Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Thomas Lendvai @ Winkleman Gallery, Sept 6 - Oct 6, 2007

Yes, it's my turn, but don't let that dissaude you from adding more items to yesterday's post. And be sure to read through it...it's very educational.
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Winkleman Gallery is pleased to present “Between Pain and Boredom,” a new site-specific sculpture and our second solo exhibition by New York artist Thomas Lendvai. In a spectacular new work that literally breaks through the walls of the gallery, Lendvai furthers his exploration of the fundamental questions about sculpture that he examined in his 2005 gallery-sized installation, “A Series of ‘Nows’.”

For “Between Pain and Boredom” (the title of which is taken from Schopenhauer’s description of the extremes of life that we all oscillate between), Lendvai has constructed a series of 16-foot beams of raw White Pine that arc through the gallery. Generated via catenaries, the precise curves of the beams (which break through interior and exterior walls of the gallery to revel both factory-cut ends in places, as well as crudely sawed-off ends in others) are the result of Lendvai’s application of construction technology that pre-dates computers by millennia. Further, whereas a sub-theme of “A Series of ‘Nows’” was its implication of infinity, this new installation unequivocally and unceremoniously comes to an end.

Similar to his 2005 piece, however, about which The New Yorker noted, “These very simple forms create a surprisingly complex sculptural and architectural effect,”1 entering into this new installation offers an unexpectedly elaborate viewing experience, highlighting the relativity of optimum vantage point in viewing sculpture. Because it extends beyond the gallery walls, not only is it impossible to see the entire work all at once, but also one’s own height complicates where one must stand to experience the formal qualities of the piece. Viewing the main section of the work with other people in the gallery makes for a peculiar sociological experience as well, as one is often able to see only the bottom or top half of other viewers.

Thomas Lendvai received his BF from SUNY Stony Brook, NY, in 1998 and his MFA in sculpture from the School of Visual Arts in 2002. He has exhibited widely in the United States and in Japan. His work has been reviewed in The New Yorker, The Brooklyn Rail, and on artnet.com.
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1The New Yorker, February 7, 2005.

Thomas Lendvai
Between Pain and Boredom

September 6 to October 6, 2007
Opening Reception: Thursday, September 6, 6-8 PM
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 11 am to 6 pm

Winkleman Gallery
637 West 27th Street
New York, NY 10001
T: 212.643.3152
F: 212.643.2040
info@winkleman.com
http://www.winkleman.com/


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193 Comments:

Blogger prettylady said...

That must have been a heck of an installation process. Did he actually stick the beams through the walls, or is it just a trompe l'oeil thing, like those Modern Primitive faker spike earrings? Can't wait to see it!

9/05/2007 11:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i don't know what site-specific means anymore.

is this installation for sale, able to be re-installed for a collector?

doesn't that make everything displayed in the gallery, every painting and sculpture, a site-specific piece?

or does the mention of site-specificity here infer that the last show, the sarah peters show, was less carefully installed? that a hanging of drawings/paintings is not concerned with relationships, space, and context?

9/05/2007 12:37:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

or does the mention of site-specificity here infer that the last show, the sarah peters show, was less carefully installed?

You're an idiot.

9/05/2007 12:51:00 PM  
Anonymous bambino said...

what would you expect from another anonymous comment

9/05/2007 01:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

are you excerpting that sarah peters reference because you misinterpret it as a criticism of that show?

dink.

9/05/2007 01:26:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

are you excerpting that sarah peters reference because you misinterpret it as a criticism of that show?

No, because I consider it idiotic for anyone to suggest a gallery-issued press release would mean to infer that a previous exhibition was less carefully installed, which is what the excerpted question is asking.

9/05/2007 01:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

so you're saying that the use of the term site-specific here (in this press release) is an example of hyperbole?

and how is a no-linked person called bambino a non-anonymous commenter?

9/05/2007 01:59:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Come on, Ed, you must admit the term "site-specific" is frequently abused.

To me, "site-specific" means that the piece is in response to the particular site in which it's installed, such that the piece cannot make sense if installed anywhere else -- in other words, the piece and the site are essentially indivisible without destroying one or the other.

However, I often find "site-specific" used to mean "installation which would be hard to get out the door," which means Guernica could be site-specific, if your living room was small enough and Guernica happened to be inside it.

Alternatively, "site-specific" has been used to mean "something the artist put together here, not somewhere else." Which means a lot of things would be "site-specific" even though they could be replicated at many, many sites -- making the term meaningless.

Anon up there is being rude, but they do have something of a point.

9/05/2007 01:59:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Anon sez:
and how is a no-linked person called bambino a non-anonymous commenter?

Because, Rude Person, everyone here knows who he is (and he's probably sitting near Ed right this minute).

9/05/2007 02:00:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Come on, Ed, you must admit the term "site-specific" is frequently abused.

Had the question not been laced with passive-agressive bullshit, Chris, I would have answered it openly and to the best of my ability. But citing other exhibitions within an context of installation carelessness is the hallmark of a bitter prick with other objectives than debating the use of any given term.

For the record. Tom's piece is "site-specific" because it was created specificially in response to the architectural elements of the site in which its presented and would be different by definition of its process in any site of differing architectural elements.

9/05/2007 02:04:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

See, I just read it as coming from someone who is annoyed at the overuse of "site-specific," and I sympathize with that.

Your explanation puts this just on the line of what I'd consider acceptable use of the term. You sound a little like you're hedging. But that's okay. I like to nitpick.

9/05/2007 02:07:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

You sound a little like you're hedging.

Not sure I understand. How so?

See, I just read it as coming from someone who is annoyed at the overuse of "site-specific," and I sympathize with that.

I would have as well, absent the bile.

9/05/2007 02:11:00 PM  
Anonymous bambino said...

talk to the hand anon

9/05/2007 02:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon, sounds like a bunch of Socratic circular "I know nothing" bullshit. If you're confused you're only confusing yourself. Read a little Wittgenstein, he'll help you from having to do all that deep "thinking" and probably save you a hell of a lot of handwriting.

9/05/2007 02:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

okay infantalized person, good one!

9/05/2007 02:21:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Sigh. I foresee that people will question these things I write, and then I decide not to go into the detail after all, and then they do ask the question and I have to go into it anyway. I try to keep it brief, but no one will let me.

You're hedging with the phrase "by definition of its process". I read that to translate to, "Of course the work would be different in a different space because the walls might be farther apart, so the piece'd have to be longer. Or the ceiling might be higher, so it'd have to be farther up the wall."

Which is a very narrow definition of site-specific. By that logic, a clothesline is site-specific, because almost any place you move it to, you'll need a longer or shorter rope.

To my mind, the term site-specific should cover works which simply cannot be moved without becoming entirely different pieces. They should involve an artist's response to that specific environment, which moved to any other context wouldn't mean anything.

That may very well be what Tom did. It's just your defense of it has that hedge in it.

I'll admit that I can think of very few works that fit this definition perfectly. I guess any work of art can be replicated in some sense. But I'm thinking of Gordon Matta-Clark as an example: Sure, you can cut holes out of any building. But he cut the holes out of that building in that way -- so that's site-specific, in my opinion. You can't really move it. Spiral Jetty could be rebuilt or moved, but it wouldn't really be the same. (Someone is rebuilding it, aren't they?) And there was that artist, had a show in Chelsea earlier this summer, Polish last name. He arranges colored leaves in the woods and takes photos. His show was of a thick layer of plaster on the walls of the gallery, slowing crumbling. That's kind of site-specific, but maybe less so than Matta-Clark's.

9/05/2007 02:25:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I'll return to your comment in a moment Chris. Anonymous, you are welcome to leave and not return. Seriously. Just go.

9/05/2007 02:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry anon, I find intellectual slight of hand boring! Please, call me Tom.

9/05/2007 02:27:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

That would be Andy Goldsworthy, no?

9/05/2007 02:30:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

To my mind, the term site-specific should cover works which simply cannot be moved without becoming entirely different pieces. They should involve an artist's response to that specific environment, which moved to any other context wouldn't mean anything.

Wouldn't mean "anything" or would mean something different? If the former, that's a more limited definition of the term than I mean it to connote here.

9/05/2007 02:30:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

It seems to me that we're conflating 'meaning' with 'effect,' or perhaps 'affect.' Tom's piece here, as far as I can tell, would have a wholly different effect/affect in a different space, simply because the proportions would be different, and would thus relate to the perceiver in a different way. Whether this different affect would have a different meaning is an open question.

9/05/2007 02:39:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Tom's piece here, as far as I can tell, would have a wholly different effect/affect in a different space, simply because the proportions would be different, and would thus relate to the perceiver in a different way. Whether this different affect would have a different meaning is an open question.

Very astutely put, PL.

9/05/2007 02:40:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

In fact, now that I think about it, which comes first, the meaning or the sensation? This piece strikes me as being primarily about a kinesthetic response to a space. Is that sort of response contained in the word 'meaning,' as it is commonly used, at all?

9/05/2007 02:41:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Andy Goldsworthy, yes. Polish last name indeed. Why I thought that I can't imagine.

Anyway. I'd lean, Ed, towards meaning nothing, but I could be persuaded to say meaning something different. It seems to me, though, that almost anything means something different depending on where you put it; as Anon pointed out above, arranging works on a wall puts them in a context, right? So in that sense, every painting and drawing is site-specific.

To be truly site-specific, then -- in order for the term to have meaning -- we'd have to be talking about radically different meanings in different contexts. So radical, in fact, that outside of its original context, the work becomes nearly meaningless.

A good example is Arturo Di Modica's Charging Bull. Clearly, beyond Wall Street, the sculpture still has meaning -- just not the same meaning, or the intended meaning. Out in a coliseum in Spain, it'd just be a bull.

But it's still mostly just a bull, even on Wall Street. There it's like a double entendre: It's a bull in a bull market! So that work has elements of site-specificity, but it's not really site-specific.

It's harder for me to come up with truly site-specific works because -- I should note -- I do not approve of installation art or site-specific art.

9/05/2007 02:41:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I think, PL, that the meaning of a work of art is its sensation, if the work is really good. Because truly good art can't be explained in words.

But merely slightly changing proportions -- getting a longer or shorter clothesline -- doesn't change the sensation as much as, say, hanging out different clothes.

9/05/2007 02:44:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

Chris, you need to go away and read the biography of Robert Irwin, entitled Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees and come back later. 'Don't approve' indeed. Hmph.

9/05/2007 02:46:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I don't approve because I've only ever seen one that made me forget the name of what I was looking at, and that wasn't in Chelsea.

9/05/2007 02:48:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

Chris, I think an artist like Tom lives his entire perceptive world within the subtle but immense differences of a slight change of proportion, and I'm All For that. It's like tantra. Clotheslines are like violent pornography, in that context.

9/05/2007 02:50:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

And you must have missed the Tara Donovan show at Pace Wildenstein last year, then. It wasn't that they weren't cups anymore, precisely, but that you saw the cup as a much larger and subtler range of things.

9/05/2007 02:52:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I do not approve of installation art or site-specific art

spoken like a true aristocrat. ;-)

This piece strikes me as being primarily about a kinesthetic response to a space.

It works on two levels for me. First as an exquisite formal response to the space (indeed Tom's decision making process is paradoxically so subjective, given he's working with geometrical absolutes as a starting block, but because our walls are not perfect he's composing the piece and solving complicated construction issues much as one deals with the imperfections on your average canvas) and secondly, the piece is activated by viewers in surprisingly psychological ways (beneath the beams the mood is dark and almost gothic, above them remarkably optimistic).

9/05/2007 02:55:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I so totally did see Tara Donovan's show and I thought -- well, you can see what I thought, but the short version is I thought it was stupid.

And you can say that slight changes in proportion can be "subtle but immense" and underline it as many times as you want, but it doesn't necessarily make anyone's particular slight changes any more interesting than anyone else's.

I mean, you can change how a painting looks by hanging it higher or lower, or lighting it brightly or not, or even changing the temperature of the light. But a painting isn't site-specific, because most of what makes a given painting what it is is there regardless of its surroundings.

Thus the changes in moving a "site-specific" work of art -- in my opinion -- must be significantly greater than one can perform on a painting. Slight changes of proportion are unlikely -- again, in my opinion -- to qualify.

9/05/2007 02:57:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed sez:
spoken like a true aristocrat. ;-)

As I will, so mote it be.

First as an exquisite formal response to the space...secondly, the piece is activated by viewers in surprisingly psychological ways....

Both points conceded -- but the middle bit (that I cut out) is the only really site-specific part I see. It's admittedly challenging and difficult and an exercise of craft, but not enough -- to my mind, again -- to make it site-specific.

The second part is what makes it interesting art (that viewers respond to it). That's the best part, in fact, and I'm all for it.

9/05/2007 03:02:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I mean, you can change how a painting looks by hanging it higher or lower, or lighting it brightly or not, or even changing the temperature of the light. But a painting isn't site-specific, because most of what makes a given painting what it is is there regardless of its surroundings.

Calling Robert Ryman. Robert Ryman please pick up a white courtesy phone.

9/05/2007 03:04:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

As much as it pains me to admit it, you have now reached the leading edge of my ignorance.

9/05/2007 03:05:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I'm hardly a scholar on the topic, but a part of Ryman's exploration with his so-called white paintings dealt with how the work is activated by the physical response/presence of the viewer. From having to get so close to see just how non-simple their surfaces are and thereby, as Castelli noted, casting shadows onto the canvas in a way that changes its composition for other viewers if not yourself to how as Kertess wrote "His investigations are not in quest of a transcendent essence but are revelations of process and everything that impinges upon its materialization in the viewer's space." [emphasis mine] his work is potentially and intentionally very different for each viewer, rendering whether it's affected by its surroundings, per se, or not irrelevant.

9/05/2007 03:15:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Some research discloses that Ryman might have been exploring exactly how much of a painting's effect is caused by its environment; by limiting his palette he kept the variables limited.

I also think he sounds terrible, but of course I wouldn't know for sure until I met his paintings. But he does sound -- off the cuff -- like a prime example of one of those artists who's all words and no actual art.

Which is beside the point. The point is, yeah, his paintings explore "materialization in the viewer's space" (brilliant artspeak, we should bottle it).

I still think the materialization of Ryman's process -- the actual paintings -- made his works what they were, regardless of the context. As such they're not site-specific. Not sure how that fits into our discussion, although it is an interesting aside.

I'm imagining Ryman looking at a row of white courtesy phones, each with a slightly different surface texture -- corduroy, sandpaper, grooved -- trying to figure out which one to answer.

9/05/2007 03:23:00 PM  
Blogger Henry said...

I'm imagining Ryman looking at a row of white courtesy phones, each with a slightly different surface texture -- corduroy, sandpaper, grooved -- trying to figure out which one to answer.

And now you understand where conceptual art comes from. Build it.

9/05/2007 03:46:00 PM  
Anonymous pp said...

I'M SITE-SPECIFIC

9/05/2007 03:46:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Hi, All--
I have a question and a comment:

Question: I love these conversations, but I'm wondering when do you all have time to make art? (Ed excepted: he's in the gallery, typing furiously between sales.)

Comment: I find anonymous comments annoying. Not only the one today, but the folks in general who have things to say without having the courage to post their names. (And, really, we can call you Tom, but we still don't know who you are because your posting name remains "anonymous".) Of course this is not my blog, so I can only complain.

Best, er, Ishmael

9/05/2007 03:53:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Henry, I already knew where conceptual art comes from: Stupid ideas. I have lots and lots of stupid ideas. What I don't have is any wish to inflict them on anyone (outside of the occasional blog comment).

Joanne: I'm not making art. I'm at my day job, where I am supposed to be working. Instead I'm the highest-paid blog commenter around, not to mention a very well-paid copyeditor for Walter Darby Bannard.

9/05/2007 04:00:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

when do you all have time to make art?

One has one's computer in one's studio, of course, and checks the comment threads when on an iced-tea break.

it doesn't necessarily make anyone's particular slight changes any more interesting than anyone else's.

The interest has to come first; it's about paying attention to things that most people never even notice, and exploring that realm.

9/05/2007 04:06:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

But it's perfectly possible that there's a reason people don't notice things most people don't notice, which is that they are boring, or pointless, or stupid. Not always. But some of the time.

9/05/2007 04:21:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Whew, what’s not to get?

I read ‘site specific’, gazed at the one photograph, and interpreted it to mean the sculpture was made specifically to fit into the particular space (the gallery). In any other non identical space, the sculptural elements would be different, subtly or not. The ‘space’ becomes an element of the artwork, contains, frames, excludes, etc, it and without the ‘space’ the work would not exist.

This is not the same as re-arranging self contained artworks (such as paintings) in a space, to suggest this is an incorrect extension of the idea.

Further, what the artist does in response to a particular space, as well as what the artist chooses not to do, focuses the artwork, and makes it unique for the different spaces, even though the artwork may be spawned from the same idea.

None of this has anything to do with making important art, nor does reading dead German philosophers.

I don’t have an opinion on Lendvai’s piece, unlike most of the other commenters, I haven’t seen it yet.

9/05/2007 05:01:00 PM  
Blogger J.T. said...

I think related to this piece is Kendall Buster's installation ("Model City") at Fusebox in Wash, D.C. a couple of years ago. Sorry for the non-link:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/photo/postphotos/orb/style/2005-10-07/index.html?imgId=PH2005100601919&imgUrl=/photo/2005/10/06/PH2005100601919.html

Here's the Wash Post article on the installation:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/10/06/AR2005100601916.html

I this type of installation has been done many times in different formats. Still, I would probably enjoy this one just the same.

Of course, I liked Donovan's installation as well even though Chris (who was with me that day), did not. Chris - What do you think of Buster's installation?

9/05/2007 05:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Ethan said...

Pretty Lady, thanks for the book recommendation! I'm going to check it out. Right now I'm reading a biography of Chuck Close, but it's being pretty tedious.

Chris, I gotta say you seem awfully closed off regarding art. Do you distinguish between an artwork that you like and an artwork that is effective/interesting/worthwhile? These are two very different things. To say that an entire category of art is stupid says more about the speaker/typer than the artwork.

When I was in grad school, Susan Leibovitz Steinman visited and chatted with us in seminar. She mentioned that the more she knows about art, the more she can appreciate any given artwork. I thought that was a great attitude (and one I try to cultivate). I think it's easy to use a growing art expertise to come up with reasons to dismiss more-and-more art... but that's a cheap kind of expertise. Much more challenging & interesting is to find something worthwhile in even an uneven artwork. This isn't to say we need to pretend like every artwork is outstanding, just not be snots about it and try to take away whatever positive experiences we can.

9/05/2007 05:46:00 PM  
Blogger RichardTScott said...

As subjective as my opinion obviously is, I have to be honest.
I'm getting more boredom than pain, both aesthetically and intellectually.

To me your discussion was much more interesting than the installation. And I think I would have followed and appreciated it regardless of whether or not the installation was there.

I'm really not trying to be sarcastic, though it may come across as such - so, please explain to me what I'm missing. I freely admit that my particular knowledge of art does not include "site - specific installation" so I'm not familiar with the themes, etc... However, I am a fairly educated and curious person and when I attempt to connect in any way to this piece I simply come to a brick wall (or wooden rafters for that matter). If there's some inside code to decipher I'm not getting it and truthfully it doesn't compel me to attempt to understand it. All I can discern is simply a description of what's there. The reason I'm asking is simply for my own education.

9/05/2007 06:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Ethan said...

Richard,

Have you seen the work in-person, or are you reacting to the photo? If the latter, I think you really need to withhold judgment until you can get over to the gallery. Judging installation art from photos is like trying to judge paintings from b&w photos.

9/05/2007 07:03:00 PM  
Blogger Concrete Phone said...

PL, you read the good ones.
... attention to where things are placed often brings attention not to where they are 'alone', but, possibly, to some other relation that, quite likely had previously gone unnoticed.
This is not really heightened perception [we are not talking seeing the atoms that make up the wall, thus through it, not yet). Maybe this experience is better understood as things somewhat expanded: Expanded, in the sense that it becomes possible to take in both the larger and finer chunks 'of experience' in the same moment, to notice their relation, and move to more than the 33.33 % that we are currently rattling around on in any given moment of the day, Wed, ~ Sat.

Brings to mind Kyoto: the small ceremonial tea houses, and the tiny hatches that you would need to scrawl through to enter.
And then there in this tiny room, space and time, as you knew it, ceases to exist.

9/05/2007 08:37:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ethan sez:
Chris, I gotta say you seem awfully closed off regarding art.

I prefer to call it "demanding." I want art to be really good. When it isn't, I get mad.

Do you distinguish between an artwork that you like and an artwork that is effective/interesting/worthwhile? These are two very different things.

I do to some extent. Usually, though, if I like it it's because I find it effective and so on. There are things I like that I can admit might not be very interesting or worthwhile (Mark Kostabi comes to mind).

To say that an entire category of art is stupid says more about the speaker/typer than the artwork.

I don't think so at all. I think it says that this class of art is probably mostly practiced by charlatans and no-talent non-artists.

I think it's easy to use a growing art expertise to come up with reasons to dismiss more-and-more art... but that's a cheap kind of expertise. Much more challenging & interesting is to find something worthwhile in even an uneven artwork. This isn't to say we need to pretend like every artwork is outstanding, just not be snots about it and try to take away whatever positive experiences we can.

Tobi Kahn was one of our instructors at SVA. I liked him immediately, but as he spoke to us, and later when he took us gallery-hopping, I began to realize what annoyed me about him. It was this: He loved art. All of it. Anything. If someone made something and said "This is ART!" Tobi loved it.

Which is not to say he liked everything equally or had no discernment at all; he did have things he liked more than others. But, ultimately, I think he just liked the idea that a person was making art, regardless of what the art actually was.

I have absolutely no use for that at all. To me, that's what kindergarten is for. You want someone who can find something positive in anything, you go hang out with Mrs. Pagliotta (who taught my daughter and who was also, incidentally, a babe).

To me, the whole point of art is to have opinions. If your opinion is weak it's because the art is weak or because you're a wimp.

I find it challenging and interesting to explain what exactly it is I don't like about a work -- or do, if I do like it. It's easy to say "That sucks" or "I LOVE IT!" What's hard is figuring out why.

9/05/2007 09:15:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

JT sez:
Chris - What do you think of Buster's installation?

You know I have to say it sucks now, right?

I can't really tell from the photo. It looks like I'd like to see it, that's about all I can say. It might be okay. Maybe.

Honestly, it's not so much that I think all installation and conceptual art is total garbage. I think some of the pieces could be good, but I think the only proper context in which to properly appreciate them is entirely outside the art world, entirely outside the expectation that there even be art. I think installation art can be good when you stumble upon it some place completely unexpectedly.

For example, there's a really big sculpture right on Interstate 295 in New Jersey, near Pennsylvania. I can't find anything about it online, but it's surprising to be driving down one of Jersey's lame highways and suddenly see this thing looming out of the trees. That's cool!

9/05/2007 09:21:00 PM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

Sounds like i would have like your professor Chris:) I guess art means "yes" to me. So much of life already is "no".

But, I also had a recent great experience in a non-art venue. I walked into a nearby grocery store to find all the lights were out. Even though it was very dark, the store was still open since the cash registers were operating. Walking thru the store was strange and disorienting, it was exciting to experience something so routine in such a new defamiliarized way. It was also fun after i made my purchase, to walk out of the store and see the looks on the peoples' faces entering. They looked as perplexed as I had been. Anyway, it was just a random thing but I remember thinking that experience is what I seek in art as well. From the pic and description of this show, it seems it would have a good chance of delivering such an experience.
see how i brought that back around on topic? Im tryin ta follow da rules round here. :))))

9/05/2007 11:28:00 PM  
Blogger Ethan said...

I have absolutely no use for that at all. To me, that's what kindergarten is for.

But I think you miss the point, Chris. It isn't for the other person's benefit... it for you, the viewer. It's not about passing around "warm-fuzzies" ala kindergarten, it's about delving into art and finding something interesting to chew upon.

9/06/2007 12:04:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Chris, (with all due respect)

I think it is good to have an opinion, to know what one likes, or thinks is ‘good art’. I also think it is good to think about how and why one comes to these conclusions, to these points of view.

Making good art, is a different activity from knowing what you like, it is, in part, about transcending what you already know. If you do that, you are never going to be absolutely sure if it is any good. If you are ‘sure’, then the work is safe, tucked into someone else’s niche.

To dismiss an entire category of artwork, or to categorize it as the work of charlatans, is at best naïve and more likely represents a fundamental misunderstanding about how art functions within and related to the culture. It is unlikely that art will progress into the next century in a way most would expect.

9/06/2007 12:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

It's not about passing around "warm-fuzzies" ala kindergarten, it's about delving into art and finding something interesting to chew upon.

Henry Miller: "The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself."

There's a place for going through the world with a generous, appreciative mindset, but we don't need art for this. Everything is interesting. Art doesn't inspire that mindset any more (or for that matter, less) than statistics, knitting, or the power going out at the grocery store. I'd say the above misstates the problem. It's not that you should arouse that generous attitude when you go look at art; rather, art ought to inspire that generous attitude or it's not doing its job. (The apples were already interesting before Cezanne got a hold of them.)

One can legitimately blow off whole categories of art that perform poorly when it comes to delivering wonder. One of the ironies of the art world is that openness or openmindedness has become its own orthodox dogma, and it doesn't tolerate people whose tastes lead towards increasing refinement, higher standards, greater demands, and narrowness. It will brand such people as closed-off or naive about putatively important contemporary movements. I call it the Cult of the Open Mind, and it leads to an unfortunate state discribed aptly by one of my regulars at Artblog.net: when your mind is too open, your brains fall out.

Incidentally, I hope that commenters here aren't ignoring RichardTScott. He apparently saw this show with his own eyes and it didn't work for him. I want to see if anyone here can convey what's so wonderful about this installation, and do so with the magnaminity that he's displaying.

9/06/2007 01:29:00 AM  
Blogger Marc Snyder said...

Returning for a moment to the "what is site-specific" discussion at the beginning of the thread, I think the definition is simplified if you consider the goal of the ideal modern gallery wall - to disappear. The empty white box, which allows the artwork to exist and be viewed apart from the rest of the world. The gallery is essentially the pedestal that says "this thing on this pedestal is artwork".

Site-specific artwork breaks that barrier to say "the artwork is not only this object that the artist has made but the entire space in which this object acts" the space has been activated and incorporated into the artwork. And the artist has to consider the particulars of the space in which his artwork will exist in order to make an effective piece.

Keep that perfectly neutral white box in mind, and the definitions make a bit more sense.

9/06/2007 06:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Robert H. said...

discribed [sic] aptly by one of my regulars at Artblog.net: when your mind is too open, your brains fall out

Wow. Richard Dawkins is a regular at Artblog.net? Wow.

9/06/2007 07:35:00 AM  
Blogger Concrete Phone said...

Detail can refer to exacting, or 'paying attention to'..., and/or 'examining', or 'an examination of' to bring the whole into greater sense and focus via detail of its articulates and accounts. It's kind of backwards but isn't it... I'm guessing, but guessing, the work did not perform under this scrutiny for this visitor. I'm guessing, but pretty sure, on leaving the space and its particular construction, the visitor returned to a street that had little in common with the space they had just departed from.
There must have been a sense/experience shift. The smell of a place lingered? Navigation [?], Surely there was a difference: Not just, as summarized, the disappointment relay.

It's quite possible that the visitor chose not to differentiate the experience of the environment in which they found themselves in from the environment before the walk in, and, outside, after the walk out. The visitor perhaps was wanting there to be this instantaneous change in the space inside hinged to the physical, with a particular lens to perception, gained from experience, and because this change did not mark itself immediate, then as measure of , and for the sake of connivence, there was no change, or difference between 'the inside and the outside'.... .

I'd be really interested to hear from others who visit the show, and their takes on experience, not just of the work and the hand that built it, but the inside and outside experience, both physical and as memory, before and after leaving the gallery. it might be interesting how direct/indirect physical experience work with memory, and / or expectation.

btw I can smell the pine from here.

9/06/2007 07:55:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Marc,

Reasonable points.

---

The ‘neutral white box’ is a recent invention, circa 1968 or so by Jim Turrell. In that era most galleries still in spaces which resembled rooms, moldings, wainscoting and all.

In the process of working on his first projection pieces, Jim converted his Ocean Park studio into a perfect white box, as far as I know this was the first time this was done with the intention of making a ‘neutral’ exhibition space.

A bit later, Bob Irwin removed the storefront of the Ace gallery in Venice CA, he put a ‘lid’ on the white box, a white scrim across the building face, you could see in but not enter.

Also in the same Ace space, Richard Serra exhibited the two plate steel piece currently at MOMA. The installation consists of two rectangular steel plates, two inches thick, set at 90 degrees to one another, one on the floor and one on the ceiling. I think the Ace gallery was the first place this piece was exhibited, in the smaller storefront space, the installation was much more threatening than it is in the current MOMA exhibition.

In all three cases the works are site specific, each has a certain subtle difference on the definition of the term. It seems inane to dismiss an artwork based upon a one line categorization.

9/06/2007 07:59:00 AM  
Blogger Ethan said...

art ought to inspire that generous attitude or it's not doing its job.

Ah, so if it isn't easy to appreciate, there is nothing of value there? Seems the route to some pretty lukewarm art.

One can legitimately blow off whole categories of art that perform poorly when it comes to delivering wonder.

Two problems with that... it is such an extremely limiting way of looking at art. So anything that isn't evoking "wonder" isn't worthwhile? "Wonder" is great, but there are many, many more experiences to be had in art.

Now I suspect that you've presented a much more limited approach then you actually take... but if one were to take you at your word, I'd have to say you're going to have a very bland diet of art.

What strikes me about these kinds of discussions are the people who generally are clambering for a more narrow definition of good art, are the ones who are working in styles that aren't as Contemporary (e.g., more traditional figurative work). It's as if they think if only they can rein in the idea of art, it will shift back to being focused on them. Why not try something different? Why not try broadening the definition of art... maybe if it expands, you'll feel more comfortably in its borders?

Whenever someone starts throwing around "that's not art" phrases (and, thankfully, no one here has done that... though to blithely call all conceptual art "stupid" and the work of "charlatans" is essentially the same). I get the same, extremely uncomfortable feeling I get around racists. Art is of course very personal, and to simply dismiss it categorically feels like denying someone's humanity to me. I'm not saying you must like all art or think all art is good, but I think (especially as artists) we should endeavor to take art on its own terms and evaluate it minus our axes to grind.

A lot of my work has a strong conceptual bent to it. I guarantee you that I'm a very sincere artist and work hard. But to you, I'm stupid & a charlatan.

9/06/2007 08:33:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ethan sez:
"Wonder" is great, but there are many, many more experiences to be had in art.

Let's not call it wonder, then. Let's call it that feeling you get when you look at great art, a feeling which can't be put into words.

When I look at a van Gogh, I get goosebumps. The hairs on the nape of my neck stand up. Tears start to come, seemingly from deep inside me.

That's what I want from art. What I do not want is to say, "Huh." Most art elicits "Huh." Some art makes me say, "That's neat." But what I want it to do is what van Gogh does to me.

A high standard, yes.

A lot of my work has a strong conceptual bent to it. I guarantee you that I'm a very sincere artist and work hard. But to you, I'm stupid & a charlatan.

Don't take this personally, Ethan -- I don't know you or your work (although I'm wandering through your Website as I type) -- but one of the hallmarks of being stupid is not knowing you're stupid. And as far as sincerity goes, hooray for you, but it takes a lot more than sincerity to make great art. Greeting cards are sincere, too, but they're also soul-sucking voids of evil.

9/06/2007 08:57:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Hmpfff....

Perhaps it's my fault for setting the wrong tone in these comments early on, but I'm going to ask folks to refrain from making sweeping generalizations about others' personalities or, dear God, do I really have to say this here, their intelligence, based on a difference of opinion about what art is.

9/06/2007 09:02:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Franklin sez:
One can legitimately blow off whole categories of art that perform poorly when it comes to delivering wonder.

I agree with this. It's not that conceptual art or site-specific art cannot, by definition, be great art. It's just that I have yet to see or hear of anything even approaching mediocre art from these styles. I therefore feel justified in saying that these are not fruitful avenues for exploration.

My thinking is, human beings have been on this planet for a long time. In that time we've set ourselves to many different tasks and learned the right way and wrong way to do things. It behooves us to learn from the collected wisdom of humanity when launching any new task.

One of the things humans have been doing a long time is communicating through art. And over thousands and thousands of years, we've worked out that certain things are better vehicles for conveying art. Oil paints are good at it. Old carburators are not. Marble is good at it. Seawater is not.

That's all it is.

9/06/2007 09:04:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

George sez:
It is unlikely that art will progress into the next century in a way most would expect.

Here's a problem right here: The notion of progress in art. Who says art progresses, or should progress? Inherent here is the idea of novelty, as opposed to originality. The next great art will be original, but it won't necessarily be novel.

9/06/2007 09:07:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed, I hope nothing I wrote could be taken that way. I'm not trying to make comments on anyone's particular personality or intelligence. When I used the words charlatans and no-talent non-artists, I did qualify that with probably and mostly.

Also, I never called any class of art stupid. I said I thought Tara Donovan's piece was stupid.

9/06/2007 09:12:00 AM  
Blogger Ethan said...

Don't take this personally, Ethan...

Don't worry, I'm not upset or angry :)

What I wanted to point out is that you're not just talking in abstractions about art, you're actually talking about peoples' work. If you're not comfortable going up to people whose work you haven't even seen and call them names based upon the kind of work they do, then you might want to be a bit more careful with your comments. (My own Internet goal is to never type something to someone that I wouldn't say in-person).

9/06/2007 09:19:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

chris,

pro-gress, as in, to move forward in time.

9/06/2007 09:30:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I don't call people names as a general rule, although I guess I do sometimes get a little more vehement than I might in person.

However, if you talk to conceptual artist Cathleen Cueto about me, for example, you'd find that I was very clear on how I felt about conceptual art when we talked while I was actually standing in her work-in-progress. And I was even more inclined than usual to sugarcoat it because I totally fell in love with Cathleen at first sight.

I try not to be rude but I also try not to be dishonest. Note that I didn't say you were stupid, just that conceptual art often comes from stupid ideas. Going through your site, I can say that most what's there would probably, if I encountered it in a gallery, have elicited a "That's neat," not a "What was this moron thinking?" So that's pretty good, since the latter reaction is, for me, much more common.

9/06/2007 09:33:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

George:
pro-gress, as in, to move forward in time.

Well, by that standard, everything progresses whether we want it to or not. Even if we all dropped back to rubbing charred sticks on rock walls, we'd be progressing, just because time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping into the future.

Not very useful a term, is it?

9/06/2007 09:34:00 AM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

I completely respect your opinion Chris, but it is really perplexing to me to hear someone would find Donovan's work stupid? I mean , that same rush of excitement you describe viewing a Van Gogh, i get just looking at photos of her work. But to each their own right?

But this idea of openness vs closed opinions about art is interesting. And then examining an artists' work thru the lens of their philosophy or lifestyle. Its always fascinated me really. For example, i have a friend who paints very traditional flower paintings, yet has several piercings and tattoos and djs for a living. What a wonderful juxtaposition! I often wonder what deep psychology lies behind the type of art we make or are drawn to

9/06/2007 09:41:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Mark sez:
But this idea of openness vs closed opinions about art is interesting.

I want everyone to know that I try to be open to anything. I may not purposely go out of my way to see conceptual pieces, but I do bump into them now and again, and I always try to appreciate them. It doesn't usually work, but I do try.

It just bugs me that, first, so many people seem to think conceptual art is the only valuable art being made today; and second, that so much valuable real estate and effort is expended on it, when there are many, many deserving traditional artists who could use those resources.

As far as being open-minded goes, though, I like Terry Pratchett's take on it: "The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it."

9/06/2007 09:45:00 AM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

This has the potential to be an interesting discussion about what we expect from art, but keeps getting bogged down in some conservative particulars like this:

One of the things humans have been doing a long time is communicating through art. And over thousands and thousands of years, we've worked out that certain things are better vehicles for conveying art. Oil paints are good at it. Old carburators are not. Marble is good at it. Seawater is not.

To want more from art should not be confused with wanting to go back to a time when art did specific things that we already know about.

It is entirely true that viewers of contemporary art are expected to be much more open and generous than is rational or useful, but that doesn't mean that Leonardo was doing it the only way, or that one should "not approve" of a whole kind of art.

I haven't seen the show yet. I think that Edward is doing a very good thing by opening up discussions about his program on this blog, and I would like most of all to respect his generosity by not being a jpeg critic.

When I have seen the show, perhaps I will have more to say.

9/06/2007 09:47:00 AM  
Blogger Marc Snyder said...

I studied with a photographer - Holly Wright - who was remarkable in her ability to critique work of radically different styles and approaches. She could point a student towards the strongest work done in that particular vein, providing relevant examples for further study. Her critique of the work at hand always attempted to clarify the specific problems created by that particular work - she was never dismissive of the interests of the student that compelled him or her to take up that type of problem, but she was very good at forcing the student to make the best possible work that addressed those interests.

She also refused to show her work at the university (University of Virginia) where she taught - actually, she showed her work exclusively on the West Coast - and she would completely close the darkroom when she was working. She did not want anything in her own work to influence the teaching of her students. I didn't see a significant amount of her work until she had a solo show at the Corcoran.

This approach was pretty rare in my experience, both as an undergraduate and a graduate student, but I think it had a lot of integrity.

She taught that there is no inherently superior approach to image making. Crap can easily be made from any starting point. An artist's concerns and interests are his or her own. The work he or she makes, starting from those interests, can and should be rigorously critiqued, but it's helpful to first figure out what questions are being asked by the artist, and then you can better decide how successfully and powerfully the artist has answered those questions.

If you're simply not interested in those questions, that's fine, but it might not be a failing of the artwork. It is possible that others find those questions very compelling, and worthy of interesting answers. Those might be the very questions that others search for in artwork that they find moving.

9/06/2007 09:57:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

fisher6000 sez:
To want more from art should not be confused with wanting to go back to a time when art did specific things that we already know about.

You're exactly right. I don't want people to get me wrong, either, although I admit I'm not always clear on things. I say "I don't approve" to give the right spin: I'm not saying people should stop just because I say so.

And I don't want to go back at all. I don't want art to be predictable. Like I've said in other places, art is information, and information is the part of the signal you can't predict.

But being willing to accept something new and good is different from accepting anything that comes along just because it's novel.

Everyone is so scared of turning out to be one of those stodgy old critics who didn't accept an important development, like Cubism or jazz, that they've taken to embracing everything that comes along no matter how worthless, just in case.

But I'd rather be wrong than lacking in discernment.

9/06/2007 10:00:00 AM  
Blogger Ethan said...

I had a final thought (occurred to me in the shower) before I get overwhelmed by the day's work.

The reason I try hard not to have dismissive attitudes when viewing art is because I've been humbled so many times before. When I was first getting to know art, I would often have initial reactions of "that's stupid," "what a crock," "that's not art" only to have to revise my opinion upon learning more about the work in question.

I'm sure most people have had this experience. Sure, it's great when a work can stand upon its own power (e.g., Guernica) and not need background info to appreciate... but think about all the things in life we'd lose if our initial/immediate experience dictated our acceptance/rejection.

A case in point is Tom Friedman's "1000 Hours of Staring" (I was going to also mention Duchamp's "Fountain," but let's leave it at one example). (I don't really want to get into a debate over the worthwhileness of this particular works, so please substitute in your mind some work of art you initially dismissed, but latter came to appreciate.)

"1000 Hours of Staring" is simply a blank piece of paper that Friedman stared at for, well, 1000 hours. My initial reaction was "what a waste of time (1000 hours is a full year at 20 hours a week!)... How stupid."

But I later decided that it was really Freidman's way of saying that it isn't enough for Process Art (which he is best known for) to be big time sinks--that the result must be compelling as well. I also noticed that Friedman took 3 years to do the work, so I imagine was meditating for an hour a day while looking at the paper (which mollified my indignation at the amount of unproductive time spent on the work :).

Anyway, those thoughts may not change anyone's mind about "1000 Hours," but the point is that we all have found our initial reactions to art to be lacking--so doesn't it make sense to be a little more hesitant before simply dismissing (as opposed to truly engaging) a work?

9/06/2007 10:01:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Marc, I think that's a very left-brain approach to a very right-brain activity. When it comes right down to it, I'm not interested in questions or answers or any of that. I'm interested in how the work makes me feel.

9/06/2007 10:02:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

See, Ethan, that's exactly what's wrong with conceptual art. I don't want to learn anything else about a work to appreciate it. Everything I need to appreciate should be right there in the work itself. If I have to read a title card, or an essay, or an explanation -- "1000 Hours of Staring" is a perfect example -- in order to figure out what a work actually is, let alone what it means, then I consider that work of art to be a failure because it's not art, it's writing.

9/06/2007 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Incidentally: Maybe it's because I'm young, but I've never encountered a work of art I didn't like at first but later came to appreciate. Art either works or it doesn't, and you can tell immediately which.

Usually it doesn't.

9/06/2007 10:09:00 AM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

"The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it."

This along with the quote about brains falling out (Franklin mentioned earlier) are very funny and clever, but as teacher i wholeheartedly disagree. No one can force anything to fall out of anyones head, its entirely up to the learner what stays and what goes. But its highly crucial that things DO move in and out on a regular basis.
And i never implied that YOU chris have a closed mind. I am just interested in a discussion of the topic in general. I think it is perfectly reasonable to suggest that MY opinion about art is narrow and fixed (although i strive for the opposite because it is crucial to my art more than anything else)

For example, its interesting to hear your reaction to Ethan's work as "neat". I also think its "neat" but dont put that word in some hierarchy of criteria because so much of my reception depends on the context of where,how,when i am experiencing the work. I find your drawings neat also, (as a lover of Matisse) they have wonderful line quality, interesting compositions. I have a similar regard for Franklin's work. But these to me are known qualities/quantities. I can easily (and enjoy doing so) plug in the appropriate criteria and terminology.

Perhaps, what I mean by "keeping an open mind" when it comes to art is that I seek moments when I cannot easily find the correct descriptive or analytical terms. Or even immediately decide if it is good or bad. Generally speaking it is conceptual work that does that for me.

9/06/2007 10:10:00 AM  
Blogger Marc Snyder said...

Chris, I would just say that declaring this or that artwork or style of artwork to be more or less worthwhile based on your feelings, without asking yourself where those feelings come from, is to risk dismissing as worthless artwork that could compel those very same feelings, with just as much intensity, in other viewers who bring different experiences to their viewing. Which, of course, is perfectly your right to do. Everyone brings their own preferences and sensibilities to their own viewing.

But, to make that dismissal in a public forum, as a statement of broader truth than simply your subjective opinion, seems less useful to me. I think the critic has to use more of that left-brain (or whichever) to be useful in his/her criticism.

The artist at work can be a complete bundle of personal subjectivity. When you switch hats to become the critic, even of your own work, I think it's useful to bring more than your own feelings about the work in front of you to the table.

But, I'm sure there are very interesting and engaging critics who do nothing but give us their unfiltered feelings about the artwork, too.

9/06/2007 10:21:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Maybe it's because I'm young, but I've never encountered a work of art I didn't like at first but later came to appreciate.

You were lu-u-cky [a la the Four Yorkshiremen]! When I was your age we weren't allowed to encounter art without putting away such gradiose presumtions that everything we needed to know we already possessed. ;-)

Seriously, though, I keep having ephiphanies about work that I initially dismissed and would be rather upset if that stopped happening, as there's nothing quite as thrilling.

9/06/2007 10:26:00 AM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

Everything I need to appreciate should be right there in the work itself.

And here we have the crux of the disagreement because I find that to be superficial viewing. And i know Franklin, I and others have argued about the issue of Form Vs Content (which to me there IS NO Vs)

But CONTEXT is also crucial and to ignore that, to me, is to greatly limit the experience and perhaps appreciation.

i dont expect to convince you of this :)

9/06/2007 10:29:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Marc sez:
But, to make that dismissal in a public forum, as a statement of broader truth than simply your subjective opinion...

Everything I write should have "in my opinion" tacked on at the end. There is no broader truth. Even I don't believe my own jive, trust me on this. This is just my current working hypothesis, always subject to revision.

Mark sez:
...I seek moments when I cannot easily find the correct descriptive or analytical terms.

I do too. We have that in common. I find the exact opposite is true for me, though: I can usually find the right description for conceptual art.

9/06/2007 10:34:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I agree that context is important -- we started out here discussing the term "site-specific" and I argued that the term should only be applied to art that is so context-dependent that in another context (if you moved it) it would become meaningless. So I'm with you there.

What we don't agree on is that context should be supplied by essays, titles, introductions, lectures, and other verbiage. I agree that such things can add to the appreciation of a work of art; but that addition comes after the initial apprehension, which still determines, ultimately, if the artwork succeeds or fails.

I mean, we can't avoid context. There's always some context. We have to accept it.

9/06/2007 10:39:00 AM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

I find the exact opposite is true for me, though: I can usually find the right description for conceptual art.

Yes! And how fascinating that is! I am more interested in exploring the reasons behind these differences than trying to determine who is wrong or right (no one is either)

9/06/2007 10:41:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I argued that the term should only be applied to art that is so context-dependent that in another context (if you moved it) it would become meaningless

OK, but why? Why such a limited definition?

More to the point, what term would one use to describe work that responds specifically and intentionally to the architectural elements of the site it's in? I'm totally open to suggestions and I'm all for more precise terms, but I'm unaware of one that fits the need here that's also widely understood to mean that.

9/06/2007 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I don't consider what we're doing here as trying to "prove" anything. Maybe I sound like that. I have that problem. I get it from my mother. Everything my mother says sounds like she's reading off the tablets Yahweh gave her. She doesn't mean to sound that way, she just does, and I think I do too.

I'm exploring our differences. I don't expect to convince anyone of anything -- who would listen to me? I'm a known idiot! I'm conversing to figure out what I think.

To sharpen a knife, you need to rub it against a hard stone. I'm always looking for someone hard.

Smirk.

9/06/2007 10:46:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Well, by that standard, everything progresses whether we want it to or not.

Why yes, things move along, opinions change, views change, art changes.

Your viewpoint might be considered as marking one side of a die but ignoring what is on all the other sides. Art, and life is not like that. What one might consider art today, or advanced thinking today, or hot philosophy today, or aesthetics today, will be different in the future.

There is no fixed standard. It is not a case of ‘anything can be art’ but that the culture and the artist, in concert, put forth what will be considered to be art at a particular moment in history. Of course there will always be dissenters, those who rail against the current art with cries of charlatanism, but they will go to their grave disillusioned with a culture that has decided otherwise.

9/06/2007 10:47:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed, I think there's a fine line here. And I think I'm probably just going to have accept the common use of "site-specific" -- at some point, if almost everyone is using it one way, whether or not you agree with it is beside the point. But I'm just the kind of person who digs his heels in at first, just to be contrary.

I think the grey area is in that phrase, "responds specifically and intentionally to the architectural elements of the site". I think there's a differentiation that phrase doesn't make. There's an object built at a specific site which must, because of physical limitations, take the site into account. For example, you can't get an eight-foot-long board to lie flat in a room that's six feet by six feet. Then there's an object built at a specific site which involves the artist's personal response to that site. For example, a pile of trash in an alley might make me sad, and that might lead me (in some way I can't specify) to create something next to the pile expressing my sadness.

The first isn't really site-specific so much as built-on-site. Kind of a difference -- the artist could build the same thing somewhere else, and it'd mean the same thing, but they'd have to make slightly different concessions. For example, if the new space was ten feet by ten feet, I'd need to get a longer board to keep it from lying flat.

The second is site-specific: The object I created might not be sad without the alley and the pile of trash.

Anyway, that's my thinking.

9/06/2007 10:54:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

George sez:
...they will go to their grave disillusioned with a culture that has decided otherwise.

Good point. I guess what it comes down to here is I'm saying our future culture will look back on conceptual art and realize it was a boondoggle, a waste of effort, and not really art.

I'm making a bet, really, about what the culture truly values -- a value set over long periods of time -- versus what the culture appears, superficially, to value at this moment.

9/06/2007 10:56:00 AM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

I wrote about this thread today on my blog.

9/06/2007 10:57:00 AM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

The problem with your argument, Chris, is that you are railing against a whole category of art. There is as much good conceptual art as there is good painting. Chris Burden's Through The Night Softly is as good as the Mona Effing Lisa!

And trust me, there is as much bad conceptual art as there is bad painting.

The bottom line is that everyone should just make sculpture! Bad sculptures are so much effort and take so much time that you just tend to abandon them! ; )

9/06/2007 11:03:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Ok, so I understand the distinction you're making, Chris, but it's not a universal definition and still leaves us wanting a new term to describe work that is created in response to a partciular site but could also be built in response to another site with the same concerns (even though doing so would present a whole new range of problem-solving for the artist and end in unique answers for both the artist and viewer).

9/06/2007 11:07:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I know there's not a good term for it. Built-on-site works for me. I don't know. Maybe just don't specify the piece in that way at all -- just describe it. I mean, you don't mention, if you're showing oil paintings, exactly what they're painted on in the press release. "In these oil on panel paintings, Rywalt is exploring something or other...." Maybe sometimes you do. I don't know.

But I think it is very important to differentiate between an artist solving problems like "How do I attach this thing to the wall?" or "How do I square this when the walls aren't square?" versus an artist solving problems like "This room makes me feel happy. How can I express that?" The first is a problem of carpentry, not art.

I admit that there's a wide grey area here, too. So, you know, feel free to keep using "site-specific." As I am all-powerful, so am I merciful.

9/06/2007 11:16:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

But I think it is very important to differentiate between an artist solving problems like "How do I attach this thing to the wall?" or "How do I square this when the walls aren't square?" versus an artist solving problems like "This room makes me feel happy. How can I express that?" The first is a problem of carpentry, not art.

Ah, but (as I tried to convey in the press release, dammit), Tom's work deals with both. The emotional/psychological aspect of how the piece works when activated by viewers is a very large part of the problems he's solving, both via the carpentry and via an exquisite understanding of the formal choices he's making.

"Built-on-site" doesn't convey a response to the site. Any work that requires assembly in the viewing space (because it's too large to fit through the door, or doesn't travel well assembled) would be "built-on-site."

9/06/2007 11:22:00 AM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

Ah, but (as I tried to convey in the press release, dammit), Tom's work deals with both. The emotional/psychological aspect of how the piece works when activated by viewers is a very large part of the problems he's solving, both via the carpentry and via an exquisite understanding of the formal choices he's making.

A perfect example of how form,content, and context interweave.

9/06/2007 11:27:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Well, right now those types of things are also called "site-specific." Or seem to me to have been.

If Tom's work deals with both, then his work is indeed site-specific by both your and my definition. So that's fine.

9/06/2007 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Good point. I guess what it comes down to here is I'm saying our future culture will look back on conceptual art and realize it was a boondoggle, a waste of effort, and not really art.

This is highly unlikely. The future culture will see it for what it is, cultural and artistic thought imbedded in a particular moment in history in such a way where it could not have been anything else.

The problem is that you’re making a bet, but making it with your eyes closed. I have no wish to suggest you are wrong, that would be closing my own eyes to a future I see as wide open.

Even if your opinion is correct, by closing your eyes to the moment, you lock your views into past structures in ways which risk becoming irrelevant in the present. All those old artist, they are dead, history, what they did yesterday, cannot be done today in the same way.

9/06/2007 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger Ethan said...

For example, you can't get an eight-foot-long board to lie flat in a room that's six feet by six feet.

I believe you can, if my math isn't wrong, on the diagonal. See what happens when you close off possibilities ;)

9/06/2007 11:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

For years George has been asserting this one bromide - that art is going to be different in the future - and it's as pointless to argue against it as to argue for it.

I'm going to back up Chris's approach. Content is just recognizable form, and every work of art in existence has some kind of conceptual component. The problem that I have, and Chris shares, and the neglected RichardTScott seems to have just discovered, is that when the artist loads responsibility for the success of the work onto the conceptual components, he automatically limits success in two ways. One, ideas are not good or bad in the way that form can be good or bad; ideas are interesting or not, and correct or not. Chris describes this well by saying that successful conceptual work might make him think, "That's neat." It peaks there because feeling enthusiastic about an idea is not an aesthetic experience. Two, visual art is not a great conceptual conduit. I challenge anyone to show me a conceptual work that explored an issue more thoroughly than a book on the same topic.

Item two has a corrollary: It is extremely lazy to load responsibility for the work's success onto its conceptual components and then leave those components blank for the viewer to fill in. To then criticize a viewer who feels uncompensated by the work for his lack of effort, closed-mindedness, or (let me look over the thread) - to accuse him of having his eyes closed, being limited, having a dismissive attitude, or (horrors!) being conservative - tops laziness off with a splash of 180-proof intellectual dishonesty. Work that can't fail can't succeed. It is smart, not dumb, to abandon hope for an field of exploration that delivers poor returns so consistently. To not seek such work out, but to give it the time of day when you encounter it, is an eminently reasonable attitude.

9/06/2007 12:12:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

ethan,

Funny!

On the flat, a 8 foot 2x6 (nominal 5.375) will fit.
On edge, a 4x8 sheet of plywood would go.

9/06/2007 12:18:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Don't be so literal with your Pythagorean Theorem, guys. You know what I meant.

9/06/2007 12:24:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Anyway, I wasn't neglecting Richard T. Scott because I agreed or disagreed, but because he's probably judging this specific work by its JPEG. The show opens tonight and I'll be there to see what I feel about it. Until then I don't want to have an opinion about Tom Lendvai's piece.

Other than that, Franklin, you said it far better than I could or did. Conceptual art is often lazy and dishonest exactly the way you describe.

9/06/2007 12:26:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

Wow, Franklin, every time you post something like that I just feel this overwhelming gratitude... You articulate so clearly the paradigms I structure my life around--namely that art is an experience, not an idea. Ideas are easy to come by, easy to discard. Powerful experience is priceless and ineradicable.

9/06/2007 12:27:00 PM  
Blogger Marc Snyder said...

This episode of the show with zefrank, discussing waves, and whether or not they give a crap, and what you should do about it, seems somewhat relevant to the topic at hand. At least I thought so.

9/06/2007 12:29:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

Franklin,

You make excellent points about intellectual honesty. It is true that a work that cannot fail cannot succeed--well put!

But it is false to assume that all art that "loads responsibility for the success... onto the conceptual components" cannot fail.

Conceptual art hinges on form and execution just as much as any other kind of art does. There is a huge difference between the idea of getting into a locker for five days and Chris Burden's Five Day Locker Piece, and those differences are differences of form and execution!

That piece could have failed in myriad ways! It could have been documented in a hamfisted way. He could have talked. He could have had his pee running out of the locker. He could have taken nourishment. He could have lied about what he did.

In what ways is Burden's mindful, choice-filled locker sitting different from the mindful, choice-filled attention one pays to a canvas? And in what ways is the form of his silent body in the locker that he leads you to form in your mind through apocrypha-as-documentation and the physical barrier of the locker different from the form on a canvas?

That piece works for formal reasons and reasons of execution. And bad conceptual art fails because it is badly formed and badly executed.

9/06/2007 12:32:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Yes, Pretty Lady, yes, exactly! Art is an experience, not an idea! That's what I was trying to say when I said conceptual art comes from stupid ideas, only I was qualifying it too much.

By the way, I'm finding it disconcerting to realize that I'm arguing with people I'm going to be in the Blogger Show with, some of whom are even helping put things together. For example, I just checked to see who's supposed to get my JPEG and it's Marc Snyder. My brain is melting.

9/06/2007 12:34:00 PM  
Blogger Oly said...

Oly's Musings

Ed, here's my review of Tom's show.

Pictures and photo link corrections will be added hopefully by end of day tomorrow.

As to everyone discussing Tom's work-- trust me, when you see it, it will be worth it.

Olympia

9/06/2007 12:35:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

...you need to go away and read the biography of Robert Irwin, entitled Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees...

PL, if you like Seeing is Forgetting, you might also enjoy Robert Irwin Getty Garden, which has a fascinating running conversation between Irwin and Weschler, as well as a lot of great photos of the gardens.

9/06/2007 12:52:00 PM  
Blogger Henry said...

Franklin:

I challenge anyone to show me a conceptual work that explored an issue more thoroughly than a book on the same topic.

You'll need to show me where goal this is espoused. It's certainly not a view I share. A conceptual work might explore an issue more compactly than a book on the same topic, more personally, pleasingly, interestingly, dramatically, viscerally, aesthetically, and plenty of other adverbs, but I don't see how thoroughness comes into the picture, nor how conceptual art's "failure" in that regard should mean anything whatsoever.

Plenty of trees have fallen in plenty of forests for all the conceptual books that have been published, but if no one actually reads or understands them, do the books make a sound? Also, if you're saying there's only one path to wisdom, I will reject that idea pre-emptively.

It is extremely lazy to load responsibility for the work's success onto its conceptual components and then leave those components blank for the viewer to fill in.

I'm not sure I understand this, but if my interpretation is correct, I would argue it by saying the best works of creativity require work on the part of the viewer. An opera singer once said she sings very softly sometimes, to force the audience to "come to her." Didactic art is almost always a failure because it oversimplifies its subject. This is not to say that complexity is a measure of quality, or that simplicity is a measure of badness, but that there is something to be said about challenging the viewer, and one way to do this is to leave some things blank. But I fear I'm not responding to the point you were trying to make, so I'll let you clarify.

To then criticize a viewer who feels uncompensated by the work for his lack of effort, closed-mindedness, or (let me look over the thread) - to accuse him of having his eyes closed, being limited, having a dismissive attitude, or (horrors!) being conservative - tops laziness off with a splash of 180-proof intellectual dishonesty.

This is a fair statement in theory, but not a complete statement of the problem. Most people who fail to "get" a work of conceptual art do not stop there, but continue generalizing, casting all of conceptual art per se in extremely negative terms. It's not enough to "not get" a single work, but for example above we're treated with epithets like, "I know where conceptual art comes from: Stupid ideas." It's extremely difficult for me to accept an accusation of prejudice when the opposing view has rather a whiff of the same aroma.

9/06/2007 12:55:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I challenge anyone to show me a conceptual work that explored an issue more thoroughly than a book on the same topic.

This is silly. Which book are we supposed to compare an artwork with? Is there an acknowledged hierarchy? Will a comic book on the issue or a coloring book suffice? Or are we limited to some pre-approved canon from which to make the comparison, you know, one that has weeded out the bad books on topics, the lying books, the ones full of propaganda, etc.?

Having said that, I'll take that challenge. In 1960, Stanley Brouwn declared that all the shoe shops in Amsterdam constituted an exhibition of his work. A knee-jerk reaction to this piece might elicit a guffaw or a smirk, but taking the artist at his word and visiting each of the shoe shops in Amsterdam would allow the visitor an experience much like one finds in Ullyses, which quite frankly, given it takes place in one day, wouldn't provide anywhere near the same all-encompassing snapshot of life in a given place and time, as visting each of the shoe shops in Amsterdam would (because it would incorporate more time). So Ullyses is out. Leaving the question, which book are we comparing that work to now?

9/06/2007 01:09:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

the best works of creativity require work on the part of the viewer.

Yes, of course, Henry, but this statement in no way conflicts with what Franklin said. Franklin specifically described a situation where the artist is avoiding giving the viewer anything to work with; that is what 'loading responsibility for the work's success onto its conceptional components and then leaving those components blank' means.

Much 'conceptual' art that offends me is as didactic as it gets; it has one narrow interpretation, which is literally represented by the physical object presented for inspection. This is both presumptuous and patronizing, and does not challenge me to expand my mind, but rather directs my mind toward a dead end.

9/06/2007 01:40:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

...taking the artist at his word and visiting each of the shoe shops in Amsterdam would allow the visitor an experience much like one finds in Ullyses...

Only if there was a lot of drinking involved :)

9/06/2007 01:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Thanks Chris and PL (happy belated birthday!).

Fisher, there's not a clean overlap between performance and conceptual art so it's hard for me to respond to early Burden as an exception to my points. Even there, though, the reasons you list that Five Day Locker Piece could have failed are formal. If poor choices about form would have harmed the piece, then he did not load responsibility for the success of the work solely onto the conceptual components.

Henry:

You'll need to show me where this goal is espoused.

Nowhere. If you think that ideas are good or bad in the way that form is good or bad, which is pretty much the base presupposition of conceptual art, you can't formulate that goal.

I would argue it by saying the best works of creativity require work on the part of the viewer.

I would counterargue that no one has a checklist describing how the best works of creativity function. Some great objects require no work; they sieze you by the lapels and rattle you upon first sight. They are not necessarily inferior to objects that require a bit of digging. There are great works that both supply instant grat and reward prolonged scrutiny, even research. They are not necessarily better than objects that are all instant grat. You're right that there is something to be said about challenging the viewer, and I think we agree that quality is a separate issue. I would add that challenging the viewer for its own sake is an empty exercise. The artist challenges himself, and if a viewer ends up digging the result, so much the better.

It's extremely difficult for me to accept an accusation of prejudice when the opposing view has rather a whiff of the same aroma.

This comment leads nicely into Ed_'s:

This is silly. Which book are we supposed to compare an artwork with? Is there an acknowledged hierarchy? Will a comic book on the issue or a coloring book suffice? Or are we limited to some pre-approved canon from which to make the comparison, you know, one that has weeded out the bad books on topics, the lying books, the ones full of propaganda, etc.?

Here's where the intellectual dishonesty comes in: this notion that since I think that visual art is not a great conceptual conduit (my point in its entirety), I therefore support hierarchies and pre-approved canons, things that greatly offend the Cult of the Open Mind, as if the choice were between liking conceptual art and authoritarianism.

...taking the artist at his word and visiting each of the shoe shops in Amsterdam would...

...be pretty stupid. Like I said, ideas are not good or bad like form, they're interesting or boring, and true or false (or, of course, somewhere on the continuum for each axis). If that idea isn't boring and false I don't know what is. Furthermore, you would probably have more of an aesthetic experience actually shopping for shoes in Amsterdam. Anyway, segments of the art world value audacity above all else, and they latch on to acts like Brouwn's as exemplars. This is almost a separate phenomenon than conceptual art per se.

9/06/2007 02:06:00 PM  
Blogger Henry said...

PrettyLady -- I get what you're saying, but with the exception of work that's explicitly didactic, I guess I have a hard time thinking up a conceptual work that "left those components blank." It's possible that I've seen "blank" works and just ignored them -- I've seen plenty of conceptual works that have failed to move me -- but I don't think this harms anything. On the other hand it's also possible that one person can see something in a work that another person would consider "blank". In either case, I don't think there's any value whatsoever in making judgments about people who create or enjoy works which we do not ourselves create or enjoy.

9/06/2007 02:07:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Nice try Franklin, but you wrote that a book (implied through lack of specificity was "any" book) on any topic would explore any issue more thoroughly than any conceptual work of art. By pointing out that your lack of specificity opens up your statement to some rather hilarious conclusions, I'm not being intellectually dishonest in the least (and I'm certainly in no way accusing you of supporting hierarchies, but rather suggesting that without specificity, you open yourself up to such projections and point out that your measure is silly).

If that idea isn't boring and false I don't know what is.

Of course you don't, because you haven't visited every shoe shop in Amsterdam, but that hardly stopped you from declaring it stupid. Personally, I can think of no better way to illustrate how rich life is than to suggest someone embark on such an undertaking.

I'm still waiting for the book we're supposed to compare this conceptual piece to, by the way.

9/06/2007 02:16:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

... because you haven't visited every shoe shop in Amsterdam ...

Or, just try and walk anywhere with intent and paying attention, it's the same.

We are defined by what we ignore.

9/06/2007 02:22:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Or, just try and walk anywhere with intent and paying attention, it's the same.

Indeed it's exactly the same, and it's why that's a great piece of art.

9/06/2007 02:25:00 PM  
Blogger Henry said...

Franklin,

I think that visual art is not a great conceptual conduit (my point in its entirety), I therefore support hierarchies and pre-approved canons, things that greatly offend the Cult of the Open Mind, as if the choice were between liking conceptual art and authoritarianism.

So, okay. You think visual art is not a great conceptual conduit. I'll gladly defend your view tho I don't hold it. (And I hope you would reciprocate.) But conceptual art is good enough for me that I enjoy it far more than many other forms of creative output.

So why are we discussing it? If you don't think conceptual art is a great form of expression, aren't you tilting at windmills by joining discussions like this? Or do you think you're doing us a favor by pointing out that the emperor has no clothes? If your sole contribution to a dicussion on conceptual art is to disparage or deny it, in its entirety, can you see how this position might be confused with authoritarianism?

9/06/2007 02:38:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I'm not willing to cede this point. Brouwn's whatever-it-is is not art. It's a nice idea, a good suggestion to someone who needs a healthy walk. It's an article in Cosmo. Whatever it is, it isn't art.

Again: Ideas are not art, experience is. Having Brouwn say that his work is every shoe store in Amsterdam is not much of an experience, and doing it is its own experience. You might as well say that Arnold Schwarzenegger's book on how to lift weights is a work of art, because if you do what he says in the book, you'll be doing something different. That's so self-evidently obvious it's stupid to call it art.

If somehow Brouwn could pick you up and make you visit every shoe store with him, that'd be closer to art -- but then he'd be a tour guide, not an artist.

As Franklin notes above, anything can be interesting if you pay close attention to it. A blade of grass is interesting if you really look at it. (It's a leaf! It's a whole plant! At the same time!) Just telling someone to pay attention, or somehow tricking them into paying attention, isn't much of a work of art. It's stupid and banal, and assumes a stupid and banal audience made up of people who never look around them.

I'm sorry, but to qualify as art, it needs to be more than that.

9/06/2007 02:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

...you wrote that a book (implied through lack of specificity was "any" book) on any topic would explore any issue more thoroughly than any conceptual work of art.

No, I wrote, "I challenge anyone to show me a conceptual work that explored an issue more thoroughly than a book on the same topic." Reductio ad absurdum doesn't hold up when you distort the original point.

Of course you don't, because you haven't visited every shoe shop in Amsterdam, but that hardly stopped you from declaring it stupid.

Visiting every shoe shop in Amsterdam because someone declared them his art would be stupid. Actually visiting every shoe shop in Amsterdam, which AFAICT is not intrinsic to Brouwn's declaration, might be edifying or compensating in some way. Amsterdam's a nice town.

Indeed it's exactly the same, and it's why that's a great piece of art.

Again, why is visiting all the shoe shops part of the piece? If it is, does it require doing so attentively? And am I making art every time I pay attention to something?

9/06/2007 02:40:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

Indeed, it is exactly the same, and that's why it's the Emperor's New Clothes.

That particular example is perfect for explaining the problem with bad conceptual art because it adds nothing--it merely declares. Duchamp was a freakin' genuis when he did it the first time, but I can't believe we are still buying it!

This technique for "producing" art is a scam! Duchamp knew this and was generous and funny about its scammy nature... but to use it seriously as a tactic? To declare someone else's potential experience Your Art promises only to steal what was already the viewer's (their perception and time) and feed it back to them without adding any value except the word Art. That gesture is selfish and cynical and hollow, and there is no reason not to discuss it as such.

It is particularly ridiculous to assert that you can't call this particular conceptual artwork stupid because you haven't gone and done the artist's legwork for him and visited all the shops in Amsterdam.

9/06/2007 02:45:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I'm not willing to cede this point. Brouwn's whatever-it-is is not art. It's a nice idea, a good suggestion to someone who needs a healthy walk. It's an article in Cosmo. Whatever it is, it isn't art.

You say it's not. I say it is. And history marches on.

Again: Ideas are not art, experience is.

Bu-u-u-u-u-u-ut....an EXPERIENCE of a potentially life changing magnitude is exactly what that piece has created for you. By defining the terms in a doable, if difficult, goal, the artist simply made a subject/metaphorical choice (it could have been anything that would take the traveler through a wide range of life, but shoes being something most of us buy, and usually in person, it's a great choice, imo).

Just telling someone to pay attention, or somehow tricking them into paying attention, isn't much of a work of art.

Quite the contrary. It's an incredibly rare work of art that can accomplish that.

To declare someone else's potential experience Your Art promises only to steal what was already the viewer's (their perception and time) and feed it back to them without adding any value except the word Art.

I disagree. The choice was the art. The shoe shops--because of where and through what segment of Amsterdam life it would take the viewer--is a gift that the viewer didn't come up with on their own, so it wasn't theirs. Wandering aimlessly would not produce the same experience. It's the focus of the suggestion that elevates it.

9/06/2007 02:50:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Deborah, I do think I love you, knit hat and all.

9/06/2007 02:53:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Again, why is visiting all the shoe shops part of the piece?

duh

because people usually move from place to place without intent and paying attention.

I once lived by the sea. Everyday at sunset I would walk along the beach at the foamline. I got so I could recognize individual rocks and flotsam as it was moved by the daily tides. What does it mean? Nothing, life’s strange that way.

9/06/2007 02:55:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

Oh, sorry. I forgot to finish my thought.

It is ridiculous to assert that you can't call this piece stupid until you've gone to all the shoe shops in Amsterdam because that puts the entire onus for the success of the piece on the viewer, and that is, well...

...that's really stupid. And manipulative. And I don't need to go to even one shoe store to figure out that the artist is just getting me to whitewash *his* fence.

As a viewer, I have a choice. I can say that being conned into an artsy fartsy riddle of ownership is boring and walk away.

9/06/2007 02:55:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed sez:
And history marches on.

I fully expect art history books, five hundred years from now, to read thusly (translated into modern English, of course):

Rywalt wasn't appreciated during his lifetime because the art world of his day was more concerned with what was called "conceptual art." It wasn't until a few decades after his untimely death that museum directors began to realize how completely and worthlessly they'd been wasting their time and money, squandering the immense wealth bequeathed to them by past generations; and how "conceptual art" wasn't even satisfying enough to qualify as intellectual masturbation. Then many of them set about in earnest trying to rescue and revitalize what was left of the past two centuries of real art.

9/06/2007 02:59:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

The shoe shops--because of where and through what segment of Amsterdam life it would take the viewer--is a gift that the viewer didn't come up with on their own, so it wasn't theirs. Wandering aimlessly would not produce the same experience. It's the focus of the suggestion that elevates it.

I am not arguing that the artist can't say that this is what is happening and thus call it art.

I am not questioning whether it's art. I am questioning whether or not it's good art.

I don't think it's very good because it puts the entire onus for its success on the viewer and is therefore awfully safe.

I don't think it's very good because its success depends too much on technicalities about what "is" and "is not" art.

I don't think it's very good because it's overly clever and not very rich.

I don't think it's very good because the gesture is arch and cynical.

9/06/2007 03:11:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I challenge anyone to show me a conceptual work that explored an issue more thoroughly than a book on the same topic.

I return to my original complaint and attempt to make it more explicit (i.e., distracting tangent proof).

It's silly to suggest that "a book on the same topic" (by undefined author of undefined expertise or motivation and undefined depth or accuracy or interest in offering any, and therefore wide open to any and all books on the topic in the entire world) would automatically explore an issue more thoroughy than a conceptual work (again, entirely open to all possible conceptual works). Admit it Franklin. It's a silly measure.

As a viewer, I have a choice. I can say that being conned into an artsy fartsy riddle of ownership is boring and walk away.

How is that different from any other art experience, though? You can make the same claim about any work of art in the world. Seriously, whether it's a sculpture in the Vatican, a painting in the Lourve, or a rug in outer Mongolia. Ownership is always in question. Authorship is always in question. Accepting anyone's interpretation of such for any of those works raises the same question in merely different fashions.

From where I stand you seem to be simply sticking your stake in the ground around a particular, slender, definition of hand-to-product--passed expression and pretending all of the rest of human experience didn't come along for the ride. I like objects too, but I'm not convinced they're any more real or any more valid than ideas.

I think the process of making one convinces its maker that objects are somehow a vessel of ...fill in the blanks...but to my mind its silly to define what "fill in the blanks" means in such a concrete way as to suggest that it too doesn't belong entirely to each individual viewer before they see it. (Maybe they were not conscious of it, but how again is that any different an experience from having your epiphany sparked by a walk through Amsterdam or even the suggestion that you might consider such a venture?)

And it's not an aesthetic/emotional impact thing either, because I gasped when I first heard of Brouwn's piece. It stayed with me like only a few objects ever do, and this without ever attempting to complete it. How that differs from gasping upon seeing a near perfectly formed sculpture is not clear to me at all, because it feels exactly the same.

9/06/2007 03:16:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

How that differs from gasping upon seeing a near perfectly formed sculpture is not clear to me at all, because it feels exactly the same.

Sorry, but such experiences are not allowed, art can only take one form anything else is charlatanism.

Twist this whole argument in a knot, the conceptualists arguing that Chris's viewpoint is wrong and stupid. I would argue the other side, I won't accept someone, anyone telling me what art has to be. I know that no one really knows.

9/06/2007 03:26:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

How is that different from any other art experience, though? You can make the same claim about any work of art in the world.

It's not!

I am not arguing that what this man did is not art!

I am arguing that it's lame art, which is fundamentally different!

9/06/2007 03:32:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

From where I stand you seem to be simply sticking your stake in the ground around a particular, slender, definition of hand-to-product--passed expression and pretending all of the rest of human experience didn't come along for the ride. I like objects too, but I'm not convinced they're any more real or any more valid than ideas.

I totally don't get this. What do you mean?

I think the problem here is that you keep thinking that I am arguing that the piece is not art. I am not doing that. I have no stake in the ground.

9/06/2007 03:34:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I put a steak in the ground trying to grow a porterhouse tree.

It didn't work. But it's art!

9/06/2007 03:42:00 PM  
Blogger Henry said...

Edward,

[Franklin] I challenge anyone to show me a conceptual work that explored an issue more thoroughly than a book on the same topic.

[Edward] Admit it Franklin. It's a silly measure.

Methinks you're going a bit too far. Just say it's Franklin's measure and leave it there. He prefers aesthetic communication to work one way, and conceptual communication to work a different way. He wants to get his conceptual points from books and thinks this means is superior to other others. I'm happy to leave it there.

My beef with Franklin is that he seems to want the whole windmill. I say leave my windmill alone, get your own windmill, and I'll leave yours alone too. The more windmills in my universe, the merrier. Even the conceptual ones. In fact, especially those.

Maybe if I needed to make my living from art I would see things differently. That's a question I can't answer.

And furthermore ... Why every piece of art is required to be a Permanent Historical Document Intended for The Ages is beyond me. Much use was made of the word "hubris" during the past few years. This might be another good time for it.

9/06/2007 03:43:00 PM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

interesting. I had to peruse thru the last few comments cuz im between classes. I keep relating (as im sure we all do) these comments to my own work. Im sure many of you would see me as a charlatan. (which, if true, my 60,000 school loan debt means the BIG joke is on me)

Certainly Duchampian practices are involved (how is this overdone, yet painting isnt?), but formal issues are very primary. But really the main model of all this to me would be Felix Gonzalez Torres. And to know the he is my ideal of the perfect artist says a lot about my particular stake in the ground.

9/06/2007 03:46:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Henry sez:
The more windmills in my universe, the merrier. Even the conceptual ones.

Part of the problem is the world, while big, is still finite. If Chelsea is putting up more Conceptual Artists, then they're putting up fewer Regular Artists.

Part of the problem is the art market. The market wants to get bigger -- as all markets do -- but the supply of really good art is small. So the market doesn't want to sell good art, it wants to sell lots of art. So its windmills start to take over the planet, and my windmill and Franklin's windmill get crowded out.

Also: If it was just a matter of everyone doing their own thing with no overlap, then, hey, I don't care if everyone becomes a conceptual artist. But my time is limited. (Right now it's worth $45 per hour.) Any time I spend wandering through a conceptual art piece is time not spent considering something worthwhile.

Yes, any work can be good. And any work can be bad. But let's make our bets: Which has a higher chance of being good, an oil painting or a conceptual piece? I'd argue the oil painting, if only because it's harder to use oil paint than it is to say "Visit all the shoe stores in Amsterdam!"

Like Ms. Fisher said earlier, sculpture tends to be pretty good because it's so hard, people throw the failures away before anyone has to see them.

9/06/2007 04:01:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

Hold it right there, Rywalt!

I will not stand idly by while you abuse my argument.

It is FLAPDOODLE to assert that a "harder" kind of art has more of a chance of being "good" than an "easier" kind of art!

Effort is not where the art lies, and I don't think that conceptual art is ever bad because it's easy! One of my favorite conceptual works is Yoko Ono's book Grapefruit. Almost every page is perfectly complete and rich, and any individual page could not have taken an hour to dream up and write down.

When conceptual art is bad, it's bad because it's cynical, lazy or manipulative--usually a combination of all three! But laziness and ease are definitely not the same thing.

And while I personally work way too hard on my own art, this doesn't mean that I have a leg up on anyone else. My own effort means that I have different problems to overcome, not fewer.

9/06/2007 04:15:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I didn't mean to twist your meaning like that. I didn't mean hard like, hard to get good, or hard in a skill sense, I meant hard like, hard to get all the pieces together and move around and stuff. Physically demanding.

And I'm really only half-joking anyway. Of course being easy and being good are separate concerns.

9/06/2007 04:23:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

If Chelsea is putting up more Conceptual Artists, then they're putting up fewer Regular Artists.

Rethink that little tidbit. In practice, I think you would find that ‘Regular Artists’ outnumber all the others by a substantial margin.

The ‘art market’ adapts to the available capital, this has always been the case. In the last century or so, it has always been the case that there is more ‘ordinary’ and less interesting art than good art. Making good art is hard to do. That said, no one is crowding out your windmill, it is more likely just a case where no one is interested in what your windmill represents.

…if only because it's harder to use oil paint than it is to say "Visit all the shoe stores in Amsterdam!"…

Sorry but this has nothing to do with it, the artist’s guild system died out years ago. If you are a painter, knowing how to paint, is part of the job description, but not what necessarily makes a painting great or enduring.

9/06/2007 04:26:00 PM  
Blogger Ethan said...

Chris Rywalt said a while back:
See, Ethan, that's exactly what's wrong with conceptual art. I don't want to learn anything else about a work to appreciate it. Everything I need to appreciate should be right there in the work itself.


For some people it is all right there and doesn't need to be explained. Does a work need to be judged on the lowest common denominator? Who gets to say that based upon their body of knowledge that an artwork stands on its own or not? You?

If one were to say, "That piece doesn't work for me," I have no problem. But to say, "I don't immediately understand this piece therefore it sucks," is problematic.

From your comments, you seem to equate art that strikes you on an emotional level as being good and art that doesn't as being, at best, bad. That's fine if what we're discussing is your personal taste... but when we're talking more generally and taking on the role of critic that doesn't work.

Imagine a wine critic who doesn't like sweet wines. It wouldn't be right for that person to give all dessert wines a bad rating--that isn't really passing on any real information, just the critic's taste/prejudice. What the wine critic should do is take the wine on its own terms... "Ok, it's sweet--which I don't personally like--but is it a good & complex sweet?"

In the same way, we should (if we want to discuss more than our personal tastes), approach art in the same way. We should think, "Ok, the appeal of this art is in the intellectual than the emotional--which I don't like--but is it effective in what it is trying to accomplish?"

9/06/2007 04:36:00 PM  
Blogger Ethan said...

Part of the problem is the world, while big, is still finite. If Chelsea is putting up more Conceptual Artists, then they're putting up fewer Regular Artists.

Basically you're saying that your motivation in declaring things "not art" (e.g., whatever-it-is is not art) is because it negatively impacts the potential for your own art? Doesn't that seem intellectually dishonest (i.e., you're dismissing a large swathe of your fellow artists simply out of desire to have more show opportunities)?

9/06/2007 04:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

But conceptual art is good enough for me that I enjoy it far more than many other forms of creative output.

By all means, Henry, like it. I generally don't, but that doesn't mean there aren't a lot of exceptions. Too, I like painting, with a lot of exceptions.

So why are we discussing it?

It's fun. There's too much bad art getting taken too seriously for unexamined reasons. And because I want to embolden the people who would agree with me out of the many who won't.

If your sole contribution to a dicussion on conceptual art is to disparage or deny it, in its entirety, can you see how this position might be confused with authoritarianism?

Unless I'm misusing the English language, other people's confusion is not my problem.

duh

George, I asked two simple questions: is actually going out to see all the shoe stores in Amsterdam an intrinsic part of Brouwn's piece, and if so, does it require that we do so attentively? I'll answer them for you, since Ed_ blew it off and you're resorting to condescension. No and no. My sitting at home 47 years later and contemplating his Duchampian rehash alters his piece not at all, and the manner of my response to it is immaterial. This indicates, of course, that Ed_'s subsequent appreciation of the work, putative benefits that we will accrue if only we go look at every shoe store in Amsterdam as Brouwn's art, is a nonstarter.

I don't think it's very good because it puts the entire onus for its success on the viewer and is therefore awfully safe. I don't think it's very good because its success depends too much on technicalities about what "is" and "is not" art. I don't think it's very good because the gesture is arch and cynical.

Fatality. (That's a geek compliment, Fisher.)

Certainly Duchampian practices are involved (how is this overdone, yet painting isnt?)...

Ideas have no handwriting. The physicality that goes into a work is one of the things we value about it. The story that launched untold millions of paintings of Jesus's crucifixion resulted in good art and bad. It all never would have been made without that story, but after the fact, the story is the least important vector in the quality of any one of those works. Conceptual art is more or less tying its fortunes to the most ephemeral part of art - the idea behind it. That's a choice with its own payoffs. These payoffs largely don't interest me, although they are lucrative and win acclaim in certain circles.

Admit it Franklin. It's a silly measure.

No. On the contrary, admit this: You don't want to compare conceptual art to other creative forms that deal more naturally with concepts, like books or films, because it fares so poorly both artistically and intellectually. You'll say, I'm sure, that I'm comparing unlike things. I'll say that you could require of a work of art the degree (and in some cases, the kind) of payoff that you require of a book or film, but you don't, and too bad. (I just thought we'd skip ahead a little.)

We should think, "Ok, the appeal of this art is in the intellectual than the emotional--which I don't like--but is it effective in what it is trying to accomplish?"

Ethan, this is okay up to a point. But what if it's trying to accomplish something boring or false? Furthermore, what if it succeeds? At some point you have to look at the parameters themselves and see whether there's value in them.

9/06/2007 06:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Ethan said...

Ethan said a while back:
We should think, "Ok, the appeal of this art is in the intellectual than the emotional--which I don't like--but is it effective in what it is trying to accomplish?"

Franklin responded:
Ethan, this is okay up to a point. But what if it's trying to accomplish something boring or false?


I think that's a perfectly fine discussion to have... it's taking the art on its own terms (and holding it to it). What is a really tedious discussion to have is whether the artwork is "art" and whether an entire category of art is "stupid" or the work of "charlatans." That second discussion leads to head-butting against a dead-end. The first discussion leads to interesting & enlightening discussions.

9/06/2007 08:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I think that's a perfectly fine discussion to have... it's taking the art on its own terms (and holding it to it). What is a really tedious discussion to have is whether the artwork is "art" and whether an entire category of art is "stupid" or the work of "charlatans."

I can live with that, with one caveat: that we evaluate such terms not based on typical practice, but what is possible. Since he got mentioned above, I looked up something that was said by the Gugg about Felix Gonzalez-Torres: "'Untitled' (Passport), a stack of blank white paper, suggests a world without arbitrary borders and assigned nationalities, offering dreams of unfettered space and boundless travel." This act of in-house apologetics compares to Brouwn's declaration by assuming that fiats are enough to make art come into being. Even if I accepted it, though, how great of an accomplishment is "suggesting" a world without borders and nationalities? Look, I just did it myself! That was easy. And so is FG-T's work. John Lennon evoked similar ideas in "Imagine" and created an icon of popular music. Why does a major museum settle for mere suggestion? But it does. This attitude with worth fighting.

9/06/2007 09:22:00 PM  
Blogger Ethan said...

I'm glad there's being a meeting of the minds... I hope these thoughts in regards to your caveats don't seem to argumentative :)

I'm not sure that art should always be evaluated based upon doing something difficult or accomplishing something wholly new.

I think there's a lot to be said for expressing an old sentiment particularly elegantly (or, for that matter, painting a particularly nice human figure--something that must've been done about a billion times before :)

As for your example of Gonzalez-Torres piece. I have no idea if it is bland & facile or if it is particularly evocative. It's very hard to know by a simple text description of the work. Think of a work of an artwork you think extremely profound and I bet it's pretty easy to diminish it via description... that's not to say that "Untitled" (Passport) is necessarily brilliant, I simply can't intelligently discuss its worthwhileness without more info.

In any case, I'm not really sure what you mean by typical practice vs. what is possible. Are you saying that a work of art must surpass the expected to be considered good? My feeling about these kind of criteria is that possessing them may be a sign of good art, but their absence doesn't automatically indicate bad art. I honestly don't believe there's an easy formula for this :)

9/06/2007 10:38:00 PM  
Blogger Henry said...

Franklin,

You don't want to compare conceptual art to other creative forms that deal more naturally with concepts, like books or films, because it fares so poorly both artistically and intellectually.

I know this challenge was directed at Edward, but I'm curious how you derived it. (20 points. Show all work.)

I would easily choose to attend a conceptual art exhibit over seeing a film (of any sort whatsoever), reading a (philosophical) book, or finding philosophy in a pop song (even brilliant as Lennon and/or McCartney). I might immodestly say that I'm not wholly unfamiliar with books, and I've had a little bit of musical education in my day, tho I do admit I find films a waste of time.

Maybe I live an unexamined life. Shall we explore that claim? I'm a bit leery of this debate because I don't know whether it's possible to make quality judgments about any form of art without making parallel judgments about those who enjoy it.

As far as thinking about what's possible, maybe you're expecting too much of conceptual art, or seeking the wrong things in it.

9/06/2007 11:26:00 PM  
Blogger Concrete Phone said...

In its heady day conceptual art challenged the physical, perceptual, and phenomenological order of art often producing texts, plaques, or words, instead of physical objects. Ian Burns was a leading protagonist. Odd because he came out of what we seem to be back in, which we now call one flavor of concept art. So we know that!

Today conceptual art embraces the physical, often utilizing non-art; often operating out of the congenial or the incongruous -- with ideas, objects, and their spaces whether they be of or land in the domestic, the popular, or the formally considered. This includes the old-art-traditions and its diverse tropes, science and its projection of reality, specimen as the clue, and can be exhibited in such spaces as the museum and galleries world-wide -- and on occasion, in less loaded places and spaces. Graffiti art, nee-to-say often reads more concept than paint, for example.

Though, here, at least from the j-peg critic chair that I rest in, I don't see concept art, or any of the above. I do see sculpture, the bare bones stuff, that blocks and opens space[s], the senses, to a reading via the body and the head.

I guess the extended concept battle here is just humor, which lends itself to concept over the internet.

I hope E. and B collected enough bingo boards, hopefully signed on the back that one day could be exhibited as an event post-event. That would fit concept art--at least one traditional view of it.

Mostly, I hope the exhibition is a success.

9/07/2007 08:02:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

No. On the contrary, admit this: You don't want to compare conceptual art to other creative forms that deal more naturally with concepts, like books or films, because it fares so poorly both artistically and intellectually. You'll say, I'm sure, that I'm comparing unlike things. I'll say that you could require of a work of art the degree (and in some cases, the kind) of payoff that you require of a book or film, but you don't, and too bad. (I just thought we'd skip ahead a little.)

Absolutely not. I took you at your word. You offered a challenge. I accepted. I suggested a conceptual work and I'm ready to accept that you can point to a book that explores the issue more thoroughly. I'm waiting.

9/07/2007 08:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

The challenge was for you to point to a conceptual work that explores its subject more thoroughly than a book on the same topic. I'm waiting.

9/07/2007 10:45:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

You are determined to avoid this, aren't you? Well, you don't get off that easily, as I've already pointed to Ulysses as a book that explores the same issue and noted that to my mind the Brouwn piece is broader in scope. I would expect you to accept that I took your challenge, and won, or explain why I haven't won.

9/07/2007 10:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

As I said earlier, actually touring Amsterdam is not part of Brouwn's work. His concept, in its entirety, is that art can be brought into existence by fiat. The problem of what constitutes art has been addressed by too many authors to list; Danto might be chief among the sympathetic ones.

9/07/2007 11:08:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

As I said earlier, actually touring Amsterdam is not part of Brouwn's work. His concept, in its entirety, is that art can be brought into existence by fiat.

That's your interpretation (which I reject because by suggesting he had an "exhibition" up, he was implying it could/should be viewed).

But the fact that your interpretation is not my interpretation is at the heart of why I reject that objects are somehow vessels of self-contained success or failure but ideas are not. You suggest objects are successful or fail based on formal (and highly subjective, and always evolving) accomplishments, as if that in and of itself were the limits of what anyone will have to gauge their experience of a given piece, as if those were somehow transferable uniformly, etc. etc.

But that's endless...my basic disagreement with you on this revolves around this statement:

It is extremely lazy to load responsibility for the work's success onto its conceptual components and then leave those components blank for the viewer to fill in.

Taking Brouwn's piece as an example, the conceptual component in your opinion is limited to the notion that art can be brought into existence by fiat, but dealing with this piece on that level it is not even required to actually fill in the blanks to be moved to gasp at the concept here (whether because it triggers a flood of visual memories of Amsterdam or it's audacity stirs the imagination or any of a host of other things so many objects fail to do), so I can't see how laziness plays into it unless being spoonfed one's own response is the order of the day.

Still, I insist that Brouwn's piece can also, on one level, be taken at face value and that the issue he's exploring is not "in its entirety, ... that art can be brought into existence by fiat." He chose shoe shops and he chose to call it an "exhibition." Further, the subject (shoe shops)carries its own associations and references and those can only be dismissed, in their entirety, if you assume that in making that choice he was just being glib or cute, but again, that's merely one possible (and I might note jaded) interpretation.

(sidebar: wahoo! over 150 comments)

9/07/2007 11:45:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Having re-read my comment, I withdraw this:

But the fact that your interpretation is not my interpretation is at the heart of why I reject that objects are somehow vessels of self-contained success or failure but ideas are not. You suggest objects are successful or fail based on formal (and highly subjective, and always evolving) accomplishments, as if that in and of itself were the limits of what anyone will have to gauge their experience of a given piece, as if those were somehow transferable uniformly, etc. etc.

too messy...blame the hang over.

I stand by the rest.

9/07/2007 11:52:00 AM  
Blogger prettylady said...

Boys! Look. It's very simple.

Pretty Lady used to be a Poet. She even went so far, at one point, as to become an acclaimed Performance Poet who was given free beer and a standing ovation at the Elbo Room for enacting her piece 'there's something breathing in my room,' which teetered wildly between the sublime and the ridiculous, between pathos and bathos and ironic humor, and silenced the audience utterly, except when it produced bursts of incredulous laughter. She knows Poetry.

And Poetry packs a concept such as 'go, minion, and visit all the shoe shops in Amsterdam/before you dare to return and speak to me' into two lines of one poem that is then published in an anthology and given away on the street corner for free. That is how much Ideas--sublime, ridiculous, arcane, whimsical, and elegantly expressed--are worth, in the noble literary tradition of Poetry.

So this discussion, to Pretty Lady and other poets, comes across rather like a bunch of children sitting in a sandbox and arguing over the relative merit and commercial value of two specific grains of sand.

9/07/2007 12:19:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

OK, so I'll confess, I concluded a while ago that Brouwn's piece is poetry and that Franklin's description of what it does (declare that "art can be brought into existence by fiat") is more or less the work of poetry.

Also, I'll note that I'm not entirely sure where to draw the line between that and visual art. There are conceptual works, like the charming, if not terribly deep, "yes" by Yoko Ono that hinge on the inclusion of an object (here a ladder) and action (climbing up it), so that's visual enough for me, but if all there is is text, I'm a little less certain. Friedman's curse works for me because of the plinth...and so it gets murky.

All of which is OK in my mind because I'm still loathe to make declarations about what is or isn't art (I leave that to individual artists) and reserve my role for declaring (as fisher6000 tried to explain but I remained resistant to through confusion on my part) whether it's any good or not. In my book Brouwn's piece is very successful.

9/07/2007 01:14:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

...conceptual works, like the charming, if not terribly deep, "yes" by Yoko Ono...

Hey, she got a lot of mileage out of that piece :)

9/07/2007 01:26:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed sez:
OK, so I'll confess, I concluded a while ago....

Aha! Aha! Aha!

I was so determined to bow out of this discussion, because I feel in our labors we are becoming -- across the entire Internet -- a generation of Talmudic scholars, poring over smaller and smaller details, teasing out nuance after nuance, arguing over whether certain punctuation marks were intended and why.

But: Aha! I see, Ed, that there is, deep within both of us, a place where we overlap. A place where we wonder: Is that art?

One confusion I find cropping up again and again, all over the Web-based art community we've cobbled together (such as it is), is this muddled word, art. English is amazing at overloading its simplest words and art is no exception: It means so many, many things.

I try, on this blog, anyway, to limit my use of the word art to a narrow range. So when I say "Conceptual art is not art!" or "Video art is not art!" I'm not only making a judgement of personal taste -- I happen think most of that crap sucks -- but also defining the boundaries of the word "art" as I am using it here.

Poetry, of course, is art. An art. Writing, poetry, painting, sculpting, film, photography, whatever whatever whatever, they're all arts. But are they ART the way I'm talking about it here?

The term "visual art" is sometimes used, but that's a bit weak for me, too. In older art books you find the term "plastic arts," which differentiates one set of art from "performing arts" and "written arts." But "plastic" has lost its meaning, really, in that way, and anyway film is a plastic art, too.

What I want to do is set aside art which involves performance, which relies primarily on words and their meaning, which involves music, and so on. I want to slice them off our discussions.

Thus Carolee Schneeman is out. Brouwn's statement on shoe shops is out. Yves Klein and his "zone of pictorial sensibility" is out.

These works may move you. They may be great art. But they're not the art I'm talking about. They're out.

I don't understand the Art World's insistence on attempting to subsume other areas of endeavor. Like video. We don't need it. It's stupid and ugly. Even if it weren't, it's something else, something unrelated to paint and marble and assemblages of broomsticks and even vats of blood. Is it possible these endeavors relate? Sure. But mostly, they don't.

I'm all about narrowing things down, because the more you open things up, the more good stuff falls out and the more bad stuff falls in. If everything is art, then nothing is art. I'd rather accidentally leave out something wonderful than allow in a thousand crappy things.

9/07/2007 02:29:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I don't understand the Art World's insistence on attempting to subsume other areas of endeavor. Like video. We don't need it. It's stupid and ugly. Even if it weren't, it's something else, something unrelated to paint and marble and assemblages of broomsticks and even vats of blood. Is it possible these endeavors relate? Sure. But mostly, they don't.

groan....

9/07/2007 02:58:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Well, I mean, Ed, for a moment set aside my well-known distaste for video. Just from an artistic standpoint: If what you had in your gallery last year was art, what's stopping you from showing 3:10 to Yuma? Is it just that you don't like Westerns? Where's the line between regular movies and art?

Or poetry: You could be printing out poetry and tacking it up on your walls. Publishing poems in books. But you're not. Why not? Where's that line?

I guess the answer generally revolves around "those things don't interest me." Which I guess is okay. But I feel there's more to it.

I don't go to Chelsea to buy sheet music. I don't go to Sam Ash to rent DVDs. I don't go to the deli to buy RAM for my PC. You know? So I'm mystified as to why the Art World (as if it's a monolith) seems intent on covering everything under its umbrella. Music? Art! Performance? Art! Paintings? Dead! But still art, I guess!

Too catholic for my tastes, I suppose.

9/07/2007 03:09:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

You know what it is? I'm a Modernist. I'm a frigging Modernist. I never wanted or expected to be one, but the more I read the more I'm finding that I am, in fact, a Modernist.

If you put "narrative art" into Google, for example, you can find this page which says, "Modernists largely rejected narrative art in the 1950s and 1960s, though it has returned strongly since then, with artists embracing several means of presentation viewed by modernists as theatrical, and therefore inappropriate to the purity of art. These include video and performance art."

I'm not entirely against narrative art, I guess, but I certainly have this thing about the purity of art.

Good goddamn. Modernism.

9/07/2007 03:36:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Where's the line between regular movies and art?

The same line there is between one of your drawings and an "illustration." Nothing more and nothing less.

9/07/2007 03:58:00 PM  
Blogger Henry said...

The Gospel of Matthew is "more thorough" than Ruben's Massacre of the Innocents. We do not condemn Rubens for this. This painting has formal elements and narrative/conceptual elements; it is possible for different people to enjoy different things in this work.

Given Rubens's painting as a historical starting point, I want to know if it's being claimed on this page that it is acceptable to create a work of art in which the narrative has been erased, but not one in which the forms have been erased. And I want to know why this is not a double-standard.

P.S. Poetry is not compact enough. Art delivers a message (aesthetic, conceptual, or combined) in a compact package. Some deliver more formal messages, some deliver more conceptual ones.

I might be persuaded today -- limited time offer, please act now -- to define art as a compact message with no objective value. This definiton is of course wrong, because they all are, but it's what I'm feeling after slogging through all the fun-ness above.

9/07/2007 04:02:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed: Not helpful.

9/07/2007 04:03:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

try harder. are your drawings mere illustrations? If not, why not?

9/07/2007 04:23:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I can make some stuff up at this point, but I'd rather say that it always seems to me that the line between illustration and art is extremely hazy, if not entirely imaginary.

So I don't know if my drawings are mere illustrations. Mark Creegan earlier commented in a way that made me wonder if I was just copying Matisse (come to think of it, you said something near those lines, too, once). So if I'm just copying the Modernist style (Jerry Saltz warned me of that), maybe my drawings are mere illustrations.

I mean, I know the difference you're talking about, but there's a sense in which it seems to me that the main difference between 3:10 to Yuma and one of your artist's videos is that the former has mass appeal and the latter does not.

Another difference is that the former isn't presented as art by an artist while the latter is. And I know how you feel about self-declarations like that!

9/07/2007 04:28:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

but there's a sense in which it seems to me that the main difference between 3:10 to Yuma and one of your artist's videos is that the former has mass appeal and the latter does not.

The reviews for the videos we've recently exhibited were much stronger than those for 3:10 to Yuma that I've read. Just sayin'.

But you're still not doing the hard work here.

I'll offer one clue. You might set out to make an illustration and yet create fine art, but the odds are not very likely that if you seriously set out to make fine art that what you'll end up with is merely an illustration. It might be bad fine art, but that's another matter.

9/07/2007 04:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

As someone who makes both art and illustration, with advanced degrees in both, I've given this some thought. Illustration is fundamentally art made for reproduction. Art is fundamentally something presented as art.

Yes, fiat is enough to get something classified as art. This limitlessness as a category comes at a heavy price: the degree to which art can suck is now also limitless, and art is no longer an honorific category. Art could always be pretty bad, but the latter is a more recent development and a real shame. One of the chief motivations of conceptual art is the erosion of art as an honorific category, and it has largely succeded. When Brouwn's piece and the Nike of Samothrace go into the same class of objects, that class is no longer exclusive or elevated. This is only slightly uplifting to Brouwn while being colossally demeaning to the Nike. That is my primary complaint about conceptual art as a whole, and why seeing it broadly accused of charlatanism and stupidity causes me no discomfort. Deriving pleasure from it requires a near total conflation of philosophical, literary, and aesthetic activities. But since visual art is a poor conceptual conduit, the result isn't a rich hybrid practice - that honor went to film, and is about to go to comics - but instead a category of activities that largely don't relate to each other. This is a bad situation. Arguments about films don't regularly degenerate to the question of Whether Something Is Film. But there are people who can profit in a bad situation. That's what the art world has come to, but in the meantime I'm going to keep doing my thing.

9/07/2007 08:11:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed sez:
You might set out to make an illustration and yet create fine art, but the odds are not very likely that if you seriously set out to make fine art that what you'll end up with is merely an illustration.

I'm not sure I'm comfortable classifying actions by intent. Why should we take someone's word that a given object (or concept or action) is ART, but not take their word that it is GREAT ART? Why draw the line there?

I mean, if I can create art merely by wishing it to be so -- by purposely setting out, for example, to create art and not illustration -- then what stops me from wishing it to be great art and having it be accepted as such? I can declare myself an artist, you say. I can declare anything to be art, you say. But I can't declare anything to be great. Why not?

Also, what does this mean for the vast history of Western narrative art? So many masterpieces are really just illustrations of stories from the Bible or antiquity.

And I remember, in a blog comment not too long ago, you, Ed, suggested that the Old Masters were just making the Pop Art of their day -- just, in effect, illustrating the pop culture of their age.

Does that make Andy Warhol, then, an illustrator? (I know he started out as one, professionally speaking.) Lichtenstein? Basquiat?

Rubens? Michelangelo? Leonardo? All mere illustrators?

9/07/2007 08:23:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I think, Franklin, that not only is it sad that art is no longer an honorific category; it's also eroding art itself. Because art, at its best, is for everyone, for the entire culture. It supports the culture and is in turn supported by the culture.

Conceptual art, however, has done more for making the art world a laughingstock than anything else in hundreds of years. And so the mainstream of the culture no longer supports art or wants to support art. When the highest standard of art is how loud it says "FUCK YOU" to the very people it's supposed to be for, then something's gone very wrong.

And within the art world, it's sad that no one really gets angry over their opinions any more. Time was when the police were called to quell riots caused by the Surrealists. Imagine rioting in a theater! There's just no passion any more.

Someone throw a rock at Damien Hirst!

9/07/2007 08:30:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Yes, fiat is enough to get something classified as art.

Wait a minute, is this really true? or is it just a popular myth?

What does it take to make it true? Certainly an ‘artist’ can declare something is ‘art’ but I would suggest this does not make it so. Part of our understanding of the world is developed by consensus. If we see a lumpy blue and chrome object, we might call it a ‘car’ because we understand this general cultural class of objects, but even though it might look like a ‘car’, it could conceivably be something else, a sculpture or a barbecue.

This point of view suggests to me, that just declaring something as ‘art’ is insufficient. While the declaration indicates intent, and latent ‘artiness’, it is fundamentally incomplete without the participation of a second party, the viewer. If you’re diagramming, this is the "to get" part of the sentence.

If this is the case, then when an artist declares something as ‘art’ (by fiat or VW) what she is really doing is asking the audience to accept it as art. From this point on, the question is continuously reconsidered by degrees over time. At the start only a few may agree that it is ‘art’, if the consensus expands over time then our object (or…) has a reasonable chance of being considered art, if not, then it fades away into the group of wannabe art objects, junk, or dust.

If Duchamp's urinal was universally rejected as art, that would have been the end of it. It wasn’t, and over time, within the larger context of Duchamp’s work, the urinal achieved symbolic status as art. It is its relationship with Duchamp’s body of work, his philosophical thought and the particular cultural moment which allow this transformation to occur.

None of this is to suggest that one has to like Duchamp’s work, the consensus over what is art is rarely unanimous. None the less, I think it is important to understand that what is art, is in fact, decided by the culture and not the artist. The artist can resort to previously tested modes of working, shock, smarts, whatever, in an attempt to make works which have lasting staying power within the culture, they get declared as art.

As I see it, most of this discussion has been a debate about which of these methods might work best to make something endure as art. It’s a trick question.

9/07/2007 09:44:00 PM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

I swear, Chris and Franklin, (and i write this with a friendly smile on my face) I hope some young, depressed conceptual artist doesn't read your last few comments, he may try to slit his wrists!

Chris wrote:
Conceptual art, however, has done more for making the art world a laughingstock than anything else in hundreds of years.

Really? More than those brutish Impressionists? Or that horrible Picasso? Or that Jack the Dripper? What happened to the rage toward all those Surrealists you mentioned? I guess people are constantly shaking their fists at all those Dali calendars hanging in their cubicles.

When has art NOT been a laughingstock? I suspect laughter and derision at those (mostly hyperbole ridden stories) of contemporary art shenanigans is step one toward acceptance and assimilation. I realized conceptual art had been assimilated years ago here in the south when those religious billboards started popping up all over the place, showing white text on black saying things like my personal favorite:

"That 'Love thy neighbor thing'? I meant that.
-God

Leo Steinberg wrote an essay in the 60s about the "plight of the public" which examined the anger and sense of loss the "public" feels regarding contemporary art. He believed this negativity was a reaction to the artist's own abandonment of perhaps hundreds of years worth of traditional values, creating a near spiritual crisis.

My question is isnt this just a process? Should we value and agree with the indignation of present day and not that of the crowds protesting the Armory Show in 1913?

You both present the conceptual artist as something antithetical to human creativity itself by saying what they do "erodes art". Its true much conceptual art questions orthodoxy in whatever form. Since when is this an "erosion" and not simply an addition? Would you state the same thing about the scientific revolution or the Enlightenment?

I think the fundamental error in your reasoning is a lack of understanding the art has ALWAYS been conceptual. Those prehistoric cave drawings?- conceptual. Michelangelo's David?- conceptual. The impressionists?- conceptual. The writings of Shakespeare?- conceptual. That conflation of philosophical, aesthetic, literary concerns you bemoan has been around since the dang venus of willendorf.

Now, the understanding of those concepts get lost over time which result in misconceptions and simplified analysis based only on aesthetic concerns.

9/07/2007 11:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Chris and Mark,

Art itself is not going to be injured just because its high echelons become dominated by people with bad taste. We share that much with the Impressionists. Rather, the best art will be made by people who do not occupy or receive recognition from those echelons. Art has been produced by nearly every culture at nearly every time. It will not crumble from a half-century of confusion about what it is or what it does. The only issue is whether you throw in your lot with quality or something else.

Mark,

I said that conceptual art erodes art as an honorific category, not that it erodes art. Chris said that, and I disagree. Again, the consequence of this is to slightly elevate banalities and greatly demean the triumphs of artistic achievement. The current situation is marked by less and less discernment, more and more inclusion. Nothing can't be art. You call it addition; I call it dilution. Science is exactly the opposite: science will discard anything that doesn't correlate to data. (Similarly, modernism will discard anything that doesn't correlate to visual quality.) And you should see what postmodernism has to say about the Enlightenment. It's not pretty. It's no accident that pomo theory and conceptual art work together so well.

Michelango's David has a conceptual component (all art does, as I said earlier), but saying that it is conceptual is meaningless, implying that it is conceptual art is ridiculous. The Old Testament story of David was rendered countless times. We value the David because of Michelangelo's phenomenal ability to sculpt marble. Five minutes of wielding a chisel will clarify the matter for you.

Lost understanding of concepts results in aesthetic analysis? Now it's my turn to groan.

9/08/2007 01:21:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Rather, the best art will be made by people who do not occupy or receive recognition from those echelons.

Oh please, the ‘best’ art approaches the universal in its appeal and thus would include ‘those echelons’. Your little platitude is a handy rationalization for artists who are being ignored by the culture.

It [art] will not crumble from a half-century of confusion about what it is or what it does.

Help me out here, are you suggesting that the art from the last 50 years is all crap? A failure in taste by ‘those echelons’? Ok, so sticking to painters, who do we throw out? Pollock? De Kooning? Johns? Rauschenburg? Warhol? Lichtenstein? Rosenquist? Basquiat? And, who do we replace them with? I’m assuming that not everyone had this ‘failure in taste’, surely there are, or were, artists who upheld the cannon of taste you hold so dear. Well?

We value the David because of Michelangelo's phenomenal ability to sculpt marble.

No we don’t. We value the David because it was valued in Michelangelo’s time when the ability to sculpt marble had a value within the (historical) culture. No doubt Michelangelo was a genius at what he did and that it was recognized in his time. However, when we look at the Davis today, we cannot separate it from its five hundred years of historical context.

The present culture does not value the David in the same way it did five hundred years ago. This does not mean that we do not value the David, just that we value it differently today. Yes, we still admire his skill with a chisel, but our culture no longer places a high value on statuary, pity.

The only issue is whether you throw in your lot with quality or something else.

When did you stop beating your wife?

9/08/2007 05:22:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Mark sez:
When has art NOT been a laughingstock?

I was going to go into this, but then I didn't, and now I'm going to have to.

Mark also sez:
More than those brutish Impressionists? Or that horrible Picasso? Or that Jack the Dripper?

The core of the problem is right here in what you wrote. Because great art of the past was considered shocking, today it's assumed that anything shocking must be, if not great, at least in the right direction. What is misunderstood is that the shock and surprise of Manet, Monet, Picasso, and Pollock is a side effect, not the main intent.

The Modernists -- and every one you cite there is a Modernist -- were shocking because they were demanding a return to quality in art, trying to drag art away from the bourgeois tastemakers who lauded formulaic art.

Which is exactly what I'm doing here, which is why I'm arguing with so many people. I want to drag us back to quality art and away from formulaic conceptual "outrage the citizenry" art lauded today.

You also say:
Its true much conceptual art questions orthodoxy in whatever form.

What do you do when "questioning orthodoxy" becomes its own orthodoxy?

9/08/2007 07:17:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Franklin sez:
Art itself is not going to be injured just because its high echelons become dominated by people with bad taste.

I think art itself can and will be injured. Obviously there will always be people making art and some of that will be good and will last. But I think it's possible that potential artists can be turned away from pursuing art. Artists do need some nurturing from their culture, and if our culture is antithetical to art and artists, a lot of potentially great art will just never be made.

On my way home from Chelsea the other night, while sitting in traffic to get to the Lincoln Tunnel, I noticed some grass growing next to me. It had taken root in dust and soot and dirt that had collected on a narrow ledge in the otherwise lifeless concrete wall stretching high over my head. This grass had grown there long enough to have gone to seed, and it looked like short wheat waving in the wind.

Great art is like that today, even though there are more resources for art now than ever before in human history.

9/08/2007 07:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please, please, please....

Take a look at the building, walk around it, inside and then tell me what you think about this show...

9/08/2007 10:19:00 AM  
Blogger Henry said...

Franklin - Excellent summary. I liked your statements of fact but not your value judgments, which struck me as thinly-veiled personal judgments. Films and comics are not artforms I take seriously, but if that's what you prefer, more power to you. I'm also glad you dispensed with you "thoroughness" criterion, which was never very meaningful in this context. Films and comics books are of course never more thorough than their equivalent books, and are practically summarizations or simplifications of the literary medium in the first place. If there's any valid comparison to literature at all, PrettyLady's allusion to poetry was the far better one. But as I said above, conceptual art is the most compact form of all, and thus has different rules altogether.

9/08/2007 10:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Oh please, the 'best' art approaches the universal in its appeal and thus would include 'those echelons'.

Not if membership in said echelons requires downplaying what is universal about art's appeal in the first place. This has happened before in art, notably the salon system in late 19th Century France, which probably had an equivalent of "oh please" in French to express its bottomless condescension for artists whom the system didn't support.

Help me out here, are you suggesting that the art from the last 50 years is all crap?

I'll be happy to defend what I wrote. Stuff I didn't write, you can just go ahead and wonder about.

Yes, we still admire his skill with a chisel, but our culture no longer places a high value on statuary, pity.

And yet, when it stopped being valued by the culture's top echelons, people started forming alternative cultures that do value it. We teach it at the school out here in Orange County, and the landscape is dotted with realist ateliers and galleries. As it happens, what Michelangelo did with a chisel is so compelling that I have students in their late teens who want to learn how it's done. This is why I don't think art itself is going to be injured, pace Chris. Also, my wife just got back from Burning Man, which is the central event for a very specific crowd of artists with no interest in what we normally think of as the art world. Attempting something like Brouwn's piece in that circle would earn you immediate and total derision.

When did you stop beating your wife?

In all human pursuits, the best practitioners pursue quality within them. That the art world provides some ostensible counterexamples indicates only that the art world is out of whack. Your intellectual position must be hamstrung or worse if its defense requires drooled emissions like your comment immediately above.

I'm also glad you dispensed with you "thoroughness" criterion, which was never very meaningful in this context.

Henry, typically when we value an exploration of ideas, we do so because it looks at the topic from many angles and produces a interesting insights. This is a natural thing for a book to do, and not a natural thing for visual art to do. That's where thoroughness comes in as a criterion. You seem to be suggesting an alternate criterion, compactness, for which I don't share your appreciation in this case, but I'm not going to argue against your experience if that's what you like. I would still say that text in various forms is a more natural medium for ideas than visual art. I keep thinking that I'm glad somebody wrote the Declaration of Independence. If someone had painted it, we'd likely still be taking tea at 4 pm every day.

If you're interested, I'm working on a comic that hopefully is greater than the sum of its text and images, and holds up as something that text wouldn't do by itself. Let me know what you think. (Consider this a late and misplaced addition to the Promote Yourself thread.)

9/08/2007 11:10:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

. Attempting something like Brouwn's piece in that circle would earn you immediate and total derision.

And there it is. The essence of what's being played out here. Defense of a position by derisive dismissal of those who disagree (and both sides here are guilty of it). Kind of sums up the political landscape of the country at the moment as well.

I don't doubt it's difficult to make marble respond to a chisel in the way that Michaelangelo did it. I equally don't doubt that what, say, Bill Viola is able to make video do is much harder than it looks as well.

What's missing in the rationales offered by those who don't feel video has yet produced a "David" (and are implying it never will) is an allowance for the fact that hundreds if not thousands of years of taking chisel to rock had to come before "David" was produced. That doesn't make those earlier efforts any less significant than we consider them today, just as it doesn't begin to suggest that had those hundreds if not thousand of years of earlier work not happened that Michaelangelo could have just woken up one day and did what he did.

What I hear behind all this frustration is the assertion that "I am doing better work in sculpture or painting or drawing than those other artists are doing with their newfangled video or installations or object-less conceptual works, and yet they're getting more attention."

Also implied (or in a few instances above blatantly stated) is the notion that this is happening because the people who are giving the new work that attention are either being bamboozled (and...and this takes the cake really...being harmed spiritually, as if they would be spiritually rewarded if they only paid attention to my drawings or sculptures or paintings) or trying to bamboozle the rest of us.

This grand conspiracy theory is a bit hard to swallow as it would represent quite an impressive consistently sustained mass, worldwide brainwashing.

What I find particularly amusing is that those who'd like to turn back the clock join forces in arguing that's what's needed here, but disagree strongly about how far back to turn it. Chris would like to turn it back to Modernism, whereas Franklin implies he would turn it back even further.

I prefer to look forward, myself. I love strolling through the museums to see where we've been, but I more love having studio visits and seeing and listening to artists who are boldly charging forward, without the safety net beneath them that I consider suggestions that only paint or sculpture or drawing are valid to be (even though I appreciate artists working boldly in those as well). It's exhilarating.

Most importantly to me, though, is that it's not ALL about their virtuosity or their personal vision or that others recognize either of those as important. It's about other interesting things as well.

I'll end this rant with the notion I heard once that if something looks unquestionably like "art" to you, that's most likely because you've already seen something very much like it. That's not good enough for me. I'm interesting in seeing something I've never imagined before.

9/08/2007 12:08:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

F. you said, "It [art] will not crumble from a half-century of confusion about what it is or what it does."

I asked a number of questions pertinent to the above statement which you dodge with this remark

"I'll be happy to defend what I wrote. Stuff I didn't write, you can just go ahead and wonder about."

Specifically, what are you suggesting when you say a "half-century of confusion about what art is"? Are the eight artists I mentioned from that period, part of this ‘confusion’? If not, who are you referring to? Maybe you are suggesting there are other less ‘confused’ artists which were ignored, care to set the record straight?

Regarding stone carving, I don’t think there is much debate over the merits of Michelangelo. I also would agree there is an interest by some artists in the techniques of stone carving and therefore merit in teaching and preserving the traditional skills. On the other hand, artists such as Jeff Koons have made ‘carved and chiseled’ sculptures in the present cultural climate. While it is true they were manufactured by expert stone carvers in Italy, does this really matter?

Again oh please, when you say, The only issue is whether you throw in your lot with quality or something else.

This is an inane remark which has the same answer as the response I posed, no answer.

Contrary to your statewment, I suggest that most, if not all artists, are deadly serious about what they do, that they are in an active pursuit of quality as they see it. No artist hits it all the time and this debate proves that whatever ‘quality’ is, there is little consensus and agreement about it.

In my experience those artists which make the biggest claims about quality make the least interesting work.

9/08/2007 12:23:00 PM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

What do you do when "questioning orthodoxy" becomes its own orthodoxy?

Clever paradox, but what heppens is things ebb and flow. One moment concpt art is the rage and the next painting is and then back to concept. Its a process of continual "questioning of authority". Now, context needs to be considered because the art world inst a monolith. In MY context of Jacksonville FL, conceptual art is by no means the dominant orthodoxy.

if something looks unquestionably like "art" to you, that's most likely because you've already seen something very much like it. That's not good enough for me. I'm interesting in seeing something I've never imagined before.

I agree. And i think that is the basic mechanics of that process of initial disgust (due to unrecognizability) then eventual acceptance and reverence by the public.
Its interesting how some people consider an artist striving for un-recognizability or defamiliarization as anti-tradition, when really, at its core, that is a fundamental aspect of human creativity. Its as foundational as preserving human dignity (should be) in politics.

so who are the traditionalists here, really? :)

9/08/2007 12:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

What I hear behind all this frustration is the assertion that "I am doing better work in sculpture or painting or drawing than those other artists are doing with their newfangled video or installations or object-less conceptual works, and yet they're getting more attention."

Again, I'll be happy to defend anything I actually wrote. I am extremely careful not to speculate on your motives as a gallerist, Ed_, and I'd appreciate your affording me the same courtesy as an artist. Also, I have nothing against video, and your conclusion that I do is based on what, exactly? My 10 AM class at the gym awaits but I will return to this shortly.

9/08/2007 12:40:00 PM  
Blogger Henry said...

Franklin,

when we value an exploration of ideas, we do so because it looks at the topic from many angles and produces a interesting insights. This is a natural thing for a book to do, and not a natural thing for visual art to do. That's where thoroughness comes in as a criterion. You seem to be suggesting an alternate criterion, compactness, for which I don't share your appreciation in this case, but I'm not going to argue against your experience if that's what you like.

I agree with this, for the most part.

My problem is that I think you don't take it to its logical conclusion. You are still conflating two separate things. I'm agreeing with you that books and visual arts differ, and I'm therefore concluding that they must not be compared, at least not on any basis you have yet proposed. Your comparison to the declaration of independence is therefore inapt in my view, because art is not required to do anything like this. I'm suggesting compactness as one criterion in defining art (which is fool's errand in the first place of course), but you can substitute immediacy if you want.

I'm sure you've seen an arresting painting from across the room. My point is that the message of the painting -- in your case the messagae would be purely an aesthetic one, shapes, colors and positions -- is delivered to you in a compact fashion. I am contrasting this to the linear fashions of books, films and comics, where one thing follows another in narrative fashion. A piece of art is immediate and, in my terminology, compact. Does that make sense?

In the case of early American History, a relevant piece of conceptual art would be the flag with the snake that reads, "Don't Tread On Me." We don't hang such flags in our Supreme Court, nor do we look to them for wisdom or intellectual guidance, but we honor them for their compact visual conceptual message, and we reflect upon them in intellectual ways which are supplemented by the linear methods you are trying to compare them to.

I'll look at your comic ASAP. Personally I think 90% of the images in any given comic are extraneous -- they are the narrative equivalent of stage directions -- and only 1% of them are artistically meaningful -- those being the first, last and climactic images of the work -- but maybe that's just me.

9/08/2007 01:21:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Again, I'll be happy to defend anything I actually wrote. I am extremely careful not to speculate on your motives as a gallerist, Ed_, and I'd appreciate your affording me the same courtesy as an artist.

I don't see how that statement was interpreted as speculation on your motives as an artist, though, Franklin. On your motives as an arts blogger, sure, which I'm happy to have anyone speculate on my motives as at any time. I'll concede that when debating an issue my business colors my positions, sure I admit it. But I had no intention of commenting on your practice, only your position on the topic at hand and how I interpret some of your remarks. But it wasn't you solely I was making that comment about, but rather I was summarizing my interpretation of artists who seem to want to turn back the clock.

I'm happy to note that I haven't had the pleasure of visiting your studio or discussing your practice and so would be wholly unqualified to discuss your motives as an artist. In this forum, however, where it's your ideas about art in general, and not your art or art making, per se, we're discussing, I feel one's motives are fair to intrepret.

If you disagree there's a respectable difference there, then I apologize and will be careful not to cross that line with you again.

Also, I have nothing against video, and your conclusion that I do is based on what, exactly?

Again, I was summarizing the overall discussion (involving more participants than just you) in which video was presented as an example of a dismissable medium. I used it solely as one possible example to counter the medium of marble sculpture that you introduced as...what?...I hesitate to interpret your meaning...unfairly underappreciated in today's art world(?).

9/08/2007 01:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Ethan said...

I was thinking about "David" this afternoon and the fact that we now have CNC machines that can "expertly" carve anything that can be designed on a CAD program. (Incidentally, my first medium was stone and I have a love/affinity for stone, chisels, & hammers).

I think the prominence that the conceptual aspect of art has gained is in large part to the mechanical processes we now possess. (Side note: the artist not directly creating her/his art is no new thing, of course). I certainly admire handmade objects--but at the same time I think that admiration smacks of nostalgia and can distract from the other elements of art.

An analogy that occurs to me is someone who swims across the English Channel. I can certainly admire the accomplishment (even if it isn't a "first"), and would die (or at least have to be fished out) if I tried it myself. Yet, that doesn't mean that swimming across the Channel is the best or only way. If you're intent on reaching a location, you may want to take a more expedient & less distracting form of transportation.

I think that the focus that the concept can get is a result of it being the most human (or at least the hardest for machines to fake) element in art.

This isn't to argue that carving stone by hand is wrong-headed or what-have-you... just that focusing on the concept isn't without merit, either.

9/08/2007 03:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I feel one's motives are fair to intrepret.

That's an ad hominem fallacy. The motivations to present an argument and the cogency of the argument itself are separate issues and only the latter matters for determining truth. The former may give one reasons to scrutinize the latter (no sense in being naieve) but it is not a valid basis for argument.

I agree that once video has the trajectory of history behind it that stretched from Ancient Egypt to Michelangelo in regards to sculpture, video is likely to produce many things of note. Bill Viola, although uneven, has great days.

Franklin implies he would turn [the clock] back even further.

This is completely wrong. The more media people have to work in, the better. Rather, I advocate breaking up the art world into pieces that resemble one another. I oppose academic tenure and I oppose the public funding of contemporary art musuems and granting organizations. The components of a healthy art world are already in place and it would operate as such if there wasn't so much state intervention in the marketplace of ideas.

...if something looks unquestionably like "art" to you, that's most likely because you've already seen something very much like it.

Good art sometimes looks familiar and sometimes does not. So does bad art. Looking familiar itself is a neutral property that depends entirely on the experience of the viewer.

I used [video] solely as one possible example to counter the medium of marble sculpture that you introduced as...what?...I hesitate to interpret your meaning...unfairly underappreciated in today's art world(?).

I think Mark brought up the David as an example of conceptual art, and I wasn't going to abide that. But medium is neutral as well, aside from the mystery that some mediums are more productive than others for reasons that are hard to understand.

I asked a number of questions pertinent to the above statement which you dodge with this remark...

Sorry, George, but when I add up your distortions of what I wrote, your mistaking of condescension for refutation, and the fact that you brought my wife into it, I lose interest in disabusing you of your addled opinions.

This isn't to argue that carving stone by hand is wrong-headed or what-have-you... just that focusing on the concept isn't without merit, either.

Ethan, I agree with this. A lot of art wouldn't get made without an idea to inspire it. I observe, though, that concept in an inadequate form maxes out at clever, stopping short of great.

9/08/2007 03:46:00 PM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

I think Mark brought up the David as an example of conceptual art, and I wasn't going to abide that.

It was a symbol of territorial strength and resistance. Chris says much contemporary art is a F-you to the masses, well Mick's David was essentially a big F YOU to the rival city states surrounding Florence. Now if you want to argue that it currently contains little conceptual component due to its new context, i will abide by that, up to a point. My point was to suggest that art has ALWAYS been, to varying degrees, conceptual.

As a teacher I am faced with trying to resolve these separate notions of form vs idea or craft vs meaning. My solution to my students is that they are NOT separate. Every so often I get a student in my drawing 1 class who says is not interested in drawing from life. They may be into abstract painting or process oriented sculpture or (usually) manga style comics. They also google my name and see the work I do and try to use that to justify the lack of interest based on my supposed lack of use of these skills. Then i set out to convince them (thru the duration of the course) that all these skills (sensitivity to material, heightened observation, control and precision of markmaking, depicting form in at least a rudimentary way) ALL of these are important skills to master in order for these other pursuits (i.e. object-less conceptual projects) to be fully developed.

SO again, I reject any notion that conceptual art erodes art's honorific status. Certain practices (like David Hammons') may attempt to poke and prod the institutional hypocrisies and injustices, but they also add to our "honorific" human creative story.

9/08/2007 04:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

My point was to suggest that art has ALWAYS been, to varying degrees, conceptual.

Let me ask you this, Mark: has art also ALWAYS been abstract? Has it always been formal? If yes, then we're talking about the same thing in different terms. If no, I'll need to hear why.

ALL of these are important skills to master in order for these other pursuits (i.e. object-less conceptual projects) to be fully developed.

Sigh. I've resorted to this as well in the classroom, but upon examination, it's a lie. Teaching how to draw from life at most makes it likelier that they'll get better at drawing from life. I've been teaching for twelve years and I've concluded that we say these things because we can't do anything about the student's talent and there's no other way to justify the existence of the school. The only common vector that I've seen correlate to success is ambition. We can, at most, nurture extant ambition, and demonstrate germane skills. But I see no evidence that hand skills support conceptual ones. I'm not even convinced that certain hand skills support other hand skills in some cases. We should probably just help them get really good at manga or whatever and hope they get interested in what their non-manga-drawing friends are doing.

If the above comment is your reasoning why conceptual art doesn't erode art as an honorific category, then we're at an impasse. From its inceptions, conceptual art has been framed by its makers as an attack on common understandings about art: that it is supposed to be material, skill-based, elevated, pre-planned, sensual, sincere, et cetera. Now we have no common understanding about art. Nothing can't be art. What about that is honorific?

9/08/2007 05:54:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

That's an ad hominem fallacy.

OK, it's time to call you on your own game. You call me intellectually dishonest above:

Here's where the intellectual dishonesty comes in

and this recent line implies it again. But we're witnessing a hypocrisy here that I'm now choosing to point out.

You get a good deal of mileage by phrasing things in a way that those on your side of the issue can cheer (and I've noticed you spend far less time correcting any of their misinterpretations [until you're called on it, and even then without chastising them for intellectual dishonesty]) but are frequently unclear enough that others understandably fill in the blanks to give you the benefit of the doubt about your meaning. This permits you to deflect interpretations you don't like by those on the other side of the issue by claiming you'll only defend what you actually write.

However, when I asked you defend what you actually wrote above:

I challenge anyone to show me a conceptual work that explored an issue more thoroughly than a book on the same topic.

which through its use of the indefinite article (in "a book") unquestionably connotes (to those who speak English) that any book on the same topic would explore an issue more thoroughly than any conceptual piece, you dodged to the right of it or leapt to the left of it, suggesting what you actually write is not something you'll defend either.

To be clear, I don't have much interest in splitting hairs on topics where the hair splitting is far less interesting than the topic at hand (I got my fill of that on the political blogs), but if you insist on others playing by such rules, you might at least adhere to them yourself.

9/08/2007 07:50:00 PM  
Blogger Concrete Phone said...

Teaching how to draw from life at most makes it likelier that they'll get better at drawing from life – franklin

Not true. Getting the head and the hand to cooperate... then to begin this exploration in seeing, wow, there is definitely no waste in there.
For those who want to play it a bit more abstract I give a couple of lessons on plotting points and building armature first. It's fun, very abstract, I mean very abstract, but getting that space up, the proportions, that grace... and with the body intact... By the third class...

As a kid I didn't want to waste my time.
I had this drawing class. The first and the second week I hated it. And then-.. by the end of that semester, had I learnt a few things.
The first time I had a piece in a museum it was a 6' X 6' self-portrait. The second museum show had four panels each with a hand drawn circle. The panels are the ones that best tip the hat and tilt the shape of college days -- hands on with a belligerent little man with a large oval bald head, totally fascinated peers, and loads of homework.

The point is, I get what Mark is saying: I agree with teaching formal drawing skills, no matter how much you think you don't need them. You need them. It's the head space that gets the deep impact, drawing chops if that is what matters to you [but I doubt it].
It's such a conceptual leap, and shift in awareness, to get something that appears so solid and trapped in one reality to be able to transfer that-- and when you get good, with essense--Truly the building blocks.

And for Dear Chris: I admire you dogmatic steadfastness. It's leading you to that light at the end of the tunnel where there's this spinning square, triangle, and circle. At first there will be this fear that these almost invisible things of light will cut you as you move through.
Anyway not long before you draw from the Land of the Sankaku:)

9/08/2007 09:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Again, ascribing motives by way of disproving an argument is an ad hominem fallacy. You say, What I hear behind all this frustration is the assertion that "I am doing better work in sculpture or painting or drawing than those other artists are doing with their newfangled video or installations or object-less conceptual works, and yet they're getting more attention." Why stop there? You could additionally infer that I'm not getting enough exercise. Hell, I probably make smoothies out of puppies. With that safely established by implication, hearing behind, or what have you, we can disregard the original assertions, because jeez, what a whackjob, right? No. And I'm not going to respond in kind by ascribing motives to your work as a gallerist. What I hear behind all these accusations of people wanting to turn back the clock is... Neither am I going to defend my motives. Ad hominem isn't a fallacy because it's rude, but because it's not conducive to argument.

Regarding the challenge, we couldn't agree that the Brouwn and Ulysses were on the same topic. We couldn't agree what the Brouwn was about in the first place. I still think your interpretation is the product of reading way too much into it, seeing implications where there are none, and launching off of them into an imaginitive flight that the original work doesn't sanction. You disagree. We don't have enough shared premises to settle this. What exactly do you think I'm dodging that you'd like me to address?

I said twice that I would only defend things that I actually wrote. First, when George leapt from my "half-century of confusion about what [art] is or what it does" to "are you suggesting that the art from the last 50 years is all crap?", etc. Second, when you speculated on my and Chris's combined motives, or those of unnamed third persons whose motives may overlap with ours. The reason for the latter I've already explained. The reason for the former is that it goes beyond the call of duty to correct George's cockamamie inferences. All my writings are online and George can answer his question himself.

I accused you of intellectual dishonesty when I thought you were making a connection between my lack of sympathy for conceptual art and authoritarian nonsense. You clarified that you were not. I let it drop. You apparently didn't.

Getting the head and the hand to cooperate... then to begin this exploration in seeing, wow, there is definitely no waste in there.

No, CP, there's no waste in there at all. I didn't mean that the whole exercise was pointless. I loved art school. I just think the skill sets pile up without connecting until something happens in the student that largely has nothing to do with the teacher. I also see no evidence that hand skills lead to conceptual skills. Or vice versa. Where they connect, they connect because of ambition in the student. I think first language acquisition happens the same way - ideas and sounds stack up more or less at random and finally connect because the kid wants to say something. Just my observations of a mysterious process.

9/09/2007 03:05:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

In case anyone is wondering, I did actually see Thomas' work, and I did actually write down how I felt about it.

I'd also like to note that I don't advocate, as Ed suggests, turning back the clock. I am interested in looking forward. I think it's possible to both decry the current state of the art world and desire to see new things without necessarily wanting us to go back to the Bad Old Days.

9/09/2007 01:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Once again, thank you Franklin.

I only wish your Blog was more user friendly.

9/09/2007 01:22:00 PM  
Anonymous ethan said...

Apples to Oranges...

The problem with the "books are better than conceptual art" is that they are two different media and it's unfair/misguided/bad-faith to judge one by the goals of the other. It's along the lines of suggesting the realism in painting has no place in this world because of photography.

That being said, here's my nomination for a couple of conceptual works that are more effective than a book on the same subject... they're both by Fred Wilson.

The first is "Mining the Museum" (done at the Maryland Historical Society)... here are descriptions (by Judith Stein) of a couple of the works in that show:

Three low pedestals to the right of the case supported portrait busts below eye level.
Harsh lighting caused shadows to pool in their eye cavities, imparting an air of cranky melancholia
to a toga-clad Henry Clay, and Napoleon Bonaparte and Andrew Jackson in uniform. None of
these worthies had ever lived in Maryland; they exemplify those previously deemed deserving of
sculptural representation and subsequent museum acquisition. To the left were three higher and
empty pedestals that bore only small plaques proclaiming the names of celebrated African
Americans who were Marylanders: Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and Benjamin Banneker.
By dramatizing the absence of their portraits, Wilson found a canny way to reveal the slights of
history and to indicate major gaps in the museum's collections.


...

Wilson effects a strong and chilling awareness of the institution of slavery through
creative signage and juxtapositions. A standard exhibition case labeled "Metalwork, 1723-1880" set
a series of Baltimore repousse silver goblets, urns and decanters next to a course pair of rusty
slave shackles. Another sinister vignette coupled a Ku Klux Klan hood, labeled "maker unknown,"
and an antique perambulator. The possible meanings are multiple. Even babies can be the object
of blind hatreds. Humans are born free of prejudice, which is learned behavior. Nearby vintage
photographs of black nannies attending their white charges underscored this reading.



The other work comes from a show Wilson did at (I think) the Jewish Museum here in NY. There was a piece from it (which I saw in a show in Berkeley, CA) which really choked me up. Is a frame that is severely matted so that there are only two small (say 1"x1") squares cut through. Through those squares we can see gray & white stripes. Next to that framed work is another without a matte. In that second one we can see the stripes come from two different photos... one of Jewish refugee children holding tiny American flags and the other of Holocaust survivors, at the moment of their liberation, wearing striped prison uniforms.

One might argue that isn't conceptual, but I think it is since the effect is largely intellectual (though emotional as well), instead of being aesthetic (i.e., I'm not looking at the photos as art objects, rather the editorial juxtoposition).

9/10/2007 08:48:00 AM  

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