fact that still many of his friends from that era remember, if they are sincere with what happened, which was surprising to those who witnessed it. The child developed further extensive series of pictures where there is clearly more than a prodigy in the assimilation of the human figure and the art and theory of color, but that also show a meditative, religious noumenal, a search of the collective primary identity in the terms postulated by Jung.

And this is linked to what Melanie Klein attested, "for integration, if it could be achieved, would have the effect of mitigating hate by love and in this way rendering destructive impulses less powerful. The ego would then feel safer not only about its own survival but also about the preservation of its good object. This is one of the reasons why lack of integration is extremely painful."

This meditating about reality led him to express himself with a stronger personality until at his twenties he begins to chart a course that is already not only personal, but is able to speak with his own voice on the international scene, with increasing success in a captivating combination of visual thinking and technical executing. Individuality in both aspects is clear and is expressed regularly in its series of work, which will synthesize achievements in a way that speaks to contemporary audiences with its own selected themas of thought, resulting in iconographic images like Madonnas or the Mirrors series, which, unlike the playgrounds of Andy Warhol and his sycophants generation in American popart, for example, is able to give the lesson in technique, paraphrasing cited Kuspit's essay above, redefining and refining the Great Tradition. After a more severe observation, we can state that he is renewing and making current, therefore, our, thus uniting and rescuing of decay, or offering a chance for redemption for the contemporary viewer of pop culture. This redemption of contemporary the viewer occurs thanks to the fact that the artist treats the viewer like an adult who wants transcendence, and not as a child requiring only entertainment. In contrast with the entertainment industry, Tsitoghdzyan offers aesthetic redemption, possibly due to the inherent depth of religious experience in his native culture. This notion of sacred art versus decadent art in the second category being the essential postulate to raise the declarative condition of "artwork" to that which is not, and could clearly be, at best, decorative art, identifiable its purpose and its workmanship... this is the true iconoclast positioning of our time, contrary to what the mass media tend to show as iconoclasm, which is actually only the scandal in art, the eternal celebrity buzz, which in the 21th century is nothing else but a well calculated marketing operation manipulated by merchants. As Kuspit writes citing Peter Sloterdijk statements so accurately, 'modern "enlightenment" dead-ends in, but we have a realistic awareness of it, and we are unconsciously depressed by it'.

Tigran Tsiroghdzyan working on his Mirror Metamorphosis


Some apparently casual references: Ingres, Ossian, Klopstock

The German Romantic poet and dramaturgist J. C. Friedrich von Schiller proposed that individuals, as well as societies, encounter three stages of transformation on the path to spiritual maturity. Tigran's evolutionary path is in this sense different to most artists, and one can speak of an absence of childhood in the general sense of the definition, as demonstrated both by his works of that time as by the events that marked its existence. This aesthetic maturation leads to a quick recognition of romantic painting trails in the work of these early stages.

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig separates culture into two well differenced paradigms. The first one, the scientific, or "classical." That one is concerned with the material properties of objects. And the second one, the "romantic" or holistic, sees the overall gestalt, the relationships between all things and their aesthetic quality. Tigran works, as other 'New Old Masters' starts placing himself in the most balanced position. His creation summarizes both positions, reconciling the ideal of art.

For example, Untitled(1998), a painting from 1998, recalls in more than one sense of that romantic icon was the picture of Ingres, The dream of Ossian. The idealized humanity that surrounds the sitter's face reminds us the ossianic heroes that merge around the wandering bard, who relies on dreams, on his harp, to the spirits of the ancestors, which appear with a marble quality, addressing him as an inaudible heroism, windswept. One cannot help notice the dignity, not to say what Frederick Hartt calls "the utmost grandeur" of the figures.

Both positions are surreal, but the approach has in common not only formal, but spiritual meanings. The artist is in contact with the unconscious of a group that is represented in similar qualities of light, a distant, indifferent, snowy abstract idealization of the crowd. This is reminiscent of the verses of proto-Romanticism in Klopstock's most celebrated poetic work:

As yet unalarmed are the peaceable dwellers;
Close to his nightly-lamp the sage yet watches; and high friends
Over wine not unhallow'd, in shelter of odorous bowers,
Talk of the soul and of friendship, and weigh their immortal duration.


The Dream of Ossian (1813) Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres 137 x 108 in. / 348 x 275 cm Oil on canvas Musée Ingres, Montauban, France


Untitled(1998) Tigran Tsitoghdzyan 35 x 28 in. / 90 x 70 cm Oil on canvas Private collection


Untitled(1990) Tigran Tsitoghdzyan 26 x 16 in. / 65 x 45 cm Oil on canvas Private collection


The Mirror Series, Crisis of communication: the impossibility of hiding our identity today

The body of work he chooses to showcase reflects his wish to bring to notice the deepest thoughts and impressions that have marked a timeframe between 90's, when he left his homeland Armenia, and the opening decade of this century. In a certain way, however, it is the reflection of the prevailing reality, mirroring transformations that followed and the ongoing changes in his homeland today.

The process started with the execution of the large mural piece titled Crowd Landscape, 700 x 140cm, painted on 45 separate canvases in oil. The space between the canvases creates a grid that splits a live size painted human landscape in order to turn it into a controlled composition. It recalls the dramatic days of Armenia's economic, political and social crisis of the early 90's. The work tries to reveal the existential dimensions of that reality and its consequences, but at large it is a visual dissertation on the suppression of individual liberty. It is also about Armenia's 20th century devastating historical experience, about sustaining the memory of the never forgotten genocide, about survival to move on to far-reaching changes.

Nonetheless, Tigran believes in holding strongly to his cultural heritage, but at the same time he wants to keep a record of intellectual and cultural achievements in the world in order to provide a dynamic development of society's different evolutional facets.

His recent series of Mirrors concentrates on the modern spirit of individuality in this era of 'selfies' culture. It compresses the ideas that have occupied him in connection with that vision of ourselves through interfering social networks and media. From that point of view, internet changed our need to be seen and the control we had about that image. The series of Mirrors, composed of large portraits (280 x 200 cm), are technically based on fusing transparent superposed layers of hands over the faces unhidden identity, about the impossibility of hide our identity today if we accept the ubiquitous power and rules of social media, with no filters capable to control the self difussion. Among other, the evolution of the series show us his latest work of that series, Mirror Metamorphosis, a painting where he adds more superposed layers that can reveal an altered, may be unstable state of the identity, opening a new angle of vision of the subject, with powerful subjective resonances.

Behind that is also his idea of 'time and the river', of Armenia with its centenary old traditions and history, its perspectives as how Tigran sees it through his multilayered vision of monumental portraiture.

Tigran Tsitoghdzyan next to his "Mirror" painting in the New York studio.


The Millennium Series, Crisis of communication: the subjective observer or the third excluded

"People are my landscape" says Tigran Tsitoghdzyan. "I'm just an observer, I love being completely lost in the crowd and feeling anonymous."

The series of pictures called Millenium is a formidable critique of modern motherhood, communication and the relationship between man and woman. The artist observes the disconnection of essential human links, summarizing the decline of communication thanks to the expansion of communication, no matter how paradoxical it may sound, thanks to the proliferation of devices that apparently allow more and better interrelation of ever larger masses. It ends up with means of deterioration, if not destruction, or at least the decline, of essential, primordial human ties of clan, family, or even the seemingly indestructible link in the initial formation of the human being, the child with his mother. In the so called great tradition of painting motherhood is represented, from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and beyond, as a complete union of the child and the mother. Spiritual contemplation of the mother usually fixes that link under which, apart from the world, the observer, the artist, recreates as the miracle of humanity. That later will eventually come to mind as Goethe's "eternal feminine", but the actual vision of Tsitoghdzyan refers us to disconnection and invisibility through which travel anonymous, inaudible and intangible data; while mother and son are together in the same time and space, they are separated to distress the observer. The miracle of motherhood is relegated to the background in exchange for a communication that refers to the universe of distractions in life, and there are, at the end of the road, the suitability of the kuspitian assertion in its As ereference very rto oma"art ntifor c pimaintermature" , Tigin racon is antrast lso rewith la"taert d tforo aWindults"ckel17.mann's idealistic aesthetic. "In theory," Alex Potts writes, "the Greek ideal should appear entirely whole and centered, its harmoniously poised body the very model of a similarly constituted ideal subjectivity. It still needed, however, to bear some trace of the deep-seated disturbances that motivated the fantasies of ideal oneness it embodied. It had to appear untouched by contradiction and difference even as its affective power drew upon anxieties associated with the 'real' divisions of the self, for only on condition that it did not entirely efface the ideological and psychic tension could its potentially bland perfection be of compulsive interest."

The flight of strong contrast factors makes certain appearances of color, such as shades of electronic devices with which the Madonna communicates with the world beyond, a factor of expression which emphasizes the actual narrative of the painting.

The mother, always absent, communicates with an afterlife that seems to us simply emptiness, although it is everything for her, given the indifference of ignored maternity. This refill colors in the reproduction of these objects is not accidental, and its mission is to show the presence of attractive intruders into the purest human relations, degrading or even breaking them. Tsitoghdzyan uses color saturation to draw attention to what is artificial to the inherent humanism and eternal, for it is linked, in contrast to it, to a balanced and sober exposition of color.

The pain of the artist, however, is synchronized with the harmony of tones, which prevented exposure thereof may escape the general trend of balance, eurythmy and idealization. "All anxiety is fear of experiencing a traumatic state, of the possibility that the organization of the ego may be overwhelmed by excitation."

But the viewer does not remain oblivious to the painful gap that exists, despite the physical contact between the child and the mother. On one side the woman, observing distant pending issues, distracted watching a screen that emits communication omens, while his son seems to fall into a sort of apathy staring into the distance. Unaware of what happens, it is the viewer who suffers for the child, the adult stage presence, an observer that subjectively masculinizes us.

Thus, to use Freud's language, "imagination, liberated from the domination of reason [deliberation] and from any moderating control [exercised by the adult ego], leaps into a position of unlimited sovereignty."

Both Milleniums conceal a third subjective observer. In front of the universal observer, that can be defined as an objective observer, the audience, usually anonymously related to any artistic representation, this series of work refer powerfully to stable a third excluded. This third excluded is created in us, or rather recreated, leading to a subtle difference by gender of the viewer. However, this subjective observer in this case is distinctly masculine, and the artist masculinizes inevitably his audience: the triangle proposed by the artwork ends in the male, an invisible but omnipresent figure, physically generator of what happens in addition to its artistic creator. To describe it with other words, the excluded, that male element, represents not only the work but has been directly co-creator of it, as the Dadaist-turned-psychoanalyst Richard Huelsenbeck presciently wrote at the height of its social success.

Motherhood brings us to the creational act, with a load of unavoidable responsibility that is placed on the child. The miracle of creation is represented by the third indivisible element, male-creator, which is always subject to the background behind the mission of motherhood, who is also the most important figure, the closest to the child from birth and during the first years of life. This inevitable condition exposes the disconnection of communication not only as a mere assertion of modern times brought to the study by the mere fact that seem to be necessary for the representative individuality of the author, but there is a clear protest from the subjective observer: masculinity complaint about the lack of maternal care, rupture of communication's link, and allegedly the sacrifice of the holy family.

In The Mask and the Face: The Perception of Physiognomic Likeness in Life and Art, E. H. Gombrich suggests that the snapshot deformed the way we think about portraiture and the "problem of likeness." The snapshot "has drawn attention to the paradox of capturing life in a still, of freezing the play of features in an arrested moment."

Regarding this, the most commented reference by Tsitoghdzyan is clearly the Madonna Litta attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. Now the visual game goes back and forth from photography into philosophy, paradoxically coming from the technic of a painter.

The colors used to dress maternity are both familiar and soft; a combination that generates the distribution thereof is not a casual representation. In both cases, dressed in red, covered with cerulean mantle. Other changes are a thing of the actual time. Exposure of tragedy is evident: the Madonna of Tsitoghdzyan is absent in contrast to that of da Vinci. Leonardo's is concentrated in the child despite the breadth of the world we see through the windows on both sides of his head, while Tigran's, locked in a room with no windows and no visible externality, is concentrated in a virtual exterior that only happens through an intermediary, a cell phone of last generation. It connects her to a world that is not present, to sacrifice her present world, and thus the connection with the child. After five hundred years of history, technology comes with the promise of a better world to create a substantially poorer human world. Humanism gets the payback of his dream by destruction of primordial humanity in a society of advanced science applications.

Madonna Litta(1490) Leonardo da Vinci 17 x 13 in. / 42 x 33 cm Oil paint Hermitage, St. Petersburg

Writing about Michelangelo's painting, Frederick Hartt notes that "the mystery of drunkenness was considered comparable to that of death," adding that Christ, like Bacchus, was "a god of wine", although he clearly did not encourage bacchanalian festivities, perhaps because he knew that drunks became violent and destructive, as the maenads did. Nietzsche's Apollonian dreaminess and Dionysian drunkenness seem to come together in Leonardo's Madonna. As Nietzsche said, "the separate art-worlds of dreams and drunkenness, involving perpetual strife with only periodically intervening reconciliations" will never bring up to a reconciliation of science and primordial humanity.

Robert C. Morgan noted that the emergence of technology is "robbing human beings the dignity to feel what they feel, to touch things and feel like they felt so far". This theft of dignity also affects the perceptual sense of art. With the multicopy of the work in a way the access to the image is lost, of course, the sense of touch, which is when Mannerism was "born of the rich experience of classical form, harmony and gravitas that is the High Renaissance," as John Shearman writes.

Millenium(2010) Tigran Tsitoghdzyan 48 x 48 in. / 122 x 122 cm Oil on canvas Private collection

Of the two Milleniums, the second one is the most tragical. There is a repetition of the first idea, and is clearly evident in the face of the mother the sequels of her deeds. The artist plays with the light to show a mother's emaciated face, which suggests that the process of confinement ends up hauling a physical decline in childbearing itself, although she is not aware of it fully.

Without a sense of the eternal, there is no way it can avoid "ephemerization… the phenomenon of nonpermanence, that is, the fleeting, transitory, and ephemeral nature of situations in postindustrial society," making it "more and more difficult," as the psychoanalyst André Haynal writes, "for the individual to anticipate events, to foresee the consequences of their acts, and, especially, the value that will be attached to them."

The series of paintings contains a Shakespearean logic, that one with which the drama unfolds itself in front of the viewer's eyes, so that the spectator can not intervene to change the inevitable course of the events. Again the subjective viewer, the third excluded, the creative father-painter, represents what happens powerlessly, without the ability to intervene. The heaviness of the shadows in the last one of the Milennium series reveal the deepest dimension of a pessimistic, yet fatalistic mood. However, in this piece the child continues distracted and indifferent in his innocence. Tigran's work shows us that without religious conviction—it means taking existence with religious seriousness— we cannot have a serious sense of self.

What in the work iPray is a generality, with a reference to the contact with the beyond through electronic devices that do not enlarge the deep communication but narrow it, in the workspace Milleniums is a complete staging. We zoom out from iPray to show the drama in its most extensive dimension as described before in the great maternities. The author proposes the problem of representation in the worst case scenario: the corruption of distractive communication can completely alter a maternity center of his creation, her son.

Traditional art is God-centered, however much God may be humanized, and, however godlike, imbued with sacredness. In contrast, modern art is self-centered, and the self is no substitute for God—the god within one, as Aurelius said—when it comes to dealing with death.

As closing the circle of the series, in Connection finally the child appears only with a cell phone in hand. The mother has disappeared completely and has now become the electronic device that allows him to communicate with her. Now she communicates with her son via that mobile that before we saw in her hand, in the Milleniums. Hartocollis statement comes here to hand: "The ultimate defense is to deny time, to live in the present, or to believe in life after death, timeless eternity, a land where there shall be time no longer." All this is substituted by the "beyond", Godlike communication of the virtual life that moves throughout invisible data, the dignity of touch and feeling is substituted by ideas, words and icons that pop up in electronic screens as extensions of our imagination.

Other factors, such as fidelity to the present, in contrast with the portrait of the classic maternity, are no longer a necessary situation for the artist, located in an inescapable reality, but not the initial, essential part of his speech. But there is a certain amount of anticipation, however, in his paintings: premonition, augury, but it is so subtly screened that possibly it will be apparent to those accustomed or in need of more obvious statements.

But, given that popular scientists such as Dawkins and Hitchens belittle and cajole us to abandon the fallacies of religion, art and philosophy, and to bow without questioning at the feet of the idol of science, probably our society is sick in more than one aspect. Tigran works is a extremely responsibly act of creation. Beyond his overwhelming technic, he shows the scenario of a decadence offering the possibility of redemption in true art, and as a New Old Master a part of our post-critical era of the arts. As literature shows and rediscovers the power of nature and the power of ancient primordial religious codes that conform the true vision of the folks, painting unites the same values from its own perspective

However, the discovery of true art is possible today for our adult observers thanks to a revival that aims to be more than a casual crossroads, but a firm reaction of the will in front of the decadence.