Thursday, March 12, 2009

Book Deadline

My publisher will kill me if I blog today, as I'm supposed to be turning in my answers/responses to the copyediting on my book (shameless plug)...bad writer.

Don't let that stop you from carrying the dialog further though. A few topics to consider:
  1. If it's a day of the week that ends in "y" that means Shepard Fairey must be having legal problems of some sort.
  2. Jonathan Jones blames the demise of Western culture on shopping. (Er, OK, so he blames it on Warhol, but...)
  3. We've talked here about how to buy art in a recession, Adrian Ellis discusses how museums can fund-raise in a recession at the Art Newspaper.
  4. The most inspired and truly gutsy response to the recession I've seen is the effort spearheaded by our friend Elizabeth Dee in opening up the nonprofit space X. Congrats to Elizabeth and entire X team! (anxiously awaiting the X website...)
  5. And last, but not least, a true New York treasure (and one of my favorite arts writers and people in general), Gary Indiana has a new book out, The Shanghai Gesture, (which I haven't read yet, because no one's presented me with a signed copy...hint, hint...Birthday fast approaching here...just saying). But you can read James Gibbons fabulous review of it on Bookforum.

Labels: misc., open thread


Blogger Donna Dodson said...

Congratulations on your book, Ed! Good luck with the final push.

I visited Shepard Fairey's show at the ICA boston last week and I really enjoyed it. For all the graphic, i.e. flat, bold, digital display of his work, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of craft involved in each piece.

On another note, I heard Laura Hoptman speak last night at the Rose Art museum at Brandeis since she is the curator of the current show, 'Saints and Sinners.' I was so impressed that her prepared speech was basically a rant about the current situation at the Rose Art Museum & she is a very passionate speaker. Joe Ketner, Martha Buskirk and Michael Rush were all there, too.
The latest news is that the closing of the museum will happen at the end of May and the pieces that are the most likely to be sold are the ones that were bought out of acquisition funds whereas the gifts are less likely to be sold, at least, not right now. As an artist, it was very heartening to hear how passionate curators feel about art & artists.

3/12/2009 09:57:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

The world economy implodes and now everyone is scrambling to affix the blame upon their own personal whipping boy.

"No sphere of high culture is implicated in the fall of the affluent society in the same way art is." says Jonathan Jones.

This is utter nonsense, revisionist history, a case of the tail wagging the dog. From an economic point of view, Art trails along behind the economic excesses of society and it is folly to suggest that art is the cause of the current fiscal crisis. The bankers did that, let's not confuse the issue.

What is the fascination with consumerism? What stopped Mr. Jones at Warhol? Why not Dali or Picasso a few years earlier? Why not Hans Haake? Somehow POP Art poisoned the water, sending us on a course of wanton consumption?

'Conspicuous consumption' is a sign of a successful economy, an economy which is functioning above a level of just providing the bare necessities. In post-war America, Warhol and the other POP artists used the iconography of the new middle class consumer as a subject for art. POP Art successfully broke the mid-century strangle hold of abstraction, a necessity if art is to contend with the differences between 'culture' and 'nature.'

What Mr. Jones fails to understand is that in those 40 years, the world population has more than doubled. Compression is implicit and we can never go back to a kinder gentler time when families toiled over a piece of land for their daily bread. It is romantic foolishness to suggest this is a viable alternative for millions, not just a privileged few.

To suggest that "The modern world has screwed itself and art led the way." is hubris or sheer ignorance of the facts at its best.

3/12/2009 10:04:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Moreover, it seems like there is a generation of aging critics who have been waiting for "art to fail" in order to prove they were right about Art's moral decline. They rail on about the loss of "quality", how "emotional depth" in art was censored, how Abstract Expressionism had to die.

Oh please spare me this crap. What 'quality' existed, and where is the "emotional depth" in a stagnant pool of artists splashing paint on a canvas willy nilly? Where the hell is it, have these people ever seen the studio basements of the forgotten AbEx painters, the Assemblagists, the Minimalists, the Conceptualists?

Great and powerful art is driven by the genius of its creators, not its critics.

I am so tired hearing the failed artists and the failed critics who have nothing better to do than to find an excuse to badmouth other artists who are working hard in good faith AND happen to be successful.

These are hard times, people are afraid to the point of inner panic, I suspect because they are forced to accept the specter of failure. And, we see the "if I can't have it, they can't have it" impulse to tear down and destroy what was, as if it is the cause of all our problems.

Anybody remember 'rent parties?' No? well it was a Warhol era thing, consumerism indeed.

3/12/2009 11:17:00 AM  
Blogger Art said...

If I hear one more thing about Shepard Fairey...wait, that's an empty threat. I won't do anything, but I'll be decidedly perturbed.

Good luck with the book!

3/12/2009 11:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, George, there's commercial success and then there's art. On occasion they do coincide, but not often. Shepard Fairey is an example. He is a really good designer, really good, but I put him in a category with Norman Rockwell and Wyeth because he gives us a comfortable view of what we already know.

Good luck with your book, Ed. If it's half as good as your blog, it will be a great service to the arts community.
mery lynn

3/12/2009 12:02:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

there's commercial success and then there's art. and...?

Great art is influential, it has identity, affects the cultural dialogue and is ultimately successful in the marketplace Fairey is no Warhol and not much of an example.

In spite of the dreadful economic times, we are at the cusp of a new millennium and I think young artists are about to empty the trash and replant the field as their own.

It's a new millennium, how fantastic is that?

3/12/2009 12:24:00 PM  
Blogger Brandon Juhasz said...


just wondering if I could use snippets of your post about failed artists in a post on my blog. Yup, surprise, I write a blog, very original I know. he-he.

let me know, I like your thoughts and won't miss quote. It just backs up some sentiments I have been penning. I really got rilled up over the guardian article too.


it will be here:

3/12/2009 12:38:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Re: Jonathan Jones's "How Art Killed Our Culture." Be sure to read his preceding article, "Art As We Know It Is Finished."

Art that is "sad, severe, serious" is not the only alternative to the contemporary art that Jones calls "the decor of an age of mercantile madness." Another alternative is art that celebrates life and is genuinely joyous.

"Art now aspires to be all the things fashion is." Now aspires? Paul Johnson's Art: A New History (2003) argued that the age of "fashion art" began around one-hundred-years ago. (Yet Johnson's history is not dismissive of all modern or contemporary art, as some reviewers claimed.)

"On what bedrock might a new art arise?" Artists have no choice but to propose new foundations, or the revival of old foundations, and experiment with them. Jones's question is the question, but it can only be answered in the future - with hindsight.

The joyride that a world of riches (now past) gave to artists is probably over. Which is not a bad thing, insofar as the joyride - aboard the marketing-driven bandwagon of "novelty for novelty's sake" - kept artists from considering how their work could contribute to the real progress of the history of art. Of course, seeing progress as an invalid idea made all the revelry feel comfortable.

But on to the article Edward linked to, "How Art Killed Our Culture."

"The slow, patient, tedious stuff of real creativity." That's a fact - in the same way gravity is a fact.

"How did art become the mirror of fraud?" Mirroring has always been a valid function of art. The real question is: How did art go beyond simply mirroring fraud to participating in a world of fraudulence? Well, not all art did. Most art did not. It's just that a world of fraudulence rewarded those artists who played along - who enjoyed the-world-as-it-is. (Have we really been living through decades of fraudulence? Well, it's morning in America, and read my lips: no new taxes, and I did not have sex with that woman, and Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, and our health care system is the best, and housing values can only go up, and your call is very important to us.)

"All the shallowness of modern culture began in avant-garde art 40 years ago." It's a treasured notion that art leads the whole of culture, and can change the world. But all that art actually leads the way for is the arts, and all it changes is itself (there are the rare exceptions, of course). Modern mass culture - from its very beginnings - has been more than capable of driving itself over a cliff, thank you. Sure, there's plenty of evidence that art has been rejecting its better nature for decades now, but it's a real stretch to assign it the role of the serpent in the garden. Non-artists have no one but themselves to blame for the mess we all find ourselves in today.

And I thought I have cranky days, Mr. Jones. :-(

(Hey George: You go man, go!)

3/12/2009 01:51:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Brandon, No need to ask, it's a blog comment section.

3/12/2009 02:24:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

"On what bedrock might a new art arise?" Artists have no choice but to propose new foundations, or the revival of old foundations, and experiment with them. Jones's question is the question, but it can only be answered in the future - with hindsight.

Greasy old ideas slipping into history's dust. It is always been about old foundations. Sometimes we move laterally facilitated by the gifts of new mediums but the base foundation is nothing more than the human condition, how we saw it then, how we see it today and prepare for tomorrow.

Within the frameworks we now use, "style" has lost its dominance not because it lacks importance but because the demographic has diluted its affect. The population expansion in the last century makes past parallels irrelevant.

However it does not negate history, only change how we may use it. I think the path forward will involve the recognition of past historic models as blood lines which represent certain archetypical and psychological approaches to making art. Over time the environment changes, society changes, but what does not change is the finite number of ways individuals behave psychologically under given circumstances. The environment changes, which shapes the outward form and characteristics of our art but the psychic motivations do not and this is true across cultures.

The difficulty I have with the nay sayers is that they are stuck in a muddied environment and fail to see how artists with the same historical psychologies are making new relevant art for this moment in history. Art is a moving target, move or get run over.

3/12/2009 02:46:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

I object to the notion of progress in art - that is a modernist idea.

As a Hopi Indian, I do not understand the white man's obsession with linear time.

Also, the investiture of meaning is probably the most contentious aspect of art behind exclusivity and price point.

If your parents buy out your show with the use of trusted intermediaries, maybe its just the little gesture that will open everyone's eyes to the real value of the work.

Doesn't most art sell to friends and family anyways?

And if your friends bid up your work at auction, or buy it back, are you not declaiming sovreighnty?

And is not the social group the guarantor, the gold standard that insures value?

WHo cares if shole social networks are formed around fluff and bonhomie?

I sure don't. Not in this economy.

I look forward to more irrelevant and narcissistic art. More dashed off gestures and nods to the truth of materials in their found forms.

Keep the paint in the can my man, this economy requires we hoard for harsher times!

Or not, google finance says the market is up on reports that some banks aren't failing or some shit.

I did hear that without money a lot of middle management is leaving the art world. Is that true?

3/12/2009 03:27:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

"The art as we know it is finished" crowd generally champion the most didactic obvious and/or populist art while taking easy shots at bad scuplture and weak conceptual pieces.

Or Damien Hirst.

Why is that?

I dont even think about Hirst most days unless I read the art press. Do you?

3/12/2009 03:34:00 PM  
Blogger C. L. DeMedeiros said...

I'm reading your blog
avid like a novice
even knowing that I'm doing my thing
for more than a decade.
I never really pay much attention to how to buy or sell art.
Now I need to learn fast and quick
I'll be in the A.A.F. 2009
I'm guessing for a new face with no godmother or godfather is a shoot in the dark of this economic times.

Don't let you editor know that
I send my link to the A.A.F.
I don't wanna to cause you any trouble:

I cannot wait for your book


Carlos Luis DeMedeiros

3/12/2009 04:23:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Zipthwung, you said "I object to the notion of progress in art - that is a modernist idea."

Ah, but there it is, for all to see, in any exhaustively illustrated book of art history (one that shows more than just the high points). A recurring cycle of decline and progress.

3/12/2009 06:10:00 PM  
Blogger CAP said...

I don't think so. Most comprehensive histories of art chart changes not progress. Tuesday is not better than Monday, 09 not an improvement on 02.

Tracking the rise and fall of empires doesn't make for better or bigger empires, only a shift in influence. People do business somewhere or other, fads, trends, movements and ages start and stop, slowly.

I'd keep progress for science, measure evolution against entropy.

3/12/2009 10:05:00 PM  
Blogger George said...


I disagree, Zip's right, there is no progress in art only constant change.

3/12/2009 10:37:00 PM  
Blogger David Cauchi said...

Everything changes, and everything stays the same.

3/12/2009 10:57:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Oh dear. George and CAP, aren't there periods when art stinks, followed by periods when art is great, and isn't that progress? Then periods when art stinks again, and isn't that decline? Why is some art in museums, and other art is not? Why is the art of one period valued more highly than the art of another period? Not only because such-and-such a period represents progress, to be sure. But it's a part of the story our culture tells, and personally, I like our culture.

3/12/2009 11:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

I don't understand pissers who pigeonhole all of today's art into one giant pot. That's absolutely nonsensical. Art is too complex.

I am very hesitating about jumping in New York to catch the Manzoni retro, and the reason is that I have seen enough samples of
his work to "get a sense" of his legacy, and somewhere his ghost is whispering to me "Don't go! you silly fucktard!", but these articles make it sound like things
haven't moved since Manzoni.

What is the art that you people hate so much? It's probably not even on my visit list. Except Sarah Lucas. I think she can be
imaginative with 3 pieces of crap.
But that's one of the rare exception.


Cedric C

3/13/2009 02:58:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd like to know why all the art bloggers who have supported Shepard Fairey's claim of Fair Use with the AP photograph have not lashed out at him for trying to prevent three artists in the last two years from creating parodies of his work under Fair Use. It does not matter if Obey is trademarked. There is Fair Use in trademark law. Most of the Obey clothing line involves parodies of popular trademarks. Last I checked Obey is popular. Fair game for Fair Use my friend.

3/13/2009 04:13:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...


You can do it I couldn't be bothered.

Maybe theres a better idea out ther but it takes a certain level of anger or other kind of energy to parody something. SF is engaging trademark and stuff. I know some people find intellectual property law fascinating (Joy)- an endless supply of conundrums and koans.

But I believe Witgenstein said most of this arises out of semantics.

If you want a world to exist sing it

into existence.

Decline is my meteier.

3/13/2009 10:29:00 AM  
Blogger George said...


You're mixed up I think. Back when, there once was the idea that art was "progressing' towards something better, a newer new, or more abstract abstract, some such nonsense. Obviously art doesn't do that, rather it morphs around in response to the age and the gifts of the artists.

Individual artists may make progress, get better at what they do but this is not the same as the idea above.

Finally, whether or not the art of one age is better than the art of another depends on who is making the judgment. Viewers disagree all the time. But, even allowing for some kind of "better" difference, the upswing isn't progress, just improvement because an artist or group of artist are 'better'.

3/13/2009 03:25:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

I've got to admit things are getting "better".
I used to get mad at my school and the uncool teachers who taught me.

THEY were holding me down, turning me round and filling me up with rules.

Im still an angry young man but
I'm doing the best that i can.
I was mean but i'm changing my scene.

I mean I think its a generational thing to see improvement as well as socio-cultural-politico warfare O.

Fox News says Madoff was "ashen" is that true? he looked grim but ashen?

Also, art is tied to finite human life spans, so that means whatever gets passed on is done in a sort of inchoate way -through books and hearsay. I think thats an important point when describing the trajectory of the system.

What gets lost?

3/13/2009 06:25:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

George, you said "Tom, You're mixed up I think."

You are dealing with a real possibility.

You also said "There once was the idea that art was 'progressing' towards something better." Perhaps you missed my mention of a cycle? Yes, there once was the notion that each generation added to the illusionist bag of tricks, with the aim of representing visual reality better and better. Well, each generation during the Renaissance did just that (but not that only), and it was indeed progress (judged according to that period's aims). Followed, eventually, by the decline we call Academic Painting. Followed by the progress known as Modern Art (a breath of fresh air for anyone who has ever spent a lot of time really looking at Academic paintings). Now, the linear idea of progress - of connected evolution - can't see Modern Art as progress, because Modern Art was disconnected (for the most part) from all that came before it (especially from the period that linear evolutionists measure everything against, the Renaissance). But the cyclical idea of progress and decline (of progress and decline and progress and decline and so on) doesn't have that problem. It can use a more generous set of standards to judge each period on its own merits (or lack thereof).

If we remove the periods of decline from the history of art, and look for something advancing from one period of progress to another, do we find it? In the sense of art moving toward some ultimate goal, no. But in the sense of art learning from its mistakes, yes. We're not likely to see a successful revival of Academic Painting - not ever. At least, not among artists (dealers and collectors are another story). And that's progress.

Finally, you said "Whether or not the art of one age is better than the art of another depends on who is making the judgment." Relativism (your use of quotation marks around words like better) doesn't change the fact that we have centuries' worth of judgments, and a pretty good idea of which judgments will stand the test of time, and which won't. For example, a preference for the elemental (or primitive) has been a constant (one among many) since ancient Greece.

3/13/2009 07:58:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Hey professor,

SO what youre saying is that postmodern or "late modern" "progress" is towards something other than illusionism, at least in the visual sense (William V Dunning "Changing Images in Pictorial Space")

I'm sure there are a variety of camps now all professing to know which direction art is going.

But the easiest one to grasp is the wholistic one - the ecological model or Wholism.

I know lots of people want to take a Brillo pad to sculpture, too.
(to make an art jok, ha ha ha. ja?).

And then there's "the new old masters" (your return to academic art?) which is kind of a bad joke as far as I can tell. I mean, way to be out of touch of in SUNYland.

Surely a greater river runs through all of this?

Ok, please respond, I'm losing my mind.

3/13/2009 10:09:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Tom, ok I get your points, I think.

Part of the problem may be with the language itself. I was agreeing with Zip who I took as saying that art does not progress, in the sense of improving or getting better. I still believe this is true when viewed in the general sense. Certainly one can make a case for short term fluctuations caused by lack of skill or poor patronage, but these are exceptions rather than the rule.

I would also agree that the artists of some period, say the Renaissance, would suggest that they were 'improving' painting (the art) through some new development. But, I would disagree with their opinions, suggesting that they are only expanding the possibilities of the medium and that this does not necessarily imply or insure that they are making better art.

I do not think that the painting of the high Renaissance is 'better' than the painters of, say the 15th century (i.e. Fra Angelico, Giovanni di Paolo, etc.) One might even argue that Giovanni di Paolo's painting "The Creation of the World and the Expulsion from Paradise" from 1445 is the virgin birth of Modernism. Pic at the MET

Whatever goes on, the art seems to respond to its time, and as we move through history, what is required of art by the present patrons or other artists changes but does not necessarily progress in the sense of moving towards something better.

I also could argue that as an artist becomes more experienced, his skill sets improve (in the sense of getting better) but that this does not necessarily imply that the artworks get better, they may or they may not.

Finally, on the question of who is rendering judgment of the quality of the artwork. While we can look back in time and come to some agreement over what we think is great art, we cannot do this in the present with any assurance that we are correct.

Certainly there have been artists who are loved by some and disparaged by others, all for some real temporally contextual reasons. Yet, over time, the opinion of one side generally takes precedence and becomes the viewpoint we have today. (Manet is an example)

The thing is that in the present, we cannot clarify these points of opinion any better than we could in the past. The marketplace can insure that certain artist's works are preserved for the future which at least puts them into contention. As we move forward in time away from the period when the artist's works were first shown and become influential or important, we will see if these opinions have a shelf life.

Fifty years after the fact, makes it fairly safe to consider Duchamp, Pollock, DeKooning etc, as reasonably ensconced in the fabric of history. While tastes will change it is highly unlikely that they will suffer a complete reversal and reject these artists in the future.

3/14/2009 11:10:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

George, you said "Part of the problem may be with the language itself."

Do you mean a word like "progress"? Specifically, an old definition of progress? I guess I should have explained exactly what I meant by the word. Sorry. I think we make progress in our ideas about what constitutes progress.

"Expanding the possibilities of the medium ... not necessarily ... making better art."

True. Even during the Renaissance, some preferred the relatively primitive works of Cimabue and Giotto. These works of their past spoke to them more powerfully than the scientifically advanced paintings of their own time.

"What we think is great art ... we cannot do this in the present."

Agreed. Meaning and significance are, frustratingly, things we must wait for - things we only realize when looking backward.

"Highly unlikely that they will suffer a complete reversal."

You never know. Taste and judgment can change in a cataclysmic way, because the world can change in a cataclysmic way.

3/15/2009 12:21:00 PM  

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