Thursday, October 20, 2005

Liking What You Like

On the Andrew Wyeth thread I joked about the difference between sophistication and "real" sophistication, defining the latter as "a license to like what you like, the rest of the world be damned." I know how snobbish this will sound, but I actually feel there is something to that (bearing in mind that a license is not something you're born with, but rather something, through studying and then passage of assessments, you acquire).

I'll often run into curators or other art world authorities who'll apologize when they discuss our gallery's program for not liking this or that artist we represent. They'll preface their statement with "No offense, but...." I always assure them there's no offense at all taken. I explain that, other than our own, there's no gallery in the world for which I love every artist they represent. The subtlties of personal taste make that nearly impossible. And so I see no reason to take it personally that someone else's taste doesn't align perfectly with mine.

I mention this in response to the debate on yesterday's Political Art thread about escapism and fantasy in art. I can think of plenty of artists I love who employ elements of those in their work, but none of them would I describe as predominantly such. That may be projection or ignorance on my part, I don't know. But it's fine in my opinion to declare I don't particularly respond to escapism in art, without that having to limit my ability to love individual works by artists who consider that a central motif in their work. I can like what I like, intellectual declarations be damned.

I'll illustrate why I feel that's important with an example. Aesthetically, I simply adore Modernism. The pallettes, the gestures, the lines, the overall tone of the theory...it makes me smile and sets my troubled mind at ease. I can now rhetorically demolish most of its central arguments, but that doesn't stop me from gravitating toward (and then drooling all over) a great Modernist piece in some collection. Of the Modernists, though, the group I grow a bit iffy about are the Abstract Expressionists. I love a few of them, but, for example, Pollock leaves me cold. I've looked and looked and looked again at his paintings. Intellectually I appreciate his accomplishments, but place a Pollock "masterpiece" next to a minor Giacometti, for example, and the Pollock essentially disappears to my eye.

Now very few people (in America at least) would argue that Giacometti is a more important artist than Pollock. My brain understands why, as well. If taking an oral exam, with works by these two side by side, I would make an intellectual declaration that Pollock was more important, even as my eye wandered over to adore the Giacometti. See, my eye simply does not care what the "right answer" is. My eye likes what it likes.

What that means in the context of yesterday's debate is that it's pointless to take personally declarations about this or that movement or motif when individual images are not part of the discussion. I can declare Abstract Expressionism more important than High Modernism (and rhetorically back that up). I can also declare the exact opposite (and rhetorically back that up, if I wanted to). But bring two pieces into a room, and rhetoric takes a back seat to what I see. I will still like what I like.

So go make the best escapist or fantasy-based art the world has ever seen. (as if anything could stop you ;-))

30 Comments:

Anonymous Mountain Man said...

Clarity is important in arguing these things. And seeing it as a debate about ideas, not an indictment about personal taste, you are right. It's only useful to other people when you can explain yourself clearly, that goes for art as well as debates. I think you would be a good teacher.

10/20/2005 10:58:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I think you would be a good teacher.

I doubt it. I used to teach, but I wasn't a good teacher. My students all enjoyed the classes, but they didn't learn anywhere near as much as I was supposed to teach them. If teaching were a popularity contest, then I'd be a good teacher, but it's not. My students would have been better served by learning more and laughing less.

The "best" teachers I've ever had were ones I hated at the time, but now can see how much I learned in their classes.

But thanks for the kind words, MM.

I do agree that when discussing ideas, personal tastes should not be assumed to be part of the equation.

10/20/2005 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

My students would have been better served by learning more and laughing less.

Absolutely NOT!!!

10/20/2005 01:00:00 PM  
Anonymous pant leg said...

The cheerios didn't help. It is so difficult to talk about the why as an artist. When I get into the studio I don't want to think too much about the work. It hinders the art making. Being dumb is helpful.

10/20/2005 02:17:00 PM  
Anonymous crionna said...

Looks like Americans do like art.

Unlike Europe, where 80 to 90 percent of museum visitors are tourists, in the U.S., only about 30 percent are. In other words, Americans are patronizing their own museums.

10/20/2005 02:30:00 PM  
Anonymous ML said...

Edward,

I've thought about your comment yesterday about trees and birds as escapism. What I concluded is that in our post-Freudian world, truth is a negative. Gritty, ruthless, violent are true. Beauty is suspect. This negativity is our era's equivalent of Victorian sentimentality - it somehow comforts us.

But I do understand your eye's preferences. I know that Monet is overused but I can't help sighing with pleasure when I see the waterlilies or the Rouen cathedral or those haystacks. And I don't respond to Picasso. Know he's important, just don't really like to look at his work.

10/20/2005 02:30:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

It is so difficult to talk about the why as an artist. When I get into the studio I don't want to think too much about the work. It hinders the art making. Being dumb is helpful.

I hear that a lot. Of course I also hear artists who can explain their work quite eloquently and at great length.

I think there's a fair bit to be said for working intuitively (which is what I think you're promoting here). Especially, because if words were that good at conveying what you're trying to you wouldn't be a visual artist, you'd be a writer.

But working intuitively need not stop you from understanding and being able to communicate what attracts you to a motif, style, movement, etc, does it?

I mean, perhaps discussing choices in individual pieces is hard, but you know what your exploring overall, no? How does escapism serve that exploration?

Example...Artist X makes color field paintings (for a safe example). When working on her latest painting, she can't say why she knew this passage had to be green and that large (it's not symbolic of anything), but it did have to be just so. She knew it did.

But ask her what overall she's exploring...why the paint is flat, why there's no representation to speak of, etc. etc. and she can articulate the goals of revealing the essence of painting.

In other words, she's not doing the sort of detailed thinking about motivation for each individual painting (because, you're right, over-analyzing at that level would result in her paintings looking forced, lacking charm, being stiff, etc.), but she has done the sort of thinking that led her to focus on this exploration in the first place. Otherwise, she'd be too dumb to know to do it.

10/20/2005 02:35:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

awesome story Crionna. Thanks for the link.

Beauty and authenticity used to be more a part of our everyday lives. You could find them in the art and architecture of churches and homes, commercial buildings and town squares. But with suburban sprawl, we've traded magnificence for efficiency, low prices and ample parking.

It's not surprising to me we're looking more and more for reassurances that we can still create quality...that we're capable of something sublime. We're no different from all those who came before us in that respect.

10/20/2005 02:46:00 PM  
Anonymous pant leg said...

yes! Of course you are right. But I still think the meaning is the merenge sometimes. In the past I had to much explanation for my work. It was tedious. Now I've swung over to the free and easy side and I'm a sloppy goopey mess. Freewheeling and playing dumb to shake off the shackles of content.
BTW, it seem like this fantasy based work is a reaction to the strident identity based work of the 90's. Everybody got sick of learning lessons in the art gallery.

10/20/2005 02:59:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

it seem like this fantasy based work is a reaction to the strident identity based work of the 90's. Everybody got sick of learning lessons in the art gallery.

Now we're getting somewhere.

For each revolution (identity work), there is a counter-revolution (fantasy work), but before the dust can truly settle, a third way, incorporating the best of both revolutions, must usually emerge.

In other words, yes, our brains are exhausted...our souls are exhausted...and these pretty pictures are lovely distractions...but eventually, we'll lose the lessons learned if we don't incorporate them, no?

10/20/2005 03:10:00 PM  
Anonymous moralist said...

It sounds old fashioned but I like to see beauty and truth. And dare I say it.... morality. Being disgusted is getting tiresome. Maybe the inverse of fantasy is shock art.

10/20/2005 03:33:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

It sounds old fashioned but I like to see beauty and truth. And dare I say it.... morality.

Whose morality?

10/20/2005 03:42:00 PM  
Anonymous james leonard said...

it seem like this fantasy based work is a reaction to the strident identity based work of the 90's. Everybody got sick of learning lessons in the art gallery.

By my experience, the academy of the '90's pushed many students into work that presented the personal as politcal. Due to a genuine lack of life experience and diversity (lets face it, most art school kids tend to come from upper-middle class families), a majority of the resulting work felt like rejected auditions from daytime talk shows. I can't tell you how many times I heard fellow students introduce their work to a critique saying "I am dealing with issues of family/gender/sexuality." In the worst cases, the work was downright disingenuous in order to play by the script.

It seems that soon after, a new generation young professors and adjuncts tried to prevent this from happening in their classrooms. The message became "make work about what you know." At the time this was a step forward. But now? Things feel stuck. I get so frustrated now when I see shows that engage little more than the material trappings of a comfortable American childhood. I really don't care what My Little Ponies or Transformers an artist collected as a child. Memories of ColecoVision, Thundercats, and Cricket the talking doll isn't enough to make your work meaningful.

Last week (or two weeks ago now?), Edward started a thread about sacrifice amongst artists. I never responded to that thread, but I've thought a lot about it. If we are to "make work about what we know," maybe we should risk knowing something worthwhile? Does sacrifice today simply mean risking living a full, meaningful life? A broader life than a material existence single-mindedly in pursuit of junior celebrity in the arts? To do so demands courage. Is this a citizen artist? Maybe this is all too bombastic to be of value?

(All that being said, I've no clue what the resulting work would look like, or how exactly it will engage the imaginative and the topically grounded. But I'm exploring...)

10/20/2005 03:52:00 PM  
Anonymous O said...

A bit off the subject, but in response to James's comment about trends in art:

I think these trends (like gender/identity based work) reflect the fact that too many of the artists currently showing are too heavily influenced by art school. There are so many art schools now turning out people who call themselves artists, people who don't have any other experience outside of art school. I don't think this is healthy for the art-viewing public or for the culture in general. Back a few decades, many artists had a background in something else before starting to show (or before getting press, attention and sales). They did things like serve in the army (not that I would recommend that now), live in other countries, hold jobs in other fields, etc., and their work reflected this diversity of experience. If all you've done in your life is go to art school, chances are (and of course there are exceptions) that you don't have that much to say that hasn't been said before (and probably been said better). We should see more art in galleries from people who don't have MFA's, from older artists, from people with life experience.

10/20/2005 04:03:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

o is a genius!

10/20/2005 05:26:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

yes, I agree.

One of my own ephipanies about art occured while watching a grad student's video, which was more or less a joke at the viewer's expense, that revolved around him masturbating. Now I'm sure the fact that he could have an orgasm all by himself was infinitely interesting to him, but why he would assume that the good portion of the world that had known that for ages already would be equally fascinated suggests he'll one day look back and be as embarrassed by that piece as I was for him watching it.

10/20/2005 05:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Robert Houston said...

The problem with art school is that it emphasizes theory in its curriculum at the almost complete expense of skill. This goes to what you are saying and something that has been mentioned on this site before that artist used to learn skills in the professional arena and then moved them over to their personal work.

Skill in art school means craft which young art students are taught right away is a dirty dirty word. So you wind up with students learning to come up with complex ideas that they lack the skills to communicate through their art. This is why you have people making straight jackets out of the flag, its easily done.

Art that satisfies is rich in both concept and skillful execution. Concept in this context does not mean a simple idea that can be written down as a mission statement. Rather it is a nuanced expression of an artists deepest feelings. These ideas could be personal or socially reflective.

Too many artists however take the easier route of merely reacting to current issues for fodder for their work. The concern of the artists is to speak to others about an issue rather than to embark on a path of discovery for themselves about the topic. If these artists were stranded on a desert island with a lifetime supply of art materials and they knew they would not be rescued would they still make work? What would they react to?

Unfortunately even making truly nuanced and simultaneously beautiful work is not a guarantee that your work will be important. Deciding what work is important is owned by influential art critics, collectors and curators. Just like politics and pretty much everything else in our world if you know the right people your good to go…. You don’t have to be qualified.

For myself if I make a lifetime’s work and go unrecognized I’ll be satisfied if I reach the same quality level as Giacometti

10/20/2005 05:36:00 PM  
Anonymous polka-dotted owl said...

You are entitled to your oppinion Winky. I won't stop making my beautiful paintings though.

10/20/2005 08:33:00 PM  
Anonymous ML said...

Good points, Robert. Consumerism requires that art be about product but for most artists I know product is the residue not the point.

10/20/2005 09:09:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

You are entitled to your oppinion Winky. I won't stop making my beautiful paintings though.

Don't stop painting.

But don't mock people's names either. I'm not kidding. No one comes here to be your personal punching bag (including me). Even if you meant it affectionately, please don't do it.

You haven't linked to your paintings, so we cannot see for ourselves how beautiful they are. And, since you're not sharing them, nothing that's been written here can possibly have anything to do with them in any context except your own imagination.

I'm bordering on therapy-speak here, so let me cut to the chase: No one's opinion here has been applied to your work by anyone other than you.

10/20/2005 11:18:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

he'll one day look back and be as embarrassed by that piece as I was for him watching it.

He may have fond memories when he gets to his later years, provided there is still a device around that will replay the tape.
Also not too off topic (what was it?) Go see the van Gogh drawing exhibit at the Met. It's the essence of the art making process. Along with his writings and letters to Theo it's a beautiful show.

10/21/2005 07:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Fern D. said...

I think all this art-speak is depressing. There are things happening in this world that are distressing. People dying, our rights being taken away, peoples pensions--gone. I love to make art and I know that although it is difficult to do for many reasons; I feel incredibly fortunate. I don't really have time to keep up with Jerry Saltz and the like.
Life is too short and art-speak way too long...winded.

10/21/2005 09:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Gary said...

Then perhaps you should stay away from art blogs, Fern.

10/21/2005 09:20:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

you beat me to it Gary.

Besides being something other folks don't find too long-winded, Fern, art criticism serves one purpose and one purpose only: to memorialize, as best as is possible in words, what visual artists create. One would think that visual artists, on the whole, would appreciate that effort.

10/21/2005 10:07:00 AM  
Blogger Hungry Hyaena said...

Two remarks:

1) I've come to feel that art schools themselves aren't the problem, though they do suffer for being "hot-house," factory environments. I believe the real issue is two-fold.

Robert points to a lack of focus on skill/craft in art school. I agree, but don't feel an MFA program should be obliged to "teach" craft. Artists should arrive at an advanced degree program with the tools they need, technical and intellectual alike. Unfortunately, few do. With the steady "boom" of the art market over the last decade, increasing numbers of high school students are choosing "artist" as a career. Oddly, this early choice often sees them pick one discipline - performance, for example - and pursue it at the expense of a more general practice.

Furthermore, too many would-be artists bypass a liberal arts education and their writing ability and general knowledge - of literature, history, science and philosophy - suffer for it.

O suggests galleries should feature work created by artists with "life experience" and this, I feel, is another missing ingredient. Paris Hilton, mix tapes and geneder/family issues do not tap into universal truths or shared narratives; the culture of distraction, or iCulture, as I like to call it, is just that. I can sit at home and masturbate all day, filming myself even, but this will not communicate much of substance...excepting an announcement of my Onanistic tendencies.

2) Speaking of Onanistic, Fern D., I agree that art talk can seem long-winded and masturbatory, but I think the readers (and host) of this blog do not limit themselves to engagement through art speak.

Curiously, I often find myself saying, "Who has the time to keep up with the Art World gossip and buzz (Jerry Saltz and any other critic included)?," but when I do engage the buzz, even on a superficial level, I find much of value. As Edward suggests, artists should appreciate "that effort." I'm especially happy to find places like this online, as I look forward to fleeing NYC for more rural climes and the Internets will provide a valuable forum for artistic meanderings.

10/21/2005 10:50:00 AM  
Anonymous crionna said...

If these artists were stranded on a desert island with a lifetime supply of art materials and they knew they would not be rescued would they still make work? What would they react to?

I would guess that, like eskimos who have so many words for snow, the artist would portray his/her surroundings in more detail, showing the various changes that occur as the years went on.

A wise man once said about traveling that if you see a lot of things once, you haven't really seen anything, whereas if you see one thing 10 times, you've seen much.

That's one of the things that I like about LF photography. It's not so much art (at least mine) as a chronicle. It's given me a mindset to notice, no, make that, pay attention to things. Instead of just seeing that beautiful twilight sky color, I pay attention to what time of day and year it is, what stars are visible etc. so that even if I'm not making an image, I enjoy the site that much more. I've seen. I'd guess the plein air folks feel the same way.

10/21/2005 12:12:00 PM  
Anonymous james leonard said...

Nice comments HH.

With the steady "boom" of the art market over the last decade, increasing numbers of high school students are choosing "artist" as a career.

I think it is important to differentiate between a career choice and a vocation. I feel that is somehow deeply related to the larger context of this discussion and Edward's original post on making what one makes.

Furthermore, too many would-be artists bypass a liberal arts education and their writing ability and general knowledge - of literature, history, science and philosophy - suffer for it.

I have a close friend from grad school who regularly laments many young artists' detachment from larger bodies of knowledge. You two should meet and butt heads sometime.

I feel fortunate. I spent a refreshing majority of grad school working with scientists of many different stripes in the department of complex systems. It's a luxury to watch over the shoulder of another human passionately engaging an entirely different field and set of professional practices. (You haven't heard poetry till you've heard a bright young physicist try to explain their research into solving four body problems via a means of interpolating the results from a double zero-dimensionalization of variables. And we artists sometimes think we have limited audiences! Zounds!)

I look forward to fleeing NYC for more rural climes and the Internets will provide a valuable forum for artistic meanderings.

Too bad you're not sticking around this place. Would have been fun to share a beer and penny philosophy... ...say, maybe Edward can initiate a forum meet-up. :wink: :nudge: :grin: On the other hand, maybe that's just asking for trouble!

10/21/2005 12:24:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

HH, you're not leaving for good, are you? Your posse would be lost without you.

Should you not be abandoning your 18-Wheeling friends permanently, I think James' suggestion is very worth while...say Clem's some evening?

10/21/2005 12:39:00 PM  
Blogger Hungry Hyaena said...

Edward and James:

I agree, distingusihing between "a career" and one's vocation is essential. When the path chooses you, you're bound to take it, even against your will. I also get a kick out of working with scientists, James. I work in a neuroscience laboratory presently - as a layman - and the creative process is readily observable here, just as it is in the studio. I find biological fieldwork particularly satisfying; I love to feel the strange "tingle" of interest that creeps down from my head when watching someone draw, for example, or carefully inject a reagent.

It's always nice to receive invitations for drinks. We should get together sometime. Clem's would be fun.

I don't plan on fleeing NYC to never return and, most importantly, this move won't happen for at least two or three years. Even when it does, I'm hoping for the ideal situation, whereby I would be able to visit the city once a month or once every other month, keeping in touch with my "posse," all of whom are important to me, and the Art World. Hell, I hope to invite groups of my city friends out to show them the studio and whatever conservation projects I'm working on!

Don't get me wrong. I love New York and I realize how important it can be for an artist to create in this setting. On the other hand, I grew up in a village (population: 99)where people farmed, fished (charter jobs) and hunted for a living. I pined for NYC and moved here as soon as I could, weeks after graduating from college. Now that I've been here for six years, though, I realize I'm better suited for the rural life; my interest in wildlife biology and conservation compounds this preference.

Whatever...if it all works out, I'll be making art, exhibiting and injecting myself into late night bull sessions with folks I respect and cherish until I keel over and die. That's all I can ask for, really.

Gross, I'm getting all sentimental.

10/21/2005 01:25:00 PM  
Anonymous If beauty is our reality said...

High Flights Low Eagles

I have a lot to say on this subject but not the time—though with coffee and morning bagel …

Seldom, in the long term are artists made, they are born—they are the inspiration of gods, spills, and mistakes.
Keeping to painting here: You can have all the craft, all the knowledge, all the know-how, and even, still, more often the case, there cries average.
I have never seen a show I've absolutely hated because always I can see someone behind, someone's doings: time and energy, and belief. From this stance it's impossible not to find some aspect of work pleasing--of this or that.

Reality is but a thin slice of a probable, multi-dimensional universe--perhaps!
I think so!

I can never really know unless I get off the leaf of a snippet of dimension I’m on and go find out.

Initially, what’s found, tumbled upon, (previous post) is another snippet, another non-whole, or a portal into the vast ‘unreality’ that we are part of but have little experience of, understanding of.
The truth is the seal of the tomb of our reality is not stubbornness it is freewill.
We are free to ignore, thus limit our experience to what we know.

And that is pleasing, if nothing else.

10/21/2005 07:55:00 PM  

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