Monday, May 07, 2007

The Art We Exult

Lots of awesome comments in the thread on Art Controversies. Thanks to all who've put so much thought into considering that topic. To spark a tangent thread on one issue that Sunil brought up, I wanted to quote that idea in full:

The comment above about Ab Ex artists working in moldy lofts struck a chord. That was pure - does not exist nowadays... Art, fashion and Hollywood are coalescing into an amorphous bubble that concentrates on marketing the next blockbuster...A coat made of penguin wings might be a good fashion statement down the catwalk today but 100 years from now no-one is going to care less… We need to be a little more careful about the art we collectively exult…
Parallel to the Hollywood-supported mythology that still surrounds van Gogh today, the "purity" of the Ab Ex artists approach to art making is something I'm highly suspicious of; I doubt it was as different from that of artists working today as popular recollections would have us believe. Memories get all misty and water-colored (to coin a phrase), but reality is seldom as one-dimensional or romantic.

But as to the difference between fashion and the art we exult (meaning to my mind, the art that will represent us to future generations), I think there's not as much connection as folks tend to think there will be. Consider the artists who were widely snubbed/ignored by the establishment/collectors during their lives but who go on to become gods to the next generation of artists (Philip Guston is a good recent example) and whose prices soar after their deaths.


It's perhaps a bit unfair to the artists who are no longer with us, but my point is that history (with the help of future artists) does have a way of separating the wheat from the chaff, regardless of how much the spotlight of fashion and fame may blind us to the true gems among us at the moment. That isn't meant to make great artists toiling away in obscurity feel any better, mind you. I think I understand how frustrating it must feel to see work less great than yours get rave reviews and sell for astronomical sums. But that isn't the only path to ultimate exultation, and shouldn't sway artists from making the work they believe in. Not if they really believe in it, that is.

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24 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

for another kind of insight into guston see "night studio"by his daughter musa mayer.

5/07/2007 09:50:00 AM  
Blogger Molly Stevens said...

There's hope! I was so depressed after Friday's blog. I guess we're starting a new week. Wonder what the temperature will be on Thursday.

I've been thinking that an artist is just a vehicle, not really the conscious producer of great art. Great art is a symbol not of the artist but of something beyond the artist's full control. Furthermore it can be a relief to separte the work from the personality that made it.

5/07/2007 10:39:00 AM  
Anonymous T.H. See said...

While it is highly probable that the Ab-Ex era is viewed with a high degree of romanticism I do think what distinguishes it from art practice today is the clarity of purpose that is not often found today. Ours is an era that is practically about nothing else but the difficulty to have clarity of purpose. Or, even if we allow for the artist to be holed up in the studio completely untainted by the outside world, everone else living on the outside which is so much more permeated with media content which ensures that no critical reading of said untainted artist can exist that fully appreciates this artist's "vision." Subsequently, a lot of artists anticipate this condition and make do, others kinda do "whatever" and get read accordingly. Those that are often most exulted though seem to have won the lottery where the prize is that no matter what they do there is some justification for it.

I too appreciated Sunil's comment on the post from the other day, esp. the link to the Jed Perl article.
http://mailman.lbo-talk.org/pipermail/lbo-talk/Week-of-Mon-20070129/002039.html
It's a tough stance to take but an attempt to pry high and low culture from one another has to be made now and then. One point Perl makes in the piece that resonated with me concerned how those who collect and exult in a work of John Currin can expect that this "fine art oil painting" can function meaning/value-wise simultaneously as not only as an heir apparent to one painted by Velazquez but also it may be enjoyed "as an incompetent high-kitsch send-up of classical painting." These attributes of the work as well many other serious and not so serious one assigned to it are nowhere near consistent. It is the very comfort with this simultaneous meaning without any critical reflection that is troubling. It is a fact that these specific attributions cannot be both true but neither is questioned enough and yet great amounts of currency, critical and/or monitarily, are exchanged anyway. To assert this easy compatibility is not only ultimately incorrect - you cannot have your cake and eat it too, it is irresponsible. The implied insistence for a impossible simultaneity is also problematic because resolves nothing, and it goes beyond just the aesthetic/philosophic type argument. - it is wrong on many other sociopolitical levels. Does it also further follow that it probably ensures that the work will not endure in the future? The future, if there is to be one, cannot sustain such contradictions forever.

5/07/2007 12:42:00 PM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

How does one discern between an artist who is concerned with fashion and one who is concerned with a contemporary dialog among peers? Or, could it be that a young artist's practice could begin with the motivation to be hip, but, over time, become more of a voice within a generational conversation (perhaps a leading voice)? Where is that dividing line?

5/07/2007 12:43:00 PM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

Excellent post T.c. see,

I have to say the Perl article, as do many of his articles, left a bad taste in my mouth. You may find a "whatever" attitude to be morally or ethically bereft (and in larger socio-politaical terms it is). But when it comes to cultural expression, I find strict, concervative, "codes of conduct" (like avoid contradiction) morally bereft. Why? I think it has something to do with the fact that ,to my mind, relativism has a moral component to it on the level of avoiding the next holocaust. I know that may sound contradictory, but allow me to distinguish between the over-relativism that allows for Naziism and the UNDER-relativism that allows for Darfur. The tricky thing here is that one could reverse those terms and it still applies, which meens to me that there is something beyond relativism that is needed for the continuation of our species.

An artist, like Currin, holds a mirror to our society, if that reflection is a contradictory one today, Id say that is a pretty darn good mirror.

5/07/2007 01:02:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

During some of the reading I've been doing I've been bumping into the Abstract Expressionists (the New York School) and finding out some interesting things. For one, almost all of the original Abstract Expressionists (except for Barnett Newman) spent the 1930s on the payroll of the American government through the WPA. And not all of that was for mural work; they were paid just to be easel artists. Just to be.

Another thing I've learned is that the Abstract Expressionists were not in any way cut off from the world. They were extremely worldly; especially when, fleeing World War II, the world came to them, particularly in the form of the the Surrealists and Modernists, many of whom stayed on in New York. Abstract Expressionism is, in fact, just an extreme form of Cubism, and was consciously developed as such.

The New York School got out of its lofts as fast as it could; Pollock's mature works were painted out in Long Island, remember.

In other words, I don't think the Abstract Expressionists were "pure." I don't think art is ever pure. You know who has purity of purpose? Schizophrenics. Henry Darger made his books to channel his broken nervous system, not for anyone to look at, buy, or sell. Purity is insanity.

5/07/2007 01:57:00 PM  
Blogger Sunil said...

Ed,
I am glad you note that history does have a way of separating wheat from the chaff. Thank you.
A simple question by artists who make work that they believe in and whose aim is to have the art outlive themselves is to ask -
"Will the art that I am creating resonate and have meaning in a hundred or two hundred years from now?" How will it be viewed then? Transformative and acquiring new meaning with the times or consigned to a corner in a dusty museum under ‘period art’ or dumped off as bad investments?
When we start to look at art that is currently displayed in some of our really high end galleries, I somehow fail to see a lot of the art passing this muster. Of course a lot of them would end up as ‘decoration’, but as art that carries the full authority of the word 'art', my count would indeed be limited.
Of course, again, this is my view... which could be written off as myopic.

The Perl article may be a little extreme in the views expounded, but it does shake you into thinking about where we are headed and an exercise of a little caution is always a good thing in these heady times...

5/07/2007 02:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, good point Chris, but I'm going to bring this down a bit from purists vs careerists to just a more concentrated observation I had made before....

I should add these are my own observations, I have not done a full comprehensive statistical analysis---but---

most artists I know who are actively showing have more than some ties to a wealthy lineage. I am not completely on the outside looking in, this isn't Aww, "sour grapes ya baby" on my part, just an observation.

I just wonder about the extremely lopsided viewpoint that is being presented as the work that is ultimately shown is essentially(not ALWAYS but mainly) coming from "the ruling class" of artists who make it through. Ruling class denotes wealthy background in place.

It goes without saying take 2 artist , both of average talent, the wealthier one will ride over the waves of hardship and probably succeed in landing some shows, propelling forward from there.

And my earlier point was it is practically IMPOSSIBLE for an artist today to live and make art in NY without a highly strategic game plan in place before schooling starts OR funding from outside sources.

This is in stark contrast to the more free for all competitive atmosphere of "may the best person show" kind of era way back when due to affordable rent, and before the influx that priced everyone out of the art centers of the world. Of course the ab-exers had an agenda.

That is all.

-hlta

5/07/2007 02:26:00 PM  
Blogger J. said...

The point about history serving its allotted purpose is well taken, but you have to think about what 'kind' of history we're looking at at the moment. The linear progressions that Modernism so favored are no longer viable, but then the alternatives at the moment, which stem from the curatorial impulse, are no substitute. Pluralism needs to be resisted, especially when it comes to the writing of history; but it is a tricky condition to contend with, and one that deserves a bit of thought, not least because I don't think that pluralism and the 'market', which everyone is so quick to invoke, are necessarily wholly complementary concepts. The field of 'exultation' will have to be shared by a good number of artists from now on, and more appropriately, by a good number of different 'kinds' of art and aesthetic activity.

5/07/2007 02:28:00 PM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

hlta,

Good points to ponder. I wonder what the latest stats would be about the class level of emerging NY artists? It makes sense that rising costs of living in NY would lead to such exclusivity. But I wonder if there would also be a backlash among those in the know? Meaning, i wonder if it wouldnt just become equally rampant that we would see poor artists out in podunk Iowa getting solo shows in the big cities? Also, I wonder what affect the interenet would have on this trend?

5/07/2007 03:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder how good an example is Philip Guston? Only later in life, when he changed styles, was his work less acclaimed and studied. This is a fact. With time, like Picasso’s last oeuvre, all of it regained stature and a place in history. We now think is good and more so when we see younger generations finding inspiration in it. We don’t make it the canon because of the price or scarcity but because we see now that he was ahead of his time. We needed those artists that came after him to teach us. Call it what you want or may, learning (and correcting) from our past is an intrinsic of Art (and History of Art).

For younger artists this is the most important decision they will ever have to make in their lifetimes. Who are those to follow? Who is that (my) role model adapted to my time? Pick one, pick 2, not more. In my experience, the sooner you find she/he, the better your work and life is going to be. How early in your artist life you decide is going to make all the difference. An early start allows for the time needed to learn about everything around the world of art. Separating fact from fiction takes education and experience. Focus, don’t allow distractions, not many are as lucky as Picasso and Guston.

mls

5/07/2007 03:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes-you made my point better than i did--PS-my post was not to demonize specific classes, really-who wouldn't use every advantage at hand??

But rather just drawing conclusions between the widening gap between the diferent economic classes in society, and to see that reflected in the works that are widely known in art world centers as a result of those economic divisions.

The solutions are very complex. It's easier for me to just point it out and question it ... :)

-hlta

5/07/2007 03:22:00 PM  
Anonymous eleventh hour said...

htla, i apologize for my totally immature response to you in the previous post, i find the topic frustrating. more and more i feel that artists totally waste their time trying to find something to blame for their lack of success rather than strategizing ways to navigate the current field. certainly, a person who comes from money has an advantage, but isn't that advantage superficial? if you want it bad enough, and you believe in what you are doing you will find a way to do it. would you produce different work if your resources were different? probably, but i don't think it matters.

5/07/2007 04:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No hard feelings 11th hour, I suppose it is too easy to be negative and defeatist , I see your point here...

And these gems too:

(sunil)"Will the art that I am creating resonate and have meaning in a hundred or two hundred years from now?"

and

(mls): Who is that (my) role model adapted to my time? Pick one, pick 2, not more. In my experience, the sooner you find she/he, the better your work and life is going to be.

thanks for the uplifting posts everyone.
-hlta

5/07/2007 05:09:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

Purity? The Abstract Expressionists? DeKooning's wife was a reviewer for ArtNews. Lee Krasner was a major art world networker. Artists vacationed with Clement Greenberg and changed their painting styles to get praise from him. And let's not even mentioned how many of them slept with Peggy Guggenheim...

5/07/2007 05:55:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Some random responses:

While it is highly probable that the Ab-Ex era is viewed with a high degree of romanticism I do think what distinguishes it from art practice today is the clarity of purpose that is not often found today.

Group clarity vs. individual clarity of purpose, perhaps, but being an individualist, I'm not so sure that's a distinction of superiority.

I too appreciated Sunil's comment on the post from the other day, esp. the link to the Jed Perl article.

Working on a post on the Perl article...hopefully ready for tomorrow.

When we start to look at art that is currently displayed in some of our really high end galleries, I somehow fail to see a lot of the art passing this muster.

Consider how much art that was on display in high end galleries in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, etc. that you could say the exact same thing about though. We have the pleasure (?) of sifting through all of the contemporary choices up now in person. What we think of as art passing this muster from previous eras, though, has the very important advantage of having already been vetted for us (and some of it still sucks, IMO). There were clearly bad paintings and sculptures being made and exhibited back then as well, but we don't have to wade through those.

Pluralism needs to be resisted, especially when it comes to the writing of history

I'm not sure I understand why. I'll admit to being somewhat out of my depth here (but since when has that stopped me, eh???) so gently correct me if I'm wrong, but can't Pluralism be treated as Mannerism had before it in the narrative? (In fact, I think we're entering the post-pluralism, neo-mannerism phase, but that's another post).

I wonder how good an example is Philip Guston? Only later in life, when he changed styles, was his work less acclaimed and studied

Fair enough. I was using him as an example of someone who was on the verge of being delegated an "also ran" until a group of younger artists "discovered" him and raised him up to "god" status.

And let's not even mentioned how many of them slept with Peggy Guggenheim...

Come now, Lisa. We have to give Bambino some juicy gossip to keep him awake here...name names. ;-)

5/07/2007 07:19:00 PM  
Anonymous eleventh hour said...

i can't help thinking of dan colen, ryan mcginley, and dash snow on the cover of new york magazine a few months ago and jackson pollock on the cover of life in 1949. is it that different?

5/07/2007 07:23:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Question: If you suddenly hit it big for the work you’re doing, would your art be any less “pure” for the fame it receives? Would you?

Question: If you tailor your work to certain audiences (i.e. making “sofa size” paintings), the sale of which allows you to give up your gig at Starbucks/BurgerKing/Pearl Paint/wherever and spend more time in the studio so that you can also make the kind of work you really want to make—and actually have the time and materials to do it, are you selling out?

Question: If you make the rounds of galleries and openings and meet artists, critics, curators and then find yourself in a network that offers opportunities to show, get reviewed, and be invited to events like art fairs or, are you making a smart career move (and having fun in the process) or are you being a careerist?

By the way, thank you, Lisa, for your welcome perspective on the Ab Ex painters. And if I may add to it, how “pure” was it that the women supported the men’s careers but no one was supporting the women’s?

5/07/2007 07:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Careful Liza, talking about dead people is only gossip. But if we move to the live ones somebody is going to get hurt. Proof enough was nobody wanted to rat out on the sellers of art reviews so abundant in NYC. We all are a little corrupt.

mls

5/07/2007 07:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

....and when I say hurt, I mean reputation and stuff, you know, emotionally...

mls

5/07/2007 07:47:00 PM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

This is simply too wonderful for words. Written by John Mandel, here is a appetizer:

A long time ago, as a neophyte, I had a large piece in the Whitney Annual, and I was working the opening crowd vigorously as I had seen my elders do. I tried to move as they did: sulky, circumspect, effecting the sang-froid of a new elite, a costume not of the expressive lunatic, but of the intellectual. I recognized the hip young dealer Klaus Kertess, a tall, lean, dour man; I made my way to him, walking the walk, and introduced myself. As we began to speak, suddenly god and physics deserted me, and I fell down. Stunned, I lay on my back, my face an inch from his wing-tips.

5/07/2007 09:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mattera:
I guess I am the only one interested in answering your questions...+++here+++

Question: If you suddenly hit it big for the work you’re doing, would your art be any less “pure” for the fame it receives? Would you?
++++No. Don't worry. Is just old fashion envy, believe me, I know a couple hundred artists. They can be sometimes a pathetic bunch. And don't get me started on self appointed cultural arbiters and a few curators.++++

Question: If you tailor your work to certain audiences (i.e. making “sofa size” paintings), the sale of which allows you to give up your gig at Starbucks/BurgerKing/Pearl Paint/wherever and spend more time in the studio so that you can also make the kind of work you really want to make—and actually have the time and materials to do it, are you selling out?

++++No. Just don't sign those big sofa ones with your name. Start a company dear and if you are good you will have 2 amazing careers. Some many have done it. That's the worst kept secret in NY. Plenty of people with 2 good jobs out there.++++

Question: If you make the rounds of galleries and openings and meet artists, critics, curators and then find yourself in a network that offers opportunities to show, get reviewed, and be invited to events like art fairs or, are you making a smart career move (and having fun in the process) or are you being a careerist?

+++Not careerist. You are an artist in NY or London or Berlin...period. If you don't like to go out move to Wichita! If many of you pure souls do it my rent here would be lower. And take most of the bars with you.++++

By the way, thank you, Lisa, for your welcome perspective on the Ab Ex painters. And if I may add to it, how “pure” was it that the women supported the men’s careers but no one was supporting the women’s?

+++I wonder when women are going to wake up. Also, she forgot to mention rich gay lovers and admirers.++++

5/07/2007 07:39:00 PM

mls

5/08/2007 06:18:00 PM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

Ive decided I like exalt better than exult. exult sounds dirty;)

5/09/2007 12:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like exuilt.

5/09/2007 07:35:00 AM  

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