Thursday, July 05, 2007

It's Our Values, Stupid

If there's one thing I'm sure of when it comes to art, it's that we, like any generation, get the art that we deserve. If our art generally sucks (and I'm not arguing that it does), that's because we haven't, collectively, created the environment in which better art can emerge. Still, we do hear folks pining for the days of soulful work. We hear the echoes of longing for the heroics and integrity and humanity of bygone eras. Where's our Leonardo? Hell, where's our Pollack? Where's our Guernica or Third of May?

What I've come to believe is that powerful artists and powerful works like those are a product of not only their M/maker, but also their time. In other words, the viewing public must be receptive to the message, otherwise the artist/art is marginalized. Had most of the world felt the bombing of Guernica was, to stretch for an example, a necessary evil to make the world more safe, then Picasso's masterpiece might have been seen as melodramatic or soft on national security or whatever. The fact that his audience still clung to certain human values is what made its unveiling so effective.


To my mind there's precious little point in complaining about the paucity of meaningful art any generation produces. You can't browbeat artists into producing work that overcomes their audience's natural resistance to a message. You either wait for that rare genius who can do that to come along, or, again, you accept the best work your generation can produce until values change.

This belief is how I filtered the article by Roger Kimball ("
Why the art world is a disaster") in The New Criterion, that's generating a good deal of discussion across the art blogs. In a nutshell, Kimball's thesis is the art world is a disaster and four things explain why: 1) because of its ordinariness (what he calls the "domestication of deviance," or, more to the point, "because of the popularization and institutionalization of the antics and attitudes of Dada" ); 2) because of an "unholy alliance between the more rebarbative and hermetic precincts of academic activity and the practice of art," or, as he puts it, "art is increasingly the creature of its explication"; 3) "the revenge of the philistines," brought about by the infusion of nouveau riche money into the art world; and 4) the loss of focus on what he defines art as being, i.e., "mastery of a craft in order to make objects that gratify and ennoble those who see them."

The thing about this critique that gets me is how very ordinary it is itself. From the insistence that only gratifying, ennobling objects count as "art" to the elitist implication that only those born with money have good taste, Kimball's central arguments can be found in critiques dating back over a hundred years old. Louis Leroy, for example (in Le Charivari, April 25, 1874 ), pulling in a class-based barb with a craft-based one, skewered the Impressionists by mocking "...what freedom, what ease of workmanship! A preliminary drawing for a wallpaper pattern is more finished than this seascape."

Kimball dismisses Nauman, Mapplethorpe, Sherman, and Nam June Paik with a series of flippant "been there"s and "done that"s, without a hint of recognition that his central critique has also been lingering around for quite some time now.

In fact, Kimball's entire essay is a very good example of what I see as the essence of the problem he's attempting to alert us to. The snarky, superior tone, coupled with a lifeless ennui, sucks all the enthusiasm out of the air. He offers no remedies that aren't reactionary. His clarion call to return to the 19th Century can hardly be expected to excite a new generation of artists. "Come along my artist friends! To the Academy!!!" No, his essay is as awful and uninspiring as the work he's clearly tired of reviewing.

If the art world is a disaster, then I submit it's because our values are in a disastrous state. Here in the US, for example, we re-elected a man whom we had every reason to believe (if one paid attention) had authorized the inhuman torture of captives at Abu Ghraib. Can those same folks truly appreciate a more human art? Doesn't the willful disregard it takes to flip the switch for the President who approved such vile treatment of other human beings automatically blind the heart and soul to the power of artwork that attempts to demonstrate why it was so immoral? How can a people who accept, willingly, that their role in all this is to cower in fear (in between trips to the mall, that is) ever have the courage to consider, let alone embrace, a new art?

Once I reach this point in my thinking though, I find I need to consider whether there are artists with such courage out there, but they're not being noticed or celebrated enough.

Also, and this is harsh, but I feel it must be said, then I wince a bit, as I know that this opens the door for a whole slew of sincere, but uninspired, artists to step up and say, "Yes, I painted a picture of Bush standing, a la Lynndie England, with Lady Liberty on all fours on a dog leash. I have the courage."

To my mind, we got to this place over time, and it will take some time to move away from it. There's no one epiphany that's gonna restore our collective humanity, which is what we'll need to facilitate better, more human art. No knight in shining armor, no new Goya or Rembrandt, will ride in to save our souls with one body of work that lifts the darkness (I'm not convinced we would recognize it if they did).

No, I feel it will be a long, hard slog. With individual leaders, citizens AND artists continuing to push things in the right direction consistently and long enough to add up to a new set of values. That means artists must be anything but reactionary, IMO. They must be progressive. Above all, they must be truthful. Given how much things have changed in the world since the late 1800s, that may not make for the kind of artwork Roger Kimball likes. I suspect he'll benefit from it, like the rest of us, all the same.

UPDATE: They're well ahead of me on this article over at artblog.net.

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107 Comments:

Blogger Hungry Hyaena said...

Edward,

This may seem like a tangential connection, but reading your post just now I thought of an interview I recently heard on the radio with Pankaj Mishra, a journalist for The Guardian. The interview was part of the NPR program Speaking of Faith and, though it deals with the general ravages of capitalism and tiered economy/power structures, I was painting while I listened to it, and it provided me hope.

World affairs and, in turn, the Art World, may be in a pretty sorry state right now (which, as far as art is concerned, is too general an assessment, but let's go with it for the sake of argument), but I think some of the prescriptions, abstract though they are, offered by Mishra, are percolating up through what I suppose we should call the "grassroots" to become culturally accepted avenues. A total restructuring of economics and politics is impossible, but an adjustment of the existing structures with what could be dubbed Budhhist attitudes - I mean practical choices here, not religion - would help a great deal.

I highly recommend the interview (or transcript) to anyone who finds themselves slipping into dark moods when listening to or reading the news of the day. Undeniably, we're at a saturation point, but increasingly I see as much positive change as I do disaster.

7/05/2007 11:04:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

I am temporarily fed up with our current political state of mind-less-ness, but we'll get through this. I feel the art world is as strong as ever, with more people than ever invested in some form. Many artists making fabulous work in a variety of media.

Museum and gallery attendance is, it seems at an all time high. But is the general public interested enough to go beyond the Impressionist exhibits? Do we really care? There is a lot of competition out there for the public attention. I'm also (guilty) happy to escape now and then.

Access to all types of information, never better. The problem area IMO is an intellectual lazyness. Again I would like my country back, but it takes an incredible commitment to wade and slosh thru the negatives and tired responses and rationale.

Two very good posts Ed, I'm trolling for WiFI in Maine this week so won't be able to respond.

7/05/2007 01:03:00 PM  
Blogger Tightropewalker said...

Well said Edward,
I think, however, that there are many more factors compromising art today including the rampant elitist dogma so impotently illuminated by Kimball's argument.(Sorry, a little too vehement?)

Many potentially brilliant artistic minds are drawn to the flash and sparkle of mass media that is more widely appreciated by the public, i.e. film & television. However their vision is in most cases diluted by corporate interests and the lure of money. When Leonardo, Michelangelo, (and the rest of the ninja turtles) produced their greatest works, what they were doing at the time was considered glamorous and high-tech.

There have almost always been those who say that art is suffering and at this moment I would tend to agree. However, what brings me hope is this: the world population in 1500 was only 500 million. The census in Rome in 1516 counted 85,000 people. For the sake of argument let's say as much 2% of the population consisted of working artists - that's 1,700 artists. Yet from this small pool came the high Renaissance in Rome. Today the world population is over 6 billion and New York City alone had 8,008,288 people in the 2000 census. Let's say only 0.2% are working artists. That still gives us a pool of 16,016 people. On the world stage, that same meager percentage gives us 12,907,256 artists. Statistically we have the probability of producing the greatest artistic geniuses who have ever lived.
The question is: Where are they? I think that most will be decided by hindsight. It's hard to know the lasting effect of the work until one sees it's influence and context. I truly don't care for Dada, and if I had lived at the time I would have perhaps dismissed it. But I recognize that it was influential and I enjoy some of the work that has resulted from its influence. There are always going to be your Van Gogh's and Henry Darger's of the world, perhaps more often today. For, the artist no longer has to come to the city to make a living. He can exist under the radar in rural Nebraska and sell his work on e-bay. He has the potential to self-subsist and does not truly need the gallery/critic system as he did in the past... not that I have anything against galleries or critics.

There, I've been long-winded yet again, and I apologize. In short, probability tells us the art is there... even if we don't see it.

7/05/2007 01:19:00 PM  
Blogger Sunil said...

Ed,
I just returned from DUMBO and was there to see the work of Shepard Fairey (the show closes tomorrow). I came back rejuvenated and alive. He has a lot of courage to portray the things he does and his art speaks out to you. While they say that responsible art and art with values is dwindling, I would aver to say that there are a lot of artists out there who are making socially responsible work. A lot of them are unknown. I feel that there needs to be a very concerted attempt to discover out of turn, not-too-popular artists. The gallery system of today can only manage to hedge on the established, rock star types... Of course, I do know that the gallery owners are taking a calculated risk in showing an artist, but maybe every once in a while, feature a completely new person unschooled and untutored in the ‘business’…
A case in point is Botero’s reaction to Abu Ghraib: For about six months, not a single US gallery wanted to touch those powerful works…
The Guernicas are around, but can we flesh them out?

HH,
Thanks for the link - I will make sure to listen.

7/05/2007 01:21:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Access to all types of information, never better. The problem area IMO is an intellectual lazyness.

I think the problem is the volume of information, actually. Take your average American today, and I'll bet you they hold more total data in their head than the average American did 100 years ago (they'd have to operate the machines and electronic devices they own, let alone do so effectively and legally [who 100 years ago had to remember traffic laws?]). It's no fair to compare the average American today with Thomas Edison, mind you. Apples to apples, average American to average American, and I think we're not as bad as conventional wisdom would lead us to believe.

We're in an age of specialization. That doesn't make us more intellectually lazy, just less well rounded, IMHO. This is another reason, however, I think the kind of elitist art far too many people think of as better than a good chunk of art being made today isn't relevant for today's audience. I think we may be entering the era of specialized art, and that's probably going to have to be OK.

7/05/2007 02:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

He offers no remedies that aren't reactionary.

He offers no remedies, period. That wasn't the purpose of the article.

His clarion call to return to the 19th Century can hardly be expected to excite a new generation of artists.

I searched the essay in vain for this clarion call. Where are you reading this?

7/05/2007 02:23:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

He offers no remedies, period. That wasn't the purpose of the article.

Implicit in his critique is a remedy, IMO, Franklin. Take, for example, his observation that, "Since skill is no longer necessary to practice art successfully, the only things left are 1) appropriate subject matter (paradoxically, the more inappropriate the better) and 2) the right politics." If you don't see the implicit call to 1) restore an importance to "skill" in "important" art, and 2) reconsider what subject matter is appropriate, then more power to you. I can't read that any other way.

I searched the essay in vain for this clarion call.

Again, it's implicit. Why else bother with a critique, if you don't believe there must be a better way? By suggesting what's wrong with today's art, always in comparison with previous art, but not offering a progressive solution, he leaves stand no other conclusion than that he supports a reactionary solution, no? His entire critique operates from the position that art was better before.

Or perhaps you're correct, and I'm projecting a remedy onto the essay, making it, however, all the less useful to my mind. The insight, as I've noted, is not new. What's left after that is, paradoxically, more or less the same "political sermonizing and anti-humanistic persiflage" Kimball takes contemporary art to task for.

7/05/2007 02:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Well, that's rather unfair to critique an implicit message. For one, no, I don't think a remedy is implicit, and two, if one is, I don't think it necessarily follows that he's advocating a restoration of skill to "important" (?) art or a different set of subject matter, especially the latter.

You're projecting. He doesn't mention the 19th Century, and makes no wanting comparisons to previous art. The earliest artist mentioned is Bouguereau, and it's not a flattering mention.

You might make a charge of equivalent "political sermonizing" stick, although it would have to be by logical conclusion given the orientation of the New Criterion in general, not via any position he claims in the essay. Accusing him of equivalent "anti-humanistic persiflage" is baseless, though. If anything he says is anti-humanistic, you're going to have to make a case for it.

I have more substantial criticisms of what you wrote above, but I want to begin by getting the hallucinations out of the way.

7/05/2007 03:26:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I have more substantial criticisms of what you wrote above, but I want to begin by getting the hallucinations out of the way.

Which also doubles nicely to give you an assumed superior take on the article before you begin, but...by all means, let's hear your more substantial criticisms. In the meanwhile, I'll address some problems I have with your evidence of "hallucinations."

I don't think it necessarily follows that he's advocating a restoration of skill

Then how do you explain this?

Look at the objects on view in “Wrestle”: almost none has anything to do with art as traditionally understood: mastery of a craft in order to make objects that gratify and ennoble those who see them.

I'll agree his phrasing is vague enough to leave both you and me uncertain (you more than me, though) whether that's advocating a restoration of skill, but given his premise (that the art world is a disaster) and his lack of clarification as to whether it's always been so, doesn't it stand to reason that he's concluding this recent descent into a lack of mastery of craft is part of why it's now a disaster. And if so, doesn't it stand to reason that a return to that mastery of craft would be part of the (granted, unstated, but still implied) solution? He doesn't come out and say it, but by not clarifying it, logic demands we at least suspect that's his meaning, no? Or are we to assume a "disaster" is something that need only be pointed out. Action, correction, etc., are unimporant.

Accusing him of equivalent "anti-humanistic persiflage" is baseless, though.

It was a handy quote to make my point that might have had "anti-humanistic" edited out (then again, if you as suggest he's not implying remedies to the disastrous state of the art world, I'm not sure what other than "anti-humanistic" to call his apparently aloof observations), but.... I'll stick with the "persiflage" charge, all the same.

7/05/2007 03:48:00 PM  
Blogger Tightropewalker said...

Edward,
Just for the sake of clarity, is it your belief that any art utilizing skill is specifically not a potential path?

Or simply that it is insufficient to validate Kimball's argument?

7/05/2007 04:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Since it looks like you're conceding my point about subject matter, I'll concede your point about skill as it relates to the essay. I can live with that.

The essay is a critique. It's fair to start with a critique and form a remedy based on it, but it's a stretch to say that the essay fails for not providing a remedy of its own. Let's just be clear that the remedy is ours, not his. Otherwise we're evaluating the hypothetical failure of an implied remedy. That's too far removed from the man's words.

Your central critique has also been around for some time now, so it that's a strike against Kimball, it's a strike against you. Plato tried to get art and morality to correlate somehow, and it doesn't make for a strong argument. The idea that our art would get better if our moral compasses were stronger is invalidated by any number of morally wanting cultures that produced art of note: feudal Japan and Constantinian Europe come readily to mind.

7/05/2007 04:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Henri said...

What is wrong with developing a "skill" or a "craft"? We demand skill and craft in other professions. Why does the making of art necessarily mean we no longer have to be skilled at actually making it? Does being skilled in the craft mean that one is no longer able to be an artist?
Rem Koolhaus can whip up an idea of what a building might be, but it takes the skill and knowledge of the engineer Cecil Balmond to make it stand. In fact Balmond will tell the architect in no uncertain terms what can and can't be done in the real world AND come up with radical solutions that changes the architect's very conception of the building. In the 10 major building of the last 15 years Balmond was the engineer for more than half of them. Does Balmond's "skill" or "craft" make him the lesser artist, especially now that he begins his architecture career at 60 something? In Matisse's work the visual daring came from the "craft" - how he made something was more important than what it was about. This was a very demanding 19th Century idea that was hyper-realized in the 20th, but it says a lot about how visual ideas were once generated. Most of the great artists of the 20th century pushed the idea of "craft" in order to create new visual ideas. Now that we exist in a "post-industrialist" culture we don't have to physically be involved in our work. We get specialists to make it, or if we make it ourselves we no longer WANT or NEED to have the skills to make it - we put it together and then package it - cibachromes of collages, as a for instance - destroy the original sell the documentation. This is an aristocratic idea of how things get done. Michele and Leonardo were not creating technological marvels of the day. They were exanding the creative possibilities of technologies that had existed already - Michele with the older sculpture and fresco, Leonardo with fairly new oil painting. They created new visual realities from existing technology defining who they were and the times they lived in. Artists were considered simply workmen, and it was only by the way they made their work that separted them from other workmen. By making grand things they elevated the idea of what it meant to be an artist. Otherwise they were simply plasterers and scenic house painters.
Today any idea can be farmed out to be made, photographed, videoed, uploaded or painted by crews of workmen. "Artists" merely have to come up with an "idea" and the cash to get it done. Visual radicalism does not follow from practice or vice versa.
Modernism's history was nothing more than desperate workmen pushing themselves to become artists - and most of them lived that way. Today with Postmodernism's idea that meaning rests in the subjective experience of the viewer and Post-industrialism's idea that fabrication can be outsourced ANYONE can determine meaning and be an artist.
There is no need to return to the past, but it is time to face the challenges of the present.

7/05/2007 05:24:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

The idea that our art would get better if our moral compasses were stronger is invalidated by any number of morally wanting cultures that produced art of note: feudal Japan and Constantinian Europe come readily to mind.

This is the crux, so I'll focus on this. The rest is the sort of sparring I normally relish, but I'm pressed for time at the moment.

Not being an expert in feudal Japan or Constantinian European art, I'm not sure we're comparing apples and apples here, but I did allow for the rare genius within any given time who, despite his/her audience, manages "to overcome their audience's natural resistance to a message." Then again, I'm not sure whether what you consider works of note in those times were mostly formal achievements or humanist achievements. I'm sensing from the critiques I see elsewhere and based on the fact that three of Kimballs' four reasons art is a disaster are societal, rather than formal, that it's the human element that folks are missing. Plenty of artists can draw, as I've noted, like a Xerox machine. Technically/formally, we're beyond rich. What we seem to long for is more human work. I maintain that that work is much more difficult to nurture (because its creators are marginalized) in less humane times.

7/05/2007 05:28:00 PM  
Blogger Donna Dodson said...

here's another great idea- socrates cafe... http://www.philosopher.org/

7/05/2007 05:33:00 PM  
Blogger arthur said...

Ed,

I doubt Mr. Kimball would disagree with you that the kinds of artistic trends that he criticizes can be tied to broader social currents. It doesn't follow from that individual artists (and other artworld players) can't be taken to task for perceived failures. He isn't holding Nauman, Hessel et al responsible for the whole sorry state of contemporary art; I don't see that at all. At the same time, a humanistic critic can't just go around criticizing abstractions.

7/05/2007 05:57:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Another case of a right leaning modernist making a lemon harangue cry, kick ‘em while they’re down style. It’s another bit of yesterdays war of the "I know what I like, and that ain’t art" variety.

Guess what, there is no ‘right’ kind of art. Art just happens, it’s the spawn of culture, seed for thought. It is the zeitgeist made manifest, it doesn’t care about the modernist or the postmodernist, by the time they were given a name it’s ground them down to a gray soup.

I like Cindy Sherman and Gilbert and George and Bruce Nauman, does that make me bad? tsk tsk.

all INMHO of course.

7/05/2007 06:13:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

I don't think it's about a strong moral compass. I think it's about a strong intellectual compass.

Even most of the good art I see is following a set of conventions that are taught in most good art schools.

The art right now is not soulless as much as it isn't innovative--it's mannerist.

I include myself in this assesment, and I think that it's hard to move past this intense postwar 20th century project that included more than Rothko and Pollock and Judd and now antecedents like Rachel Harrison and Tara Donovan.

The late-modernist project also included MLK and Stonewall, and the postmodern theory that came from those social movements.

Art is bad or "soulless" right now because it speaks to the past and itself, and not to the situation at hand. We are dealing with finding a new project, and dealing with how successful late modernism was, even as we face new problems that the tools of modernism (protest, the power of the individual, defiance) can't really touch.

Another project will emerge. It has to, because if it doesn't human life will become unsustainable. We'll at least figure out how to take a stab at what's actually happening.

But because late modernism had such great tools that are *so uniquely unapplicable* to the current situation, we will continue to flounder for quite awhile.

7/05/2007 06:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

If it's fair to characterize three of those reasons as societal (and I think it is), the fourth might as well be too. It's not that the craft has disappeared but that it is no longer valued by the culture. (Or to quote Kimball, "...instead of a pedantic mastery of perspective and modeling we have a pedantic mastery of all the accepted attitudes about race, class, sex, and politics.")

But I would challenge that these reasons are societal only insofar as they refer to the society of art. The culture that involves itself with visual art has replaced real virtues with false ones, and Kimball outlines this ably. Visual qualities that connected art across times and cultures are no longer valued as central concerns.

The solution isn't retrogression, as if such a thing were possible, but to let the art world balkanize into as many fragments as needed.You would follow the kinds of art you like just as you follow the various kinds of music you like. In fact, this is already happening. There are vibrant art groups that don't intersect with the mainstream at all: the graphic novel crowd, a whole genre of performance that concentrates on blowing shit up, people who collect retro illustration, burners, art geeks, and on and on. The formalists, the atelier realism crowd, Dadaism's myriad offspring, the political artists, and the rest all ought to just get out of each others' hair and do their thing. When you (Ed) have recommended to artists who don't like The Game to make up their own, this is exactly correct, and in line with the above.

Two things stand in their way: tenure, and the publicly funded contemporary art museum. Tenure is an anticompetitive practice that causes fashionable ideas to stay around in academia much longer than natural or desirable. Contemporary museums only ever drift towards conformity, inefficiency, ideology, and stasis, as one would predict of any government entity run by homogenous, unnaccountable mandarins. Avoiding these forces and their minions, or finding the exceptions among them, is difficult. But I digress.

It's within these smaller communities that standards are meaningful and generative, and art can only flourish with standards. There's plenty of humanity to go around - it just has to find the right hooks to hang on.

7/05/2007 10:14:00 PM  
Blogger Betta said...

Ed,

Is this art that is not human limited to contemporary art from (so-called) 'Western' or anglo-centric art centres, or do you also take it to encompass art from the rest of the world?

It seems to me there is alot of art being made worldwide that is very engaged with humanity.

Perhaps this soul-lessness that is detected in 'art' (again, I don't know if in this sense it is just meant to mean American art?) is a reflection of the difficulty many American artists feel in engaging with the outside world. You seem to hint at a solipsistic emptiness.

Even Botero's powerful paintings of Abu Ghraib was an outside view looking in. It is difficult (but important) to look at oneself from the inside.

Forgive me if I'm speaking out of turn, as I'm not an American. It's just my observation. We face the same problems here in Malaysia, but almost in a reverse way - we are only concerned about an international audience, we ignore what art means to the local context.

Your blog is so interesting, I felt compelled to comment.

7/05/2007 10:16:00 PM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

So I am in Petsmart buying my dogs some food and I am thinking "how did pet stores become this?" I remember the small mom and pops just a short time ago, now I am buying this huge bag of dogfood (that i hope is safe)in this huge warehouse with 10 checkouts and people with their pets running around getting training lessons asking which brand of dogfood is safe to eat. "El Progesso es Regresso" as an artist friend scribbled on an installation wall quoting a common utterance by his deceased Cuban grandmother.

We know that is both true and false for various reasons.

I heard on NPR today that a UN official is concerned about the development of biofuels raising food prices making it more difficult for the poor. He was echoing the concerns of another old Cuban (almost deceased) Fidel Castro. Progress is Regress indeed.

Deborah is right on about intellect, since being moral requires the brain to a large extent-hence our current commander-in-chief. But, as far as art goes, perhaps it doesn't know what to do these days, or how to act. Once an artist figures out what,how,where,and to whom to communicate, and risks failure in any of those aspects, then i think something human (maybe humane) is transfered (esp. if its flawed). But most of our attempts are awkward little children hiding behind the chalkboard at recess.

Kimya Dawson asks in one of her songs that if any one of her listeners thinks of committing suicide to call her first just to talk and help. I like that. Art as help-line/social work.

7/06/2007 02:30:00 AM  
Anonymous House of rats said...

Disclaimer: I didn't read the article in question (yet)

Franklin: "doesn't it stand to reason that he's concluding this recent descent into a lack of mastery of craft is part of why it's now a disaster. "

Any time the the mind/body split becomes mutually exclusive its a "disaster" for art and for humanistic aspects of art. They are talking about "deskilling" art depts and art schools. The disparagement of craft isn't a casual thing--its a DISASTER. (IMHO) Then again--art based on manual virtuosity alone is ALSO a disaster! Head and Body must be united as they are within an actual human being. We can celebrate our "strong intellectual compass" but to do so at the expense of celebrating what we are capable of making via our hand is foolish indeed. Until we are brains in a vat.

7/06/2007 06:58:00 AM  
Anonymous cmb said...

Lots of so-called unskilled art requires thinking.
When will thinking be recognized as a skill?

7/06/2007 07:19:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

to let the art world balkanize into as many fragments as needed

I believe (and noted above as much) that is what we're heading toward.

Just as in Music, however, you'll find certain visual arts are seen as more highbrow post-balkanization.

Is this art that is not human limited to contemporary art from (so-called) 'Western' or anglo-centric art centres, or do you also take it to encompass art from the rest of the world?

It seems to me there is alot of art being made worldwide that is very engaged with humanity.


I agree, which is why I feel the globalization of the art world is exciting and good. In fact, there's a good deal of very humanist work being made in the US. Not enough of it is grabbing headlines for some people, though, leading to this general sense, as Kimball quoted Hans Sedlmayr as noting, that: "It is now that we begin to encounter the fevered quest for novelty at any price, it is now that we see insincere and superficial cynicism and deliberate conscious bluff."

I maintain that that is the work consistent with our collective values in the US (as evidenced by who's in the White House and what he's doing that we're doing nothing about, among other things). However, in other places, and in certain quarters in the US, that work makes no sense.

I see room for both actually. As I noted in the post, I don't necessarily agree with Kimball about the art world being a disaster. I think it's simply messy and complex at the moment...it might yet turn out to be a bonafide disaster, but none of the evidence Kimball presented was conclusive. His list of been-there/done-that artists was highly selective. He could have focused instead on Rineke Dijkstra, Mona Hatoum, Eberhard Havekost, Gary Hill, Roni Horn, Jason Rhoades, Pipilotti Rist, or others in that exhibition and come away with a much fresher take on the show.

7/06/2007 07:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jerry Kearns should be looked at.

7/06/2007 07:49:00 AM  
Anonymous J@simpleposie said...

Hi Edward,

An interesting feature of Mr. Kimball's 2500+ word diatribe is that only 221 of those words refer directly to the work in the exhibition:

"I thought about this as I picked my way through the galleries at the Hessel Museum. A “video installation” by Bruce Nauman in which a man and a woman endlessly repeat a litany of nonsense, tinctured here and there with scatological phrases. Been there. Photographs (in four or five different places) by Robert Mapplethorpe of his S&M pals. Very 1980s. Histrionic photographs by Cindy Sherman of herself looking victimized. Been there, too. Nam June Paik and his video installations. Done that. A big pile of red, white, and blue lollipops dumped in the corner by … well, it doesn’t much matter, does it? Any more than it matters who was responsible for the room featuring images of floating genitalia or the room with the video of ritualistic homosexual bondage. Ditto the catalogue: its assault on the English language is something you can find in scores, no, hundreds of art publications today: “For Valie Export, the female Body is covered with the stigmata of codes that shape and hamper it.” Well, bully for her. “As usual with Gober, the installation is a broken allegory that both elicits and resists our interpretation; that materially nothing is quite as it seems adds to our anxious curiosity.” As usual, indeed, though whether such pathetic verbiage adds to or smothers our curiosity is another matter altogether."

This person isn't LOOKING at the work. That's all there is to it. He refers to himself early on as a cultural pathologist with a duty requiring him to inspect, docket, and file away for the instruction and admonition of future generations. I find it interesting to see a critic looking at art as a disease in the first place and an incredibly problematic feature of his writing. The piece is overwhelmingly weighted to instruction and admonition with barely lip service paid to inspecting the art exhibition.

7/06/2007 08:26:00 AM  
Blogger ec said...

DFisher's point about mannerism intersects with Franklin's about tenure and musuem curation. The cultural factors that shape and surround us are so powerful, we can barely see past them, if at all. Guston said get everyone out of your studio. Much easier said than done.
This goes for the Malaysian (and Taiwanese) attitude of creating an international art, which also seems like a form of mannerism, with the motivation for escape from a local culture. That is understable but also limiting, in the sense of turning away from the visualizatoin of one's experience as it is not projected.
Whereas Balkanization could honor, and make vivid, local cultures. Internationalism becomes the highest form of mannerism. I wonder sometimes why it is worth tapping into; it is a confederacy of like-mindedness: mannerism: academicicism.
Helen Frankenthaler offered a solution I find so inspiring: you make the work, you really get lost in the experience of it. This can happen with thinking, this can happen with any form of art making. At that point, culture and experience and insight merge. That has communicative power.

7/06/2007 08:35:00 AM  
Anonymous J@simpleposie said...

I should add that I think it is completely legitimate to look at an exhibition's curation, catalogue, didactic material etc. and find it wanting. But I think at some point a critic has to measure that against the art in the room. It's ok. If you don't like it, you don't like it. It takes only a couple of words to state that with clarity.

7/06/2007 08:40:00 AM  
Anonymous J@simpleposie said...

Ha! I mean it - what is the point of rushing out the door to go see an exhibition that comes recommended as awful and to write a disparaging article about how awful it was well after the fact of its closing?

7/06/2007 08:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I agree with House of Rats (and Kimball) that the deskilling of the practice of art in favor of conceptuality has resulted in a gargantuan pile of poor objects. Skill is not art, but you need skill to reach art, and the attitude that doesn't recognize the connection causes value to be assigned to displays of audacity. It was fascinating that Kimball cited Orwell on this point. (I'm a big fan of House of Rats, BTW. Click her link.)

Just as in Music, however, you'll find certain visual arts are seen as more highbrow post-balkanization.

Not only that, but you start to discern highbrow and lowbrow even within the genre itself, like the difference between Gillian Welch and Toby Keith. This is healthy. But Keith, who's awful, is having a much more lucrative career than Welch, who's gifted, and we should think about that phenomenon when we see who is garnering success in the galleries and the contemporary musuems.

7/06/2007 09:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Props to EC and a link to Gillian Welch.

An interesting feature of Mr. Kimball's 2500+ word diatribe is that only 221 of those words refer directly to the work in the exhibition... And yet, If you don't like it, you don't like it. It takes only a couple of words to state that with clarity. There you go.

Balkanization could honor, and make vivid, local cultures.

Amen. Even philosophically local cultures. I think Kimball is right on the money here: the crowd down at Bard that's still venerating the 1990's canon has stalled. This kind curatorial conservatism (and yes, despite the leftism of the politics, it's still reactionary) insists on seeing new work through a lens that no longer applies. Ironically, this is what people try to pin on Kimball when he asks the right question, which is "Why is anybody bothering with this?"

7/06/2007 09:22:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Internationalism becomes the highest form of mannerism. I wonder sometimes why it is worth tapping into; it is a confederacy of like-mindedness: mannerism: academicicism.

I'm not quite sure I get this idea, I have to admit. Internationalism comes along for the ride with the shrinking of the planet technology facilitates, no? Are you suggesting that we shouldn't look for common threads among artists working in different parts of the world? Are you suggesting work that transcends its native local is automatically compromised somehow? Can you elaborate?

the crowd down at Bard that's still venerating the 1990's canon has stalled

You know, I was thinking that just last Tuesday. There was this curator organizing work that was made on Monday, but because of logistics the exhibition wouldn't open until Wednesday, and I thought, Jeez, everyone who's anyone will have already seen it, digested it, and moved on by then...why bother? ;-P

7/06/2007 09:36:00 AM  
Anonymous J@simpleposie said...

There you go.

And?

7/06/2007 09:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

You have time for sparring once again, I see. I'll respond accordingly.

There's a difference between lingering and stalling. The art cited in the Kimball essay represented the darlings of an era and none of them are very good. Challenging their air-fluffed reputations and the curatorial forces that secure them is an excellent exercise. That Kimball's doing so causes certain readers to see references to the 19th Century and comparisons to previous art that aren't actually there in the writing indicates to me that he's on the right track.

Once I reach this point in my thinking though, I find I need to consider whether there are artists with such courage out there, but they're not being noticed or celebrated enough.

Not being noticed or celebrated enough by whom? Don't hide behind passive voice: either find these people and celebrate them or admit that you're going along for the cynical ride on some level.

7/06/2007 09:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

You answered yourself, J.

7/06/2007 10:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I retract that - all of us are going along for the cynical ride on some level. The rest of the point stands, and for all of us, not just Ed.

7/06/2007 10:04:00 AM  
Anonymous J@simpleposie said...

Franklin, you call Edward out for not naming and celebrating... but what does Kimball's essay celebrate? Surely on the most basic level you don't think that in all that verbage, a little more room couldn't be made in the review to wrestle (bad pun haha) with the art itself?

7/06/2007 10:10:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

art cited in the Kimball essay represented the darlings of an era and none of them are very good.

Well, I disagree. Nauman remains one of the brightest minds of his or any generation. Sherman, Paik, Mapplethorpe, etc. have limitations, but are light years ahead of enough of their contemporaries that such declarations of their quality seem, at least, relatively untrue. If the attitudes and practices they collectively represent have aged a bit (and I'll agree they have), that doesn't in and of itself assure that newer or older art is any better.

Challenging their air-fluffed reputations and the curatorial forces that secure them is an excellent exercise.

Yawning is an excellent exercise? Seriously, what in Kimball's dismissals stands to your mind as an insightful critique of the work in question? Snarky, sure, but "excellent"?

Again, he faults the exhibition for including the artists he, with the advantage of time, now finds boring, but neglects to discuss their work in the context of a wider range of artists in the show, many of whom are very young indeed. He should have saved himself the trip up to Bard and simply written the review from his desk.

Don't hide behind passive voice: either find these people and celebrate them or admit that you're going along for the cynical ride on some level.

Ouch. That's quite a leap from my stream of consciousness transition to your charge, no? For the record, I consider a good chunk of what we're doing to be exactly that, celebrating those very artists. I won't discuss individual artists we work with on the blog in this context (that's unfair to them and a losing proposition for me all the way around because of how subjective such ideas are in the end), but that challenge is a bit too "Have you stopped beating your wife?" to address seriously.

7/06/2007 10:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

J, I don't have Kimball's ear, I have Ed's. Kimball framed a question in his title and answered it in his essay. Ed saw things in it that weren't there, and then preceded to look for a remedy, then found one, and it was unsupportable.

Nauman remains one of the brightest minds of his or any generation.

Smart guy, bad artist, typical of the kind that substitutes intellectual frisson for visual quality. As Kimball noted, "art is increasingly the creature of its explication." Nauman's strategy of seeming to do one thing while actually doing another sums up the current administration exactly - you almost have to use the same parsing technique to listen to Tony Snow. And yet you're looking for greater humanism in art. Good luck with that.

...he ... neglects to discuss their work in the context of a wider range of artists in the show, many of whom are very young indeed.

This is a fair criticism of the essay. I'm sure it would have been just as damning, but I would have gotten less of a sense that he was grinding old axes. The other problem I have with it is that I can't square his complaints about the widespread disregard of craft and Gober. Gober, although he can be as boring as watching the sidewalk crack, certainly crafts his work. But nevertheless the essay is an excellent barrage against some things that need more ordnance directed at them than they get.

...that challenge is a bit too "Have you stopped beating your wife?" to address seriously.

Bambino? You okay? Would you like me to kick his ass? (JK)

7/06/2007 11:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Fucking Blogger. Last comment was from me.

7/06/2007 11:37:00 AM  
Anonymous J@simpleposie said...

Re;

J, I don't have Kimball's ear, I have Ed's.

Why do you need Kimball's ear when you have his text?

7/06/2007 11:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Have a nice day, J.

7/06/2007 12:06:00 PM  
Anonymous J@simpleposie said...

enchante comme d'habitude

7/06/2007 12:13:00 PM  
Blogger ec said...

nternationalism becomes the highest form of mannerism. I wonder sometimes why it is worth tapping into; it is a confederacy of like-mindedness: mannerism: academicicism.

I'm not quite sure I get this idea, I have to admit. Internationalism comes along for the ride with the shrinking of the planet technology facilitates, no? Are you suggesting that we shouldn't look for common threads among artists working in different parts of the world? Are you suggesting work that transcends its native local is automatically compromised somehow? Can you elaborate?
Ed, something I have experienced in my travels is that work that aspires to an international art context starts to look similar in Beijing, New York, or London. It can be made in the most diverse circumstances, climates and/or policitcal and social cultures, but through the international discourse becomes in itself a common thread. Does this compromise it? No, because that's what it aspires to. But in aspiring to the international discourse, it develops the capacity to negate more locally reocgnizable or regional characteristics. So while communication between artists working in different parts of the world increases, pretty soon the flavor is internationalist, and everything kind of blends together.
I'm toying with this ide and welcome any thoughts and insights, because it raises complex issues.
On a practical level, how do you communicate your experience to one culture when you speak and live another? How do you expect work to be recognized if it can't communicate? But, imagine encountering something you have to wonder what you're looking at, something that comes from another impulse, another place, that possesses another kind of aesthetic or spirit.

7/06/2007 12:17:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Kimball framed a question in his title and answered it in his essay.

There's no question in his title. It's a declaration. A bias he gives the reader every reason to suspect was firmly in place before he set out for Bard.

saw things in it that weren't there

Like an actual substantial critique of the artists he snarkily brushes aside to "prove" his point, you mean?

Smart guy, bad artist, typical of the kind that substitutes intellectual frisson for visual quality.

Visual quality? Are you talking "beauty"? What? That's entirely too vague not be subjective.

I'm sure it would have been just as damning

Because he was hellbent on proving his thesis independent of considering the actual art, because all the artists in the exhibition are "bad" artists, or are you a mindreader?

But nevertheless the essay is an excellent barrage against some things that need more ordnance directed at them than they get.

Let me see if I understand the appeal of this. He suggests the art world is a disaster because curators won't move on from the 1990s canon (which he clearly hates). However, if that's truly the cause of this presumed disatrous state, it ludicrously leads to the eventual conclusion that curators should not place newer work into historical contexts, for fear that any problems with the older work he hates will blind critics like himself to anything redeemable about the newer work. No?

Finally, for my mind, the heavy perfume of aestheticism (which I'm sorry, but I can't help but associate with the 19th Century) permeating the whole essay stiffles any real appreciation for the few valid points he makes.

7/06/2007 12:18:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Ed asks, "Let me see if I understand the appeal of this…"

There really is none, it is a case of preaching to the converted.

What irritates me no end about this type of article, this type of polarized debate, is that it tends to deal only in generalities. There is a tendency to lump all artist and all artists work together in a big soup, and then draw some grand conclusion. Well, hello, if you take all of the post-1950 ‘modernist’ artists and lump them together, you get a gray soup as well, just as much bad art as with the postmodernist soup.

7/06/2007 01:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Ed, your original post says, "His clarion call to return to the 19th Century can hardly be expected to excite a new generation of artists." He makes no such call. Your comment above says, "By suggesting what's wrong with today's art, always in comparison with previous art, but not offering a progressive solution, he leaves stand no other conclusion than that he supports a reactionary solution, no?" He makes no such comparisons. These things are not there, your inferences notwithstanding.

Your original post suggests that our art would improve if our moral values improved. This is unsupportable, there is prior evidence to the contrary, and it is not altogether different from the remedy you see implied in Kimball's essay.

I am talking beauty. Beauty is real. If you'd like to dispute that, bring it on.

I think the Bard curators would have included younger artists with sympathetic or contiguous concerns to the older ones, and thus Kimball wouldn't have been impressed with them either, for the same reasons. I cannot read minds, but thank you for asking.

I am suggesting that the curators are stuck on the '90s canon, not Kimball. (I have been there and done that too, as it happens.) It does not therefore follow that I oppose placing newer work into the context of older work. Rather, I support placing weaker work in the basement and stronger work on the exhibition floor.

Aesthetic powers have given us our best art in every century, including this one. The attack on the aesthetic impulse is one of the great anti-humanistic trends of the age. Humanism has a reverent attitude towards beauty, not a cynical one.

7/06/2007 01:29:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

There is no "attack on the aesthetic impulse."

The aesthetic is fluid, it gets reevaluated and redefined over time.

I think it is a mistake to assume that there is no conceptual component to the aesthetic.

Art in the next millennium may serve a different cultural function, it may be seen and evaluated differently than in the past.

7/06/2007 02:13:00 PM  
Blogger Henry said...

In which our correspondent Mister Kimball chances upon a remote straw factory, discovers a partially stuffed shirt in the lane, props it in a field, photographs it in close-up, adding a number of frightful ravens for effect, and writes an enlivened essay on the matter.

7/06/2007 02:35:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

E: always in comparison with previous art.... F: He makes no such comparisons.

I beg to differ. This entire paragraph is an exercise in comparison with previous art:

"That cult has long since become the new Salon where the canons of accepted taste are enforced with a rigidity that would have made Bouguereau jealous. The only difference is that instead of a pedantic mastery of perspective and modeling we have a pedantic mastery of all the accepted attitudes about race, class, sex, and politics. Since skill is no longer necessary to practice art successfully, the only things left are 1) appropriate subject matter (paradoxically, the more inappropriate the better) and 2) the right politics."

As is this sentence:

"I do not have much time for Marcel Duchamp; in my view his influence on art and culture has been almost entirely baneful; but it is amusing to ponder how much he would have loathed the contemporary art world where all his ideas had been ground-down into inescapable clichés, trite formulas served up by society grandees at their expensive art fêtes in the mistaken belief that they are embarked on some existentially or aesthetically daring enterprise."

These things are not there

I'll give you the "remedies" bit, if you'll concede the "comparisons" bit.

Your original post suggests that our art would improve if our moral values improved. This is unsupportable, there is prior evidence to the contrary,

You didn't address my concern about your prior evidence to the contrary; namely, whether the superior art you saw in political times you generalize as overall immoral represented achievements in humanism over formalism and whether they were accomplished by the rare genius or were more typical of the typical artists of their respective ages.

I am talking beauty. Beauty is real. If you'd like to dispute that, bring it on.

You misunderstood me. I appreciate Beauty. I happen to believe it's often a matter of personal opinion based on, in part, biography, though, and therefore measuring its "quality" becomes rather problematic. I grew up in the rust belt, for example, and feel oxidized metal is exquisitely gorgeous. Other people would strongly disagree. Who's right? Some folks believe neon signs (such as those Nauman is known for) are beautiful. Who is authority enough to tell them they're wrong? More to the point though, beauty, even when agreed upon, is only one measure of whether art is good or not.

I think the Bard curators would have included younger artists with sympathetic or contiguous concerns to the older ones, and thus Kimball wouldn't have been impressed with them either, for the same reasons.

So it's the concern or subject matter, and not their treatment or aesthetics, that make this work so bad? Not even Kimball goes that far.

Aesthetic powers have given us our best art in every century, including this one.

Superlatives and aesthetics, like bleach and ammonia, are best not mixed, in my humble opinion. The "best" art of any century changes constantly in the minds of the only people whose opinions count: the living. What was considered beautiful in Elizabethian times might be considered butt-ugly now. I'm not at all sure how you can defend that assertion given that. But I'd love to see you try.

The attack on the aesthetic impulse is one of the great anti-humanistic trends of the age.

That's a whole thread unto itself. I tend to agree with George (i.e., One person's "attack" can be another person's advance.), but think this topic is very complicated and needs careful parsing to avoid suggesting we have a static definition of aesthetics or beauty.

7/06/2007 02:41:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

The problem with these arguments over aesthetics is that they posit localized viewpoints. I would bet if you could take an acclaimed artist’s work, say Pollock, or Picasso in his high cubist phase, and put it into the aesthetic discourse 100 years earlier, it would be considered junk by most viewers.

We tend to grow into things.

7/06/2007 03:03:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

We tend to grow into things.

Again, CG: "all profoundly original art looks ugly at first."

7/06/2007 03:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I'll give you the "remedies" bit, if you'll concede the "comparisons" bit.

Reluctantly. Neither Bouguereau's art nor Duchamp's comes up; Kimball likens the new Salon to the old French one (I happen to like Bouguereau, BTW) and brings in Duchamp as a literary device. But alright.

I appreciate Beauty. I happen to believe it's often a matter of personal opinion based on, in part, biography, though, and therefore measuring its "quality" becomes rather problematic.

You can't measure it, but you can detect it, if you have the ability for that kind of thing. If beauty were purely a function of opinion then no consensus would ever form around anything as beautiful. Beauty wouldn't work the way that it does - as breathtaking, attention-hording, important all out of proportion to the fact that it's all based on shape and color. Flower arrangements would as likely contain roses as wheat. Styles wouldn't form. Art would never have come into being - why make it, if a bare sheet of paper was as beautiful as one with a great drawing on it, depending on who's doing the looking? The wonder is not that things considered beautiful in Elizabethan times might not be now, but that many of them still are. Many times I had a student line up a handful of canvases, and I asked the room, which one's the best? The consensus was astonishing - over and over again they would agree on the best two if not the best one. Something is going on that transcends opinion. I think the basis is biological, and that basis seeks expression in culture. The culture varies a lot but the biology varies slightly.

Beauty, even when agreed upon, is only one measure of whether art is good or not.

Art can be made to do any number of things, but it only does one thing well: to act as a repository for visual quality. Art that fails to do this, if it's kept around, is valued for conceptual, historical, or sentimental reasons. Concepts, that is, ideas, are interesting or not, or correct or not, but aren't good in the way that beauty is good. History just exists. Sentiment really is the product of biography. So there are other markers (let's not use "measures") of valuation but art's goodness is formal.

Not even Kimball goes that far.

I mean "concerns" to include aesthetic ones.

7/06/2007 03:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Again, CG: "all profoundly original art looks ugly at first."

It doesn't follow that all art that looks ugly at first is profoundly original. A lot of people believe that, though.

7/06/2007 04:01:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

If beauty were purely a function of opinion then no consensus would ever form around anything as beautiful.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

What constitutes a consensus?

The perception of beauty changes over time and culture.

OK, I’ll make an exception for big eyes, even monkeys like them.

7/06/2007 04:13:00 PM  
Anonymous House of Rats said...

"OK, I’ll make an exception for big eyes, even monkeys like them."

Exactly. There's a lot of concensus on what constitutes pretty. And a lot of concensus on what's disgusting. Tweak these and you get...what? Beauty?
Beauty changes by culture, by individual, but as a species we're enthralled by certain proportions, rhythms and color.

Red lips are pretty--redder lips are beautiful? Maybe. Scabby, infested lips exhaling serious halitosis? Not so much. (Unless your pervy--nothing wrong with that!)

I think the idea of beauty is in the mind of the beholder, but the inspiring qualities are inherent in the object beheld.

If an artists wishes to use this to their advantage--then more power to 'em, I say.

7/06/2007 04:30:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Unless your pervy--nothing wrong with that!

Which is where I begin to wonder how much of what we consider beauty is taught (and whether left to our own devices, we'd develop a radically different sense of beauty [which might explain severe tribal tatooing or neck rings, or why sometimes a perverted sense of "beauty" can be foisted upon folks by a egomaniacal tyrant, such as with high Elizabethian foreheads and deathly pale skin]).

And beyond human features/decorations, this holds up. A rose, to my mind, is an incredibly plain flower (seriously, I've never quite seen why they're so beloved...saturation of color, velvety texture, fragrance, yes, yes, but formally?), whereas a good orchid is simply sublime. Yet, socially, roses, like the equally overrated diamonds, are widely held as superior to their competition. I think they've simply had better public relations campaign, which tells me it's not all so simple when it comes to beauty. And the same, most definitely can be said of some art.

7/06/2007 04:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I assume you don't find roses repulsive, so we're still talking about variations on a baseline. (That 1 Guy just came out with an album called "The Moon Is Disgusting.")

This opens up a nature/nurture or objective/subjective debate that's so intractable it makes me suspect that the terms are wrong. But there's something highly problematic with saying, "We can't define beauty or find a constant trait for it, so it must be a product of acculturation." It's just not - it keeps cropping up in one form or another in all cultures and frequently does so in a manner that crosses them.

7/06/2007 05:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

in traditional javanese shadow plays, (and elsewhere in indonesian archepelego) the idealized elegant heavenly characters have very narrow elongated eyes, and the ghastly portly stupid demons are the wide-eyed ones! so forget that stereotype as well...beauty is mostly subjective and culturally-based

7/06/2007 05:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

How Art Can Be Good by Paul Graham

7/06/2007 05:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

a thought-experiment next time you take a walk--try to look at "nature"without framing it in your mind's eye as we've been taught to appreciate in western art-- "views"and such. I think of it as "acceptable nature"vs "unacceptable nature"--hiking in the hills for instance--it's very hard to drag your gaze away from what you've learned is the most beautiful--but does our current agreement on that mean that the view we've been taught to adore is the only "objectively"beautiful one when it comes to the natural world-- I think not--just because we agree that's the thing to stare at and photograph in our culture doesn't mean it's universally so. I
started thinking about this apropos the native american studies I did in the 70's, when visiting the southwest and such, for instance at pipestone national monument--not very spectacular by our current standards--or the black hills--likewise--or what we consider to be boring flat grasslands--these are all considered beautiful and sacred to those whose ancestral stomping grounds they are--it's so valuable to look obliquely and step outside the received notions that we take as natural and god-given

7/06/2007 05:34:00 PM  
Anonymous house of Rats said...

The specific ideas of beauty can be transmitted culturally, but the fact that we respond to aesthetics is a natural fact. Probably aesthetic sense arose out of survival strategies.

Generally we find health pretty (or attractive) and sickness ugly. Puking is close to universally GROSS--in fact--I bet no culture as a group promotes it as '"beautful", although some individuals may find it so.

I betcha feral people brought up by wolves on desert islands will still decorate their shelter with what visually pleases them. Maybe "beauty" like GOD had to be invented to explain that. Maybe to explain the bizarre imperative NEED to decorate, we projected this onto the idea of a god by saying these images and objects are to "glorify god" or some such thus making them "more special" or "art". (disclaimer: I am not religious!)

The fact that sometime beauty is used to descriminate against people only confirms to me that its powerful. The fact that its the word that dare not be spoken in art conversations as we roll our eyes and throw up out arms in frustration is further proof.

7/06/2007 05:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll bet it's pretty awesome when a shaman sucks the sickness out of your body after a long ritual and trance and pukes it out in front of everyone--chances are they don't think "gross"
the wolf people's decoration will not look like it came from metropolitan home magazine
those who are discriminated against for being "ugly"will look radically different from culture to culture, era to era--betcha!

7/06/2007 05:43:00 PM  
Anonymous House of Rats said...

"the wolf people's decoration will not look like it came from metropolitan home magazine"

That's exactly what I was trying to say.

OK one more time:
The specifics of beauty are changable, the fact that we respond to it, invented a word for it, desire it, LOVE it, isn't.

So I was wrong about puke. Its still not aesthetically attractive, though. Curative powers don't need to be aesthetic to be wonderful. In fact, this hearkens to the original use of the word "awful". So it comes down to whether your idea of beauty is "awe-ful" or "aesthetically pleasing".


I think it would be even more interesting if the word "pretty" was open to artistic discussion. That word seems way, way more taboo than "beauty". At least beauty can contain the idea of ugly (and visce versa)! People are so afraid of prettiness they go out of their way to avoid it.

7/06/2007 06:11:00 PM  
Blogger the expat/pissedpoet said...

"Beauty is truth; truth, beauty"--that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

7/06/2007 07:46:00 PM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

An experiment took place where several different people from different cultures were shown photos of 15 or so human faces, ranging from the most beautiful models to the average peeps (like me) to the most disfigured faces. They were asked to arrange them according to most to least beautiful. In each case, the arrangements were exactly the same! So yes, at the base level there is a biological component to the appreciation of beauty.

But, there is also a base level appreciation for food, or having our bellies filled with food. Beyond this base there are cultural and environmental refinements ( i like spaghetti, but i really love my mama's!) And last time i checked, Art is a cultural entity.

I like reading Franklin's ideas about art because it helps me refine my own ideas. The idea of "visual quality" keeps coming up. I would say that visual quality is an important factor in art, but "visual quality" for me is always in service to the ideas and concepts of a work. My friend and I were reminded of this fact yesterday looking at a museum show of contemporary Cuban art. Visual quality isnt about craft or "correct" composition or proportions. Its about the right level of craft and the specific correct composition and proportions to drive home the idea (intellectual, political, emotional, etc) behind the work.

In the show, we saw things overly crafted and underly (is that a word?). In both the issue was a lack of consideration for how the form could assist the concept.

7/07/2007 08:19:00 AM  
Anonymous J@simpleposie said...

Wrestle had works in it by the following artists:

Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Giovanni Anselmo, Janine Antoni, Vanessa Beecroft, Alighiero E Boetti, Daniel Buren, Larry Clark, Martin Creed, Rineke Dijkstra, Valie Export, Luciano Fabro, Robert Gober, Nan Goldin, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Mona Hatoum, Eberhard Havekost, Gary Hill, Roni Horn, Isaac Julien, Imi Knoebel, Yayoi Kusama, Sol LeWitt, Robert Mapplethorpe, Christian Marclay, Malerie Marder, Paul McCarthy, Ana Mendieta, Mario Merz, Marisa Merz, Bruce Nauman, Cady Noland, Gabriel Orozco, Tony Oursler, Nam June Paik, Giuseppe Penone, Sigmar Polke, Richard Prince, Jason Rhoades, Pipilotti Rist, Doris Salcedo, Thomas Schütte, Cindy Sherman, Thomas Struth, Do-Ho Suh, Rosemarie Trockel, Karlheinz Weinberger, Lawrence Weiner, Christopher Wool

How many of these artists did Mr. Kimball manage to dismiss er mention in his review?

7/07/2007 08:28:00 AM  
Anonymous J@simpleposie said...

Hey Mark,

overly crafted and underly

Nicely phrased. Do you see the issue pertaining to art criticism as well? For example would you say form adequately assists concept in Why the Artworld is a Disaster?

7/07/2007 09:39:00 AM  
Anonymous J@simpleposie said...

I mean you could walk out of the Uffizi just as easily with the feeling you had seen a couple too many body parts...

7/07/2007 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger Henry said...

J -- Well done! I'm embarrassed that I didn't even bother to look up what the original exhibition contained. After some searching I found the NY Times review here: Still Crazy, but That Was the Concept (Holland Cotter, Nov 10, 2006). Here's the most relevant and interesting part of the review, given our current discussion:

This is not an experience provided by big museums of late, with two exceptions. The Whitney’s recent permanent collection show, “Full House,” had its moments. So did an unusually stimulating reinstallation of the Museum of Modern Art’s contemporary galleries by Klaus Biesenbach and Roxana Marcoci last year.

This stands in direct opposition to Kimball's counterpart assertion:

The prevalence of exhibitions like "Wrestle," of collectors like Marieluise Hessel, of institutions like the Hessel Museum and Bard College help us begin to answer that question.

Bold type is mine. Cotter is sympathetic to the exhibition, saying, "we don't get enough of this art," even managing to actually cite some tangible data in support of his assertion. Kimball is unfavorable and seems to be saying "one is too much," not bothering to provide examples.

Kimball's commentary is such an enormous strawman it would be banned by the Black Rock City Fire Marshall. I have half a mind to buy the Wrestle exhibition book just for the sake of it.

7/07/2007 11:14:00 AM  
Anonymous J@simpleposie said...

Thanks Henry. and thanks for the link.

7/07/2007 11:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I'm fond of asking people who put beauty under ideas in the hierarchy of art whether they select their food the same way. "This tastes terrible but it brings up interesting issues about originality and history." Or their music. "On the drive home from work I like to listen to randomly arranged recordings of machinery because it makes me contemplate the prevalence of industrialization." What's sad is that the literature crowd, which has to handle ideas as a necessary part of the medium, is much less confused about this than the art crowd. They understand that ideas explored in fiction can't interfere with the delivery, which is a problem of form, and nevertheless have to be handled in an intelligent and nuanced way. It's not adequate to merely evoke this concept or that, which is what art of that leaning typically strives for. Not incidentally, book critics like Dale Peck and Michiko Kakutani make Roger Kimball look like Sister Wendy.

We have a word for visual art that serves ideas and concepts. We call it "illustration." I have nothing against illustration (I probably cover it more than most self-described art critics) but it doesn't embody the highest goals of art. Also, there's a difference between something that sets out to succeed as illustration and does so, and something that sets out to succeed as art and succeeds instead at illustration. Art, from the beginning, was driven by thinking of some kind. But if an object's beauty didn't overtake the thinking behind it, we didn't value it. Now there's a class of art aficionados that won't value it if it does.

I just watched a video about a beatboxing event in San Francisco called Vowel Movement. I promise you that no one involved is wondering about the place of auditory quality in what they're doing. It's primary, central, and given. There's also a huge amount of agreement about what belongs in the form and what makes it good. My own take on why the art world is a disaster is because it doesn't have this agreement. Without this agreement you can't assign value in a confident way, and without a mechanism to assign value you start looking for external markers like auction prices, whether the major collectors are interested, the artist's age, and so on.

Again, the remedy will be balkanization - just let the groups divvy up according to common interest and narrow in on what they need to think about to advance. It would help if the contemporary art museums would then identify these groups and show them. Whether they will is an open question.

7/07/2007 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

J@,
In terms of structure and style, Kimball's writing is wonderful-much better than I could even aspire to. I just think there is some lazy thinking and undeveloped analysis involved in the essay.

For example, he is perhaps correct in pointing out the error in the implication of "risk taking" on the part of the collector, curator, etc. But I find it his predjudice that prevents him from suggesting the show should actually be presented as important historical landmarks rather than the edge of avant garde practice.

But perhaps my predjudice is involved in MY analysis of HIS analysis. I have a hard time with an almost religious belief in art. This is how I interpret calls for work that "gratify and enoble". But I have to ask if my aversion to that line of thinking isnt a proper postmodern and cynical stance against such "veneration" - a word he uses in his criticism of the show itself. But I am also averse to such attitudes toward work like in the Wrestle show as well. Because I am an athiest artistically.

Kimball ends the essay with the word "boring". I remember some time ago I suggested in a response on this fine blog that that word is worthy of discussion. I know it seems such a crude word, so base and common. But I think that is such a ubiquitous and base level respose for all of us. I think that is the fist word that pops into our heads when we dissmiss work, quickly or not. What is "boring"? Why would I find my friend's fav movie "Die Hard" boring, but he finds a fav of mine, "The Queen", equally so? How are such differences in sensibilities created? Is it a matter of a lack of deep level brain activity? Or just basic cultural learning? I am sure that if I was thinking creatively and fully, some very interesting observations could be made of "Die Hard". I, too, am lazy sometimes.

7/07/2007 11:36:00 AM  
Anonymous J@simpleposie said...

Franklin, Parker's wine tasting notes will do that and so will much music criticism - this is not necessarily a subjection of beauty to ideas. It is simply a comparative discourse. And it would be great if that discourse could include a few more factual tidbits so as to seem less like a mighty wind and approach a convincing persuasive argument.

7/07/2007 12:03:00 PM  
Anonymous J@simpleposie said...

Mark your boring insight is interesting. It seems an ironic thing to get all bent out of shape and then say I'm bored.

7/07/2007 12:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Parker's wine tasting notes and much music criticism will do what? What is not necessarily a subjection of beauty to ideas? What is simply a comparative discourse?

7/07/2007 12:21:00 PM  
Anonymous J@simpleposie said...

Oh my...Your questions are so obtuse - they're completely rounded at the free end!

A lot of criticism will find things interesting ( will find value ) about the thing in question whether it is art, wine or music regardless of whether the critic is being pleased - or having an epiphany.

Art that doesn't match my taste may still be of interest to me and that fact does not subject beauty to ideas.

Criticism is a comparative discourse.

7/07/2007 12:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I'm not sure what that has to do with what I wrote above, but thank you for sharing.

7/07/2007 12:55:00 PM  
Anonymous J@simpleposie said...

Thank YOU for asking! It is my distinct pleasure to share with you.

7/07/2007 12:58:00 PM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

Franklin: I'm fond of asking people who put beauty under ideas in the hierarchy of art whether they select their food the same way. "This tastes terrible but it brings up interesting issues about originality and history."

Well, my wife likes fine cuisine. And she likes hotdogs. But she has to have the cheap oscar meyers and cheap buns- none of that fancy stuff. This is because she wants to be reminded of the hot summers as a kid and the camping trips with her parents. So form (the ingredients, the packaging) enhances the desired concept. Its not that beauty is "under" ideas, its that beauty is an emotional part of perception and visual awareness which is a part of total congntive awareness. To place visual awareness as a singular aspect of consideration is. to me, surface awareness. Then, to treat beauty as a wholly singular aspect of consideration is surface consideration OF a surface awareness (overall visual awareness).
You're right to point out that sometimes (perhaps too much to your sensibilities) ideas interfere with the form. But I would say this is because of a lack of understanding of how formal consideration clarifies the ideas. You may see this as making form subservient to concept, I see it as form and idea in collabration.

7/07/2007 01:59:00 PM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

i mean "collaboration"

7/07/2007 02:12:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Thinking about this while the paint dries.

Henry, thanks for the link and comment:-)

Ed said "I think we may be entering the era of specialized art"

I would agree. I think the primary cause is that the art world had become large enough to support such an idea. This is a relatively recent development, occurring over about the last 20 years as I see it. I wouldn’t use the term ‘balkanization’ which implies a ‘dividing up’ of something already existent, rather I see the art world expanding to satisfy the expanded market place. I see this as a marketing event not a critical or philosophical event.

Regardless of how the fabric of the art world is carved up, I suspect that a particular type of art, a type of art which resonates within the culture, will elevate itself, in terms of visibility, above the pool of available art. Of course whatever form takes precedence, it will be supplanted on an ongoing basis, the need for change, for something new, is a cultural demand which must be satisfied.

My own take on why the art world is a disaster is that I think it’s not. In other words I don’t buy into any of Kimball's arguments.

Sometimes art is good and sometimes art is not so good. Sometimes he and I might be in agreement, most of the time not, so what he thinks is good, or bad, I might have the exact opposite response. Who will I trust, myself or someone else? Someone else with a different pair of eyes, a different education, a different life experience, whatever, thank you but no thanks.

It occurred to me several years ago that one could pair up certain attributes which one might apply to art and at a given moment in time the culture tended to favor one over the other.

Take simple attributes like:
Form vs. Content
The Emotional vs. the Intellectual

Ideally these aspects are unified, but it seems that in practice, the culture (artists and audience) will lean one way or the other in emphasis. From my point of view, the form/content pair, the formal and conceptual, are at their core unified. This view negates Franklin's pejorative use of the term illustration, all art is illustrative.

If one considers the two points of view, Kimball’s and Cotter’s, it is clear that they are in disagreement which suggests that there is some room for debate. The problem I had with Kimball’s response is that it is non specific, it is a position statement not really a critical review. The difficulty with this point of view is that it tells us nothing new. If the reviewer dislikes this type of art, there must be a reason.

It is not sufficient to dismiss the works because they are ‘conceptual’ (whatever, content emphasis). If the reviewer feels the work is weak because its ‘form’ is weak, then this is the point which should be addressed, not the notion of form over content.

If an artwork is weak formally, it works in detriment to whatever strengths it might have conceptually. At certain moments in cultural history, this may be overlooked because a new conceptual paradigm is being established.

However, as time moves on, this weakness will wear thin and demand to be reassessed. In a similar manner, the artists who champion the formal, relying primarily on the idea of a ‘visual’ resolution should be aware that this singular position also ignores other the aspects I mentioned above and will be invisible to a large part of the viewing audience.

7/07/2007 02:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

You may see this as making form subservient to concept...

Your words: "visual quality" for me is always in service to the ideas and concepts of a work.

...I see it as form and idea in collabration.

Ideas drop out of art over time, while form remains. In the end, ideas don't matter.

7/07/2007 03:07:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Ideas drop out of art over time, while form remains. In the end, ideas don't matter.

But, more often than not, in the beginning they do.

Your position is unsupportable.

7/07/2007 03:38:00 PM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

Hey Franklin, thanks for pointing out to me how my thoughts (or expression of those thoughts) have developed thru this discussion!

Coolio!

7/07/2007 03:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

But, more often than not, in the beginning they do.

Never said they didn't. In fact, I doubt anyone is so sense-oriented that they make art without any ideas at all in mind, although I wouldn't rule such people out of existence.

Your position is unsupportable.

You forgot, "...and your mother dresses you funny."

Mark, cheers!

7/07/2007 03:56:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

No need to resort to name calling.

If you want to support brain dead art, fine, but no thanks.

7/07/2007 04:01:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

The problem is that human experience is holistic, it involves the senses and the intellect. Sense perception involves conceptualization.

Your assumption that "form remains" is fine as long as you do not imply that this concept can be run backwards into good art, visual quality, or whatever your suggesting. I do not think this is the case.

It matters where one starts, from sensation or conceptualization, whatever choice one makes, at that point it becomes imbedded in the art.

7/07/2007 04:17:00 PM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

Ideas drop out of art over time, while form remains.

This may be true. Most do not know that Michelangelo's David was originally installed as a political statement. But, even now, once learning that fact, his intense stare and solid position seem all the more powerful.

I wonder also if this will be the fate of works like Duchamp's Fountain or other conceptual works made during an era where concepts are given more credence? Perhaps the conceptual aspect of David was lost thru the purely esthetic lens of 17th,18th,19th century eyes.

I would hope and expect that the political and personal ideas behind Felix Gonzalez Torres's work would never be lost perhaps two thousand years from now,yes)

My contention is this- Art has ALWAYS been conceptual.

7/07/2007 05:54:00 PM  
Blogger Henry said...

Franklin,

Your comment about food is quite surprising and yet also moot.

Surprising because most people aren't born eating garlic, onions, boiled okra, dark chocolate, Turkish coffee, kimchi, bourbon, gin, brandy, and so on. These are called "acquired tastes", and aren't necessarily considered "delicious". Thunderbird wine and Old Milwaukee didn't get popular because they "tasted good." All I need to do is say the word and this blog will be filled with examples of people who ate certain foods because they were challenging, not delicious.

Oh! Wait! Look! Here's one now!

As to music, Messaien and Zorn are quite cacophonous and yet quite brilliant, and Beethoven's Fifth was considered cacophonous in its day. There's an entire subgenre of music called industrial noise, which delivers exactly what you've described. I strongly suspect you know all this, which is why your comment is so surprising to me. (On the other hand, the Paul Potts CD has just been prereleased, after Simon Cowell's $2m offer to him, and I would look forward to your glowing review of its "beauty".)

But your observation is also quite moot. Beauty has nothing to do with visual interest, and vice versa. People don't engage in rubbernecking because they find car accidents beautiful, but because they find them interesting. We find it interesting to look at and eat many things because they are interesting. Beauty is just one form of visual interest, just as harmony is one form of musical interest and deliciousness is one form of culinary interest. Potts and Kinkade give us the equivalent of "comfort food" on one extreme, and yet on the other extreme there is a lot of interest as well.

7/07/2007 11:20:00 PM  
Blogger KJELL VARVIN said...

The artist wants to convince you.
If he does, you leave the exhibit and see his work all over. He has installed his code in your brain so that you can see the beauty of his solutions. This has little to do with taste, more with efficiency, the way he uses the means at disposal. Every artist has a code, a more or less hidden language that he wants to teach you. The problem occurs when the art-critic is not willing to learn a new language and sticks to what he knows to be real, decent art.

7/08/2007 07:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Henry, you're not really contradicting anything I said. Acquired tastes are still tastes. If you're eating okra, I hope it's not for conceptual reasons. Some beauties are strange and take getting used to, but enjoying them is still a function of using your senses. (For the record, salty tastes are acquired, sweet is innate. They did studies on babies.) The process by which one acquires a taste is very interesting to me. Looking at my own development, I can find no pattern whatsoever except wholesale, inexplicable reversals.

Substantial beauty is a difficult thing to achieve. Is Kincade's work beautiful? Really? Do you find it so? I find it saccharine and ridiculous. Even to musicians working with noise (and there are some great ones), some combinations are going to sound preferable to other combinations, or there would be no point to being a noise musician. Many kinds of visual experience can afford interest but making art with them requires canny aesthetic choices, and thus an ability to detect beauty in the subject, even if unconventional.

7/08/2007 07:50:00 AM  
Anonymous J@simpleposie said...

Good morning Franklin,

Your points, well taken are still moot. Statements like substantial beauty is a difficult thing to achieve seem to put you in the know about some substance easily as arcane as the type of concept you are complaining about in the hierarchy of art with ideas above beauty you described earlier.

To me the agreement about good form that you seek sounds the death knell for vibrancy in the visual arts and ultimately for encounters with Beauty. I'm not one to subscribe to the role of art critic or artist as cultural pathologist. But if I were to pinpoint a malaise I would say that if anything we need more and better stated disagreement about art.

Edward wrote:

No, I feel it will be a long, hard slog. With individual leaders, citizens AND artists continuing to push things in the right direction consistently and long enough to add up to a new set of values. That means artists must be anything but reactionary, IMO. They must be progressive. Above all, they must be truthful.

Kimball's essay lack's the ring of truth and seems reactionary because he makes so little attempt to address the work in the exhibition. He fails to lend the reader the impression he saw the exhibition - in fact he didn't need to go and see it to write what he did. Your arguments about what beauty is are nothing more than an attempt to obscure the issue. Though vociferous, and fun to read, it is ultimately a little lazy. You've been championing Kimball's view. I can only assume it reflects your own and that is great - but his article does not champion what's good, does it? It is happier grumbling.

7/08/2007 09:44:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

kjell said, The problem occurs when the art-critic is not willing to learn a new language and sticks to what he knows to be real, decent art.

Makes sense to me.

7/08/2007 09:57:00 AM  
Anonymous J@simpleposie said...

Well, if you are not conversant you might as well say yabba dabba doo.

7/08/2007 10:04:00 AM  
Blogger Henry said...

Franklin,

If I was unable to contradict your definition of beauty by my examples, then I have to conclude that your definition is too broad to be useful. A word is useful when it helps distinguish one thing from another. I can't accept a definition of beauty that includes car crashes and industrial noise bands, as compelling or interesting as those things might be.

I don't know that much about Kinkade's art, but what I've seen of it leaves me unmoved. It seems the visual equivalent of low-quality comfort food. It makes a human feel good, but doesn't give them aspirational yearnings. I guess that's called kitsch.

Some people may find in Kinkade the same type of sublime experience I would associate with beauty. I don't know. Anything is possible. There are those who think Paul Potts can sing. I was trying to say that comfort food (kitsch) is on one side of beauty, at one extreme, and challenging yet compelling things are on the other. Maybe it's a bad analogy.

7/08/2007 11:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Sorry, J, but that last bit directed at me is a tangle of ascribed motives, distortions of what I wrote, and easy contradictions substituted for real refutations. If you want details, e-mail me.

Henry, these things are hard to talk about, and the analogies are going to break somewhere. The vocabulary is pretty inadequate. Beauty has resisted definition by smarter people than me. But if you think about what constitutes, say, moral goodness, and how variable that can be, it's not hard to imagine that beauty describes an enormous or even infinite range of phenomena as well. Similarly, if someone concludes that moral goodness, because it resists definition, is subjective or unreal, you end up in a cesspool. Likewise beauty.

7/08/2007 12:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I probably would have really liked this show, and I also like Bard College very much. Part of it is a kind of nostalgia.
Having come of age in the 70's and 80's, and having worked long and hard to master the lingo of that moment in both literature undergrad and my MFA visual arts program, when it really was new, and having grown in so many significant ways due to my eclectic education, I am still very attached to these modes of thought and the art of those times. Much of it can still feel fresh and exciting to me when I see it in person.
Yet I feel Kimball has a point, especially when it comes to those horrible catalogue staements. Does any smart art-viewer not bristle a little when informed by some self-important curator that they are being "forced to examine" this or that received notion, that the art is "challenging OUR perceptions"of blah-blah (leave me out of it please), or implies that the artist is obviously superior to the rest of us in their risk-taking, stereotype-smashing, or gender-bending...
It's getting more than embarassing that this tired language is brought out again and again and presents itself as cutting edge avant garde. It really degrades the art.

7/08/2007 02:02:00 PM  
Blogger Henry said...

Franklin,

It seems like you're in a no-win situation. Either you're letting someone say without contradiction that a scatological Paul McCarthy video is beautiful, or you're admitting (by recognizing the existence of acquired tastes) that there is a day when someone eats an unappealing food for reasons other than flavor.

If beauty is anything which moves someone toward a sensual experience, then a postmodern art fan could say they find any given work 'extremely beautiful', and challenge you to refute their claim. All the 'tired language' that Anonymous complains about above could be replaced by differing variations on the themes of beauty -- the beauty of sexual bondage, the beauty of scatology, the beauty of ennui, the beauty of death, and so on. So postmodern art doesn't need to change, just the catalogs and wall texts do. You've prescribed a postmodern solution to a contemporary problem.

Also, how does a person acquire a taste in the first place? There has to be a day before a person finds a taste agreeable when he consumes it for some other reason.

7/08/2007 02:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I'm defining beauty as visual quality (by which I mean visual goodness, and yes, it's tautological, but it's the best we can do), not as anything that moves someone toward a sensual experience. First of all, I think you mean sensory, not sensual (correct me if I'm wrong). Second, not all sensory inputs are beautiful. Third, I can't disprove that someone isn't being followed around by a hallucinatory pink rabbit if that's what they experience. Fourth, as I said, the lack of definability doesn't mean that things are beautiful or not by fiat. I can't disprove that the McCarthy is not beautiful to someone who thinks that, but neither can they disprove that they have extremely bad taste.

Again, this brings up subjective/objective problems that I don't have adequately solved, and I suspect that the whole subjective/objective framing may be wrong in the first place. Instead I'm toying with a theory that there's a relative beauty in which some arrangements (or whatever) are better than others, and an absolute beauty in which everything is beautiful that exists, as well as the spaces between them, and that what thrills our eyes are examples in which both of these aspects operate. How I might go about proving this, I have no idea.

Also, how does a person acquire a taste in the first place?

Guessing? By imitation.

7/08/2007 03:31:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

I find it hard to argue against beauty, beauty is good.

So I find this discussion rather pointless unless Franklin is suggesting that art has to be beautiful, that is, visually beautiful, in which case I would disagree.

I also find there are many things which one might call beautiful, or which attempt to be pleasing to the eye, that do not hold my interest past recognition. This would include a number of handsome paintings, made by earnest and dedicated painters, which I find as boring as a nice wallpaper. If it don’t elevate, it can’t procreate.

7/08/2007 04:11:00 PM  
Anonymous J@simpleposie said...

Also, how does a person acquire a taste in the first place?

Guessing? By imitation.


How 'bout by tasting?

7/08/2007 04:43:00 PM  
Anonymous J@simpleposie said...

Re:

Does any smart art-viewer not bristle a little when informed by some self-important curator that they are being "forced to examine" this or that received notion, that the art is "challenging OUR perceptions"of blah-blah (leave me out of it please), or implies that the artist is obviously superior to the rest of us in their risk-taking, stereotype-smashing, or gender-bending...
It's getting more than embarassing that this tired language is brought out again and again and presents itself as cutting edge avant garde. It really degrades the art.


Wouldn't you agree then, Anon, that it becomes even more important for the critic to talk about the art itself? Perhaps contrasting his/her viewing experience of it with that of its discombobulated textual accompaniment?

I identify with your comment but I find it really hard to concede the point when so few of the works in the exhibition are described at any length or referred to by their titles etc.

7/08/2007 05:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anon 02:02:00:

Roberta Smith alluded to the wall text phenomenon in one of her reviews. To paraphrase, the people who know what they're looking at feel cheated and the people who don't know what they're looking at don't know what they're missing.

There's a newish museum near me (The Nasher) whose wall texts are, from what I read, similar to the ones at Bard. Academyspeak. Boring, unenlightening and lazy.

7/08/2007 06:28:00 PM  
Anonymous J@simpleposie said...

Laurie Fendrich wrote an article specifically about discombobulated wall texts here

7/08/2007 06:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That Laurie Fendrich thing is right on.
I agree with you that Kimball's article is not really a review, is full of sweeping generalizations, and doesn't particularly make me want to read more of his stuff.
But his major complaint about these sorts of shows seemed to be about curators'sloppy language, snotty attitudes, and unexamined received assumptions--not so much about whether skill is relevant to contemporary art, what is beauty and so forth (which are extremely important issues I agree and I've enjoyed this discussion)
Something is wrong with the museum picture when so many curators write and rewrite that predictable jargon and won't even try giving us a fresh original creative viewpoint with their own fresh eyes and fresh language that would enhance the art not diminish it.

7/09/2007 11:03:00 AM  
Anonymous J@simpleposie said...

The papers given at this conference some years ago are pretty interesting with regard to your comments Anon. (sorry PDF alert)

Do you think teaching museums feel bound to take a more didactic approach than regular museums?

7/09/2007 12:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who gives a crap about R. Kimbell or The Neo Criterion?

Oh, and we neither elected, nor re-elected Bush Jr. Twice, elections were stolen (Florida and Ohio).

Other than that, nice post.

7/09/2007 10:48:00 PM  

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