Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cultivating a Cult of Personality (or Not) : Open Thread

In a long but highly engaging essay, Linda Yablonsky explores what contributes to the Cult of Personality in the fine art world. Focusing a slight bit more on gallerists than on artists, her thesis turns mostly on the notion that "star power = sales":

The question is, how often does a work sell on the strength of an artist’s personality alone? “Most collectors are unaffected by artists’ personalities,” says [Mary] Boone. “They only care about the art.” But Donald Baechler has observed just the opposite. Through his friendship with such collectors of his art as Yoko Ono, Baechler has been bumping up against celebrity ever since his paintings of dripping ice-cream cones and long-stemmed roses hit the market in the early 1980s. “I met George Condo then, and it seemed to me people were taken with him before they were with the paintings. Everyone was charmed by him. [The sculptor] Walter De Maria, on the other hand, was notorious for not showing up at his openings. It was always a puzzle how he got to be so famous without bothering to be there.”

While Yablonsky ponders through a series of possible sources for star power (arrogance, charm, provocation, oddness, sex appeal, etc.), the one thread I saw running through most of the examples she sighted was a true interest in other people, a generosity of time for them:

Warhol was one of the past century’s most charismatic figures, a bewigged enigma who attracted crowds of the curious and paparazzi wherever he went. He galvanized not just artists and musicians but collectors and socialites, and his influence has only grown over time. Yet he spoke in monosyllables and revealed very little of himself. Like Koons, he disarmed through flattery, although in a different way. “Despite his fame,” says Colacello, “Andy would still ask for advice—should he use this wallpaper or not?—and he was accessible. You weren’t going to run into Jasper Johns or Cy Twombly in a nightclub. And even if you did, you wouldn’t hear, ‘Oh, hi! You should come up to the Factory and be on the cover of Interview.’”
Of course, there are plenty of people turned off by the notion of the cult of personality in the art world--as it often is seen as supplanting the art---and indeed, New Museum Director Lisa Phillips voiced this sentiment when she argued in the article that
[A]n artist’s importance is determined by his or her work alone. “That’s what will survive over time,” she points out. “Dan Flavin had zero charisma, but he was a great artist. Russell Crowe, the actor, is not charismatic, but his fame attracts a crowd. They’re different things.”
The part of the article I found most interesting was that dealing with what Yablonsky termed "inverse magnetism," the notion that the more distant or inaccessible an artist or dealer is, the more others want to be near him or her. A high-profile art critic in New York once admitted that he was oddly attracted to a gallery in which they very consciously (if not down right rudely) ignored him whenever he entered. It was liberating in a way, he noted. Of course, this disposition probably only attracts people to you when what you're offering in terms of art is still of high quality. Otherwise, I suspect, folks are more than happy to leave you to your inaccessible self.

In the end, I suspect, it's best to excentuate whatever it is you naturally have going for you without trying to be something you're not. Yes, there's a bit of theater in it all (even the Marlene Dietrich's of the art world are guilty on that count) and yes, I would advise worrying much more about your studio practice or solid sales and marketing efforts than crafting some persona, but within an industry full to the brim of strong personalities, making yours work for you is simply part of the terrain. Consider this an open thread on the perils and/or pleasures of the cult of personality in the fine art world.

Labels: art world, open thread


Blogger kalm james said...

Art world blather is like Bizarro World speak, especially with regards to self-analysis. What these people mean is directly opposite to what they say. In our information age, charisma and celebrity are the new media. Bits travel at near the speed of light, and so long as there’s an internet, this stuff will be eternally floating around the virtual world.

11/25/2008 10:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it seems to me that a 'personality' is formed pretty early on. it's affect washing over everything, unavoidably. Although, Warhols dictum that everyone will be famous for 15 minutes has come true, it has come with a price. Fame is as meaningless as its ubiquity. So, for artists, avoiding notice while ones work gains notice can be a plus. Just having strong opinions, most artists do, is its own force.

11/25/2008 10:52:00 AM  
Blogger some girl who lives in brooklyn said...

i love this thread. i think good art/great art speaks for itself but there is something to be said about cultivating a personality to the point where it becomes almost or possibly is performance art. i used to work for an old guard art dealer and she in her old age clung onto her reputation as a notorious art personality. it is an amazing thing to be around, even if it is only a glimmer of what it once was. i think dealers today could dip their toes back into the extremes, art is theater too, sometimes.

11/25/2008 12:45:00 PM  
Blogger Franklin said...

If there were only six people in the world who could sing, we wouldn't care what they looked like. Instead, there are many people who can sing, far more than the number of people whom society will pay to sing. Consequently there's a market for singers who can also dance, photograph well, and fill out a halter top nicely. Their personalities matter, and they cultivate the perception thereof accordingly. Ultimately these extrinsic factors run over the intrinsic one - good singing - and you end up with a cynical, superficial, fashion-driven market instead of one that promotes the best music possible. Since people with middling taste far outnumber the people with good taste, this market becomes the hot, money-generating one. To find the better singers and the more interesting music, you dependably have to look in the opposite direction of this market, towards the out-of-the way pockets of integrity.

The same is true of the art world, starting with Andy Warhol and worsening since then.

11/25/2008 01:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

I admire art from artists who have awful personalities, and I do go to galleries if the personal is shitty. I only care about art.

I've worked in theatre and I'm used to be surrounded by crazies, so I'm open to wild personalities. I think in the visual art world specifically I always expect the worst from people, and then it builds up from there. In other fields people are more openly enthousiast. The art people are often highly pretentious and forgetting of a good dose of common sense. I tend to accept that, and let stuff pass through one ear when I talk to people. There are a couple dealers I like because they resplenish common sense, and in fact they sound like they could be working in any other domain, they simply understand the codes of the art world and seem aware that they're playing some kind of game involving intelligentsia and good taste.

Personally I try not to be too shitty and I love when people say "Ced, what you said there was shitty and offending", so I can see when I'm wrong. Because I accept that I can be wrong, all the time. And we're all allowed to disappoint a couple persons in our lives. Go on, disappoint me, I can take it. ;-)

Cedric C

11/25/2008 01:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

I think the masses are way more into Van Gogh and Monet than Warhol, so I'm not sure about this separation Mass VS Good Taste.

Cedric C

11/25/2008 01:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

The mass of people that gravitates towards Monet and Van Gogh is not the mass of people that gravitates to the "hot" segment of the contemporary art market. (There is undoubtedly some overlap but it is not total.) Since the original post was about the cultivation of personality as a potential driver of sales, I was referring to the latter.

11/25/2008 02:19:00 PM  
Blogger William said...

Hopefully my actual position on this thread has become utterly confused, but I arrived at it after studying art history. Was it necessary to read two biographies on Jackson Pollock for a grad school art history class to understand his art? Did they need to re-create his barn at MoMA to understand the abstraction? Ed Harris's film was not about process and Modernist Painting. Why are people so interested in Hans Namuth's photographs of Pollock in action or the infamous LIFE magazine article. It tends almost all to be about the artist, the iconic figure, not about the art and its place in the trajectory of Modernism.

It'd be absurd to say that we aren't fascinated with the artist as much as the art, especially when they are dead and people want to know why, why did they make the art?! It's part of our culture however you want to organize and value it from Kirk Douglas's ridiculous portrayal of Vincent in Lust for Life to Brett Michael's hair extensions in Rock of Love. (A certain art dealer I know loves that show...)

I just find the discussion reveals more about the participants than the subject. Of course dealers, critics, and artists would have different takes, especially how it pertains to the perception of the work. Take away Warhol's wig and brilliant act and I'm sure the billion prints out there drop in value, while a musical spectacular about Dan Flavin directed by Matthew Barney isn't going to do anything either way.

At least Julian Schnabel realized that he's better off making art about more interesting people like Basquiat and sticking with that formula for his movies about personalities.

Interestingly, there's not really a correlation with 'seriousness', but in Pollock's case his art has always been dogged by the notion that he was a hack, an impostor, a sensation lacking substance, but he captured the public's imagination and at least Clement Greenberg and Peggy Guggenheim's.

To make a point, whether you consciously engage and cultivate your perception in the art world, it is and remains a historical factor, since we live in a society based on difference and everyone's identity reveals something about the production of their work. If you don't bother with it, someone will structure the narrative of your life.



11/25/2008 02:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

I have to admit that I have a hard time with Pollock and find many of his paintings just too ugly (even when trying to enter the visual space after gazing for 3 minutes). The mosaic period of Riopelle here in Canada is way way better as far as Abex goes. I also like Olitsky better than Rothko, though Rothko's life is more interesting and some of his bigger projects more interesting conceptually.


Cedric Caspesyan

11/25/2008 03:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pollock was hit and miss, even more than most artists. His style strangled him eventualy, wasnt open to development and adaptation, but his strongest works are incredibly good.

Rothko kinda interesting but even more limited, dependant on mood lighting, doesnt stand up to the light of day. Too mystical, requiring the viewer to share his believe in nothingness. Taht going internal lead to god, when its really losing oneself in the all, outside of oneself as Cezanne showed, that leads to contentment, and god.

11/25/2008 03:34:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

I just picked out:

Was it necessary to read two biographies on Jackson Pollock for a grad school art history class to understand his art?

Absolutely. I was totally enriched by th bio of DuChamp - it shed so much light on his ouvre i nearly crapped my pants.

11/25/2008 09:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I say stick to the work. There's nothing worse than seeing someone standing around flapping their gums but with nothing in their work that stand up to their persona. Silence is golden, eh? Actions speak louder than words, etc...

11/25/2008 11:16:00 PM  
Blogger max mulhern said...

People like biographies of artists because often the art doesn't suffice as a body of work in itself. There is the roman à clef aspect to consider but mostly there is a collective info boulemia (sp?) at work here demanding never ending threads that, once woven, may constitute an opus worth attention.
(as opposed to Serra who needs to talk to us in order to help us carry the density of his work).

Re Lisa Phillips: How can the current show at the New Museum be classified as anything other than a celebration of the cult of personality? I would have characterized the Peyton show as an ode to the non importance of the work.

11/26/2008 06:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm having a hard time seeing the bulimia metaphor. I think you're saying we're hungry for and gorging on info, but is there any purging in the equation?

Maybe the disgorging happens when we've taken in so much info that we're sick of the person, they're overexposed, and they're "over".

11/26/2008 10:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Art now is illustration of "in" new academic ideas, trained into the artist through MFA thesis work, that looks for a unique question. Always of such limited and shallow concept they are simple to therefore illustrate. And the two become intertwined, unable to be separated.

Before this all modern art had to stand up for itself, have its own life force, have meaning strictly through the visual language. Any literary thread just one among many that made up the flesh and blood of its power. Artists therefore concentrated on its musicality and poetry, to evoke in the viewer intense pleasures, fears, doubts, loves. A complex series of emotions, constructed through vigorous organic logic to be the equivalent of life, not ask a series of severely limited questions that havelittle bearing on humanity, but strictly of academic origin.

11/26/2008 11:09:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

I'm in some concordance with William and Zip.

Modern culture, is a culture where the artist is no longer a guilded craftsman. The purpose of art has changed.

The artist exists as a mythic figure in modern society, a shaman in a contemporary context of ritual things. While, society acts as a wearing blender, homogenizing the vestments of culture towards uniformity, the artist acts as a disruptor, a dislocator of cultural boundaries, an distorter of the truth, all to reveal the truth.

We come together in a ritual place and revere, or are offended by, the detritus of the artists passage through ritual time. We want to be surprised, to be coerced into believing, to be amazed, to see what we do not expect to see in a sea of homogeneity.

We want the star, the shaman, the artist, the cult of a personality who is an escape artist from homogeneity. We want to know it can be done, to share some vicarious thought, to classify, reconsider, love, hate, but most of all to know it can still be done and to somehow touch the one who did it. We revere our heros, more importantly we have heros, and that is the source of the cult of personality.

It is not necessary to distinguish between the artist and the gallerists, the conductor and the composer, the cult is about the person, personality, the separation of one from the many by acceptance or deception.

There exists a divide between the artist and the culture, between the artist and the cult and society knows when it's being conned, tricked or offended and chooses to embrace this deception or reject it. In this process of acceptance and rejection, the dialogue occurring between the artist and the culture redefines what art is for the future.

Many are called but few are chosen.

11/26/2008 11:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

purging isn't bulimic since the it lacks the sheer materialism ensconced in the very idea of bulimia... the getting rid of the extra material stuff literally inside for outward gain.

now bulimia however might explain self-horror at personality, i.e. one's own personality....not always but yes, those times when you want to put an 'outside' cap on things -because 'inside' you are actually quite different and the process of negotiating what's inside (your head, your heart, your guts) and what a rebellious self-destructive 'outward you' wishes to submit your society, any society to....for deeper angst against societal hypocrisy, the increasing lack of true friendship amongst humans...etc, well, these are all unreconciled and it has little to do with my work but this seething rage inside against everything that has gone corrupt. your personality imposed becomes an arsonist gesture: to burn down every hypocrisy...but you are burning yourself because humans, these humans, are made of rock hard fat that simply doesn't burn...you are simply the one burning up without any other result by your own self-extinguishment...self-decapitation...

so, there are times you actually attempt to self-depersonalitize(here i go USA in making improbable(ridiculously endearing?) extensions of existing words) yourself, i.e. undo this your own excess personality for the very reason of, well, its irrepressible excesses, its self-destructive take on life, its overwrought lone-wolf psyche i.e. often extreme feelings of 'me against the world'ness... etc

....to uncloak yourself of all that extra creaming, retching in private at both yourself and the rest of the vapid teeming humanity...



11/26/2008 11:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

I think it's wonderfully well written George, what you say, but just like with Anon (aka Donald), it's dangerous to make generalizations. I can see the type of phenomenon and artist you are talking about.
It's prevalent and it's no coincidence that Damien Hirst presents a Golden Calf as a blunt critique of that.

But it's just not exactly everything. I still visit museum shows of new artists without knowing anything of what the artist looks like or how they talk. If the exhibit happens to feature a video interview, I will know better, but I like to believe that I'm still interested in art for art's sake, and I even try to suppress the idea of the maker in my mind when I feel that I must (a perticularly annoying ego, for example).

You know I was thinking again about that Gilbert And George retro, and how at first sight most of their work seems to cultivate on the egos and personalities of the two artists. But when you see them in interviews, they seem like these two somewhat kind gentlemen
whose personalities are much more soft than the impetuousness or vividness of their facial expressions or body gestures within their works. When I realize that it's as if the whole myth of the artist's personality got erased in a second, as it wasn't at all what I expected. The work finally really became about the use of the artist bodies as visual matter and nothing above that. Or, maybe it's the fact they were the first gay couple artists, or the way they dress, that impregnated UK's collective memory so much, but I like the way their art transcends on their personality as people. I think it's the power of art to turn artists into heroes, and not the contrary (artists as heroes making art). Also a good part in this is mascarade. Warhol was a lot about mascarade. The "costumed" artist who returns to his-self once in his (her) apartment.

Anyway, I'm pleading for caution about this topic. It's important to remember the New York scene might be different from other art scenes. In Canada many successful artists are boring when you meet them, caught up in defending
their work intellectually. They speak slowly to make sure they don't say stupid things. They would be really really unsung for tentative heroes. But ooopps I'll stop because I just started making generalizations myself.

Cedric C

11/26/2008 12:17:00 PM  
Blogger George said...


I'm not postulating a theory, I'm making an observation. Central to my observation is the fact that over the course of modern art history, say from Corbet to the present, that the one characteristic of the artists we consider great, your choosing, is identity. Their work is identifiable in the aggregate and is attributable to the artist. It is a personality cult.

It is this idea of identity which reinforces our own identities in the face of an homogenizing society.

I would heed your plea for caution but suggest that there seems to be considerable misinterpretation about this topic. The forces I described are a cumulative response by society, by the culture and not the result of an individual act. The artist may desire to be a star, may insist and prevail upon us to accept him as a star, yet he is denied by the culture, by circumstance, by chance.

As individuals we may capitulate to an artists work and give over to them star status. We may reject the work and therefore reject their star status. Or we may begrudgingly reject the work, in total or in part, and still accept the star status. All of these responses are possibilities possessed by an individual member of society, but they do not necessarily change the cultural status of an artist or of an artists work.

I also believe that as an artist, or I suppose anyone else, it is natural to want to dismiss star status, the personality cult, because we have incorrect assumptions about how it is achieved. Earlier responses in this thread illustrate the point, of all the social activities which may contribute to the success of an artist, the work itself is of primary importance.

The problem is that many make assumptions about what "is required" based upon what happened before. It is the artist acting as a disruptor, a dislocator of cultural boundaries, an distorter of the truth, who is capable of presenting the culture with a new view, or a new view of an old truth. The subtle distinction here is that "identity", by definition allows something to stand out from the background, and validation by association frequently defeats this.

Further, while an artist may aspire to cult status and attempt to affect this by personal action, acting out, there is no guarantee that this will be successful. I believe that we know this intuitively, we know when someone is being obnoxious only for attention, or as a guise to gloss over or cover up. We may love or hate Warhol or Pollock but both artists managed to make artworks which disrupted the culture and changed what is now possible today.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge that what we are talking about can exist in varying degrees depending on the local culture. It makes no difference where I am writing this. One must be aware of the granularity of society, that the big fish in a smaller city may be a small fish in a metropolis, and that this fact creates two sets of conditions for cults of personality. They may or may not be overlapping but they are interrelated.

11/26/2008 01:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

The artist exists as a mythic figure in modern society, a shaman in a contemporary context of ritual things. While, society acts as a wearing blender, homogenizing the vestments of culture towards uniformity, the artist acts as a disruptor, a dislocator of cultural boundaries, an distorter of the truth, all to reveal the truth.

Good gravy, do people still subscribe to this hoary Beuysian twaddle? Old habits die hard, I guess.

One of the ironies of this post, and the direction its thread has taken, is that for the last few years I've seen art that one might generally call Lowbrow take over spots in galleries and museums once occupied by more conceptual work. I expect this trend to continue, and perhaps even accelerate in the dire financial climate, as people seek deals, the automatically understood value of craftsmanship, and populist sentiment. I point to Shepard Fairey as a possible tipping point, although I saw another back in March - R. Crumb in the stable of Zwirner & Wirth. The Lowbrow attitude towards work is a belief in traditional studio practice that would have been recognizable to Piranesi. And while there are characters aplenty, most of these people have personas unworthy of notice. They are painters and draughtsmen by and large, identify with imagery far more than philosophy, and largely expect their work to speak for itself.

11/26/2008 04:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Over specialization ahs been the death of arts, as it is perhaps the alst jack of all trades field, one must know much about alot to understand how it all goes together. Missing the forest for the trees is todays art scene, easy to study one tree, diffidcult and imaginative to understand a forest, and all its ecosystems.

We now glorify the tree, and miss the whole, because it is easier to understand. Not because it is true.

11/26/2008 04:50:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Tsk, tsk.

I'm observing what happens, nothing more. I'm not making a case for one kind of art over another. I'm not excluding anything, to the contrary my observation is inclusive and would include any program you might suggest — should the culture be willing to go along. You're stuck.

11/26/2008 04:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anything can be made into art, but not everything IS art. To say it is denies art exists. Art has always ahd purpose, til the art schools got involve,d bettr to claim its all good, than be critical and loose out on $$$.

Its all about the Benjamins son.

11/26/2008 06:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

George, observation yields specifics. You are yielding generalities, and I don't believe them.

Making your personality work for you, as Ed put it, sounds a lot healthier than cultivating a persona. I don't think Warhol could help being an offbeat, fashionable person. I think Tracy Emin is an honest-to-goodness basket case. Koons is making exactly what you'd expect an impish broker would think of as contemporary art. Whereas something about Hirst's work has always struck me as bogus even on its own terms, and I think it's because he is generally pretending to be more important and visionary than he is. Putting Koons next to Hirst, as more or less occurs in the Broad addition to LACMA, is surprisingly damning to Hirst. I think you have to take what you have and run with it.

11/26/2008 08:16:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Observation yields observations, information which may be specific or general, specific points or structural definitions, it is about paying attention.

I said, "... that the one characteristic of the artists we consider great, your choosing, is identity. Their work is identifiable in the aggregate and is attributable to the artist." This is a very specific observation, great artists make identifiable work and while there may be exceptions within an artists oeuvre, there are no real exceptions otherwise, it is part of the definition.

William said "It'd be absurd to say that we aren't fascinated with the artist as much as the art" presciently followed by "I just find the discussion reveals more about the participants than the subject." Bingo.

Much of the discussion degrades into a binding of the artists persona, fame or cult status with the viewers opinion of their artwork, arriving at an assumption that it is the artists cult status which makes their artwork successful.

To the contrary, it is the effectiveness of the artwork within the culture which leads to cult status. Over the last couple of centuries, the artist acting as provocateur, has been one way of entering into the cultural dialogue. But, regardless of contemporaneous cult success, the artists artworks must generate their own cult status or the whole process unravels.

Further, there is a tendency to confuse temporal personality cult status with the cult status of the artworks, they are not the same. At any point in artworld history many 'personality cult' type of events happen but almost all of them are forgotten. (A good read in this vein is David Sweetman's book "Explosive Acts — Toulouse-Lautrec, Oscar Wild, Félix Fénéon and the Art and Anarchy of the Fin de Siècle")

It is interesting to me how artists like Pollock, Johns, Warhol, Hirst, or Koons incite such polarized responses, that somehow singlehandedly they managed to deceive and lead the entire culture down a false path. Excuse me, but the culture chooses the path it needs in order to continue its evolution into the future.

Tenaciously holding on to previous paradigms, maintains the fading link to the past but in most cases fails to encompass the cultural need and becomes subsumed by homogeneity. In short, artistic identity is lost by requiring excessive nuance in order to separate it from its neighbors.

In spite of what appears to be the view of many here, I believe that it is the culture which imposes cult status on the artist. It is a trial the artist must endure and deal with. It happens gradually over time and extracts its own price. Like I said before, Many are called but few are chosen.

11/27/2008 03:48:00 AM  
Blogger max mulhern said...

Don't forget pheromones!

11/27/2008 06:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

So, KISS were also a great rock band?

I'm confused. I totally abide to your notion of artistic identity, George, but to me cult status requires a little more than identification. It has to involves a little obsession and madness. My mother admits that she doesn't like Celine Dion's music yet she is fascinated by the persona. Where do you draw the line between when a pesonage fascinates you more than their art? Or does this ring always untrue? That indeed if you are fascinated by a persona it must mean you are fascinated by the art?

William would think I'm absurd to separate the art from the artist, but I have met some of the artists I mostly admire and often it was a big snap back into reality. Great artists can be the most ordinary people. I mean that in the sense "boring". Sometimes they are wonderfully extravagant and clever, but something is just not right, for example they will be much more arrogant as persons than their art (suppose it's very romantic art) would let you expect them to be. I thin art is used by artists to let a part out of themselves that they no longer need to express or be in their everyday life, so assuming that art is a representation of an artist's persona would be wrong in my humble opinion. Even an opinion expressed by a work of art can find its contrary in the everyday talk of an artist. Just don't trust the artist is all I'm saying.
Or meet them and find out by yourself.

Cedric Caspesyan

11/27/2008 11:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cant believe I am going to say i agree with some things of what George wrote, in his completely unreadable style. Pollock and Johns were excellent artists, but those who followed did take the wrong path, as they were but a smaller and smaller sliver of art, and now so much so that it has no nutritonal value whatsover. It was more the critics and "gallerists: who came up with completely wrong and invalid theories that led contemporary art to arise and now fall.

This much I gotta agree with

In short, artistic identity is lost by requiring excessive nuance in order to separate it from its neighbors.

In spite of what appears to be the view of many here, I believe that it is the culture which imposes cult status on the artist. It is a trial the artist must endure and deal with. It happens gradually over time and extracts its own price

Outta the mouth of babes, let this be Contemporary Arts epitaph. RIP

11/27/2008 11:53:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Speaking of tenaciously holding on to previous paradigms, the problem with the way that George is using "the culture" is that it aggregates judgment into a blob, thus insulating any single participant from having to answer for his bad taste. This plays to George's M.O., which is to make heated, non-specific claims about the future, and berating the foresight of anyone who doesn't go along with them. But it's a cop-out to talk about living individuals in this way. If you don't like Pollock or Warhol, what the culture says about them doesn't matter. You're the culture. I just saw the Warhol show up at the Currier, and it was a dog. I'm sure that sympathetic contemporaries of Bouguereau felt equally sure about the fixity of his star in heaven. Contemporary pluralism guarantees that swings of reputation will be wider and more numerous.

Try this thought experiment: A man from the year 2408 comes to you and says, "Listen, not to be rude, but all the art you like and think is important right now ends up not mattering one little bit. Fourteen years after you die, a girl born in New Brunswick completely revolutionizes contemporary art and worldwide understanding of it. Her work dominates the next century. Your whole milieu is a footnote. Sorry."

If you feel an iota of disappointment at hearing this, then you're not using your taste.

My answer: "Too bad for you. We have some great art."

11/27/2008 03:06:00 PM  
Blogger George said...


You're confusing the personality cult with the the cult status of the artworks, they are related but separate.

The personality cult, attaining some variant of star status, does not infer that the artistic production is any good. We can all probably come up with examples where this is the case. It follows that this type of cult status is not a requirement for work which functions effectively in the culture, work we might say is 'good'.

But, the artworks of an artist can also achieve cult status. This implies that the artworks have a reflexive identity with the artist. Cult status can be achieved by single artworks, the Mona Lisa for example, or by an artists entire body of work, say Van Gogh or Duchamp. I would note, that while I consider "identity" to be a requirement, cult status is a result, not a cause, a requirement, or even necessary.

When I said "temporal personality cult status", I am inferring that this may be temporary, a year, or a lifetime and then it fades away because it is dependent on the presence of the personality. Dali is an example. Because of this, whatever gloss is inferred onto the artworks due to the artists personality also fades over time.

I would agree that one doesn't need to know the artist, or like the artist, in order to enjoy the artworks. Whether or not one is interested in their "star status" is a different kind of personal interest, peripherally related to the artwork at best. It's why people read the Enquirer.

You say, "... so assuming that art is a representation of an artist's persona would be wrong." I disagree, think about your reasoning as it relates to time. If the artist disgorges some expression into an artwork, it is representative at that particular moment in time. We don't look the same way we did 20 years ago, that doesn't mean we are someone else. Switching from persona, ones outward appearance to the personal, ones inner life. It is the personal which can sustain one over a lifetime.

11/27/2008 06:46:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

The problem with the way I use 'culture' is that it is correct, it is the consensus of a group of individuals within a segment of society.

For example, the culture decided that it was interested in Marcel Duchamp, considered his artworks important, and significant to a moment in history. Now, clearly within any group, opinions vary, disagreements abound, and we can be assured that we will find those who abhor Duchamp.

Fair enough, the culture acknowledges the disagreement, but for the moment maintains its position and considers Duchamp important. I believe the culture is always right, it gets what it wants but it does have the right to change its collective mind.

This is where individuals like Franklin, who find themselves at odds with the current culture, have a chance to offer up an argument in favor of their position. If the arguments are not effective, they will be discarded. Note, I'm not making the rules here, it is what appears to happen. If the holders of dissenting opinions cannot understand how to make their positions viable, nothing happens.

As for the future Franklin. I am making claims that we are in an historic moment of change. I believe it's generational and that it's going to affect art, so yes , I am seriously thinking about it. But if you feel berated, it is your own insecurity exposed, but not the result of anything I said.

11/27/2008 07:20:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

"I don't think Warhol could help being an offbeat, fashionable person. I think Tracy Emin is an honest-to-goodness basket case..."

Brilliant Franklin. I'd point out, as most probably know, that although Linda Yablonsky writes pretty well, she also contributes to the Art Forum blog and the article first appeared in Art + Auction, so she's rather heavily involved in stoking the celebrity machine. People can be more interesting than art can't they? But personality is just different from art. And as for shamans, Warhol was one in his way, Beuys was certainly, perhaps Duchamp. Beyond those three, I can't think of another just now, where the person and the art together performed some transformative magic. The art world seems to be built on "names". If you have one, you go up, if you don't, you stay where you are. And the "name" is the art plus the artist. The wonderful expression "all hat and no cattle" comes to mind (Schnabel might be the poster boy for this).

11/28/2008 09:42:00 AM  
OpenID deborahfisher said...

George is right about culture.

11/28/2008 10:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

To clarify, I have observed you berating the foresight of people who don't go along with your claims about the future, which are completely free of content. "You're stuck" and "You just don't get it" are favorite charges. This does not actually make me feel berated, but thank you for your concern.

So you claim that "we are in an historic moment of change." Noted; you've been saying as much for years. Let me know when were not in it any more. I'm looking forward to the day that you say, "Okay, X happened, the historic moment of change has passed." Should be coming any time soon, right? After all, how long is a moment?

George is using "the culture" to describe a contemporary dispersion of art media and aesthetic priorities as if it were quattrocento Florence. I doubt the existence of the aggregate and as such I don't find myself "at odds with the current culture." I find myself at odds with particular cultures in the contemporary cultural landscape, but in others I fit right in. This is what I see happening: what we have traditionally referred to as "the culture" is giving away to subcultures that don't have much to do with each other. The irony of George's position is that his belief in "the culture" and the consensus it presumes is already putting him on the wrong side of history, as far as I can observe it at the moment. Personally, I don't worry about being on the wrong side of history, but he sure does.

11/28/2008 12:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

In regards to the events in Bombay, I think the human condition tend to develop obsessions, wrethey they be about a belief, a religion, a person we love, a tv sitcom, a financial chronicle, a domestic pet, or an artist or artwork. Maybe even a blog (I tend to be on this blog more than any other these days, and this wasn't always the case).

I think what people need culturally is something that can cure them of their obsessions. Without obsessions, maybe we wouldn't have such a phenomenon as a cult, be it artistic or otherwise.


Cedric Caspesyan

11/28/2008 12:29:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Most people will be swayed in their opinion of an artist by seeing work in a solo show with wine and a press of people, ones friends.

Linda Yablonski is not immune. She is not pure. I love purity of art as a notion, it's so quaint, so atomistic, so modernist.

I've read several times that one thing people value in art is the opportunity for social mobility - the kind of mobility the chattering classes use to gain access.

Access is an important commodity - one that can exist without money, though many live for that cult.

Narrowing your focus on those areas where you feel comfortable with a sense of belonging may make you happy, but it may not get you a solo show with a crowd of THE OTHER.

When people talk about the purity of art, and being yourself, I imagine Rambo suiting up for slaughter.

Not only is it dishonest on several levels to say that some people are fake and others are real, such statements are often used as a way to exclude those with the wrong sensibility, dress or demeanor or skin color.

Say what you want about warhol, he publicly admitted he was a "fake" and I doubt I'd want to hang with duChamp on a personal level just because we both love/hate art.

Are you going to atavisticly begrudge pop art because it uses populist motifs?

Exclude the intellectualization of popular culture as capitulation to the mass market?

Sit in a high tower of zen abstraction while more vital engaged and exacting work is constructed beneath your nose?

Some forms of art are root-bound and anachronistic, just as the fetishism of individual celebrity misses the point, unles it is the point.

Why are there so few celebrity artists?

12/02/2008 01:23:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

Here in Los Angeles, where you can't even go to your local Starbucks without running into some movie star, it's amazing how people go absolutely nuts if you mention that you've met Edward Winkleman.

12/04/2008 02:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Andy WhoreWall said...

What on earth did Russell Crowe do to Lisa Phillips?

12/05/2008 09:00:00 AM  

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