Thursday, July 03, 2008

Why is Everyone So Afraid of Beauty? Open Thread

In honor of Independence day, I thought I'd throw out a topic sure to cause some fire works. I'll remind folks that while passion is fine and, in careful contexts, encouraged, boorish behavior directed at specific individuals who comment here or their art is off limits and will result in your comment being ruthlessly deleted without explanation or apology.

And with that nanny-state introduction, let's get the ball rolling with a comment Donna left on the Studio Visit Strategies thread:
here's how to get the art world to come clamoring to your studio... you say out loud in a mocking/taunting voice- why all the pointless, craftless, work that makes you think- how did they get in this show? that is long on the dialectic and short on something to look at? why is everyone so afraid of craft? because craft involves history and the fervor with which the art world avoids embracing history is like when you put a cat in a bath and all the fleas mob its head...
The knee-jerk conceptualism-loving art viewer in me wants to dismiss this question out of hand: "It's not that anyone is afraid of craft so much as no longer as impressed by craft alone as they once may have been. In an age with a bounty of photo realistic painters and technology-guided sculptors making work so convincing you can't imagine improving upon an age with more sensitive abstractionists cranking out more personal interpretations than there are days in one's life to see them an age where the line between craft as "craft" and craft in the service of "fine art" has blurred to the point of being nearly can anyone expect craft unto itself to be seen as important as it once had been?"

Once I get all that out of my system, though, I slow down and think about the subject again. Does there exist a fear of "craft"? There is no doubt that craft took a backseat for many during the 60's and 70's, and I suspect that led to skepticism about craft-based work that may linger in certain quarters today, but from Grayson Perry to Josiah McElheny, from Oliver Herring (at least his earlier knitting works) to Louise Bourgeois, traditional craft is a serious part of the dialog.

But I suspect Louise Bourgeois' sewing-based sculptures are not what some people mean by "craft." What some people mean is craft employed toward the end of traditional ideals of beauty. Why is everyone so afraid of Beauty? is how I interpret that original question after some reflection.

The knee-jerk conceptualism-loving art viewer in me wants to dismiss this question out of hand: "It's not that anyone is afraid of beauty so much as no longer as impressed by the more traditional ideas about beauty as they once may have been. In an age in which, via globalization, we're being exposed to more and more images of people and places where our Western sense of beauty is perhaps seen as too sterile or contrived or an age of air-brushing, plastic surgery, Disneyfied Times Square, Second Life, and an age in which heroes disappoint like clockwork, McMansions and Trump towers pass as luxury, and even the oceans are now polluted with continent sized island of plastic can anyone expect "beauty" unto itself to be seen as synonymous with "truth" as it once had been and thus as relevant?"

Once I get all that out of my system, though, I slow down and think about the subject again. Does there exist a fear of "beauty"? In so much as beauty equals truth, perhaps there exists a healthy skepticism of that idea, yes.

Consider this an open thread.

Labels: open thread


Blogger J.T. said...

"how can anyone expect 'beauty' unto itself to be seen as synonymous with 'truth' as it once had been and thus as relevant?"

I don't think anyone can. And for me, that's the point. If I want the so-called truth and relevance, I just have to turn on the TV or pick up a newspaper. For me, beauty in art is an escape from the everyday crap that surrounds us. And that's its merit.

Of course, though, just what is the art that is beautiful? That's still up for debate, I guess.

7/03/2008 12:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Roberta Smith doesn't have a problem with the concept of beauty. I would assume that EW considers her the real deal. A few minutes of searching lead me to these quotes.

"They could almost fool King Kong into thinking he is back home. They are the remnants of a primordial Eden, beautiful, uncanny signs of a natural nonurban past that the city never had."

"As a photographer for Vogue magazine, Mr. Penn, now 88, produced fashion spreads, still lifes and portraits that rank among the most startlingly beautiful images to appear in a mass-circulation monthly."

"The paradoxically beautiful, seamless 30-year survey of his work at the Guggenheim Museum catches many of our inharmonious country’s discontents and refracts them back to us."

So this begs the question, who exactly are you refering to when you ask "Why is Everyone So Afraid of Beauty?"

7/03/2008 12:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think a lot of the art world sees beauty as irrelevant, but even more, with antipathy. Beauty embodies an inherited standard from Europe and is to be distrusted because it wedges visual experience into a tyrannical hierarchy. Ed, I think beauty is exactly why you are knee-jerk about loving conceptualism. What does this all mean--that beauty is ripe for refurbishment!


7/03/2008 12:31:00 PM  
Blogger Pretty Lady said...

For me, beauty in art is an escape from the everyday crap that surrounds us.

Nope, nope, nope. That's the definition of kitsch.

''s the relationships between colors and forms that make them beautiful, rather than the colors and forms themselves. Radical contrast breeds excitement, complex harmony, and a beauty that is rich, deep and all-inclusive. Kitsch is about avoidance--it edits out any awkwardness, any reference to death and decay, to comfort the mind's fears. But great art puts in the death; great art accepts everything. And unconditional acceptance is a prerequisite for enduring peace.'

I don't think we're 'afraid of beauty' so much as it gives us a powerful feeling of superiority to dismiss it. Apprehension of great beauty is a cousin to awe, and awe engenders humility. Feeling humble is anathema to surviving in the shark tank of the NYC 'art world;' we must maintain our sense of contemptuous disdain at all costs.


7/03/2008 12:40:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

For a “knee-jerk conceptualism-loving art viewer” the idea that beauty =truth or vise-versa is pretty conservative. This is classic German aesthetics, and they don’t get any deader or whiter than that.

Even Pretty Lady’s definition is basic formalist theory (sorry PL).

With spreading globalism and multiculturalism the definitions of beauty, truth and just about everything else is being questioned. The West no longer has a monopoly on the correct ideals (economics are at play here too).

Likewise, regarding craft, I just read somewhere that de-skilling is a basic tenet of Marxist aesthetics, an attempt to impose egalitarian standards on production values. Jerry Saltz has spoken about his critical practice as being de-skilled, which I guess means, he didn’t get a degree philosophy. I’m no Marxist, but I appreciate people trying to do things they aren’t especially proficient at
(just as long as it’s not my brain surgeon), or pursuing a goal by making it up as they go along.

Perhaps being memorable is just as important as being beautyful.

Finally: Do you think the oolong will get rid of the fleas?

7/03/2008 01:24:00 PM  
Blogger mbuitron said...

I believe that part of the problem lies in the way art is taught in school. In the 21st century most schools cling to a 19th century Beaux-Arts model. Individual classes focus on craft, design, facility with traditional art materials, and the like. Implied in this type of education are notions of beauty, representation, and getting the kids to make art the 'right' way.

At the same time I can tour the various biennials, or out here in Los Angeles, look at private collections like Eli Broad's at LACMA. For those who attended the render-a-naked-lady-with-a-hunk-of-charcoal school of art, there can be some resentment of conceptually focused work that seems to obviate the need for craft.

7/03/2008 01:49:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

I think when people dismiss beauty in art, they are truly dismissing one notion of beauty and trying to replace it with another. Debates about beauty are really political battles between parties and not philosophical quests for some grand truth.

7/03/2008 02:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Daniel Sroka said...

"It's not that anyone is afraid of beauty so much as no longer as impressed by the more traditional ideas about beauty as they once may have been."

If they are not impressed by traditional ideas of beauty, why does it seem they are so easily impressed by... gimmicks? So much of conceptual art feels like nothing more than a clever witticism, a bon mot tossed aside at a cocktail party. I get so frustrated at conceptual art that is dull and pedestrian to look at, but becomes oh-so-clever once you read the artist's statement. Yawn.

In running away from "beauty" and "craft" , the art world seems to have also abandoned the quest for visual power and emotion. Make your art conceptual and deep if you want, but please make it visually compelling as well.

I love punk music, because even while they toss aside the traditional notions of beauty and craft, the best punk bands never abandon the pure auditory potential of the song. The music is raw and intense, but is still Music.

7/03/2008 02:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Mr. Kalm James.

7/03/2008 02:45:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Superficial beauty is just as easy as superficial conceptualism. Truly deep beauty is rare and difficult.

7/03/2008 02:51:00 PM  
Blogger Donna Dodson said...

Thanks Ed, for the ongoing dialogue- your blog is a treat... I guess I was thinking about this form a couple of angles, like challenging the notion of craft, (when something is well made but it doesnt say anything profound, or personal to the viewer) skill, (which reads loud and clear- gee look what i can in all these different ways) concept, (there's nothing to get) or beauty (yawn) I think there is also a a skepticism about arriving at a contemporary object or work of art through a traditional medium- alot of people think that cannot be done- one must break the rules and invent a new form of art in order to say something great- and i think in our complex world- it's not enough to be pretty- b/c even the victoria secret models talk to the camera...

7/03/2008 03:15:00 PM  
OpenID deborahfisher said...

I think that conceptual v. beauty is boring because it has nothing to do with truth.

Speaking of truth, physicists and theoretical mathematicians often look for beauty, and see strong correlations between beauty and truth.

This has led to a lot of energy being poured into String Theory, which is quite beautiful but doesn't seem to have much going for it by way of Scientific Method, seeing as how it's unprovable and all.

There is a larger truth, which I think artists should take note of and plumb the depths of. If scientists are willing to abandon the rules of science for beauty, then beauty can be as alluring and as dangerous as a mermaid.

Artists are not like scientists, and have no rules, so they can do whatever they want with the qualities beauty presents.

But if artists merely deny these qualities, is that good, observant artmaking?

7/03/2008 03:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

I think every art piece is always about beauty. It's just trying to say "everything is beautiful".

Hence why the forced ugly art reactionary to traditional beauty, or conceptual art aiming to point at other forms of beauty: the idea, poetry, science, inter-relations (performance), etc. Artists started to explore other avenues of expression once it was set for good in philosophical theory that beauty was in the eye of the beholder. But even tough a thousand new paths have been opened, I don't agree that the path for "visual power and emotion" have been broken. There are still artists making beautiful art in a near traditional sense, and are successful.

As far as Craft, I've seen installations made of macramé (and I'm not speaking of that one at PS1 Wack). The question of medium is irrelevant. The more unexpectful your medium is to Fine Arts, the more chances you can get to attract attention. It all depends of what you do with it. But first, read my warning below.

The two terms that the Art World are afraid of are "Decorative" and "Tradition".

Decorative is received as vanity and pure superficial evil since the conceptualists started shaking hands with Plato (who equally abhorred arts for distancing humans from the values of reality).
These days, Decor is making a come back as a statement, because people have decided that there is no such thing as a superficial expression. A couple years ago, an artist was painting decorative flowers on the walls of a biennial. It was saying "I am decorating the boring walls of your biennials" and it was successful. I don't think the intention to please is superficial, and in such context the intervention of decorating was brought back to Beuys' sovial sculpture in a surprising way.

Tradition sounds like bizarre religions that turn everyone crazy. This is seen as a major evil by some of the technologically advanced cultures now, and when you aim at using traditional forms and media in the intention of "Repeting" tradition, it would only work in Fine Arts if you have very strong arguments (such as "oh well, Vermeer was new in its time but I belive now the only great art is to repeat Vermeer, because nothing as good as been made since").

So the danger in using Craft is how close it stands to Tradition. But the Fine Arts' own Tradition of believing that everything great must have been unheard and unseen (the avant-garde) is tiring, and this gives place to opportunities for comebacks and re-entries. But Craft and Beauty are not as much problems as Tradition. If you still repeat what has been done a thousand times by your ancestors from 6 centuries ago, the pertinence of you purpose to Fine Arts, which seek advancements in aesthetics and sensible thinking, will be questioned. That's just common sense. Fine Arts was a category designed in the first place to elevate the visual arts above the commonalities of Beauty
as seen through Tradition. It was always about some form of Advancement (and from the start, I believe, a juggle between beauty and sensible thinking).



7/03/2008 04:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Charles Browning said...

"The first question I ask myself when something doesn't seem to be beautiful is why do I think it's not beautiful. And very shortly you discover that there is no reason."
John Cage

Beauty (of the old-school manipulative variety) is just another tool in the tool kit these days - you can use it if you've got it. It's no more truth than anything else. And like the rest of the tools it has history to be aware of and to utilize.

7/03/2008 05:32:00 PM  
Anonymous hausfrau said...

"Even Pretty Lady’s definition is basic formalist theory (sorry PL)"
-Kalm James

I thought PL’s definition made a nice distinction between beauty and kitsch.

In terms of thinking about art and beauty, I think formalist theory can take us a long ways into the approach even if it doesn’t always bring it in for a landing.

7/03/2008 05:43:00 PM  
Anonymous J@simpleposie said...

Need we distinguish kitsch from beauty, hausfrau?

7/03/2008 06:05:00 PM  
Anonymous hausfrau said...

I think that while they may exist on a continuum, kitsch and beauty have different goals. But I think many things called beautiful are also kitschy. Overlapping sets perhaps.

7/03/2008 07:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric c said...

Hi J!

Kitsch is a complex avenue. I don't think it's the issue of beauty VS ugly. I like to oppose the word kitsch to sublime (as opposed to great philos who use Beauty against Sublime). In the same way that I believe there is ugliness in all that is beautiful like there is beauty in all that is ugly, I think there is kitsch in
all that is sublime and sublime in all that is kitsch. This is my basic motto. Don't believe me ? Do a duo retro of Koons and Kapoor, because it is flagrant in that comparison.

Kitsch I believe was a term coined when the first reproductions of Jesus Cross, imitating the style of famous jesus cross in german cathedrals, shocked the religious community at the time. Were those items ugly? Not if they were replicas of the most (commonly accepted as) beautiful crosses across Germany. But they were received as bizarre because they were tiny, made of cheap wood or faking wood texture, and presented in shops totally out of context. They aimed to represent the religiosity of the original, but they were mere sentimental souvenirs. Kitsch says something about value, and it went on to mean something about excess and "trying too much", about exaggerated sentimentality, about aesthetic extremisms. But these days kitsch has become almost a design of its own, and it's almost an hommage to tag "tacky" a reproduction statuette, as most of them are falling into the abyss of banality.

I think kitsch like beauty will mean different things to different people, but that they are distinct values. Kitsch can be attractive or appalling, depending on your taste. It usually involves an assault on the senses, a surface sentimentality, an extremist aesthetic, as in pushing either (commonly accepted senses of) beauty or ugly up to where it vacillates with its contrary, and an affront to knowledge (kitsch can be a total embrace of stupidity). Roccoco often vacillates with kitsch because it was trying to represent nature in very superficial ways. The only difference is that roccoco pieces were unique and not product of consumer culture, and in fact roccoco was authentic, while perhaps serving as the source representation to many kitsch aesthetics that would unfold. Following theory (or the little that I' read) it's as if kitsch should always be pointing at an original authentic source, but this is a mystery to me (especially when nature is pointed at). I believe kitsch is authentic of itself, and you won't be kitsch just by trying. You'll only be referencing it in return or fall into the banal.

Is kitsch opposed to banal?


Cedric (sorry for all my typos)

7/03/2008 07:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...


>>>The only difference... roccoco
>>>was authentic

..then i claim to find kitsch authentic in itself. Confused?

The general claim is that roccoco is authentic and kitsch is not, because it relies on copy and cheap culture (as if it could not come out of genuine informed or sensible senses). I meant to say that I disagree and that if kitsch is a culture of copy, than that culture is authentic of its own modes and apparatus.

Whatever... They are certainly notions of snobbery involved. Like the emerald will always be more than the beam of glass replicating its shape (too bad for the glasworkers).


7/03/2008 07:49:00 PM  
Anonymous J@simpleposie said...

Hello Ced, and hausfrau.

I just don't think beauty is very
respectful of boundries - if it feels like setting up shop in kitschland (kitsch-ie: available widely en masse and to everyone)it will. do so.

7/03/2008 08:26:00 PM  
Blogger So Crates said...

The good, the beautiful and the true, are considered fundamental and distinct realms in classical philosophy.

Romantics like Keats think truth is beauty (and vice versa) under different experiences or apprehensions. The classicist maintains beyond the apparatus to apprehend, they are nonetheless different things.

See Rationalism Vs Empiricism pp-etc.

7/03/2008 08:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

You are right J, and to me Fine Arts aim to teach (or show) more about sensible thinking than about Beauty. When it speaks about Beauty, it is often interested in expanding the current ideals or notions of Beauty (each art period contradicting the other). So it's
not so much about Beauty than aesthetic "Advancements" (opposed to Tradition).

Speaking of kitsch.

Just wanted to point out that I'd be the first to visit a retro of Kinkade. Is it happening?

I would need to explain to myself if there is anything so inventive about the work to warrant its popularity.

To me, it looks a little too much like Disney, but Disney was inventive, and I've seen (yet) 2 retros in serious museums of Disney's (and studios's) works.
Disney was (as you all know)
a re-reading of romantic ideals transcribed into a surrealist lense where all dimensions of nature and physical logics collided. The purpose was entertainment but it was highly artistic and strongly original.

If Kinkade copies Disney, I wonder how that success can last. He would have to be tremendously good as a fake Disney. But I don't have anything against artists selling copies of their art at Costco. I think that's fantastic. Everyone should do that. Especially artists who really think they hold something worth to teach others.

This comment on Wiki about Kinkade's work made me laugh:

"The ubiquitous presence of apparently electric lamps in his pictures suggests to some that his work is a tribute to rural electrification."

Amish art? Maybe Kinkade's art is too much Tradition to be received as Fine Arts (if it doesn't blink in comparison with Impressionism and Disney, than the style is quite dated), but his marketing approach sounds original and upfront with current technologies, surely explaining why he reached such a wide audience.

If 1 home out of 10 in America holds a Kinkade repro, maybe it's important to put this under the critical lense. Is it about how great is the work or about its accessibility? If it is genuine kitsch, than maybe I like that. Maybe a museal retro could provide an opportunity to study High Kitsch (or Fine Kitsch) and how it provide such a fascination.

If Kinkade refuses to term his art "kitsch", than maybe that's the real authentic kitsch, and that's why it should be considered precious.


7/03/2008 08:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First and fore-mosey, does oolong get rid of fleas? Certainly (and I'm glad you asked). Especially in the case when they're in your stomach. This usually means you have a hot date coming up! Am I right in presuming that? Fleas tend to head for the stomach when we are running a bit nervous. Anyway...
Fix it guarantee. Oolong. It is one of life's little mysteries.

The other mystery on this thread is beauty =
= Skill = the well made.

Personally I go with that every part of the object process has to be easy. Complicate that and you quickly become a slave. But that is just with me. I do think perfecting craft is not going to instantly get you a free ticket into the secret subway of creativity, liberty, and a life without fleas.

Everything out there is beauty: The terrible, the scary (boo), the tranquil (Ahhh...ooPs.. fell asleep), and the down right rotten-to-the-core 'shiny white teeth' new insurance policy.

In art it's about 'Strange Navigation', often employing 'deskilling' time and time again, stopping, standing back, starting again, playing with the conduit, pushing the envelope--having fun.
Some don't even physically touch it, but you still can go thru the creative process.

To do anything takes skill. Doing what you want, hopefully, is tied up with pushing yourself over a threshold. Thresholds are weird. Don't get tied up in someone else's threshold. It's a mistake to think that perfecting ones craft gets you over there. But whatever it takes >>> to get where you wanna be, right!

Anyway pictures made simple and simple clear words via culturegirl to Ed Lifson, Do-it-yourself Sol LeWitt Wall Drawings. It's easy!--for me exposes the magic of contradiction in everything.


7/03/2008 09:05:00 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

I am intrigued, not to mention bothered, by the fact that nobody has mentioned the illustration to this subject in all thse posts.

Is it beautiful?

7/03/2008 10:30:00 PM  
Blogger Donna Dodson said...

several more thoughts come to my mind after re-reading your post... if truth=beauty then what is beauty in this day and age? i disagree that photorealism or hyperealism or tech based sculpture is about craft- i am thinking more about following a path, doing the same thing (meaning technique) leads to deeper insight into one's medium (hopefully, although there is also stimulation and inspiration from without as well- but that is the true path- or is that idea out dated as well? mastery of oneself as much as mastery of one's materials leads to great art... of course if there is nothing in yourself particularly interesting to delve into or nothing profound you can drag into your studio to explore, it might not be a viable strategy- the last word i heard on digitally fabricated sculpture is that the hand is still superior to the machine- because in the artist's hand/eye/mind/spirit there is a certain magic that is like nothing else (in my opinion) it is the synthesis of transcending materials, saying something poignant, and the art experience that makes it work ( but now i am getting into your previous thread about what makes great art...)

7/03/2008 10:31:00 PM  
Blogger mary klein said...

Maybe we fear beauty because it creates within us a sense of responsibility we would rather avoid. Elaine Scarry, in her book 'On Beauty and Being Just,' argues that beauty presses the viewer to repair injustice. This pressure, rather than its source, may be what we find uncomfortable.

7/03/2008 10:51:00 PM  
Blogger Iris said...

Art reflects time. when one is traumatized, one of the ways of responding to trauma (ptsd) would be disassociation, or a disconnect between the brain and the heart. Visual art has become more and more brainy towards the end of the 20th century, more and more disconnected from feelings. Someone here mentioned punk music. Although the music world also tried to use this defense mechanism, it didn't work, because music is the language or the heart. But it did work in visual art, we managed to get to a place where we are not bothered with feeling anything at all in the pit of our stomach. We have seen and continue to see so much ugliness in the world, that we refuse to allow ourself to respond to either beauty or ugliness, because one cannot live without the other. So we closed the door to the connection between us and the world, between us and nature. We live in this world of pre-packaged stuff, and we cannot allow ourselves to feel anything. Because beauty, as well as ugliness, evoke feelings. That is why.

7/03/2008 11:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I appreciate people trying to do things they aren’t especially proficient at (just as long as it’s not my brain surgeon)

Or your dentist. Or the contractor installing your kitchen cabinets. Or your accountant. Or really anyone doing work of significant and lasting consequence.

Beauty has a universal basis that comes out of our biological functioning, in which I include our mental functioning. From that universal basis, individual acts of appreciating and manufacturing beauty come forth. These individual acts vary but do not vary infinitely. Any statement about beauty that contradicts its biological basis or its individuality of expression is likely to be flat-out wrong.

Everyone has a certain amount of ability to detect beauty. Only an insensate buffoon would find the sunset repulsive, or no woman beautiful, or the oceans lacking in wonder. Like most human activities of any richness, we have developed fields that concentrate the appreciation and making of beauty, and we involve ourselves with these pursuits in a spirit of ever-increasing refinement. People with a lot of innate inclination who put the time into these pursuits reach levels of appreciation that not everyone can or will attain. A subset of them become artists. A subset of the artists become good artists.

If you have the requisite appreciation for beauty that comes with a pulse and one or two working eyes, and you get excited about the Christian message, you can obtain a work by Kinkade or a fair facsimile thereof according to your budget. But those people probably are not reading this blog.

If you have more ability to detect beauty than that, but not enough to recognize that Kinkade doesn't exemplify it, or beauty doesn't hit you hard enough to distinguish its perception from thinking, or you've taken cues from what constitutes important literature, important philosophical works, or important historical events and can't work beauty into a similar assessment of art, then a bewildering array of conceptually-leaning works of art are available at a variety of price points and degrees of intellectual depth.

And then you have people for whom beauty is a dominating feature of consciousness. These people use language in a way that indicates that their visual responses and kinesthetic responses operate together, intensely. I once went into a friend's studio, and the second thing he said to me was, "Dude, you have to fucking see this fucking Sickert," as he thumbed through his new monograph. And I thought, yeah, Sickert will do that to you. Not a lot of people are like this - aesthetes in the positive sense.

People don't fear beauty, but they fear aesthetes, because people worry about being left out. This works both ways. You have people who don't detect beauty to the utmost degree making statements about the relative unimportance, changing standards, or basal subjectivity of beauty. You also have artists who would become aesthetes in the best sense if left to their own devices, but face abuse and neglect if they go through school that way or try to garner serious critical consideration in the larger art world. You also have the artists who just can't help their aestheticism. They generally fear nothing except pain and death, but a lot of the art world pisses them off.

7/03/2008 11:10:00 PM  
Blogger David Cauchi said...

Beauty is a strange, slippery concept. Art objects, people, landscapes, sounds, smells, and mathematical proofs can all be called beautiful.

The evolutionary psychologists tells us that we consider symmetry in faces beautiful because it indicates good genes. They tell us we find park-like landscapes beautiful because they are like the savannahs we evolved in. We find smells disgusting if the thing giving off the smell is dangerous.

Thankfully, they haven't, as far as I know, reduced the beauty of mathematics in this way yet. Mathematical beauty (also known as elegance) is where a proof is both simple and effective. You could call it conceptual beauty.

I reckon that this is a great definition, and can be applied much wider than maths (especially to art). If you have to bolt on extra bits to make something work, it's inelegant. (This was an argument used against Einstein's cosmological constant.)

This idea is one aspect of Keats' 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'

7/03/2008 11:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

>>>>I am intrigued, not to mention >>>bothered, by the fact that nobody
>>>has mentioned the illustration.

Well, I'm not sure to understand the importance, but illustration rely on constraints of representation, and for a major part these constraints involved respect to (or major aspects of) Tradition (ie, know how to draw an hand and a arm if you attempt to illustrate the jurist lending a sentance).

But wrether illustration is Trad or fully artistic, beauty is still in the eye of the beholder. I don't think Fine Arts judge as more wrether an illustration is beautiful or not as wrether it is "attractive" or "interesting" or not (and how or why), "attractive" and "Interesting" being that it's "more than the average", meaning that it's not entirely Trad (aka seen a million times).

Even when Fine Arts was all about aesthetics, it was always criticizing why some things were better looking than other. It never cared for commonalities.
Tradition engulfs all commonalities, including common notions of Beauty (note how Beauty and Attraction are different, the latter being about distinction).

The myth is to believe only great masters knew how to draw a hand. I would presume they always had been thousands of people able to draw hands very well. Transcribing the body into marble was a marvel, and so those artists may have been remarked for their skills alone, but that was technical exploration, not Trad.
Skill is not the problem in Fine Arts, it is your position within Trad and how Trad is valued within a certain culture and context. The greatest artist in Bali is certainly a Trad artist, because Trad is vital to the culture there. In the context of Trad, Skill determinate the aesthetic Kings and Queens, but also how much you are able to encompass common cultural values (there has to be a word for that). You are the best at doing something that already exist. But Fine Arts looked down at someone drawing a naked man, and said "look, that artist over there is doing your naked man in marble". That is not just about skills. It's about something new that elevates itself against something else. It involves criticism and encourage individuality. You are the best at inventing a new way to show or say what probably already have been shown or said.

The focus of Fine Arts always have been distinction. While Trad welcomes people wishing to drown their ego in the commonality of culture (and the only notion of Beauty that can be culturally viable will be forcibly commonal).

>>>beauty presses the viewer to repair injustice.

That maybe explains Joseph Beuys.

>>>You have people who don't >>>detect beauty to the utmost >>>degree making statements about >>>the relative unimportance, >>>changing standards, or basal >>>subjectivity of beauty

You also have people who don't understand why Joseph Beuys plants 40 000 trees instead of doing a cute aquarel, because one believes the true beauty lies in relation with spirituality and what good one can bring on to this planet.

As I said, art is always about beauty.


7/03/2008 11:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brain, teeth, kitchen, accountant--they are 'fix them' people. They are firmly in the practical world. The kitchen guy has a tough job, the brain fixer has a tough one too! The brain one has a few more screws to play with so they would need to be able to remember a few more things. The kitchen and brain tinkerers should not take it lightly, nor should they get experimental on the job.

The kitchen could get all experimental, but them we call them a designer. the brain guy could, but then they'd loose their license. Brain person could work on dead brains, but the usual tune is that, well, they don't work.

To get out of this pickle I tend to prefer to put the brain and kitchen aside, tell then to fix themselves a drink and hang out a bit on the balcony with the teeth.

Someone mentioned math-persons and scientists with their beautiful numbers and elegant universes probing beauty as what is true.
Well numbers do not make the Universe cruise. What numbers do is create models for understanding an idea that we think is embodied in the wack-of-it-all. Formulas get very complex. And when there is a breakthrough it happens via a very clean algebraic equation for the complex.

Thinking back to the brain and the kitchen, please give me a simpler working kitchen by all means. But leave the brain how it is.


7/04/2008 12:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Fine Art is always a critique of beauty because it is never satisfied by commonality. As soon as aesthetics are registered as commonsl, it is looking for distinction. It is in that sense that I believe art is always about Beauty.

I could go on about why Fine Art is always a Failure.


7/04/2008 12:11:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Interesting how as this thread has gone on, the posts have gotten progressively longer. By tomorrow you’ll be reading 10,000 word responses. The beauty of brevity.

7/04/2008 02:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In early 2007 I had a show of work that, through no fault of my own (ha), had some very "pretty" work in it. I have two vivid memories at the opening. The first was the artist who approached me with an apology, "I'm sorry, I know I'm not supposed to say this, and it's all very smart and process-based and all that, but they're also just so beautiful!" The second was when I responded to a similar comment that lacked the opening qualifier; I expressed that, "Yes, and I also feel good that they come from such a conceptually sound place." This particular artist actually laughed at me. Out loud. "Do you think these images could have been made in any other way? Do you think you can actually separate their beauty from your process, conceptual or otherwise?"

7/04/2008 02:09:00 AM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

For Cedric: Thomas Kincade is called "the master of light" because as you turn the dimmer lights up and down the paintings have the uncanny effect of being cozy little cottages, whose lit interiors are visible and glowing as they would appear to you in the night. I have not been to a retrospective, but I have been to a salesroom, and the pitch is heavily dependent on the dimmer switch: It's quite effective.

Note to self: Olafur Eliasson's use of light does not have the same moralizing effect as James Turrell. Why is that?

Beauty in the 18th century was compared to the sublime, and it's integrated wholeness was of a lesser power. But after this beauty regained its power as the integration of appearance and moral ideals. In comparison, the decorative - let's call it wallpaper and, while holding on to a distinction, bring it down to the level of kitsch - is only "mere" and never "pure."

Worries about beauty are stuck on the avoidance of its traditional integrated wholeness and moral piety, and at the same time the decorative is not considered to be serious and is too close to the base interests of the market, bringing it down to the level of kitsch. So on the one hand there is Turrell's nearly unavoidable connection between man and God, despite whatever anyone says, and the salesman's pitch with the dimmer switch.

7/04/2008 08:35:00 AM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

Excellent Catherine! What would you say about the development of this avoidance in art? Or its status today? Have you read or heard any of Joanna Drucker's thoughts on contemporary artists' complicity and resurgence of beauty?

Several things come to mind mind. Although I agree with Franklin that their are some universal (gestalt psychology) aspects to an appreciation of beauty, the major culprit of the avoidance of moral piety and totality is the fact that we have learned, over the last 100 years, that beauty is ALSO a cultural construct- thus Franklin's dreaded relativism of truth and beauty.

And I think the notion of artistic skill plays a part here- the expansion of the definition of artistic skill into intellectual labor. The critique of authorship, the readymade, assemblage, appropriation, deflation of Kantian disinterestedness, etc, have all contributed to the re-situation of the status of beauty as an artistic pursuit.

But if you follow Drucker's take on it, beauty is making a comeback.

7/04/2008 09:38:00 AM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

My response to Drucker is that her historical regime - the shift from contingency to complicity that everything she writes is intended to prove- rings very false when she tries to apply it, for example, to Rachel Whiteread's Water Tower. Complicity just does not win.

Beauty does, however, and let me add here that I find your rolled magazines and drooping ice pops quite beautiful. So, because something is beautiful, must it by default (as opposed to any overdetermined theory of history) be complicit? This is the worry. But I think that both Whitereads' work and your own, very differently, are not.

7/04/2008 10:10:00 AM  
Anonymous artomaton said...

Beauty is an interesting word to choose. I like how Cedric brings up the "decorative" and "tradition" -- these are battles artists fight alongside or against throughout their lives.

Our culture is very slick, fabricated, and polished. Everything is design-based. Even the bargain brands have a certain panache that they didn't twenty years ago. We live in an aesthetically prioritised world -- just look at the success of Apple products.

This reminds me of Eva Hesse, whose rough materials and craft flourished amidst the Minimalists' sharp corners and flawlessly crafted objects. She battled all her life against creating decorative art, and voiced these concerns in her journals and sketchpads. Her work reflects that desire to shy away from "pretty art" and she strove to create something deeper and more raw to reveal the hand of the artist. Her craft was rough and purposeful.

It makes sense to assume amidst a sharp and glossy world, artists would collectively backlash against the decorative and the traditional, placing less of an emphasis on craft and more on expression, concept, or method. Some may be consciously doing this, others more intuitively, or maybe others even completely unconsciously (one would hope not) and more reactively.

Whether or not we like it or if it is successful is a completely different matter.

Or, as in my own case, the desire to see craft (either rough or mastered) is a reaction to an overwhelming amount of technology and desire to see the hand of the artist revealed -- something which feels more rare.

I've come to the conclusion that while I fear making "decorative" art, I realise in the end art's purpose is at first aesthetic (do I like it or not) and then intellectual.

7/04/2008 11:17:00 AM  
Anonymous sharonA said...

Ooops I meant to sign in as Sharon A. since my site "" is down.

7/04/2008 11:20:00 AM  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

I think what's happened is that visual arts, literature, and theater have merged, and now everything goes under the generic term "art." There's an entirely different set of aesthetics that comes from word-based creativity.

7/04/2008 11:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

first of all, the starting premise of this (much needed) argument is a distortion. 'beauty' ain't equal to 'craft'. i have seen so-called 'well-crafted' paintings and seen too but a dim vacuous prettiness.

beauty is terrific and is indeed our secret wish. Whenever I go gallery-seeing with an overeducated person, they pretend not to wish from the work any beauty; whereas, a person less conversant with the tricks of 'art-viewing'--like my impetuous cousin eva--is rather crushed if the work does not, as she puts it, 'touch' her.

beauty touches us.

secondly, and this is what i believe we must talk about: the clamour for critics to 'come knocking' is spewing out works artists believe would do presicely this and it is this dishonesty that's killing. a point here is how well this could be drawn from ANONYMOUS who was tired of her (or his) work and even bored. The making of art becomes reduced to gratitude that one has had "a tidy wee reputation' where one can go to "national-level conferences" and at least be recognized by some.

Dishonesty wears -except of course youre a good actor, which most people are;

The other extreme side is of course that chap connelly where the artist portends 'honesty' to a sort of close-minded extreme (often through boozing roaring personality translated into the works as 'craft' --"boozing, roaring personality" though i will always subscribed to: too many 'artists' are much too much like fastidious promotion hungry secretaries). That said, what comes out of the connelly school are works that do not engage.

please lets talk of our current malaise of dishonesty shared by socalled 'craft' and socalled 'conceptual'...


half casted out of all the groups

7/04/2008 11:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i posted earlier "...the clamour for critics to 'come knocking' is spewing out works artists believe would do presicely this and it is this dishonesty that's killing. "

it would be good if this discussion could consider this, or what i call the tyranny of aesthetics. not just the critics but as well an army of artist residencies, nonprofit spaces--art institutions--PUSH a particular aesthetic. yet, when i think of the beginnings of conceptual art, i like to think it started not simply as a refusal of the main but as well a rejection of the art institution. i suppose what has happened now is similar to the advertising industry's appropriation of dissent: the art institution is in on it and the artist comfortably housed continues blindly in reductive cleverness and wink wink irony that has become concept art.

perhaps i'm wrong.

but its obvious that there was a push against the traditional which was based on 'visually verifiable' beauty. but right now, theres a beauty, the terrific beauty, thats sorely not present. it is and was lacking in the traditional, yes. however, the fight against the traditional by the conceptualist has created a kind of ogre so terrified of being seen to be 'compromised' -meaning really being seen not to be 'conceptual'. i recall reading that in berlin, the dadaist presented themselves and during the q&a;, they were extremely nervous against no being seen as being 'dada' that they could hardly respond.


half casted out of all the groups

7/04/2008 12:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I think what's happened is that visual arts, literature, and theater have merged, and now everything goes under the generic term "art." There's an entirely different set of aesthetics that comes from word-based creativity.

I challenge you to find a writer who thinks that literature has merged with visual art.

I think instead that a five-decade effort to include more and more objects and non-objects into the category of visual art has blown out the category. Since this has not happened to literature, people naturally borrow the terms and priorities of literature to make and discuss art, and here the entirely different aesthetics of word-based creativity come in. You could liken it to what happens when you press a stone against taffy - not a merger, but a distortion and displacement of the softer material by the harder.

7/04/2008 12:11:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I challenge you to find a writer who thinks that literature has merged with visual art.

Art Spiegelman

7/04/2008 12:14:00 PM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...


7/04/2008 12:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Art Spiegelman

That's not the kind of merger that Lisa is talking about. Comics (or comix, as Spiegelman prefers it) don't put Salman Rushdie and Lucian Freud into the same generic category.

7/04/2008 12:23:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Franklin, I won’t demean the practice of literature but I write and am aware of several writers/poets/painters that are merging writing with painting and drawing. A German curator is planning a major exhibition dealing with this subject titled “Babel”. A whole lot of recent Graff is dealing with this.

“Art” has not only merged with literature and theater but fashion, and gossip, becoming “entertainment”. You can view Turrell’s “Leading Lights” exhibition from last year on my channel. His holographic pieces relay not on the dimmer switch, but the movement of the observer, and might have more in common with Kincade than anyone wants to admit.

The “unavoidable connection between man and God, despite whatever anyone says” it’s one of the best sales pitches I’ve ever heard, can I use it? (Does that sound cynical?)

Beauty, like kitsch, quality, decorative and other ideas are constantly shifting and evolving (maybe devolving), seems to me that to codify them, is to kill them.

Have I hit the 10,000 words yet?

7/04/2008 12:24:00 PM  
Anonymous nic said...

I agree with the mixed meaning from assuming "craft" and "beauty" are one of the same.

Also - are we saying that no one makes beautiful things - or that those who do don't get recognized. Or that craft is beautiful yet is weeded out from fine art?

I see craft/beauty in fine art out today all the time - but when it's truly good the craftsmanship falls away and the real art can shine through. Is that the bias? That beauty in and of itself isn't enough to be the focus? Blah. I have a television and know where to find a magazine stand. What's the point - a 16 year old can make a pretty picture. I've over it.


7/04/2008 12:36:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

If you want names I’ll give you some names: Cy Twombly, John Walker, Sean Landers, William Powhida, Jules De Balincourt, Domanico McGill. This brief litany doesn’t include the Graff writers or the “Outsiders”.

7/04/2008 12:42:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I agree with the mixed meaning from assuming "craft" and "beauty" are one of the same.

I didn't mean to assert that "craft" and "beauty" are synonymous. I simply concluded upon reflection that what many people mean when they ask "who's afraid of craft" is actually "who's afraid of beauty."

If that isn't a correct conclusion, perhaps someone could clarify why for me.

7/04/2008 12:47:00 PM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

My comment about Turrell was not intended to be favorable in the sense of a sales pitch, but as an example of piety, which does not appeal to me. But you can take anything out of it's context and turn it into a sales pitch if you want, and yes, that is cynical - if not worse.

As for his holographs, a most welcome thought! Note to self: Whiteread's Water Tower also changed with the passing of the day.

7/04/2008 01:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So does every other Water Tower, not to mention everything else.

7/04/2008 01:27:00 PM  
Anonymous nic said...

I didn't mean to assert that "craft" and "beauty" are synonymous. I simply concluded upon reflection that what many people mean when they ask "who's afraid of craft" is actually "who's afraid of beauty."

I guess i was just getting a little lost in the comments. When posed through your questions that makes sense.

I get a little too hung up on semantics sometimes.


7/04/2008 01:36:00 PM  
Blogger Iris said...

Craft and beauty are not the same thing. However, both were traditionally considered 'part' of art. An artist needed some crafting skills to practice their art, and beauty was one, if not the main subject of expression. So in that sense, even if they are not synonym, they are part of the same and represent what art used to be (visual art at least). Craft never left any other form of art though: few serious musicians don't master their instrument, be it a trumpet or a computer program. Writers rule language, etc.. etc.

Visual art (not including the performing arts) is the child left behind. It's the child that wasn't able to recover from trauma, it's the one that died.

Miles (Davis) said during the 80's that 'jazz is dead'... ironically, Miles was also a painter, and the beginning 80's, in my opinion, is when visual arts took their last breath. Art died in the late 80's. However, Jazz, and music, did have a resurrection, because the roots of jazz come from suffering, and it could endure... Visual art still hasn't... it is trying to mutate, it is looking for salvation in other art forms, (or rather, we are trying to bring life back to it) we borrow from theater, literature (poetry), anything goes, but it's still a corpse...

sorry guys, only the living can feel anything, and art without feeling is dead...

7/04/2008 01:50:00 PM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

"So does every other Water Tower, not to mention everything else."

Which is different than either idealism or effect.

7/04/2008 02:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Franklin, I won’t demean the practice of literature but I write and am aware of several writers/poets/painters that are merging writing with painting and drawing. A German curator is planning a major exhibition dealing with this subject titled "Babel". A whole lot of recent Graff is dealing with this.

Again, the creation of hybrid forms is not the kind of merger that Lisa was talking about. The hybrid forms often prove fruitful. This kind of thing is not:

“Art” has not only merged with literature and theater but fashion, and gossip, becoming “entertainment”.

The hybrid instances of writing and visual art make it possible to use the terms of either genre to discuss it. But the instances do not in turn make it possible to deal with all objects in either category in terms of the other. Do any great novelists think that one could discuss their work in art terms as well as literature terms? Do serious fashion people regard their genre as a form of entertainment? From what little I know about them, I think that they would find that insulting. No, only people who identify with visual art want to conflate the categories, partly because the effort to include more and more objects into visual art has entered muscle memory in certain people, and partly because doing so has so enervated art that outside terms look desirable.

I've seen Art Spiegelman speak and I've followed his work. As far as I know, he does not argue that literature has merged with visual art. Rather he argues that comics are a hybrid form that operates on its own terms, as any healthy genre does. Scott McCloud makes the same assertion explicitly. McCloud goes even further: that the terms of success for comics differ from those of writing by itself and art by itself.

Getting back to beauty, I think of art, literature, and philosophy as three points on a triangle. (Comics sit on the chord between art and literature. Conceptual art sits on the chord between art and philosophy.) Artistic, literary, and philosophical beauty are all different kinds of beauty. These tendencies can mix freely in an individual work, but mistaking the tendencies for one another is a disaster.

7/04/2008 02:10:00 PM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

Hey, isn't the Jasper Johns above toying with both idealism and effect? It was funny to notice after the above comment. Just noticing is all.

7/04/2008 02:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Craft never left any other form of art though: few serious musicians don't master their instrument, be it a trumpet or a computer program. Writers rule language, etc.. etc.

However with music - a great cellist doesn't have to compose. It doesn't mean they don't but you can be a musician and you can be a composer but you don't have to do both. In art you don't have to do both - but if you're not the artist [serving as composer here] you don't really count [at least in the same way].

7/04/2008 02:26:00 PM  
Blogger Iris said...

That is because music is a collaborative art form. Like theater or cinema, it's not a 'one man show'. Visual art, and writing, are solitary processes, for the most part. Still, a cellist who is only a craftsman, who can play the notes in the composition, a technocrat, but brings no 'feeling' into it, is indeed a musician, but not an artist, and will probably not achieve great esteem in the music world. So - a great cellist does not compose the notes, but certainly has to bring much of his/her personality and spirit to the 'composed' music. Besides, you are talking here about classical, but there's more to music. In jazz, for instance, the 'player' also composes in improvisation.

Maybe that's the problem, and why art is so stuck.... being that it's such a solitary process, the ego plays such a big role in it. Even in literature, sometimes a book can turn into a movie, and the writer must give up their ego and allow someone else to take over 'their' creative process. Even if it doesn't become a movie, it certainly becomes one in the mind of each reader, and the writer surely has no control over that. But in visual art, the process is very skimpy, it is "you get what you see"... it's an immediate response, a gut connection. there is no collaboration in the process of creation. it places a lot of responsibility on the lean shoulders of one human being.... therefore, it can be overwhelming, can't it? Even though, no artist is ever alone in the process of creation, as we never create only out of our own soul, it is always the 'spirit' which creates through us. But we all forgot it, during the time of our trauma, and we seem to not be able to find it again, so we feel lost and alone. And this is how art died, sadly...

7/04/2008 02:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Thanks, Catherine. You really convinced me that I ought to see Kinkade's art in person before developing an opinion.

>>>An artist needed some crafting >>>skills to practice their art, >>>and beauty was one, if not the >>>>main subject of expression.

I'm not sure I entirely agree with this. I think the definition of Fine Art (as opposed to Applied Arts or Design Arts) started with the Greeks (though they wouldn't term it as such), and back then the main subject was the representation of Greek deities. Beauty was a mean to service deities, but even the classicist use Beauty to glorify the human body. There was always something else than Beauty.

As far as technique and skill, many great artists used artisans to finsih the part of their work they couldn't do themselves. People would be surprised at the amount of great works that were done collectively. I mean, technique was definitely valued, but as I said early, not in a traditional sense. Fine Arts has always switched interest for the artist's whose technique was shedding new "lights" in matters of expression (if you think of what Da Vinci did that was different, or what Rembrandt did that was different).

The idea that you become a Fine Artist because you visit some school in Greece where you learn to draw the human body is a myth. Skill is only a tool. Fine Arts tends to recognize inventiveness
of all persuasions and will qualify some of it as beautiful. But I don't think term Beauty invokes similar values and expectations wrether applied to Fine Arts, Applied Arts or Design. If you find a piece of Fine Art beautiful the "way" you would find a piece of Applied Art beautiful, you will acknowledge it. You will think "It's pretty, but it's decorative like the wallpaper at the hardware store". Fine Art is beautiful (forget concept and thinking) when it supplants the wallpaper, or when it expand that visual langage in attractive (distinctive) ways.

I think Edward meant to say "why are people afraid of the Decorative", but that's just me.

Applied Arts have found a way to re-insert itself into Fine Art. It's all about how you expand media (aesthetics) or what meanings you imply by using them.

Finally, I agree with anon who said design and overflow of images
influenced movements such as conceptual or minimalism. Fine Art is looking for the rare Distinct Beauty, not the commonal Beauty, and when the world drowns in aesthetics it will be looking elsewhere.



(sorry james)

7/04/2008 03:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

>>>Artistic, literary, and >>>philosophical beauty are all >>>different kinds of beauty.
>>>but mistaking the tendencies >>>for one another is a disaster.

You mean Aesthetics, Franklin. Artistic is exactly why there is no limits or borders to what an artist can do. Aesthetic is ALWAYS and NEVER TOTALLY part of the equation in Visual Arts, at least as far as I'm concerned. If the artwork is not attracting to me aesthetically, than I question why, is it because it's Theatre?
Is it Philosophy? Litt? Is it worth anything?

Fine Arts should pride itself to have become as interdisciplinary a field as it is. There is nothing wrong with that. The same occurs everywhere else. When you buy a CD it comes with an art sleeve.



7/04/2008 03:17:00 PM  
Blogger Iris said...

"Skill is only a tool."

I don't disagree.

"There was always something else than Beauty."

I don't disagree either.

As I said: "beauty was one, if not the main subject of expression", you can strike the word 'main' from my sentence. I only used it because probably, statistically, throughout history, there were more paintings of pretty ladies and strong muscular men, pastoral sceneries, and glorious architecture, than there were depictions of war, death and sickness in art, although there were quite many of those too.

7/04/2008 03:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On an off topic lighter note:

Jesse Helms has FINALLY died. Happy Fourth of July!

7/04/2008 03:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

>>throughout history, there were >>>more paintings of pretty ladies >>>and strong muscular men, >>>pastoral sceneries, and >>>glorious architecture, than >>>there were depictions of war, >>>>death and sickness in art

I'm glad you mention this Iris, because it gives the opportunity to wonder... Why so many paintings of nude women throughout history?
Because women represented an ideal of Beauty? Yes, it was a form that many men associated with, but artists in Fine Arts were using similar subjects as a pretext to explore aesthetic means to reach to that "ideal". And this is why in the context of Fine Arts, Skill never granted success or recognition. You were given a form, say, a nude woman, and your goal was to improve, shed new lights, find an interesting way,
to convey that ideal that everybody else was looking for.
So skills aimed to serve aesthetical distinction by exploring technique. The successful artists were most often the more technically inventive, aesthetically inventive or the ones who had important comments to communicate about a subject, including nude women. Pure skills was not enough. Some say Michelangelo was pure skills, but they probably haven't seen the Last Judgment in person.



7/04/2008 03:59:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

May he rest in peace. May his family find solace in the fact that he is no longer suffering. May those who opposed him in life (rightly or wrongly) honor his memory by forcing themselves to think at least one kind thought upon his passing.

I would hope for no less generosity among the living on the day I finally die.

7/04/2008 04:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric c said...

Given the history of Fine Arts,
someone with the right mind from 1500 could have predicted that some day, people with no visual skills at all but a great sense on visual invention, would become great artists some day.

So much the focus has never been on skill itself.


7/04/2008 04:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am sorry Edward, I know that you mean the very best and you are a much better soul than I am. But being from NC and witnessing the grief that this man caused, as much as I'd like to try, I can't not come up with one redeeming thought about the man. Sorry for taking this off topic.


7/04/2008 04:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Helms supported dictators that caused thousands of death (that he never homaged). People who don't let a chance to other people to
live can't get my respect.

Evil is healthy, that is what surprising. Evil lives long happy lives. You want to die old and healthy? Be evil.

Cedric C

7/04/2008 04:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Artist: beauty is ok, but make it more ambiguous.

7/04/2008 04:39:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

"Evil lives long happy lives. You want to die old and healthy? Be evil."
What does that say about the likes of Louise Bourgeois, Picasso, Georgia O’Keeffe?

"If the good die young then I'm gona live forever" lyrics from a Country Western song, I'm sure Jesse knew the tune.

7/04/2008 05:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry artists and academics.

You don't get to decide what beauty and truth are for the majority of humanity.

The other 99% of the population aren't paying attention to you or your ideas.

Regardless, please continue reveling in and romanticizing your elitist status and engaging in this fascinating discussion.


7/04/2008 08:13:00 PM  
Blogger David Cauchi said...

You don't get to decide what beauty and truth are for the majority of humanity.

The other 99% of the population aren't paying attention to you or your ideas.

Want to bet? They may not be consciously paying attention but where else do they get their ideas of truth and beauty from?

7/04/2008 08:44:00 PM  
Blogger Roamin said...

From New Zealand.

7/04/2008 09:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

>>>What does that say about the >>>>likes of Louise Bourgeois, >>>>Picasso, Georgia O’Keeffe?

That they probably have (had) aggressive temper? It takes a lot of aggressivity to become a
successful artist. Or you die young like Chopin. Someone should curate a show of weak depressed artists who weep all the time, just to make a diff.


>>>You don't get to decide what >>>beauty and truth are for the >>>majority of humanity.

Do you mean Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Celine Dion?

>>>your elitist status

Hmm, I'll bite to that: Fine Art very probably represents an elitist take on Beauty. What is interesting are the criterias that define that elite, and why and how is it separated from the Beauty offered by Applied Arts (or Design).



7/05/2008 12:32:00 AM  
Anonymous ced said...

criterias that define the elite's Beauty, sorry


7/05/2008 12:35:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

We’re not talking aggressive, or bad tempers, you said “EVIL”. How does “EVIL” fit in with truth and beauty?

"Someone should curate a show of weak depressed artists who weep all the time, just to make a diff."

Yeah, don't they call it the Whitney Biennial?

7/05/2008 09:56:00 AM  
Blogger David said...

I'm late to the table, but have a few thoughts:

"why is everyone so afraid of craft? because craft involves history and the fervor with which the art world avoids embracing history is like when you put a cat in a bath and all the fleas mob its head..."

There's some revealing truth here. Art provides what the times need. In that sense, history may not be of interest in the marketplace, and lingering modernist principles are hard to shake. But if the moment calls for a sense of history and connection, because the general mood is of drift and superficiality, maybe craft with it's sense of human history will become more important.

I don't know about beauty. I prefer "astonish me" to "show me something beautiful". The ugliness of life and of people has always been a valid subject for art. What is beautiful about Goya's Disasters of War? -the skill, the making, the craft? They are beautiful images. The subject is not beautiful. Who was it who recently painted the Abu-Ghraib prisoners with their arms outstretched? Was it Marlene Dumas? A beautifully painted picture, but the subject has an immediate ugliness that is part of our everyday thoughts and worries. The Starn twins defacing of Goya's prints was an interesting attempt to negate the beauty that we see in Goya's "Disasters", right? I was really horrified when I saw some of these recently, so I guess they were successful. They made me mad, then they astonished me.

As for the love of conceptual content, "The knee-jerk conceptualism-loving art viewer in me", I think that conceptual content is just a given now, part of the bag of tricks for any artist. Too often it can be a one yuck joke, but we are sophisticated enough now, and at some 40 years distance from the pioneers of "conceptual art", that we can both expect all art to have conceptual content , and to expect that content to be of high quality - to astonish.

7/05/2008 10:03:00 AM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

Craft involves history? Since when? Wasn't the point of Judy Chicago's Dinner party that both women and craft had completely fallen out of history? Don't we today associate craft with anthropology over and above history?

Manet's Dead Christ with Angels wins over Cabanel's "porcelain nymph," Venus lolling in the waves. Both at the Met. Cabanel won the prize, of course, but that was before history took over.

7/05/2008 10:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Want to bet? They may not be consciously paying attention but where else do they get their ideas of truth and beauty from?

The majority of Americans hang out at the mall, do you think they are even aware what their ideas are about truth, beauty and so on are?
Do you think they care?

Right now most are thinking, how am I going to afford to fill up my SUV this week to get to work.

I thought Odd Nerdrum was the king of Kitsch.

7/05/2008 11:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Craft involves history? Since when? Wasn't the point of Judy Chicago's Dinner party that both women and craft had completely fallen out of history?

Have standards for veracity become so low that something is true because Judy Chicago made a piece about it?

Don't we today associate craft with anthropology over and above history?

If by "we" you mean you and me, then no, we don't. I associate craft with humbling yourself to the demands of your discipline. Anyone who is not humbling themselves to the demands of his discipline is littering.

7/05/2008 11:58:00 AM  
Anonymous Ries said...

Craft is merely doing something well.
And as humans, we feel good about ourselves when we can do something well.
So craft is safe- it will always be with us, both collectively and individually.
Even the most conceptual of artists, despite their best intentions, get better at the craft of what they do with repetition.

Craft can aid an artwork, or pull it back, depending on the artwork, and its direction of momentum.

Although I often disagree with Franklin, I am with him on Judy Chicago- who, just like the men she lambasted, used other people's craftsmanship to make her point.
Craft survives, all around us, all the time, regardless of Marx or Chicago, because its fun and satisfying to make something. In fact, the craft backlash against globally sourced, mass produced cheap crap is growing all the time.

Its amusing to me that the most "anti-craft" of artists, the big glowing brains floating in space who think big ideas conceptually, are more and more dependent on actual craftsmen to realize their works.
Carlson (one of the big art fabricators) employs tens of extremely skilled craftsmen to make a Koons Balloon shine.
Eliasson employs something like 80 people in house, and they are selected and employed based on their skills and craftsman ship, be it at computers, fabrication, logistics, or management.

Craft and Idea, in art, have always had a tumultous, but synergistic and essential relationship, and no amount of post modern french philosophizing will ever change that.

Somebody always has to sweep the floor.

For a very interesting take on why craftsmanship matters to humans, on the same essential level as beauty, I heartily recommend the book "The Nature and Art of Workmanship" by David Pye.

7/05/2008 12:43:00 PM  
OpenID deborahfisher said...

This art v. craft argument is as old as the hills. I wrote about this at length in 2006

7/05/2008 02:35:00 PM  
Anonymous lycee said...


"Craft and Idea, in art, have always had a tumultous, but synergistic and essential relationship, and no amount of post modern french philosophizing will ever change that"

Do you want to give an example of "french philosophizing" that does that?

And Franklin, the demands of any discipline, and disciplines themselves, are not fixed. So it's ridiculous to think that you need to humble yourself to anything that's set. All your talk about hybrids only begs the question as to what the boundaries of visual art are, and I for one don't think you need to take a hard-edged approach to defining and maintaining them.

7/05/2008 02:40:00 PM  
Blogger jeff f said...

I agree this subject is as old as the hills.

It is interesting that Jeff Koons is buying William Bouguereau's.

It is also interesting that Cabanel's work is now commanding very high prices when it comes up for auction. Using history as a way to foster an argument on this subject is a red herring as artist go in and out of favor.

There was a time when Vermeer was considered a minor artist.
Having said that though Manet has more in common with Cabanel then one would think.

In the 21st century most schools cling to a 19th century Beaux-Arts model. Individual classes focus on craft, design, facility with traditional art materials, and the like. Implied in this type of education are notions of beauty, representation, and getting the kids to make art the 'right' way.

Are you kidding me? Most schools have long ago abandoned anything that resembles how art was taught in the 19 century. Just because they are using charcoal and paper does not mean that they learn anything about drawing or craft.

7/05/2008 03:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Lycee, I have taken to not answering commenters with hidden identities when on other people's blogs, but I'm going to make a small exception here to say that you have misused "begs the question". While I'm here I'll add that I'll defend anything I actually wrote to anyone willing to sign his real name to a counterargument. Answering pseudonymous misinterpretations doesn't interest me.

7/05/2008 03:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Lycee said...


"I associate craft with humbling yourself to the demands of your discipline"

You were begging the question by assuming that there were set demands to a discipline. Your premises are as questionable as your conclusion. But thanks for taking the time to question my basic logic!

7/05/2008 03:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Neither the quoted sentence nor anything else I have written assumes that such demands are "set." Good luck with your future attempts at reading comprehension.

7/05/2008 04:12:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Franklin and Lycee...argue the points and not the personality, please.

7/05/2008 04:14:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I agree this subject is as old as the hills.


The notion that a topic discussed in 2006 is now "as old as the hills" reveals a remarkable lack of respect for any true measure of history [or geology, for that matter], IMHO.

The notion that one in-depth discussion should lead others to conclude the issue has been exhausted reveals a remarkable lack of respect for the essence of pluralism as well, IMHO.


Carry on...

7/05/2008 04:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Franklin and Lycee...argue the points and not the personality, please.

I'd like nothing better. I've refrained from responding to several unpleasant characterizations of my person in recent EW threads, up to and including evil itself. Not striking back has proven challenging, but Lucretius had it right: "I will not debate a person, who instead/Of keeping two feet on the ground, stands on his head."

My favorite statement about craft comes from Renoir, who assures us with considerable irony that becoming a craftsman will not stop you from becoming a genius.

7/05/2008 05:40:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I've refrained from responding to several unpleasant characterizations of my person in recent EW threads, up to and including evil itself.

Yes, and it reflects well on you too. Thank you.

becoming a craftsman will not stop you from becoming a genius

It won't facilitate your becoming a genius either though, will it?

7/05/2008 07:05:00 PM  
OpenID deborahfisher said...

Alright Edward.

I don't mind stepping back from the flip, dismissive tone of my original statement.

Would you be willing to entertain the idea that there's been more than one or two in-depth conversations about this topic? That it's a pretty consistent meme on this blog and art blogs in general?

And that very little happens that's revelatory when it comes up?

7/05/2008 08:04:00 PM  
Blogger jeff f said...

I should frame my comments, this debate seems old to me because I remember this being debated over 12 years ago at my school. The same argument with the same responses only different names. The outcome will be one side adhering to the notion that de-skilled and theory based art is the best form of expression. Then there are those who completely disagree with this ideology, and are in the school of thought that learning ones craft is paramount to making art. The two sides never came to any consensus.

For some reason all the post-modernest had issue with beauty and how it is used in art.

On one side you had the DuChampians that is people who looked to him as model of modern art ideas and took off from there. Then you had the post-modernest who liked took to quoting Lacan, Foucault, and Derrida and so on talked about the oppression of language and how it defines image making.

This to me is a lot of nonsense, that one should define ones art through a French post-modernest lens.

Whats wrong with liking beauty and making art that reflects more of the human condition in a positive light? Good craft should not be noticed really, but what's wrong with it even if you do?

You look at a Rembrandt and you can't really tell how he painted it. You know he had skills that were at the top of his profession and so on but this is not the defining aspect of his work only a part of it.

Even if you are a good painter there is a fair amount of Rembrandt's craft that remains hidden. You do however notice the humanity his brilliance of painting the human form and that's one reason people still embrace his work 339 years after his death.

becoming a craftsman will not stop you from becoming a genius

It won't facilitate your becoming a genius either though, will it?

Well yes it does, I can mention a two Jazz musicians who are perfect examples of this.

Charlie Parker and John Coltrane.

Both of these musicians were pretty average musicians as young men. They both used intense study in the mastering their craft. Without this focus they would not have became the geniuses of modern music that they did.

This whole idea of being de-skilled is absurd to me. Why is it that in the fine arts this is such big thing. In all other art forms you need skill and one has to master your craft to get anywhere. (dance, writing, music, film making and so on)

7/05/2008 08:11:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

"Craft involves history? Since when? Wasn't the point of Judy Chicago's Dinner party that both women and craft had completely fallen out of history? "

My thought was that craft involves human history - large scale - long time frame. And Judy Chicago made a point that assures her a place in history.

"Don't we today associate craft with anthropology over and above history?"

You may Catherine, but I'd respectfully suggest this is an inside baseball view - perhaps an academic view. I like the association of craft with history. The craft people are all talking about design and DIY now anyway. DIY craft is interesting. I'm sure that's way off the art world radar.

7/05/2008 08:14:00 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

Catherine Spaeth - I like what you said about the Johns toying with idealism and effect - his first flags were "effect" but completely without "comment" although some have given them Cold War associations. But the one illustrated was if I'm not mistaken made as a Vietnam war protest poster - so there is a load of idealism there plus the notion that everything we see has an "after-image" that is like another meaning.

7/05/2008 08:22:00 PM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

That craft only goes so far and that beauty sustains a conversation of some kind has something to do with history (with narrative, as Jonathan Neil explained it on an earlier thread.) My earlier point was that craft - - in the way I am understanding it's use here to mean a well-made Koons balloon - cannot, does not, alone sustain a history of art. I would further add to this that just because Cabanel is increasing in value doesn't make him more important than Manet, and that yes, my interest in art history involves judgment in a way that a history of sales does not. The conversation about beauty's relevance to contemporary art is by no means dead.

7/05/2008 08:35:00 PM  
Blogger Iris said...

Craftsmanship doesn't make a genius. It's just a tool. Like language. Not every one who speaks and writes it correctly can write a masterpiece. I can't think of any writers though, who didn't master some language to some degree. Of course becoming a slave to your craft will not make a genius, and I think that's what Renoir meant to say, although nobody knows what tone he meant to say it, if it was tongue in cheek or did he actually mean it literally. This is similar to Albert Einstein's quotes about schools and education: "Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school."; "The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education." One's craft is only one's tool, it is the 'school' that humbles one, that teaches one to adhere to a process, to be in the experience, to be and to experience.

Crafting is all about being in the moment. The meditative experience of crafting is common to artists and artisans. Whether it's practicing a musical instrument or listening to a captivating composition, whether crafting words in a fantasy of images and dreams during the writing process, or in any other art form. In that sense I would agree, that the little left of the crafting experience in the visual arts today, is the crafting of the narrative, or the literature side, of thinking an idea, a story. But all the rest has been stripped off, which leads to a poor experience, not one that has the restorative, meditative, transforming qualities, which served artists and humanity since the beginning of time, both during the making and the viewing/listening to a creation. Instead, today, art which has any kind of 'therapeutic' quality, is looked down upon. It's all about brains now. This goes back to what I said before. Being in the moment is too painful in today's visual art world. There were wounds, they were dealt with for a while, but not healed. Eventually, the only way that was left to deal with them, was to divorce from the self, to divorce from the craft, divorce from being, ignore and deny.

I would call today's art world "The Dead Art of Denial"... Ha!

7/05/2008 09:11:00 PM  
Anonymous J@simpleposie said...

There is nothing more beautiful than a modern nest

7/05/2008 09:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

It won't facilitate your becoming a genius either though, will it?

There is at least a chance of that. One can aspire to craftsmanship and one can aspire to excellence. I don't think one can aspire to genius; genius just occurs by instinct. Genius is probably an ability to see as yet unforeseen possibilities in the craft. I don't want to commit to that, though. Not all unforeseen possibilities pan out. An regular once said that all masterpieces are exceptions. This makes them very hard to pin down.

The division brought up by Jeff F is worth pondering. There are artists who see their particular handwork as central and indispensable to their activity, and there are artists who don't. They engage in such different activities that I'm not sure we should categorize them together as art; although I have no alternative to suggest.

That craft only goes so far and that beauty sustains a conversation of some kind has something to do with history (with narrative, as Jonathan Neil explained it on an earlier thread.)

This is an extremely literary and decidedly non-visual understanding of craft and beauty. With all due respect, it sounds as off-base as a kindergartener's description of coitus.

7/05/2008 09:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess people don't make things about beauty, just as people don't make this about craft.
When I can see the craft sticking out even the slightest, when I see beauty's protrudent the theme, a gossamer spreading across the surface, distracting from the experience, it is not the beauty I am interested in.
Craft comes from a demand for an alignment, mutual interpenetration of the visions, to form a whole and complete thing that usually reveals it's complexity and different travel via the reeds of time.

7/05/2008 10:15:00 PM  
Blogger jeff f said...

For me on issue is the de-skilled artist in contrast to the skilled artist.

The idea of the de-skilled championed by such critics as Jerry Saltz is problematic to me.

First why should art be so banal so based on the basest of human endeavor. There are exceptions of course, some people are just naturally gifted and this comes through, sometimes.

Why shouldn't we demand the highest level of work?

7/05/2008 10:20:00 PM  
Blogger atomicelroy said...

Almost all artists love beauty
They just can't ever agree what it is!

7/06/2008 12:21:00 AM  
Blogger Balhatain said...

My professors always pointed to WWI and WWII for the reason why craft is often not accepted in a serious manner today. One went as far as to say that the lasting mark those two specific wars have had on our "collective thoughts" and "cultural taste", "continue to cloud our perception of what beauty should or can be.". They never went much further into the issue though.

7/06/2008 04:16:00 AM  
Blogger Carol Diehl said...

Craft is not a quantifiable entity, and the only question should be in its appropriateness to the concept to which it’s being applied. Art, beauty, whatever you want to call it, exists in that delicate balance between craft and concept, idea and execution. If it’s too heavy on one side or the other, it fails. If we’re thinking “how did s/he do that?” or “What a cool idea” we’re no longer one with the art experience but off somewhere else. Some concepts require a lot of traditional skill, while others suffer from it. In the same way, if a work relies too heavily on an idea, it becomes simply novelty. Fred Sandback was able to create exquisite art experiences using just yarn and basic hardware, where Vija Celmins’s work depends on a most meticulous form of traditional rendering. Both are valid, and their work is successful because it transcends its method.

Schools that emphasize skill over concept or concept over skill are doing a disservice to their students.

James Kalm mentioned that Jerry Saltz has spoken about his critical practice being “deskilled”—I’ve not heard or read what JS has to say on the matter but can guess where he’s coming from as we were both artists before we were writers (Jerry was a very good one, BTW) and mentored by Jane Allen at the New Art Examiner in Chicago, who had a great stake in de-mystifying art writing as it was then commonly practiced.

In that same way, Peter Schjeldahl was not trained in art or art writing, but began as a poet.

Sometimes when a culture becomes too mired in assumptions built over time, it takes an outsider—or an outsider perspective (Jane Allen was a protégée of Harold Rosenberg)—to shake things up. As with government, you cannot expect change to come from within.

7/06/2008 11:32:00 AM  
Blogger David said...

Forgive the thumbnail history, and I know I'll be corrected, but it went something like this:

The generation of artists who survived WW1, especially the Dadaists, felt compelled to make anti bourgeois art, and Duchamp exhibited his readymades. At the same time abstraction replaced nature as a dominating source of art as Art Nouveau abruptly faded by 1914. Modernism then became robust enough as an idea to carry on through the century, establishing the concepts of art as an idea and of the autonomous art object, and these concepts were anti-craft. Art Deco was a hedonistic branch of modernism that did embrace lush materials and fine craftsmanship for a time, but "pure" modernism won eventually in the international style of architecture and the N.Y school of painting, especially as formulated by Greenberg. Early American Craft Movement artists (mid-century)like Peter Voulkos came from craft but wanted to make modern, autonomous art objects, and this has been the source of the art/craft debate as it's continued for more than 50 years, at least from the craft side.

Something like that anyway. The key point is that Modernism and the autonomous art object were essentially anti-craft. This isn't to say that craft in the larger sense (as it's being used in much of this thread) ever went away entirely, but conceptually, Duchamp's Fountain posed a nasty question for craft, as Bruce Metcalf has written.

see "Replacing the Myth of Modernism" by Metcalf in American Craft, feb/mar '93

or Paul Greenhalgh on the end of Art Nouveau in "Art Nouveau 1890 - 1914"

7/06/2008 11:33:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Are we there yet?
Are we there yet?
Are we there yet?
Are we there yet?
Are we there yet?
Evil little kid kicks the back of Ed’s seat till he spills his Mountain Dew!

Much of this discussion about craft and beauty, or skilled or unskilled I think might more rightly be argued as breaking out of routine, getting out of dogmatic views of the ways a certain practice is preformed or thought about.

One of Pollock’s (a great painter but not an overly skilled one) breakthroughs was to employ a technique that he couldn’t totally control. When asked if he ever made a drip accidentally he said “I deny the accident”.

Jazz has been mentioned, and Miles Davis is quoted as saying “Don’t play what you know, play what you don’t know.” Perhaps there is a level of craftsmanship that is reached when the constraints of a medium are understood at an intuitive level, and at that point one is capable of breaking the rules or precedents and relaying on the gut rather than habit or good technique.

(Albert Pinkham Ryder was a crap craftsman, much of his work is falling to crap, but what sublime American crap.)

7/06/2008 11:37:00 AM  
Blogger David said...

"Art, beauty, whatever you want to call it, exists in that delicate balance between craft and concept, idea and execution."

Well said. And spoken like an artist.

7/06/2008 11:42:00 AM  
Blogger Iris said...

Balhatain, yes, I meant initially the second world war as the trigger in Europe, as well as other wars. Living in our communication age, being exposed to TV news daily has removed much of the mystery of life, and has made the visual experience more mundane. Watching the horror of wars and other atrocities has caused many of us to become emotionally numb in responding to certain stimuli, particularly visual. The world of art reflects those changes. Although the 80's were more more than 20 years ago, if we look back into history we can see it was a time of much disillusionment after the idealism and optimism of the 60's and 70's.

7/06/2008 11:45:00 AM  
Blogger Carol Diehl said...

P.S. When talking about schools' emphasis, "technique" rather than "skill" would be a more accurate choice of word.

And perhaps what Saltz meant could be better termed "re-skilling" instead of "de-skilling".

We all need skill.

7/06/2008 11:47:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Foot notes to my above references:

1. “I just read somewhere that de-skilling is a basic tenet of Marxist aesthetics”;

From Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, Figures of Authority, Ciphers of Regression: Notes on the Return of Representation in European Painting, Reprinted from “October,no.16 (Spring 1981): in Art After Modernism Edited by Brian Wallis, published by the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York,1984, p. 107

2. “Jerry Saltz has spoken about his critical practice as being de-skilled…”;

From Jerry Saltz, “Seeing Out Loud: The Rhetoric of Presence”, Critical Mess: Art Critics on the State of their Practice, edited by Raphael Rubenstein, Hard Press Editions, Lenox Mass. 2006, p. 21

carol, good points, you need skill just to be aware of them.

7/06/2008 12:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Schools that emphasize skill over concept or concept over skill are doing a disservice to their students. ... P.S. When talking about schools' emphasis, "technique" rather than "skill" would be a more accurate choice of word.

In April 2009 I'm slated to deliver a paper to the FATE conference entitled "The Mind of Materials: Why a Good Education in Art Emphasizes Techniques Over Ideas." The premise states that a medium teaches you to want what it provides, and not to want what it doesn't provide. Understood correctly, techniques are freedom. Our goal as teachers is freedom - to produce a student who can rely on himself.

James, Pollock trained under Thomas Hart Benton, from where he learned how to compose a rectangle with a lot of internal curvelinear movement. The paint he selected to drip with was so specific that one of the top paint technicians in the country, Mark Golden, was hard-pressed to reproduce its equivalent when called upon to do so. Ryder was a crap craftsman, but he thought he was doing his utmost, skirting the verge of the lost secrets of the old masters with his oil medium recipes. It was all nonsense, but it wasn't for not trying. Davis's quote is true in its way, but if I play what I don't know on a trumpet (specifically, anything), the sound would have the cats scampering behind the sofa.

I get the sense that when I wrote about humbling yourself to the demands of your discipline, at least a couple of people got it in their heads that the disciplines demand conformity. Most disciplines demand a certain mastery of a basic repertoire, which indeed requires conformity, and an innovative component that requires improvisational use of that repertoire. In shotokan they train you on a set of kata, and you're expected to do it in the way your teacher does it, but at a certain point they have you spar. Miles, I promise you, played his share of scales before he could play what he didn't know. These traditions are extremely enabling and they expressly demand an original input from the practitioner once he understands some basic form. The visual artists seem to be the only people confused about this.

As for Saltz et al., acumen for art criticism seems inversely correlated to training as such and approaches zero as the writer's education nears a PhD. Saltz, Schjeldahl, Hughes, and Greenberg are the rule, not the exceptions.

7/06/2008 12:58:00 PM  
Blogger jeff f said...

You can't play jazz at the level of Miles Davis without mastering the craft of music. You will notice that Miles surrounded himself with highly skilled musicians. Miles Davis was a highly trained musician. You can't really play jazz without mastering your instrument or music.

You can try, but few have done so.

Art Pepper, Chet Baker, Stan Getz, are a few who were naturals, some had perfect pitch (Getz) and the ability to here tunes and be able to play them right away which is an asset. Having a natural musical ability is of course a good thing but you still need to practice.

Pepper was an intuitive player first, and then he started to learn music theory. At first he thought this kind of academic study of music would hurt his playing. After a while he changed his tune, the more he studied the better he got.

For an interesting read check out his book Straight Life: The Story Of Art Pepper

7/06/2008 01:04:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

I agree with most of your points. One of the unique things about painting is its alchemical foundations. I’ve got my own batch of icky secret ingredients that would leave “the top paint technicians in the country,” scratching their heads. And I love good technique. (I worked at Utrecht the art supply store for five years, and was one of the only folks who got to spend time checking out their paint-grinding floor, an education in itself).

“…acumen for art criticism seems inversely correlated to training as such and approaches zero as the writer's education nears a PhD.” Is it different for paint slinging? Granted, good teaching can go a long way, but challenging the "Academy" is as basic a part of Modernism as anything.

7/06/2008 02:30:00 PM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

"Acumen for art criticism seems inversely correlated to training as such and approaches zero as the writer's education nears a PhD."

Zero is as zero does. There is just a lot of bad writing out there, period, and it has little to do with any "inside"- "outside" face-off. The same-old-same-old's here are all bloggers, aren't they. You think Greenberg wasn't hauling around his Kant? Isn't it important that Rosenberg broke with Sartre to join Merleau-Ponty? Important enough to him to make that move. Those guys were old school public intellectuals and the only reason you know about them now is because some teacher (thank Buddha!) once told you they were important to read.

I studied with a student of Rosenberg and I wrote for New Art Examiner when I was a phoneless carless single Mom in Ohio, can I be an "outsider" now?

As for anthropology, DIY culture is exactly what I mean, and it remains for me an active question. As the conversation seems to be drifting, it is one that maybe picks up on what is available in any distinction there might be (or not) between craft and techne. Let's say that there's been "a pretty consistent meme" for a few thousand years.

7/06/2008 03:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Is it different for paint slinging? Granted, good teaching can go a long way, but challenging the "Academy" is as basic a part of Modernism as anything.

It is, because a good painting teacher will show you how to do useful things. Critical training includes history and theory, at least in the programs I've looked at. Historians learn objectivity, which is the opposite mindset one needs for criticism. Most theory is high-sounding prattle. Neither teaches you to write well.

I trained under a modernist, and the basic impulse of modernism is not "challenging the 'Academy'" but a working attitude that values visual quality over any particular trait. At one time that might have necessitated a rejection of traditional concerns. Nowadays it's more likely to necessitate a rejection of contemporary concerns. A lot of the people I talk to who identify as modernists are figurative painters. This contradicts what we call historical modernism, so a small group of people who care about this have attempted to reformulate the term for the present.

You think Greenberg wasn't hauling around his Kant?

I don't remember disparaging learning.

7/06/2008 04:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's like a snake [bazillions and bazillions of snakes] constantly shedding skin to revitalize--like there is no battery with this one. This energy/snake is most volatile when formless [nothing we don't know there!].
New forms are seldom dressed in old forms.
Ha, it would be like trying to coax a snake to crawl back into its old clothes. You'd need a whole bunch of skinners to get that one to happen. c.p

7/06/2008 08:47:00 PM  
Anonymous J@simpleposie said...

Ha! For bazillions and bazillions of snakes, best phrase EVER!, I thank you c.p.

7/06/2008 10:13:00 PM  
Anonymous J@simpleposie said...

Ok, maybe not the best phrase EVER - but still...bazillions and bazillions of snakes! Nice

7/06/2008 10:26:00 PM  
Blogger Brandon Juhasz said...

I think beauty in art is about resonance. Because then something can exist with repulsion, anger, injustice, traditional visual beauty, violence, etc. Since art is about communication a beautiful work of art echoes long after someone has looked at it. Po-mo has over defined art and the only way beauty can exist is through its effect.

7/07/2008 10:35:00 AM  
Blogger Brandon Juhasz said...

"Superficial beauty is just as easy as superficial conceptualism. Truly deep beauty is rare and difficult."


Chris, just wanted to say...I love this quote...

7/07/2008 10:38:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

You're welcome. You can keep it.

7/07/2008 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger jeff f said...

Kalm I wonder what you mean by alchemical foundations. Most paint is pretty simple in what it's made of. If you make your own it's better.

For years artist have been pondering the technique of Rembrandt. Well his paint only has pigment, linseed oil and traces of silica and Calcium carbonate (chalk). Apparently he did not use any kind lead jelly substance such a Maroger as people used to think. Mind you is you mix fumed silica with stand oil it turns into a jelly.

Most paint can be made with just pigment oils(linseed, walnut, safflower). You can make mediums out of balsams and boiled oils and turps.

I make this stuff with powdered chalk or whiting and stand oil it becomes this interesting putty that stiffens paint.

Learning as much about the craft of what you opens up possibilities in my opinion.

If your a video artist you should know how to use video editing equipment, and better yet you should be good enough to get a job doing it.

If your work involves photography should you not know how to light things? What F stops are?

7/07/2008 11:56:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Hey, Jeff, what happened to Painterdog? Put that name to sleep?

I took James' alchemy remark as jokingly mixing the ideas of painterly ingredients and the concepts of magic and dark secrets associated with alchemists. Trying to make gold from lead -- what else is painting a sunset? Of course, not all of us use lead these days. I've been using zinc myself.

There are those who believe the alchemists weren't really dealing with physical substances -- their ideas are completely ridiculous in terms of chemistry and don't even really qualify as primitive attempts so much as total nonsense. Some people think alchemy is code for the techniques of consciousness expansion -- turning the base lead of normal human existence into the gold of enlightenment. And again, what else is painting a sunset?

7/07/2008 12:06:00 PM  
Anonymous J@simpleposie said...

Alchemy? May I suggest Elkins' What Painting Is....

7/07/2008 12:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

goya's prints were "defaced" by the chapmans and not the starns.

7/07/2008 12:26:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Alchemy is to painting as dinosaurs are to eagles. Lead into gold, shit into diamonds. There is a dark side, where the secrets are, and those who know aren’t talking, and those who talk don’t know. Can't teach this stuff at your local community collage art department.

7/07/2008 12:28:00 PM  
Blogger Iris said...

Every artist is an alchemist. Every artist creates gold from shit. Alchemy is everywhere in the world, every person is capable, with the use of spirit, of changing the essence of things. We do it everyday. It's only when we adhere to the rules of logic and are slaves to it, (similar to slavishly adhering to a 'craft') that we are limited by those rules, and cannot see alchemy.

7/07/2008 01:03:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Maybe you can learn this stuff at a community collage, if you’re ready to learn.

7/07/2008 01:44:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

"Community collage."
Love the typo, James. It pretty much defines this blog.

7/07/2008 05:51:00 PM  
Blogger Donna Dodson said...

time and atmosphere does stuff to paint (in the case of rembrandt) that can't be done in an instant, materials age, evolve, deteriorate, change, transmogrify... that is the alchemy

7/07/2008 05:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

J@ glad you appreciate the line.

You can only buy alchemy with 'Suica' and 'PASMO' now. Under 21, though, the vending machines wont respond.

Fortunately, Friends of Alchemy meet once a year, in the off season, when the rates are fair. This year it's at The Grove. We sling paint, Steve brings in all this schtick and gives a keynote, so it's very mixed. We knit balls from Naples and Flake, stand oil. Other's are busy with the Bats.
Sponsored by, um, a paint company, a quarry, and of course Steve ORb.

Guess we are just about done on this beauty thing. I think we cracked it!

7/07/2008 07:24:00 PM  
Blogger Iris said...

yeah, so.... to summarize (I know this is a bit unrelated but we did compare to music a bit):


7/07/2008 09:54:00 PM  
Blogger jeff f said...

James I think your joking, and I for one don't believe in secretes.
What kind of statement is that? You need a secret hand shake as well?
Alchemy my butt.

Interesting note though Newton the man who brought us color theory was into alchemy, but that has nothing to do with painting.

In case your not look up the recent studies on Rembrandt, like I said it was real simple. Makes sense as the more stuff you add the more problems you have.

All paint is made with a pigment and a binder period. The simpler the better. If your doing something like adding pigeon poop then your right you'll keep em guessing.

Utrecht makes average paint with a lot filler so I would not go by their brand. Unless you make your own from scratch you wont understand anything about how the stuff works. You know if making it long or short.

Fumed silica was the secret. Glass had a lot of lead back in the day.

It gels up when mixed with boiled oils, like stand oil.

Anyway this is not a thread about making paint and medium, however there is a lot of beauty in the look and smell of a medium made of Canada Balsam, Stand Oil and Oil of Spike. You can't buy this stuff you have to make it.
Then there was and is Amber, which is a whole other kettle of medium.

The secret of the great masters is great drawing and a mastering the craft.

7/08/2008 12:38:00 AM  
Blogger David Cauchi said...

Okay, back to this dubious craft (technique) = beauty equation. Some people mentioned jazz. Bollocks to jazz. What about punk rock?

Your very own Half Japanese did a whole lot of good work (yes, with beauty) by not worrying about technique. Jad Fair replaced the six strings on his guitars with six versions of the same string so it wouldn't matter which one he hit. His brother David summed up guitar playing with: 'It's easy. If you want a high note, you move hand towards the pick-ups. If you want a low note, you move your hand away from the pick-ups. That's all you need to know.'

Words of wisdom, people. Art's very similar.

And bollocks to alchemy and the old masters as well. Long live the independents!

7/08/2008 01:40:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

James said: One of Pollock’s (a great painter but not an overly skilled one) breakthroughs was to employ a technique that he couldn’t totally control.

This is open to debate, academically skilled? possibly not. Technically skilled? certainly, have a close look at any of his drip paintings on paper, they are magnificent. But, more importantly, Pollock had an incredible intuition for what makes a painting work, what would make it resonate with the viewer, something which is often far from obvious, difficult to achieve, and which will not easily collapse into a convenient set of rules.

Beauty, however one wishes to define it, manifests a combination of both genetic, or species survival qualities, and qualities which are specific to a particular culture and historical moment.

While it is clear that 'beauty' is a quality which art may posses, it is not a prerequisite for something to be considered art, for there are many things which are beautiful, that we do not consider art.

Art is a product of humankind, of the culture. It provides for us an insight into our world, into both its cultural and natural essences. If these insights are allowed to function without prejudice, they may achieve some truth, a truth about our world perception at one particular historical instant in time.

Beauty lies in the ability of these truths to transcend the particular local historical moment and approach something deeper, more universal, and therefore less bound in time.

What we consider 'visual beauty' may well be an historical artifact, now just a subset of an expanded knowledge and understanding of our world. For one versed in the sciences, beauty also exists abstractly, arousing the same passions achievable in the world of the strictly visual. What makes something beautiful then, transcends appearance and lies deeper, manifesting itself as resonant internal relationships which expand our world perception.

I do not think my observations negate the classical ideas of beauty, rather I suggest they extend them, that 'beauty' indeed lies in the eye of the beholder, and that its scope has expanded, and must expand, to allow art in the future to continue to provide insights into our world.

An artist who focuses on craft, inescapably makes an art which is primarily about craft, limiting whatever degree it may be interesting or insightfully reveal something about our world.

Craft must exist subliminally in service to the art.

7/08/2008 02:47:00 AM  
Blogger Iris said...

I think we were talking main stream art today, what is considered 'High Art'... punk rock has nothing like that kind of status in today's or any other time music world.... to each his own, and few people can listen to it for hours. If you are inferring the notion that punk rock can be compared to main stream contemporary 'high' fine-art, then I would suggest the king put on some clothes for a change! I'm sure we all will enjoy the spectacle more, oi?

7/08/2008 03:47:00 AM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

Cleveland rocks.

7/08/2008 05:55:00 AM  
Blogger Brandon Juhasz said...

I always wondered if anyone else thought this way since the topic has addressed the "traditional" ideals of beauty in regards to old masters....I find them SOO boring. Anything prior to 1900 is just like, eh. I enjoy them because of technique and craft and because they hang on a museum wall and because of the lineage of art history(know your history!), but really I'm bored, they don't chap my ass as they say. Is it because of a generational thing(I'm an X-er) or is it taste? I don't know the answer, do I have an artistic taste deficiency? I mean I like Glass as mush as I like Bach, it just doesn't translate in art.

7/08/2008 07:34:00 AM  
Blogger David said...

Anyone want to provide some examples of drop dead beauty? 138 comments and I haven't really heard any here so I don't know if you all really believe in the concept.

1 - a late Turner seascape.

2 - Cy Twombly's 4 seasons, on view at MOMA last year for a while

3 - 2 little landscapes at the Clark Art institute - a Jonkind and a Daubigny, focusing in close on the water surfaces.

4 - Serra's torqued elipses at Dia Beacon

5 - the Drop Kick Murphy's guitar player in full roar onstage.

6 - accordian music - anytime, anywhere.

These things bring tears to my eyes, though I'm of an age were tears come more easily

7/08/2008 08:16:00 AM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Ah, so the merde finally hits the ventilateur. Examples.

I curated a show last year for the Marcia Wood Gallery, "Luxe, Calme et Volupte," and called my essay "A Meditation on Visual Pleasure."

Here's the link:

7/08/2008 10:17:00 AM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

Polly Apfelbaum
Christian Bonnefoi
Parmentier's last work
Those little creatures from the thrift store at the Folk Art Museum, and the rug crocheted from Wonder Bread bags.

7/08/2008 10:23:00 AM  
Blogger jeff f said...

I always wondered if anyone else thought this way since the topic has addressed the "traditional" ideals of beauty in regards to old masters....I find them SOO boring. Anything prior to 1900 is just like, eh.

So Titian does nothing for you. That's your your prerogative.

I don't like every old master painting I come into contact with.

I just saw a show the MFA in Boston on Spanish painting: El Greco to Velázquez: Art during the Reign of Philip III a lot of it was pretty boring.

A few gems but most of it was so so, well done but not very alluring as art.

At the same time there was a show by the contemporary Spanish painter Antonio López García which was amazing. Again not everything he did blew me away but 90% of it did.

David, bollocks to Jazz?
Him lets see you like punk music because it's so anti-establishment or something to that effect.

I like both myself, at least some of it, The Jam were great. The Clash was one of the best bands of that period, in the top 20 of the history of rock.

Charlie Parker, who was one of the most brilliant minds of the 20 century, Charlie Parker was playing in a club. I think it was in the Mid-West or eve the South. Well the bar man refused to serve him and his band members because the were Black. Also they had to enter through the kitchen, which really pissed Parker off as he was the headliner the main attraction.

People where coming out to hear him play, filling the club every night and so on.

The band did get the drinks, but not at the bar. Well after they finished the drinks Parker broke every glass they had just drunk out of. Saying something to barman to the effect that his white patrons should not have to drink out of the same glasses that he and his compatriots did.

This is in the late 40's early 50's
a time when an action such as this by an African American could have resulted in jail time or worse.

People forget each era has it's mover and shakers. Parker did not take shit from anyone, and he paid the price for being what was termed then a an uppity n@@#!. When he first came on the scene people called his music noise. You could not dance to it because it was played to fast. His music if you hear is beauty personified.

Monk wrote a tune called Ugly Beauty, you want eccentric and out there, check out Thelonious Monk.

Punk is kind of mainstream now, everyone and their mother has a pierced nose and a tattoo.

Jazz has never made it to that level of commercialism, hmmm, which is the higher art form.

7/08/2008 10:45:00 AM  
Blogger Brandon Juhasz said...

Hey Jeff,

well, its not that it does nothing for me, I appreciate the craft and technical achievement and i believe they're beautiful. But I have always wondered if my taste is effected by the time and culture I grew up in.

What's funny is that I feel like I can't get enough of Sugimoto's Seascapes and yet I think they are very visually classical. But the motives of the work create something very different...

anyways, just curious about my own taste short-comings

7/08/2008 11:19:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Hey jeff f

I’ll forego the secret hand shake, and repeat “if you’re ready to learn”.

“Interesting note though Newton the man who brought us color theory was into alchemy, but that has nothing to do with painting”
Color theory has nothing to do with painting? I’ll sick franklin on you for that.

“All paint is made with a pigment and a binder period. The simpler the better.”
But do you know what the hell the pigments and binders are? Ivory black=burned bones, know what kinds of bones? Does it matter? How about the binder, know what linseed oil is? Why paint on linen? Linseed oil-linen, any relationship?

“Utrecht makes average paint with a lot filler so I would not go by their brand. Unless you make your own from scratch you wont understand anything about how the stuff works.”
Although I’ve been away from the factory for a long time, and I admit that Utrecht does make paint with synthetic pigments and calls it “hues” and some but not a lot of filler (all the major producers do the same) they are some of the best buys for the buck. I do agree that making your own is great (if you’ve got the time, and are not using pounds of paint).

My point was: you can’t get the BIG PICTURE seeing a tube of paint. A hundred gallon barrel of linseed oil begins to have properties that are unsuspected when seen in a pint bottle. The smell of two tons of ultramarine pigment is unique. I believe all this goes into the painting. But I could be joking (obfuscation and the use of wacky allegories and metaphors are required from any alchemist).

Examples of beauty:

"I like old pickup trucks, little red pups, and rain..." Tom T. Hall

7/08/2008 12:24:00 PM  
Blogger Iris said...

"Punk is kind of mainstream now, everyone and their mother has a pierced nose and a tattoo."

I stand corrected... guess I always was on the fringes and couldn't see the center from there..

"Jazz has never made it to that level of commercialism, hmmm, which is the higher art form."

I didn't really get what you meant here. Do you mean to say commercialism in music can be compared to high art?

7/08/2008 01:27:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

Well I was running out the door this morning. Sorry to leave jazz out. Speaking of Dia Beacon there was a little pile of detritus from a 60's Beuys installation - just kind of piled up in a darkish corner. It had a real resonance to it. It was poignant - no, it was beautiful. Apropos of alchemy and all too.

Thanks for the examples y'all.

7/08/2008 02:32:00 PM  
Blogger jeff f said...

First I meant that Newton has nothing to do with painting. Not that color theory does not.

Now that I reread that statement I think it's dumb and I retract it; Newton has everything to with painting and for that matter everything else.

Your questions about paint binders are funny, I guess it's this medium. Yes I know what pigments I have, I use linseed oil the best cold pressed I can find, and walnut.

The dry pigments I buy are earth colors from France and Italy a few from Russia. The paint I have in tubes I have to rely on what manufactures say. I use OH, WM, and Blockx. Some W&N; as well.

Iris, I meant that jazz is a high art form of music, it's not commercial at all, well except for Kenny G, but we wont go there.

Not all rock is commercial, most punk bands were not very commercial, you know like Queen was.

Marc Ribot makes some amazing music in this arena and he is not what I would call commercial.

Neither are the Black Keys.

7/08/2008 04:25:00 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

Late as always, but some things from that quote interested me -- and I didn't read all 147 comments above, sorry -

why is everyone so afraid of craft? because craft involves history and the fervor with which the art world avoids embracing history is like when you put a cat in a bath and all the fleas mob its head...

My experience has been that, in visual arts, we are all to aware of history, perhaps moreso than any other art.

Artists became distrustful of craft when they saw their own work shift from an unusual take to the riffing of an unusual take. You begin celebrating your own style, like it or not, and a shift is in order. Many more nowadays are willing to face this and make that shift, which in my opinion makes individual artists more interesting now.

Nonetheless some find themselves (and I find myself) needing to acquire new skills to follow concepts, which are the root of it all, anyway. And it's never a problem when something winds up being visually as beautiful as it is conceptually. But if the visual beauty has no conceptual basis, doesn't it become vacuous, if not right away then after a few iterations?

Let's make no mistake - there is conceptual beauty. Will there come a time when we distrust this as much as we distrust visual beauty? And then to what would we turn?

7/08/2008 07:20:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

"Let's make no mistake - there is conceptual beauty. Will there come a time when we distrust this as much as we distrust visual beauty? And then to what would we turn?"
Cheap sex, and cheaper booze.

7/08/2008 08:37:00 PM  
Blogger jeff f said...

"Cheap sex, and cheaper booze"

Always gives you a mother of a hangover.

7/08/2008 09:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Anon (or Jeff?):

>>>Its amusing to me that the most >>>conceptual of artists, the big >>>glowing brains floating in >>>space who think big ideas >>>>>conceptually, are more and >>>>>more dependent on actual >>>>>technique men to realize >>>>>their works.

Yes it's funny, but another proof that 1) in Fine Arts, Craft is not absent. 2) In Fine Arts, technique only serves a purpose, and that the successful artists are not the skilled ones but the ones with the most pertinent (current) purpose (including if that purpose is merely to push the boundaries of a technique).

>>>The two sides never came to any >>>consensus.

If I was the teacher of that class I'd tell the children to remember that the real issue is to differentiate what constitutes Fine Arts from what constitutes
other Arts. If skill is the principle value than: Bingo, that tells me that the opinion doesn't make ANY difference between Applied Arts and Fine Arts. The question then becomes: why were Fine Arts (the category) invented in the first place?

>>>beauty and making art that >>>reflects more of the human >>>condition in a positive light?

This is a contradiction. Beauty is not showing the human conditition in a positive light. It is about prejudices and rejections. To find one human person beautiful at any given moments means that you must reject all others. That is the logic of desire that I have a hard time explaining to myself as "godly" (as in, absolute, idealistic, etc, and I think was a subject of Roland Barthes' literature).

Iris mentioned about WWII: let's not forget that eugenisms of any sorts (Beauty) were perceived as suspicious post-Hitler. Everything that happened after that was looking for reasons why people from any ethnical, cultural or sexual background should have a right to exist (by the way: now the black and hispanos
are having racist wars in LA Helter Skelter Whathefuck?.).

(still) Jeff:

>>>Why is it that in the fine arts >>>this is such big thing

Great visual artists are always skilled, it is just that the notion of skill as automatically attached to hand technique is wrong. Visual Artists can be the same as a cinema director. The skill can be in setting everything up in the right way. Or you can use a computer. Visual Arts are opened to all fields now and can implies thousands of different skills. It can be visual, but it's not JUST visual. Not in Fine Art.
Fine Arts were never Pure Visuals unless that meant to Enhance Visuals (being the first to use paint drips, for example).

>>>>Why shouldn't we demand the highest level of work?

You mean technical? It's THERE !!! Go visit a Desiderio show !!!
People think as though there are no
technical skills at all in contemporary arts. It's THERE! Just choose the shows and places that you visit. Most technical persuasions are served by Fine Arts.

>>>>Schools that emphasize skill >>>>over concept or concept over >>>>skill are doing a disservice >>>>to their students.

I would emphasize Purpose. As in: if your purpose is to explore technique, than make it really be that. "Really, Explore the Space!" (ref. "More Cowbells")

>>>>"Don’t play what you know, >>>play what you don’t know.”

Aesthetics in Fine Arts are valued when they follow such a motto. In other words it is very hard to succeed in Fine Art if you are doing aesthetic work that is based on repeting what others do (on the contrary, this function very well in Applied Arts). This said, Fine Art is open to other approaches where knowing exactly what you do is the only way to go. Example, you repete what someone else does for a specific intellectual purpose or a testing some perceptual ethics (Sherry Levine, Sturtevant).

>>>>You can't play jazz at the >>>>level of Miles Davis

They are still songs by Madonna that I will prefer to songs by Miles Davis. ("oh but Cedric, you're a moron without a PHD, you cannot have good taste, you will never understand. You are the kitsch-man"..... Ahh, ok.)

Unacademic gipsies are still the best musicians in the world.

>>>Technique must exist >>>subliminally in service to the art.

George, I'm glad to read you because I generally love your
participation. The only thing I want to add here is that Technique can also service to the expansion of itself, and thus become art (Fine Art) upon that very purpose.

>>>do I have an artistic taste >>>deficiency?

No. I think most modernists were bored by old art. It was about looking for new effects. Modernism
was a highly aesthetical movement until all the boundaries
of technical expression left unexplored by masters
had been met. Than the conceptual looked back at the
masters, asking themselves "yeah but, what were they really saying in all those huge paintings?",
and made art for a while that refused any compromises with aesthetically-bound techniques so they could focus on the "Saying".

Boredom have been a constant catalyst for the evolvment of
Fine Arts like it could never be for Applied Arts, which
generally evolves from a devotion to Tradition.

David (about beauty):

-----a 60's Beuys installation - -----just kind of piled up in a
-----darkish corner.

I believe you mean the residues from the performance with the coyote. What I admire from Beuys is how much he was using the field of arts and point it as farther from arts as possible, as if to teach art itself a lesson,
in some utopic attempt to represent the Other of Art itself, values that he thought were misrepresented by art (maybe that could be described as ontologic
practice? not sure).

In this piece, for those who don't know, he enveloped himself in felt and was transported in and back of America in a way that he never saw anything from it during that travel but being trapped in that cage with a coyote in a gallery.
The coyote was a symbol for America, but a lost America, while the purpose was to cut oneself entirely from present-day America as a centre of technological expansion (and how that affects the relation of man with nature).
I'm not sure if the residues speak to me, they have an old hat aesthetic about them that make Beuys look like he was from the 1920's, but seeing someone literally surviving in a gallery trying to befriend a coyote in the middle of New York would have certainly left an impression if I had seen it in person.

I mean, as anyone seen a coyote recently? A polar bear? An elephant? Yet attempt to befriend one? This is the kind of human beauty that is very badly adressed by art. It is like exhibiting pure consciousness. The Nomad Museum attempted to be about this topic a couple years ago but then it felt forced, like it was about pretty images, almost a kitsch experience of neo-exoticism.

Beauty for me is, I see it everyday. It is always around me.
I am touched by art that go beyond Beauty, and I guess I'm a big fan of both kitsch and sublime. By sublime I don't necessarely mean aesthetic. I imply art that is able to bring me to special states of conciousness.

In music I love impalpable stuff like the Cocteau Twins, who sound as pretty as they sound awful (exaggerated, over-rebarated sound, noisy). Someone above mentioned ambiguity.

I try to always understand the fascination of people for something. For example: MS-13 tattoos. I don't go "ugh that's ugly". I try to undestand this as an appeal because I think it is a strong formula for the development of these street gangs, and why so many kids adhere to them. They want to look with dangerous tattoos. They want to scare me, yet I am fascinated because really it's trying to be pretty, it's just another conception of beauty.

So I guess I'm more concerned with catching the widest acceptance of Beautiful possible than listening to my instinctual desire which I find is vain and debasive of my ability to try better.

Cedric (I think James is nearly about to attach me with a rubber ball attached to my mouth)

7/09/2008 01:08:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

I think that if there was one "Godly" mode, or sublime mode, it would involve the capacity to find everything beautiful, a little like the character in Teorema that finds everyone sexy and arousing.

Anything that is not able to reach that state (of constant and pluralistic desire) is imperfect.

So my suspicion about beauty is where do you put Elephant Man in the picture.


7/09/2008 01:48:00 AM  
Blogger jeff f said...

Cedric are you aware that you contradict yourself in the that long post.

On the one hand you defend the de-skilled artist and then you praise Vincent Desiderio.
I have been to many Desiderio shows at Marlborough and he's a very good painter. Some of the work I love and some is just not working for me.

You then go on to say you prefer some Madonna songs to Miles Davis, so? What does this mean that your taste is different than mine?

I would hope so.

In short your all over the map with the responses.

I think we all tend to get to much into personal likes and dislikes and that can cloud a discussion like this.

I alluded to Mile Davis because he has always been thought of a gut player. Someone who does not use a lot of technique, relies more on intuition than years of technical proficiency, like Winton Marsalis.

What I meant was that in fine arts there seems to be this idea that craft is bad in some circles.

But you already made my point by pointing to a skilled painter.

7/09/2008 03:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

>>On the one hand you defend the >>>de-skilled artist and then you >>>praise Vincent Desiderio.

No. I say that Fine Arts welcomes a wide array of skills but that the type of skills that you are looking for is still represented.
It is up to you to select the exhibits you visit.

This said, Desiderio is not just pure skills. They are reasons why he picks a tryptich format or why he will update on an ageold thematic, and part of it is precisely because his medium is old and stuck under the weight of its history.

I think the big confusion is that people assume some circles are anti-skill versus some circle are anti-beauty.

The anti-beauty stance is very obvious and absolutely acknowledged in many of the conceptualist art from the 1960's,
especialy performance art.

The anti-skills (or anti-technique or whatever) stance, I don't where it comes from. Wrether (Fine) artists use the help of technicians or do things themselves, technique is still part of a portion of what is on show, and then as I said they are many other skills that have been
adressed by contemporary arts since post-modernism.

No one ever question the talent of a great cinema director or theatre play director. I am not thinking of montage but mise-en-scène. The kind of art that is most hated by people who defend technique is art made through readymades. But those artists never require you to believe they used technique. Their skill is about mise-en-scène. One of my favorite artist at this skill is Ann Hamilton. Her largest installations were mise-en-scéne of readymades. Technique doesn't make much sense in some of those
stagings, yet when you enter the space you are immediately aware that you are confronted with art.

The notion of skill as purely meaning the faculty of using a paint brush is very dated. I was only saying that it is still represented when you know where to look. Fine Arts is not closing the door on anyone. It is merely looking at WHAT EXACTLY you are doing with your skills.



7/09/2008 06:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

missing word:

The anti-skill stance,
I don't see where it comes from.


7/09/2008 06:52:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

To Cedric (on beauty)

"I believe you mean the residues from the performance with the coyote. What I admire from Beuys is how much he was using the field of arts and point it as farther from arts as possible, as if to teach art itself a lesson,"

Good analysis of Beuys. I hadn't even thought about the "leftovers" at Dia as beautiful until this discussion. And yes, it was from the Coyote piece. I think it's the fact that the stuff evokes what Beuys did, what he achieved for art, the mustiness and decay of it, and the fact that it is still vivid in my memory that now makes me remember it as beautiful. The decay and the off-in-a-dark-corner installation were a big part of the experience.

And about the Dropkick Murphys: I don't really care for them. They were my son's favorite at the time. I took him to see them at Lupo's in Providence when he was 16 - his first live rock music - a father/son thing. "Dad, that's the best thing I ever did in my life." It was the sound and the moves, the whole package, that I remember. The guitar player has a face like a Francis Bacon self-portrait, and moves that put an old air guitar player to shame. The roar of the guitars and the moves were the phenomenological experience, and were quite beautiful (and the Francis Bacon face). Personally I'm more of a Miles man. The complete "In a Silent Way" sessions are on my list of beautiful things.

How about Robert Irwin's Getty Garden? There's an artist who is going for beauty. Even though he'll never do another garden (he says), it illuminates the driving force behind the rest of his work.

Not to wear my heart on my sleeve (too late to worry about that I guess), but how about Peter Doig? I just scored a book of his work on paper and some friends saw his show in Paris. There's a reason he's being written about (New York Review of Books this month)and I think it has to do with beauty. Did you know that a lot of his images are lifted right out of Friday the 13th?

And apropos of nothing in particular, has anyone read Boris Groy's Art Power? I just picked it up today. Even though it's sort of about political power, his point of view seems to have an exuberance for the abundant variety of current art. What role does beauty play in politics anyway? Is that part of why we love Obama? Because he's beautiful?

7/10/2008 03:04:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

James Kalm sez:
"I like old pickup trucks, little red pups, and rain..." Tom T. Hall

HOLY CRAP! James, you have no idea! I've been looking for that song for YEARS! My sister and I remembered it from the radio when our dad would torture us with country & western and over the years I could never find what song it was or who wrote it! (When all you can remember is "little puppy dogs...and rain" it's hard to find.)

Good Christ you've made my day!

(This message would've been private if I could've found James' e-mail address anywhere.)

7/10/2008 06:59:00 PM  
Blogger effigne said...

I kinda feel like there is a much simpler answer to the question about beauty and truth and conceptualism, etc. While I certainly agree that there are a lot of galleries out there that are showing their fair share of conceptual schlock, I feel there is something to be realized about conceptual art and that is that we should all learn to deal with it. Why are we so naive to think that the idea of "beauty" doesn't change just as everything else in this world does. I don't think that beauty = truth, but I definitely believe that beauty = the search for truth.

I think the reason for such crappy conceptual work being made is simply that people don't understand how to view conceptual art, and that there are many more factors to consider when viewing such work than simply 1) is the piece visually appealing? or 2)well since it isn't, what does it mean?

I feel like we are still in the understanding stage of conceptual art. Many artists take advantage of this idea by creating work with an ok-at-best conceptual intent and an even worse execution of craft.. I mean I can think of a thousand thought provoking ideas about a literal pile of garbage, so why are gallerists eating this shit up? That's the real question I guess.

In my opinion conceptual art needs to have a truly thought provoking concept or at least a culturally pertinent concept for it to work. If you have that then there is much less importance placed on the final product. But I may be old school in thinking that a well crafted object is superior to trash. Even if it appears to be trash at least craft the trash.

Something that at first glance seems traditionally "ugly" might be a good indication of the fact that you simply haven't mentally acquired the new sense of beauty, and in that case, get with it, or the piece you are making this judgment from simply sucks.

7/12/2008 06:20:00 PM  

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