Friday, May 16, 2008

The Uselessness of History

This one's a bit wobbly...feel free to dissect...

Even as I hoped it was all just bluster, back in the rhetoric-filled days of 2002, there was a part of me that knew George W. Bush was going to march the country to war in Iraq. I had concluded years ago that each set of generations will repeat the same cycle of ambition - accomplishment - arrogance - entitlement - excess - horror - awakening - corrections - forgetfulness - ambition again, etc. If you study history you'll see it play itself out again and again, with more or less the same outline (and results) each time. And so the question becomes why? With all the evidence that down that road lies death, abuse, corruption, and loss of nearly everything (to some degree) that any country prides itself on, why don't leaders learn from history and not make the same mistakes?
It may be genetic for all I know (I'm serious, I think it might), but it's certainly human nature.

It was with that notion lodged in my head, that I approached the conclusions sculptor James Croak came to in his highly enjoyable review of Judith Collins' book Sculpture Today (Phaidon) on Titled "Duchamp Won, Picasso Lost," Croak's piece offered the following insight:
I once joked with a Brit writer at the Art Basel Miami Beach solstice that I could teach 20th-century art history in four words: "Duchamp won, Picasso lost." Only for amusement, I am sure, he published my wisecrack in the London Financial Times and my inbox began spewing flames as if I had pulled a Christopher Hitchens and smacked Mother Teresa. "Just what did you mean by that?" was the typical query from an atypically civil writer.

Picasso is my metonym for the modernist adventure that sought essentialism through personal exploration and intuition, mostly in flat art -- painting, drawing, photography, lithography and the like. Though modernism was not entirely limited to these forms, the supporting critical theory can certainly be described as such.

Picasso’s antagonist, Duchamp, dumped painting and its attendant verbiage early on, announcing instead a democracy of all objects and producing a new form of sculpture often made of commercial goods. Any insight into an invisible world that we ascribed to an object, he demonstrated, was an arbitrary designation. It would take the rest of us a very long time to arrive at that point, about six decades in all.

But by the 1970s, Duchamp’s triumph was complete. Artists abandoned painting and turned to physical object-making of a distinctly ironic flavor. These objects seemed almost random. Maybe it was something that resembled someone, or not, or that performed a function, or not, or that you could stick in your pocket, bulldoze into the ground or drag from an airplane. It could be figurative, or found, or both, or filthy or shiny, home-made or machine-made.
Folks who've read here for a while will not be surprised that overall I agree with Croak's summary. But it dovetails interestingly with the conversation I had a while back in the studio of a painter. Essentially the question we battered about was "why paint in this era of video and other such more comprehensive media (that include audio, editing, etc, etc.)?" Our conclusion was that there remain certain things that only painting does as well as it does and those are still worth exploring. (More on that later.)

The notion that artists entirely abandoned painting in the 1970's has been disproved by the exhibition
High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting 1967-1975, but in a general sense Croak is correct that painting took a back seat in terms of what the powers that be were focusing on. And yet, it never quite went away, it came roaring back in the 1980s, and it has been quite resilient ever since for a medium pronounced dead so definitively and so often.

Why though? Why, even with all the evidence that painting would just be declared dead once again, would a young artist pick up a brush and apply paint to canvas? Could it be genetic?

My overarching conclusion here is that history might be useless in determining the path humans will take. Focused as I was during the protests on what the likely results of an invasion of Iraq might be, it never once occurred to me that what drove Bush to war was perhaps the process itself. His turn to be the hero, his turn to make his mark as warrior-leader, his turn to make his buddies in the arms industry rich beyond their wildest dreams. Indeed, now, I think that it's done because it's the process that's the pay-off. That's the only logical explanation for the fact that, despite what history should have taught us, such actions are taken again and again.

And so it probably is with painting. (OK, so that's a bit disingenuous, there's no "probably" about it, I know, from experience, that the process of painting is exhilarating in and of itself.) But that doesn't explain the viewer's support for painting. With leaders marching off to war, there are proven methods to rally the majority of the nation around your cause, regardless of how clear it might be to some how tragically it will all end. Why, however, do educated viewers keep returning to painting when they've heard the arguments that its relevance is over? I mean, I get why artists would still choose to paint, but the art world (critics, curators, collectors, gallerists) gravitates back to painting again and again as well.

Is that too genetic?

Labels: art appreciation


Blogger Donna Dodson said...

war defines things- its why people do it.
painting is a language- as long as people are speaking it, it is not dead. sculpture is another language, as is film, video, photo, drawing, audio, etc... and artists use their chosen language, i.e. medium to say something...

5/16/2008 09:38:00 AM  
Blogger pelacus said...

I think "irrelevance of painting" is a phrase like "war on terror." Both painting and terror will abide, flummoxing art critics and neocons. What is interesting to me is the question of when will we reach the apex of "horror" regarding the dematerialization of art and find a new "ambition." I don't know when it's coming, but I agree that it must come. I'm a total Duchampian, and lately, that almost makes me feel conservative, it's such an entrenched point of view!

5/16/2008 09:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

along the lines of what dd is saying, if people are painting, they need galleries and that makes things to talk about and critique and collect and curate. I also believe those who curate collect and critique paintings have an interest in painting; otherwise why waste your time, it'd be like being a snakeoil salesman.

What about printmaking? Thats deader than painting as fine arts go. Why would anybody pic up a copper plate or litho stone? $$$$

To each their own.


5/16/2008 09:58:00 AM  
Blogger Kirstin said...

Aren't painting's deathwatch cheerleaders perhaps even more vigorous than the art market death cheerleaders? I find the whole thing kind of funny. Perhaps many painters enjoy the medium for its life after death? Perhaps we like cliché or the arcane? Maybe we are just playfully bound to the frame and its connotations.

5/16/2008 10:01:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Greenberg killed painting by formalizing Modernism and using the power of his ego to promote both his ideas and the painters who followed them. None of the painters he supported after Pollock and de Kooning were up to the pressure. If you think I am being extreme, the Jewish Museum has a great exhibition up right now. Titled Action/Abstraction it covers NYC painting in the period between 1944 and 1976 as promoted by Greenberg and Rosenberg.

5/16/2008 10:11:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

You’re really poking the badges’ cage with this one, and I’ll assume that you’re analogy between painting and war is a Duchampian ploy, fresh meat to draw us out of our burrows.

You’ve got at least three different issues here:

1. Is war unavoidable because it’s just part of human nature?
2. If Duchamp’s notion, that anything can be art, dependant on the decision of the artist, why hasn’t everyone dumped painting?
3. Is there an inborn need in human nature for painting?

From a Duchampian standpoint we can clear this all up fast. War is the highest form of art. Just look at the physical and spiritual cost. Everyone is talking about it. It’s influencing the population of the world in unimaginable ways. It’s spectacular! Not only that but by claiming it as art, we negate its moral implications and shift it to the realm of aesthetics. Now don’t we feel better?

Painting’s appeal, on the other hand, is its simplicity, spit and shit rubbed on the wall with your fingers. What better to get to the essence of what a unique living human being really is? Painting has a unique almost universal ability to assimilate any other medium, its only limitations being the imagination of the artist and observer. Its weaknesses are its strengths. Killing painting is the surest way of preserving it and giving it fresh life.

To recap:

Duchamp = war, death, destruction, machines, words (lots and lots of words) jokes, rhetoric, death and. low auction prices.

Picasso = Sex, love, juice, cum, sweat, stink, shit, life, and high auction prices.

Marcel should be smiling.


5/16/2008 11:08:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is interesting to revisit this hoary old art world cliche: THE DEATH OF PAINTING. This is the monophysite controversy of modernism! I guess the cultural insularity of the New York art world made this paradoxical assertion possible. Outside of this narrow [and it must be noted extremely undemocratic] in-group, I don't think the concept made much sense. Globally, Greenbergian formalism is starting to look like just another flavor in the postmodern candy store, if your Murakami post is any indication of where things are going. Personally, I do miss [and frankly, I prefer] Rothko's commitment to meaning, but perhaps this is a lost battle in an increasingly fragmented and market driven culture.

Painting itself is merely a form of technology. An extremely old and elegantly effective one — like a book. And I would agree that it is an essential genetic component to our humanness and will be around long after I'm dead. Unlike, ironically, film photography:

5/16/2008 11:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Allison said...

By: ezimmerman on May 16, 2008
at 9:07 am

By: (not) ezimmerman on May 16, 2008
at 9:07 am

A man who has been the indisputable favorite of his mother keeps for life the feeling of conqueror, that confidence of success that often induces real success.

5/16/2008 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger Donna Dodson said...

sometimes i wonder if painting i.e. oil painting (the meaning, the conversation, the dialectic) would ever get hi-jacked by the war on oil but the battle between oil painting and water based mediums hasn't been fought yet on the canvas or in the market although i see a parallel between that and the reliance on oil due to automobiles and the search for new technologies... perhaps its why painting seems less dominant? esp oil painting? are video, photo, installation more earth friendly?

5/16/2008 11:37:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Oil paint is made with linseed oil, which is organic (edible but don't)
The solvents for oil paint are petro based.

Acrylic on the other hand is a refined petroleum product, it's a plastic. Ugh.

5/16/2008 11:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Acrylic on the other hand is a refined petroleum product, it's a plastic. Ugh."

As are video cameras, photo canisters, installation components, paint tubes, etc.

I don't really get the point here.

5/16/2008 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Actually, Turpentine is from a tree, not petro based. Since oil paint is such an old medium, original formulas and mediums don't use any petro based ingredients.

Mineral spirits is petro based I think.

5/16/2008 11:50:00 AM  
Blogger Ethan said...

Perhaps the "death [coma?] of painting" in the '70s actually was what breathed life into and allowed it to do a 1980s comeback. Once painting was marginalized, using the medium became a statement within itself.

5/16/2008 11:51:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Oh yeah, video's really Earth-friendly. Hardly any environmental impact from the manufacture of silicon-based computer chips. Very efficient and clean. Uh huh. Not like oil painting, which is based on all-natural products like dirt and vegetable oil, chalk and cotton.

Donna, have you been smokin' Mother Nature again?

5/16/2008 11:55:00 AM  
Blogger Donna Dodson said...

Negative, but I get it- oil painting is not petro based, so perhaps it is the NEW technology and Painting is not dead. I don't understand Duchamp and his impact except maybe his irreverence and non-commerciality as compared to Dali, let's say, but I don't respect Duchamp as an artist because he wasn't talented and he couldn't paint and he gave up making art to play chess- it doesn't mean he didn't understand the art game- but I dont think he is a maker of great art. His objects were merely a vehicle of his ideas. Picasso is ok- i like his early pink and blue periods, but that's about it. Mebbe I just don't get it. I like subject matter and meaning, too. I am an artist who has with deep spiritual values trying to compete in the market that has no place for my values yet I see a need for spiritualism in contemporary art- as humans, we have not transcended the need for spirituality, so i think it's still a relevant investigation/expression in art.

5/16/2008 12:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ha, ha!

"The Death of Painting" was the best marketing idea the art world ever came up with! Buy this painting now... IT COULD BE THE LAST ONE. This is end game dammit.

Guys come on turpentine will kill ya. Water based is safer and cleaner. [Not that anyone should stop using oils if they want!]

5/16/2008 12:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this post is problematic. The links to painting and war mongering are just strange. Almost as strange as saying painting is dead. I've never understood this and neither has 99% of the population. Painting is a form of communication as old as any. Is there any push to stop reading? or end talking? Dancing is dead? Painting is relevant and always has been since the caves. The only people who argue otherwise are trying to manipulate small closed markets to open up other ones. That is fine - but I've never seen why they need to negate eachother. I love Duchamp and like what he had to offer to the dialog but Picasso hasn't lost a thing!

5/16/2008 12:10:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Anyway. I've been thinking for the past few days about Dean Eversen, and maybe this anecdote will mean something in the context of this post.

Back when I was in college, at a small but prestigious engineering school just outside New York City, our Dean of Student Affairs was Dick Eversen. ("Dick Eversen before he dicks you!" Many of us affectionately knew him as Dean Everclear because he was rumored to be drunk most of the time. Personally I never knew him to be anything but clear-headed and wise; in fact he was much nicer to me than he had to be, considering when I arrived at school I was, like many teenagers, the biggest anus at the end of the biggest alimentary canal filled with bullshit ever seen. But I've moved outside my anecdote.)

I graduated in 1992 but continued to work on campus for another two years, which left me in a position to see how the younger students were getting along after we'd moved on, especially in organizations I'd been involved in, like the newspaper and the Dramatic Society and the yearbook. And I was annoyed and confused to find that these students were fighting many of the same battles we'd fought -- and won -- and wrestling with many of the same problems we'd wrestled with -- and solved. Hadn't they learned anything from us?

So one day I was sitting with Dean Eversen in his office and I said all this to him.

And he wisely explained to me: The purpose of these organizations is not to put out a school newspaper or put on a show or broadcast a radio program or publish a yearbook. The true purpose of all these organizations is to teach the students things that can't be learned in a classroom: Problem solving, cooperation, politics, leadership, responsibility. When we'd solved problems, we weren't solving them for all time; we were learning how to solve them for ourselves. And those lessons need to be learned by everyone.

End of anecdote. Now you might say that this makes sense in college, where, after all, there's a plan for you to go somewhere else afterward and hopefully do something more important. Where is George W. Bush going after he fucks up a major war?

I don't know. No one knows the answer to the ultimate question, which is Why? Some people have a religious faith, but that's not an answer, it's just a belief that there is an answer, even if we don't (and may never) know it.

So I have no answer as to why humans keep having to learn the same lessons over and over. Maybe we're very very slowly -- like, Darwinian evolution slowly -- improving and learning from our mistakes. Maybe after this we get to go on to another life in another universe which is a little better because everyone there made their bad mistakes here first.

As for why I paint, I can only quote scenarists Andy and Larry Wachowski: "It's the only thing I know how to do and I gotta do something. "

5/16/2008 12:11:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

So some wag declares Painting is Dead. Then another wag declares Painting Lives! Declare it dead. Revive it. Kill it again. Wound it. Maim it. Anything for attention.

Meanwhile, painters keep painting, galleries keep showing paintings, viewers keep looking at them, collectors keep acquiring them.

Working alone in a studio is boring to everyone but the one doing it (and sometimes even to us). I guess that's why people have to keep poking it with a stick.

5/16/2008 12:58:00 PM  
Anonymous n said...

i don't think it's that deep. most people pick their mediums before they know anything about the history of art and have any underlying notions of what it means to "paint when painting is dead".

unlike being president - where you damn well better know history and the implications of every aspect of the job....although we know this hasn't happened in "some" cases........


5/16/2008 01:00:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Ed makes these three points.
"why paint in this era of video and other such more comprehensive media (that include audio, editing, etc, etc.)?" Our conclusion was that there remain certain things that only painting does as well as it does and those are still worth exploring.

I know, from experience, that the process of painting is exhilarating in and of itself.) But that doesn't explain the viewer's support for painting.

Why, however, do educated viewers keep returning to painting when they've heard the arguments that its relevance is over?

Painting allows one to explore symbolic relationships visually. This exploration is a process not a product and is recreated internally by the viewer. Paintings have no inherent meaning, the meaning is a response provided by the viewer.

Painting dies when it becomes codified, when its structure, the structure of its process, becomes defined in advance causing it to lose the distinction of its voice and sink into the sea of decoration.

Every generation of painters must discover anew a way to breath life back into paintings corpse because painting is intrinsically bound to its moment in time not history. Paintings of history were born in a different set of human circumstance, a different set of semiotics and structural necessities, they fulfill todays psychic needs nostalgically.

It is the process, not only for the artist, but for the viewer as well. The viewer internally reconstructs a visual surrogate for the process by engagement. The viewer acts upon the painting visually decoding whatever there is to see.

5/16/2008 01:14:00 PM  
Anonymous little girl in church said...


5/16/2008 01:15:00 PM  
Blogger William Dolan said...

"Could it be genetic?"

Most likely. A person born with the ability to create imagery is going to use that to tell his or her story and painting is an immediate or natural way to do this. He or she may not be as likely to abandon the language of paint because someone declared it "dead." Painting may have taken a "back seat," but it's still in the vehicle.

5/16/2008 01:24:00 PM  
Blogger Pretty Lady said...

Hooray, James Kalm.

Let us take it for granted that I have forcefully and eloquently re-iterated the words of the painting advocates above, and declared 'Hmph' at the bizarre parallel between painting and waging war (painting is a transcendent process of exploration, war is an egoic process of destruction, end of story). I would like to take issue with the pervasive assumption that painting is a purely visual medium.

It is also a kinesthetic medium. It is about movement, and physical relationships in space. You make a painting by moving your body in a set of gestures unique to that body.

It's not an accident that I came to painting after twelve years of training as a dancer. It was the only medium that allowed me to relate to the world in a direct, exuberant, expressive, all-over physical way, where body, mind, soul and inspiration are one. Sculpture can do the same, except that the materials can be so ponderous that truly seamless integration between action and medium is more difficult to come by.

All other mediums are just that--media. They require a cerebral separation between inspiration and creation. I don't get at all the same charge from holding a camera, manipulating a computer, or God forbid, fetching a bunch of objects and plunking them down in a gallery.

Painting at it best is unmediated life. As is, come to think, singing. We won't stop it until we no longer have bodies.

5/16/2008 01:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree the genetic or brain science aspect of why we paint and draw is really interesting and wonder if it has been studied at all? I know personally it's something I've done as long as I can remember, and has as much to do with how I think as writing appears to do for other people. My gut instinct is that it may have more to do with the hand's relationship to the brain than the eye's, paradoxically. I'd be curious to know if there is any literature out there [beyond the standard right brain stuff, which I'm fairly familiar with] that you guys might know about.

As far as the viewer goes... I can only speak for myself; painting does have a kind of unique quality of evoking touch through sight. A bit different than a photograph, which makes me respond more verbally. A good painting of any period or style, makes me feel something in my hands. That may sound strange, but I bet, if this isn't totally unique, might have something to do with why we consistently respond to it, above and beyond our verbal and cognitive brain sections. I would imagine sculptors probably have the same experience, but I wouldn't want to generalize for them.

As far as history repeating itself in matters of war, my guess is brute instinct plays a far larger part in all of our lives than we'd ever care to mention. Thus it goes with nations.

5/16/2008 01:51:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

painting is a transcendent process of exploration, war is an egoic process of destruction, end of story

Not bloody likely.

(pun intended)

5/16/2008 01:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Ed,

Off topic, but I'm so glad I saw Rory Donaldson's work at your gallery last night. Folks, people always say you can't really see the work in jpgs, but in this case it's really true. As I said to Ed last night, I like work that, when you get up close to it, has a whole other level that you can't see from a distance.

And more off topic, but so what:

California Supreme Court Overturns Gay Marriage Ban;=slogin

I'm so proud of my home state! California, you rock!


5/16/2008 01:58:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

For me, every painting is a war.

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.

5/16/2008 01:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps painters just "are" that way. A bit like being gay. Celebrate yourself and don't let some conceptualist muckity-muck bully you and tell you not to be yourself for THEIR intellectual or political reasons. They're just jealous. Stay beautiful!

5/16/2008 03:01:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

"But that doesn't explain the viewer's support for painting."

Here in the hicks of upstate NY, I find people are traditional to the extreme. Example. When asking people what their political affiliation is, I get the reply "My father votes Republican. His father voted Republican. and I am voting Republican." It's a tradition thing. They do it because it's tradition here to support the same party as your family. No matter that there may be reason to vote otherwise. This is Tradition!
Paintings may fall under this category. Paintings are things that hang on the wall for decoration. My father had paintings on the wall. My grandfathers house contained paintings. I shall have paintings too.
Sounds silly, but honestly, you don't see a lot of new media here in the sticks, but I betcha every single home has a painting.

5/16/2008 03:02:00 PM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

I would add that apart from Duchamp, sculpture has had unprecedented ascendancy since the Middle Ages. There are a lot of reasons for this, but I would say 'graspability' is a big one (Lonesome Cowboy is in view as I type). 1) Sculpture is in and of the world differently than painting, and 2) sculpture is generally easier to write about than painting, it feels like there is more to go on. Just look at how much someone like Rosalind Krauss has gotten from sculpture, what would all that writing have looked like if it were about painting? For her at least, painting can only be piss.

Your tag, "art appreciation," does not believe in art history. But I do believe in a critical art history, I think it's worth telling, and it most definitely involves painting. "The evidence," what? That evidence, it was great stuff, but just doesn’t count the way that it used to.

So, I'm definitely interested in hearing the "more on that later" part of your course in art appreciation. Over and over again is what history does, but differently each time. Art appreciation goes no farther than this and this and this and this, maybe reaching this happened and this happened and this happened and this. But you can't even reduce Duchamp to such piss thinking. Differently each time really matters.

The difference between art history and art appreciation, as I’ve described it here, tells you something about the difference between galleries and auctions, too. I’m convinced that galleries have a claim upon history in a way that auction houses do not.

5/16/2008 03:17:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Your tag, "art appreciation," does not believe in art history.

I's cheeky that way. (It doesn't believe in God or Santa or moderation in any form either). ;-)

5/16/2008 03:39:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

I would add that apart from Duchamp, sculpture has had unprecedented ascendancy since the Middle Ages.

Well, sculpture is anything that isn't a painting.

In the last 500 years there are more great paintings than anything else but babies.

5/16/2008 03:48:00 PM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

God, Santa and moderation...that IS cheeky!

5/16/2008 03:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think we're getting a bit off point...Picasso after all was a great sculptor. The Duchampian anti-art idea of extending art beyond the confines of European beaux art tradition [really, really important to remember this is just one part of the world this stuff is happening] into the "real" world is what is at stake here. Duchamp, contrary to an earlier post, was a pretty talented and imaginative painter before he made his leap into tricksterdom. I don't know if I completely buy the idea of some battle royale between these two types of modernism; in fact, they seem to feed off of each other creatively — the epic heroic figure and the ironic wag are more dependent on each other than they'd probably ever admit. Since we are warlike animals, I guess this kind of metaphor fits our thinking. But both approaches are about transforming our reality and challenging our ways of seeing. Both are deeply committed to the ideological assumptions of dada and surrealism and to modernism's revolutionary potential.

5/16/2008 04:08:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

I turned Duchamp's skull into a fuck buddy. Gotta love a good skull cup. Posession is nine tenths of the law and all that (including the media or means of production, or both). But you know, all I can do is consume privately what others exhibit publicly as if its a great idea, which it is, but if you think noodles were only invented in china and then spread through cultural diffusion, then maybe you should examine your historical paradigm and add parallel development to your tool box - not literarly, but figuratively, but not literlally figuratively, literarily figuratively. I;m showing the holes in my education so I;ll stop. History is so heavy these days, been rolling it up and rolling it up and it keeps on repeating itself and I keep rolling it up but its like an ourobouros or some shit. Can't wait until Ragnarok - thats when I get to put on the spikes and do some heavy painting from the top of a goodly pile of ghouls.

5/16/2008 04:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Art is just awesome! Picasso or Duchap I'll take it. I feel like we forget how great art is. Like Prince says at the end of Let's go Crazy: "Take me away!"

Great art blows the doors off of the simplicity of George's stupid cock proud war. Stupidity repeats itself in war. The genius and spark of life is what repeats in art...

5/16/2008 04:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think video, photography et al are practiced so widely because rents have skyrocketed. They take up less space to produce.

And because rents have gone up, it is smart to use found objects in your art work, particularly if you have a limited budget.

Duchamp was the patron saint of impoverished artists.

5/16/2008 05:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

zip - what's with skulls these days? I can't go into a show without seeing skulls. Are they the new nudes?

5/16/2008 05:09:00 PM  
Blogger CAP said...

I love your icon Kirsten.

5/16/2008 05:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said. The paradigm shift I'm implying in this statement is oriented toward the future "art history" which will look at European and American modernism in a hopefully more global context. How different are Duchampian and Picassoid visions to a Chinese artist raised to admire Russian totalitarian socialist realism? Do these visions really seem less "individualistic"? Croak's view while clever, is a bit myopic. Conceptual art reinvents itself as "relational" art, for instance. That's nice. History repeats itself. But in a larger context, I wonder how radically different this will all seem to a historian. This honestly still looks like modernism to me. I wonder if true post modernism will begin only when "the center" shifts entirely away from the west and these stock art historical narratives [i.e. Picasso vs. Matisse or Duchamp vs. Picasso] are voided or radically reinterpreted. In all probablity, we won't have to wait until Ragnarok to find out.

5/16/2008 05:16:00 PM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

"History is so heavy these days, been rolling it up and rolling it up and it keeps on repeating itself and I keep rolling it up but its like an ourobouros or some shit."

Right. From my blog, "Reading Arthur Danto’s take on the student take-over of Columbia doesn’t assuage the mood. He writes, “I have a kind of theory that when great social changes are about to take place, something happens in the arts first - think of Romanticism and the French Revolution...” and that “Columbia students back then had little interest in advanced art as such.”*

It's kind of hard to think any "revolution" could happen, look what happened to the French Revolution, look what happened to May '68. Gay marriages in California will only be revoked, and bring down Obama on the way. it's a farce. Why have a stake in anything? Let's just keep on perpetuating art as arbitrary and elite, a little something to "appreciate."

5/16/2008 05:20:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Skulls are something everyone has, a universal signifier for mortality. One.

But I think it's just a pleasing shape - a face as well as a mind set. Looking at yourself without vanity.

Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas

or as William Shakespeare has it weni widi wiki.

If you get my drift.

WHo will be the last person standing? Is all that matters.

Memento Mori - fair yorki I knew him well, a man of infinite jest.

And as the cannon grows, so does the size of the mind that is needed to encapsulate the collected wisdom of the ages.

But how big is your skull? Does the size of the brain matter?

oh but the real reason is the current vogue for Pirate movies, or maybe pirates and then pirate movies or maybe warlike times require warlike images, dances, and foods.

Noodles are a great war food. when the food rationing comes, noodles will be easy to stockpile.

Noodles. like bones, can be boiled to make soup.

Soup is good food.


-Daddy War Bucks.

5/16/2008 05:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Jude the Obscure said...


5/16/2008 05:35:00 PM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

It rains, it snows, it paints.

5/16/2008 05:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Edward Bernays said...

bacon and eggs

5/16/2008 05:46:00 PM  
Blogger Carla said...

It takes a great deal of hopeful faith in humanity to celebrate such an individual artistic exploration.

5/16/2008 05:53:00 PM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

pacman and ramen noodles

5/16/2008 05:56:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

The Maya are known for their Serpent Gods which wore very elaborate, elongated head-dresses and the upper class Maya wanted very much to fashion their own skulls as such. Why did their Gods where such tall elaborate hats? Did they need to because their skulls were elongated? (the Egyptian Gods also have elongated head-dresses; is there a common link between Ancient Gods? Were the Gods the same species or something?) Of course whatever reasons the Maya had for mal-forming their skulls seem somewhat peculiar to me and to most modern day cultures. But in a sense, how can modern day societies judge what may or may not be appropriate for another ancient civilization? What some �modern� humans do to their bodies today (tattooing, piercing, shaving, ratting, dyeing and transplanting hair, wearing makeup, lipo-suction, plastic surgery, breast implants, rib removal, trepanation, etc.), could possibly be held by some �ancients� as being totally absurd. Do the people who transform their bodies in these ways have a spiritual, cosmic motive, or do they do it for beauty? There are many reasons behind such acts and they are all probably very personal.

5/16/2008 06:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It takes a great deal of hopeful faith in humanity to celebrate such an individual artistic exploration."

Thus it was once revolutionary.

But what will be revolutionary tomorrow will come from far outside the current cannon. Of that I'm sure.

5/16/2008 06:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Daniel Yankelovich said...

The Magic of Dialogue:Transforming Conflict into Cooperation

5/16/2008 06:17:00 PM  
Blogger Carla said...

Thus it was once revolutionary.

But what will be revolutionary tomorrow will come from far outside the current cannon. Of that I'm sure.

You're reducing painting to a fad? You're pre-assigning revolutionary value to the next one?

5/16/2008 06:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Bob said...


5/16/2008 07:47:00 PM  
Blogger CAP said...

He writes, “I have a kind of theory that when great social changes are about to take place, something happens in the arts first - think of Romanticism and the French Revolution...”

Uhhh yeah.. you mean like in Britain and Germany?

Or do you mean Neo-Classicism as in David and the Post-Revolutionary style of The First Republic?

If Romanticism predicted anything, I don't see that it applied only to France. If Neo-Classicism caught on, it seems it had everything to do with The French Revolution.

5/16/2008 10:35:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

I want to associate myself with these comments:

"What better to get to the essence of what a unique living human being really is?"


"Killing painting is the surest way of preserving it and giving it fresh life."

-James Kalm


painting "is also a kinesthetic medium. It is about movement, and physical relationships in space. You make a painting by moving your body in a set of gestures unique to that body.

- Pretty Lady

I agree about the essential and persistent nature of painting. I define myself as a painter, even though my medium of record is primarily contemporary furniture. I painted for many years and will paint again - maybe tomorrow. Once a painter, always a painter. Pretty Lady's insight that painting is kinesthetic is apt. Some of these points are the same ones I use to describe the persistence of craft. It's basic, and something we (artists) will always return to. Duchamp may have won the 20th century, but we're in a new century now, and the only sure thing is that it will be different from the last one. The Duchamp/Picasso thing may be more like a horse race where the lead changes. Maybe.

David Richardson

For anyone who is interested in contemporary craft (and its relatonship to contemporary art), I've organized a discussion with critic John Perreault and some special guests for this monday evening at 8 pm on the Furniture Society web forum. The discussion will be live for an hour or so and then will be open for four days.

Anyone can read it but you need to register to comment (it takes 10 seconds to register)

5/17/2008 02:27:00 AM  
Blogger CAP said...

'Why, however, do educated viewers keep returning to painting when they've heard the arguments that its relevance is over? I mean, I get why artists would still choose to paint, but the art world (critics, curators, collectors, gallerists) gravitates back to painting again and again as well'.

Pretty obviously, it’s because the arguments were not persuasive. And then again because painting keeps finding other jobs for itself, promptly dismissing any parallels with say movies or sculpture, installation or performance, etc.

There are involved and very technical arguments about why painting is especially good at pictures, in ways that prints or multiples, like photography etc, cannot be. But they’re too long to go into here.

It’s easier to look at some wider parallels – like when the advent of TV was supposed to spell the demise of radio and cinema – or equally – when the advent of the cinema was supposed to spell the end of theatre. Clearly none of these things came to pass, not because TV or cinema couldn’t do a good enough job, but because radio, theatre and cinema, simply set about doing other jobs from TV. In as much as there is competition between the media, it seems the way to win is to opt out of the race.

This shouldn’t be confused with arriving at some ‘essence’ or medium specific realm. On the contrary, it’s comparisons between them that inspire new directions. Whatever direction each one has, is defined in relation to services offered by others, to take a more structuralist line.

But to go back to why the arguments against painting are made in favor of other media - this is really just superficial advertising. Much like claims that one direction in some one branch of the arts is avant-garde or progressive in ways other directions are not. It’s a bit like choosing which is your favorite cardinal point or which is the best ever work of art. It can create a certain amount of interest as a sales pitch, but mostly seems like a recipe for dispute to me.

Then again people get bored. They need a change. That’s not hard to understand. Collectors get the hots for one thing, but after a while they want something else. That can as easily happen within painting as across the plastic arts. I once met this new very enthusiastic collector – he purchased a very large painting of mine – about 26’ long – and when I asked him what prompted this sudden allegiance, he told me my dealer had persuaded him that collecting vintage cars and furniture was uncool. Needless to say our close mutual admiration did not last. Apparently my dealer went on to persuade him at a certain point it would be even better for him to start collecting some of his older, blue chip stuff – costing over 10 times what he’d paid for mine. Yeah change.

But not always for the better.

5/17/2008 03:59:00 AM  
Blogger concrete phone said...

Haven't read Cap's last post, but one earlier on says it painting keeps assigning other jobs to it.
Though the movies, painting is the movie. I don't know about anyone else, but I personally have a hard time getting a painting to sit still. And the stiller I get the movier the painting gets. Though to experience this I do agree you have to place yourself in a particular state of mind. And I would say that while this may be a difficult thing to do, it's extraordinary. And when a painting is created and experienced in this extraordinary state of mind and physical space, I think that the human element has just stuck up one more point, worth striking.
Duchamp did explain the esoteric contrariness of ideas and things better than most, due to his ability to quiet his mind.

Though, if we follow the logic that Du won then how could we enjoy a Rothko. The logic says that 'while it may not have been done before, it needn't have been done'. And that argument is just plain still, isn't it!

5/17/2008 06:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Culture is your operating system said...

When the playground bully was asked,
'Why do you intimidate smaller children?' he replied honestly.
'Because I can, no one cares.'

Ms Rosenfield's blog brings to light a more serious philosophical issue, Who will protect?
During the last sixty years, the Jewish state, founded on the corpse piles of central Europe, has tried to find it's niche in world affairs, amongst a putrid bunch of thugs whose philosophies have their roots in the religion they so despise...

Jewish people, victims of centuries of European bullying and religious zeal, still amazingly identify with western culture, and adhere to 'civilized' ideals.

Those who would boycott Israel are cowards, those who compare it to South Africa, deluded. For they are but bullies, and the bully chooses his victims carefully, opting only for those who seek inclusion, yet stand friendless because of difference.

The world is still young, and hopefully the bully will mature, for if not, 100 years from now he may find his more educated victim not so forgiving........

5/17/2008 09:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It takes a great deal of hopeful faith in humanity to celebrate such an individual artistic exploration.

Thus it was once revolutionary.

But what will be revolutionary tomorrow will come from far outside the current cannon. Of that I'm sure.

You're reducing painting to a fad? You're pre-assigning revolutionary value to the next one?"

No. You misunderstand me. Modernism [which both supposed tendencies —Duchamp and Picasso — are a part of] was revolutionary. Not in any violent sense, but as a way of changing how we look at art. Both represented a change from academicism toward creative individualism. Without bias toward medium, this is the central contribution of Western art to world culture. I reject the four word definition of modern art: "Duchamp won, Picasso lost" for this reason.

My objective bet [and hope] about the future is that the next "art historical revolution" will happen far outside of the western cannon and the current centers of New York-London. For the first time peoples from outside of the European and American art world are being accepted on more or less equal terms. The former colonials are speaking to their old masters. Parts of the world that were isolated in 1914 are throwing Biennales today.

If James Croak is correct in asserting that "Any insight into an invisible world that we ascribed to an object, [Duchamp] demonstrated, was an arbitrary designation," then it would appear that Western art has traveled full circle from liberating the creative individual into a new form of academicism. Checkmate, Monsieur Duchamp.

This is what Mark Rothko had to say on the subject:
"It is a widely accepted notion among painters that it does not matter what one paints as long as it is well painted. This is the essence of academicism."

But when the center finally leaves the west, these issues we're debating will seem even more hoary and irrelevant. Sort of like the arguments between neoclassicists and romantics in 19th century France. Who cares anymore? A center in Beijing would bring with it a whole new set of issues and insights into the nature of individuality, freedom, the self. Could we have the vision to imagine what a center in Lhasa might be like? I'm positive this will be the central story of our time of mega-cities and global realignment. Goodbye New York hello Mumbai. Western art history is gently assigned to the ash heap of history and something new is created.

Personally I find the prospect exciting.

5/17/2008 10:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Ibn al-Haytham said...

How the west was won

5/17/2008 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger ec said...

Painting is embodied. That is, as has been pointed out by PL and David, its pull for the painter. For the viewers, collectors, etc. I'd go with Concrete Phone's movie-ness--the perceptual phenomena of looking at a thoroughly painted painting. Tomma Abst, the 8 on the left side of the room. Milton Resnick, the big black and white one. Paintings that catch, hold and confound the eye: a body. They circumvent recognition or word play for visual ideas, such as the construction of form and space through mark or color. The logic is beyond perception, but that's the conduit through which it appears.

5/17/2008 10:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And let me add to my comment; anyone who has studied Duchamp and the complex alchemical hermeneutics of the "Large Glass" knows that James Croak's statement on Duchamp is inaccurate and typical of the middle brow sound-byte that passes for intellectual discussion in contemporary Western culture. Duchamp would be rolling over in his grave to see his name connected with such a "triumph" of mediocrity. Long live Duchamp; down with commodity culture.

5/17/2008 10:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Green Lady said...

Self-portrait of Tretchi

5/17/2008 11:03:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

anyone who has studied Duchamp and the complex alchemical hermeneutics of the "Large Glass" knows that James Croak's statement on Duchamp is inaccurate

please explain why

and typical of the middle brow sound-byte that passes for intellectual discussion in contemporary Western culture

without the insecure-sounding ad hominem flavor, that is...

5/17/2008 11:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"please explain why"

Certainly. Croak's statement implies that there was no content ["insight into an invisible world that we ascribed to an object"] in what Duchamp was trying to do. This could not be further from the truth. In fact the opposite was true. The large glass has a complex allegorical meaning involving ideas as diverse as European alchemical mysticism and the work of the French revolutionary architect Jean Jacques Lequeu. Etant donnés is also a complex multilayered work which has nothing to do with a "a democracy of all objects" as Croak generalizes. It's hard for me to think of a work in the Western cannon that more implies "insight into an invisible world." But since most art history books just show us "Fountain" signed by R. Mutt as a precursor of Jeff Koons the really interesting [perhaps challenging and contradictory] stuff is dropped and the sound-byte artist is created. I like Duchamp, and feel sad to see him constantly referred to as the progenitor of the kind of soulless commodity-art that is currently overwhelming us.

"without the insecure-sounding ad hominem flavor, that is..."

Apologies if it comes off that way. Just how I feel about it.

5/17/2008 12:30:00 PM  
Anonymous jeff koons said...

Liking money like I like it, is nothing less than mysticism. Money is a glory.

5/17/2008 12:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, Duchamp(s) turned the painting canvas itself as an object. Therefore he also had a huge influence on painting per se.

But I don't think there will ever be an art medium that could ever be called "impertinent", all depending on the aims of the artist.

From my experience, painting has always been the more popular medium, because it is the medium that I see exhibited the most in galleries (there is not just Chelsea in the world, but even there: a fantastic amount of painting), and I presume this is because it is a medium that sells well, and it's not hard to imagine how collectors can conceive
of painting as a medium more practicle to travel and install in their homes.

In fact, because painting is so huge, I would imagine that it is harder for a painter to really succeed as an artist.
I bet a painter can sell bits and pieces more easily, but it would be harder for them to gravitate the echelons of critical success, not so because they have to competition with other mediums than that they have to competition
with the incredible amount of painters that are out there.

I think it is safe to assume that painting and drawing are the two most "urgent" and accessible approaches to
artmaking, which added to the "practiquality" of the medium described above, can easily explain why it is so popular,
nothwithstanding how it is strongly attached to a tradition which ensures permanent museal congruity.

Personally, when I started to go see art by myself (I was a teenager, circa 1986), I was attracted by all sorts of art that
had nothing to do with painting. I had already seen a Picasso and a Dali retro, and I'm sorry to say they didn't do it for me.
Dali had nice visual tricks and surprising ideas, but I wasn't compelled. I came to accept that they are mediums for different people. Many of the artists I admire are (still) not well treated by museums, while I expect a Peyton exhibit could attract a huge audience anytime. I just accept this. Painting is the way most people conceive of art. And romanticism too. That is why narrative films and online video games will always be more popular than conceptual art. Figurative and "romanced" storytelling is what people want.

Now you will tell me "Oh..but a big fantasy online video game is not art...that's just entertainment".
That's where I disagree. And I don't think the great landscape painters of the 19th Century would
agree. I think the "painters" bypassed modernism with a laugh and are now working in
such entertainment product, leaving the artworld with their Duchamp, Judd, Stella, Kooms, etc...

It just the story of aesthetics doesn't exactly correspond to this story of art that people in the artworld are trying to make.

Cedric Caspesyan

5/17/2008 01:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Richard Rupenus said...

Final Live Performance

5/17/2008 02:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think a lot of painters left the art world in the '90s to go into gaming or other graphic arts when they got sick of being bullied by conceptual art types. So it goes.

As far as Picasso goes; one could also characterize him as one of the first Western artists to take seriously African art over Greek art for its potential expressiveness. [The real story is far more complex, but as far as a sound-byte; at least as accurate as Croak's generalization.] In this way perhaps he could be the winner of this imaginary war. Maybe the new post modern center of contemporary art will be a place like Lagos where most of the world's population lives — a democracy of people, not the "democracy of objects" that western commodity culture gives us.

5/17/2008 02:56:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

Not having read all 69 previous comments, I hope this isn't redundant:

If a new narrative is in fact forming -- and I'm not certain that it could even be one in the same sense as the previous narrative -- one characteristic of it seems to be the revisiting and reinterpreting of previous forms and formats, with a reinvigorated faith in originality. Painting seems to be most prominent, probably because out of all art mediums it is the most easily recognized (note the continued dominance of flat rectangles)-- but sculpture and video are also grist for the mill. Some think of video as new, but hasn't it really developed since cinema's early days?

I'd suggest also that there seems to be something hard-wired in the human brain that draws us toward both mark making and mark interpretation. This intrinsic set of activities becomes a useful vehicle for working out higher-order problems, both for artist and viewer.

5/17/2008 09:15:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

I agree with some of the anonymous comments above that the name Duchamp has become too easy a buzzword for a quick explanation of Jeff Koons, or whoever it might be. I was struck by discovering the relationship between Duchamp and Joseph Cornell because it offers a different view of the old french rascal. I wrote an essay about these two at

Thinking about these two artists who collaborated on D's Boites-en Valises and who admired each other, and seeing Cornell's "Duchamp Dossier", his box of Duchamp related stuff, paper, ephemera, at last year's Cornell show at the Peabody/Essex Museum, all puts a nice counterintuitive spin to the Duchamp story - which is always welcome. This stuff can be seen in the book "Duchamp and Cornell in Resonance", which many of you probably know. Duchamp was as meticulous a maker of objects as Cornell. Each expressed his sensibility through what they made with their hands. Two very different sensibilities who were still each drawn to the other. It's a really interesting side show to the standard line.

5/17/2008 11:04:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

John Haber's review of Rauschenberg shows what one extremely prolific and generous artist did with Duchamp and expands Duchamp beyond the one-liners. It's not "Duchamp won, Picasso lost". Rauschenberg won by using both of them.

5/17/2008 11:15:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

David, right on the mark.

5/17/2008 11:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This may be wobbly as well, but I'm just trying to think outside the "white box" as it were on this old death o' painting topic.

Painting never died. Even in the 70s it was still very popular globally with the vast majority of art lovers and artists; just not with a handful of New Yorkers who had been declared "in the know". I think Ed is correct in surmising that painting and drawing are a genetic human trait, perhaps like singing and music, which I understand from Channel 13, predates our full evolution into homo sapiens.

Another post here mentions the fact that video art is the art of the poor. While I don't think it wins over a can of paint and a discarded piece of cardboard, there is some clear truth to this. Technology creates access for people who in the past would have been voiceless.

The reliance on the Western cannon is starting to bug me in this discussion. Without sliding down the slippery slope of political correctness, it's clear that the stock art historical narratives are forced at best. Thus the uselessness of history — or at least the canned history we've all been force fed in survey classes and in art criticism.

My point is this; we live in a very different world than the world of the New York school in the 50s. Creativity tends to follow the largest urban centers — the most vital and exciting places in the world. I'm citing a wikipedia article on the megacity for this information, so I can't vouch for all of these numbers, but bear with me. In 1950 New York was the only megacity with a population of 20 million people — a critical mass of raw talent that was able to give us the New York school and its various descendants. Today there are at least 25 such metropolitan areas, mostly in Asia, but also in South America and Africa [Not to mention North American megapolises like Los Angeles.] Yet these histories, by and large remain marginalized — at least in sound-byte art history.

My guess is going forward, history will be radically rewritten to explain the new reality. Chinese art is hugely popular now. The styles developing there have at least as much to do with totalitarian socialist realism as they do with Western democratic modernism. Will the western cannon simply ignore 2 billion people because they are narratively inconvenient? Is a 5000 year old continuous civilization just an art world fad?

I have a feeling that in the future the overwhelming reaction to these old art historical arguments from the West [who has the bigger schlong, Duchamp or Picasso] will be a resounding "who cares". I think new narratives will be written by people we barely acknowledge today in the Western world. Think of Nollywood — the Nigerian film industry in the megacity of Lagos. This is about as raw a form of creativity as you can find in the world today. People who make less than a dollar a day making films for other people who make less than a dollar a day with their own content irrespective of Western liberal paternalism. Most of these films are straight to dvd [Lagos has no cinemas] and are produced in less than 2 weeks, churning out 200 home movies a month. The acting and production values are amateur, but this is already a 250 million [US] dollar industry. It is the third largest film industry after the US and India. [Every time you hear an artist in the States whine about not having the resources to make work, keep these shanty town film auteurs in mind!]

So as far as the uselessness of history, I agree. I remember many moons ago my freshman art history survey class. The instructor, in the interest of saving time, cut out the entire history of non-Western art. [Which only filled about a fifth of the entire textbook]. In the future this trend will be reversed, as the West finds itself on the cultural margins of these new megacities.

5/18/2008 09:39:00 AM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

I’m with you, anon of the Lagos film industry. Up unitl the uselessness of history - because it seems to me you are arguing for a different history, not one dictated by a Western canon, and so it is really the uselessness of Western Art History and its tiring proper names. But a) we’ve still got that, and b) who is to say that is thas ever been secure and uncontested?
This latter point is the more interesting one, and at the heart of it are questions about what it means to claim a history, questions that remain visble in the ‘tired” proper names of Duchamp and Picasso.

I am not so worried about losing Western culture, bring on the art! I only wish I spoke Laotian. But I am concerned about the privileging of status and money shot thrills over knowledge that is visible on the high end of the contemporary art scene. If Picasso and Duchamp can teach us anything, it is that there is more to art (and to life) than that.

When we speak of art history, we speak of a history of thought, and this includes the manners in which we think historically at all, as subject to challenge as the canon itself. At the bottom of this might be a question of “use.”

5/18/2008 10:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course you are right! I just like Ed's post title ["The Uselessness of History"] and wanted to try and work it in. History is really, really important. Who writes it is as well!

And I don't want to fall into the trap of dead white male bashing either [Picasso and Duchamp were bad-asses], I just think we're getting to a point where it's vital to open this up a bit to make any sense of things. [Otherwise we sound like a bunch of Byzantine scholars debating Arianism or monophysite heresy or some such irrelevance.]

"But I am concerned about the privileging of status and money shot thrills over knowledge that is visible on the high end of the contemporary art scene."

That seems to be the problem that is holding Western art back at this point. I couldn't agree more. Ultimately this stuff is just boring and about as substantial as a twinky binge.

I think as this opens up more [as it inevitably will] the art of the west will be enhanced by this exchange. We live in a pretty exciting time in this way. A real world art history is becoming possible, in which liberal modernism will have its place... but perhaps not as the dominant colonizing power it was in the past. This is all good for the history of ideas.

5/18/2008 11:19:00 AM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Why, however, do educated viewers keep returning to painting when they've heard the arguments that its relevance is over?

Flat, 2 dimensional images saturate our culture. Virtually available every object or surface is covered with a "painting", or at least a print in the tradition of Western representation.

Considering the amount of this imagery that wholly saturates our lives, art that engages this imagery is inevitable. Of course there are artists and collectors for this work. Any number of arguments can be made, but it doesn't change the fact that such images are a major element of our culture.

5/18/2008 11:25:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Here here, Catherine,
Ironically, to all those espousing the “uselessness of history” get a grip, those arguments were all made ninety years ago and they’ve been repeated every ten years by uninformed “intellectuals” ever since. Ignoring history is the equivalent of joining the “flat Earth society”, or trying to deny your own DNA. Art doesn’t just pop up, it comes from other art. Art’s mystery is solved through art’s history.

Western culture can’t be defeated, it’s too pernicious, like the Borg, we assimilate everything. Though various other cultures are pushing for recognition and dominance, the means and forms of their developments have all been contaminated by the West. I’d posit that a lot of the “cultural competition” (because it’s based on marketing) has a Western tint. Lagos might have an incredibly original film industry, but they’re using a western technology to express that creativity.

I suspect painting retains its powers because it’s attained a level as a primordial symbol, a thing that regardless of theory, imagery, style or practice exists in the collective subconscious as the ideal of “art”. A sign of something unquestionably created to exist in that realm which is "art". That also makes it the perfect-punching bag to question all the baggage "art" carries.

5/18/2008 11:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thus western art and technology will have a place in the story. Again history is very useful. I simply think it is being rewritten constantly. Western dominance is not sacred or eternal. But neither is one medium eternally the best or worse — I like painting for its immediacy and ability to constantly reinvent itself. I simply and humbly assert that perhaps a half dozen or so individuals in the 6 billion or so that are regularly excluded from the history of the "New York art scene" might potentially have something interesting and entertaining to say. If that makes me an uninformed "intellectual" then so be it. Still there seems to be a lot of really successful artists coming out of China right now:-)

5/18/2008 11:59:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

The internet is making history as a tale, history.

There is the tale of history and the events and objects it describes. The events and objects don't change, our viewpoints may and we revise 'history'.

The internet is opening up access to the information, we can use it like a book that adapts to our interests.

5/18/2008 12:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem is not history but art's relevance to contemporary history, per se.
People used to be able to control history, by maintaining that the few people
who were from important families for whom painters were commissioned
to work, made the history. Today things have changed.
If a rich person can buy baubles in auctions, it doesn't count
to culture, except for a list of prices in the Guiness book. People
are aware now that culture is formed on a wide array of levels,
and while most people wouldn't even know the biggest contemporary
artists of today who have restrospectives in museum, they might
receive bits of what influenced them from everyday culture, or that
same everyday culture will recycle artists ideas faster that they can
shout out their names.

Culture is no more about signature (if it ever was),
it has become the complex fluxus that the art group
of the same name announced. The stubborness
of the ArtWorld with signature is moving against
the flow, and all you get from that are a few
branding names each 5 years that gets on the covers
of a few art mags and then....wooosh. They vanished.
And they will vanish faster and faster for as long
as the art people are citing artist names hoping that they
resound with panache, instead of actually remembering
any work title.

People will remember Duchamp or
Picasso, but what will they remember after that? Some call for Cage, others Rauschenberg, others Smithson, I call for Beuys, but it's a wider melting pot every 10 years.

Cedric Caspesyan

5/18/2008 12:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess the popularity of the Japanese artist Murakami is interesting in the way you are discussing. But of course, I doubt most Japanese people would even know who he is. And yet there are more and more practitioners of capital "A" art than in any time in recorded history. [Droves are moving to Williamsburg daily!] What is that about? Art can't be completely irrelevant to people.

anon of the Lagos film industry.

5/18/2008 01:10:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

“I have a kind of theory that when great social changes are about to take place, something happens in the arts first - think of Romanticism and the French Revolution...”

yes yes citizens, keep painting nothing. Even nothing is something! And you confound them with it! Ideology needs a symbol. And what is symbol? What dictator has used pure abstraction? WHat regime has turned nothing into something? Abstraction renders the artist redundant in all senses of the word! Disemploy yourselves! Go home! Leave idle the machines of commerce! Resist! Resist! Resist!

5/18/2008 02:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Murakami stole his ejaculating sculpture from some anime.
He is not relevant to culture, he takes from it. It was fully
formed before his art dwelt upon it (mind you, he makes some fine semi-abstract paintings).

Oh, and making art for Vuitton is a terrible artistic mistake
that I hope artists will stop indulging themselves into soon.
Design sacrificing to signature (LV) is just nurturing people to develop stupid credo (be them religious or shirt tags).

New York is a bubble. Too many people in New York don't have thew slightiest idea of what is going on
outside. Even the Guggenheim Director called the atrium piece by Cai Guo-Qiang the most
impressive use of the museum's rotunda ever, when it is actually atrocious compared to the
original at Mass Moca (installed in the dark). That's just a 3 and half train hour away, but
people in New York don't take it. If I'm judging by the recent Whitney Biennials, the Williamsburg
new arte povera scene is not that dramatically interesting. Sorry.

But more and more people create art, that is true. That could be one of the symptom demonstrating that it lost its relevance. People will always onlook, wrether
they are aware or not, on things they cannot do themselves.

Or maybe the new relevance is not so much product-based than these
forms of social interactions.
Time will tell.

If people like so much to comment anonymously on blogs I can only guess that they are ready to
sacrifice their signature in art and work within larger anonymous collectives. That could be where we are leading, and the currents
support this theory (anon lagos, lol).

Cedric Caspesyan

5/18/2008 03:21:00 PM  
Anonymous zphunglo said...

'I am not a movie'

5/18/2008 03:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


"If people like so much to comment anonymously on blogs I can only guess that they are ready to
sacrifice their signature in art and work within larger anonymous collectives. That could be where we are leading, and the currents
support this theory (anon lagos, lol). "

You could be right about that! Best,

anon of the Lagos film industry

5/18/2008 03:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok, I need to rectify something
again about "relevance".

I'm sorry, but I forgotten my 101 in anthropology today, so I forgot who described the cultural process in 3 steps (Radcliffe-Brown?):

1 - someone comes forward with new ideas (some call it revolution).

2 - society filters them (some are rejected, others are accepted and practiced).

3 - tradition (the idea is integral part of the common conscious).

Actually this is over-simplifying a subject thoroughly debated
in institutions and I wish a lecturer was around here to lend
me a big slap. But...

Basically, if everybody paint in a society, than you could say "Ah !
Painting is relevant to that culture!". Here, I'm arguing as "relevant" the momentum when things can be triggered to move on again.

I am in such opposed to tradition. But if we are likely to enter a new Dark Age where everything is put on repeat for a millenary, than you can see how I'm off my bag about relevancy. Picasso could as well remain relevant. For centuries.

Cedric Caspesyan

5/18/2008 04:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This actually seems to be a meme with some legs:

5/18/2008 06:13:00 PM  
Blogger Mberenis said...

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5/18/2008 06:20:00 PM  
Blogger atomicelroy said...

Thanks for the inspiration, I'm busy working on a video titled...

5/18/2008 10:42:00 PM  
Anonymous untitled said...

Thanks for the inspiration, I'm busy working on a painting titled... Love Actually

5/18/2008 11:01:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

"I'm busy working on a video titled...

Good. It will only encourage the painters.

5/18/2008 11:01:00 PM  
Blogger CAP said...

I’m busy working on a painting titled Death by Blogging

5/19/2008 12:53:00 AM  
Blogger Joseph Giannasio said...

Painting, like The Rolling Stones, since being threatened with irrelevance in seventies, has had a comeback tour in the eighties, followed regularly by farewell tours.
don't forget to buy the t-shirt it may be your last chance

5/20/2008 01:52:00 AM  

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