Thursday, August 31, 2006

Mock Movement Marathon: Step 3: The Rules (or lack thereof)

Casualism Wins!

That's cool, I guess. :-)

Here are the returns:
  • Casualism = 14 pts.
  • Post-Allism = 9 pts.
  • Fundaminimalism = 9 pts.
  • Wannabeism = 2 pts.
  • Sizzlemyshizelism = 1 (sympathy) pt.
Which is good because onesock has drafted an awesome list of preliminary rules (see below) to form the bulk of the manifesto (or womanifesto, if you will). But do join in and suggest some more, if you'd like. No pressure, dudes/dudettes.

Also good, the Artist Extraordinare drafted a Mission Statement:
It's all good, relax, it will all work out. If you call it art, cool, it's art.
But, like, this is a democratic movement--- all opinions/suggestions are welcome--- so do feel free to join in. Here's onesock's awesome start to the rules:
  1. Hey dudes*, whatever.
  2. Hey check it out, no blanket statements from us! Unless its cold outside of course.
  3. Art is sooooo awesome! I once knew a guy who glued some tortillas to a canvas and discovered that the rats ate them off during the night so he glued some more so they could have some more...AWeSoME!
  4. ARt is KNEE-Toe!! get it? our sister does ab-ex, our bro does post-concept, I do neo-geo, my mama does dada! Awesome!
  5. Smell your kneaded eraser sometime, its AWesOmE!
  6. HEy, anyone wanna start a kickball team?
  7. Okay so check it out, the forest has Smokey the Bear right? well, we got that gut on Sesame STreet who would sneakup on people an paint letters on their sandwiches and stuff (or was it the Electric Co.? we cant remember)
  8. A lot of our art is inspired by a trip we all took somewhere. We admired the people there. They were Awesome!
  9. Comrades, we tell you now that the triumphant progress of science makes profound changes in humanity inevitable, changes which are hacking an abyss between those docile slaves of past tradition and us free moderns, who are confident in the radiant splendor of our future....yeah right, WHATEVER!!!
* (instead of comrades)


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Mock Movement Marathon: Step 2: Voting and Mission

OK, so today's task involves two steps. Voting for your favorite name and drafting a mission statement for the movement. We'll work out the "rules" by the end of the week and, voila, we'll have a manifesto!

To make this a little less like herding cats than it would be otherwise, I've narrowed the names down to the five that seem most frequently commented on (not a statistical or scientific certainty, but who has time for that? We have a mock movement to build):

  1. Casualism
  2. Post Allism
  3. Wannabeism
  4. Fundaminimalism
  5. Sizzlemyshizelism
Vote for two, your first favorite will be weighed with 2 points, your second favorite with 1. Winner announced tomorrow.

Without a definitive name it might be tough to do much in drafting a mission statement, I realize, but perhaps a quick review of other manifestos' mission statements will lead to some basic premises being thrown out there (i.e., sharpening our parody fangs).

Here's the first few paragraphs of the Futurists' manifesto:
The cry of rebellion which we utter associates our ideals with those of the Futurist poets. These ideals were not invented by some aesthetic clique. They are an expression of a violent desire which boils in the veins of every creative artist today.

We will fight with all our might the fanatical, senseless and snobbish religion of the past, a religion encouraged by the vicious existence of museums. We rebel against that spineless worshipping of old canvases, old statues and old bric-a-brac, against everything which is filthy and worm-ridden and corroded by time. We consider the habitual contempt for everything which is young, new and burning with life to be unjust and even criminal.

Comrades, we tell you now that the triumphant progress of science makes profound changes in humanity inevitable, changes which are hacking an abyss between those docile slaves of past tradition and us free moderns, who are confident in the radiant splendor of our future.

We are sickened by the foul laziness of artists, who, ever since the sixteenth century, have endlessly exploited the glories of the ancient Romans.
And since it's silly to consider the beginning or ending of most Dada Manifestos any more relevant than any other part of them, I've excerpted a chunk out of middle of the one by Tristan Tzara (because it's fun):

cubism constructs a cathedral of artistic liver paste
expressionism poisons artistic sardines
simultaneism is still at its first artistic communion
futurism wants to mount in an artistic lyricism-elevator
unanism embraces allism and fishes with an artistic line
neo-classicism discovers the good deeds of artistic art
paroxysm makes a trust of all artistic cheeses
ultraism recommends the mixture of these seven artistic things
creationism vorticism imagism also propose some artistic recipes

50 francs reward to the person who finds the best
way to explain DADA to us
And because it's easier to parody a serious effort than it is one that's already somewhat humorous, here's the (rather vague) essence of Kirchner's manifesto for Die Brücke (pdf file), which he reportedly engraved in wood (hint, hint):
Believing in development and in a new generation both of those who create and those who enjoy, we call upon the young to come together, as young people, who will bear the future, who want freedom in our work and in our lives, independence from older, established forces. Anyone who conveys directly and without falsification the powers that compel him to create is one of us.
From this cursory review, it seems the basics of any mission statement for a movement include 1) announcing your intentions to serve the interests of the common people in conjuction with (if not over) your own; 2) insisting upon the healing powers of creative endeavors; 3) expressing disgust with the status quo; 4) and some take-away bite-sized sales pitch to rally the true believers.

So, what are the basic tenents of the mock movement? What/how will it serve the interests of the common people? What's its stand on the healing powers of creative endeavors? What exactly is the status quo it must be disgusted with? And what's the sales pitch, or slogan?

Vote early and Vote often!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Mock Movement Marathon: Step 1: Name

OK, so the art season begins in earnest in NYC next week, meaning I'll have to shift gears and be all serious and everything, but in order to make the most of this last week of summer, I'm gonna take David up on his challenge and host the Summer of '06 Mock Movement Marathon.

Today's task is simple enough: a brainstorming session to choose a name for the movement. Below is a list of those offered in yesterday's thread, but other suggestions are welcome. Please do explain the general concept behind the name if you offer a new one.... We'll vote tomorrow, and I intend to vote for the richest name that leaves the most elbow room for silliness in the manifesto, but YMMV.
  1. Post-Commentism
  2. Quing
  3. Ism-schism
  4. Mama
  5. Post-ism
  6. SUCKism
  7. Gollygeeism
  8. Awshucksism
  9. Geewilikerism
  10. Stubmytoeism
  11. Mytoesism
  12. Ichthyism
  13. Wristism
  14. Fistism
  15. Typethisism
  16. Sizzlemyshizelism
  17. Thatsalligotsism
  18. Sockism
  19. Me-ism (with its revial Neo-mio)
  20. Post-All-ism
  21. Casualism (It's cool, stay Kaj)
Others (with a three-word or more tagline, please)? And no, the mock Turtleneck at the top does not need to be the official uniform for the movement (you try and find an image to illustrate mock movement marathon...seriously...I'll replace that one if you do).

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Stuckists

One of the side effects of artists openly and very publically criticizing others' artwork is that one sets him/herself up for a much harsher counter-critique than might otherwise fall when exhibiting one's own work. There's a bit of a "don't-throw-stones-if-you-live-in-a-glass-house" unspoken rule. Not that artists don't criticize others all the time, but it just makes sense to ensure you've got the goods to back up your controversial rhetoric. Take for example the Stuckists. I'd never heard of them, when I first read a blurb on Arts Joural, so I looked them up on Wikipedia:

Stuckism is an art movement that was founded in 1999 in Britain by Billy Childish and Charles Thomson to promote figurative painting in opposition to conceptual art. The Stuckists formed as an alternative to the Charles Saatchi-patronised Young British Artists (also known as Brit Art). The original group of thirteen artists has since expanded to over 120 groups around the world. Childish left the group in 2001.

They have staged many shows, but have gained more attention for outspoken media comments and demonstrations, particularly outside Tate Britain against the Turner Prize, sometimes dressed in clown costume. After exhibiting mainly in small galleries in Shoreditch, London, they were given their first show in a major public museum in 2004, The Walker Art Gallery as part of the Liverpool Biennial.

Other campaigns mounted by the group include official avenues, such as standing for parliament, reporting Saatchi to the Office of Fair Trading to complain about his power in the art world, and applying under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 for Tate Gallery trustee minutes, which started a media scandal about the purchase of Chris Ofili's work, The Upper Room (which led to an official rebuke of the Tate by the Charity Commission).
Tending to favor the underdog struggling to change the system in any fight, my first inclination upon reading about the Stuckists was to consider their movement and their artwork with an open mind. That is, until I read the statement in their manifesto that clarified my doing so would represent a willingness on my part not likely to be met in kind: From Wikipedia: "The most contentious statement in their manifesto is: 'Artists who don't paint aren't artists'". Such statements constitute what I can only describe as arguing for one's own irrelevance.

But, as they say, live by the sword, die by the sword. The Arts Journal blurb links to an article in The Guardian (which has been giving the movement a good deal of
attention lately) that invites its readers to browse an online gallery of Stuckist works and decide if they're "art."

I don't wish to pile on too much. I don't have enough information to have any grudge against the Stuckists, and for all I know the work they champion might be not only very good but important (a cursory glance suggests otherwise, but I'm not weighing in with any final sweeping generalizations at this point). I am turned off by the their anti-conceptual stance, not to mention the inanity of their statement about painting, but I'm more than a bit interested in the democratization their movement represents. Other than having one of its two founding members leave (read an interview here where Childish explains his departure [and he's only one of 6 original members, out of 13, to have left or stopped exhibiting with the group), the organization has grown considerably (143 groups in 35 countries), suggesting it's meeting a need. Then again, that need might simply be to feed their collective egos. With exhibition with titles like "The Triumph of Stuckism," they do seem to be trying awfully hard to talk themselves into their own superiority, or they're totally deluded. Which might be unfair of me, I realize, so I'll stop here and ask 1) have you heard of the Stuckists and 2) what's your opinion of their work, their movement, their manifesto?

UPDATE: Charles Thomson,
Co-founder of the Stuckists wrote in to note, among other things, how I most unimpressively misread their manifesto's line about painting:

I love the way that people get so worked up about the statement "Artists who don't paint aren't artists", which is a nonsensical logical contradiction that could have come straight out of Alice in Wonderland. However, if you choose to think we wrote "Only people who paint can be called artists", that's entirely up to you, and it's OK with me.
I still have some problems with the modus operandi of the group, but want to thanks Charles for taking the time to respond (and with such grace). You can read the rest of Charles' response in the comments.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Tehran Responds to the Danish Cartoons

In response to the test of where the boundaries lie that a Danish Newspaper held by publishing cartoons that mocked the Islamic prophet Mohammed, the Iranian newspaper Hamshahri set out to challenge Western concepts of freedom of expression (and hypocrisy) by exploring one of the West’s taboos: the WWII Holocaust. With an open call for images that question the accounts of the Holocaust, the goal was to demonstrate that there are subjects that simply shouldn't be taken lightly.

The New York Times reports today on the exhibition that is being held of the images (which came in from around the world) selected to represent the best of the submissions:
The title of the show is “Holocaust International Cartoon Contest,” or “Holocust,” as the show’s organizers spell the word in promotional material. But the content has little to do with the events of World War II and Nazi Germany.

There is instead a drawing of a Jew with a very large nose, a nose so large it obscures his entire head. Across his chest is the word Holocaust. Another drawing shows a vampire wearing a big Star of David drinking the blood of Palestinians. A third shows Ariel Sharon dressed in a Nazi uniform, emblazoned not with swastikas but with the Star of David.

The cartoons are among more than 200 on display in the Palestinian Contemporary Art Museum in central Tehran in a show that opened this month and is to run until the middle of September.
There are two issues I want to discuss here and I want to keep them separated carefully. I'll start with the easy one.

As I've noted many times, such images are propaganda, not "Art," and have no business being displayed as such in an Art museum. I'm not at all sure what goals the Palestinian Contemporary Art Museum has for its reputation, but they might as well hang a red light outside their entrance during this exhibition, which is too bad because we were just starting to see inroads into
exhibiting Palestinian Art in the US (pdf file) and I suspect the association between this exhibition and other efforts might (despite being unfair) fuel the resistance to it already out there.

The second issue is whether or not this response was well designed or carried out. I have to say "No" on both accounts. I can understand the impulse to turn the tables on the West, and if there are any true taboos in our collective Western society, questioning the Holocaust is high among them. So I can see why, if one was truly offended by the Danish Cartoons and was frustrated with how Western people didn't seem to get it, devising some method to help them get it would be attractive. But unless Western mobs riot in response or burn down the embassies of Islamic nations (which I can't see happening), the test will essentially prove little.

Further, having announced that your intent was to evoke outrage might seem parallel to the Danish experiment, but given the West knows full well what the test hopes to demonstrate, it's foolhardy to think we would take the bait. (Of course, if the exhibition were to be shown in the US, the response might be a bit more than the yawn it seems destined to generate now, but we'll have to wait and see.) All of which suggests the premise for the test is a lie, and the true purpose was merely to rally the locals. But, according to the Times it seems to be generating little more than a yawn in Tehran, so....

And, again, I'm at a loss as to why they're confusing the issue by presenting the images as "Art":
A few visitors stopped by, mostly art students who said they had visited to examine artistic techniques. Many were happy to take away a free poster: a photograph showing three military helmets piled up, two with swastikas on the crown, a third with the Star of David.

“I came here to study the quality of the work,” said Hamid Derikvand, 27, who said he was an art student at the university across the street from the gallery.
{deleted art-snobbish snark}....truly, why bother with the whole "Art" pretext? The Danish Cartoons were not presented so pretentiously. This foolish mixing of messages might be the leading reason the attendance is reportedly so low (although one person interviewed by the Times suggested it's because they see such messages all the time).

Finally, the implied parallel between the sanctity of a religious figure and respect for the memory of millions of slaughtered innocent people is conceptually weak. It's clearly an apples and oranges comparison. I know the announced intent was to demonstrate that the West holds some topics taboo, but unless the topics are closer in essence, you're giving the target audience too much of an out (i.e., most folks supporting the Danish cartoons would see Islamic cartoons about G-d or Christ as a parallel and would argue that they too would object to the mocking of the slaughter of millions of Muslims), and so, again the test was poorly designed.

Other images (mind you, being a horrible speller, I feel for them in this first one)...and if anyone finds bigger ones (you know ones in which you can see the works, please let me know)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Relativity of the "Scarlet D" (Decadence)

The longer I'm able to hang around to see how things work, the more convinced I become that the whole of human experience is on a fractal-like loop, repeating locally every 30-40 years, and then on a larger scale every 100 years or so, and perhaps world-wide every few millenia. Lessons learned by one generation are essentially lost on those 2 generations away, lessons learned by one empire are lost on those a century away, and so on, and the cycle from optimism to dominance to decline to desperation to revolution to rebirth of optimism is repeated, ad infinitum, not because there's no record of having "been here, done that" but, I'm beginning to suspect, because we're hard-wired to travel that journey, as a species. Of course, it's not as linear as I'm suggesting here, fractals of the sequence overlap, with one segment rising as another is falling, and even within defined societies both happening at once in different realms.

But taking it as linear for the sake of clarity, I believe, we travel this journey because, like the simple beasts we are, we're hard-wired to destroy what other beasts build, feeling that its very existence challenges our desire for supremacy in our own time. This theory corresponds nicely to the pattern we see in art history, with the 20th Century being a textbook example of what I consider the "kill the monarch to supplant with the heir apparent" sequence of manifestos and "-isms."

Which brings me to Donald Kuspit's latest installment of his monumental series on A Critical History of 20th Century Art (Chapter 10: The Decadence of Advanced Art and the Return of Tradition and Beauty: The New as Tower of Conceptual Babel: The Tenth Decade.) If you haven't read all of these carefully considered but incredibly dense chapters (as I haven't due to lack of time), you might want to at least read this one.

It's stuffed with food for thought. There's so much to discuss in it, in fact, that I'll limit this post to one idea in particular: that the conventional wisdom about what in contemporary art is "decadent" is not only debatably backwards, but perhaps irrelevant, as "decadence" itself is relative.

The argument I hear most often about this is that contemporary art has abandoned the everyday concerns of the public at large and entered a cocoon of self-absorbed obsession with decadence. Kuspit suggests that's backwards (or at least it's nowhere near that simple):
There has been a slow but steady erosion of the esthetic in art -- its organic element, the factor that brings it alive as art -- climaxing in the devaluation and finally destruction of the esthetic itself. Ironically, this destruction occurs in the name of artistic progress -- the myth of artistic advance, which has dominated the 20th-century idea of artistic value. It has been reified in late avant-gardism, becoming a hollow cliché, however much it inspired the early avant-garde, when it seemed a liberating truth. It is the decadent, self-destructive aspect of avant-gardism, the hidden canker in its creative blossoming, the worm ironically lurking in its fruit from its beginning. In stripping art of the esthetic, the so-called left wing of avant-garde art, represented by Duchamp and Kosuth, undoes art’s inner connection to the organic and existential. "Leftist" art argues that it is "advancing" art by purging it of the esthetic, presumably making it a strictly "intellectual expression," to use Duchamp’s term, but this "conceptualization" of art puts it in the hands of the everyday, as Duchamp’s readymades and the many so-called conceptual works that follow in its wake indicate. If art’s whole point -- to the extent that it is art -- is to imaginatively transcend the everyday (non-artistic), esthetically disclosing the organic and existential horizons that subsume it, then the regression to the everyday is decadent and dehumanizing. There is a "right wing" of avant-garde art, represented by Monet and Matisse -- all those whom Duchamp dismissed as "sensual" painters guilty of "animal expression" ("the more sensual appeal a painting provided. . . the more animal it became") -- who advocate and refine the esthetic to a perceptual extreme, but they have increasingly lost ground to facile Duchampianism, with its pretensions to intellectual superiority. They have been labeled decadent by the Duchampians because of their unremitting sensuousness, but it is just that organic sensuousness that is the core of art as art, and as such more existentially purposeful than the conceptual pseudo-art that trivializes it as the "physical side of painting."
I have to side with that last idea actually (but then I am one of those most dreaded creatures, the aspiring aesthete). Despite appreciating the contributions of the strict conceptualists to the broadening of the scope of exploration, I do wish they had seen that the intellectual visual message is always more compelling (and therefore accessible and therefore on some level irresistible) with at least some consideration for the sensuality inherent in everyday objects. Ignoring or downplaying that is to lie to the viewer, in my opinion.

But back to decadence. Given that there are dueling definitions of it (and it's hard to see where they might be reconciled), I'm inclined to view them as projections by folks in the stream of one fractal of the loop onto those on another overlapping loop. In other words, what one sees as "decadence" is often only a frustration that others are not moving in the same direction at the same time. Those falling from optimism into decline see those progressing into dominance as "decadent" because they're eschewing the status quo, pushing the boundaries of acceptable thought and behavior, rejecting conservative values. On the other hand, those on the tail end of revolution, heading toward a constructive new optimism, see those conserving the old ways as "decadent" because they're complacent and self-absorbed.

Kuspit explains why this POV problem matters (from his POV admittedly, but mine as well) as we're bombarded with current populist efforts to label "art as art" with the Big Scarlet D:
The tearing down of the esthetic wall between non-artistic and artistic reality -- between social life and artistic reflection, or, more basically, between blind attachment to everyday life and insightful detachment from it -- seems to inaugurate an advanced new esthetics. But this supposedly unfamiliar, radical esthetics is the familiar quasi-esthetics of everyday life in artistic disguise -- a sort of artistic Emperor’s New Clothing on ironically naked banal objects and materials.
Anyone who's been reading here a while will know that I side with those who feel Art is the product of "insightful detachment" from social life. Not that I can't see the benefits of considering the aesthetic value of everyday objects and materials, but elevating that to a level parallel with the consideration of Art leads to a place I'd rather not go. As Kuspit explains:
They are asserted for themselves even as they are superficially transformed by being "considered" as art, suggesting the artist’s double identification, and perhaps above all, the impossibility of complete artistic transformation in modernity, with its all-encompassing secular everydayness, that is, its resecularization of reality, which is its real revolution: the banalization of perception. Instead of imaginatively distilling the esthetic juice of the ordinary so that its inner extraordinariness becomes evident, its ordinariness comes to matter more than its esthetic revelation through sanctified sensation, which is all but meaningless in a secular world.
Why, though, I can hear some people saying...why won't you believe in the social transformation the populists seek to bring? Because I believe in the loop and the relativity of "decadence." Yes, progress is made over the course of the centuries (and yes, we must fight to protect it once it's made), but that progress is regularly undone again too, as the tide turns and what was built is destroyed by the ambitions of the newest generation of barbarians who come to power. What tends to survive their pillaging, however, are the sensuous, mysterious objects they simply can't bring themselves to destroy. I like to believe that there's magic in such creations that transcends the consequences of the inescapable loop.

That's my theory anyway, and (for now) I'm sticking with it.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Joe Fig @ Nassua Nassau County Museum of Art

Winkleman / Plus Ultra Gallery is pleased to announce the solo exhibition of new and older work by gallery artist Joe Fig at the Nassau County Museum of Art, August 27 to November 5, 2006. From the museum's website:

Long Island native Joe Fig is a star of the Chelsea gallery scene. His meticulous diorama-like sculpture of famous artists' studios have received rave reviews from critics, most recently for his work shown at Miami's Bass Museum.

Fig's constructions include renderings of paint-encrusted palettes, tubes of oil or acrylic, brushes and interior architecture, all in miniature. First known for his take on 50s artists such as Pollock and deKooning, Fig has gone on to portray the studios of Eric Fischl and April Gornick, among others. The exhibition also includes Fig's taped interviews with each of his artist subjects. Joe Fig is an original exhibition curated for NCMA by Rita Krauss, a collector/gallerist and also a member of the museum's Contemporary Collectors Circle.
OK, so if you know Joe, you must have also cringed at the line the museum's press release where they write he's a "star"...Joe's one of the most down-to-earth, balanced, and truly hardworking artists I know, and as proud as I am of him, I know he would be embarrassed by that. But it's borish to correct someone else's opinion of you, so.... The exhibition is a very good overview of Joe's project over the past 5 years. I hope you get a chance to stop in.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Does Explanation Destroy Art?

An interesting dialog followed a provocative pronouncement on Gallery Hopper the other day:
From an interview with Rinko Kawauchi, a Japanese photographer I am unfamiliiar with, comes what is possibly the world's worst interview question:
Miss Kawauchi, your photos bring me into a world of quiet contemplation, your camera captures the most intricate details of every day life, transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary and revealing a lyrical rhythm to our daily lives and surroundings. Before I go into your motifs and motivation, may I start by asking you what cameras you use?
I agree with Todd, that this is a terrible set-up to the question (and I actually don't like to ask photographers that question until I'm in their studio, where I can see for myself what cameras they're actually talking about, not being an expert on the subtle least not enough to where their answer would tell me anything important in an interview). But it was something a commenter noted in the discussion that really got me wondering:

I saw a woman on the street the other day wearing a t-shirt saying, "Explanation Destroys Art." This may sound extreme. But there is some truth to the statement.
I've heard this idea in various forms before, but it's never rung true to me. I understand fully well that what a photograph or sculpture or video expresses is often unexpressible in words, but the notion that the effort destroys the work in question makes no sense to me. If that were true, then the opposite would seem to have to be as well: a painting of a particular scene in a novel would destroy the prose. After all, are words any less prone to the supposed destructive forces of images than images are those of words?

What I think people who subscribe to that view actually mean is that "Explanation destroys the experience of Art for me." I don't think there's any point in disputing that...I wouldn't know what enhances or destroys the experience for any other's a totally personal thing. But I have several objections to the notion that explanation destroys art in general.

First is simply the idea that it can. Many artists I know are so secure in what they're doing that the oddest interpretation of their work imaginable seems to only amuse them. Even when the viewer gets it exactly wrong (i.e., the opposite of the intent), they respond with a generous acknowledgment that whatever the viewer sees is valuable because it demonstrates that at least they're not ambivalent (and isn't communication of some sort---the momentary spanning of the gulf between us---the ultimate intent of any art---and if so, isn't explanation proof of its success on that level?). So if a wholly mistaken interpretation of the work can't destroy it, how could anything short of that?

What the wearer of that T-shirt might have meant (although it's not clear) is that explanation of the art by the artist (i.e., the dreaded explanatory text) destroys it. Here again though, I don't see this. Wall text annoys me because I feel obligated to read it and often don't have time, not because it takes anything away from the work, IMO. I'm fully capable of ignoring it. And text can be an
integral part of a piece (but not immediately clearly such), so it's silly to make sweeping generalizations about when it's destructive.

Secondly, explanations are simply another form of expression. If art can take as subject matter any part of the human experience, then how is literal interpretations of images (certainly just one part of the human experience) any less valid a form of expression? The message on this T-shirt seems to suggest that visual art is a higher (more delicate) art form than spoken or written art, which I wholly reject. Again, no one would suggest that a visual interpretation of a written or spoken art "destroyed" the work. It might not capture its essence very well, but it wouldn't take anything away from it unless it was used as a substitute. (
Which is another possible interpretation of that message, actually...the idea that explanation, in lieu of experiencing the work itself, is destructive. That I would come closer to agreeing with, but "destroys" is still too strong a word here.)

Perhaps what I most object to in that statement is the implication that this frees artists from having to explain their work. I know that it's cool to insist everything you need to know about a piece can be learned by looking at it (and clearly it had better "speak" for itself on some level), but if visual art is a form of communication (and interest in communication is why the artist bothers at all), then it's either snobbish or anti-social to value one form of communication to the exclusion of all others, which may be the message the artist intends to send, but in no way supports the argument that explanation destroys their work.

Finally, I firmly believe that any effort to fully explain a visual artwork in words will ultimately fail, but there's value in the effort of interpreting visual art. The assumption that all anyone needs to "get" a work is to look at it presumes the viewer has had the same life experiences as the artist; that the context in which a work was created somehow travels with it; that the artist is fully aware of the siginficance of each and every one of their own choices (not to mention what they mean to other people); that the viewer has seen other work by the artist and can connect the dots, so to speak; and a whole host of other bits of information that may help the viewer "get" it before they grow too frustrated to bother.

Now I know there are those out there with memories like elephants who will tempted to respond with two anecdotes I'm fond of sharing, but I don't feel they counter this position in any way. The dealer who told his client (who wanted to know why a Diebenkorn was so special), "Just look at it" was talking with someone who already had a good background on what Diebenkorn's work was about and really only wanted reassurance that this one was a good one to own (not trusting their own eye, which is what "Just look at it" was meant to encourage them to do). And the collector who finally saw, after years of staring at it, what Newman was doing in a painting wasn't going to see it until the events in his life opened his eyes, but would have missed the chance to own it (and missed that epiphany) had he not trusted the dealer who sold it to him, one assumes, through explanations.

And no, I'm not defending explanations because that's the tool of my personal trade. I just happen to believe that there are few things in this world more worth talking/writing about than Art and don't like to see those who work hard to do so disparaged. Explanation flatters art...what is destructive about that?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Muthaf***in' Ads in My Muthaf***in' Art

We saw the phenomenon (that the Times reports actually wasn't quite such) that is Snakes on a Plane (SoaP) this past weekend. In case you've missed the buzz, it represents a new effort, if not exactly new achievement, in the Internet marketing of a film. From Wikipedia:

The film's title and premise generated a lot of pre-release interest on the Internet. One journalist even wrote that Snakes on a Plane is "perhaps the most internet-hyped [sic] film of all time."[5] Much of the initial publicity came from a blog entry made by screenwriter Josh Friedman, who had been offered a chance to work on the script.[6] The casting of popular actor Samuel L. Jackson further increased anticipation. At one point, the film's working title was altered to Pacific Air Flight 121. In August 2005, a perturbed Samuel L. Jackson told an interviewer, "We're totally changing that back. That's the only reason I took the job: I read the title."[7] In another interview in early 2006, Jackson claimed that once he learned about the movie title being changed he said: "What are you doing here? It's not Gone with the Wind. It's not On the Waterfront. It's Snakes on a Plane!"[8] On March 2, 2006, the studio reverted the title to Snakes on a Plane.

In recognition of the unprecedented Internet buzz for what had been a minor movie in their 2006 line-up, New Line Cinema ordered five days of additional shooting in early March 2006[3] (principal photography had wrapped in September 2005). While re-shoots normally imply problems with a film, the producers opted to add new scenes to the film to take the movie from PG-13 into R-rated territory and bring the movie in line with growing fan expectations. Among the additions is a line that originated as an Internet parody of Samuel L. Jackson's traditional movie persona: "Enough is enough! I have had it with these muthafuckin' snakes on this muthafuckin' plane!".[3]
As perhaps evidence of the notion that it pays* to give the people what they want, that parody-turned-tagline drew the loudest applause (among much) from the audience when we saw it. (*Despite noting that the studio was disappointed with the total box-office take for the film, the Times article still acknowledges that it was the #1 film this past weekend.)

Now I have to admit to having gone from incipient disgust to begrudging respect for the evolution of this film and particularly its marketing. Embodied by Jackson's very clear sense of what the film was, and what it wasn't, the whole approach here seems rather sophisticated, if not exactly emulating-worthy. Later, over margaritas and quesadillas, our friend "Wilfred" noted how it was further evidence that we're in the Golden Age of "Art as Advertising." In the very first scene of SoaP, a character chugs a carefully held can of Red Bull that is later thrown down onto a table, landing ever-so-just-so that the audience couldn't help but laugh. And while that seems revolting on one level, if you're aware of it, then it's hard to pinpoint exactly why it's so wrong. The previous weekend, for example, we had seen the absolutely brilliant
Talladega Nights (truly, this is one of the smartest comedies out there, folks, skewering Bush's America with a razor sharp wit), which managed to make fun of product placement even as it clearly capitalized on it.

But mulling all this over, I recalled what
paulraphael had noted on our previous thread about the debatable line between "fine art" and "popular culture":

I think the whole "art" vs. "mass culture" thing is a false dichotomy. "art" describes something's functional role in a culture; "mass culture" describes its popularity and broad influence. So it's easy to imagine something being one, the other, neither, or both.

I just saw "Pulp Fiction" again, and it provided a great example. This winner at Cannes fits all my standards for a fine example of Art with a capital A. It also became a centerpiece of pop culture (as it celebrated pop culture, and used pop culture as a mine for its raw material ... but that's perhaps another story).

So it happened to be shown more in mulitplexes than in art houses ... so it wasn't in Italian with subtitles ... so it had a narrative structure. These superficial markers might suggest to some people that it belongs to the mass culture camp and not the art camp, but ultimately they don't mean anything.

I'm sure anyone here can find other examples of works that comfortably straddle both descriptions. And works the fit one and clearly not the other. And works that probably fit neither. The pancakes I made for breakfast today were delicious, but I submit that few would consider them either the stuff of art or mass culture.

So where's the competition? Is there any substance to it at all?
And so I began to think that if "Art" and "Mass Culture" are interchangable, then can product placement in "fine art" be far behind? I mean, I assume we're not eliminating a film like "Pulp Fiction" from the "fine art" category just because, despite Tarantino's general aversion to product placment, "Vincent Vega rolls his own cigarettes using Drum, a real brand of tobacco." And, although it's debatable as to whether it really constitutes "product placment" in it's purest form, there's no forgetting the lengthy discusison about McDonalds and Burger King in the film.

Does one instance of product placement make a film or other mass culture effort ineligible for the "fine art" category? That seems silly. But if it is silly, then why shouldn't "fine art" include product placement intentionally? It could provide much needed funding for starving artists, and, so long as it's done with a wink and a nudge, as it is in Talladega Nights, what's the problem?

Products are already placed in art. From the Coke bottles in
Rauschenberg's combine to virtually any subject in the works by Pop artists, what's really the difference between using mass culture as subject and endorsing the product anyway? I mean if Cambells Soup Company can embrace Andy Warhol's critique (they actually use it to tout their legendary status [pdf file]), then isn't artistic integrity subject to the whims of chronology anyhow? Wouldn't it make more sense to get out ahead of Madison Avenue?

OK, so yes, I'm being a bit facetious, but after spending some serious time thinking about whether such efforts exist already, I've come to the conclusion that it's only a matter of time before the product-buying audience art reaches will lead to us to this sooner or later. Anyone know of any cases where it does already?

Friday, August 18, 2006

Name Change Notification

I am very pleased to announce that Plus Ultra Gallery will reopen at the start of the Fall 2007 2006 art season (with a great new exhibition by Jennifer Dalton) as "Winkleman / Plus Ultra Gallery." Reflecting a change in ownership, the new name also corresponds with a broadening of the scope of the program. Working with the gallery now are also artists Gulanara Kasmalieva & Muratbek Djumaliev, David Kinast, Carlos Motta, and Sarah Peters. Upcoming exhibitions this season also include new work by gallery artists Rosemarie Fiore, Christopher Johnson, and Andy Yoder and more.

For more information, please call 212.643.3152 or email

Winkleman / Plus Ultra Gallery
637 West 27th Street
New York, NY 10001
t: 212-643-3152
f: 212-643-2040

Hours: Tuesday thru Saturday, 11am to 6pm or by appointment.
Directions: C or E train to 23rd Street. Walk North to 27th Street. Winkleman / Plus Ultra Gallery is between 11th and 12th Avenues.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Short Summer Break

My sister's coming to town to visit, so Bambino and I are busy planning playing tour guides, and blogging will be all but impossible this week unless some earth-shattering art news drags me back'll return next week. Here's hoping the weather's as great where you are as it is in NYC.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Beating Them or Joining Them: These Are the Only Two Options?

From the text for the exhibition "Complicit! Contemporary American Art and Mass Culture" at the University of Virginia Art Museum, curated by Johanna Drucker:
Complicit! Contemporary American Art and Mass Culture takes its initial impetus from the arguments put forth in Johanna Drucker's recently published, highly provocative book Sweet Dreams: Contemporary Art and Complicity (University of Chicago Press, 2005). Complicit! makes the argument that artists are engaged in a new studio-based but conceptually self-conscious, dialogue with mass culture. Daniel Wiener's artfully created playfully biomorphic sculptures made of vividly colored, plastic, cloth, and pipe-cleaners, Alexis Rockman's ultra-realist painting showing inter-species communications and biosphere-type environments, and Nancy Chunn's reworked newspaper headlines- all show that artists are using contemporary materials and media as the "stuff" and substance of their work. Likewise, Gregory Crewdson's staged photographs, Susan Bee's eclectic sticker-and-decal painted collages, and Bill Davenport's quirky quasi-cartoon realist objects are each distinct but share a common acknowledgment of the seductive power of popular imagery. At the same time, their artworks are very much made objects. Studio-based work is back.

Artists in the 1990s and 00s seem to be eagerly opportunistic with regard to matters of taste and materials. Nothing is taboo, no holds barred. Current work builds on the outrageous legacy of Marcel Duchamp and his readymades and extends the daring gestures of Piero Manzoni, Yves Klein, and a host of Fluxus and Happenings artists. It also draws on the enthusiasms of Pop and the intellectual reflection of Conceptualism. These works share a commodified flare and bravado, as if in recognition of a need to compete in a high-gloss world overrun with "things" of all kinds.
Natually, being stubbornly committed to this notion of "better art," and believing that the closer fine art comes to popular culture, the less elbow room it has to illustrate any distinction, I'm a bit alarmed by the implicit notion in "a need to compete"--that is, it suggests artist have a desire to win or beat the competition (here: popular culture). This leads to a growing dilemma, IMO---either beat them at their own game or join them---and may be at the heart of what I sense is the real threat in all this: popular culture will win, fine art's importance will fade (even more), and with it the public support that makes artmaking possible (for those diehards who have to make art) will disappear.

Interviewed for the exhibition, Johanna Drucker offers what I see as cold comfort:

"Artists are engaged in a new studio-based but conceptually self-conscious dialogue with mass culture," Drucker said. The artists use 21st-century materials and ideas while at the same time drawing on art history. The works are fabricated and carefully crafted and "seductive, beautiful and very rich in that way."

In a departure from 20th-century ideas of art and art criticism, Drucker argues that "mass culture is no longer perceived as the enemy of high art. Instead, artists are working in a curiously complicit relation to the production values and ideologies of mass culture. And yet, fine art continues to create a space apart - a space in which the ability to think differently about the very materials, objects and forms in which experience comes into shape are reworked."

That last idea strikes me as a distinction without an audience, or at least a perpetually shrinking one. Popular culture will win in a head-to-head competition, if for no other reason than the money behind distributing and promoting it. (Andy, oh Andy!!! What have you wrought?!?!?!)

But hang on there...(he says, talking himself back from the ledge)...if, as they say, when there's no way to win a competition, it's dumb to compete, doesn't that suggest a third option here? What if fine art could show the way to stop competing with mass culture and instead serve the masses in a distinct way? That doesn't mean artists can't take full advantage of technology or other tools that mass culture uses (artists generally have a hand in inventing many such tools actually), but that folks wake up to the pitfalls of pandering and return Art to a clearer context.

I can hear the gritting of teeth in certain quarters from here, but stay with me a moment...I'm not suggesting that context has to be elitist or condescending or boring or quiet, but in much the same way that you take off your shoes in a Japanese restaurant or turn off your cell phone in a movie theater or expect there to be yelling and high-fives at a sporting event, there's nothing at all wrong with a culturally understandable context for Art. In fact, to be honest, we already have one, despite how hard we see folks trying to pretend it's not there or work against it. From the transformation of the interior of a gallery (that still has the white box just beneath the surface waiting to house the next exhibition) to the public performance pieces and stealth efforts to intersperse "art" throughout public spaces (that just happen to be very carefully documented [for what, if not viewing later in a traditional art space?]) to the earthworks and other efforts like, say, the Gates in Central Park (that are heralded with such fanfare and publicity there's really little chance anyone would happen upon them and not realize this was Art in the park), the notion of breaking out of "the context" is somewhat disingenuous and wholly artificial anyway. Am I wrong?

I don't see why fine art should have to compete with popular culture (other than to feed an artist's ego or an institution's coffers, that is). I choose to consume mass culture and I choose to experience fine art. Both have an importance for me, but I see them as distinct. Yes, the subject matter of fine art is often popular culture (and why not, wasn't mythology and other such "heady" subjects simply the pop culture of their day?), but I've never actually forgotten where I was during an art event or happening nor let me critical guard down while experiencing them, like I do for mass culture. Perhaps that's actually my concern here. If mass culture and fine art compete, leading to art's defeat or assimilation, what happens to the critical experiencing of fine art? Is it fair to judge art aspiring to be pop culture by the same criteria we would judge efforts aspiring to be "fine art"? If so, then is it fair to judge pop culture by the same standards (and how much of it would survive such a critique [probably some more than some "fine art," but not much]).

I prefer to think fine art should be something other than mass culture...not superior, but distinct. Some fine art will be co-opted by mass culture, which is fine and flattering actually, and mass culture will serve as subject matter for fine art, which is equally fine and flattering. Head-to-head competition, though, doesn't serve anyone well in my opinion. Mass culture will win, and then everyone will lose.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Open-Thread Thursday: The Artist's License and its Limits

An article about Avail Art's recent Summer Art Circle (a truly wonderful program that encourages philanthropy in the arts [for this particular event, the target audience was lawyers and law students], and which also has a great blog on video art) noted that one of the panelists shared the story of "the artist who donated a work to a museum and then some years later claimed it was a fake."

I found this a truly fascinating idea, actually. Would an artist have the right to seriously declare a work at some point in the future a fake? On the surface it would seem no, that's silly. But then I started to think about what, for lack of a better term, I'll call the "artist's license" (illustrated notoriously by Robert Rauschenberg who declared that a telegram was a portrait of Iris Clert if he said it was [and indeed it has become a "work of art" that's exhibited as such] ---click on image above to see larger version). I began to wonder if that might not reasonably work in reverse, and if so, where the limits for that might lie.

Consider a readymade. It becomes a "work of art" when an artist declares it as such. Why then wouldn't it become an ordinary object again, should the artist decide its artiness had passed? And beyond readymades, does a sculpture, painting, photograph, drawing, etc., only become "art" at the point the artist says its ready to be seen as such? And if so, what's to stop the artist from later changing his/her mind about that and declaring that the object is no longer a true "{insert artist's name here}" and should from this point forward be seen by the public as a fake?

Reason would suggest it's not a reversible decision (with a Pandora's Box of implications for collectors and museums), but reason is meant to be toyed with, no?

Consider this an open thread:

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Shoe Fits, Joe...Run as a Republican

I wish I knew exactly what it is about Joe Lieberman that makes me virtually rabid. About two years ago I blogged several biting posts about why I felt he had to go, and I'm still not sure what's at the center of my dislike for him. It's a visceral thing. I watched him on the Sunday Morning chat shows and wanted to punch the TV, I read his statements in the papers and couldn't believe he called himself a Democrat, and I felt my blood boil when he embraced the President (W actually kissed him) after the highly divisive 2005 State of the Union address (the one in which he outlined his doomed plans for dismantling Social Security). In case you missed that moment of mutual admiration, The Washington Post described its possible meaning this way:

Romance is in the air today across the land. But in Washington, the buzz continues about "The Kiss." No, not Gustav Klimt's famous painting. It's the big fat one an exuberant President Bush planted on Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman's right cheek as he waded through the Capitol crowd after the State of the Union a couple of weeks ago.

The Connecticut Democrat said he didn't mind it and thought Bush was thanking him for his support of the administration's foreign policy. Or maybe it was for Lieberman's not dismissing outright Bush's Social Security proposal.

Or maybe it was something else. There's been K Street chatter, our colleague Jeffrey H. Birnbaum tells us, that Lieberman could be on an administration list to replace Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in the next year or so.
Now it should be noted that Lieberman would have been very hard pressed indeed to be a worse DefSec than Rumsfeld, and wanting to work with the opposition is a praiseworthy trait in a politician in my opinion, but somehow Joe took it all too far. Even though I can't say exactly how, I strongly feel he abandoned those of us who enthusiastically supported him in his bid for the Vice President...he sold us out (for something far short of 30 pieces of silver, he must be thinking this morning).

In his "concession" speech last night (in case you missed it, he was
beaten in the Democratic primary by neophite Ned Lamont but plans to keep running as an Independent) , the 3-term Senator and former Vice Presidential candidate made it clear that he values his own agenda more than he does the unity of his party:

The senator said he was staying in the race because Mr. Lamont had run a primary campaign of “insults” and “partisan polarizing” that relentlessly blamed Mr. Lieberman for President Bush’s wartime policies, which the senator has supported and defended but also criticized at various points.

“For the sake of our state, our country and my party, I cannot, I will not let this result stand,” Mr. Lieberman said of the Lamont victory.
This might be the first time in history a candidate blamed "partisan" politics for his loss in a primary. Of course, we're supposed to understand that he means Lamont won by associating Lieberman with the incredibly unpopular president, but how many other Democratic Senators can you say that about (and face it, Bush is unpopular for a reason).

Joe went out of his way to ingratiate himself with the Administration, IMO, and well, if the shoe fits, it's disingenuous of him to pretend he's been forced to go shoeless. As
Sullivan noted this morning, on foreign policy issues Joe is stunningly to the right of some staunch conservatives:
And it's worth recalling: many Republicans have been more critical of the Bush administration's war decisions than Lieberman. Lieberman is to George Will's and Bill Buckley's and Chuck Hagel's and Bill Kristol's right on this. His position that any criticism of a president is inappropriate in wartime is also simply Hewittian in its proneness.
So now Joe's running as an Independent, carving out for himself a niche in the extremes of red v. blue politics. One of imagined importance though. Yes, Joe has earned the right to declare himself a moderate on many social issues, but no more so than Guiliani or Bloomberg, so rather than run as an Independent, I don't see why he doesn't just run as a Republican. They keep talking about how they're the big tent party with room for everyone. Ditch the niche and make the switch, Joe. The GOP is running Schlesinger, whose only prayer of winning is if you split the Dems, which running as an Independent you may just do, so your choice is really clear here. If by not dropping out here you're ensuring that Connecticut sends a Republican to the Senate, it might as well be yourself, no?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Has 9/11 Changed American Art (for the Better)?

I can still recall the conversations I had with artists in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Many were knocked off their game, having relied on a set of conditions they took for granted in which to respond to their world and create their work. The question I heard again and again was, "How can I continue to make this same work now? It seems so unconnected to this new reality."

There was an almost immediate consensus that the post-9/11 world would see a return of sincerity in art, but that didn't quite pan out. Mostly, artists either made work that addressed the attacks (most of which was simply dreadful) or they wandered aimlessly a bit, contemplating what had happened, doing what artists do better than anyone else I know, making sense of it all.

In the past 6 months or so, I've been seeing what looks to be the first serious, actually good crop of post-9/11-era art in New York. I won't highlight any particular artists (as I don't want to set them up for an artifical critique based on my personal read of their work...which is to say, I'm not sure their work is necessarily a response to the events, as much as, in my opinion, it couldn't have been created pre-9/11, and well, that's a rather serious opinion they shouldn't have to respond to), but I did find it interesting to see my thoughts on this echoed in an article by Marc Spiegler in the
Art Newspaper. Titled "American Renaissance," the article focuses on the resurgence of interest in American artists (as opposed to Liepzig or Polish or YBA artists), especially in Europe, but it was this passage that really struck a cord:

Currently preparing a massive [Terence] Koh show for opening on 25 August, Kunsthalle Zurich director Beatrix Ruf also cites the influence of previous generations on today’s young Americans, saying the strength of the current scenes lies in artists working in a void created by 11 September, looking toward local histories for inspiration. “The four New Yorkers we showed together know a lot about art history, and though they say they’re not political, they’re very precise in their attitudes toward the market and toward working collectively,” she explains.

“That historical awareness creates local scenes, and in Los Angeles you can see how people like Catherine Sullivan and Daria Martin are influenced by Baldessari, McCarthy and Kelley.” Longtime London dealer Maureen Paley, who recently added Violette to her roster, suggests the work coming out of the States has evolved in a new direction. “The generation of artists that figured in the last two Whitney Museum biennials are darker—more melancholy and contemplative,” she explains. “It’s a very different stance.”
Immersed as I am in American (especially New York) art, I hadn't really seen the widespread attention for the Germans or Polish artists as a neglect or lessening of interest in American artists, but OK, if it's swung back this side of the Atlantic in their opinions, I'll take that (although I think we're seeing a globalization in the market that makes such trends, if indeed there is one, fairly short lived, but that's fodder for another post). But there's no doubt the mood is much darker than it was five years ago.

The question this raises is an age-old one. Does adversity set the stage for better art? And conversely, does the good life make for less interesting art? It seems a silly cliche. Surely there's plenty to respond to even when terrorists aren't attacking, and aren't we simply gobbling up spectacle or perhaps, worse, suspending our critique, when the subject matter is something as serious as death and destruction? (See, cynicism didn't go anywhere.) Or am I wrong, and this is the same art we would have seen had the attacks been thwarted? Or is there something in all this? Does the melancholy that sets in during chaos and crisis help artists edit themselves better?

Too many questions...I'll turn it over to you.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Art Appreciation Makes You Smarter...Some Interesting Findings

A news brief in the Times today noted that the Guggenheim is getting another grant to continue to study the impact of their highly impressive Learning Through Art program:
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum has been awarded a $1 million grant from the United States Department of Education to conduct research into whether students’ problem-solving skills are improved by studying art. Last month the museum released results from another federally financed study that found measurable improvements in a range of literacy skills and critical thinking among students who took part in a program in which the Guggenheim sends artists into schools. That study, now in its second year, interviewed hundreds of New York third-graders, comparing the skills of those who had participated in the Guggenheim program, called Learning Through Art, and those who did not.
A few weeks ago, the museum held a conference and 4-day institute exploring the findings of the first study, and the program has also spawned a children's book, that "uses works of art to explore basic elementary school subjects such as math, science, language arts and social studies."

Learning Through Art has been sending artists into New York City schools for about 35 years, according to a
recent press release (pdf file), but as the Times article notes, the findings of this study are particularly important to get out there NOW because "federal education policies have led to cuts in many public-school arts programs." The press release discussed a bit how the conclusions were reached:

The study employed a quasi-experimental design to examine student and teacher responses at four schools elected according to specific demographic, socioeconomic, and literacy criteria: P.S. 86 and 94 in the Bronx and P.S. 148 and 149 in Queens.

Students were asked to discuss a work of art (Arshile Gorky’s The Artist and His Mother, 1926) and an excerpt from a book (Cynthia Kadohata’s Kira-Kira, 2004). The study indicated that LTA students used more words to express themselves and demonstrated higher overall literacy skills when discussing the painting than did the control group not in the program.

Specifically, LTA positively impacted five of the six literacy skills examined in response to the painting (extended focus, hypothesizing, evidential reasoning, building schema, and multiple interpretations). LTA students also demonstrated higher overall literacy skills when discussing the text. The program was shown to positively impact four of the six literacy skills examined in response to the text (extended focus, thorough description, hypothesizing, and multiple interpretations).

Finally, the study showed that LTA positively impacted attitudes toward art museums and increased students’ understanding of problem-solving in art making.

But still, I wondered while processing all this, why exactly does learning about art improve one's ability to learn and understand better in other disciplines? I looked at the study's executive summary (pdf) for clues and found, off topic, a few interesting side notes, like

Overall, classroom teachers had little training in the visual arts and were infrequent art museum visitors. However, classroom teachers expressed positive attitudes toward art museums and about interacting with works of art on a series of scales. [...] Treatment Group teachers also gave the [Teaching Literacy Through Art] TLTA program high ratings. They reported that the TLTA program was very enriching for their students and increased their confidence in discussing artwork with their students (each an average rating of 6.8 on a 7-point scale). They also noted that they had learned new strategies for teaching with art and that they would like to participate in the program again (each an average rating of 6.3 on a 7-point scale).
Which, despite being interesting, didn't actually answer my original question: why does this work?

The study's other findings suggest that perhaps interaction with a professional artist was key here. This experience seems to have shown the students better learning habits, through the artists' example and communication style:

  • Teaching artists incorporated active listening, positive classroom climate, and art-making demonstration at the most accomplished level during more than one-half of their lessons. They incorporated critique/reflection of students’ artwork and art-making problem solving at less accomplished levels.
  • During discussions about works of art, teaching artists asked open-ended questions, used wait time and follow-up questions, and asked for evidence during more than one-half of their lessons. They encouraged thorough description, integrated factual information, and asked questions that supported curriculum-based themes during less than one-half of their lessons.
Now, I know the way I presented that might imply that the regular teachers don't know about or encourage the same learning techniques. I don't have any indication of that or wish to suggest it (in fact, the study noted that "During the 40 percent of the teaching artists’ lessons, the classroom teacher played a highly active and effective role"). What I'm curious about here is whether there's something inherent in what it takes to make art that makes one a better teacher, or such a good student that other students pick up on the techniques by viewing them.

One final interesting note, a real surprise, that I"m not sure how to interpret:
TLTA modestly enhanced students’ attitudes toward art....TLTA greatly enhanced
students’ attitudes toward art museums.
The cynic in me wants to conclude that once again, despite altruistic intentions, the medium is truly always the message, but given that interest in museums often leads to collecting, I'll leave that unexplored...for now.

Friday, August 04, 2006

When Does Pluralism End? Or Does It?

I was asked to discuss what trends I see coming in the near future for art recently. This question is asked quite often (at least much more frequently than trends actually change, IMO, but...). So I thought about it a while (as long as my ADD-riddled mind would permit) and came up with a few things that I wish would change, but don't know actually. Here's what I'd love to say:

It really feels as if we're on the verge of seeing the dust settle. As if Pluaralism has run its course and clearer trends, if not camps, are set to emerge. It most likely won't include a new age of manifesto-driven "-isms," per se, but there will be a consolidation of conclusions.
But there's a tiny voice in my head saying that's a bunch of crap (it's a particularly rude voice, but it may just be right).

The metaphor I've found helpful in discussing my opinion on Pluralism is to imagine that the widespread efforts in Deconstruction resulted in a vast landscape scattered with very small pieces of artstuff (imagine little building blocks as far as the eye can see). Some artists entered that landscape and got busy trying to breaking down the artstuff further, into smaller and smaller pieces, but some artists, because this is the inclination of artists, couldn't help themselves and began taking the small blocks and constructing things out of them. This new construction was informed by the previous deconstruction (i.e., they could see what each block signified once broken down), but as daunting as building some new "thing" from that landscape might seem, some artists simply had to. The result was an army of highly individualistic, often highly private, efforts...their own, often very elaborate, universes.

Stretching the metaphor a bit, and superimposing it on what we know about the dawn of civilizations---where towns emerged and then adventurous sorts set out to explore the wilderness, only to run into another previously unknown town where they did many things in the same way, but many things were different, and they took what was different, or at least what was better, back to their town to improve things there, bringing the two towns closer together in how they do things---it's easy to imagine that artists building their own private Idahos would eventually "borrow" from other private Idahos (am I using that right? it's too early to tell...perhaps I should stick with "private universes"), bringing them closer together in how they do things, and voila, a trend emerges.

Or does it? Is there now a built-in resistance to letting that happen? I know anyone stepping forward with a manifesto would likely be mocked right out of Chelsea, but there do seem to be many more art collectives making waves than a decade ago. Can an "ism" be far behind?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The "Productive" Class

Note: Another political rant. What can I say? It's summer...the art world is slow these days...and frustration has been building up.

Back when I was blogging politics day and night (when Bambino, a notorious blog widower, coined the term "bullsh*t websites"), I had exhausted the contempt-conveying phrases in my vocabulary throughout a series of ultra-shrill tirades against New York Times columnist David Brooks. He remains my first example of a thoroughly loathsome pundit, displaying all the integrity of
Vidkun Quisling, but none of the charm.

Today, however, Brooks entered the realm of surreal self-parody (must be slow in the pundit world as well, although none of the pundits not working hard to deflect attention away from the Administration's accelerating spiral down past the nethermost position in American Presidential history seem to have any trouble finding topics to write on).

Anyway...The New York Times has deemed such drivel worthy of payment and hidden his column behind their "Times Select" firewall, so I'll have to retype the choice passages from the copy I purchased from my local vendor.

With the Middle East peace process in tatters, Iraq a literal hell on earth, killer heatwaves scorching the planet, and bin Laden & Co. still trotting the globe plotting, what does our Mr. Brooks decide his readers have to know he thinks? Why that rich people are overworked and horribly put upon and poor people are lazy, of course.

Through some screw-up in the moral superstructure, we now have a plutocratic upper class infused with the staid industriousness of Ben Franklin, while we are apparently seeing the emergence of a Wal-Mart leisure class ---devil-may-care middle-age slackers who live off home-equity loans and disabilty payments so they can surf the History Channel and enjoy fantasy football leagues.
Brooks' alarm over this was spawned by an article the Times ran earlier. That one is still free:
Millions of men ... men in the prime of their lives, between 30 and 55 — have dropped out of regular work. They are turning down jobs they think beneath them or are unable to find work for which they are qualified, even as an expanding economy offers opportunities to work.

About 13 percent of American men in this age group are not working, up from 5 percent in the late 1960’s. The difference represents 4 million men who would be working today if the employment rate had remained where it was in the 1950’s and 60’s. [...]

These are men forced to compete to get back into the work force, and even then they cannot easily reconstruct what many lost in a former job,” said Thomas A. Kochan, a labor and management expert at the Sloan School of Management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “So they stop trying.”

Many of these men could find work if they had to, but with lower pay and fewer benefits than they once earned, and they have decided they prefer the alternative. It is a significant cultural shift from three decades ago, when men almost invariably went back into the work force after losing a job and were more often able to find a new one that met their needs.
Now I'm a workaholic, so I'm not sure I can relate to those following this trend, but to leap from this article to the conclusions Brooks makes reveals a classic case of fitting the data to support a predisposed position. Again, from Brooks:

Buy I try not to judge these gentlemen harshly. What I see is a migration of values. Once upon a time, middle-class men would have defined their dignity by their ability to work hard, provide for their family and live as self-reliant members of society. [Gee, I'm glad he didn't judge them harshly.] But these fellows, to judge by their quotations, define their dignity the same way the subjects of Throsetin Veblen's "The Theory of the Lelisure Class" defined theirs.

They define their dignity by the loftiness of their thinking. They define their dignity not by their achievement, but by their personal enlightenment, their autonomy, by their distance from anything dishonorably menial or cumpulsory.
GRRRRR.... One of the examples Brooks uses to make his case is that of Alan Beggerow, who got laid off at age 48 from the steel mill he worked in. That's right, Davie...steel workers typically have lofty delusions and distaste for menial work. Beggerow worked there until he was forty-eight! If, as my father did, Beggerow entered the steel mill about age 23, that means he performed a truly grueling, very physical job in hellish conditions for two and a half decades. Further, like my father, he most likely left that job with a series of serious health problems and a badly bruised, if not broken, body. After he got laid off, Beggerow taught math for a while at a community college, but when that ended he decided he'd rather live off what little he had accumulated than take a job he felt was beneath him. For Brooks to challenge that choice suggests he's never spent a day working in a steel mill, let alone 25 years.

What Brooks is really getting at here of course is why the uberwealthy are better than the poor (and you can bet this article about the "willfully" unemployed will weasle its way into some future column defending the tax cuts for the upper 1% of Americans). He's so remarkably deluded he actually laments:

[The lives of t]oday's super-wealthy...are marked by sleep deprivation and conference calls, and their idea of leisure is jetting off to Aspen to hear Zbigniew Brzezinski lead panels titled "Beyond Unipolarity."
Ahh...those unfortunate souls, jetting off to Aspen, celebrity panels and conference calls. Yeah, that's much tougher than filling out job applications at the local McDonald's when you're in your fifties. Why it's just not fair, I tell you. Let's not make them pay any taxes whatsoever. Clearly they're suffering enough already.

Brooks is working here, actually, off a myth that's been gaining ground among conservative bloggers. Its spin is that the wealthy are the "productive class," suggesting they do all the work and hence deserve the lion's share of the government's consideration. It's a notion I find so insidously mendacious, that it's hard not to punch someone offering it.

Then again, with the current Adminstration and its rubber-stamp Congress stacking the deck so heavily against the poor (slashing entitlement programs, refusing to raise the minimum wage, and passing truly evil bankruptcy legislation), is it any wonder that the poor take the advice offered in "War Games" that since you can't win, the only reasonable response is not to play? I mean, I know the Bush & Co are hellbent on creating a permanent indentured servant class, but they can't be surprised that folks aren't happy to both join it AND still have to clean their toilets.

One more aspect of Brook's article should be noted. It reeks of the foulest form of misogyny. Focused on the importance of the traditional role he feels men should play in society (ignoring working women in total), he ends his column on the following enlightened note:

The only comfort I've had from these distrubing trends is another recent story in The Times. Joyce Wadler reported that women in places like the Hamptons are still bedding down with the hired help.
He's attempting, one assumes, to be satirical. But who can tell, really?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Sh*t List Doctrine

Warning: This one is pure politics and, perhaps, slightly out there. You be the judge.
The inside jacket copy of Ron Suskind's terrifying, but gripping, new book, The One Percent Doctrine, reads:

You may think you know what the "war on terror" is, But to know it truly you must read this book.
That is an epic example of understatement.

I spent the first half of reading the book nodding and mumbling to myself, "Yup, that's what we were saying back then...stupid lying jerks." I'm spending the second half with my jaw in my lap wondering how on earth we've gotten so lucky with regards to not being attacked again. Don't get me wrong...I'm not crediting the Bush Administration with saving us, although I can see now why some folks feel they have (much like the collapse of the Soviet Union is not directly the result of his father's doing [or even the President's before him], the lack of attacks on the US since 9/11 is mostly something that has happened despite W, not because of him). But giving credit where it's due, we've had some remarkably close calls, and Bush does seem to have been obsessed with stopping them (which would be easier to praise him for if only he had listened to those saying invading Iraq would make that harder).

Most of the near-misses were aimed at New York City (which makes it all the more unconscionable that the Homeland Security Department would steer money away from the Big Apple to protect instead some
beach at the end of a street or what have you in the middle of the country) and are simply too scary to repeat here (support such efforts at truly educating the the book). But inspite of my reluctant appreciation for Bush's post-9/11 obsession with our nation's security, there's a part of the thinking guiding the choices he's making (or, well, that Cheney's making and letting him take credit for) that strikes me as short-sighted and ultimately too timid.

The reasoning that's faulty in my opinion is the notion that because bin Laden and his ilk are stateless (they're a power without an identifyable [i.e., accountable] country to bomb in response to attacks on others) that deterence measures are useless. Cheney uses this reasoning to argue that we have to act against "them" offensively, even in lieu of any evidence, because waiting until the threat is imminent is waiting too long. The theory goes you can't threaten them into rethinking their actions because you can't harm them any way other than killing them individually, which they're already prepared to do themselves (or have done by others, actually) in suicide attacks. So, the thinking goes, deterence is useless. But this is where the theory is based on shallow insight, in my opinion.

Each major terrorist organization in the world actually has an eventual idealized state as its primary goal. Bin Laden wants Saudi Arabia and then a Middle Eastern caliphate (some say his ambitions are more global, but if so, they're horribly unrealistic). Other terrorist groups too want definable geographic states that they control and that operate under a predetermined set of principles. Jemaah Islamiyah wants an Indonesian caliphate, ETA wants an an independent socialist state for the Basque people in the Basque Country, the PKK wants an independent, democratic unified Kurdistan, etc. etc.

If the stable nations of the world wanted to stop terrorism as a political means toward such ends, I feel a new doctrine, adopted universally via the United Nations or similar body, might be a better step in that direction. I know this is going to sound far flung, but I've been thinking about it for some time now and can't find the faults in it (that's where you come in) and, as they say, desperate times call for desperate measures, so....: I think deterence might actually work if applied through what I'll call the Shit List Doctrine (or SL for short...and tastefulness).

The SL Doctrine dictates that any state that comes into being through terrorist actions that kill innocent civilians in other states will immediately upon inauguration be blown to smithereens by an international force of united nations. In other words, should al Qaida succeed in overthrowing the House of Saud, the day bin Laden (or his puppet) is coronated is the day the missles rain down on his new capital, wiping it off the map. There will be no normalization of relations with leaders who come to power through killing innocents outside their own domain. Ever. On the contrary, as soon as they have a state of their own to bomb, the bombing begins in earnest.

No terrorist organization will ever see its dream state realized. One terrorist act against innocents of another state puts your organizaion and all its members permanently on the list. Should any of them ever rise to power, that state becomes an immediate target. Of course a line must be drawn to avoid having to retroactively take out a whole slew of current leaders, but you have to start somewhere.

I believe this will work toward two ends. First, if the primary goal of each terrorist organization (a state) become unrealizable via terrorism, then terrorism becomes a less attractive avenue toward that goal. More immediately and effectively, however, the populace of the geographical area intended for the new state will distance themselves from (i.e., not help) the marked leaders of the hoped-for state, knowing that proximity equals certain annihilation. No population, no support network, no state, no external terrorism.

It's too much, I think, to obliterate the new government of a state that came to be via civil war, so I'm not advocating this doctrine for "terrorists" who attack their own. (The forefathers of the US would, potentially, be incriminated via that guideline.) But the idea that you can't deter terrorists is an ADD-induced falacy, IMO. Those at the top of such organizations can be deterred (Suskind notes how al Qaida leadership [who are notably not so keen on suicide as an option for themselves] decided against flying the 9/11 planes into nuclear power plants [an original consideration] for fear things would get out of hand, suggesting they wanted a measured response to their actions, suggesting they can indeed be deterred, if only in terms of not doing what prevents them from achieving their goals). The mistake the current thinking reveals is not looking down the road at their long-term desires for what will deter them.

It's a theory anyway...I invite you to rip into it.