Friday, March 02, 2007

Naming Names: A Delicate Balance

I'm seeing from the last post that there's a double standard at work here on the blog that I am responsible for and should try to explain/correct.

I have from time to time blasted people in the art world for actions or ideas that offended me, and done so by name. I have criticized institutions, publications, writers, and others by name.

I have tried to stop short of criticizing other commercial galleries, and especially artists, by name. Partly out of self-interest, partly out of what used to be called "manners," and partly out of knowing how much courage it takes to put one's art out there for the general public to take pot shots at, but I can see that my lack of consistency hasn't served anyone well.

I've tried to compensate for this by putting my ideas out there with my name attached, opening up myself to any and all criticism, and to a large degree putting our programming out there for critique.

But because I try to make this an otherwise open forum, this caveat (not naming other galleries and/or their artists) has left me unable to clarify to some readers' satisfaction where the boundaries are for me personally. I apologize for that contradictory message.

I don't want this blog to serve as a dart board, though. There are other places where anonymous readers can blast away at this or that artist, and that's a good thing. Here though, what I'm attempting to do with regards to keeping the dialog open but making everyone feel as welcome as possible does require a few agreed-upon ground rules. I personally feel it's possible to discuss, for example, widespread artmaking motifs without naming names. The degree of ambiguity serves to allow for a general discussion without letting individual's personal vendettas or pet peeves turn the tone too sour here. In other words it's a delicate balance.

That means, of course, this blog cannot be all things to all people. It was never intended to, though. I've had plenty of other people who blog about art tell me they eventually had to turn off their comments because the more open you try to be the more vicious the commentary can get. I've really worked hard to avoid doing that (I love the comments here), but there are days I see the wisdom of that choice. Today is one of them.

The comments in the last post bordered on offensive. No...they were offensive, and I can only assume they were meant to be. Perhaps the readers who vented felt they had been offended first. If so, I apologize. That wasn't the intent. By genericizing the discussion (i.e., not naming names) I thought a general discussion could emerge. Instead people still seemed to take it personally and blasted back. Human nature, I guess, but hardly what I've worked so hard to create here.

In short, I'll be more careful moving forward. My apologies to the readers who felt attacked, and my biggest apologies to Damon for setting him up for the counter-attack.

Having said all this, a few of you did cross the line, IMO. Someone in the comments suggested that I'm too nice to be in this business because of how I conduct things here on the open forum of the blog. I found that statement adorable. If anyone who anonymously blasted away at me wishes to continue that discussion, in person, feel free to drop in at the gallery. Oh, and do bring your own slides with you. That should be fun.


Anonymous Henry said...

Frankly I thought the previous set of comments were healthy, at least when taken as a whole. I've seen far worse things said at dinner, not to mention the hellhole on the political side of the blogosphere. Maybe I'm too removed from the interior workings of the gallery and art fair scene to appreciate the more subtle insults when they're hurled.

All I can say is, when insulted, stick to the discussion. Acknowledge the other side, and either disagree or move along. It's much better for people to say what's on their mind, as distasteful or hurtful as it might be to some others, than to submit to thought police and censors. The flipside of free speech is that it requires us all to learn how to accept it.

As to the particulars of the last thread, it's utter nonsense to think a gallery director should refrain from encouraging positive criticism of his own artists. That's a non-starter, and intellectually insulting to boot. This blog is called Winkleman, and anyone who fails to see the relationship between the proprietor of the blog and the proprietor of the gallery is either blind or impertient.

On the other hand, Ed, you need to stop taking criticism personally. Guess what. There are people who hate you and what you stand for, even among those who say they share the same sociopolitical views as you do, and there will always be. A practicing psychologist once told me that all his years of training boiled down to three words: "Get over it." (No offense intended. I only say it because the licensed PhD said it first).

As to the issue of anonymous references to living artists, I have to say I think there's a middle ground. Perhaps you could at least give some examples of the work in question. For example, "polished black drum sets" or "big sculptures with furry heads and mirrors." If you say something about the artists themselves -- "they're just a bunch of unimaginative goths," for example -- then you're getting into ad hominem attacks, not to mention prejudicial and oversimplified analysis, and that's neither fair nor constructive with respect to the argument at hand. Talk about the work, and be as specific as possible. The lives of the artists are best left to their biographers.

Anyway, sorry for going all Polonius on you. Just trying to help.

3/02/2007 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Thanks for the reality check Henry. I'll accept any criticism of my ideas in the vein you note, but when such boorish behavior is directed at my guests, my blood turns red.

Damon, I'm sure, though, can take care of himself, so essentially, I agree with your assesmsent.

then you're getting into ad hominem attacks

I've read the text several times, but can't see anywhere in which it's ad hominem, unless one personifies the work in question. What I suspect has occurred is that readers/artists who self-identify with the work criticized interpreted that as a criticism of their own work, which entails a large degree of self-flattery, IMO.

Bottom line is I've done Damon and the readers a disservice by asking him to edit out the names. It won't happen again.

3/02/2007 10:05:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

I felt so left out yesterday when blogger blocked me from commenting. I did notice some new names in the comments with a negative slant. They tend to hang around a while until they realize this may not be the right place for them. A cycle, a process, you aren't too nice Ed, that's not possible, but you are a welcome rarity.

3/02/2007 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger Heart As Arena said...

Ed: Don't. Change. A. Thing.

Which, means do what you want to do which has always been, well, EXACTLY what you've wanted to do. You want to talk about politics for a couple posts? Do it (Much to Bambino's dismay.). You wanna have a guest writer? Do it. (That was fab, by the way.) Whatever you do, please don't be swayed by the Anonymiti who troll around looking for nothing but something with which they can disagree. I've come to trust your voice enough to know that if you haven't named names, addressed a topic, or whatever you have good reason for it. It's entirely appropriate for readers to question you on it, but it's equally appropriate--nay, essential--for you to be able to say, "No. I'm not going there. I have my reasons." You're not a news agency. You don't don't owe any of us anything, except for what you've already offered us . . . a clear, honest voice from a vantage point that is too rarely heard from.

3/02/2007 10:12:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

my blood turns red

as opposed to the ochre it normally is, I suppose...

perhaps I meant "my blood boils" or "I see red" or something more sensical.

3/02/2007 10:13:00 AM  
Anonymous ml said...

Caryn Coleman who runs artbloggingla shut down her comments section because of some very vicious, nasty personal attacks. I think of the vicious anonymous bloggers like grafitti thugs - kids deface, adults build.

Civilized discourse is underappreciated overall so it's such a pleasant surprise to find it nurtured here.

3/02/2007 10:14:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

thanks heart as areana,

but I think Henry's right. I take things too personally. There's no point in blogging if I can't stand the heat.

3/02/2007 10:33:00 AM  
Anonymous bambino said...

Snap of it.

Whoever leaves "Anon" comments, acting passive aggresive. Life is too short.

3/02/2007 11:22:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

thanks get back to bed and get some rest.


3/02/2007 11:39:00 AM  
Anonymous David said...

EW, the comments are my favorite part of your blog. Even when some of them are rude, they're balanced out by very thoughtful and insightful ones. I was disappointed when my friend CC turned off the comments for artbloggingla, though I understand why she did. Thanks for hanging in there.

3/02/2007 11:50:00 AM  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

Personally, I thought Damon's post was really interesting. From the photos, I had the same initial reaction to Ivin's pieces-- the feeling that I'd seen them before. So I was interested to read Damon describe how he went step-by-step to realizing they had more to them. He took me along through the process. Now I'm sorry I missed the show.

3/02/2007 11:55:00 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

Thing is, it's possible to be tough and truthful without being an a-hole. Such niceties are rare and rarer these days. I, personally, really appreciate the tone you maintain around here. It makes it a place worth returning to everyday. The conversation stays meaningful and understandable.

There is enough of the "Oh no he di'in't" attitude elsewhere for those who crave it. A tea room is a better place for a conversation than a bar, in my opinion.

And . . . when we stray, as we do, (ahem) we feel stupid and guilty, but come back to try and make it up. We are a passionate group, after all.

3/02/2007 12:00:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

Actually, Ed, I'm curious how you managed to appreciate Ivin's work (or other artists' work for that matter) just from slides. I can think of numerous instances where I saw a JPEG or slide of something and thought, "Ho hum," then found that the actual piece was amazing. Here, for instance, I had assumed (like Damon) that the Ivin pieces were cardboard and tape. How do you did you train your eye to "see" the art from a just a tiny slide? Or is that a trade secret?

3/02/2007 12:05:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

How do you did you train your eye to "see" the art from a just a tiny slide? Or is that a trade secret?

I read the caption. :-)

3/02/2007 12:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

>>>>how much courage it takes to >>>>put one's art out there for >>the general public to take pot >>>shots at

But it's also extremely pretentious so it DESERVES the pot shots at.

It's only art, for christ's sake.
Not like anyone caught you in the out-fashion section of Vice magazine.

Maybe Edward can't name names because of his position, that I can understand, but we commenters
should have the rights to, and it's not about manners to tell that an art piece suck or not. It's already outmannered that an artist step on my foot saying that they're greater than I am. Come on.

We won't get to better art if we can criticize it??? This is silly.

And why are everyone so scared of being called complete cunts?? Take it out on me. "You can never be more of a complete cunt than Cedric". I mean..I don't care you see?


Cedric Caspesyan

3/02/2007 12:57:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Come now, Cedric. In the Canon of Complete Cunts, you don't even rate a small plaque, let alone a whole stained glass window. My eyes may glaze over two sentences into half the things you post, but you're never just nasty or stupid.

Anyway, why is cunt a pejorative? Cunts rule! Okay, I've typed it enough for one day.

So Cedric, you're okay. Not like that Ed Winkleman. He's a dopey, ochre-blooded, over-sensitive JERK!

All right, not really. Listen, Ed, you can continue to be sensitive. It's part of what makes you you. Don't try to grow a thick skin just because people keep poking you. I'd rather have you continue to try to maintain that balance. Some people are just naturally more polite and circumspect. It can drive me crazy, since I'm the type unable to keep secrets or quiet, but that doesn't make it bad.

3/02/2007 01:17:00 PM  
Blogger heidilolatheayatollah said...

Edward we love you!!
In a platonic cyber spacey way of course.

And your ever so thoughtful blog!
I often think of the topics and comments on here after I'm away--don't ever change!


3/02/2007 02:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Karl Zipser said...

I agree with Lisa. It was fascinating to read another viewpoint of Ed's gallery (although at a fair). This is just the sort of different insight that makes guest posts worthwhile. I'm glad you don't turn off your comments, Ed. What would a blog be without comments? In my experience, comments can get pretty painful at times, but the valuable comments outweigh the negative ones by far.

3/02/2007 03:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

>>>He's a dopey, ochre-blooded, >>>over-sensitive JERK!

Argh, you're gonna kill him !!

We can't kill Edward, Chris.
Otherwise there's no more blog and place for us to meet ! ;-)

Cedric Caspesyan

3/02/2007 04:26:00 PM  
Blogger heidilolatheayatollah said...

Uh, guys...Edward is going to shut the comments down now..... even though you're joking-the jokes are getting too personal.

3/02/2007 04:42:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

Oh, Edward, what a sweetie you are. In the past twenty-four hours I have been called a 'fucking moron,' an 'infected virus,' an Adultress Most Vile, a fraud, a crazy person, a delusional infidel who is going to Hell, a Lazy Layabout, and Caterpillar Face. And this was among friends.

Perhaps I need to choose some new friends, it is true; but we sensitive people should consistently reinforce our standards.

Persist, Edward. I salute you.

3/02/2007 05:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

An adultress most vile?

Wow, you must be muslim.


In the last 24 hours I got my credit card declined.

Those things really depress me.

3/02/2007 05:32:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

we sensitive people should consistently reinforce our standards

OK, that's too much. I've clearly protested way too much here. Carry on with your bad-ass selves and let me retreat to the kinder, gentler world provided by a large tumbler of JD on the rocks.

3/02/2007 05:56:00 PM  
Anonymous mark "Catapilla Face" Creegan said...

Gee I feel bad that all that hullaballoo started after I asked for some examples. I guess it didnt have to be names. I was just reading the description and racking my brain for some examples and coming up empty (no surprise there) so I was askin fer sum help.

As far as comments, love the comments but boy i wish i could figure out how to leave an opposing comment without it sounding like an attack- I mean i try to indicate that I am asking not telling. I just wish tone of voice came thru these things.

Speaking of which, whats peeps gots against tape and cardboard? It is funny how different people are amazed by different things, because I would be like "oo he did THAT with just tape and cardboard OOOH!" And upon realizing it was resined out Id be like, "FAKER!" :) :) :) :)

work emoticons work!

3/02/2007 06:46:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

...let me retreat to the kinder, gentler world provided by a large tumbler of JD on the rocks.

It's Friday!

3/02/2007 07:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

>>>upon realizing it was resined >>>out Id be like, "FAKER!" :) :) :) :)

In a museal context you'd be glad that a Gavin Turk garbage is fake.

Cedric Caspesyan

3/02/2007 08:55:00 PM  
Blogger Carla said...

booze all around!

3/02/2007 09:09:00 PM  
Anonymous markcreegan said...

In a museal context you'd be glad that a Gavin Turk garbage is fake.

Ah yes. Its just funny. I recently made something that seems like a real set of breakfast remnants. Once I explained to various unimpressed people that it was sculpted their eyes lit up. " Oh I thought it was just a bunch of wet cereal,oooo" theyd say.

For those who hate Duchamp never fear, art that looks like it was hard/time consuming always gets more respect

Ill have a Shirley Temple please.

3/02/2007 09:26:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

I was just reading the description and racking my brain for some examples and coming up empty

Mark, what leaped to my mind was, frankly, all of last year's Whitney Biennial. I don't know if this was what Damon had in mind or not, but naming names was all but irrelevant. It seems as though the art world is currently undergoing a fascination with the mechanics of immature, undisciplined creativity. I wish it had done so when I myself was immature and undisciplined.

Ah, c'est la vie. I am enjoying a glass of 'la jaja du jau,' myself. An excellent bargain at only $6.99 a bottle.

3/02/2007 09:41:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

What's the word? Thunderbird! What's the price? Thirty twice!

PL sez:
Perhaps I need to choose some new friends, it is true...

Trust me when I tell you anyone could do better than me for a friend.

3/02/2007 10:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Talking about friends, one asked me today:

Do you have the "eye" or is it a trial and error thing?

I am still thinking how to answer while looking at my walls... . I saw very few interesting pieces at the fairs. Certainly a $1000 or $5000 doesn't buy you much today. Five years ago you could have very promising for $1,500. A good/fine for $5000.

Resumes were hefty then and multiple curators worked with the same artists. No such thing now as far as I can see.

A fair presentation counts as a quality/curated exhibition. Trial and error works for gallerits it seems. No need to be committed to an artist. A couple of shows and you are out if no sales occur.


3/02/2007 10:56:00 PM  
Anonymous markcreegan said...

You know mls, I am completely outside of any market aspect of art so I may be totally off the mark here. But, in thinking about what you describe with gallery representation and the lack of long term commitment, we all know that that does happen more today than it used to. So yes your observation is right on, but when I think of why that is the case I keep going back to this idea that possibly much of that is a result of a dealer realizing "this is a talented artist but I cant seem to attract interest among the collectors I deal with, so perhaps it would be better for the artist to have a relationship with another dealer who may have interested buyers"

I dont know, just thinkin'. what do ya think?

3/02/2007 11:23:00 PM  
Anonymous t&c said...

To go back to Damon's column for a second, I was not implying anything about Ivin's work, which I actually enjoyed seeing. I don't even mind the props for one of your artists, Ed. But to set him up as superior to a group of other artists, especially with those inflammatory but catchy phrases, which are ultimately meaningless, just dumbs down the discourse. That is no kind of criticism. It certainly doesn't do Ivin any favors. And it brings out the worst in your readers (hence the salivating for names - either out of bloodlust or insecurity).

I mean, come on, you all remember those teachers who would always single out one student as exemplary, because he/she was the only one who rose above the muck of the rest of the class. Didn't you just hate that? It's bad teaching, (or bad critiquing), plain and simple.

3/03/2007 12:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Henry said...


By "ad hominem" I meant the act of calling attention to personality traits of the artist, e.g., using words like "goth" to describe the person, rather than aesthetic or conceptual traits of the work(s). If you're being specific about the work itself -- with terms like glue-and-glitter, or erotic expressionism, or whatever -- you're on much safer ground in my opinion, and you can publish all the details you want without actually naming a name. Or if you do name names, you're still relatively safe because you're attaching names to specific movements of art, rather than attitudes or personalities. I know, I know. An artist is often their own finest work of art. So my suggestion might still be irrelevant. But I do hope I'm approaching a method for treading this ground in a way that's intellectually honest yet still socially safe.

3/03/2007 01:50:00 AM  
Blogger John Morris said...

It's a bit off the subject at this point but, It's hard to get just how good Ivin's fakes are. I was in ed's booth and if I hadn't heard him telling someone, I don't think I would have known what they were made from. They had a lot of wierd formal impact for me.

To name names, I will say that I didn't think they were the best things I saw, but I am not too sure. The context of the fair -- feeling like you were in the way did keep me from spending the time with them that I think they deserved.

3/03/2007 01:58:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

e.g., using words like "goth" to describe the person, rather than aesthetic or conceptual traits of the work(s)

I know we're splitting hairs now, but I'm fairly sure "goth" was meant to describe the work, not the artists.

But to set him up as superior to a group of other artists, especially with those inflammatory but catchy phrases, which are ultimately meaningless, just dumbs down the discourse.

Fair enough. Sorry for over-reacting.

3/03/2007 09:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

>>>Certainly a $1000 or $5000 >>>>doesn't buy you much today.

Have you tried buying outside the usa?

I'm not sure I understand why people are so cranked up.

It's someone's opinion here on a blog, not a New York Times article. I mean, we don't have to be perfect. Maybe Ed should invite people curious to engage in dialogue. It's not like if someone would come and scream "you bloggers are all morons!" than leave would be any productive. I may be wrong but I find this blog here to be mostly centered on discussion.

Also, there's been now at least 3 people who've been at the fair and very much liked Ivin's work so you gotta give credit to that. It's enough for me to think "allrite then, I'll stop by if I see some more". But if it's a case like the last Whitney Biennial where we stop at something because everything is bad, I think that should also be part of the count. Maybe Damon, personal taste apart, was also trying to say that.

It's not like I heard anyone saying "wow, there were thousand of great artists at Pulse !!". Generally the accounts seem depressive, and that is what should be the most worrying.


Cedric Caspesyan

3/03/2007 10:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Edward - I'll stop trying to split those thin hairs. But I've been really thinking about this idea of "guest commentators." I think you should always exercise a consistent editorial discretion over posts which your blog promotes, whether the words are written by your hand or not. This is not to say you should only invite people who think like you and agree with you -- absolutely not -- but you should be careful when attacks are made on your blog (like when "names are named." or whatever issues you deem important), because it would be very easy for someone to say, "Did you read what that quote-unquote 'guest commentator' said on Ed's blog the other day? Maybe Ed doesn't have the guts to say it to my face, so he gets someone to do it for him." I'm not saying it's true, and I'm not saying you'd do it, but I'm saying it opens the door for people to hold your credibility to account over it. Maybe all you need to do is give a simple reminder that "the views above do not necessarily blah blah." Sorry, maybe I'm over-thinking this again. I'm just trying to respond to the acrimony expressed here the other day, and the potential sensitivity of many readers on this issue.

3/03/2007 11:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You sound like the Rubell's. They said the same thing at the Hilton a few weeks ago.

You show, look and buy good or not. Looking for cheap doesn't work.

When a dealer, after working with an artist for a while, can't sell or place him/her (or anymore) in shows they have to sit down and talk. Be candid. The dealer must find another "good" gallery for the artist. When a gallery sells they are making a committment with collectors as well. You can't just turn your back and abandon an artist or the collector.


Mr. Crain's description of what he saw is a cliche' of the artworld. One of the many. I hear it all the time with small variations. I am surprised. I wish I had seen what he saw. Bruce Nawman, Gober, Warhol, FGT, Matta Clark, Acconci, so many names come to mind. Artists have to start somewhere but the difference is you can't price it at $5,000. Most of what I saw everywhere were copies of older work. "Copying the famous" I would call it. Is it a trend?

After all, Pulse is a fair for emerging galleries. That's what they call all the satelites. Of course, a few years ago, all those fairs were for those who didn't make the cut. I mean not proven, old or good enough.


3/03/2007 12:59:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

a few years ago, all those fairs were for those who didn't make the cut

A few years ago, all those fairs didn't exist. What do you mean exactly?

3/03/2007 01:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

>>>Looking for cheap doesn't work.

I don't understand. You think the price value of a work is its final value?

There's a lot of great art outside usa, just that it doesn't get through the gallerists you visit regularly.

You'll notice that gallerists are generally geographically-lazy.

If you want to see art from elsewhere, you need to travel.

Many countries (like France) don't even function with a commercial system. It's not how art is being made there.

And to be honest the edgiest stuff I see is not necessarely in New York.

>>>"Copying the famous" I would >>>call it. Is it a trend?

I agree that's the main debate here. I don't think it's necessary. Mr. Crain seems to think that we need to look back.
So really that's the issue of a whole new thread.

Cedric Caspesyan

PS: emerging artists galleries will never make the cut as long as they remain emerging, but let's be fair. Barbara Gladstone just signed Huang Yong Ping. How many years did I see his work before a new york gallerist sign them?? And those galleries make the cuts?? It's really just about power.

3/03/2007 01:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

sign them = sign him

and by the way..."copying artist", I meant to also imply in the debate artists who reference older art, which is different.

Cedric Caspesyan

3/03/2007 01:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw literal=exact copies all over.

The Rubell's said-Art College Assoc. meeting/panel at the Hilton a few weeks ago.- Look it up.

While the art center might overlook many artists, nowdays we are global, the margin reaches us much faster. Still, that time serves as a filter for the best and concensus. It is my experience that in many places the politians control the art. You don't get to see the best but what the state wants you to see.

Thinking about it more, you know what, I saw male artists copying the work of women artists one generation older but less well known. I just thought about it! Must be the whole art school and women history thing. Funny. Tragic.


3/03/2007 02:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for being so smart. I love you. Tell us more. Please.
I want to know how the art world works. You have all of the answers, so please don't be so private with your thoughts, its hurting me. Your precision in critique is astonishing.
Yours Truly,
Blue Balls

3/03/2007 03:42:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

I go along with mls’s observations. I think the issue of "exact copies" is in part a result of the financial exuberance in the marketplace. This is not unusual, it comes with the territory. When well known artists are selling at prices out of the reach of many collectors, the marketplace adapts by providing artworks of similar appearance in a lower price tier.

From another perspective, younger artists have to start somewhere, they frequently choose a place derived from a style or point of view they respond to. I see nothing inherently wrong with this, it seems to be part of the working process.

Where I do see a problem is again related to the hot marketplace. It becomes a problem when an artist tries to strategize the marketplace but does so purely out of careerist motives which are not based in their personal psychology.

The ethical difficulty here is that the artist’s intent is outwardly rather than inwardly motivated. In other words, they are chasing after the brass ring rather than making one for themselves. The artists which come up in a ‘lionized’ list may have been linked with an artistic movement at an early phase in their careers, they may have exploited aspects of the marketplace, but I would argue that their artwork is personally, intellectually and psychologically honest.

An artwork is the sum total of the artists passion, it embodies their attitude towards the outside world, their perception of the outside world and their intent (plus a bunch of other stuff I can’t think of in 30 seconds). At any given moment in time, we as viewers, may ignore part of what is in front of us, but an artwork is an interface between the artist and the viewer, and sooner or later the artwork will reveal itself for what it is. The artist manifests a vision which becomes physically embodied in the artwork. In turn, the viewer interacts with this artwork in an active way. What they see is decoded from the artwork through active engagement, through the process of looking which as a phenomena includes, among other things, the knowledge, psychology and intent of the viewer. This process will obviously not be the same for all viewers, so we disagree.

3/03/2007 03:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you George. Very clear.

1 paragraph) Pure Economics.

2 p) History of Art.

3 & 4 p) Personal and life awareness of place.

5 p)I am not convinced but since I am not an artists I can't say for sure. I will copy your post and think about it.


3/03/2007 04:44:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

mls, maybe to clarify…

First off, since I’m a painter I tend to think in terms of my own medium, never the less, my use of the term ‘artwork’ can be viewed as any unchanging artistic object. Performance and other works which exist temporally might have to be treated differently.

What I am suggesting is that all we have as a viewer is the art object, our knowledge of art, fashion, etc exist outside the artwork and play a role in our perception but don’t change the artwork itself. When I said "an artwork is an interface" I am suggesting that it is the point of exit for the artist and the point of entry for the viewer. Certainly, the artist acts as his/her own ‘viewer’ during the creative process, the artwork may go through a long process of change, or not, during its creation. When the artwork is completed, it represents the sum of the artists physical acts, their mental process, their history, their psychology, outlook on the world outside, etc, but it is finalized and frozen in time.

Now the viewer, through the active act of perception, experiences the artwork. All of the viewers internal personal history, personal psychology, awareness of art history and other artworks, in essence the consciousness of the viewer, come into play. Since no two people are alike, each will respond in a slightly different way, maybe strongly or maybe not at all. Moreover, since the perception of an artwork involves the internal mental state of the viewer it is also situated within history itself (sorry, history is not dead) What I mean by this is that in different moments in history, we are affected by the historical environment, we often apply different mental constructs than those used at a different point in time. So the experience of an artwork is always situated in the locus of the present moment, we actively utilize what we know as part of our process of perception.

For example, suppose one has no interest in ‘Goth’ painting (or some other…), one might be inclined to have a look, but this isn’t an actively engaged perceptual action, one just has a glance and then moves on. We may say we ‘saw’ the painting, but we didn’t actually "see" the painting. Close your eyes, what is immediately to your right? Even in a familiar daily environment, I suspect ones response is very general, you know what is there but you only know the details if you actually look and focus your attention. Perception requires active engagement on the part of the viewer.

Suppose, you go to the museum and view one of your favorite paintings from history. Unlike the previous example, your perceptual action is different, your viewing activity is different, more focused and engaged.

I am using the example of a "historical painting" for a reason. It was probably created in a different era, possibly centuries ago, by an artist who focused their passions, perceptions, intents etc in the process of creating the artwork in question. Further, the historical era probably had conventions, modes of symbology, tastes, etc, which are quite different than what we normally assume today. So as a viewer, we bring to this artwork a different mental state of consciousness and awareness of the world, than the artist had when he/she created the painting. Yet, since by choice here, it is a ‘favorite’ painting, it implies that the artist, possibly centuries ago, embodied something in this painting which still engages us as viewers today, it draws us in, so we actively engage and focus our perception.

In the point of view above, the painting has not changed (allowing for age etc), we as viewers have changed. We bring a different perspective to the same painting, than we might have 10 years ago, or a 100 years ago. Paintings which continue to actively engage the viewer over time, receive a special place in the culture. In all the activities we engage in during our daily life, walking down the street looking in shop windows, watching TV or the computer screen, or admiring a landscape, we are actively engaged every second in perception of some part of the the environment, an environment which is temporal and constantly changing. Artworks are special objects because they fix a moment of perception in time in a way which is still accessible in the present.

When we view a cave painting made 25,000 years ago, we are seeing the result of a perceptual activity made by a prehistoric human. We may not know, why the painting was made, but we can "see’ it, try to reconstruct its creation, feel wonder and amazement, all because it exists as an interface between some unknown artist centuries ago and us as a viewer in the present.

3/03/2007 06:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

mls, you're a bit of a know-it-all who doesn't necessarily know that much. I'm mean you're awfully sure of some of your pronouncements, some of which are wrong.

3/03/2007 10:52:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Not to take sides here, anonymous, but the best way to demonstrate someone is wrong about some of their pronouncements (and lead them to be less sure about the others) is to explain why they're wrong.

3/04/2007 11:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Just to add to the notion of interface:

Isn't it Paul Ardenne, or probably
some other Paul (Virilio) that described the work of art as a screen, which separates the artist from the viewer?

And so to that screen, whatever form it is taking, you kind of project the heck you want. It is simply that your thoughts are inflected by the format of the screen.


Cedric Caspesyan

3/04/2007 02:36:00 PM  
Blogger George said...


The "screen" is neutral, just an object in the world.

Whatever problem you are inferring as "infected" exists in the perceiver, either the artist or the viewer or both. Just because something is classified as an art object, does not guarantee it is a sucessful art object, that's another set of issues.

3/04/2007 02:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

>>>The "screen" is neutral, just >>>an object in the world.

Hmm...I think I've been annoying this blog many times already about the neutrality of art. ;-)
By referring Virilio I exactly meant that.

>>Whatever problem you are >>inferring as "infected" exists >>>in the perceiver

What I meant by thoughts being inflected by the "format of the screen" means they are influenced by its outlook, its aesthetic, its language, its interface (as you call it) etc... Not that the art was doing any thinking for the thinker (though it triggers it). If art is a screen than it is a prisma.

I'm just confused about your reply, I think you've mistaken "inflected" with "infected".


Cedric Caspesyan

3/04/2007 07:48:00 PM  
Blogger George said...


Yes, I misread the word 'inflected', sorry.

I am using the term "interface" with the same implied meaning as "screen", so there should be no difficulty there.

When I said the screen [the art object] is neutral, just an object in the world, I am suggesting that it is inanimate and incapable of action in. I am not suggesting that this is the case for the artist who created the artwork or its viewer. To the contrary, I am suggesting that both sides bring a personal perceptual framework to the process of viewing. I believe the process of perception is very complex, it involves more than just seeing something visually. The perceptual process also has both cognitive and emotional components, I tried to make this point apparent with the examples.

I don’t think there really is a disagreement here. From my point of view, the artist and the viewer are actively engaged in the action of perception. The artist creates the artwork and the process is affected by his/her experience in the world. This includes not only their personal and psychological history, etc. but also the cultural context at the time the artwork was created.

The viewer, while not creating the artwork, is also engaged in the act of perception, this is an action, not a passive experience. The viewer has similar types of influences and constraints on the perceptual process but they are not the same as those of the artist.

I think this distinction is what you are implying with the word "inflected". However, once the artwork is finished, its an inanimate object, it doesn’t change. The way we may see it, can and does change, our opinions change, tastes and philosophies change, but the artwork does not.

Visual perception is not just registering an image somewhere in the brain, in fact I don’t believe this is what occurs. The ‘image’ is right in front of you not in you brain, the image is the painting (or whatever), as long as you are looking. The experience of perceiving the artwork engages a complex process utilizing several different aspects of the brain (mind) and is unique for each viewer, so the experience can be ‘inflected’ as you would say.

How this makes a difference, is that some of the aspects or qualities we may utilize (respond to) in experiencing an artwork will be temporal, a function of the culture and our experience at a particular moment in time. Since many of these temporal aspects may be fungible and change over time, they can interfere with how we may assess or judge an artwork in the present. They may be proven correct, or not. Other qualities may be more universal in nature, and carry across time more effectively. Some combination of the two will allow us to make judgements in retrospect and they may not be the same as the ones we might make today.

3/04/2007 09:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

We had this discussion a year or so ago, I think it was on Simpleposie, a debate around a quote by Gombrich about the extra-contextuel elements in a work of art.

What you are saying is mostly what many philosophers "warned" us about from Plato to Kant, and exactly why I never take art too seriously.

Or why I find it so hard to do art with any intending meanings, though I got all the ideas to work from.


Cedric Caspesyan

3/05/2007 12:45:00 PM  
Blogger George said...


Although it plays a role, I think the issue of "intended meaning" is a different issue.

3/05/2007 01:06:00 PM  

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