Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Thorny Authoritarian Issue : Open Thread

Two recent blog posts raise the issue of the role of "the authority" in the art world.

First is a response by my Art World Salon colleague András Szántó to the ArtPrize announcement (an effort that includes a huge cash award based on the popularity of artwork made for just that goal, and something we also discussed here back on Monday). In outlining what bothers him about the award that, András noted:
It is, I think, a measure of our confused relationship with art if we believe that the general public is better equipped to judge the work of artists than professional juries or peers. Would we pick heart surgeons this way? Architects? Firemen?
[Sidebar: There's is an interesting response to the post by ArtPrize creator Rick DeVos in the comments there that I recommend reading.]

András' sentiment, however, seems (initially at least) to have been challenged by a recent post across the pond by The Guardian's Jonathan Jones:
The strangest fantasy about art in the 21st century is that of the "power" of so-called art world players. If there's one thing I did NOT think about when I first started to write art criticism in the 1990s, it was accumulating power. Surely that's also the last thing art students think about when they are becoming artists.

And yet, when the outside world talks about contemporary art, it is almost always in terms of power. It honestly seems that all the excitement, all the popularity art generates – so much more electric than the buzz about, say, books – is really about a cult of power and the powerful. Where does it come from, this strange distortion of cultural life?

My theory is that art in our largely liberal and democratic age has become an outlet for dark fantasies of domination. It must be this, because sometimes it is precisely the most liberal types who are most impressed by the myth of "power in the art world". Denying themselves the least hint of authoritarian sentiment when it comes to politics, it is as if these well-intentioned folk indulge an atavistic urge to worship power when they celebrate this or that art dealer or museum director.
OK, so parsing this somewhat myself, I can see that Jones isn't arguing we shouldn't have authorities judging art so much as we shouldn't elevate them to star status for doing so, and he goes on to write...
I wish people would choose some place other than the art gallery to satiate their dark appetites. Why not go all woozy about stern chefs or really nasty fashion designers, and leave the mystery and delicacy of art alone?
[which echoes many of the sentiments offered in response to the art-based reality TV show ideas also discussed in Monday's post] perhaps he actually sides with András.

I fully appreciate the absurdity of the idea that what's popular should automatically be seen as representing "quality," and I strongly advocate for creating an environment in which artists are encouraged to create truly better art. Still, the unfortunate message I think many outside the art world may take away from both the sentiments above is that the masses are there to revere Art, and not to dare to approach anything as offensive to those in power as a sense of ownership.

Perhaps that's OK. Perhaps a sense of ownership should come only after an investment of time and study, and it's the role of those who have done so already to perpetuate the importance of that process. Otherwise we may end up with offerings like "The Cougar" being all that survives to represent our collective culture to future generations.

Consider this an open thread on the role of authoritarianism in the art world.

Labels: open thread


Blogger Tom Hering said...

Andras Szanto hits the nail on the head: "There is no vast mass-culture audience waiting for the winner to ascend the ladder of celebrity." This is the reality that makes both ArtPrize and American Artist shaky propositions.

We in the art world wish reality were different - perhaps we hope that ArtPrize and American Artist will change things, and finally connect the art world with the rest of the world. In his introduction to Paul Klee's "On Modern Art," Herbert Read wrote, "... individual effort is not sufficient. The final source of power in the artist is given by society, and that is precisely what is lacking in the modern artist ... We have no sense of community, of a people for whom and with whom we work. That is the tragedy of the modern artist ..." And Klee ends his book this way: "We still lack the ultimate power, for: the people are not with us. But we seek a people. We began over there in the Bauhaus. We began there with a community to which each of us gave what he had. More we cannot do."

Perhaps we hope that things like ArtPrize and American Artist will end the art world's collective isolation - even end the artist's personal isolation. But how can a wider world that is itself plagued with alienation (despite Twitter, Facebook, etc.) offer a solution to our alienation?

It can't. But we have a community called the art world. "More we cannot do."

4/30/2009 11:06:00 AM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

This is interesting. As a professor, of course I come across instances when my authority is either highly respected or pointedly challenged. And in both cases it usually catches me off guard (especially outside of the classroom).
Whoever coined "knowledge is power" must not have had either, because mostly i feel declawed by those with more power and by others with less knowledge. I say this without a hint of bitterness because I think this is human nature, and I am 100% sure that I am also guilty of participating in similar relationships.
But i think some of this is being addressed (with differing degrees of success) by artists with social and relational practices who both elevate the status of the viewer and lessen theirs while retaining enough authority to continually say "lets do this...". I am not saying these practices successfully solve the issue but at least there is some reflexive thought as these artists try to work this out.
Related to all this is the debate within academia over the PhD in studio art (discussed here: ) Nothing could put a damper on my authority than to one day be told I cannot teach because my MFA no longer meets requirements!

4/30/2009 11:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Edward, I have a question that is tangentially related to the open thread topic of authority. As an artist, how much control does/should on have over curators, editors, writers, etc over which works are chosen to represent them. This goes for a solo show, a magazine article, book entry, etc. Lately I've had experience with all of the above in which I felt that the oddest choices were made to the detriment of my work: old work that's no longer relevant to current production in a museum show, detail images published in lieu of full images, misinformation in writing, etc. Should artists ask for final approval on press, and what about curators? What should one do when a show is on the line, or something that misrepresents the work is published?

I would love to hear what people think is appropriate in this type of situation, particularly curators and writers. THANKS!

4/30/2009 12:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I have long maintained that quality exists independently of opinion, and taste is an unevenly distributed, unevenly cultivated talent for detecting quality. You described that position as "elitist." So if quality is an elitist social construct, then you might as well use the popular vote to determine the best of a pile of work. For that matter, The Cougar has no less (and no more) inherent artistic value than anything made by Rembrandt.

The ability to make beautiful art and the ability to discern between better and worse art are elite abilities, not elitist ones. Elites have superior powers. Elists relish the exercise of superior power for its own sake. There's a similar difference between authority, which is what you develop after a long time pursuing a subject, and authoritarianism, which is the exercise of centralized, concentrated power.

Polling the public to determine the best art doesn't work because the discernment of quality is an elite activity. Neither can the machinations of an anointed group of insiders determine the best art, because determining the best art is a product of authority, not authoritarianism. But it's either naive or disingenuous for Jones to suggest that the art world isn't attempting to establish quality by authoritarian means anyway. Right now we are witnessing a career review of a slenderly talented 30-year-old painter at the Brooklyn Museum take place simultaneously with a solo show at a major Chelsea gallery. The latter is not preposterous, but the former is, and both together are brazen. It's not unlike the derivatives market circa early last year - the lending and inflation of value of dubious assets between connected insiders.

So we can look at ArtPrize as an anti-authoritarian exercise, but not as an authoritative one. The former may make it worth doing to some minor degree.

4/30/2009 12:27:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Should artists ask for final approval on press, and what about curators?

As George Gershwin once wrote, "nice work if you can get it."

With curators or gallery exhibitions, I think there is usually an opportunity to have an earnest conversation about such matters. As in all such matters, though, I'd recommend picking your battles. If you try to exert control over every aspect of each such interaction, you're likely to get fewer opportunities to do so as a result.

With press, however, the standard is for the publication to request 5-6 images from which they choose the one to publish. The only control the artist (and/or gallery) has in this is the quality of the images they send, but if you don't offer an appealing choice therein, you're likely not to get an image published at all, so the question becomes "What is worse, an image you wouldn't have chosen if it had been up to you, or no image at all?"

As for

old work that's no longer relevant to current production in a museum show

Your "current production" may be what's most interesting or relevant from your point of view, but may not be why you and your work were selected for a museum exhibition. If you're talking a group museum exhibition, perhaps your current work doesn't fit into the concept of the show. If you're talking a solo show in a museum (and congrats if you are), then the curator is contextualizing your work within a larger mission and presentation to the public and again your current production may not be relevant.

It's fair to ask about including current work, but if the response is "no" I think you gain more from considering the curator's point of view than using their invitation as an opportunity to insist that you get to promote what you (as opposed to they) are most currently interested in promoting.

4/30/2009 12:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your quick response!

In the cases of the book entries and magazine articles, I was asked for a selection of work and sent around 10 images, including main shots (I make large scale installations) and details, clearly marked as such. In one case only a detail shot was used. In another case, an online "retrospective," they picked really the weirdest combo of works, like none of the important pieces. In yet another case, information about the lifespan of my work was just plain wrong.

In the case of the solo museum show, they are leaving out the work that connects directly to my current stuff, in order to show old stuff that is totally unrelated instead.

I am EXTREMELY thankful to have these opportunities. None are worth really fighting over, but since I've had several situation in a row, I was wondering if maybe I was not exerting enough control. I'm always hearing about celebrities and their "brand" and the lengths they go to protect and cultivate it. This is a new concept when applied to my own career and frankly I find it a bit distastefully commercial.

I do not have gallery representation so there isn't a third party I can turn to when having to negotiate artist fees, curatorial issues, etc etc. I really appreciate your wisdom because you always take a fair approach to issues and I think your advice to artists is right on the money.

Thanks again!!

4/30/2009 12:41:00 PM  
Blogger tony said...

Not being able to handle complex ideas I am usually obliged to seek simplistic corners and rooting around one of them I stumbled over the thought that we human beings have a profound need to classify & construct hierarchies in order to get through the day & believe in tomorrow. With this need comes the recognition that some are better qualified to make judgements on exotic topics than ourselves & anyway it absolves us from direct responsibility so that we are free to bugger around with an easy conscience. The 'better qualified' in the visual arts, in the time it takes to write a thesis or two, often metamorphose into that many splendoured creature called an 'expert'. 'Metamorphosed' wasn't entirely accidental since many of the species (male variety) often seem to wear bow-ties which, after all, resemble butterflies. Once an 'expert' has seen the beauty of him/herself reflected in a mirror and felt the power of the wingbeat
it is obligatory he/she starts to speak with 'authority' and the rest of us, not understanding half of what they say let them get on with it. Artists, whilst often acquiesing to the status quo, are also quite capable of recognising a lot of what goes on for what is - a load of butterfly shit; but the one thing you learn very quickly is how difficult it is to argue with, let alone refute 'butterfly shit'.

4/30/2009 04:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Let's calm down on the pretentious bullshit, please.

Popular vote only means that the winner's art will be more accessible, not that it will be crap.

Vox Pops in cinema festivals
or any biennial I experienced was always won by artists who deserved their prizes. The only thing is that it gives less chance to an hermetic endeavour. Generally, an "hermetic" artist doesn't care. They have their audience, they don't aim for the general public unless they want to laugh. And...they don't expect to make a lot of money (though some do).

Of course, in some events, Susan Boyles wins and you never hear about the new version of a Francisco Lopez (sound artist). I guess BGT have aesthetic preferences. Does that mean Susan Boyle is crap? Oh come on: she's charming.

An hermetic artist can be very popular too. Richard Serra rarely leave the crowd indifferent.

No one has ever been constructive in claiming that their IQ was better than the sum of everyone else in the room. That's just very stupid if you ask me. Let's wait and see who wins. THAN criticize.

(I'm still wondering what work get accepted from what won't, and who decide on that).

By the way, new yorkers are lucky to see the Sophie Calle installation at Paula Cooper which was one of my top 10 fave works in 2008. If I had to do a pick for 2009 (yet), I have to say that "telle mère tel fils" by Adel Abdessemed (David Zwirner) leaves me a strong impression judging from document, but not sure I'll be able to catch it (with this flu thing). Please tour it!

Cedric Caspesyan

4/30/2009 05:14:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Topic: $100

Comments: $5

Butterfly imagery: priceless

4/30/2009 07:00:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

I think it’s important to realize that from our perspective, when it comes down to it ArtPrize isn’t really about giving a prize to an artist, but giving the general public a reason to sit up, pay attention to art and artists and give feedback to them.

4/30/2009 09:12:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Re: Rick DeVos reply. It will give the public a reason to sit up and pay attention to large amounts of money. Two possible results: (1.) the equating of art with wealth and financial excess will be continued; (2.) the public will vote with a particular question in mind (or at least in the back of their minds), i.e., "Is this piece of art worth a quarter-of-a-million dollars - far more money than I, Joe Citizen, have ever earned in a single year?"

This raises a third possibility: the members of an anti-capitalist anarchist group will attend ArtPrize, and swing the vote to an obvious piece of crap - thereby discrediting the whole endeavor. An unlikely possibility, but an interesting one.

5/01/2009 10:11:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

As the world population has increased it has changed how the art world in internally structured. It is no longer likely we will see a hegemonic style, there are too many players with diverse interests.

Money can direct attention within the art world, Saatchi is but one example, and again the numbers are considerably greater than they were in the past. This means we should expect to see patronage supporting a wider range of artists and styles.

In such an environment, the approach being taken by Mr. DeVos is as viable as any. The sums of money involved are relatively small, yet the publicity generated by this project brings him a degree of notoriety in excess of his financial commitment.

While I think Mr DeVos is incorrect in some of the conceptual assumptions behind this project, I think it is fine to put it to a real world test.

Let's hear it for "I don't know if it is art, but I know what I like"

Taste be damned.

5/01/2009 11:23:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Cedric, concentrate your will upon reading the following sentence as written: "Polling the public to determine the best art doesn't work because the discernment of quality is an elite activity." This does not mean that the popular vote will select crap. It's likely to pick something that's acceptable in many respects.

I have never seen a truly intelligent person claim that he was the smartest person in the room. But I have seen more than one idiot claim that someone had.

Taste be damned.There's the problem in a nutshell. Still, it's DeVos's money and this is a pretty interesting way to spend it on contemporary art. I think I'm going to apply.

5/01/2009 12:30:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Now, suppose a situation came along where you had to buy a ticket to win the prize. A big prize which was going to be determined by the public voting for what they liked best.

Do you tailor your entry to accommodate what you think the public will like? Does this directive seem any different than the one for a peer-reviewed grant application? Is one bias contrary to the other bias? Does any of this matter? At what price do you sell your soul to the devil? Just try to not think about it?

It's not the money. it's the glory, or something like that, uh huh.

5/01/2009 02:24:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Despite the good intentions, ArtPrize will end up being about the money, not the art - because it's a large amount of money. It will prove to be about the money for the general public, for the media (discussing whether or not the winning pieces are really worth the amount they won), and for the artists who submit their work - certainly for me if I submit my work. Even the second and third prizes would allow me to live for years doing nothing but my art. No, I wouldn't create a piece to satisfy the general public's taste, but I would submit an already finished piece that the people who've seen my work say they like the best. And if I did win one of the prizes, I wouldn't feel that my piece had been judged - authoritatively - to have real value as a work of art. That would remain an open question.

5/01/2009 03:23:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Is it just about the money, and not the art? Or is it about something else, with "money" as the always visible public hook? What is really going on here?

As it stands, it's an obscene variation of the "best of show" prize, the sort of stuff one finds on fledgling resumes. The fact that "the judgment" is based upon a single artwork, more or less deprecates "the prize" as a career validation, and relegates it to a one time popularity contest.

What other motivations lie behind this "prize"?

5/01/2009 04:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If art is supposed to reflect the times and capture the essence of the public of that given time I would say that most of the highly praised art of today has failed. How many people actually 'get' Hirst? How many people can really relate to half of the work exhibited in Chelsea? If this competition has a handful of critics and dealers upset who cares. Heaven forbid their tastes be devalued and their cushy jobs be threatened.

What I find most interesting is that people are reporting on this in the first place. There have been other online art competitions involving jurors from the TATE and other high profile museums and galleries and they never get the sort of press this competition has obtained. It is all about money. That is the only reason people are posting about it. Slap a huge cash prize to a competition and people will post.

If anything this competition may prove what the public actually likes. That is not to say that what the general public likes should be the standard but it will be interesting to see what exactly the average person enjoys looking at. That is unless someone figures out a way to 'cheat' the system for votes, kinda like the Saatchi competitions which I might add almost every art blogger wrote about because of his name. Name and money that is all that matters!

Never forget that their are examples within the art world of highly praised artists who got where they are in part due to money. Jeff Koons is widely known for having bought exhibits in his early years. Others who were big names decades ago have also bought exhibits in order to throw themselves back into the mix.

Lets not be coy. Having worked for two art magazines I know that reviews and interviews often go to artists just because the gallery representing them are big ad buyers. So in many ways art criticism today is a scam because you never know if the critic is writing because the art is good or because the dealers pockets are fat. I know this. You know this. The public probably has a good idea about this. We need to get over ourselves.

5/01/2009 05:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

Franklin, I get the impression that you believe you are part of this elite, and so I can only attest of my own mediocrity when you start talking about the art that you like.

The IQ bit was referring to Dali. Maybe I've read some general art history books written by idiots. I hope it isn't true because that was a little ridiculous, when his
art mostly served to illustrate theories that weren't his (Einstein, Freud, etc..).

I once won a "mention" in a juried small video art festival,
and than there was a program of the most popular cuts
put together (I think that was by public vote but not sure).
Back in class at the U I said that this latter part is what I
found really exciting. And then a discussion similar to what happens
here started. At some point I said that to me making art was like
a hobby, and that I considered myself an eternal amateur. The
teacher said "I don't teach amateurs. I only teach future professionals". This started a huge dispute in the class, because I was arguing that
professionalism was just something that people invented to reassure
their sense of self-worth and ego. A work of art can have many layers
of responses: emotional, sensual and intellectual. The best works
of art can reach a multitude of these layers, and thus can reach
a larger group of persons. If you only aim for the intellectual and
the knowledgable audience, that can be very interesting,
but from an elite perspective (discerning the best work), it's
a failure, because in my opinion you're not reaching enough layers.
The real best art would be the art where both the elitists and the mass can agree.

I think George and I also agree that art doesn't get far with elite
if it doesn't reach some form of consensualism, which is an agreement reached with a larger portion of people. The art that is big in the artworld is not the most intellectual, unless it's very old. People take a long time to apprehend more difficult art. By chance, Malevitch was really into fabricating teacups. That really must have helped.

Do they have a public vote at the Whitney biennial? Didn't the Yayoi Kusama light room won at some point? Maybe I dreamed this, but it would be a perfect choice. Something the critics agree is good, but that can also titillate the mass.

++What other motivations lie ++behind this "prize"?

To test if the public can like what you do? This world is wrong if nobody is able to value love anymore. Come on. That's what we are here for.

Cedric Casp.

5/01/2009 06:49:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

George asked, "What other motivations lie behind this 'prize'?"

Civic (Grand Rapids) boosting, for one. Family (DeVos) influence, for another. Nothing new in the history of art - think Florence and the Medicis. But can a 21st century Renaissance be the result? Go here ... ... for the announcement and promotional videos. (You'll have to forward to the 12:55 spot in the announcement before you hear anything.) Judging by the prepared statement of Rick DeVos, the "rebooting of the conversation between art and the public" seems to be mostly about the public saying something (what exactly?) to the art world. But then that would be the whole idea behind democratizing visual art through public voting. Definitely not the way the 15th century Renaissance happened. And am I overly suspicious, or do I detect a whiff of the culture wars in all this?

I was surprised by the emphasis on the Millennials. What does a largely-artificial generational division have to do with art?

5/01/2009 08:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom Hering said...
Andras Szanto hits the nail on the head: "There is no vast mass-culture audience waiting for the winner to ascend the ladder of celebrity."

disagree. there is a huge vacuum. devos should study the pr firms that administer and popularized the tate prize. no one has marketed smart art in a big way to the general public in this country.

no surprise that jonathan td neil and a. szanto are not into the prize. aren't they the guys that run the blog that only the "qualified" can even comment on, and never comment (engage) on any other artblogs? they are likely reading every word of this thread but are not about to get involved in any discussions here with a bunch of no-name artists.

5/01/2009 10:31:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

I predict, with absolute certainty, that the first place winner of ArtPrize will be something very much like this piece. Use these survey results to fashion your own guaranteed-to-win entry.

Some thoughts from Grand Rapids artist Michael Ingold.

5/02/2009 08:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

+++aren't they the guys that run the blog that only the "qualified" can even comment on

So well said!!

I agree with lots of what anon said, but I think Hirst is blunt and easy to "catch", and that's why they are waiting lines in Kiev.

I bet people would vote Hirst instead of Komar + Melamid if they were the only two artists selected.


5/02/2009 03:18:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

If art is supposed to reflect the times and capture the essence of the public of that given time I would say that most of the highly praised art of today has failed.
Who says this is what art is "supposed to do"?

I suggest that what the "public actually likes" has nothing to do with what makes something art. The public wants to be confounded they get what they like from advertising. The artist is the whore giving the public the kinky sex they don't want to admit they crave. Maybe DeVos is just willing to pay up for a plaid skirt, knee stocking, and Mary Janes style of art, his own sweet fetish?

"There is no vast mass-culture audience waiting for the winner to ascend the ladder of celebrity."
This depends on what "vast" means, but in general everyone in the art world is secretly hoping to discover the next Warhol. This "next" is not the result of a clever marketing solution, no $250,000 prize will anoint the victor and it will not be initially evident that the second coming has actually occurred. (for you nit pickers, yes, Koons and Hirst fill the bill, Warhol is just a metaphor for the "next Picasso")

Don't others here get the feeling that most of the art world is stuck in the last century without a clue of how to survive in the future? Navel gazing their own industry for so long they have no perspective left?

Does any one think that there might be a number of twenty-somethings, horny and ripe from grad school, who might not care about the prize directly? Once they give up the idea of winning the prize, they can set out to shock and create a grand controversy, exploiting an alternate way of getting on the map.

The world is never as it appears to be, subvert the truth and set yourself

5/02/2009 03:23:00 PM  
Anonymous E.E. Danziger said...

Success is relative to the goals people set for themselves

5/02/2009 03:42:00 PM  
Blogger George said...


5/02/2009 03:52:00 PM  
Blogger CAP said...

Power: see Foucault

5/02/2009 09:12:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

The great thing about the art world is that it mostly runs on wind power.

5/03/2009 02:36:00 AM  
Blogger CAP said...

Or make that Power: Si! Foucault.

But I really wanted to go back to Anon 8.00PM’s comment ’ Let’s not be coy. Having worked for two art magazines I know that reviews and interviews often go to artists just because the gallery representing them are big ad buyers. So in many ways art criticism today is a scam because you never know if the critic is writing because the art is good or because the dealers pockets are fat.For balance, Carol Diehl’s blog declares she has NEVER encountered any such consideration in writing for most of the NY art magazines. And Carol by her own admission has been around since at least the Pleistocene era, knows the ropes. I’d link to the exact post but you know, she’s got like 312 posts on her main page…

But Anon’s second point also seems wrong – that criticism is tainted because there may be undeclared interests. Surely the point is what the criticism actually says, not why the critic said it. Readers can judge for themselves whether a criticism is persuasive or interesting, can find fault with a description or argument and judge the merit of a criticism on those terms, regardless of some suspected ambition on the part of critic and allies. If there is pressure to review certain shows (and I’ve known dealers who privately boasted that could get a review when they really needed one) that doesn’t necessarily result in good criticism, and anything but good criticism will hardly serve more than a well-placed advertisement. So art criticism cannot be just a scam. If some artists or galleries do better from reviews than others it can only be on terms that apply equally to other artists and galleries, and any bias in coverage is then quickly revealed.

I know there are readers who blindly swear allegiance to their favourite critic and wait to be told what they like or see, but that’s to abuse the value of expertise. Criticism is not an excuse for the reader to be lazy or uncritical, on the contrary. The critic is not necessarily someone who knows more than the reader, merely someone who takes the time to report on a given event. Their ‘authority’ extends no further than allowing that they have reported the facts accurately, have based an opinion sensibly or logically, on these facts. Nor can a critic afford to condescend or patronise the reader, since the readership is usually projected to as broad a base as possible. And with the advent of blogging and interactive websites any slips can very quickly generate harsh responses and adverse publicity.

If you want raw advertising copy, you can’t go past most galleries press releases. So many of these are so bad, they’re almost worth collecting (or blogging).

5/03/2009 12:36:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Questions: Why does authority on art belong to critics, curators and academics (and soon, to the general public)? Why are the doers in other fields seen as the authority on those fields (e.g., firefighters on firefighting), but artists are not seen as the authority on art? Who spends more time on art, or ponders it more, than artists? ["Perhaps a sense of ownership should come only after an investment of time and study ..."]

Myth: The artist does not understand his own work.

Myth: Artists do not mean what they say about their own work.

Proposition: Artists are the authority on art. Both on their own art and on art in general.

5/03/2009 06:59:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Proposition: Artists are the authority on art. Both on their own art and on art in general.
From the general comments here it would seem that this is not completely true -- Artists have opinions about art but are not the only ones who can speak with authority.

5/04/2009 08:38:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

George, that's a good point. Authority in art, today, is shared authority. Or so it would seem. It's the nature of authority to ultimately rest with a single group (to ultimately be won by a single group - at least for a period of time). In discussing ArtPrize, we've wondered whether authority in art would now be transferred to the general public - or whether it should remain with an elite (critics, curators, academics - a group of published talkers and writers). The possibility that authority in art could/should be transferred to artists - or rather, won by artists - really hasn't been explored. This would involve artists themselves no longer believing myths that serve the current elite, but do not serve artists well - this would involve artists trusting and asserting their own authority, rather than hiding it in order not to offend an elite that has the power to promote and validate artists. For ArtPrize, why not have the participating artists vote rather than the general public? The general public is neither the only nor the best alternative to current authority.

5/04/2009 09:41:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

I don't know, in my experience on the web and in personal discussions, artists tend to suffer from excessive bias in their judgments towards other artists artworks.

While the degree of these biases varies, it is fair to expect that an individual artist will rationalize a belief system around their own approach and vigorously defend their opinion. This does not make them correct.

The same inference can be applied to the general public, which acts based upon some generalized notion of "what art is supposed to be" In the case of the generalized non-art specialized public, the responses will probably be statistically noisy and of less value.

I do believe that other members of the art world are capable of making sound aesthetic judgments, at least of knowing what they like. This included not only the critical community but the curators and collectors as well. In spite of suggestions that collectors can be duped by the art marketing system into buying anything (the old anything can be art problem), it is my opinion that the best arbitrator is still found in the long term results of the auction markets.

5/04/2009 11:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedr said...

++the best arbitrator is still ++found in the long term results +++of the auction markets.

I don't agree. They are factors like availability of the art (very few Vermeers) and trends than enters this question. Some conceptual artists are widely known but are not top on the market.

It's a little of everything: published criticism, market, mass acceptance, fellow artists' pushes and opinions.

Curators will often do a retro of an artist when the art is available. If the art is too out of reach (because the artist is a top on the market), it's a scarce chance to see a retrospective of this artist in a museum, unless organized by a strong collector. You will only see one piece at a time.

The market talks about one artist (that a few riches can access) while the mass talks about another
that's been the buzz at the local museum.

Cedric Casp

5/04/2009 05:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some art critics do write positive reviews under pressure just as some do so because they have an investment in the artist. You can run into people with poor ethics in any field. So that is a given. If someone tells you differently you should probably consider investigating their career to see where they flubbed.

Art is big money today and the words of a power positioned art critic can make or break an exhibit. And it does trickle down to the public in how they view art. If art critics had not picked up the banner for Warhol would he be relevant today? If critics did not take a second look at Van Gogh would he be as celebrated as he is today?

An art critic says something positive about and artist and chances are a dozen other people will take the same position. With blogging the way it is today the critic has even more power because the influence of opinion can spread like wildfire. It is more apt to spread in a positive manner than a negative one depending on who the critic is.

Don't downplay the power that some art critics have or how they can abuse it if they choose. They might not have the same standing as a political pundit on a popular news station but they are culture pundits nonetheless.

Art criticism today is a career more than it has ever been in the history of art. They are better paid and praised on a higher level than ever by hopeful artists and galleries. If art critics wrote about art just out of a love for writing about art don't you think that more of them would find random gems online to write about? Instead they stick near the same stables. When the day comes that a highly paid and respected art critic discovers gems outside of the gallery hit list I will tip my hat and say "you have done your job".

5/04/2009 11:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Richard Kooyman said...

The professional Art world is like any other profession. It's not always fair, it's not always nice. It's like a big Opera that you either decide to participate in or go your merry way. Art is life and life isn't always democratic.

Anonymous, aka Brian Sherwin who commands the controls at has a bone to pick with the modern art world. He doesn't like it and he wants it to change. The question is what does he suggest it be replaced with. On his blog he has stated that he feels 40-50% of the America public has been under served even disenfranchised by the current system. He suggest that the NY art world is censoring artists that want to present a more , how shall we say, "fair and balanced" art.. ...

"How many pro-life themed exhibits have you seen in NYC, LA, or major museums throughout the country? How many politically themed art exhibits have you seen that point out the flaws of Democrat politicians? How many exhibits have you seen that are honestly supportive of service men and women who make our freedom of expression possible in the first place? Where are those ideas? ...........

And while I suppose to be fair and balanced we should all sit and listen patiently to his ideas but there is something basically down right nasty in this thinking. Maybe it's our countries rehab from the past 8 years of the Bush administration that we all still are recovering from but Brian's not so hidden agenda becomes quite clear when he strongly defends the ultra conservative Devos Foundation's ArtPrize.

He prefers we cast out the robber barons and gatekeepers of culture and replace it with a populace, as if family values and Joe the Plumbers input will somehow improve the system. Brian and Rick Devos insist that ArtPrize is simply a "experiment" of which no harm could come. Maybe thats true. But if ArtPrize is only interested in providing a open dialogue about art why the exclusion of the critical/ curatorial world? Thats not open and it's harmful.

5/08/2009 08:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm writing a paper on artprize and was very surprised to find such hateful comments while doing research. brian sherwin has done much for artists around the world!!! to hint that he is a bigot or supports censorship is total bullshit and i doubt richard has read any of his other writing!!!!!!

after doing a search of richard's full name it is obvious that he is paranoid of christians and thinks christians in the art world are out to hurt everyone. i even found where richard said christians who are homosexual are an enemy that should be stamped out!!!!

dont hate on someone like brian just because he is more known than you are or because people actually agree with his opinions. when he says that the art world should be more fair and balanced with the viewpoints explored in public funded exhibits he is suggesting the same damn thing that democrats have asked for in the radio industry so that the public is presented with a wide range of views. he is more open minded than you richard!!!!!!!

12/15/2010 11:16:00 AM  

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