Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Perl's "Laissez-faire Aesthetics"

Hmmm.... Ask and you shall receive.

As Sunil pointed out in the thread where I complain there are no real controversies in contemporary art, Jed Perl offered
a text in the New Republic back in February that is still sparking a lively debate (if you're too hurried to register, someone copied the full text here). In a nutshell, Perl argues that the line between high and low art has become too blurred in contemporary fine art. He says we've entered the age of laissez-faire aesthetics, which he defines via the notion that it's widely believed that "any experience that anyone can have with a work of art is equal to any other." He suggests that this blurring has been in the works for a while now (by Pop artists and "Bad" painting artists predominantly), but he notes what he sees as a defining difference between the art made by the pioneers of such explorations and artists working now:

Yet there are differences between garbage then and garbage now. Pop Art and "Bad" Painting were self-consciously ironic; they depended on the existence of a standard that was being mocked or from which one was registering a dissent. Irony, even in the whatever-the-market-will-bear forms that it often assumed in the 1980s and 1990s, was generally accompanied by at least the afterglow of a moral viewpoint. The artists were mocking something. They had a target. This is what has now changed. Laissez-faire aesthetics makes a mockery of nothing. Even irony is too much of an idea. It treats everything equally.
Good fodder.

Perl offers pages and pages of support for this position, but it seems to me he builds his central premise on top of a three-legged stool, two legs of which are a bit too wobbly for me, and one leg of which strikes me as solid as Gibraltar. The wobbly legs are 1) his somewhat forced assertion that this all stems from intellectual laziness posing as populism (made all the more wobbly by his repeated misreadings or intentional misuse of Sotheby's Tobias Meyer's term "democracy of access") and 2) his interpretation of Currin and Yuskavage's (to use his examples) blend of high and low signifiers in their unquestionably high-art paintings. The leg that's solid is summarized in his assertion that there is a significant difference between popular culture and high art:

The trouble is that fewer and fewer people are willing to recognize the fundamentally different nature of various forms of cultural experience. And make no mistake, there are essential distinctions that must be made. It is in the very nature of popular culture that its pleasures are ones that we share with a wide range of people simultaneously. And it is in the very nature of high art that its pleasures are ones that we experience as individuals. To insist upon this distinction is not to say that one experience is better and one is worse, it is only to clarify the character of each experience.
But let me back up to the wobbly legs.

Populism and the "Democracy of Access" Confusion

Perl asserts that a public that hasn't bothered to accept Modernism (which he seems to approve of) still wants to buy into the romanticism of the Modernist mystique:

One of the strange facts of our time is that although Picasso and Mondrian and Pollock are household names, the middle-class public has never entirely accepted modern art, never fully embraced its mystery and its magic. Even in the face of this deep distrust, however, the public has assimilated the old bohemian belief in a community of artists as a sort of freely established aristocracy, perhaps seeing here another version of the "democracy of access."
Perl stretches three times to work this phrase offered by an art world authority, "democracy of access," into his text. Each time moving further from its original meaning. The only reason I could gather he did this was to help underscore his assertion that what drove the "big spenders" of the early 1960s to boast "about how much fun they were having now that they had sloughed off the serious themes of the mid-century abstractionists" in turning from AbEx to Pop was some sense of social equality. It's a muddled position, in my opinion, and a bit weak, as Meyer clearly used that term only to refer to open access to artwork via the auction houses (rather than having to hope a gallery would let you purchase something you wanted if you waited long enough and dance the right steps), not, as Perl, by twisting it this way and that way and wrangling it away from its original meaning, eventually suggests:

The argument for equalization is often presented as if it were a plea for populism, for a "democracy of access."
It's a pithy phrasing, so I understand why Perl wanted to run with it, but how hard he had to work to get it there makes me doubt the premise. On this point, I hope he tries again.

Currin and Yuskavage

Perl dislikes the paintings of John Currin and Lisa Yuskavage. Really, really dislikes them. In fact the only thing he seems to dislike more than their paintings are the people who collect them:

It hardly matters that what Currin doesn't know about figure painting would fill volumes, since his collectors know even less, if that is possible.
With an irrational leap in logic like that, it's a bit difficult for me to take his other opinions on Currin and Yuskavage seriously, but as he uses their work throughout his text (almost always in conjunction with resentment about how much they cost, mind you) to make his points, we're forced to put our sense of that on hold and venture forward. What I will address in his assessment is what I consider a rather limited view of their respective projects:

The paintings by Currin and Yuskavage that are now going for hundreds of thousands of dollars are engineered for an audience that believes that a work of art can satisfy radically disparate and even contradictory attitudes and appetites, and satisfy them consecutively or concurrently-- it hardly matters. A painting is simply what everybody or anybody says it is, what everybody or anybody wishes it to be.
You'll recall that Perl's central complaint about their work is that it targets nothing. He sees only [updated clarification/correction: something less than even] irony .... but I think he's entirely missing the point. Unlike the Pop or "Bad" painting artists, whose work Perl accepts because they were mocking something, Yuskavage and Currin are NOT mocking anything [because] they're totally sincere [not because they don't care as Perl asserts]. What Perl can't seem to grasp is they're just as serious painters as their predecessors; they're simply changing subject matter and being more honest about their influences (i.e., they did watch Disney, even if they also read Homer).

I can't be too harsh on Perl for missing this. It took me quite a while to understand it myself, but now that I get it, I trust what Yuskavage and Currin are doing. One artist working in a similar vein helped me understand this with an example. He noted that rather than from a Bible story or epic poem or classical literature, some of the lessons about morality and being a good person he carries with him were learned from Pop culture (he used the example of the wisdom of Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, who really is the same philosopher warrior you'll find throughout the stuff they made you read in high school, only with a light saber). Truly and sincerely, that's where he learned them. To then pretend those lessons, which make him the person he is, are beneath his art because of their non-high-art origins is to be dishonest. Further, to suggest that popular culture subjects or themes or styles cannot become the subject of high art ignores more or less all of art history, really. We now automatically associate high-art status to classical themes not because they started out as such (most of them were borne out of popular stories) but because we've seen the high-art products of artists who decided to treat them as such. That, to my mind, is what Currin and Yuskavage are doing, and I see nothing inconsistent about it.

Difference between Pop Culture and High Art

Having said that, I really liked Perl's definition of the difference between popular culture and high art. Again, its essence:

It is in the very nature of popular culture that its pleasures are ones that we share with a wide range of people simultaneously. And it is in the very nature of high art that its pleasures are ones that we experience as individuals.
The fact that he can't seem to experience the pleasures of Currin's or Yuskavage's work as an individual doesn't take away from his definition's truth for me.

Personally, I feel what Currin and Yuskavage are doing is perhaps only laying the groundwork for great works to come, but someone has to begin to do so, and I give them credit for taking on this highly complex task of reaching beyond the preordained "high art" realms and bringing a wider range of the contemporary experience, in which popular culture is ubiquitous, and therefore entirely inescapable, into their worldviews and work.

What Perl misses, IMO, is that these artists are not saying all art [experiences are] equal, but rather that an openness to all influences is more honest. It still takes a fine artist to channel those influences into high art, but to pretend one's sense of sexuality, for example, came from watching opera or whatever, when it really came from reading porn, is disingenuous. So is to pretend that in this day and age one's worldview is not heavily influenced by popular culture. The question is not how to block out popular culture, but rather how to seriously and sincerely incorporate the influence it clearly had. I'm not saying they've found the best way to do this yet, but Currin and Yuskavage are leading the way toward that place.

Labels:

74 Comments:

Anonymous jason said...

With such an awesome title ("Laissez-faire Aesthetics") it's too bad that Perl's article is so misdirected. I thought he was going to make a connection between the contemporary art world and the laissez-faire capitalists who control it. Now that would have been interesting!

Perl has something like a right-wing view of aesthetics. He essentially wants an elite hierarchy of culture, but wants to be the one with the power to control it. What he doesn't realize is that, even with the appearance of a so-called "democracy of access," the elite stratification of culture remains safely in place. It's just that the taste of the art elite has passed Perl by; he's stuck in the aesthetic of the old elite.

His article is really about his desire to impose his aesthetic on everyone else. Unfortunately for Perl, it takes more than a cranky article to accomplish that feat -- the day of the influential art critic has long since passed. He's going to need a lot more money, and maybe even some political clout, if he wants to have any control over the shape of high art.

5/08/2007 10:51:00 AM  
Blogger Molly Stevens said...

But if high art is an individual experience, what makes it "fine." History? When it becomes popular?

And, with museums and galleries having become mass tourist attractions, can we really hope for intellectual rigor in that atmosphere? In other words, doesn't there need to be an elite for there to be high art, and isn't that secretly, embarrassingly desireable?

5/08/2007 11:02:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

High art is defined through retrospective reflection.
Popular culture is a high art incubator.

5/08/2007 11:40:00 AM  
Anonymous ho with hair of many textures said...

Ed -

Finally, I get, a little bit, what Currin & Yuskavage are doing. It's like when people complain that rap & hip-hop are perpetuating negative views of women and the rappers say they're just reflecting back (their) reality. I've always found Currin's & Yuskavage's work repugnant, but I can see the point that they're just expressing and reflecting their influences (porn, cartoons, the aesthetic crap that were exposed to as children in the 70's).
Thanks for that insight.

5/08/2007 12:13:00 PM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

This is interesting! Could it be that a result of the disolving of the boundaries between pop culture and high art is that if an artist makes work refecting pop culture (i.e. over-sexualization of women), that artist is not critiquing from the outside but, in fact, contributing to the culture from the inside?

Do we assume that art regarding sex can no longer be an individual subjective response (high art) but only a shared pleasure (pop culture)?

As an artist, I have been reading about (and feeling) the warriness of critique, the seeming insincerity of it (or at least of ONLY that). But what power do artists lose WITHOUT critique?

Or is it that pop culture has entered our lives to such a degree that artists can no longer keep a critical distance, hence the ineffectiveness of critique, hence the insincerity, hence the warriness?

5/08/2007 02:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am going to sit this one out.

mls
...btw: I decided to stop reading Artworld Salon. Their criticism of America is foolish, facile and inaccurate. As someone watching the London/GB art scene for almost 20 years I can say their latest post is bulls...

5/08/2007 02:40:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

...what Jason said!

5/08/2007 04:12:00 PM  
Anonymous bnon said...

It's funny that Perl picks on Y. and C.. because they are retro and retrograde, respectively. In other words, he picks on them because they are among the most successful conservative artists around--and they're just not getting it right. It's an odd way of trying to indict the debased state of art in general. It's as if he can't even talk about the more outre art out there. He seems a little dismissable to me.

PS I'm sure you haven't missed me, Ed, but I've had too much work at my day job to post anything. Bnon

5/08/2007 04:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Jason said: the day of the influential art critic has long since passed.

I don't know if this day ever really existed. Greenberg was a rock star for a little while, but post-war art made him famous, not the other way around. Ask his latter-day disciples about Jules Olitski someday.

Molly Stevens said: if high art is an individual experience, what makes it "fine."

Fine art distinguishes itself by challenging or impressing viewers. Popularity still comes into play, history weeds out the also-rans, and retrospective reflection is important to thoughtful observers, but those are only helpers. The avant-garde is made of people who are more experienced with art, and thus less easily impressed or challenged.

I've always liked John Currin, but never liked Yuskavage. I think she's become what she purportedly mocks: a high-volume producer of soft-focus images of unusually proportioned and sexualized women. I think that's what Mark Creegan is talking about above when he mentions "contributing to the culture from the inside." It was a one- or two-trick pony at best, and her l33t sk1lz just ain't as mAdd as Currin's.

I also like Dana Shutz a great deal. I'd compare her to Gaugin. Gaugin used "primitive" shapes, colors and models in the execution of "classical" compositions, subjects and insights. I see Shutz in exactly the same light.

5/08/2007 05:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

(Otherwise spelled Schutz and Gauguin, of course. Dammit.)

5/08/2007 07:11:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I read a fair bit about Currin -- and interviews with him -- during the argument on my blog after my re-review of his last show. And the sense I get is not that he's being totally sincere at all. The sense I get is that he's completely at sea. He can't figure out what people want, so he's grasping at whatever he can and seeing what sells. His career began when he painted a portrait of Bea Arthur topless -- which was not a sincere attempt at addressing his pop culture roots or anything like that. It was a goof, nothing more. Only during a studio visit did someone take note of it, and Currin saw that and ran with it. Since then he's managed to parlay his meager painting talent into a career.

I think the lack of distinction you make, Ed, between the "pop culture" of the Old Masters and our current pop culture is unfortunate. Yes, Bible stories, Greek myths, and traditional tales may have been popular; yes, they may have informed the high art of the age. However, to equate that with today's pop culture is just wrong. Obi-Wan Kenobi is a manufactured product, whereas Tiresias, to take one example, is the end result of years and years of oral tradition. The Greek myths or the stories of the Old Testament evolved organically from the fertile soil of thousands of artistic souls; Yoda was invented by a half-assed screenwriter and a team of puppeteers.

Modern pop culture is entirely manufactured to drive consumption. This is hugely different from the pre-media pop culture, which grew to reflect, transmit, and accommodate human needs, desires, and emotions across many cultures and ages. To compare the two is to compare a California redwood to the poion ivy vine clinging to its bottommost branches.

High art is about reaching the deepest parts of what it is to be human. Anything incorporating pop culture is bound to be dated and shallowly rooted because its source is too flimsy to support anything more. Regardless of sincerity. That's why so much of pop-inflected art seems to be insincere, ironic, and flatulent -- because its roots are too weak to appear any other way.

Artists shouldn't be reduced to dumpster divers, but that's where we are today.

5/08/2007 10:01:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I think the lack of distinction you make, Ed, between the "pop culture" of the Old Masters and our current pop culture is unfortunate. Yes, Bible stories, Greek myths, and traditional tales may have been popular; yes, they may have informed the high art of the age. However, to equate that with today's pop culture is just wrong. Obi-Wan Kenobi is a manufactured product, whereas Tiresias, to take one example, is the end result of years and years of oral tradition. The Greek myths or the stories of the Old Testament evolved organically from the fertile soil of thousands of artistic souls; Yoda was invented by a half-assed screenwriter and a team of puppeteers.

No fair switching characters to make your point, Chris. ;-P

Obi-Wan is also the end result of years and years of oral tradition. The position he plays in the drama is the time-tested wise mentor-father figure who guides the young hero. It's classic through and through. The names and locations have changed, but the essence of the story and the morality tale it carries is consistent.

Besides, if the artist I noted truly learned a valuable lesson from that puppet, does it matter? Should he seek out the same lesson in some loftier form to please someone else's sense of high art? Isn't that a bit fake?

If he comes to some deeper understanding via some other source, that's great. But to deny his true source for that part of himself strikes me as posing.

5/09/2007 08:16:00 AM  
Blogger Sunil said...

Ed,
I liked your interpretation of artists trying to critique popular culture and the associated parallels involving popular culture of the antiquities - however the point that we are missing is the following:
Popular culture of the antiquities had their time to mature before being exploited as parables of virtue or vice by the artists of yore. Today, the artist’s response is more 'knee-jerky' because they do not have the calming effects of the lens of time to filter out the good from the bad of pop culture. Solo shows and mid career retrospectives of half baked artists add to the confusion. Added to this, when certain artists paint outlandish versions of male fantasies, I am not too sure if they are critiquing it rather than parlaying and exploiting the viewers hidden desires simmering underneath. It is the lack of 'deep thought and meaning' (which may have been a characteristic of high culture) and its consequent reduction in today’s works that Jed may be lamenting (although like I mentioned previously, some of his views seemed too radical/opinionated).
Or, maybe I am just old fashioned and out of touch.

Thanks for putting the time and effort into this analysis.

5/09/2007 08:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Ed, this is a thoughtful reading of Perl's essay, which in turn is an excellent complaint. His distinction between popular culture and high art is one for the ages.

The Democracy of Access angle may be a bit of a stretch, but there's something to it. The current market, in all its cash-surfeited glory, operates by legitimizing middlebrow taste. Appeals for better taste are extremely difficult to make positively, because good art is not defined by standards and the ability to detect it, which we call taste, operates intuitively. Negatively, however, he at least has a shot. He makes a case that the alleged virtue of access in its various forms runs contrary to the private experience of high art. He shows that Currin's and Yuskavage's works fail in ways that point to serious miscalibrations in the way that the contemporary market assigns value, and the result is a "flattening of all artistic experience."

I don't think that Perl was arguing that we should "block out" popular culture, as you put it, but to recognize it as such, to recognize high art as such, and understand that these are not the same experience. Your assertion that Currin and Yuskavage are reflecting modern myths, if you'll allow me to paraphrase it that way, may be apt. But artists like Kathe Kollwicz, Balthus, Bruno Schulz, Franz Massereel, Philip Guston, Stuart Davis, and many others have demonstrated that you can draw from contemporary sources and current events without producing cynical baloney like Currin and Yuskavage do.

I think Currin and Yuskavage's work represents profound misunderstandings about what makes popular culture so wonderful in the first place. Yesterday I was looking at Hopper's painting of the drugstore advertising Ex-Lax on the awning. There's a way to work with the modern story that results in sublimity, and he proves it.

5/09/2007 08:46:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed sez:
No fair switching characters to make your point, Chris. ;-P

Hey, at least I didn't use Mace Windu.

Obi-Wan is also the end result of years and years of oral tradition.

I thought you'd say that. But it's not accurate: Obi-Wan is one person's response (or, more accurately, a composite of a number of people's response) to the oral tradition. But the character hasn't existed long enough to join the tradition.

That was my point: Greek myths, Bible stories, Hebrew tradition (Lilith comes to mind) -- the sources for the illustrations of the Old Masters -- had hundreds upon hundreds of years to be filtered, modified, handled, and reconstituted through the culture. Obi-Wan's been around for twenty-five years. The Star Wars "saga," while ostensibly rooted in Joseph Campbell's anthropology (I'd say it owes more to film serials of the 1930s), simply hasn't stood the test of time.

And that's the trouble with all of modern pop culture. None of it has stood the test of time. Surely some of it -- well, maybe -- will eventually be woven into the ten-thousand-year-long cultural tapestry. But not all of it, and not yet.

And yes, perhaps some incorporation into "high" art is the beginning of that. But I think it's still far too early.

Besides, if the artist I noted truly learned a valuable lesson from that puppet, does it matter? Should he seek out the same lesson in some loftier form to please someone else's sense of high art? Isn't that a bit fake?

I'm a Rush fan from way back. I've been listening to them for twenty-five years. Back when I was young, I thought they were the height of sophistication and intelligence. They introduced me to Ayn Rand and the Apollonian/Dionysian dichotomy, among other things.

When I got older, I realized that Rush was actually pretty shallow and childish. After all, when they were making their music, they weren't much older than kids themselves.

Nowadays I feel that sources like Rush have their place. Yes, they're immature. But so was I, and everyone has to start somewhere. 15-year-olds have to discover Objectivism and Greek psychological parallels eventually -- if they're smart, anyway -- so they might as well start with progressive rock lyrics.

That's how I've gone back to listening to Rush without wincing.

But still, these things need to be considered in their proper place. Obi-Wan or Yoda may be a fine place to begin learning about philosophy, but it's not where you stop. Not if you're going to be a grown-up. As a jumping-off point for a child, they make perfect sense. As a subject for adult art, they're unsuitable.

So I'd argue that if an artist truly learned a valuable lesson from a puppet who sounds suspiciously like Fozzie the Bear, that artist is still far too immature to be a good artist, or even a mediocre one. They're still doing student work with student subjects.

5/09/2007 09:06:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Obi-Wan is one person's response (or, more accurately, a composite of a number of people's response) to the oral tradition.

Yes, he's a composite, but so are most of the other hero mentors. Change the names and weapons of Star Wars and you have a classic Greek battle story.

Again, the point is the specific lessons taken away from the source, not how time-tested the source is. I'll agree that there are deeper sources to draw other lessons from, but what I'm seeing artists do is bring it all together and acknowledge via one vehicle (sometimes a Pop related one, sometimes some other source) the full spectrum of influences, seeking a more honest expression of what makes them who they are. It's a tricky terrain, I'll admit. There's safety in hiding behind the classics (they fill in the blank spaces for the viewer whether the contemporary artist knew they had any blanks or not), but it's not as intellectually honest, IMO.

It is the lack of 'deep thought and meaning' (which may have been a characteristic of high culture) and its consequent reduction in today’s works that Jed may be lamenting

I'm not so sure there is a lack of "deep thought and meaning" in what C and Y are attempting. It seems rather difficult and complex to me. An unchartered balancing influences no different to my mind that Guston's Nixon paintings. The question eventually (as it always has been) is how well they're painted, no?

Yesterday I was looking at Hopper's painting of the drugstore advertising Ex-Lax on the awning. There's a way to work with the modern story that results in sublimity, and he proves it.

Dotting the horizon with indications of time and place is mere time-stamping to my mind. Reaching across all of history, which we, in the information age, have at our fingertips, and trying to present what it feels like to deal with this many constant influences, some of which demand to be dealt with because of how in-your-face they are, and trying to systhesize it all...that's hard.

I see what Currin and Yuskavage are trying to do as daring and complex and very much worth watching. Again, I'm not sure they've produced any masterpieces yet (the pioneers of such explorations don't always get to that point), but they're laying the groundwork for future masterpieces that will better express the staggering complexity of the modern experience, warts and all, without leaning on time-tested narratives, filling in the blanks on the hard parts, to do so.

5/09/2007 09:39:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed sez:
Yes, he's a composite, but so are most of the other hero mentors.

I mean Obi-Wan is a composite in the sense that a cathedral is a composite: No one person is responsible for the specific creation. Obi-Wan is George Lucas' screenplay and direction, Alec Guinness' acting, the many designers' costuming and props, the editor's choices, the director of photography's choices...

Movies, to my mind, are modern-day cathedrals, where many mostly nameless craftsmen put their skills in service of a large group project. The director is like the architect.

This is off topic, though.

Again, the point is the specific lessons taken away from the source, not how time-tested the source is.

But what I'm trying to say is an untested source -- pop culture -- cannot produce deep, important lessons. It can lead you to the sources of deep important lessons, but it can't produce them. Meditating on the pronouncements of Yoda will not get you anywhere profound; not the way, for example, Freud used the story of Oedipus to describe his psychological theories.

I'm seeing artists...acknowledge...the full spectrum of influences, seeking a more honest expression of what makes them who they are.

My response, again but more bluntly, is this: If Obi-Wan is what makes you who you are today, you're puerile. And your art will be sophomoric at best.

You're right in that artists can hide behind the classics; if these stories don't mean any more to you than Star Wars does, your art will still most likely suck.

But what I'm trying to say here, ultimately, is exactly the opposite of what the art world's been saying for the last half-century, which is that there is a line between high art and pop art, there is a line between highbrow and lowbrow, there is a hierarchy of culture.

5/09/2007 10:36:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed also sez:
Reaching across all of history, which we, in the information age, have at our fingertips, and trying to present what it feels like to deal with this many constant influences, some of which demand to be dealt with because of how in-your-face they are, and trying to systhesize it all...that's hard.

I agree with you here. One hundred percent.

I disagree that this is what Currin or Yuskavage -- or most artists today -- are actually doing. But I do agree that it's hard.

5/09/2007 10:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Franklin said: Currin and Yuskavage are "cynical baloney," and Hopper's art "results in sublimity."

Heaven help me. I can't agree with any part of this comparison. Hopper calling Currin cynical is the mountain calling the molehill an obstruction.

Hopper's art is some of the most cynical, pessimistic and least life-affirming work I've ever seen. He makes interesting use of chiaroscuro, but like Chris says about Rush above, his over-dramatic handling of light borders on the cartoonish. What's the swearword in modern art? "Theatrical"? Tell me Hopper isn't theatrical. Almost every painting looks like a stage set or movie still. (Funny. By invoking Hopper not only have you improved my estimation of Currin, but of Cindy Sherman too.)

His best works are architectural, because he can't draw the human form at all. His best anatomical rendering is a self-portrait which would never have earned him a high-school degree, much less an MFA. Which may also explain why his works are so devoid of humanity. At least Currin's anatomical renderings are nowhere near as bad as Hopper's, and at least Currin's works affirm life by raising our spirits, even if it is in mockery.

But more to the point, Hopper's America is a desolate wasteland of over-philosophical and possibly suicidal depressives. I can't help but think that his image of a bleak, depressed America contributes to his popularity overseas. (I've had the privilege of attending a huge recent retrospective of Hopper's paintings in Europe, so I can attest to my personal impressions of both the art and the crowd.)

If someone wants to advance an argument about cynicism in Currin by using Hopper as a comparison, I would suggest at least giving Currin credit for being honest about it.

5/09/2007 10:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Henry, that's not what I meant by cynical. Hopper's works may be cynical in tone, but they're honest statements. Currin's works are cynical statements. We'll need to agree on that before I defend Hopper's work from your assessment of it.

The question eventually (as it always has been) is how well they're painted, no?

Yep. And there's a massive problem here in both Currin and Yuskavage. Painting well is not the sole concern for either of them. I get the sense from Guston that whatever else was on his mind as he worked, the final thing had to kick ass as a painting. I get the sense from C and Y that they'll bail out as soon as the run through a moderately successful iteration of that thing they've become known for.

5/09/2007 11:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

"they run"

5/09/2007 11:20:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

If Obi-Wan is what makes you who you are today, you're puerile. And your art will be sophomoric at best.

For the love of ... No one is saying that everything one is was made by one other person, story, or whatever, but rather that certain lessons (such as you must sometimes reach deep inside yourself to find the strength/courage to do what you know is right) are initally imparted to us via some pop culture source. To acknowledge that you learned that valuable lesson from some Hollywood entertainment, for me, goes a long way toward explaining the complexity of modern life with its bombardment of high-impact popular culture. No one's saying it defined the artist entirely, for Pete's sake. But it is a more honest acknowledgement of the constant flow of information, the way we learn from a range of sources, and how eventually it all has to get mixed up with who we are.

To insist someone being that honest is something less than someone following the same old academic, cannon-led path to enlightment strikes me as unimaginative and stubborn.

5/09/2007 11:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Chris said: But what I'm trying to say is an untested source -- pop culture -- cannot produce deep, important lessons. It can lead you to the sources of deep important lessons, but it can't produce them. Meditating on the pronouncements of Yoda will not get you anywhere profound; not the way, for example, Freud used the story of Oedipus to describe his psychological theories.

Yes, there's something wrong with using Yoda's worldview as a philosophical reference, but there's no reason to keep from trying to understand what it is about humanity that makes Yoda and Obi-Wan so popular. They're an enormous cultural phenomenon by any account, so they must be indicative of something. I think that's what you're saying, but I'm clarifying my own position.

I understood Warhol's Marilyns the day I saw a kid's bedroom on TV in the early 90s, with pictures of Michael Jordan plastered all over the walls. Jordan's face was practically a letter of the alphabet, its signifying power was so high, yet at the same time it almost became meaningless from such repetition. I wasn't raised in the Marilyn Monroe era, but I understood Warhol's narrative nonetheless. Warhol didn't use Marilyn to build his art upon, but used her image as a sign to illustrate a bigger point.

5/09/2007 11:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Warhol didn't use Marilyn to build his art upon, but used her image as a sign to illustrate a bigger point.

Which was?

5/09/2007 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger ec said...

I think painting is hugely important for Currin and Yuskavage, but, the self conscious aspect of their paintings intervenes and disrupts pictorial unity. Yuskavage and Currin painted to acknowledge their love for influences high and low. This was a necessity at the time they started out, when so much high art prevailed. Artistic intelligence is visual but, as usual, the waters need stirring to expand the optical palate. Yuskavage's early watercolors and Bad Girl paintings remain her best, most convinced work.
Other painters like Ridley Howard and Thomas Trosch construct convincing worlds. There's many more... the quality exists.
As to Perl and the discussion here, wouldn't archetypes, whether historical or recent, always possess an immediate and broad identification that feels relevant? As ripples emit from the center, new perceptions, and artists, emerge.
Perl's essay speaks of avant garde and kitsch grown up. I regret the aesthetics that reveal his hand, but champion his willingness to dig in and say something beyond political laissez faire agreement, to touch on quality. Still, I would hope any artist worth their salt will tire of cartoon's sharp edges in favor of more complex or modulated form. After a time there's nothing else worth looking at. Guston overlayed Krazy Kat with Piero. He fought to visualize his influences, to channel them. It's what a serious artist does, isn't it?

5/09/2007 11:37:00 AM  
Anonymous jason said...

Has anyone considered that maybe the whole pop-culture/high-art dichotomy is a false one? Most of the creative works that I respond to are neither. Pop culture can generally be described as pure mindless entertainment (which I enjoy, but in small doses). High art, on the other hand, is a social game (which even G. Richter admits) about taste (more specifically, a game that enforces a hierarchy about who's got taste and who doesn't).

I prefer art that is neither mindless entertainment, nor concerned with aiming for the top of the hierarchy of taste -- art that can not only be accessed by "a wide range of people simultaneously," but also contains pleasures "that we experience as individuals." There is a vast amount of space in between pop culture and high art.

Franklin wrote: "The current market, in all its cash-surfeited glory, operates by legitimizing middlebrow taste."

No, it mimics the look of middlebrow taste, but alters its meaning conceptually beyond the grasp of the general public. This is why I said earlier that Jed is mistaken in his belief that 'elite taste' has disappeared. He doesn't understand why someone like Currin produces 'high art' because Perl is using the old rules of high-art aesthetic evaluation. Today's high-art taste is something like a series of inside jokes that Perl doesn't get (and I wouldn't recommend trying). There is a common misunderstanding that Pop Art somehow brought pop culture and high art closer together. On the contrary, it made high-art taste even more exclusive. For how could the general public possibly understand why paintings of soup cans, executed with a minimal of painterly skill and seemingly easy to identify as 'low culture,' possibly be worth gazillions of dollars and epitomize the triumph of 20th century high culture?

Nothing better illustrates the twisted logic of post-modern high-art taste than the Damien Hirst photorealism paintings at Gagosian a couple years back. Nearly every critic panned the show as second rate photorealism, and yet the paintings sold like hotcakes for gazillions of dollars. Why? Well, there were whispers that Hirst had actually one-upped everyone by being ironic about being ironic about being ironic. He pulled a double, no, triple switch! What brilliance!!

5/09/2007 11:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Franklin, I don't know for certain what you mean by an honest statement, but if you're saying that Hopper was only showing depressing scenes because he was painting during a time of national economic depression, then I might agree with you; but then I might turn about and say Currin is painting mocking scenes because America is living in a time of abounding information and meta-analysis. If you're using "honest statement" to mean that Hopper is reflecting the overarching social philosophy of the time, then frankly I think Currin's got you covered.

I'd welcome any formal explanation of Hopper that disabuses me of my cynicism toward his work, but I'll warn you that you might be climbing uphill on that one.

I believe I stated Warhol's larger point above, but to sharpen the point a bit, Marilyn's face when Warhol used it was no longer the face of a person, but became an artistic symbol in and of itself, divorced from whoever or whatever Norma Jean may have been. There's a religious following out there whose artists have a couple of millenia of experience with that kind of thing. This technique doesn't have as much time-testing as those famous French caves do, but I hope that's not enough to disqualify it from consideration.

If you want to talk about the formal considerations of the Marilyns, then I won't lock horns with someone who has more expertise there. I like them as images per se, and I'm not going to try to make objective what must remain subjective. The only reason to discuss Warhol is to justify why he belongs in museums. I have no idea. His work interests me far more than the work of others. If you want to try to make subjective that which is currently objective, I'll meet you in the lobby later. I'll be in the galleries looking at pictures.

5/09/2007 11:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Sorry, I meant, "if you want to try to make objective that which is currently objective."

5/09/2007 11:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Henry said...

OMG. I give up. "Make objective that which is currently subjective." Sigh. Time for another mocha.

5/09/2007 11:59:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Jason, you make a good point about the false dichotomy of pop art versus high art. But I think we need to define our terms. When I say "high art" I don't mean "art which sells well" or "art which is worth a lot of money." I mean art which deeply moves the people who view it. A lot of what's in museums today is there, I think, because someone thought it belonged in a museum a long time ago and now it's been on the wall so long it's like sort of classic, you know? Like the blue whale in the Museum of Natural History, so many generations of schoolchildren have marched past it it's sort of supposed to be there.

However, a goodly amount of stuff in museums is there because it's really, really good. Because people look at it and feel something. Something beyond words -- that's what art is about, after all.

When I say "high art," that's what I mean. The stuff which we keep safe after centuries of fires, bombings, plague, famine, and cultural ennui, because we know that here is something which matters.

To me, there's no false dichotomy between pop culture and high art as I define it. It's false to equate the two.

I don't mean by all of this to say that there's some Aristotelian either/or going on. Of course pop culture will continue to exist, and of course it's fun and all. I like to make steak Diane occasionally, and I also buy a sack of White Castle burgers (once every ten years or so). You can have both.

I just think it's a mistake to put the two on the same level.

5/09/2007 12:04:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Oh, Henry, you can stop trying to correct yourself. We all understand. We all make tpyos ourselves. We know what you mean. Take it easy.

5/09/2007 12:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

No, it mimics the look of middlebrow taste, but alters its meaning conceptually beyond the grasp of the general public. ... He doesn't understand why someone like Currin produces 'high art' because Perl is using the old rules of high-art aesthetic evaluation.

Jason, this is one of the most self-satisfied notions in ciruclation in the art world right now. Actually, the market pushes things that are simple to grasp, or even just have an intellectual riff on - maybe not to the general public, but certainly to every person following the art world. Henry demonstrated it for me: Marylin's face "became an artistic symbol in and of itself, divorced from whoever or whatever Norma Jean may have been." This is easy, easy stuff, no disrespect to Henry. In terms of artistic sophistication, it is orders of magnitude below the act of putting yourself in front of a Warhol Marylin and detecting whether it's any good. It's easy because it can't be wrong. I could come back and say, no, it's not a divorce, it's a manigfication of the essence of Marylin into something even more real, and archetypal in the Jungian sense. There's a cant that builds up around discussions about contemporary art, and acceptance of its terms is a middlebrow act that bypasses taste and genuine connoiseurship. High art stayed pretty much where it was, but the middlebrow started thinking of itself as highbrow. This statement:

For how could the general public possibly understand why paintings of soup cans, executed with a minimal of painterly skill and seemingly easy to identify as 'low culture,' possibly be worth gazillions of dollars and epitomize the triumph of 20th century high culture?

...only marks the difference between the middlebrow and the lowbrow. It's the lowbrow group that can't parse awkward paintings of soup cans as art. It's middlebrow to say that those paintings are important and interesting. It's highbrow to say that compared to similar statements by, for example, Charles Demuth, they really aren't very good. Perl is a highbrow, and saying that he's using "old rules" is an example of the middlebrow trying to rise to the level of the highbrow by rhetorical force. It doesn't work, but enough of the people have been fooled enough of the time to make the market pump as furiously as it does.

America is living in a time of abounding information and meta-analysis.

Henry, is this really true? Has there ever been a time when total human knowledge was within any individual capacity to know? And are we really living in a time of meta-analysis? As far as I know, meta-analysis is practiced only by a subgroup of philosphers, academicians, and art worlders. It would be nice to think that that kind of of self-reflection was as tangible and pervasive as the physical facts of Hopper's beloved Gloucester neighborhoods. But it's not, and they don't equate. That kind of talk only flies for a certain middlebrow in-group, and Currin is making art for it.

5/09/2007 01:11:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Bravo, Franklin.

5/09/2007 01:21:00 PM  
Blogger Sunil said...

Chris,
You have said it well when you defined high art and the dichotomy of culture. I would also add ‘artist’s technique’ to your definition. It is an important arbiter in deciding the ‘art which deeply moves the people who view it’ factor also.
I look at it this way, if a museum was on fire and I were given a single chance to save a work of art and the choice was between van Gogh and Warhol, I would save the former. I like Warhol and his philosophy but van Gogh ‘moves’ me… Hey, but that's me...

5/09/2007 01:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Thanks, Chris. You know, there's a new Rush album out. Word is that it's a return to their old sound.

5/09/2007 02:05:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Sunil, I'd question whether technique is a requirement. Rousseau -- my favorite example -- was terrible, really bad. But his paintings have something missing from the very best academic realist.

Franklin, of course I know there's a new Rush album out. I've had pirated copies of two of the songs for at least a month! We all have our faults, and mine is that I'm a pathetic Rush fanboy.

You now all have license to disregard anything I ever write.

5/09/2007 02:27:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

You now all have license to disregard anything I ever write.

Huh? Had the old one expired and no one told us? ;-p

Perl is a highbrow, and saying that he's using "old rules" is an example of the middlebrow trying to rise to the level of the highbrow by rhetorical force.

You're gonna have to define "highbrow" in this context to get away with a swipe like that.

5/09/2007 02:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I'll get you a definition after I return from an afternoon painting trip to Arnold Arboretum with Supergirl. See ya!

5/09/2007 02:38:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

When I say "high art" I don't mean "art which sells well" or "art which is worth a lot of money." I mean art which deeply moves the people who view it.

That's such a subjective measure it's virtually meaningless. I know folks who will insist under torture that a Thomas Kinkade painting "deeply moves" them (and perhaps it does), but that hardly makes it high art.

To me, there's no false dichotomy between pop culture and high art as I define it. It's false to equate the two.

I see a strawman. No one has equated the two. The question is whether the subjects, styles, themes, etc. that one associates with popular culture can be used effectively, by talented artists, to produce high art. Unquestionably they can.

5/09/2007 02:41:00 PM  
Anonymous jason said...

franklin wrote: "Jason, this is one of the most self-satisfied notions in ciruclation in the art world right now."

Of course I agree, but that's because I think that the very notion of "high art" is self-satisfying (I hope you didn't assume that I support this phenomenon simply because I've described it). But more to the point, I'm opposed to the notion of "high art" because it establishes a cultural hierarchy in order to affirm social and political stratification.

What I originally meant to say about "high art" is that it is an institutional, systemic connotation -- one that is bestowed by the gatekeepers of the "high art" system (e.g., the top echelon of collector$, the ones pulling the $tring$ at the mu$eum$, etc.). You and I (and Jed Perl and even Edward_) have exactly zero power to influence what the art world considers "high art" -- although Edward_ might get there someday :-)

I think you are making the same argument that Perl tried to make (if I understand you correctly). He's saying that the art world has abandoned real "high art" and is instead promoting a kind of counterfeit "high art" (which you both consider to be middlebrow masquerading as highbrow). But I find it hard to believe that there's a universal, transcendent "high art" aesthetic, especially because Perl's notion of "high art" looks an awful lot like a very specific aesthetic that originated with a past group of "high art" gatekeepers (the old rules I spoke of before).

5/09/2007 02:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Franklin, I already equated Marilyn Monroe to the Virgin Mary in my statement above, so I think you're supporting my point that employing symbolism in art is a well-established tradition.

Today, however, we can run to wikipedia -- or a few decades ago, to our family home's personal encyclopedia -- and learn in an instant how to appreciate anything from ancient Greek art to contemporary Chinese. This level of access to information is quite unique to our age, and it's to be expected that today's art will try to take it for granted among its viewers.

And we are certainly very much meta-aware of ourselves, of our roles in society, and our place in [art] history. More to the point it is currently popular to express that type of knowledge and transact in it. "Being John Malkovich" was not written by Shakespeare. It's irrelevant whether there was no ability, no propensity, or no audience for that type of work 500 years ago. What's relevant is that it is very much a work of today.

Maybe in the old days semiotics and meta-analysis was only conducted in the realm of philosophers, and maybe you needed to ask your priest what that skull was doing in that painting, and maybe the strange foreign visitor would have to ask why there were freakin laser beams shooting out of the heads of that woman and the little baby on her lap, but in our modern age, one might say the "democracy of access" applies here as well. Just type "madonna child freakin laser beams" into google and sift through the hits.

P.S. I played bass in a garage band that played Tom Sawyer, YYZ, The Trees and a couple of other Rush tunes back in college. I never could master those brief but tricky little transitional passages in Spirit of Radio, tho. I never quite grasped where the beat was supposed to go.

5/09/2007 02:43:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed sez:
That's such a subjective measure it's virtually meaningless. I know folks who will insist under torture that a Thomas Kinkade painting "deeply moves" them (and perhaps it does), but that hardly makes it high art.

But I'm not talking about an individual judgement. I'm talking about a group judgement, a cultural judgement, made over a long span of time. Any painting could potentially move any particular viewer. For the culture as a whole, each single individual response is meaningless. It's only in the aggregate that the responses become meaningful. When thousands upon thousands over generations upon generations have viewed a work and found it worth preserving, that's high art.

The gatekeepers Jason wrote about can make short-term decisions which have some effect on this, but ultimately the culture decides. Like I wrote above, some paintings stay on the wall because they've sort of been there for a long time and no one wants quite to take them down, and the gatekeepers have plenty of control over those; but which works, in the long run, are valued and which are not is not a decision made by one small group or any individual.

I see a strawman. No one has equated the two. The question is whether the subjects, styles, themes, etc. that one associates with popular culture can be used effectively, by talented artists, to produce high art. Unquestionably they can.

I'm questioning. You are equating the two by saying pop culture and long-held oral traditions make equivalent foundations for good art. I'm saying they don't. I'm saying the subjects, styles, and themes of pop culture are too shallow and weak to support important human truths. Originally, you wrote that the Old Masters just painted from the pop culture of their day, and so were performing the same function as Currin or Yuskavage. I call bullshit. Campbell's Soup cans do not equal Noli me tangere.

5/09/2007 03:19:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

But I'm not talking about an individual judgement. I'm talking about a group judgement, a cultural judgement, made over a long span of time.

Sounds like you're mixing popular culture with high art to me. I'm a bit baffled by the notion that a work of art is defined as "high" if it deeply moves a group of people. That's the definition of popular culture, no?

You are equating the two by saying pop culture and long-held oral traditions make equivalent foundations for good art.

Careful there Chris. You're on the verge of arguing that only art can serve as the subject for high art.

5/09/2007 03:25:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

clarification:

on the verge of arguing that only high art can serve as the subject for high art.

5/09/2007 03:26:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed sez:
Sounds like you're mixing popular culture with high art to me. I'm a bit baffled by the notion that a work of art is defined as "high" if it deeply moves a group of people. That's the definition of popular culture, no?

Good lord, no. Pop culture -- popular culture -- isn't emotionally moving. It's too shallow for that. The trademarked Coca-Cola bottle may be aesthetically pleasing in its own way, but it's not high art. It's a bottle designed to a) functionally hold a beverage and b) convey the sense of the brand name and most importantly c) sell more Coca-Cola.

Now, I appreciate the Coke bottle for what it is. It's very good at what it does. It's a pop culture icon. But a pop culture icon isn't a symbol freighted with the weight of generations of psychological insight into what makes humans tick. It's a jerry-rigged construction designed by an individual or small group with a specific purpose in mind -- more often than not, to sell something.

I'm reminded of the story about the actual designer of the Brillo box seeing Andy Warhol's show of Brillo boxes. That was his box. He'd designed it as a craftsman working for a salary to sell Brillo, and here Andy was selling it as art. The designer was nonplussed.

Pop culture isn't emotionally deep. The only way it might seem so is if you're so shallow and stunted that real emotion is alien to you.

I know a woman who likes the work of Thomas Kinkade. She's got his designs on her checks (along with a quote from Exodus). When I expressed horror, she didn't go on about how moving his art was. She told me he was a great guy and a minister (or something -- I forget exactly). She's a fan, but even she'd admit his art is decorative. (Sadly, that's all a lot of people want out of art.)

Careful there Chris. You're on the verge of arguing that only art can serve as the subject for high art.

This depends on your definition of art. When I talk art, I mean the work of an individual or small group -- much like pop cultural artifacts, actually. The difference is a work of art deals with symbols with deeper meaning and connections. Those deeper meanings come from the culture -- not the froth on top, which is pop culture, but the true culture, that ten-thousand-year-long (or more) tapestry I mentioned earlier. Jung's collective unconscious. Maybe the Aboriginal Dreamtime.

The culture itself isn't art in the sense I mean, the same way a cathedral isn't art in that sense, either. It's of art, but it's not art.

The only thing, to me, that can serve as the subject for high art is the human nervous system. Its reactions to the world of sensation, its recordings, its various states of ecstasy or agony. Other creations -- stories, symbols, dances -- which arise out of these things are often the subjects of great art, also.

5/09/2007 04:18:00 PM  
Anonymous james leonard said...

There are several good discussions here. The overall character is interesting enough to coax me out of lurking...

A few posts earlier, EC said: Artistic intelligence is visual

At risk of derailing, I disagree with this assertion. As of late, I'm working with strong faith that artistic intelligence is integrated.

I feel this somehow relates to the discussion. Deeply nuanced simultaneities can thrive when activated by good works of art. But when probed under the logic of analytical language, many of these crumble into facile self contradictions.

I find myself responding most to the thread between Edward and Chris Rywalt. I can't help but agree with both sides of many of their points: oral tradition and time testing, the sophomoric nature of Rush, the fluctuating and somewhat circular probings of the initial definitions of high and pop culture, Edward's understanding of Obi Wan not as just a modern untested hero-philosopher but perhaps a Lama-like reincarnation of previous hero-philosphers.

Instead of heaping more analysis on this already thorough conversation, I feel I can only offer up a link to perhaps a complicated demonstration of some of these topics. This video is a lo-res youtubed version of an HD Portrait I completed last year. Over the course of seventy minutes an aspiring actor and lifelong Captain America fan recounts the entire history of the Captain America mythos. (The work was shot before Cap was killed in Marvel's alegorical Civil War plotline.) For me, Lazzarus' delivery oscillates between embarrassingly rehearsed and amateurish and touchingly boyish and sincere. Likewise, the subject of his monologue, Captain America oscillates between mythic and trivial, at one turn a comic book trope and at another something much larger.

I think it was the repeated references to oral tradition that drew me out of lurking to post today. As I worked on this piece and spent the months of preproduction fact-checking and fleshing out the improv outline for Lazzarus' performance, I began to understand comic books and their highly reiterative nature as a modern version of oral tradition. The same darned origin stories get told and retold, getting both distilled and corrupted with each iteration. After 70 or so years, what has been arrived at is a consensus mythology.

As a side note, I am currently wrapping up post-production on the sister piece to Captain America: another HD video portrait called Magic in which a micro-celebrity punk rock fetish model recounts her decade as a horse rescuer. Her narrative ends with her mare being put down and losing the foal. Her telling left my crew in tears. In many many ways it is the gendered opposite of Captain America. A private story, a naturalistic story, her features, skin tone, shirt color, stature--all of them the inside-out version of Lazzarus. And together, the two are teaching me an aweful lot about the nature of storytelling, oral tradition, and the topical versus the timeless.

Anyways, thanks all for the insightful discussion on this topic. Like I said, this stuff is pretty close to my own work these days. Hopefully the youtube demonstration is of value to at least some of you.

Cheers.

5/09/2007 06:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

You're gonna have to define "highbrow" in this context to get away with a swipe like that.

Ed, the brows are marked by varying refinement of taste. If you'll permit me a wine analogy: Highbrow taste can distinguish between years of a single vinyard. Middlebrow taste can distinguish between varietals. Lowbrow taste can distinguish between red and white.

So in art, highbrow taste is concerned with the highest reaches of the art, and fine distinctions between excellent efforts and superlative ones. Lowbrow taste is concerned with anything that tugs on the human psyche in any way. Middlebrow taste is concerned with the parameters of highbrow taste, but can't or won't access it. Incidentally, some people can become extremely good at low culture, just like others can excel at high culture. I caught the last half of Enter the Dragon the other night. This movie, pretty much by any metric, is completely ridiculous, but Bruce Lee is so awesome that it ends up not mattering. (Mind you, I wouldn't watch it twice.) I'm undecided whether one can achieve mastery in the middlebrow realm - the nature of middlebrow taste might preclude it.

I'm opposed to the notion of "high art" because it establishes a cultural hierarchy in order to affirm social and political stratification.

Jason, social and political stratification is affirmed by economics and brute force. Art is a footnote in that process. I realize that there are a lot of arguments to the above effect, but all the ones I've seen start with a priori assumptions about moral failings in the perceived oppressors, and then use hostile interpretations of their art to drum up evidence for those assumptions. That whole line of thinking is bankrupt.

I find it hard to believe that there's a universal, transcendent "high art" aesthetic, especially because Perl's notion of "high art" looks an awful lot like a very specific aesthetic that originated with a past group of "high art" gatekeepers (the old rules I spoke of before).

Whether art conforms to your aesthetic or Perl's or some collector's is beside the point. It's either good, bad, or something in between, and the only question is whether your taste is up to the job of detecting that. If some aspect of its quality wasn't universal, then you wouldn't be able to appreciate anything that was unfamiliar to you.

5/09/2007 06:53:00 PM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

I just cannot believe anyone can point to universal distinctions of taste like high/middle/lowbrow in art. With wine or clothing I can understand because these demand more objective analysis. I was at the mall yesterday for the first time in 9 months, my version of highbrow in there was Banana Republic - why? the clothes fit better, the material is finer quality, and they have a certain aesthetic I find appealing. The JC Penny clothing (the ones I could afford!) not so much , apparently camo is really in this season ;p

I dont mind distinguishing between pop culture and art. But locating art within such a heirarchy requires a single arbiter and reference point. I know, you may say that arbiter is all of humanity and the reference is the entire history of great art because of universal conditions. I dont deny that art appreciation involves refinement, but to say that is a universal state of agreement seems, to me, antithetical to art as a progressive and revolutionary force.

I am sure many here counterpoints to all the above.

5/09/2007 07:46:00 PM  
Blogger Concrete Phone said...

The argument doesn't make sense, the high art gatekeepers would be the ones who can distinguish between years of a single vineyards, because of their dedication, profession, and experience. As they are the gatekeepers then we have to get rid of the grapes in order to describe what the truer, current, internal, vineyard has to offer. This internal would have something to do with buttons and not how they are pushed, just that they are pushed. And if there are buttons, then this would suggest that there are 'universal visceral sense arousers', which then would get us back to the high low argument, though preclude the wine analogy, experience and professionally, in art. Which brings us back to a place where we are left sniffing the grapes that are not them in order to arrive at the benchmark.

Art is nothing but the highest state of subjectivity, and those who argue it can't possibly engage in that subjectivity, any higher than beer and nuts.
BTW, Currin is Beer art. And personally on a warm day, I like beer. Many do! That's why there are Beer Barons.
BTW2, Tobacco art

5/09/2007 08:21:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Good analysis and examples with wine, Franklin. What about art? What I sense in Perl, whose list of artists he liked in the time frame he was visting Chelsea shows included only one younger artist, and whose list of artists he disliked leaned much more heavily toward conceptual (vs. formalist) artists, is not a sophistication of appreciation, but rather a preference for formalism (see the critique of Currin's rendering he offers, as if that should settle the matter about his worth) that he projects as superior tastes. If formalism were the only measure (and he nearly made me choke with the phrase "formal perfection" [as if!]), then perhaps he'd be less dismissable, but with crops of BFA students drawing so ridiculously well they might as well be photocopy machines, that's a laughable measure to bet one's "highbrow" status on.

5/09/2007 08:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

the clothes fit better, the material is finer quality, and they have a certain aesthetic I find appealing.

I just had to buy a suit for the first time in ages. For my wedding, actually. Clothing sizes for suits and suit shirts are very specific, and for good reason. If you need a 15 1/2 neck and you put on a 15 3/4 neck, the shoulder point comes down too low and doesn't hang on you correctly. A 42R looks puffy if you need a 42S. The shoes and the belt have to match the suit and each other. Then there's the tie. I wanted something festive, but not insouciant, colorful, but not clownish. I settled on one with a powder blue floral pattern on a gold background that matched the tan of the jacket. Down at Banana Republic, shirts are small, medium, and large. There is a place for that. But it's not the epitome of taste in clothing, and people who really know clothing will tell you as much. And nothing about this process is objective.

But locating art within such a heirarchy requires a single arbiter and reference point.

You're it. If you exercise taste at the mall you can do it at the gallery. In fact, you should.

...to say that is a universal state of agreement seems, to me, antithetical to art as a progressive and revolutionary force.

I'm not sure what you mean by "universal state of agreement," but art need neither be progressive or revolutionary to be good. Furthermore, I question those qualities as virtues. Those second-rate photorealist Hirst canvases mentioned above by Jason - how progressive can they be if they flatter the tastes of someone willing to part with a six-digit figure for them?

What I sense in Perl ... is not a sophistication of appreciation, but rather a preference for formalism ... that he projects as superior tastes.

Perl has it right - taste is a formal phenomenon. Do you like concepts, or do you agree with them to the extent that they're true? There may be plenty of BFA students with drawing skills (although a photocopier is nothing to aspire to - what a strange comparison) but that doesn't translate into high formal gifts.

5/09/2007 10:59:00 PM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

Thanks for pointing out my middlebrow taste for clothing Frankli :) I am sur my wife would agree.

Seriously, congratulations on your wedding! Now, there is something you as a newlywed (or soon to be) should see, in fact, everyone should see. It was posted over at Art Fag City today and its...uh...very enlightening!

5/09/2007 11:29:00 PM  
Anonymous jason said...

franklin: social and political stratification is affirmed by economics and brute force. Art is a footnote in that process.

Well, I didn't say that an egalitarian, inclusive, non-hierarchical art community would end centuries of social and political stratification, but it's a good place to start! I mean, aren't artists supposed to be forward-thinking visionaries?

It's either good, bad, or something in between, and the only question is whether your taste is up to the job of detecting that.

The problem I have with supposed Kantian critics like Greenberg (and Perl too?) who cling to this "objectivity of taste" argument is that it always comes hand in hand with an arrogant declaration of their own infallible high-art detector.

If you'll permit me a wine analogy: Highbrow taste can distinguish between years of a single vineyard. Middlebrow taste can distinguish between varietals. Lowbrow taste can distinguish between red and white.

Your wine analogy demonstrates nothing other than that our objective sensory perceptions can grow and learn with new experience. This says nothing of taste, which is a judgment, not a perception (i.e., perception = 'this wine has a hint of oak'; judgment = 'the hint of oak makes this wine suck'). I'm sure most sophisticated wine connoisseurs would admit that one's sensory perception (literal taste-ing) of wine reaches a certain plateau, at which point a hierarchical determination of the best wines becomes a matter of subjective taste (or judgment).

But locating art within such a hierarchy requires a single arbiter and reference point.

Exactly. An aesthetic hierarchy means someone's at the top and someone's at the bottom -- and the only arbiter or reference point that ends up counting is the one that is backed up by the most power. That leaves you and I out of the equation. Jed Perl can rant and rave all he wants that his taste is the most important reference point, but it's easy to dismiss him because he has so little power. But when a powerful institution like MoMA makes an aesthetic judgment, watch out -- such demonstrations of taste, backed up by social or political power, establish a hierarchy that is nearly impossible to dismiss and has a palpable, lasting effect on taste, artistic production, and the "high art" system in general.

5/09/2007 11:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Mark, just to be clear, my taste in clothing is totally middlebrow. Throw me in the Gap and I'm happy. They asked me my shirt size down in the suit department and I said, "Medium." Oh no no no no... Thanks for the congrats. (We were married a week and a half ago.)

I mean, aren't artists supposed to be forward-thinking visionaries?

Jason, I don't know, are they? Isn't that just a romantic stereotype? I think they're supposed to be trying to make their art better.

The problem I have with supposed Kantian critics like Greenberg (and Perl too?) who cling to this "objectivity of taste" argument is that it always comes hand in hand with an arrogant declaration of their own infallible high-art detector.

Trying to figure out whether any experience is subjective or objective is so maddeningly difficult that I think it's the wrong question. I think the question is, Whose responsibility is it to exercise taste? The answer is the individual. You throw in your lot with your own good eyes, like what you like, and dislike what you dislike. Nobody with a brain thinks of himself as infallible, but there's a place for putting yourself in the driver's seat when it comes to parsing your own art experience. Who else is going to do it?

Your wine analogy demonstrates nothing other than that our objective sensory perceptions can grow and learn with new experience.

I'd like you to demonstrate that your tastebuds operate in a perfectly objective fashion. Again, I think objective/subjective is the wrong characterization for any of this.

This says nothing of taste, which is a judgment, not a perception (i.e., perception = 'this wine has a hint of oak'; judgment = 'the hint of oak makes this wine suck').

Is there any gap between the point that you detect the oak and the point that you detect that the oak is wrong? I would say that if they're not simultaneous, they're so close to it that they might as well be. I'm not saying that you can't have perception without judgment, but I am saying that judgment that happens independently of perception is bound to become misled.

An aesthetic hierarchy means someone's at the top and someone's at the bottom -- and the only arbiter or reference point that ends up counting is the one that is backed up by the most power.

What do you mean by "counting"? Yesterday I went to a park and painted a little Impressionist watercolor of a Japanese cherry tree in bloom, and at one point I reflected on how happy I was, sitting in an arboretum on a Spring day in Boston with my wife and my watercolors. What does MoMA have that I would trade all that for? Seriously, look hard at that "counting," because there are a lot of ways to value the art experience and not all of them lead through the same model.

5/10/2007 07:25:00 AM  
Anonymous jason said...

I think objective/subjective is the wrong characterization for any of this.

Sorry, but your comment about universality of taste sounded like it could have come from Greenberg himself -- the standard argument for "objectivity of taste," as Greenberg made famous through his reading of Kant. Clem believed that an art object's aesthetic quality is innate, and that a judgment of an art object is not subjective, but either correct or incorrect (objective).

What do you mean by "counting"?

The context of this discussion is Perl's complaint that the art world has abandoned "high art" aesthetics. So when I wrote counting I meant the ability to affect the aesthetic hierarchy of the art world, which Perl's pissing in the wind attempts, but cannot do, because he has no power. He is not among the art world hierarchy's reference point. I'm glad that you make individual judgments of taste on your own time, but my point was that your judgments (or Perl's, or mine, etc.) of taste will have no effect on the art world's aesthetic hierarchy. In essence, they may be meaningful to one's self, but they are practically meaningless to the art system.

5/10/2007 08:44:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Jason says:
So when I wrote counting I meant the ability to affect the aesthetic hierarchy of the art world, which Perl's pissing in the wind attempts, but cannot do, because he has no power.

I think you make a mistake when you attribute the power to institutions like MoMA. I think they have some short-term power. But in the longer term, the forces are outside of anyone's true power.

The real power, the deep power, resides with the artists themselves. We're the creators. We create the ground over which future politicians will fight. We create the ideas which shape their world.

Institutions and committees and boards -- all political bodies -- can pluck things from the stream as they will, but they're forced to choose from what's set loose into the stream in the first place. From that they try to choose those things which enforce or uphold or prove their vision of how the world should be; but that doesn't change the world. And if they're too far off the mark -- if they choose things the culture truly doesn't care about -- the institutions will wither and die.

Temporal power is fleeting and fickle. Art stays.

Never make the mistake of granting power to someone besides yourself. Don't give it away.

5/10/2007 09:19:00 AM  
Anonymous David Duncan said...

Hello, saw the discussion regarding Obi-Wan, which struck me as quite important where Andy’s show is concerned, as well as the show next door at Schroeder Romero. Each deals with contemporary figures, although one artist focuses on icon skyscrapers within our dominant commercial culture and the other a slew of private addresses within a boutique art town.

Seeing these two shows side-by-side (and reading the Obi-Wan blog) reminded me of a 1918 essay by Van Wyck Brooks entitled “On Creating a Useable Past.” Brooks was a member of a group of American critic-historicists who sought to shape contemporary artistic production by citing what aspects of past culture they thought were “useable.” This question of the useable past (and present) also corresponds to questions of topicality and universality: Should artists address the peculiarities of the moment (and I would draw a subtle distinction between the moment and the present), or should they focus on that which transcends the moment by addressing universal human qualities or issues?

Of course a work of art can adopt both strategies, using different ratios of one to the other. I would suggest that an excess of either strategy within contemporary art frequently leads to a corresponding flaw: with the topical, solipsism: with the universal, formula.

If we can agree that solipsism and formula tend to reduce the artistic value of an artwork, then maybe we can better evaluate where Obi-Wan (or Banksy, or The Donald, or any other reference) becomes a conduit to something valuable, a crutch, a handicap, etc.

I would also contend that you can not evaluate an artwork by simply debating the merits of Oedipus or Luke Skywalker as artist subject matter.

5/14/2007 01:50:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I would also contend that you can not evaluate an artwork by simply debating the merits of Oedipus or Luke Skywalker as artist subject matter.

Entirely agree. If the debate is limited to simply the subject, then the debate is wanting significantly. But in the context of this thread, what I think is being hashed out is whether there's instrinsically more value to Oedipus as subject, given how much more complex that character is. I say no. It's the treatment of the character that matters(i.e., someone talented could, for example, mine what's available to mine of Obi-Wan [which is considerably less than there is of Oedipus, I'll agree] and create a masterpiece, whereas a thousand mediocre artists mining Oedipus might not come close to a masterpiece in a thousand years).

If we can agree that solipsism and formula tend to reduce the artistic value of an artwork, then maybe we can better evaluate where Obi-Wan (or Banksy, or The Donald, or any other reference) becomes a conduit to something valuable, a crutch, a handicap, etc.

Hmmm...a bit tricky. It again depends on the application. Formula is not of lesser value in and of itself, IMHO. It's when it's merely filler that it's problematic. This gets too complicated for me to hold in my my head long enough to articulate well, but I can imagine a masterful (i.e., fully aware) application of formula, per se, in a work that serves to express some point brilliantly. But taking you to mean when solipsism or formula are employed as filler, I'll agree that they detract from the work in question, but I'm a bit lost as to how that facilitates evaluating the subject's value/limitations. Interested, but not quite following. How do you mean?

5/14/2007 02:20:00 PM  
Anonymous David Duncan said...

I agree that formula is not of lesser value in of itself. This is why I modified my statement by stating that formula and solipsism tend to (rather than do) reduce the value of an artwork. I agree that masterful applications of formula appear in quite successful works of art. It seems most evident in music, with figured bass and serialism (12 note serialism, Total Serialism) for example. From J.S. Bach to Stockhausen, these composers created great works utlizing formula. Flavin really played a vital role in the development of minimalism and conceptualism with his used of serialism as well (what I think LeWitt called “a progression of self-generating forms”).

I suppose I was careless in the use of formula. Rather than referring to art that simply inhabits systems, I was thinking of artists inhabiting validated systems (or modes or styles) as a means to lend value to their work. A mannerist approach (the word rather than the period). Actually, the period has some relation, where the universal is concerned. Artists were less concerned with the empirical problems of perspective, proportion, and anatomy that had absorbed the high Renaissance artists. Instead, they often sought to reformulate the past through intellectual complexity. I am thinking of the myriad of mythological references within Bronzino’s Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time, and the iconography from proverbs and folklore utilized by Pieter Bruegel.

One could argue that issues of perspective, proportion, and anatomy were (for the Renaissance artists) the useable present. And the use of myth, proverbs, and folklore were the useable past (while acknowledging that these things were less “antiquated” and more topical centuries ago).

Anyway, sorry, I’m thinking a lot about the useable past and present. Back to your question as to where solipsism or formula work negatively as filler (well clarified -- “filler”). As I mentioned in regard to formula, I was thinking of artists inhabiting validated systems (or modes or styles) as a means to lend value to their work. With solipsism, I am thinking of art that focuses on the maker at the expense of a dialogue with the viewer.

5/14/2007 03:42:00 PM  
Anonymous james leonard said...

I'm loving the fluidity of these conversations. But I wish there was a means of wandering around looking at shows with all of you to get some solid examples of what fits many of these high-minded valuations and taxonomies. For example, I think I might enjoy (or at least suffer through) a gallery crawl where David Duncan could stop the group and say "See, this is what I mean by solipsistic work." And then Edward could point out an example of where an Obi-Wan transcends the surrounding Oedepi.


But I'm sure much of the nature of this conversation is due to the temporal convenience of the web. Besides, a galery crawl likely wouldn't satisfy. What I really want is to be a fly on the wall of your brains observing the cognitive and perceptual cascades of artworks without intrusion. An ideal micronaut anthropologist! I'd like to see what you see, taste what you taste, hear what you hear--just for an afternoon I think. The similarity and differences between individuals' perceptions fascinates me.

5/14/2007 04:04:00 PM  
Anonymous David Duncan said...

I took a look at what I previously posted (my second post) and noticed I meant to write “This is why I qualified my statement . . .” rather than “ . . . modified my statement.”

I also read James’ post, and his point is well taken. A blog discourse probably calls for getting to the point, and I got off the point with Mannerism and the Renaissance. But I hope my mention of the useable past and present is useful to someone . . . I think it is something to think about with the current shows at Winkleman and Schroeder Romero.

5/14/2007 04:59:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed sez:
But in the context of this thread, what I think is being hashed out is whether there's instrinsically more value to Oedipus as subject, given how much more complex that character is. I say no. It's the treatment of the character that matters(i.e., someone talented could, for example, mine what's available to mine of Obi-Wan [which is considerably less than there is of Oedipus, I'll agree] and create a masterpiece....

I still disagree. I think this is akin to saying that a talented auto mechanic could fix a car using only a screwdriver, or that a talented writer could write a great novel using only 236 words. I love The Cat in the Hat as much as anyone, but I think most people would agree it's no Catch-22.

5/15/2007 08:18:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Chris,

to my ear, you're essentially arguing that simply by nature of their subject matter, you'd expect a Kincade painting based on Catch-22 to be superior to a Picasso based on The Cat in the Hat.

Am I reading you correctly?

5/15/2007 08:23:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed asks:
Am I reading you correctly?

Only partly. Of course I do agree with the second half of what you wrote (which I didn't quote earlier):

...a thousand mediocre artists mining Oedipus might not come close to a masterpiece in a thousand years.

The subject alone -- you wrote this, too -- doesn't determine the quality of a work of art. Lots and lots of very subjective things are involved. Of course.

All I'm saying is, no matter how talented the artist, there's only so much one can squeeze out of Obi-Wan. The quality of a glass of orange juice comes from the quality of the juicer as well as from the quality of the oranges.

5/15/2007 08:56:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

no matter how talented the artist, there's only so much one can squeeze out of Obi-Wan

And if that was all the artist in question was doing, I'd agree with you...but you seemed to reject squeezing it for what it might yeild at all, which I don't understand.

5/15/2007 09:14:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

It's like cooking. Your final dish can only be as good as the ingredients you use. Crappy ingredients lead to mediocre -- at best -- results. And Obi-Wan is a crappy ingredient. Pop culture is a crappy ingredient. Pop culture itself is made up of scum scraped from the bottom of the cultural dumpster -- how many times do we need to dive back in and recycle this gunk?

5/15/2007 09:19:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Ahh...Finally, the relevant question:

how many times do we need to dive back in and recycle this gunk?

Until we understand what role it plays in making us who we are. Left out of your derision of popular culture (but central to explorations like that of Currin, Yuskavage, and the artist I reference) is the acknowledgement that popular culture is now, in the information age, so all-pervasive that whether you like it or not, it has become a part of daily life. I know of no artist worth his/her salt who would argue that daily life is not a good subject matter for art.

5/15/2007 09:34:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

You've got a point. Let me rephrase and say that Obi-Wan as Obi-Wan is not a very good ingredient, but that -- possibly -- exploring how one relates to Obi-Wan as an all-pervasive pop cultural construct might be.

So I guess you've convinced me. However -- I won't let go that easy! -- I think this might give too many mediocre artists too much latitude. Not that I want to limit artistic exploration by fiat or anything. As if I could.

I don't think that's what Currin is doing anyway, but that's another argument entirely. I'd be able to speak more knowledgeably about it if he'd granted my request for an interview, but he didn't.

5/15/2007 09:49:00 AM  
Anonymous David Duncan said...

Hi Chris, regarding Edward's assertion that it’s the treatment that matters (which I agree with), I noticed a couple of things about The Cat in the Hat and Catch 22 comparison. First, while both use writing, they are very different forms intended for a very different audience. As such, I think it is hard to say one is beneath the other (which I think was your implied point).

Second, when aligning the choice of subject matter to the value of an artwork, you adopt a stance not unlike the academies of old. Our formative years should be spent drawing and painting from plaster casts, and our greatest efforts should be reserved for history paintings.

Granted, I am taking your argument to an extreme, but this argument suggests official or proper art in my opinion.

Rather than bemoan the use of popular commercial culture within art (and pop culture is predicated primarily on being commercial), I think maybe the greater concern is the uncritical adoption of commercial strategies by some fine artists(?).

5/15/2007 01:21:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

David Duncan sez:
As such, I think it is hard to say one is beneath the other (which I think was your implied point).

This conversation has gotten so long and convoluted we've lost some of the beginning. I'm not trying to say The Cat in the Hat is a better or worse book than Catch-22. You're right that they're intended for different things.

Originally, we were discussing whether pop culture is suitable for use in "high art." I defined "high art" as being art which moves enough people deeply enough that they'll preserve it and hand it down over many years at high cost. My argument was that pop culture isn't suitable for this use because it hasn't proven itself yet and probably won't, because its purpose is not to uplift or enlighten, but to convince us to consume products.

Catch-22 aspires (and, in my opinion, succeeds) in being high art (by my definition). The Cat in the Hat aspires to be an enjoyable children's book (and, in my opinion succeeds) but is not high art. "High art" isn't better, per se, than not-high art, it's just something which tackles and embodies more and deeper themes.

...this argument suggests official or proper art in my opinion.

I'm not saying there should be anything. My argument isn't a should argument. I'm just saying pop culture is shallow and not as powerful or worthwhile as high art, and when you mix the two, the results are usually bad.

However, Ed has convinced me that exploring how our immersion in pop culture affects us might be a worthwhile subject for high art.

5/15/2007 02:31:00 PM  
Anonymous David Duncan said...


I'm just saying pop culture is shallow and not as powerful or worthwhile as high art, and when you mix the two, the results are usually bad.


Again, this is a blanket statement that suggests, if not proper art, a limitation on the subject matter proper for fine art.

Unless you simply mean that the mixing of the two produces work you don't care for.

But if you care about art, you probably want to argue for (or against) one or more of the many different contemporary artistic trajectories in play, right?

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, your statement also discounts a large percentage of the work produced by Warhol, Lichtenstein, Stuart Davis, Arthur Dove, and so on . . .

5/15/2007 03:11:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Well, David, I've written before that as far as I'm concerned, Warhol is Death and Beuys Madness. So discounting their work isn't new for me (not that Beuys was a Pop artist). And I've argued vehemently in several places on the Web that Lichtenstein was a thief and a fraud.

All of which makes me sound hopelessly hidebound, like some kind of atavistic throwback looking for a return to an imaginary idyllic academic realist past. Which isn't the case either. I want to move forward -- using for the moment the metaphor of progress which is probably inappropriate.

Anyway, sure, it's a matter of work I don't care for, but, more, I think it's work that's ultimately shallow and won't last. I admit I can't prove this -- only time (a lot more time than I personally have) will tell. I'm perfectly willing to be wrong.

As I wrote, I'm not saying we should enact a law against Pop or anything. But if one talented artist reads what I've written and is steered away from painting allegories involving SpongeBob and Harley Davidsons, I'll be happy.

5/15/2007 03:40:00 PM  
Anonymous David Duncan said...

Thanks for the clarification; I had not read your earlier posts.

I personally don't have a problem with seeing SpongeBob or Harley Davidson in fine art (on occasion), but I am getting tired of seeing artists who utilize their production techniques —specifically outsourcing labor— without a critical account of why . . .

The production of objects by fabrication was foundational to minimalism and conceptual art. Now the object has all too often become a product, or just an illustration of a concept, and the artist a manager of the product or concept (what has been called "The Managerial Sublime"). This is a far more problematic contemporary art strategy than goofing on Obi-Wan.

5/15/2007 04:48:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I didn't have a reply to this but now, looking at your message and thinking a bit, I do.

David Duncan wrote:
The production of objects by fabrication was foundational to minimalism and conceptual art.

Don't get me started on the evils of Minimalism or Conceptualism. I'll just convince more people that I'm a total idiot.

However, I don't necessarily think fabrication must only be part of Minimalism or Conceptualism; nor do I think the tendency towards the "illustration of a concept" needs to be tied to fabrication. I know in my own imaginings, I have a desire to work with processes and materials which are only industrial and simply cannot be handcrafted. I like the idea of making -- having made for me -- objects which can't realistically be thrown together by an amateur in his basement.

For example, I designed and had made a highway sign. (In no way do I consider this Great Art, by the way -- I did it for fun, and will do it again when the funds turn up, probably). You can't make a real highway sign yourself -- you need serious equipment. I wanted to use the processes of highway signage (which are surprisingly affordable to use) to create something which was an actual highway sign in all ways except in its message.

So I don't think that fabrication, in and of itself, is the problem you're talking about. I think the primacy of the "concept" over the "object" is a problem, a huge one, and one artists need to get rid of. Although if you think about it, there are thousands upon thousands of artists working who reject this idea; it's just you don't see them Chelsea a lot.

5/16/2007 01:37:00 PM  

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