Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Who's the Star? Who's the Star? You're the Star! Yes, You Are!

Still within the first month or so of having left Artnet.com for Artinfo.com, one of my all-time favorite arts writers, the unstoppable Ben Davis, penned a piece that raised hearty praise from nearly every quarter. Titled "Total Eclipse of the Art: The Rise of Art News and the Crisis of Art Criticism," the essay centered on Ben's argument that "'art news' ...has definitely replaced 'art criticism' at the center of discussion" :
There's been an enormous proliferation of writing about the art scene. Artforum.com's "Scene and Herd" was founded in 2004. Artinfo.com, the publication I write for, was founded in 2005. And of course, there is the tremendous excitement generated by the art blogosphere, which draws its strength from attitude and outrage.
A simple logic governs this proliferation of "art news": Readers care a lot more about reporting on the art world than they do about reviews of art. By whatever metric you use — Web traffic, reader feedback, or just percentage of the collective brain taken up — people are more inflamed by the latest institutional scandal or art-related celebrity sighting than they are by quaint, old-fashioned discussions of what, exactly, makes an artwork good.
As I noted a while back, though, one could point to the very distribution source of this criticism as one source of the stated problem.

Now I'll be the first to admit that as much as I love spending time alone with great art, absorbing it, contemplating it, revisiting it, and secretly wondering what it might taste like (too much information?), I do find human beings a bit more interesting in general. I find interesting human beings more interesting than anything in general. So I understand why news about the art world's people and their foibles would be popular. [I recall a piece (maybe a promotional piece advertising their services, I can't remember) in which artnet.com noted that their most highly visited regular column is their horoscope.] And who doesn't love to see themselves in Scene and Herd's glamour shots? (I have appeared a few times and, yes, it is fun.)

But if you want people to develop an appetite for other, deeper discussions about actual artwork, well, it helps if you invest a bit more in showing them actual images of actual artwork and perhaps fewer party photo ops.

Which is why my irony meter went all wonky this morning, when I saw what I hope will be a regular staple not only on artnet.com (Ben Davis' old home), which has launched the new(?) feature, but also quickly copied by all the other online sources for news and reviews of art. I'm talking about Picture Post, by Emily Nathan. The short introductory text says it all:
Browse a selection of images culled from gallery exhibitions opening worldwide between Jan. 10 and Jan. 25, 2011. Cities include New York, Los Angeles, Munich, London, and Chicago.
Kudos to the artnet.com team for this idea. It's as simple as it is genius, and obviously needed.

Labels: art viewing, art world


OpenID scotstyle said...

At first I was excited but when i went to see the column its very limited. ( I know I complain about a lot of stuff) It raises the question that may have been covered on this blog and that is: Don't we need accompanying text from the artist to appreciate contemporary art?

1/11/2011 10:15:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Contemporary Art Daily

1/11/2011 10:45:00 AM  
OpenID thepurposeofart said...

That Contemporary Art Daily link was great, thanks George!

I think the interesting thing about covering art shows and the crowd/scene which surrounds them is that you get a more comprehensive view of the art context and its ability to be a separate place while coexisitng with day to day reality. The initial spectacle of a gallery opening highlights the strange middle ground in which art exists. Contemporary Art is a bizarre blend of social engagement and escapism which has always been able to offer a more challenging and diverse experience than nearly any other variety of social interaction.

It's a shame more people don't challenge their misconceptions about the art world and engage contemporary art outside of an annual visit to the Museum.

I suppose if peopel don't identify or connect with the art being shown, at least they can connect and interact with the people which congregate around the art.

In the end, I don't think art is really ever about art, it's always about establishing a realtionship and a ground for engagement whether individual or collective in nature.

1/11/2011 12:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...


1/11/2011 01:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Browse a selection of images culled from gallery exhibitions opening worldwide between Jan. 10 and Jan. 25, 2011. Cities include New York, Los Angeles, Munich, London, and Chicago."

Hey, maybe art can start to be about art again?!

(And to scotsyle -- if you need accompanying text from an artist in order to appreciate their art, they are doing it wrong. No matter what the art is, if it is good, then it will communicate for itself. The rest is just appendix.)

1/11/2011 02:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you kidding that is stale as hell.

You need to look at some of the other artblogs once in a while instead of all these links to Artinfo and Artnet.

1/11/2011 02:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'..doing it wrong' ? Really? Come on. I do not think a text is necessary, and I try and avoid them, but the fact that someone does not understand an artist's work without a statement has no bearing on the success or lack of success of the work in question.

1/11/2011 02:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

Looking at art online is not the best experience of it, but if it draws people in to see the work in-person then it is better than nothing.
I think text would be useful for certain types of work, for instance sculpture, because the viewpoint online would be limited

1/12/2011 03:51:00 AM  
Blogger CAP said...

Like most of Davis’ pronouncements I found it naïve and lazy. Dignifying gallery gossip and name- dropping as some sort of ‘art discourse’ would be funny if it weren’t so sad. Take the slack proposition that ‘a simple logic governs this proliferation of "art news": Readers care a lot more about reporting on the art world than they do about reviews of art.’ Is there any proof that these are in fact one and the same readers? Is it not also true that equally, logically, readers in fact care more about sports, politics and finance than they do about any section of the arts? But what is ‘caring’ exactly? There is little logic to Davis’ thinking, and a great deal of ignorance. For Davis it’s enough that it’s measured in web-traffic – a notoriously corrupt measure of ‘hits’ - best left to the shysters in marketing. And when exactly were readers collectively ‘inflamed’ ‘by quaint, old-fashioned discussions of what, exactly, makes an artwork good’? Aesthetics have never been as simplistic or popular as Davis supposes. Serious criticism has never been a huge money-making enterprise, fails when it tries to be. There’s a reason why journals like Art Forum and Art in America have to spread themselves so thin in content and sponsorship.

Similarly, the spurious accusations of ‘theory-crit’ are just not borne out by a glance at typical reviews in Art Forum. Walter Robinson might do better actually reading a few before dismissing the entire publication. Typically the reviews run to 700-800 words, longer than those in AiA, (but for me, not as considered) and all spend about a third on description, of individual works and gallery setting. Even regular critics like Davids, Rimmanelli and Frankel, that do buy into strands of post-modernism, adhere to these basics.

There quite simply is no reduction of art to ‘pure theoretical machinations’ in AF’s reviews, as claimed. Wacky Tim Griffin may enjoy his extended speculations on some purported sociological and ideological nexus to culture, but these are quite separate from the concise and concrete reviews of responsible members of his staff. Davis is supposed to be a critic (although not immune from some pretty lofty theorising himself – with his 9.5 theses, tipped by colleague Stephan Squibb on Artlog.com) but seems incapable of ‘engaging with contemporary reality of art’ beyond a pathetic attraction for the ‘pulsating, magnetic shimmer’ of the beautiful people.

Get real Ben.

1/12/2011 07:42:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Theory = Bullshit

The general usage as defined by Webster "Theory: the general or abstract principles of a body of fact, a science, or an art :

Top which Wiki suggests "Theories whose subject matter consists not in empirical data, but rather in ideas are in the realm of philosophical theories as contrasted with scientific theories. At least some of the elementary theorems of a philosophical theory are statements whose truth cannot necessarily be scientifically tested through empirical observation."

After reading 50 years worth of Artforum it should be fairly clear that "theory" or dressed up "critical theory" is nothing more than the intellectual fashion of the moment. Very little critical theory is relevant and worth reading 20 years after the fact.

Where critical theory, and plain vanilla criticism has value is as a marketing tool to brand and promote artists and their the art objects.

Ben Davis suggests that "After all, without an interesting perspective on what makes visual art distinctive, all you have left is the art world as a crappy arm of pop culture or a place for high-end gambling.' The reality is that pop culture and speculation are the two primary reasons for arts existence, from the Pope to Gagosian, not much has really changed.

1/12/2011 09:25:00 AM  

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