Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Coined and Minted : Open Thread

There's a story I heard once about an author (can't recall exactly which one, now...anyone?) who was regularly criticized for making up words in his novels and other publications. One day while working on a text, mindful of this criticism, he stopped mid-sentence and looked up a word he wanted to use, only to find it in the dictionary with the clarification that it had been first coined by none other than himself. "Well," he reportedly hmpfed, "If they're going to adopt my words anyway, what's the point of worrying about it?"

This anecdote came back to me this morning, as I read the Manhattan District Attorney's press release about the indictment (the second indictment, mind you) of New York art dealer Lawrence B. Salander, who's being charged (again) with "stealing from and defrauding consignors of art." My mind connected a passage in the presser (yes, I think I just made that word up) to the author's story above and immediately influenced my thinking about something I'm sometimes criticized for here. In my case, the charge has never been that I simply make up words, but rather that I help perpetuate (through this blog and my gallery press releases) a somewhat stylized art-speak. The general objection to this practice (and the truth be told, I normally use an even more exact [read: "art-speaky"] language in discussing work with artists or curators in the gallery than I do in print, and find it immensely useful in most cases, but...) is that it's not how people actually talk and/or think about art, so why does the industry insist on using it.

In reading the DA's press release, though, I paused upon reading this bit:
The victims on this second indictment include the Lachaise Foundation, who consigned the works of Gaston Lachaise, a French born American sculptor known for pushing the boundaries of nude figuration with his innovative portrayals of the female body, [emphasis mine]
I'll admit, my knee-jerk response to this was not kind (I'm not yet fully caffienated). At first I just chuckled, much the way an adult does when a child dresses up in his or her parent's over-sized clothes. Then it occurred to me that perhaps the person writing the press release used to work in a gallery and or perhaps had a background in art history. Finally, though, I wondered whether perhaps the language used to help categorize, define, and clarify ideas that are quite easy to see in art, but difficult to express in words when art is not present, has finally trickled down into the mainstream lexicon.

The answer was none of them, actually. That description of Lachaise's work was lifted straight from a description offered by the Lachaise Foundation (as you'll see if you navigate on the Foundation's website to the "Biography" section and read the last line). But (and this is the important part) this phrase is already being repeated as news agencies around the country reprint the story verbatim from the press release (see, for example). And, somewhere in upstate New York, a young person just learning to read is picking up the North Country Gazette, and being trained to understand that using phrases such as "pushing the boundaries of nude figuration" is how you discuss artwork.

I see nothing wrong with that, actually. Taking baseball jargon as a parallel---for example:
An ace is the primary pitches of a team, the best the team has. A backdoor slider describes a sneaky pitch that is initially outside the strike zone but moves back over the plate at the last moment. Cheese is a crazy name for an exceptional fastball. When players hit a home run, it is referred to as a dinger. A pitch that is hit for a home run is said to be a gopher ball. Third base is also known as a hot corner. If a pitch comes really close to a batter's hands, it is called a jam. If someone has a batting average around .200, he is said to be around the Mendoza line. Balls traveling fast, anywhere, are called peas and baseball fights or scuffles are called rhubarbs.'s clear that art-speak is hardly the only stylized vocabulary we've developed to reduce complex ideas into bite-sized phrases for more concise, if not always immediately clear, exchanges.

Consider this an open thread on how stylized vocabularies are useful (or not).

Labels: art criticism


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You didn't make up the word "presser", it's just Variety-speak. The industry trade magazine has been using 'presser', 'biz', 'boffo' and million other slang terms over the years, some of which have drifted into the wider lexicon.

----ondine nyc

7/15/2009 09:33:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I thought I had heard it used before, but a quick google search didn't turn it up, so I thought best to at least acknowledge it might not be real.


7/15/2009 09:43:00 AM  
Blogger Bromo Ivory said...

Jargon (my word for "stylized vocabulary" in your post) I think is pretty pervasive in any area of specialized activity (even Religion!) - since the use of jargon conveys ideas rapidly and precisely.


It also sends a message that you are at least somewhat educated (on the "inside") in the subject in which you speak. People usually assume you know a fair amount when you can "talk the talk" even if you don't. So it can lead to confusion and frustration if used haphazardly.

When i am getting involved in something new, i will deliberately *not* use jargon even if I know it, since I do not want to give the impression that I know more than I do, especially when I am learning. Or I will be careful to point out that I am an absolute beginner if I have to use a term so as to avoid several sentences.

(In the Web design industry, here is a PUBLISHED list of their specialized terms:

7/15/2009 09:44:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Jargon is fine if it doesn't obscure. It also dates things. I recall browsing through a general art history book and reading phrases like "flatness of the picture plane" or "echoing the edge of the support." Both were phrases found in the art jargon of sixties formalist criticism but which we hardly use any more.

Even more interesting is that how we speak, how we articulate the sounds of speech also changes and evolves over time. This is subtle enough that it isn't immediately apparent, but kids today 'talk different' than kids fifty years ago.

7/15/2009 10:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At it's roots, language is merely some strange system of approximating meaning, so I say why not cultivate more and deeper meanings as our understanding of things evolve.

In some languages there are multiple words for various states or conditions of some familiar concept such as snow (a name for light airy snow a name for densely packed heavy snow etc).

The bottom line with language usage is-- if it carries a meaning to the audience it targets, then it can and should be employed to expand meanings and understanding of a specific body of knowledge.

I happen to enjoy your press releases, though I do not always grasp the totality of their meaning at first. However, by being challenged to understand them I am being educated about new ways to consider and reflect upon art.

I think the fundamental consideration should be who is your audience and will a particular use of specialized language benefit their understanding of what you are trying to communicate.


7/15/2009 10:24:00 AM  
Blogger Christopher Quirk said...

The coiner/writer you mentioned might be Thomas Hardy. I read a reminiscence of someone visiting him that sounded like that, but can't recall who wrote it or where I saw it.

7/15/2009 10:53:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

The coiner/writer you mentioned might be Thomas Hardy

Yes!!! I believe it was...thanks so much (my memory ain't what it used to be, including the, um, quote of his response to that discovery).

7/15/2009 10:58:00 AM  
Blogger Kurt said...

Use of a specific vocabulary is a way of performing competency. You wouldn't want a doctor to say something like, "the operation involves making a small incision into your tummy."

7/15/2009 11:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Larry said...

I think there are two issues in Ed's original post: coining new vocabulary and speaking in the jargon of a specific profession. Every profession has its own jargon that marks one as a member of the group, and which may or may not be familiar to people outside the group. Some of the jargon may be pretentious, but other terms are essential to convey precise meanings. As someone trained in music, for example, I would be at a loss without terms like Neapolitan sixth, col legno, accelerando, or appoggiatura. Each of these has a precise meaning that any musician knows, but some of them may sound like insider talk even to general music lovers - for whom a Neapolitan sixth sounds more like a flavor of Italian ice cream than a chord built on the flattened second degree of the scale in the first (or 6/3) inversion. Everybody got that? On the other hand, an N6 has a very distinct sound that, once heard and identified, is unmistakable.

Coining new vocabulary (as with the author – Hardy? - in Ed's paragraph 1) is another issue. Shakespeare did it all the time - making verbs from nouns, nouns from adjectives, verbs from pronouns. Consider Edgar's "He childed as I father'd" from King Lear. Today it's common to say someone fathered a child, but how often do you hear "childed" as a verb? Yet although today there is less freedom in doing this kind of thing than in Shakespeare's time, one occasionally hears some striking new verbal inventions. I'll never forget how one of my writing students agreed to "concise" his paper when told his style was rather verbose. (Yes, I know . . . .) I use that coinage all the time now, but always giving credit to Roy W_____ for his clever neologism.

7/15/2009 11:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Kurt:

Use of a specific vocabulary is a way of communicating competency. Performing competency would be doing the operation successfully.

Since we're talking words. ; )

7/15/2009 11:46:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

The NYT has an article on the Urban Dictionary - a web site with dubious authority (it's open source) but with often clever neologisms, spoonerisms, mondegreens and whatever -


Another word for jargon is "cant" as in "Thieves Cant" - the supposed language of the underworld. "Hey bro do you have a package? I need a face lift."

Gypsies speak "Egyptian."

Pick a sub-culture.

I recently discovered:

Specifically to art though - I remember being nonplussed by such boners as "pos-neg" (for the "push and pull") or negative space vs positive space flip flop any two year old trips out on in the doctors office carpet (or maybe I'm precocious?) There was also the books - people quoting titles and chapter headings: "I'm making non-spaces" or"I'm into social sculpture" or "I'm reenchanting art" or"I'm shocking you with the new." Are you seriously reading Ranciere? Hal Foster? Most artists I know haven't cracked that stuff in ages, if at all. Foucault was popular....

I couldn't understand why we were dealing with kindergarten type formal stuff (I believe a direct result of the Bauhaus and it's post war mentality).

Then I realized that this LACK was part of the "deskilling" effect caused by the rapid expansion/creation of art schools with the GI Bill coupled with new age intellectual ideals (seventies conceptualism) and ultimately, lack of funding for the arts, for which these ideas and "modes of production" served to apologize for.

Economic and "forward thinking," conceptualism fills our bowls with cultural gruel - I never felt poor.
(But I was and I liked it that way).

Lack of vocabulary does distress me as much as my lack of real academic drawing skill and antiintellectualism in general (Intellectuals are not a slippery slope to Holerith tattoos and Nazis, people!).

I (a pseudointellect) have been chastized here and elsewhere for using big words - or speaking in argot, toungues, nonsense and ect. Not to mention verboseness - which Winkleman is guilty of (though I find the accusation of being too art speaky(ish) laughable in comparison to THOSE WHO PUSH BOUNDARIES AND CALL INTO QUESTION, IN CONFLATION AD NAUSIUM DOMINE VOIBISCUM, CAVIAT EMPTOR, AMEN).

I could go on but the gist of it is this:

You can speak AS something or speak OF something, but don't confuse the two. Occam's Razor, brah! Beelzebub's toungue!

Glossolalia! Esperanto!

7/15/2009 12:45:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Language defines our world, it defines how we exist within the world, how we navigate space, make things etc.

Jargon, or technical vocabularies allow us to repeat what we might only experience as accident - it is one thing to hear the chord, quite another to repeat it in a different key.

7/15/2009 01:28:00 PM  
Blogger Bromo Ivory said...

Interesting, too, all the Euphamisms, too, used to convey the unpleasant. Such as "Firing" vs "Layoff" vs "Involuntary Separation" in corporate speak. Something unpleasant will have words that are highly formal and as emotionless as possible to convey a rather emotional event.

Not quite art-speak, but an interesting side light.

7/15/2009 01:42:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

For all you reading at my grade level or below:


But look who's talking, and look what he had to read to say what he says. It's an act. This dude loves conceptual art, or did. And he's preaching to the converted (who cares?).

And also: what are we going to do about it besides yelling FIRE! and leaping to man the barricades like the communards? (The Revolutionaries, though they owned the city, were afraid to rob the bank!)

Tolstoy said truth was not beauty and beauty was not art. That was the start of the anti-esthetic in critical discourse? Why do we think symmetry is beauty and beauty, truth?

7/15/2009 01:43:00 PM  
Blogger Christopher Quirk said...

"Yes!!! I believe it was...thanks so much (my memory ain't what it used to be, including the, um, quote of his response to that discovery)."
Neither is mine, obviously, but your rendition rang a bell. It was told by another writer visiting Hardy late in his life. If I come across the reference, I'll send it along.

7/15/2009 01:58:00 PM  
Blogger George said...


7/15/2009 02:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoy Ekphrastic poetry as a way into art. In the best of it, style enhances understanding. In terms of critical writing though, the poet's outlook generally seems to be considered less useful now. Why? Is it because it is unabashedly subjective? Or am I looking in all the wrong places?


7/15/2009 02:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

I'm personally impressed by Zipthwung's ability to use words.
I don't know about his or her art but I think he or she could make
a great book writer. Not necessarely something that people would grasp at first sight,
but maybe a kind of Count Of Lautreamont.

I'm very weak with words, but I have a medical history that explains it. I invent words when
I can't find the right ones. When I read a complex PR text, I need to mentally transcribe it in my own jargon so that I can decide if it makes sense. A lot of people in art complexify language but mean very simple, obvious things.

I'm very aware that we live in a society where people are judged upfront on how they express themselves with vocabulary. It's allright with me. When I was at school, I took care to choose the courses where the least vocabulary was needed (How To Get Good Grades In Art School, book from Cedric coming soon). I still ended receiving offers to write for art magazines, and I tried, lord did I try.. and it was only a bleak mirror of something I already knew: I sucked!

Now when journalists write that blogging have downgraded the quality of discourse, I always think they mean me. It's an awful sentiment, lol! but becoming like all those artists who do art but that you rarely see communicate or talk or have a presence in web 2.0 sound very unoriginal to me. Now, when I read the low level of discourse in places like Youtube, I feel like blog commenting is really up par
with the cultural Status Quo. I think 2000 was the decade of the "Standard Person: SPEAK!", which opened the can of worms of the lowliest forms of jargons, and
somehow I needed to feel like I was part of this global shift
(writing a dumb comment on a MJ funeral youtube clip is a cultural MUST). 2010 is approaching fast and because it's still important to me to feel like I'm living on some sort of edge, I might already be looking forward new ventures than blog-commenting.

Cedric Casp

7/15/2009 04:22:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I'm personally impressed by Zipthwung's ability to use words.

D'oh!!! And just when we finally managed to get his/her head back through the door!!!


I agree.

7/15/2009 05:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

You're conflating jargon and cliché. Something like "dinger" is not reducible to its component terms. "Pushing the boundaries of [__]" is. It probably served as an apt metaphor for something in art at one point, but through empty, reflexive overuse lost its value as phrase.

Today I learned about closures, in the computer science sense. A closure is a first-class function that has access to variables in the same scope in which the function is invoked. Terms like this make communication possible, because they represent something specific that takes a lot of trouble to describe in simpler language. Art has relatively few such terms. Much of what troubles art writing is not jargon per se, but a lack of insistence upon using words to mean something in particular. There is no excuse for this in nonfiction. Despite the fact that some writers are ready to fight for their right to use vague, arty, proudly malformed language, doing so is pretentious and lazy. People who worry about the accessibility of their program to the general art-viewing public should avoid this like dioxin.

The clichés come about when stock phrases substitute for judgment. The Lachaise Foundation is using "pushing the boundaries of nude figuration" as if it were a presumed good. Considering the words on their own, he could have pushed them into an undesirable shape. You can read Clement Greenberg's admiration of the flatness of Newman, Rothko, and Still ("a flatness that breathes and pulsates," as he eloquently put it), but he never said that flatness was a requisite for good art. It was left to his detractors, desperate for a straw man, to claim that he had. (This is the centenary of Greenberg's birth, and I challenge everyone to read an entire book of his essays sometime this year. The above line comes from Art and Culture.) Art doesn't lend itself to generalizations, and writing specifically is hard.

7/15/2009 10:04:00 PM  
Blogger CAP said...

I guess we're not going to have a Dash post.

Unless Zip swings by....

7/15/2009 11:01:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Some of those examples in your link Franklin, are probably from young interns who just discovered they can take the training wheels off.

Metaphor! Simile!

I don't think closure is THE good in criticism. The public could do with a little brevetoxin to numb their chapped lips.

Specificity and rational clarity though, has it's uses - boring people to death at cocktail parties, for example. Or setting sculptures on their bases. Making dull paintings that threaten no one and say nothing. Critiquing cum stained collages as if they were chaotic flow diagrams (Dash Snow bro!)

While I am no fan of mystificatory obfuscation (see the Sokol hoax)
I do prefer poetry to didactic assaults on good work by the pedants of industry.

The language of Greenbergian formalism, by now, is a cliche, and of limited use and scope to most contemporary artists working on "the new." For context I'd go with anthropology (Emile Durkheim, Mircea Eliade, Sir James Frazer) but that's just me.

Malapropisms and other language gaffes are not intrinsically lazy - I believe many people who are dyslexic or otherwise (on drugs, smart) use them proudly.

What is totally unacceptable is hyperbolic claims to excellence and significance applied to rubenesque or amazonian female nudes, thank
you. (and I do include Botero's freakish dwarfs in this)

7/15/2009 11:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

DEAR ED (please post this, it needs to be said)---

THIS statement IS addressed TO zip!!!

what did you say Brah!?

Seriously, your masturbatory self whore mongering posturing is entirely a didactic postulated pasteurized assault on common decency in written exchange.

All of your posts lack any serious strand of coherence... obviously you are intelligent, please just try to say something within the context of the conversation rather than carrying along with your inane

We would all love you for it.

---just a guy who likes this blog, but doesn't want to stop checking in just to avoid the Zipster show.

7/16/2009 01:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

Oh wow, sounds like a great book I never heard about:

Jennifer McMahon at Simpleposie used to have this series of Discombobulated Art PR where she would deconstruct art PR that didn't make sense (there should be a compilation of those, it was a lot of fun).

I wonder if anyone deconstructed the Sokal text (as in: delineate phrase by phrase what didn't make sense). Maybe I'll have a look into it, I've been coincidentally reading about quantum mechs recently.

As an artist I've been attracted recently by providing a narrative environment for visual experiments in the field of minimalist mannerism.

Cedric Casp

7/16/2009 04:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

When people say something that doesn't make sense, you have to test it to verify its possibility.

That's how you end up with Extreme Ironing:

Cedric Casp

7/16/2009 05:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

On the contrary, Zipthwung, these are the alleged experts of the field who, like you, have equated clarity with boredom. Clarity is fascinating if you have something interesting to say. If you have nothing interesting to say, or don't understand what you're trying to say, tortured syntax doesn't solve your problem, just like flailing doesn't solve your problem when you're drowning. The main plague of art writing, distinct from the woes that plague writing in general, is writers who think it sufficient to kick up a haze of ideas, and let readers depart with whatever understanding (or lack thereof) they happen to end up with. Some of these writers are trying to emulate mystical or poetic wisdom, some are trying to signal a particular audience by squawking, some have not bothered to question their own thinking, and some simply don't know what they're talking about. The end result is the same, though: a parody of thinking passed off as real thinking.

Again: everyone has to read a whole book of Greenberg this year. If you do, you'll find that there is no "Greenbergian formalism." You'll find as well that his language conforms admirably to plain English.

7/16/2009 08:16:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

You're conflating jargon and cliché.

I think I'm conflating jargon and and cliche and artspeak in general, but I actually only drew a parallel between artspeak and baseball jargon, as both aim to do the same thing : "reduce complex ideas into bite-sized phrases for more concise, if not always immediately clear, exchanges." I didn't mean to suggest "pushes the boundaries of..." was jargon. It is, however, artspeak.

People who worry about the accessibility of their program to the general art-viewing public should avoid this like dioxin.

Gallery communications are more complex than just addressing the general public, however. In a gallery you're speaking to a wide range of people (some much more likely to do something for your artists than others [e.g., curators]), and so trying to span the spectrum of experience/working art vocabulary they're bringing to the exhibition is tricky. It's not an exact science, and I'm hardly an A+ student at it, but I'll keep your opinion in mind.

7/16/2009 08:28:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Zip said,The language of Greenbergian formalism, by now, is a cliche, and of limited use and scope to most contemporary artists working on "the new.

This is a case where cliché is an apt term as it refers to what people think "formalism" means rather than the actual historical specifics. The cliché of "flatness" and the rest, regardless of who they are rightfully attributed to, are ideas stuck in the past, dinosaurs of a previous fad. It really doesn't matter what the truth is, only what we are willing to believe, hence clichés exist.

While I can personally think of a number of ways to extend the formalist project, I have little interest in doing so and it appears that no one else does either. So we are advised to read Greenberg, what has he done for us lately?

On a second note, if someone has difficulty in comprehending Zip, why not just skip over the comment? Really, complaining makes it sound like you're intimidated by him and we wouldn't want that, would we?

7/16/2009 09:34:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Franklin said, "Some of these writers are trying to emulate mystical or poetic wisdom, some are trying to signal a particular audience by squawking, some have not bothered to question their own thinking, and some simply don't know what they're talking about."

I'm not sure what you mean by the above, Franklin. Are you saying that non-specific persons are self-exerting a simulacrum of anti-rational or melodious profundity, while other non-specific persons are self-exerting a cue-based communication to a precise person group via an up-volume cry, while yet other non-specific persons have employed a contra-effort mode as non-examination of individualized concept processing, while still other non-specific persons unadornedly brain-fail their lip/tongue spew? If so, I get it.

7/16/2009 09:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Dalen said...

"...speaking to a wide range of people (some much more likely to do something for your artists than others [e.g., curators]), and so trying to span the spectrum of experience/working art vocabulary tricky."

The advice often given to writers to consider their audience is much easier said than done. When recently reworking artist/work statements for Artprize proposal, I had a difficult time figuring out just who I should have in mind as my audience. The general (?) public is voting, but if winning is not really my main objective for exhibiting...

In looking at the artist profiles on the site (this is not self-promotion, as I’m not on there - yet), they run the gamut from armor-like artspeak to talking about family. How to come across as serious, knowledgeable, yet accessible is quite the conundrum.

7/16/2009 10:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Ed, I understand your situation, and that you have to adjust your language based on the background the person you're talking to. I continue to believe that one can speak to experts in a manner that honors their expertise without cutting corners on the truth with language that doesn't do it justice. I'm also far from perfect in this respect but as a writer I worry about the problem. Lying is a sin. True sentences don't come easy.

George, I advise you to read a whole book of Greenberg this year because no author is known so completely in the form of caricature. Particularly in your case, it seems. I'm not sure what you mean by the "formalist project" but I could put you in touch with any number of people who work with abstraction or are generally trying to make their art look better.

Tom, nicely done.

7/16/2009 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Yes Franklin Clement is a cliche, better to plagiarize and throw the text inside the candy coated trojan horse of fluff (Mathew Collings, David Hickey, et al).

The same with Freud (whos writings I know vaguely) Freud is not so bad if you read selectively and with a critical unjaundiced eye.

It does behoove us to speak precisely when speaking of the taxonomic - cows, donkeys, sheep. But does it make us better people? Does it generate new ideas? New modes of thought? New means of production?

Several comments point to the fad for mere poetry as criticism (back in the fifties). Indeed several poets are citics now (John Yow) though they fail to engage the six senses.

What is the audience? For purposes of clarity let us point to the SERIOUS who are but fodder for our game:

Indeed, Clement Greenberg may be clear, but if his 'clarity' is 'clear,' are his ideas of 'purity' 'pure?' I say, his is a false purity in the notion of 'progress'! It is the false consciousness that makes Marx turn in his grave! That lights the jerri curls of industry on fire! (the flame that started the decline and fall!)

Look for example at the less clear:

Lacan (pure poetry that requires numerous ENGAGED interpreters (like priests!) to plug the hole in his petit donut? His clear...must....reach bat interpreter...uhng!)
Deleuze and Guyatari (What indeed is a Rhizome? Who needs a body without organs? How are we to cope with the x-treme anti-oedipus in all of us? What grapel hook or harpoon must we use to scale the thousand plateaus? WHere is Shangri La?)

For serious! masturbatory self whore mongering! posturing! didactic postulated pasteurized assault! This is the written exchange! But you, you who are not the audience, repent!and then: RESIST!

Next up:

The provincialism perpetrated and perpetuated by the transnational art fair and why they cling to the bloody raft even as it sinks to the depths of modernist folly!

7/16/2009 11:20:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

F, you're such a pretentious academic, are we talking about "closure" to establish your academic credentials? Or are you just trying to impress the girls? Really, what makes you assume I have not read Greenberg recently? I have and I disagree with him. Further, why would I even want to read Greenberg? Are his writings going to make me a better artist? Name one artist who has managed to establish a career identity by championing an art critic. There are none.

What I mean by "formalist project" is simple, it would be an extension of the formalist approach to art writing established in the past, updating it and extending its scope.

It has nothing to do with "abstraction" or ... people who work with abstraction or are generally trying to make their art look better. Also, FYI, I didn't bring Greenberg up only the formalist cliché in the context of this topic of art jargon.

What language, including specialized language such as artspeak, gives us is a fresh way of considering artworks. Language facilitates creativity in a number of ways but most simply by just giving us license to explore beyond what is considered acceptable or good. Acceptability and goodness come of their own accord in due time.

7/16/2009 11:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

George says: 'Name one artist who has managed to establish a career identity by championing an art critic. There are none.'

That rings true though plenty of artists have established reputations because a critic championed them.

I think Baudelaire had it right when he said, " I sincerely believe that the best criticism is the criticism that is entertaining and poetic; not a cold analytical type of criticism, which, claiming to explain everything, is devoid of hatred and love, and deliberately rids itself of any trace of feeling,..."


7/16/2009 03:22:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

But George, "to explore beyond what is considered acceptable or good" by shattering the rules of clear communication (written or visual) is easy. Any child can break the rules. But to be clear, concise and simple is hard. Hardest of all is to be clear, concise and simple while also breaking the rules. Artspeak - unlike some of the best visual art - almost never manages that most difficult accomplishment.

7/16/2009 03:32:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Language facilitates [artistic] creativity in a number of ways but most simply by just giving us license to explore beyond what is considered acceptable or good [art].

While I wasn't speaking about literature or art criticism, I suppose the same idea would apply.

The issue is how we find license, the courage to expl;ore outside of our creative boundaries. Sometimes this will happen just because we receive support, acknowledgment from someone else that the project is worth sustaining. This sort of 'breaking out' is more difficult for artists with some experience under their belt, old habits die hard and their peers don't support them.

7/16/2009 03:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Zipthwung, clear writing will not necessarily improve one's person or generate new ideas (although it might). Vague or arty writing will not necessarily do so either (although it might). Writing is just a way of turning thoughts into something worth keeping. Left inchoate, writing looks like all the other forgettable stuff that kicks around one's head all day and part of the night.

Since you brought it up, here's Greenberg on purity from 1976: "Purity" of and in art — any art, including music and dance — is an illusory notion, of course. It may be remotely conceivable or imaginable, but it can't be realized because it can't be recognized any more than a "pure" human being or a "pure" (or, for that matter, gratuitous) act can be. All the same, for Western art in its Modernist phase "purity" has been a useful idea and ideal, with a kind of logic to it that has worked, and still works, to generate aesthetic value and maintain aesthetic standards as nothing else in our specializing culture has over the last hundred-odd years.

George, I brought up Greenberg to illustrate the difference between a simple descriptor and one turned into a value judgment. Artspeak obviously does not give us a fresh way to consider works of art when it takes the form of "pushing the boundaries," applies it to Gaston Lachaise, and gets parroted by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. The only thing missing from your comment at 11:29 is an accusation that I'm talking like a fag.

It's worth pointing out the pernicious aspect of all this. The legacy of deconstructionist writers would seem to permit two things: a regard for truth as malleable and mediated by language, and a disdain of rational clarity in favor of interesting sentiments, loosely associated to the topic. That probably sounds okay in an art context, but it could equally describe Sarah Palin's resignation speech. I guess I don't have to elaborate why that's a problem.

Cathy, I tend to think that Fairfiled Porter, via Harold Rosenberg, got it right when he said that the best criticism is the best description.

7/16/2009 04:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

Some art is better left unexplained (its fueling on its own mystery), and other art is so blunt that there isn't anything much to add about it.

So perhaps criticism works better for a certain spetrum of artistic proposals, and when you get to the extremes, you're either dealing with hermetic nonsense (the critic can't actually make sense of what he/she experienced) or previsible clichés (the critic just repeats what everbody already saw and know
by heart about the work).

Maybe our problem lies in our high expectations in the capabilities of art criticism, or our belief that it can have the absolute final word on any atistic endeavour.

Cedric Casp

7/16/2009 04:12:00 PM  
OpenID dorfmeister said...

"Pushing boundaries" is artspeak, yes, but it's more in the vein of "this was the greatest game I've ever been to" than other baseball exaples you've given so generously. Of course, when a person says that "this" (SuperBowl 2009) was the "greatest" game, it only means that that (SuperBowl 2009) was the greatest game he's been to. Ditto the "boundaries" issue: People who use this kind of frasing either haven't seen enough or are writing for the audience that is presumed not to see enough.

Because when you say "boundaries", you get a reaction of "what boundaries? Are there any left yet?"

7/16/2009 04:42:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

I agree, "purity" is important in drinking water and for nuns.

Franklin said that he brought up Greenberg to illustrate the difference between a simple descriptor and one turned into a value judgment. I realize that this couldn't have been directed at me since all I noted was that formalist jargon made its way into the text books and it now looks dated today (as jargon) There was no value judgment on my part.

Since you are the one harping on Greenberg, clear something up for me, why after his initial success did he fall out of favor, attracting a large cadre of detractor?

Certainly it wasn't because he didn't write well. I suspect that after the initial blush, his ideas began to feel rigid, inflexible and incapable of dealing with the ever evolving body of artworks being produced.

Worse, formalist criticism failed to extend itself primarily because its adherents were/are incapable of thinking outside the minimalist box. It's really kind of sad, you're making such a fuss about this but I don't feel you really have clue about how to carry forward with the program. Repeating past paradigms, is like watching a hamster racing on his wheel, stuck in one spot.

7/16/2009 05:21:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Cedric says:Some art is better left unexplained (its fueling on its own mystery), and other art is so blunt that there isn't anything much to add about it.

Whoo hoo, now we're talking. It's interesting how we use language with artworks, everybody makes remarks like "Artist A" reminds me of "Artist B" If you're an artist it's something you would probably not want to hear. Yet we all do it, why is this? When faced with something unfamiliar we have a strong impulse to identify it, to name it, or it fades from our awareness. Maybe, we associate one artist with another because our current critical language is not sufficiently developed to act as a substitute. Well, it's a thought.

7/16/2009 05:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

Is it culturally relevant anyways in 2009 to push the boundaries of nude figuration? Who cares? I'm not even looking.

I'll tell you what: Xtube pushed the boundaries of nude figuration.
It's not something that any single artist can claim.

Next topic.

Cedric Casp

7/16/2009 05:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

George, I didn't say you were making a value judgment. You noted certain formalist terms as clichés and I pointed out that the clichés appear when simple descriptors turn into value judgments.

I've asked around about how Greenberg got so many detractors and the answer is complicated and quite off-topic. It was a mix of history, interpersonal politics, and the singularity of his talents.

You say, "It's really kind of sad, you're making such a fuss about this but I don't feel you really have clue about how to carry forward with the program." The main thing I take away from Greenberg is that there is no program. "Art is a matter strictly of experience, not of principles," he said. This is really what kills the writers. Writers have nothing to work with except descriptions and generalizations, the descriptors are inadequate, and the generalizations are inherently wrong on some level. Coordinating words and experiences is really difficult. Artspeak lets you give up on the challenge in a marginally acceptable way, but it's still a capitulation.

7/16/2009 07:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Using words to adequately describe the work of a particular artist to a stranger to it might be easier than describing the color 'red' to one blind to that color. Fitting description is respectful to the artist but eloquence is respectful to the audience. Doing both is still inadequate but takes everyone the furthest. Criticism can be a helpful filter or a tainting one. Words in music?

7/16/2009 07:51:00 PM  
Blogger David Cauchi said...

If you were to read a listing for an upcoming tv show that read in part: 'This show pushes the boundaries of the situation comedy', would you blink? Would you say 'What a remarkable instance of artspeak invading the tv listings?'

I think not.

Putting the phrase into google, the top three results are 'Pushing the boundaries of design', some plonker life coach whose entire life apparently has consisted of pushing the boundaries, and some blog about a piece of software.

See here for more.

7/16/2009 07:53:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Is pushing boundaries the same thing as artistic freedom in the 21st Century? Or has the art world's expectation of boundary-pushing become an oppressive weight on the spirit of most artists?

Pushing boundaries cannot result in great art forever - any more than classical training did. (It can be argued that today's "avant garde" art is in fact a second phase of academic art - if you see art as something more than a question of concepts and mediums.) Yes, the pushing of boundaries has always been present in art, but it did not always define art.

I think a new expectation of art is in order, and will form in this century. Who knows what it will prove to be ... or: who can pre-anticipate a concretion stage of the art world's evolutionary particles ... ;-)

7/16/2009 07:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you are not dotting the 'e's or crossing the 'i's you are not getting anywhere.
I started attending coining a phrase classes nearly a decade ago. And there were nuns on seats.

While we didn't come up with 'the boundary of a nude figuration' we did invent Any White Elephant for a Cause. And this has stuck.

George almost had one, "Jargon is a fine obscurer of taste."

So close:-)

But will have to give that to the nun sitting at Table 5. A BIG ROUND OF APPLAUSE!

Bums on Nuns.

Thanks Tableen for pointing me here.

7/16/2009 10:22:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

I believe language does structure thought as stated above and by cunning linguists like Lakoff and Johnson (I presume they are real people).

You can't deny it; The intuitive Innuit have probably like 14,000,000.01 words for snow.

But who cares. The Eskimoes actually have no word for
decentralized distribution systems.
NO advanced awareness of marketing techniques honed during the last five international economic downturns (IEDTS).

Semantically handicapped Eskimo culture must thus be termed inferior in this context.

Lets get back to baseball, if you build it they will come! That's Jerry Saltz, quoting field of dreams, ladies and gentleman! Now lets open the floor to the general swim.

7/16/2009 11:54:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Did Greenberg write clearly because that was the way to reach a public that was hostile to the small and vulnerable world of Modern Art? Did artspeak develop as the art world grew in size and became self-sufficient - and it realized it no longer had to consider the hostility of a wider public? Is artspeak a way for Contemporary Art to declare that the hoi polloi are now irrelevant? Artspeak is certainly exclusory.

7/17/2009 09:37:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Franklin says The main thing I take away from Greenberg is that there is no program.

I take this to mean you think Formalist Criticism is dead. If not, then it has rigor mortis? If not, then there is a 'program' a way to utilize the conceptual stance of formalism in an expanded way which can deal with todays art. If not, then formalist criticism is indeed dead.

7/17/2009 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Tom goes with: Pushing boundaries cannot result in great art forever - any more than classical training did.

While the results of the two might not be the same, they are not mutually exclusive. Neither define art, both are related to the art making process but they do not guarantee the result will be good art or even art at all.

The problem is stasis and one solution is to push against the boundaries, against the edge of what is known or comfortable. Cedric asks Is it culturally relevant anyways in 2009 to push the boundaries of nude figuration? It's a good question because it points out the time dimensional aspect that is inherent in any cultural "boundary." Our cultural limits are different today than they were yesterday. The fact that Cedric made the observation infers that this particular question has been apparently dealt with and is of a lower priority. Still, as we move forward in cultural time, the issues may be raised anew.

7/17/2009 10:29:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Tom 9:37, No, and No. I have two nieces who attended UC Berkeley majoring in Lit and Art History. It was around 1999 and they told me that their friends played a game to see how convoluted and obscure they could make a piece of writing.

While this was a result of Postmodernist thought it was more like a disease which crept into other fields as well, including the sciences. Anybody ever read string theory? 47 dimensional bulls**t.

I have a hunch postmodernism (whatever) was the fish flapping out of water, the confusion caused by the end of the modernist ideal of continuing evolutionary progress defining modern life. It's another topic.

7/17/2009 10:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Dalen said...

If we think of boundaries in art as defined by the edge of a spotlight shining forward as we move across the terrain of time, then that means there are boundaries closing in behind us as well, ones that newly-minted artists may not have traveled across in quite the same manner.

As Proust said "The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes."

7/17/2009 11:08:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

George, I think art has indeed come to be defined by the pushing of boundaries. Boundary-pushing is now the standard by which new art is measured. Success in art today (at least in the sense of getting the most attention) = the pushing of boundaries. So boundary-pushing has - paradoxically - become stasis, i.e., a cause of creative stoppage for many artists, or at least a big obstacle that all artists must climb over. Unnecessarily. Because art is about many more things than just pushing boundaries. Dismissed things - like beauty (the creation of which does not require an artist to retrogress in any way).

7/17/2009 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Dalen, nicely put.

7/17/2009 11:32:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Tom, that's silly. Pushing against the boundary cannot result in stasis. It's possible that it might not be good art.

It perplexes me how such a simple idea, boundary pushing, can cause such resistance among other artists. It's part of the creative process which has been adopted as a term to describe art.

Any artist, regardless of their medium, will never work in an unbroken continuous process. There are times when the work comes with great difficulty, and times when it seems easy. There are times when the work has its own conceptual boundary and the artist explores within its parameters until boredom sets in. As a result the artist "expands the boundaries," their own personal boundaries, or what they consider the boundaries of all art, seeking the excitement and inspiration that comes with something fresh and new. This is a 'breathe in -- breathe out' process, like life itself and without it the art is dead.

7/17/2009 11:48:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

The professor, in my past, asking archly why someone wouldn't or couldn't paint to the edges of a painting made me wonder: what is it that the professor, or artist, even, thought they were showing (teaching) me by pointing the edges of the canvas out? Because right now I find even making work a real chore, and it never was before art school (or during it, mostly), not even when I was teaching myself how to draw a car with the weird rounded wheel wells in perspective (sometime in my blissful youth).

Now I don't draw cars, they just aren't that interesting, and besides, there are tons of people (non artists!) who can draw them better, even design new ones on the fly. Formally that's where the rubber meets the road as far as I'm concerned.

So when Someone tries to tell me a painting is about flatness, or negative space (metaphorical or phenomenological), I think, well is a car about the drive train? The gas tank? Or the driver? I get all mixed up until I realize the zen of it all - get a motorcycle! That's what I want. I'd definitely be able maintain the edges if someone offered me a motorcycle and a studio to park it in rent free.

Are the best artists the ones who don't need studios - post studio? The ones on the open road gunning it towards the edge? Certainly there are lots of artists in NY doing "drink and draw" while pushing their arms to the limits around dangerous curves.

7/17/2009 12:53:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

TOm Herring - art speak and Jargon in general have a way of creatign an insider group - this inside/outside dichotomy (yep) is good and bad - good in that it creates a commodity in exclusivity with information being the marketable commodity as well as acceptance. Social clubs rely on this sort of bargaining, disguised as buy-backs for drinks, blatant entry fees and obligations to participate (you pay with time).

Obviously no one should join a scoial group for purely business reasons, but business is best conducted with friends unless you are selling to your competitors. A fair price is quite a concept!

But organizations like the Modern Language Association have little money - and thus the language becomes the currency. I think that's more interesting in a way. Artists like money, but artists also like to watch their paper boats float down the Yangtze, even western cigarette boats.

7/17/2009 12:59:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

George, you know I'm not talking about an artist's own development. Boundary-pushing becomes stasis, out there in the art world, when the pushing of boundaries is made the measure of all things. We can argue about whether or not it has in fact become the measure of all things. It's my perception that it has. Boundary-pushing has at least become sine qua non for any art that hopes to be judged a serious contender. That's a relatively new value judgment that I think is silly because, as I said, art is so much more than just pushing boundaries.

7/17/2009 01:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom, I would think that whether or not an artist is blocked by 'boundary pushing' would depend on causality. If an artist searches for boundaries to push in order to feel like a significant, top tier human being, it's unlikely that anything of much significance will come of it and likely that this self conscious action will result in blockage(Though ambition has its place.) If, however, there is an expressive need that is frustrated by the thoughts and tools currently available, new territory might be stumbled into through the search. Or to put it another way 'necessity is the mother of invention'.


7/17/2009 01:48:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Tom, It's fractal, what happens in the studio is a microcosm of what happens in the greater art world. The fact of the matter is that when the boundary is pushed, the artworks change, stasis is avoided. When this does not occur, the artworks go around in circles, repeating themselves.

Now, no artist spends their entire career boundary pushing, typically after a youthful exploration, they will find a piece of territory and work within it for the rest of their lives

I think the real issue here is that when an artist hears the term "boundary pushing" they have an anxiety reaction because they don't know where the boundaries are. This is a problem of externalization, where the artists is looking outside themselves for the answer. When you suggest it has in fact become the measure of all things. it becomes this sort of trap.

If you think painting is dead (I do) and you are a painter (I am) what do you do? Well, you can just pretend it's not true and continue on doing the same old thing. Or, you can ask yourself, what does 'painting being dead' mean? Or, you can ask yourself why you think this might be true and what can be done about it.

Regardless, if you do pay a bit of attention to the outside world, well to your internal representation of it (that's another story) you will see that the history of art is an endlessly continuing sequence of boundary pushes, followed by a trail of investigation and development, leading to burnout and death.

7/17/2009 02:43:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Cathy and George, I agree that boundary-pushing happens in personal development. Good thing, too.

George, painting can be considered dead if there are no boundaries left for it to push. But that's a declaration of death based on a narrow judgment of painting's value. If your values are broad - and include, say, beauty - then painting is very much alive because there are a lot of truly beautiful paintings being made.

7/17/2009 03:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

Wasn't Classicism once a reply to Mannerism and the excesses of Baroque and Roccoco? Wasn't it
about pushing the boundaries in its own ways?

+++language becomes the currency

That's hit-on-the-nail! Most artists now are aware they have to write a good statement about what they do or link to a "description" (ie, hyperbolic praise) from an art writer. That in itself, the conception of automatically linking artistic endeavour with
artspeak, has probably become the main Cliché of contemporary arts.

"Pushing The Boundaries" is something that comes up when I work, but I'm aware the notion becomes more and more about micro-pushing boundaries. You are only pushing the boundaries of what a few artists you love do, or within a precise niche. When you think about "Pushing The Boundaries"
as something global, a whole in itself, it brings you rapidly outside of art, and into realms
of science, technology, and economy. I think the permissive state of art as it is will
in the future permits scientifical discoveries to come out of failed artistic attempts.

Cedric Casp

7/17/2009 04:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I promise when this artspeak thread is over to never use the term 'boundary pushing' again. I keep visualizing a bunch of artists straining against the inside of a rubber band. Ugly.


7/17/2009 05:28:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Cathy said, "If an artist searches for boundaries to push in order to feel like a significant, top tier human being, it's unlikely that anything of much significance will come of it and likely that this self conscious action will result in blockage ..."

I bought some art books at a library sale today. Browsing through them when I got home, I came upon this, which I think is related to your statement, Cathy. It's from "Modern Art: 19th and 20th Centuries" by Meyer Schapiro, and is a comment on "a demoralizing peculiarity of modern art".

"The original artist who holds to his personal method runs the risk of appearing uncreative. It seems a limitation of a great painter that his style has not changed appreciably in twenty years. The world-shaking art of the revolutionary period has become the norm; one expects a revolution in every decade." [Every year?] "This strenuous ideal breeds in the artist a straining for modernity and a concern with the historical position of his work; it often prevents him from maturing slowly and from seeking depth and fullness as much as freshness and impact."

I also came upon this, which is related to what I've been saying. It's from "My Quest For Beauty" by Rollo May (a signed copy!).

"This is the fundamental importance of beauty and of the art that springs from a love of beauty. The humanities, such as art and music and poetry, exist for one purpose alone: to enhance the quality of human existence."

I like that. :-)

7/17/2009 06:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent Tom. Just because we live in a disposable world doesn't mean we should view our own output that way. If change is necessary, then let it happen. But I protect, and have learned to cherish, what is mine.

7/17/2009 06:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

Every Fine Art is looking for beauty. It just may not be looking for aesthetic beauty. Humanities understand that they are other forms of beauty than aesthetics. A
lot of contemporary arts have been sending the message that ideas can be as beautiful as beautiful objects. Sometimes the message "ugly is beautiful"
is moralistically refreshing too.

I think art enhances life because it entertains it. Even when it makes you think it's always through
a form that is entertaining.

Cedric Caspesyan

7/17/2009 07:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

George, I don't know how you got from "there is no program" to the conclusion that I think that capital-F-C Formalist Criticism is dead. No program simply means no program. You take your generalizations, throw them out the window, and go look at art. If you're a writer, you then attempt to describe what happened.

There may very well be "a way to utilize the conceptual stance of formalism in an expanded way which can deal with todays art." That looks like a nutty thing to spend your time on, though. I just call them like I see them.

7/17/2009 10:21:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Cathy, the notion of "disposable" as applied to art and artists is interesting.

Schapiro precedes what I quoted before with this: "... the modern movement has provoked a perpetual uneasiness among its followers. In the past an artist of limited originality could rely on what he had learned and like a skilled artisan perfect for himself the style of his youth, confident that the public would find it valid. This is no longer true. The rapid changes of taste," [ the pushing of boundaries? ] "the many competing forms, unsettle the young artist and disturb the mature one. It is necessary to take a stand, to respond to new ideas, to keep up with history." [ Sound familiar? ] "In the sea of modernism, the minor artists are tossed about dangerously by the waves of fashion" [ the pushing of boundaries again? ] "created by the larger or swifter men. The new art of 1910-20 did not create this situation, which was already noted in Europe in the 1840's as a demoralizing peculiarity of modern art; but it has become more acute during the last decades."

And even mpre acute in the fifty-seven years since Schapiro wrote the above. You'd think, with all the current talk about human endeavors having to switch to more sustainable models, there would be some talk about the art world having to switch as well (even if it isn't a matter of green concerns). The extinction of styles of art, art careers and galleries is happening faster and faster. Can the art world continue on in this way and still produce great art and artists? I don't believe so. I think it's long past time the art world changed its operational model from one based on high fashion and rapacious commerce to something more humane and sustainable. And I think this will happen, in the 21st century, from the bottom up. We see signs of it already.

7/18/2009 10:19:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Lets get on the same page with Formalist Criticism - this is in 3 parts

1. Starting with Formalist Literary Criticism which was the intellectual source of this idea.

Formalism (literature)Wiki Link
In literary theory, formalism refers to critical approaches that analyze, interpret, or evaluate the inherent features of a text. These features include not only grammar and syntax but also literary devices such as meter and tropes. The formalist approach reduces the importance of a text’s historical, biographical, and cultural context.
. . .
Beginning in the late 1970s, formalism was substantially displaced by various approaches (often with political aims or assumptions) that were suspicious of the idea that a literary work could be separated from its origins or uses. The term has often had a pejorative cast and has been used by opponents to indicate either aridity or ideological deviance. Some recent trends in academic literary criticism suggest that formalism may be making a comeback.

7/18/2009 11:05:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

2. Now lets look at what Greenberg had to say, essentially defining Formalist Criticism.

The essence of Modernism lies . . . in the use of the characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself - not in order to subvert it, but to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence . . . What had to be exhibited was that which was unique and irreducible not only in art in general but also in each particular art. Each art had to determine, through operations peculiar to itself, the effects peculiar and exclusive to itself. By doing this, each art would, to be sure, narrow its area of competence, but at the same time it would make its possession of this area all the more secure.

It quickly emerged that the unique and proper area of competence of each art coincided with all that was unique to the nature of its medium. The task of self-criticism became to eliminate from the effects of each art any and every effect that might conceivably be borrowed from or by the medium of any other art. Thereby each art would be rendered "pure," and in its "purity" find the guarantee of quality as well as of its independence.

[Clement Greenberg quoted in Columbia literary history of the United States, By Emory Elliott, Martha Banta, Houston A. Baker P. 179]

7/18/2009 11:05:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

3. Now lets look at a contemporary rebuttal:

Formalist art criticism and the politics of meaning. by By: Deniz Tekiner

FROM THE 1940s UNTIL THE LATE 1960s, FORMALIST CRITICISM FUNCTIONED TO appropriate modernist art to the market interests and conventional sensibilities of the art world. By its judgments of taste, it certified the worthiness of art objects for markets, facilitating processes of the reception of artworks as commodities. It thus functioned symbiotically with art marketers. By its support of the market apparatus and its invalidation of social concerns as they are expressed through art, formalism upheld conservative agendas. Limiting its attentions to form alone, it obscured the relationships of art to social contexts and the socially critical implications of art.

Formalism dominated art criticism in the United States during the postwar period, a time in which the center of gravity of the Western art world shifted from Paris to New York, the U.S. experienced an economic boom, complacency characterized political life, and dissent was scarcely tolerated. The North American art critic Clement Greenberg was the leading prolocutor of formalism during this time. Many less prominent critics followed his lead. Greenberg's criticism, which was published mainly in Partisan Review, The Nation, and Commentary, carried on a European formalist tradition that was led in the early 20th century by Roger Fry and Clive Bell. Greenberg believed that the subjects of the visual arts should be their respective media. Painting should be about paint, and sculpture about the materials of sculpture. It follows that politics and narrative, as extraneous to the art media, debase the purity of visual art. Formalists evaluate art according to physical qualities such as color, size, shape, line, texture, and so on, and treat the ideational content of works as irrelevant. They view themselves as being mainly protectors and upholders of high aesthetic standards.
full text linked above

7/18/2009 11:06:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

So suppose we consider Greenberg's position as a starting point.

I have a lot of difficulty with the idea that The task of self-criticism became to eliminate from the effects of each art any and every effect that might conceivably be borrowed from or by the medium of any other art..

This seems like an onerous position which constricts art down to some set of "essentials" and this set of "essentials was advocated by Greenberg in his lifetime. Unfortunately the result was boring art, pretty or not, and a number of failed careers. In the past I liked the oil paintings by Jack Bush, but soon after his meeting with Greenberg he switched to acrylic and "cropping" and the paintings went downhill. Why do you think painters joke about "Do you work in oils or acrylic?" It first came from Greenberg's advocates along with the secret handshake.

But suppose future critics really investigated what "the characteristic methods of a discipline" means, not as Greenberg used it which was narrowly confining and a rear garde defensive position. It is as if Greenberg felt that art had to be protected from itself against intermarriage.

What Franklin seems incapable of doing is moving past being an advocate of a position conceived 50 years ago. The rigidity of this approach ensures that Formalist Criticism remains a historical artifact because it is being restricted from evolving with the culture.

I'm not even interested in it and I can think opf several ways of moving it forward, that's the Program, and I sorry if he doesn't understand.

7/18/2009 11:07:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Tom, permit me to paraphrase the Schapiro quotes you provided. BTW "minor artists" is quoted to refer to Schapiros usage not my assessment of anyone.

Before Modernism the artist was a gilded craftsman, a tradesman who sold his skills to society. The role of the artist was clearly defined by society's needs. After the invention of photography, entering into the age of mechanical reproduction (see Walter Benjamin), the old societal requirements of the artist changed, freeing the artist to address new areas of exploration.

Unfortunately, this extends the role of the artist beyond the rigid training of the craftsman and throws him into the arena with the other thinkers and entertainers. When film developed "talkies" a number of successful actors with lousy voices were suddenly out of work.

Schapiro speaks of "the rapid changes of taste" as "disturbing." I disagree, it is not "taste" which is changing but how it is expressed as art, unshackled from the needs of mimetic documentation, begins to explore other avenues of the human condition.

Schapiro responds to the modernist folly that art must progress, but misrepresents the response to new ideas as keeping up with history, keeping up with progress. This is the essential characteristic of Modernist Art and ultimately its undoing.

"Minor artists" are ravaged by these changes because they are following rather than leading. "Leading" requires internal inspiration and motivation for expression and invention, the "followers" only mimic the external form, the look or style, but it is done falsely without the internal inspiration. It is what makes "minor artists," minor.

Tom suggests that the current talk about human endeavors having to switch to more sustainable models, there would be some talk about the art world having to switch as well.

Why? What would we gain? What you are suggesting is that we dumb down the rules so that "minor artists" can still play the game?

Or maybe I'm interpreting "sustainable models" incorrectly, but "painting" is a sustainable model, it's hardly changed in a thousand years. Maybe you are suggesting that things shouldn't change so rapidly?

Here is a thought, things change at a predictable pace because of human nature. We talk about how much "faster" things are today, but in reality what we are really talking about is how much more stimulus there is. Things change, fashion changes, memes morph and it all takes a certain amount of time to filter through the culture. I don't think this has speeded up all that much over the last 100 years. Yes, we get information faster, but it still seems to take a certain amount of time for something to stick.

Think of "green" which is now a ubiquitous idea, when did that happen?

7/18/2009 12:06:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

George, you asked, "What would we gain? What you are suggesting is that we dumb down the rules so that 'minor artists' can still play the game?"

What exactly would be wrong with an art world that values minor artists almost as much as it does major ones? That sort of art world would be a broad nursery from which great art and artists would arise, and in which both major and minor artists could flourish. Rather than an art world that doesn't allow for a sense of confidence and security, slow development over the course of a lifetime and the maturing of a hard-won style. Who, exactly, does the current situation benefit? Only those who win it all and go to the top - until it's their turn to be weeded out. Which happens sooner rather than later. I'd say this isn't good for art, never mind artists. Though you can't exactly separate the two, can you?

Not good for all artists = not good for art. Unless, of course, you believe that only the strongest SHOULD survive. But then you wouldn't support the whole idea of society, much less the ideals of civilization.

7/18/2009 01:07:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

What exactly would be wrong with...

That's what we have, what's the complaint?

Who, exactly, does the current situation benefit? Only those who win it all and go to the top - until it's their turn to be weeded out.

You can't have both.Worse, I think this remark puts the emphasis exactly in the wrong place, on winning.

Not good for all artists = not good for art.

Bulls**t. Greatness, genius, great art, whatever you want to call it IS NOT a democracy. It's NOT FAIR that someone else is more gifted than you or me, but that's the way it is.

You really need to rethink the whole response, it really is an argument for dumbing things down. I don't buy it.

7/18/2009 01:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You don't need to be a major artist, or even have a reputation as a minor artist, to work from the inside out. And likewise, many unknown artists, like inventors in any field, have original ideas that, for a host of reasons, can't be fully realized. Though some artists are obvious titans among the rest, rankings are limiting.

When I think about sustainability, I think about 'stuff'. There's enough 'stuff' in the world. So of what value is mine? Ha! Not much apparently. I can only think that my contribution lies outside the product, in the attempt, whether original or not, to ponder existence. Thoughts are sustainable.


7/18/2009 01:58:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Cathy, that's true, but what I was respnding to was Schapiro's remarks as Tom presented them which suggested that ... unsettle the young artist and disturb the mature one. It is necessary to take a stand, to respond to new ideas, to keep up with history." [ Sound familiar? ] "In the sea of modernism, the minor artists are tossed about dangerously by the waves of fashion" ...

Tom interjects [ Sound familiar? ] which is an agreement with the implication that artists are following along trying to keep up. In general, I think that it is true, especially for young artists, and that it is a trap when approached without honesty.

There is nothing fair about life, if one is an artist the only thing you have is your inner-world and what you do with it. The outer-world exists only in ones inner-world, yours is not the same as mine and as artists we try to find some concordance between ours and yours.

7/18/2009 02:11:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

George, not surprisingly, you said, "Bulls**t."

How is my assertion that great art and artists would arise, in the world I imagine, an argument for dumbing things down?

Cathy, I'm willing to bet that your productions - in themselves - are a contribution. You'd have to be really bad at art for them not to be. Do you think that's the case?

7/18/2009 02:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

George, yes it is a trap, especially for young artists. The ones that don't develop sea legs whine 'it's not fair' and fall off the boat. Trouble is, and I think this is part of what Tom is saying, that as the boat whips increasingly faster through the turns, it becomes harder to adjust and when hanging on becomes so all consuming, it's hard to accomplish much else. Maybe the economic slowdown signifies a broader slowdown that will allow for deeper perception. Maybe I'm dreaming. But hardship tests commitment.

Tom, my productions (that I am very proud of) are stacked to the ceiling. Unless something unexpected happens, my children will eventually have the burden of 'finding homes' for them. That partly explains why it often feels like mere 'stuff'. But as recorded history they may be useful to a few and as objects, of value to a few others. Thank you for directing me to that thought.


7/18/2009 05:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

Something I wrote didn't pass. I was replying to Rollo May (from Tom Hering):

Every Fine Art is looking for beauty. It just may not be looking for aesthetic beauty. Humanities understand that they are other forms of beauty (or quality) than aesthetics. A lot of contemporary arts have been sending the message that ideas can be as beautiful as beautiful objects. Sometimes the message "ugly is beautiful" is moralistically refreshing too.

I think art enhances life because it entertains it. Even when it makes you think it's always through
a form that is entertaining.

We already have "hierarchies" in the artworld ensuring that an artist who doesn't wish to participate in the grand circus of international fine art, can simply sell at a small local gallery, and sometimes even make a decent living because their prices are, let say, "humanized". They are also community galleries that feature a lot of people doing art in their free time on the week-end, ensuring a place for artists who are not interested in focussing on a career. 99.99999 per cent of artists don't have access to Chelsea but could well live without it: it only depends on how you define ambition.

Cedric Caspesyan

7/18/2009 06:46:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Cathy, here's Gombrich on that all-consuming, faster-and-faster-whipping boat.

First he quotes Harold Rosenberg, "The tradtion of the new has reduced all other traditions to triviality" (only change and boundary-pushing are valued), and then Gombrich says, "It is the interest in change that has accelerated change to its giddy pace" ... "today the conviction is almost universal that that those who stick to obsolete beliefs and who refuse to change will go to the wall" ... "The danger in these surrenders to fashion ... lies in the threat to that very freedom we enjoy ... [ the threat from ] the pressures of conformism, the fear of falling behind, the fear of being considered 'square' or whatever the next equivalent label may be ... There is no such race [ as an art race ], but if there were we should do well to remember the fable of the tortoise and the hare" ... "We have no guarantee that our new responsiveness [ to change and boundary-pushing ] will not lead us to neglect a real genius among us who forges ahead regardless of fashion and publicity."

Note Gombrich's concern that artists have the chance to develop slowly, with confidence. Both he and Schapiro seem to have worried, rightly, about that "demoralizing peculiarity of modern art" - Rosenberg's "tradition of the new" that reduces all other traditions to triviality.

As for your "stuff," it will (at least) be valued by those who value you. Heck, some families keep their ancestors' art for generations. You have no way of knowing how much value it will have to some descendant of yours - who just might also get it out there into the world. So why not keep putting it out there yourself, now? Don't judge your art yourself - let the world do that. And if its judgment proves negative, well then, you can always laugh at the world for being so blind. ;-)

7/18/2009 07:14:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

I have difficulty with reference sources which were active 50 years ago. Since then, the US population has more than doubled and this creates a much different environment from the 1950-1960 period. Yes, the population between 1900 and 1950 also more than doubled its effect on the art market and the art world was substantially different than what occurred in the succeeding 50 years.

I suggest that while it may appear that the artworld is moving "faster" I do not think this is actually what is occurring. It takes a finite amount of time for ideas to be expressed into the culture and I believe this is controlled more by human psychology than technology.

What I believe we are responding to, and characterizing as "faster," is the increased volume of information and stuff, and this is a result of demographics, an increased population. There's more people making more stuff for more people, so it seems noisier. Noisier, means more agitated and since there is more stuff, it appears psychologically like its closer together and we interpret this as "faster" rather than denser.

Finally, the Modernist and Formalist critics were all extending the Modernist Ideal, that there is progress in society. The genius of Marx is understanding of the transition from an agrarian to an industrial society. This caused the greatest demographic shift in history as society changed from having only five percent of the population living in urban areas, to the 85 percent figure today.

The social and cultural changes wrought by this radical urbanization were not without their difficulties but also fostered the idea that society was improving, evolving towards something better. Throughout the twentieth century, urban living conditions (on average) continued to improve, we had access to food and shelter, the means of preserving the food, transportation, etc.

At some point in the latter half of the twentieth century, the production of life's basic necessities could no longer ensure full employment and the age of consumerism was born. This is the end of the Modernist ideal, rather than increasing production to increase the quality of life, we began to produce items and to create an artificial desire for them, in order to keep the population employed and under control. I wish Marx had been here for that.

So all those critics from the mid twentieth century, were still considering art, avant garde art, as moving forward, making progress. This belief is dying a hard death but there is no progress in art, no "improvement" over the past and no movement towards some ideal.

Art is an interface connecting the past with the future. It acts by becoming an interface between the artist and the viewer. It is inert but contains the trace of the artists humanity and presents it to the viewer the best it can.

7/18/2009 10:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Well. I saw the Dove/O'keefe show at the Clark and the Lewitt installation at MassMoCA, drove over the beautiful Mohawk Trail on a perfect summer day in the Berkshires, got home, and found that George had delivered me a faulty three-part lecture on formalist criticism, beginning, I believe, with the Treaty of Ghent. I had been worried about sending this thread off the rails as far as the original topic was concerned, but if Ed is moderating your comments through, George, I guess we have his blessing.

Does it strike you as odd that the alleged exemplar of formalist criticism never, and I mean never, used the word "formalist" to describe his approach or the art that he advocated? There's a reason for this. It's because he's not a formalist critic. More thoroughly formalist critics were making an active contribution to art appreciation before Greenberg was even out of diapers. Greenberg disdained the term and rejected its presuppositions. If you have John O'Brian's four-volume compilation of his writings, you can read a 1967 piece commissioned by Artforum, "Complaints of an Art Critic," in which he describes the literary origins of formalist criticism and the inherent problems of applying it to art. "More recently," he wrote, "certain artists have been referred to as belonging to a 'formalist' school for no other reason than their having been championed by certian critics whom some other critics call 'formalist.' This is vulgarity with the vengeance." (Congratulations on joining the ranks of the vulgar, George.) The argument against it goes on for a few pages, but the key sentences are perhaps these: "...the quality of a work of art inheres in its 'content,' and vice versa. Quality is 'content.' You know that a work of art has content because of its effect. The more direct denotation of effect is 'quality.'"

In 1954, he writes: "Actually, my own hope is that a less qualified acceptance of the importance of sheerly abstract of formal factors in pictorial art will open the way to a clearer understanding of the value of illustration as such - a value which I, too, am convinced is indisputable." So much for formalism.

Modernism and formalism intersect historically but accidentally as well. His formulation of modernism, as a self-critical enterprise rather than an explicitly formalist one, is quite sound in the context that he is describing. There is no evidence, not in the passage cited in #2 or anywhere else, that this description applies anywhere except to that context, which was the best work he saw being made at the time. You can read the whole thing here, an essay in which he carefully notes, "...I want to repeat that Modernist art does not offer theoretical demonstrations. It can be said, rather, that it happens to convert theoretical possibilities into empirical ones, in doing which it tests many theories about art for their relevance to the actual practice and actual experience of art." No program means no program.

7/18/2009 11:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Edward tapped into a deep vein with the Darwin topic didn't he?

George, interesting point about the speed of change vs. the volume of change. I'll chew on that a while - hoping you don't change your mind before I have a chance to properly absorb it and 12 other people don't, meanwhile, present 12 other possibilities that I would be remiss to not also consider.

Tom, I believe neglected genius is all around us. But I'm feeling positive today.

and Cedric, if truth is always beauty, when ugliness is true it is always beautiful. No?

7/19/2009 01:08:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Nothing is going off the rails Franklin, we're still just talking about language and art.

Franklin is entitled to his opinion about formalism, or modernism or whatever he wants to attribute to Greenberg.

In my 3 part comment I presented three different points of view on the type of criticism associated with Greenberg. The other readers here can read them if they wish and come to their own conclusions.

Obviously, Formalist Literary Criticism does not directly apply to art but it was the intellectual precursor to what was later called Formalist Criticism (with capital F & C) in the arts.

The second comment is a direct quote of Greenberg, describing what he considered the "essence" of Modernism. It is one of the most frequently quoted passeges of his writing and Franklin cannot refute his points.

The third example is a piece of fairly recent writing which draws different conclusions about Greenberg's work. Franklin accuses me of being "vulgar" for suggesting that someone would disagree with Greenberg. Unfortunately, a greater percentage of the art world intellectuals will be prone to agree with Tekiner's position

I added an additional comment with part of my personal objection to Greenberg's position. Other readers are free to agree or disagree with my opinions as well.

Franklin is on very shaky ground here, regardless of how he would like us to consider Greenberg's aesthetic positions, the fact is the artworld at that time took him to mean precisely what I quoted from him above. This is a fact which has entered into history, it is how he was interpreted regardless if it was precisely correct or not.

So here we are fifty years later and who the heck cares? It's a dead end, Franklin can nit pick over Greenberg details for the rest of his academic life and it will have little affect on future criticism or art. It's not original thinking Franklin, it's more of the same, running around in circles like the hamster on its wheel.

I am sure there is some aspiring young intellectual out there who is reading Greenberg with an eye towards the future and is looking for points of disagreement as a way of extending the program.

7/19/2009 02:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Damn homophonic typing errors: That should be "vulgarity with a vengeance." While I'm here, though, there's another passage in the same essay that would seem to apply to George's complaints:

"To impute a position or line to a critic is to want, in effect, to limit his freedom. For a precious freedom lies in the very involuntariness of aesthetic judging: the freedom to be surprised, taken aback, have your expectations confounded, the freedom to be inconsistent and to like anything in art as long as it is good - the freedom, in short, to let art stay open. Part of the excitement of art, for those who attend to art regularly, consists, or should, in this openness, in this inability to foresee reactions."

7/19/2009 08:39:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Franklin, your responses are becoming a bit bizarre.

Far be it from me to try and limit anyones freedom, to the contrary what I've suggested is that your rigid position does just that.

So I cannot fathom why you posted the last remark unless it is a way of saying Greenberg doesn't take responsibility for what he wrote. If this is the case why bother quoting him?

I'm afraid this discussion has become pointless.

7/19/2009 11:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

As I already said, the remarks in your cited excerpt of Greenberg hold up fine in their context, and there is no evidence that he meant to apply them to any other context. Point in fact, the art world at the time did not take him to mean precisely what you quoted from him above. It took a description and turned it into a prescription. That this error and myriad other repeated misunderstandings have become the ill-considered opinion of Tekiner and "a greater percentage of the art world intellectuals" only tells you about the incuriosity, tendentiousness, slavishness, and torpor of said intellectuals.

For the record, I did not accuse you of being vulgar for suggesting that someone would disagree with Greenberg. By all means, disagree. But disagree with the actual words, read as written. Making critical assertions that can be refuted in total, one at a time, by the very material under discussion, is vulgar. For all your talk of rigidity and spinning hamster wheels, you're making exactly the same mistakes that Greenberg had wearied of correcting forty-two years ago. I don't know when you started riding around on that carousel, but if you describe the art discussed at the aforementioned essay as "boring," it's longer than I've been alive.

One more time - hopefully you'll get it this time - there is no program. Aspiring young intellectuals who want to adapt formalism to contemporary art will not be continuing Greenberg's work. His comment about freedom is completely consistent with his judgments about art, which were formed one look at a time, varied richly, and took turns that he didn't expect. The reason you cannot fathom why I posted the last remark is that you've fundamentally misunderstood him, me, and yourself. He wasn't a formalist, but you've put him in that box. I haven't taken a rigid position, but you've ascribed one to me. And you don't think of yourself as someone who wants to limit other peoples' freedom, but you are.

7/19/2009 12:14:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

George, you said, "What I believe we are responding to, and characterizing as 'faster,' is the increased volume of information and stuff, and this is a result of demographics, an increased population."

So, more people results in more happening, which gives the impression things are happening faster, when in fact things are happening more densely.

Hmmm. The rate of US population growth from 1800 (33.3%) to 1910 (21%) was greater per decade than in any decade from 1910 (21%) to 2000 (13.2%). Yet people living between 1800 and 1910 had little sense things were changing at a breakneck, dizzying pace. While people living between 1910 and 2000 had an ever-increasing sense things were moving faster and faster and faster.

So how does our experience of what is actually a slower increase in population density (compared to the 19th Century) account for our sense of rapid change? Is it the fact that most of us live in cities, where the increase in density has been greatest? Well, that higher rate of population growth between 1800 and 1910 was mostly due to immigrants, who were crowded into cities. Yet, again, they had relatively little sense of rapid change. And I've lived most of my life in a small city that hasn't grown much since I was a child, yet I've had a great sense of whirlwind change throughout my life. So I don't buy the idea that it's all just a matter of density = more happening = perception of speedy change.

If people perceive things are changing faster it's because things are changing faster. Perceptions can certainly be wrong, but they're usually not consistently wrong in a huge way. One reason the human race survives is because it's highly adaptable. And one reason it's highly adaptable is because it's highly perceptive - in an accurate way.

George, you also said, "So all those critics from the mid twentieth century, were still considering art, avant garde art, as moving forward, making progress."

I'll just quote the same writers I've quoted before.

Gombrich: "[I have] tried to show that in art we cannot speak of 'progress' as such, because every gain in one respect is likely to be offset by a loss in another ... This is as true of the present as it was of the past."

Schapiro: "While few artists believed that there was progress in art as in science and industry or in social institutions, many were certain there was, relative to the possibilities of the time, a reactionary and a progressive art ... People in 1913 overestimated the spiritual unity of the different examples of freedom or progress; they felt that all innovations belonged together, and made up one great advancing cause. Fewer thought, as we do today, that modernity is problematic and includes conflicting, irreconcilable elements."

So it seems they believed (along with most Modern artists and Marshall McLuhan) that progress is always a trade-off. In progress, the gain of something good isn't just a replacement of something lesser or bad, it's also a crowding out of something else that was good. (Gombrich again: "... every gain in one respect is likely to be offset by a loss in another ...")

7/19/2009 12:48:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

I didn't put Greenberg in the formalist box, the rest of the art world did and I'm willing to go along with it, take it up with them.

I'm sorry you have difficulty with the word "program," I'm using it in the European way. All I was suggesting is that Greenberg is dead, he will never write any more criticism, he will never deal with contemporary art (that happened before his demise), so that will have to be taken up by his followers. I put you into that category, a Greenberg follower, which I am sure you must be proud to admit to. So do something creative for a change instead of trying to defend the reputation of a dead critic.

An yes, I have been making art longer than you have been alive, you should learn to have some respect for your elders :-)

7/19/2009 01:03:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

"we began to produce items and to create an artificial desire for them, in order to keep the population employed and under control."

Ah man screw Greenberg! Let's talk about surplusses of desire and Lacanian lacks! We have 1 in 6people unemployed or underemployed in this country. What if they decide to be artists?

The fatal flaw in the Clement monolith is the monocultural modernist notion of "progress," as George says - and I believe (pseudointellect that I am) that this lies within a programme generally associated with "The Enlightenment."

This "Enlightenment Project" is interesting because it is a mind set or "mentality."

May I reify in hell!

Interesting because adherence to The Modernism (but not The Modernist!) notions of linear progress (Modernists might adhere to The Primitive and thus the circularity or cyclical ideas of The Eternal Return or The Natural (Frasier and the Golden Bough) even as a Modernist might also believe the hype about streamlined form in design - i'e' Brancusi)

This is what Industrialization hath wrought! THis is the lamentable end of agrarian idylls! No more the sublime in its natural unadultrated form! TO the amusement parks we must pay a tithe!

SO the main thrust of my argument against the "Formalist" Mentality (and I could be wrong) is that Clement engages in a sort of philosophical tartuffery - that there is Absolute Freedom in objects that have THE Meaning while maintianing that it is he that invests them with such (or demuring that he is only a player, either way).

But indeed I do find pleasure in hearing artists (sovereigns!) talk about their work. I myself used to think all my work had a narrative (my word for meaning) until my brother said to me one day (I was in second grade) "yeah, but I don't see that."

How true!

7/19/2009 01:15:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

I mean that modernist work (Brancusi) is critical of Modernism (pointing to it's primitive aspects) as it engages with it's tropes or eschews them altogether (and becoming more modern than modern). What dreams may come!

7/19/2009 01:27:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Zip, you said, "... modernist notion of 'progress' ..."

Most Modern artists rejected the idol of progress. Can we get over the notion that it was otherwise? The present always likes to find fault with the past so it can feel superior, and the game of slandering our ancestors is played with relish. But it doesn't serve Truth.

7/19/2009 01:44:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

First off, I respect the fact you did your homework. Second, regardless of the debate, I don't wish to deny you your feelings about the pace of modern society, if you feel the speed, you feel the speed.

Yet people living between 1800 and 1910 had little sense things were changing at a breakneck, dizzying pace.

I think we are going to have difficulty establishing whether or not this statement is true, but for the sake of argument, let's assume it is. During the period in question the population (developed countries) began moving into the cities, this was the beginning of the industrial age.

As a result by the end of the 19th century, we can assume that urban densities had increased markedly. I'm inclined to think this fact would make it appear that "modern life" was increasingly becoming faster and more chaotic. Remember, the comparison would have been made with the pace of rural life.

Second, we need to consider what affect population density has on societies perceptions. The difference here is very much like the makeup of this blogs readership. Some of us live in smaller cities and some live in the major metropolises.

I think that daily life appears slower in a small town, the lower density only allows a certain degree of interaction to occur. However, living in a small town does not remove one from modern society with its increased overall density. So part of the speedy sensation might be a matter of relativity.

Also, I don't mean to suggest that there has been no increase in the pace of modern life, only that part of our sensations of its "speed" may be a function of more than one factor.

Think about it for a bit, how long does it take to make a painting (or whatever)? First, there is no definitive answer to this because yes, it varies, but on average we have some sense of how long it takes. I've been painting a long time, the process doesn't go any faster today than when I first started.

Think about how long it takes to make an exploratory body of work, from first insight or inspiration, through the exploratory development, to the point where you have some idea of its definition (boundaries ;-). Think of it as the R&D period, it takes a certain amount of time.

Both of the above act as speed regulators for any artist, it just takes a certain amount of time to realize something. Moreover, I think the same generalized process can be applied to how society, the culture, assimilates new artwork.

It does not happen overnight, it takes a certain amount of time, and while it seems like its getting faster, I am not sure it is. When you compare the life-cycle of some new style to one a hundred years ago, the time spans are remarkably similar.

The difference in the present day is that stylistic developments are occurring in parallel, there are several going on at once, more than there were fifty and one hundred years ago. This increased density of activity results in increased stimulation and I think we are seeing it as speedier when in fact it is denser.

I am well aware that the popular conception is that modern life is getting faster and faster, I disagree with the idea of speed as the singular cause.

7/19/2009 02:00:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Tom, quick one on progress.

The idea that there was, or supposed to be, "progress in art" was prevalent in the sixties. The fact that your three writers use the term makes the point. As a student I thought this was a silly concept but didn't make the connection to the end of Modernism until recently.

7/19/2009 02:04:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

tom I must most respectfully decline your invitation to an ad hominem attack. I clearly made the distinction between Modernist and Modernism - artists of an age being into Modernism while industrialists were into the stylistics of streamlining and the Rural Electrification project which expanded the market for the recently streamlined refrigeration units.

Here's another one though "conceptual" (used to mean philosophical or thoughtful or full of thought) vs. Conceptualism. A friend recently upbraided me on this one. I however, take the position that Conceptualism has been thouroughly absorbed into The Contemporary and that what we are left with is a sort of Katana forged like filo dough in the bakeries of academia (Orders of Chaos!)

What baklava for the mind! But indeed Formalism takes a simular spot in the taxonomies of the soul - are we talking here of "Flatness" as being intrinsic to the work? Ha! Then why do we need an author to frame the sky? (we do not!).

I do hope you are outside, as I am!

7/19/2009 02:09:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

hmm, I seem to be mixing and matching Modernism an Modernist like checkered socks! Apologies. So confusing. And ill defined!

Modernism: An art movement concerned with primitive expression - humanity within the monolith, soul in the machine.

Modernist Design: If it looks fast, it is fast. Form follows function, like a bike behind a semi.

Modernist Thought: Science, Linear, atomistic, cartesian, hierarchical.
Essentialist. Newtonian. Ordered.

Modernism: Alchemy, Myth, Metaphor. Systemic, wholistic (Eastern, Oceanic) non-linear, rhizomatic. Relativistic. Post-Newtonian. Chaotic.

(Late modernism extends the playing field).

You know better than I (I'm a heretic if not an apostate as well as a barbarian).

7/19/2009 03:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Arthur Danto had an interesting perspective on history and progress when he talked about what he calls our 'post-historical' times in 1997. ", construed historically, had reached the end of the line because it had moved on to a different plane of consciousness. That would be the plane of philosophy, which, because of its cognitive nature, admits of a progressive developmental narrative which ideally converges on a philosophically adequate definition of art. At the level of artistic practice, however, it was no longer an historical imperative to extend the tracks into the aesthetic unknown." and, " the early 1990s the visual arts, in the vastly widened sense that term now took, no longer had the sort of structure that made a developmental history interestingly thinkable or even criticaly important." and,"Once we move to some sector of the visual arts other than painting and possibly sculpture, we encounter practices that can doubtless be refined upon, but where the potentialities are lacking for a progressive development of the kind painting had so readily lent itself to over the centuries.." So he's saying that progress re: art is moving out of artistic practice and into the philosophical discussion of art? However sound, I don't like this idea!

7/19/2009 04:55:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

George, I didn't know that the idea of progress in art was hot in the 60s, or that the 60s were the years you were talking about. (I haven't studied the 60s, and was way too young then to care about what was happening in art.) Thanks for the clarification.

Zip, I didn't invite you to make an ad hominem attack.

7/19/2009 06:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First there was exploration through representation of the world, then the evil purity wiped it out. Now, desperate, we are left with no other choice ...

Artspeak - The Final Frontier


7/19/2009 07:53:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

George, okay, sure, I can accept density as one part of the explanation. Thanks for that clarification, too. (Either your longer, 2:00 comment showed up later than your shorter, 2:04 comment, or I somehow failed to notice the 2:00 comment until now.)

Anonymous 4:55, art will always be made, even if some people think Art (with a capital "A") has ceased to exist, or will soon cease to exist. It's a mind game that means nothing to me and you as artists.

7/19/2009 09:33:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Tom, I started art school at the end of the sixties, prior to that I was working in the computer industry, and coincidentally on the Apollo project (tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of the lunar landing)

So I remember a lot of what occurred in the late sixties. You know how students are, they're up on the latest stuff, so Greenberg was in the mix along with the others. Regardless of how people want to spin it today, or pare it down for a book, there was a language which was used (wow, on topic!) and it included "flatness" and "formalism." All those clichés and personalities were mixed together in a soup of ideas which were prevalent in the discourse at that time.

Now strictly speaking, maybe some ideas were incorrectly attributed or mislabeled but we all knew what we meant, or at least what we thought it meant, and acted accordingly. This is the difficulty one finds when looking to far back in time, it is easy to gloss over what actually happened and make it fit the scrubbed down history.

Where is the truth here? Is it in what was actually done within the theoretical confines, the personal responses including misattributions, or is it in the text? I suggest that the text contains responses to the misunderstandings, therefor acknowledging them but the text is frozen and inert, where an artist's practice is vital and ongoing.

It is exactly the same today, different theories and writers but the same fog of war.

7/20/2009 12:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

Can of worms:

I haven't read much of Greenberg, but I remember having a huge reaction about something he wrote that claimed that an artwork was ever free from its extraneous context (when I responded that a work always vascillates between
extraneous context and pure aesthetics, that you cannot do without this constant oscillation, and I guess I'm from the Zipth generation when they really insisted on Lacan at art school). I do love Olitski way more than De
Kooning, so having been there in the 50's, I would have thought Grennberg made sense. I mean, I would not have predicted that De Kooning became much more known, apart from the fact Olitski was a little more repetitive, but so were the minimalists coming in, so...

+++every gain in one respect is likely to be offset by a loss in another

Gombrich, you're so pulling my hairs! Yes, when cinema evolved there was a loss for other mediums, like painting. In film, narrative soon served as a constraint for any visual effects. But behind the high-clouds-philosophy, we wouldn't have Youtube if cinema hasn't been there. I would say that there is an underlying technological progress that affects all aesthetics, always.

As far as pace, well, I wonder how Perez Hilton does it (updates his blog every 2 seconds)? I personally always feel like I'm moving at a turtle space, so it's great if someone tells me I might win the race some day. ;-).

Cedric Casp

7/20/2009 02:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I don't consider myself a Greenberg follower. That would be doing it wrong. (There is no program.) I find a lot of value in his writings and have learned an enormous amount by reading them. It galls me to see lies about his work repeated so casually when the work itself is readily available for study.

George, "I'm using it in the European way" may temporarily confuse the young artists you claim to talk with, but it's just going to make me laugh at you. As for "do something creative for a change," for your sake, let's just not go there. (I'll say this, though: unlike Zipthwung, I can list specific things I'm working on and working toward.)

I want to talk more about serving Truth, as Tom put it, because it relates to the original topic. We're now twenty years out from the height of deconstructionism. Over the last five years, art writers have made a noticiable turn towards greater comprehensibility. The image of Pater Halley walking around with his copy of Baudrillard, if it ever happened, now seems pretty quaint. But the effects linger, and many art writers have inherited a flip attitude about truth, or a characterization of truth as ultimately unkowable, or linguistically or politically mediated, that is basically deconstructionist in origin. Apart from the moral implications here - which are horrendous - an essentially arbitrary and meaningless universe doesn't give a reader anything to care about. John Gardner wrote how this deprives a story of profluence. He was talking about fiction, but even in an art essay, the sense that you're going headfirst into a thicket of seemingly random language and bad arguments gives you that sinking feeling that the essay is going to waste your time as a reader.

The last vestiges of decon appear in two main tendencies: indifference to truth, and indifference to sense. As it happens, we have George and Zipthwung illustrating these respectively. Henry Frankfurt argues convincingly that bullshit, which comes from an indifference to truth, is even more harmful to the truth than lying, which at least requires the liar to understand the truth to some degree. George spent this thread arguing points against Greenberg and myself which evidence contradicted, and now that I've pointed this out to him, he is arguing for "vital and ongoing" misunderstandings of Greenberg in artistic practice in favor of "frozen" text. Well, regardless of how people want to spin it today, the original writings were all available, plain as day, and artists have spent decades acting as if they said something they don't. That's not vital; it's profoundly sad.

Indifference to sense is not so harmful to truth. Some people find it amusing to look for meaning in the noise and I don't begrudge them the pleasure. But I'd have a higher opionion of people like Zipthwung, Regina Hackett, and others who like to romp around stylistically at the expense of meaning if they had the courage to put themselves on the record as poets and really try to operate honestly in that world. They would find that a lot of people can romp around stylistically and are differentiated in large measure by their commitment to truth.

7/20/2009 09:01:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

George, you asked, "Where is the truth here?"

I would want to know the whole truth - the whole story. What Greenberg actually wrote, and how he was both understood and misunderstood, used and misused by others at the time. And I would want to know how all of that influenced the directions art went in.

As for artspeak, Gombrich - writing about a similar matter - points to the example of Saint Paul, who had to deal with the popularity of tongues-speaking in some of the early churches. From the First Letter To The Corinthians: "I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; however, in the church, I would rather speak five words with my mind, so that I may instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue."

So it's all about the intended audience. If you're a dealer, and you want to reach curators who can advance your artists' reputations, you're going to write press releases in a language curators like. But if you're a museum, and you want to reach the general public (in order to increase foot traffic), you're going to write in clear and common language (or should do so).

Artspeak isn't really "art" speak. The art world, as a whole, doesn't speak or write that way. It's really "analese" - the language of art analysis. (The implication in the sound of "anal-ese" is not entirely inappropriate.) ;-)

7/20/2009 09:15:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

F, I don't consider myself a Greenberg follower.

Your actions speak differently. I realize "follower" may be harsh sounding but I couldn't think of another suitable word.

he [George] is arguing for "vital and ongoing" misunderstandings of Greenberg in artistic practice in favor of "frozen" text.

I am arguing for the truth about what really happened in the 1950-1970 period. Nobody read Greenberg's tome, it was impossible because it didn't exist. So what the culture, the art community and the artists responded to were the various printed articles in magazines or books available at the time.

What occurs when people read art criticism and art theory? They agree or disagree to one extent or another, and a new dialogue is formed. It would be an injustice to Greenberg to suggest that he didn't respond to his critics, I assume he did and the same process of critical examinations occurs over again.

Through this process the culture distills the critical writings into something conceptually manageable, and these ideas become the "signature" concepts attached to the writer. Yes they do not represent his entire body of work, his entire collection of thoughts, but they do represent what stuck in the culture. They represent the source of his influence on artists of the time.

Franklin makes the same generalizations with Post-Structuralist theory, deconstructionism etc. He is conveniently packaging up the theoretical ideas of a period as he wants to interpret them. It is not the same as critically responding directly to the source texts.

I also think this is a very natural and human response, so I don't fault him for this. At the same time he should realize that it is exactly the same process that occurred with Greenberg - it is how ideas are assimilated into the culture.

7/20/2009 09:47:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Gombrich is a bore.
Greenberg is "clear" but not very interesting.
Gardner is a bore too. "Art Through The Ages?" True scholarship though, I suppose, requires a measure of ploddingly didactic pedantry.

That's not why I went to art school.

Artists do not have to be art historians!

The "conversational" gambits of art historical or peer refference are shallow - does it matter if the joke is about a Nun, Nurse, American, Pollock, Priest or a Rabbi? The punchline is still the same!

The only conversation an artist has to have is with their own mind (Sorry Ellen Disanayake, there really is no need for social funtions in art, though I'm happy for your tribe).

An art star is another matter. Art stars make work for astounding intelligent critical analysis by the best minds!

"Why are our pictures puzzles" by James Elkins is an excellent (if a bit puffy) example of such. I owe him for the introduction to Dali's term for the "Paranoid Critical" mentality.

Most good writing on any subject is poetry - concerned with cadence and cant, tenor and flow. Some people are tone deaf or willfully insensate (fans of best seller thrillers), I will not apologize for listening to the transistor radio, it tells me things.

Franklin: "unlike Zipthwung, I can list specific things I'm working on and working toward"

You didn't read what I wrote about modernism (confusion aside) or you would get the gist of my ongoing argument: that there is a dichotomy (ha!) a false dichotomy (I'm a horrible relativist as well as a Taoist!)

But (moral) relativism is not the slippery slope absolutists would like to think - it is merely a more contingent outlook on a very complicated system without the concept of supernatural (pure) absolutes like EVIL. It is just NATURE. Man is nature, god is nature and so is art (evil though art may be).

Thus the Cartesian mind-body split, which is at the root of the whole "content" vs "form" argument (Platonic solids).

I do blame religion (even animism).

But it is hillarious to see people tie themselves into knots over theological puzzles but couching them as esthetic puzzles - we all know MODERNISM was concerned with the spiritual (making meaning at least)at least from an artists point of view (Flavin (Roman Catholic) for example.

But is it any wonder that I gravitate towards the "poetry" of Lacan, Badrillard, Ecco, and not the dry literalese of art historians (whom I suspect wish everyone was a structuralist?)

I'm looking at the man in the mirror.

7/20/2009 10:00:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Zip, you said, "It is just NATURE. Man is nature, god is nature and so is art ..."

If it's all Nature, and Nature is all there is, then nothing is unnatural - including man, and everything man does: war, rape, injustice. Nice universe, Zip. I'll stick with the "illusion" that there are absolutes, and a Source of goodness who defines and opposes evil. With love.

I like love. And art, i.e., artifice, i.e., made by man - not Nature.

7/20/2009 10:33:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Anon 4:55 -- next time could you tag your comment at the end like Cathy does, then we can distinguish between anon commenters?

Danto is as bad as Greenberg. I would put 'post-historical' right up there with 'flatness' as terms which are only marginally true but strongly associated with a writer.

Post-historical is one of the worst terms ever coined, it is inherently false and without meaning if applied to history, and deceptive when it is applied to anything else.

First, I would note that philosophy, with the exception of logic, has great difficulty in arriving at truth which don't change as society evolves. Philosophy is mind candy subject to fashionable excesses like anything else.

That said, I understand what Danto was getting at with ... it was no longer an historical imperative to extend the tracks into the aesthetic unknown. To his credit, he was trying to contend with the end of Modernism. Like why do they call it Post-Modernism?

Modernism died along with the introduction of television which was the first high power mass media capable of substituting "desire" for "progress." Progress was the idea that ones life would improve over time but desire substituted the frisson of the moment.

Art in the 20th Century in part focused on extending its self definition (in a Greenbergian sense) to include "abstraction" and this framework was more or less completed in the latter part of the century. Coupled with this investigation was the concept that "art was progressing" towards some goal. What I am suggesting is that this general idea was strongly linked to the ideas of "progress" in a society which was transitioning from an agrarian to an urban environment.

Once "abstraction" was established progress stopped, this coincided with what was happening in society as we moved from seeking out the basic life necessities to a consumer culture of desire. This occurred for reasons which were primarily economic, and hence political and the source of considerable confusion.

So in a sense Danto identified part of the problem. However he made a major mistake when he suggests that Art is moving out of artistic practice and into the philosophical discussion of art?

While I agree that a change is happening, I think Danto is self-serving to suggest that Art and Philosophy have merged. Think about it for a second, suppose we substitute "words" for "art," would you (the reader) say words now can only be used for philosophy?

Play the same mind game with music, or architecture, this is nonsensical silliness and points out the current crisis in Philosophy. Somebody tell the fcuking philosophers to wash their own laundry and leave art alone.

7/20/2009 10:40:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

I'm an equal opportunity iconoclast

7/20/2009 10:45:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

next time could you tag your comment at the end like Cathy does, then we can distinguish between anon commenters

Yes, please...everyone. Even if you choose a pseudonym as simple as Anon#4, it's really helpful in keeping the dialog clear.

7/20/2009 10:53:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

One of Zips Pearls

"The only conversation an artist has to have is with their own mind."

7/20/2009 10:59:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

George said, "... wash their own laundry and leave art alone."

DITTO. (Your comment gave me a "rush" George!)

7/20/2009 11:09:00 AM  
Blogger Franklin said...

The Salem witch trials also "really happened" and were also the result of bad actions based on failed readings of important texts at the time. That the culture was distilling those texts into something conceptually manageable for them doesn't excuse anything.

Greenberg had over fifteen years' worth of essays collected and published in Art in Culture in 1961, so I don't know what "Greenberg's tome" refers to, but a good compilation of his actual words were available as early as then. This "culture" that George is so fond of passing responsibility to didn't just encapsulate his writings into something that failed to "represent his entire body of work, his entire collection of thoughts," it caricatured his assertions and proceded to spend the next half-century addressing the caricature instead of the assertions. That George just moseyed along with the zeitgeist is understandable but it doesn't justify the misunderstandings. Tom has the right attitude: I would want to know the whole truth - the whole story. What Greenberg actually wrote, and how he was both understood and misunderstood, used and misused by others at the time. And I would want to know how all of that influenced the directions art went in. I salute you, sir. Art and Culture would be a great choice for anyone who wants to take me up on my challenge to read a book of Greenberg this year.

I read what you wrote about Modernism, Zipthwung. As I said, I'm sure that you amuse some of Ed's other readers.

7/20/2009 11:37:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

"the avant-garde poet or artist sought to maintain the high level of his art by both narrowing it and raising it to the expression of an absolute…."

Clement Greenberg

That quote sums up Greenberg for a lot of people - exclusionary (Against Pop-ular culture like Walter Benjamin against Jazz! Justifying taste on the basis of some absolute "moral imperative" is what Adolph Hitler did in extremis.

Clement's taxonomic (ultimately hierarchical) program precluded the sort of self puncturing (leveling) criticism of the Post-Modernists (of which deconstruction is but one valuable technique except in the hands of Paul de Man)

Now Clement might have amended or changed his opinion, but he was reflecting an attitude that got pinned to him (modernism and modernists collude here in their hierarchical linear (not systemic or cyclical) thinking) - and for me and my peers, going to school, that was what it was (and NO ONE SAID DIFFERENT! because they were relativistic secular humanistic hippies, no doubt)

But remember (I don't) when the playing field opened up to Rosalynd Krauss (late modern) and her neo-Marxist peers? (I've been using Marxist jargon but no one took the bait, so I guess y'all are Adam Smith all the way, lessis fair right?

Personally I like Lester Bangs and a bit of Greil Marcus (who sucks but that's all right, "lipstick traces" helped get me out of the truck stop mentality).

I don't see nature without "Love" as bleak. It's a lot more True. And by true I mean Real. But if you want to live in a society structured around the concept of Love, then good for you, but how to deal with the hypocrites: Jail? Death? Ostracism? Pitty? Art?

Let the games begin.

7/20/2009 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Please do control the urge to compare Greenberg to Hitler, people...I mean, really. The leap from "the expression of an absolute..." to "some absolute 'moral imperative' " spans far too big a gap to lend it any credibility at all...

7/20/2009 11:53:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

And I would want to know how all of that influenced the directions art went in.

Yes it's an idle curiosity. But regardless of what Franklin wants us to believe, the culture, the art world dismissed his theoretical and critical positions a long time ago. Greenberg was a domineering personality, it comes across in his writings and justifies why his caricature was a topic of discussion.

In my opinion, Greenbergs support of "lyrical abstraction" (whatever name it had) was the biggest bullsh*t movement of the seventies. It produced no lasting art and Greenberg encouraged artists down a road which produced nothing more than insipid decoration. It set painting back ten years.

Not only is Greenberg dead, dead, dead but Modernism is dead as well. Live with it.

7/20/2009 12:00:00 PM  
Blogger George said...


Culture is Nature.

This is the result of urbanization and the information revolution.

7/20/2009 12:09:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

I agree ed, but the seed of tyranny starts with the monad! Proto-facism starts with a reasonable idea that get's taken to extreme in its own pot, root bound and austere.

Clement the Great did nothing to dissuade his brown shirted eggheads from excluding everyone who weren't males and wearing chevrons!

So right was he, that it took a whole deck of neo-marxists to lay seige to his rose garden!

But the right's critique of the Left's relativism is the slippery slope argument: that without capital Morality there is no meaning or love in the universe. Battling the "moral Evil" got us into the last war and the one before that and then there was Hitler, who was testing the limits of Cartesian mechanics and efficiency mixed in with Druidism, and Catholicsim and Greek Mystery Cults for flair.

So I don't know, why bother with Clement who has been so soiled by the crimes of the Modernist and Modernism that redemtion is like clearing the Augean stables? Why not go to the root causes in ideological warfare, and use Clement as a poster boy for delusion in the fog of war?

7/20/2009 12:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

Here is nearly the only text I ever read by Greenberg (one page):

Guess why I didn't read more? Because I don't agree with him.
Period. He talks about the autonomous value (and I would add:
authoritative value) of aesthetics in Fine Art, and Grosso Modo it's all stuff that I can see Franklin agreeing with but that I can't
come to entirely agree with. So...Hidden under the lenghty arguments happening here lies the same old debate running in circle as to know what has the last word between fine art's ability to titillate the sensual vs fine art's ability to stimulate an intellectual reflection.

To me there is no disparity or authority, "Ever", (Perez Hilton accent) between the visual apparitus of a work of art and how its perceptual reception is always triggered or enhanced by knowledge.

Cedric Caspesyan

PS: Culture is 118 structural elements and 230 space groups.

7/20/2009 12:36:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

George: "Culture is Nature."

Someone's concept blender is on high speed this morning. No thanks, I won't have a glass of that juice. :-)

7/20/2009 12:40:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Going back to Toms remarks about the ever increasing speed of modern (contemporary with fewer letters) life, and the question It is necessary to take a stand, to respond to new ideas, to keep up with history.

First a demographic diversion to illustrate my point on density: In 1903 Alfred Stieglitz began publishing the magazine Camera Work the voice of modern photography. When it suspended publication in 1917, it had only 36 subscribers.

Getting back to language and the way it affects art and modern thought or philosophies. A philosophical question of some importance has to do with the mind, is "out there" really "out there" or just in our mind, out internal world, "in here." This is a question of consciousness and I'm bringing it up, without answers in order to frame another question.

All those ides that are spinning around us in an ever changing maelstrom of conflicting information, where do they exist? If, as Zip suggested, "The only conversation an artist has to have is with their own mind." they exist in our internal world, "in here," then their existence means they are part of your own internal construct of the world, the "out there." Conversely, if you choose to ignore them, or model them as background noise, then they are not going to be part of your practice as an artist.

So, in the internal dialogue, we choose what is important and what is not. There should be no conflict with a flux of ideas unless you are interested in them, and in that case they become part of your internal world, "in here."

7/20/2009 12:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

A caricature is never a valid topic for discussion if you genuinely want to understand something. (There's that indifference to truth again.)

I think we've established how sound your opinion is, George, but you're entitled to it, of course. Abstraction, lyrical and otherwise, produced some fine work and a lot of things not worth keeping. It's like every other style of art in that respect. If the better stuff doesn't do anything for you, I think it's too bad, but I wouldn't try to dissuade you. Taste is involuntary; the only question is whether you're talking yourself out of your taste or into it.

With one small qualification, I'd agree that the art world dismissed what it thought was his theoretical and critical positions a long time ago. But given that the art world is at best an untidy aggregate, chock full of insanity, greed, and faulty reasoning, I see no reason to accept its judgments without question. I guess some of us aren't meant to mosey along with the zeitgeist.

That Greenberg is dead I know only too well. Whether modernism is dead or not depends on what artists do with it now, should they feel so inclined. You might, but I wouldn't stop them from trying something.

7/20/2009 01:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am Anon 4:55. Unintentional omission. And I'm also the one who brought up 'evil' though tongue-in-cheek. This conversation, as Zip suggested, has the feel of a theological, rather than an aesthetic puzzle. I don't have the tools or the time to say exactly why. The nihilism towards the practice of art (in terms of historical contribution) that I sensed in reading Danto slightly agitated me and seemed a logical extension of other points mentioned. He's new to me. Gotta start somewhere.


7/20/2009 01:14:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Oops, cut and paste bites back, I meant "character" rather than "caricature"

7/20/2009 01:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

here is a newly coined term for you. gifted art - art that is gifted, i.e. from artist to person/organization/community/etc.

interesting concept. saw it recently on wikipedia.

7/20/2009 02:17:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

I may succeed or fail on the soundness of my opinion because it is all original thought, I'm not parroting of the thoughts of others which makes footnotes problematic.

Culture as Nature. Think about this as influence caused by the urbanization of the last 150 years and the advent of mass media. If you live in a major city like I do, it is impossible to go outside (where the rain is) without being inundated by cultural images, by images fashioned by society. I would suggest that most of us have seen more cultural images than trees. Why do you think the cubists invented collage? Look at old photos of Paris in the second decade of the 20th century.

So, ok culture isn't dirt, but if you view the context of our lifetimes, our environment, then items from the culture occupy a considerable amount of neuronal space and these connections define our world and change how we see it. In my opinion this is a profound change.

7/20/2009 02:22:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Please let us not rule out the caricature! (I do adore Picasso for each and every cubistic flourish! Minotaur!)

Danto is indeed self serving as George says. I believe the artspeak is "privileging," as in "urban dwellers privilege Andy Goldsworthy as an exotic druid over the lowly dung beadle, who lacks the higher brain functions required for artistic intent."

Franklin's frustration comes across in his preambles "I think we've established how sound your opinion is, George, but you're entitled to it, of course."

The use of the royal We, the formal prose - I use these to illustrate the violence of dismissal without debate.

"One would be naive to think that..." (apophasis aside?) or "It is self evident that" - these are time honored (academic) ways of preempting rational debate as much as the nonsensical (ru)barara of my fellow Neo-Barbarians (by Crom!)

Philosophically, paint is a way of thinking as much as words or dance, though dance is pretty dumb, if you ask me - a burlesque at best, a striptease at worst. Give me an ale cup and couple of sub-humans elegantly fornicating on a percale sheeted bed any day. Dispense with the artifice! Nature at its core (red of tooth and claw ad nauseum).

I myself like to walk and think as well as type and think - the movement is integral to the task. The push and pull of the tides of mind. Painting is like reading the tea leaves - which is why I don't trust conceptualists (who paint only as a last resort, when the painter is on vacation, and know nothing of haruspication).

But a medium is a medium, and many in today's audiences eschew words altogether as dull and slow. Interesting. When will our society return to it's oral roots as a purely visual society? (and celebrate Bloomsday as theater with origins lost in antiquity? When will artist be allowed to think in their own medium without translation for the lay folk? When will the face of god reveal itself even in the artifice of man? Not while there is a separation between mind and body, soul and man, good and evil, nation and state. A system divided against itself will not stand! Systems proceed towards disorder! No one gets out alive!

7/20/2009 03:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Zipthwung, you're reading frustration where there is none, and "we" refers to George and me, not the royal we. Too, we had a pretty productive debate, especially considering that George won't take responsibility for anything he's written. You're a different story. I'll debate you if you want, but I'm not going to make reasonable arguments while you bang out bad manifesto writing. It would be like playing racquetball against a chimpanzee.

7/20/2009 04:04:00 PM  
Blogger tony said...

"It is essential to an architect to know how to see: I mean, to see in such a way that the vision is not overpowered by rational analysis."

Luis Barragan

I think you could exchange the word 'architect' for 'visual artist' and the notion would still hold good. For me the second part -'overpowered by rational analysis' - attaches itself quite naturally to the function of the art critic, art historian, curator, art theorist; in short all those who use the word' as part of their stock in trade & 'rational analysis' as their tool of dissection. I feel -and it is a sentiment and not a thought - that great art will always slip out of reach of both the word & rational analysis whilst art which can be contained by them may be 'good' but rarely great.

7/20/2009 05:07:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Franklin you mean you'd lose against the superior reflexes and strength of a chimp right? Cherry pick my points and raise straw chimps all you want - you still haven't adequately refuted the fact that Clement Greenburg's own words paint him as an intolerable and pretentious conservative in comparison to at least one other chimp.

To whit: I quoted the essay (Avant-Garde and Kitsch) that Cedric posted a link to and you choose to ignore. The essay itself denotes a mentality as well as wrongheaded attitudes, and though I am hardly a populist, I wouldn;t care to defend his tartuffery).


Reiterate Erratum: It was Adorno that hated Jazz (meaning pop music) not Walter Benjamin, though both are relevant to the discussion, Frankly.

7/20/2009 07:19:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

... especially considering that George won't take responsibility for anything he's written.

LOL, I sign my name to everything don't I. Much of what I write here is original thinking, not academic regurgitation with footnotes for the other professors.

I write here for a reason, mainly because Ed has a wide audience and because I'm interested in the responses. I started studying art in 1969, so I was exposed to the whole panoply of formalist and modernist criticism. I read critics like Bannard when you were in grammar school, so I happen to have a personal recollection of what I thought then, and how it has played out into the present. This turns out to be more or less what I had expected.

By pure chance I ended up working in the digital imaging industry for most of the nineties so at the turn of the century when I got back in the studio full time again, I turned to the blog world as a way of reconnecting. By chance I ran across your blog and as you know I became a regular commenter.

Since the lot of you were formalist to the core, I took the other side for the sake of debate. The assumption was made by all your "regulars" that I was a postmodernist, lordy be how did that happen. The problem was that when I thought through the arguments and came up with a different conclusion than the rest of the Greenberg parrots, every one got really pissy. Ultimately I left which I am sure you are happy about.

Now you come over here to Ed's blog and offer up the same old insults to me and anyone else who disagrees with you. I'm all for disagreement, I'll argue any side, just to see what kind of a debate will occur, but I find your tactics rather stifling. I offered up a teaser, that I think there are ways to revitalize and carry forward formalist criticism. You didn't even bother to ask, rather you spent your bytes quibbling over the meaning of 'program" and whether or not Greenberg was a "formalist critic" or not, at no time did you offer up any original thinking of your own as disagreement or retort.

The funny thing is that Tom probably shares a lot of your views, and even though I disagree with him on many issues we seem to be able to have a civil debate. I admire Zip because he always seems to be able to make intricate connections between topics and writers in a way which is nonlinear, perhaps chaotic, but always poetic and thought provoking. But, Franklin's "my way or the highway" psychology is juvenile and generally rude.

7/20/2009 07:45:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Well, this was fun.

But now that the conversation has run its course and most of the back and forth has become personality based, I think we'll stick a fork in this one.

Thanks for a great run, though.

7/20/2009 07:52:00 PM  

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