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sliding gracefully down the slippery slope of hope

Post #300 • June 16, 2004, 9:02 AM • 29 Comments

Go read the new article by John Link, The Slippery Slope of Hope, and come back here.

Ready? Okay. This appeals to a small but powerful eschatological streak I have, and I'm inclined to agree with it. It's not contrary to a piece that I wrote for newCrit in which I said:

In essence there are two art histories going on - a loud, fast, exciting one based on buzz, and a reticent, slow, private one based on feeling. This is why good but anomalous figures like Balthus and Lucian Freud don't get wiped off the face of the earth. People with sharp eyes make choices about what to preserve that are independent of contemporary history. When the buzz dies down and the hyped artists go the way of all fashion, often those sharp-eyed choices remain standing on their intrinsic goodness. ...

The art world probably has no choice except to operate the way it does, but as individuals, we can put ourselves in front of single pieces of art and allow them to work on us. If they're good, we can hope, with reason, that they will survive the art world they were born into and endure into the future.

But endure doesn't mean thrive. Pluralism has always concerned me. It sounds free and egalitarian and right up the alley of a democratic civilization. In fact, it may mean that no style has enough wind in its sails to tack out of the harbor, and that until something dramatic and unforeseen happens, we're going to be paddling into each other in the shallows.

Link doesn't milk it, but the analogy is set up: The artistic acheivements of Greece simultaneously peak and founder in Hellenism, are passed to the warlike and technological Romans, and then collapse for a thousand years. Substitute "Europe" for "Greece," "Modernism" for "Hellenism," and "Americans" for "Romans," and you end up with a plausible but sickening analysis. (You know, Hellenistic art is a lot of fun. It has a spinning, grinding, insouciant energy that you don't see in the pure and balanced art of the high Classical era. Hellenism was the Postmodernism of its time. And the Romans, in pure PoMo style, appropriated it.)

Now for the good news - I just picked up the new Beastie Boys CD, which, needless to say, is totally sick. ("I got billions and billions of rhymes to flex / 'Cause I got more rhymes than Carl Sagan's got turtlenecks") And the alternative music industry is going to be our model for survival, not those cloistered Irish monks. The Beastie Boys have never gotten a lot of airplay outside of some of their first hits, but survived by putting out a good product through alternative channels - they built their own studio, started their own label, and produced themselves. Aimee Mann put together a label called United Musicians, which holds that "every artist should be able to retain copyright ownership of the work he or she has created and that this ownership is the basis for artistic strength and true independence." Gilberto Gil just put out an album on the Creative Commons License. Faced with a system that was unable to handle their style or grant them the freedom to exercise it, they formed their own networks.

The result? Aimee Mann is doing just fine, thank you, and the RIAA has become so desperate that it is now wetting its pants on a regular basis. One day, I expect the spastically litigious RIAA to sue itself by accident. CD sales continue to plummet, and the RIAA continues to blame new recording technology and not the fact the companies it represents insist on issuing insipid dreck by the ton.

Musicians don't have anything like museums in their lives - public institutions that will grant them official, lasting recognition. Therefore they realized something that Clement Greenberg never did, if we take Link's article at its word: what we call the system no longer involves the people with the best taste, and hasn't for a long time. The art system is just like the music system, except that the RIAA doesn't receive massive amounts of public funding. Link touches on this when he says that these days, most artists "would much rather be in the next Whitney Biennial than recognize the decline it represents."

Well, if most artists jumped off a bridge... oh, never mind. The point is that highbrow taste needs to create its own networks if it can't find satisfaction via the traditional channels. Link is right about the elephant in the room - it's time to shoot the thing; the art system or scene or whatever may or may not come around to what we're doing, but in the meantime we ought to be busy generating our own system and making work on our own terms.

It could even be healthier, having all these little far-flung pockets of resistance. Anyone on board would be a believer, like Ch'an monks were when Buddhism fell out of favor with the Chinese emperor. (Those periods of official neglect produced some of the strongest masters.) There would be no incentive to participate except inner necessity. And inner necessity is what we're all about, right?

According to Link, Greenberg talked about highbrow taste prevailing. It's this prevailing that needs to be reexamined. With pluralism established, probably no style will prevail in the same way that styles used to prevail. But this is the opportunity to strive for a kind of victory that is more personal, more self-directed, and most of all, more self-critical.




June 16, 2004, 7:19 PM

"One day, I expect the spastically litigious RIAA to sue itself by accident."

Actually, Sony Entertainment was once, as a member of the RIAA, party to a lawsuit filed against Sony Electronics over digital copyrights...

More seriously, re: John Link

How alarmist! The Dark Ages!? Give me a break.

The point about the avant-garde vs the avant-gardists is something I can get on board with, but his dismissal of art of the last 40 years, tout court, simply mirrors in its broad-based assumptions the philistine's undue fear of contemporary art as a high-class con-job.

What irks me more than anything in this piece are bromides like this: "Craft, which always gets in the way, has been tossed out the window."

This is a tidy and oft-repeated attack has of course some truth to it. But to suggest that craft has no place in mainstream contemporary art betrays a willful blindness. A great bulk of art since the late 90's has shown itself to be utterly obsessed with craft, and in a far more traditional manner than any late Modernist wielding a can of house paint.

It is just not true that craft has disappeared from or is no longer acceptable in mainstream art. It's simply no longer the determinative measure of artistic achievement. (Was it ever? If so, the onus of this shift falls on the shoulders of the Modern avant gardethe postmodern barbarians merely followed suit.)



June 16, 2004, 7:25 PM

I want to temper something I said above - that what we call the system no longer involves the people with the best taste. That's not really true. It involves them. But there's not a dependable correlation between their status within that system, either as consumers or workers, and their taste.



June 16, 2004, 9:01 PM

I can't agree with the full extent of Link's pessimism but the essay talks about an interesting phenomenon and it is nicely written. Dan's point about the obsession of much recent art with craft is also well taken; art will suffer from an excess as well as a dearth of craft. I suspect that if Link were to expand on his statement he would modify it to show where the lack of craft is painful - in some Neoexpressionist paintings of the 80s, maybe, and where an excess is equally painful, let's say in the paintings of John Currin (although I think Currin, who reminds me of Norman Rockwell, is not half the craftsman Rockwell was), and perhaps go on to say craft is just craft and in no way a "determinative measure of artistic acheivement", in Dan's phrase.

The topic here is interesting and hard to understand well. Most human systems make value distinctions which are important to the maintenance and well-being of the system itself. Using the assumptions of purpose of any system to improve and sustain it is fundamental to everything we do. The art sustem is unique precisely because it is the only system we have which deliberately precludes any criteria for evaluating its product. Nothing can answer the question "Why is this good?". Nevertheless, art supports a multibillion-dollar international industry which operates purely on the basis of valuation. And so we are able to see - recently - a piece of cloth on a wood stretcher with some paint on it sell for a hundred million dollars. Think about it. It's weird, isn't it?

Within this weird system lots of people - including myself and probably everyone reading this blog - are scrapping and arguing and hassling about this value thing. Sometimes I think art is only around so we can do this. It is uncomfortably like religion. I wish some really smart behavioral psychologist would get together with a really smart social scientist and tell us what the hell we are doing. We will never figure it out.


John Link

June 16, 2004, 9:41 PM


I don't quite get your point about craft. The best Modernists were very picky about their craft.

I'll discuss just one, the "late Modernist" who wielded a can of "house paint". He chose Dupont's Duco enamel for the most part, a paint developed for lettering on signs, including those displayed outdoors. It was very oily so that it would slide over itself and its support easily, making the formation of letters more responsive to the authority of the person making them, rather than record a fight between the paint and the coefficient of friction generated by the surface. It also had considerable surface tension, which kept the letters from "running" and dripping, despite the high oil content, once they were laid out. These properties were crucial to this painter's craft.

The "late Modernist" did not wield the can - he wielded sticks and old brushes that were dipped in the can, then used them to fling the paint onto the canvas from a modest distance, best measured in inches. "Tradition" might say this panter should have dipped, then touched the canvas with the loaded instrument, rather than fling off of it, but that is a piddling disagreement (unless you are a stick-in-the-mud academician). Compare that to splatting a beheaded cow from several hundred feet above the surface.

The oily nature of Duco provided the internal lubrication necessary to let the paint really really stretch during its brief period of separation from contact with the brush/stick. Its intrinsic surface tension furthered this effect because, in "free flight", the paint was drawn towards itself, creating rope-like forms instead of sheets, as most paint would, especially if it were launched from a can. The result was a surface that was NOTdominated by splayed forms with the inevitable all encompassing overlap of dense splash shapes. To be sure, there are some splash marks on the surfaces. But what opens up and relieves their tendency to create a dense mass is the uncoiled and recoiling skeins of paint that Duco's specific properties allow to happen, and which the "late Modernist" exaggerated and controlled (yes, controlled) with his practiced, skillful hands, so that they were the dominant element.

Ironically, and despite being called "Jack the Dripper", there are few drips visible on these canvases. That's because the unusually high surface tension in the paint made it stay where it was put. Such paint is drawn back into itself, instead of spreading out as it waits to dry. Thus the precise definition of the uncoiled skeins were preserved to play their role in the final picture.

When the movie was made about the this painter, the actors and crew did not want to expose themselves to the solvents, oils, and resins necessary to give "oil" paint the properties required to achieve these results, nor did their shooting schedule allow much time for drying, and besides that, Duco is no longer manufactured. So they enlisted the support of Golden Paints, a company full of technically advanced people who also understand the craft of painting. Golden was able to formulate a water based acrylic equivalent to Duco that fooled even me, as I watched the actor paint. The acrylic normally available to artists simply won't perform in the manner that I saw on the screen.

Further, the actor had studied the films of the late Modernist "weilding a can of house paint" and had mastered the technique well, after 10 years of practicing. In interviews, the actor was careful to note that his mastery of the late Modernist's craft was not the same as mastery of the late Modernist's artistry.

As far as the "great bulk" of recent art being "utterly obsessed with craft" I'd suggest anyone who wants to test this statement, that they look at what's been hot.

Finally, when you talk about my dismissing the last 40 years of art "tout court" I have to wonder if you read my essay very well (admittedly it is long). I said good art persisted, but went sideways. While I can't, and wouldn't attempt to, prove the statement, it is hardly a dismissal. It describes a period in which good art struggled, with some success, but not to the extent history is likely to record as a golden age. The elephant in the room is the belief many have that history WILL see these years as a golden age.

On the other hand, your read me correctly when you refer to contemporary art - taken as a whole, I assume - as a high-class con job. I intend to use your wonderful phrase frequently. It is a great way to sum up mainstream art, despite the exception here and there that will always haunt any generalization.



June 16, 2004, 10:22 PM

Could someone explain the phrase "high-class con job," either Dan or John or anyone else? I'd like to know who practices this con (I'd like to see as many specific artists' names and specific examples of work as possible, not pseudonyms, oblique references, or vague generalizations), and I'd like to know why each artist or work should be considered a scam (I'd like to know in concrete terms what the criteria of a con job are, and how the artist and/or work meets those criteria). I take it to mean that something is being sold as art which is not art (I'm especially eager to hear exactly what constitutes art, and how the artists and/or works fail to meet its standards), but it's not clear to me exactly what is being stolen (a con job is after all a theft of sorts, selling a false sense of confidence about something which is ultimately false), and it's not clear to me what the general social harm is. I'm not going to argue with anyone (intellectual arguments are fruitless in writing), I just want to know what's meant by the term.



June 16, 2004, 10:33 PM


Re: the craft of Modernism

I think you miss the direction of my criticism. I was not in fact questioning the craft of Late Modernism but rather insisting on a recognition of the practice of craft that remains with us today and remains in many respects as strong. (Note that I referred to "a great bulk" of contemporary art being concerned with craft, not "the great bulk"the article being all the difference between a recognizable trend and a dominant paradigm.) My point regarding the Modern origins of the supposed death of craft was directed more towards the Modernist anti-aesthetic tradition which has borne it forth. The reference to house paint was an off-hand reference to the materials in use (in some respectsthough not allagainst traditional craft, as todays conservators can attest), not a statement questioning the craft of the methods (I'm not in any way accusing them of haphazardly flinging painti.e., the my-kid-could-paint-that arguement). In this respect your story, though facinating, was hardly necessary to convince meI suspect we are in total agreement on this point (i.e., "The best Modernists were very picky about their craft").

Re: "dismissing the last 40 years of art 'tout court'"

Point taken.

Re: con artists

The problem I have with the idea of contemporary art as confidence scheme is the quick and broad imputation of bad faith it requires. It is this perspective that views anyone who finds value in, say, Damien Hirst's cattle to be either a dupe or a charlatan. Certainly the art world has its fair share of shysters, perhaps more now than in the past (and with stronger institutional sanction), but I think a whole lot more contemporary artists are far more earnest in their endeavors than such generalizations allow. And, despite the depressing prominence of cleverness-as-art, I might suggest that these are not mere scattered exceptions but something closer to the rule, if there is such a thing.

If the majority of art sucks, it's not because we've stopped caring. It's just that it's the way it's always been.

Gerhard Richter: "The much despised 'art scene of today'... is not despicable, cynical or without spirit but as a temporarily blossoming, busily proliferating scene it is only a variation on a perpetual social game that fulfils needs for communication, in the same way as sport, stamp collecting or breeding cats. Art happens despite this, rarely and always unexpectedly, never because we make it happen."



June 16, 2004, 11:09 PM


Re: "Could someone explain the phrase 'high-class con job'"

Needless to say (or to repeat), I find the idea pretty dubious.

From the perspective of the philistine, it is the suspicion that the art world elite are trying to pull a fast one on the publicthat they don't understand or believe it any more than the skeptics but pretend otherwise, whether for prestige or for cold hard cash. This is a natural consequence of the chasm between the 'art world' and the 'public' and has certainly been around as long as the avant-garde (is the philistine the creation of the avant-garde?) and is probably coextensive with anti-intellectualism in general. (Consider again the my-kid-could-paint-that argument.) The relationship between art, its immediate audience and the public at large (which in most respects ought to be its audience as well) is a whole separate issue.

Coming from artists and critics, the suspicion follows the same general trajectory as above, with the added injury of perceiving someone to be making a mockery of a discourse you care about and, moreover, 'getting away with it'. The implication (or assumption) is, of course, that these 'charlatans' (often 'these kids today') couldn't care less.


Alfredo Triff

June 16, 2004, 11:39 PM

Franklin and blogger friends: Just one little point on Pluralism. Some people mistake Pluralism with Relativism (a distant acquaintance). They are different in that the second claims there is no way to determine norms across versions --or points of view, since each is relative to one another. Though Pluralism defends the idea of more than one possible version for a given solution, it definitely upholds the idea of good across versions. In other words, for Relativism good is version-bounded; not so for Pluralism. For the purpose of establishing norms across versions, Pluralism is obviously the better choice.


John Link

June 16, 2004, 11:46 PM

Dan and Hovig:

You said "the onus of this shift falls on the shoulders of the Modern avant garde - the postmodern barbarians merely flowwed suit". Pretty clear to me, but I'm glad to see Dan backed off a bit.

Regarding the difference between "a great bulk" and "the great bulk", seems to me like we're still talking about "great bulk". Anyway, "the craft of the methods" that Dan refers to is exactly the craft that counts in art. Like "oldpro" says about valuing artistry itself, the delimiting of craft in serious art does not take place until the craft facilitates something good. Fan brushes were not important until oil paint was invented, and then only when artists found a way to use them to aesthetic profit.

I doubt Pollock "researched" Duco. He probably just had some laying around and felt what it could do. Maybe, or probably, he noticed that it was different from most other paint, after he tried it. I told the full story because so many have no clue how deliberate Pollock was, and how his craft was part of putting his pictures together. And of course because Dan picked on him.

I can add all the detail to the story because of hindsight that this technical, crafty aspect was crucial to his greatest pictures, and the fact I grew up next door to a sign painter who explained all the magic of Duco to me long before I ever heard of Pollock.

My essay says craft is one of the twin pillars of renewing art and I stand by that. Of course I said talent was the other pillar. As dicey as discussing craft can get, talent is a swamp that is sure to sink anyone who wants to define it. I'm sorry to say to Hovig that I can't oblige much with respect to his/her requests. I like Rockwell a lot even though I believe he was too educated and yes, cultivated, to believe he was working to his full capacity/talent. I like Ed Ruscha too, though he is more a part of the art system than I would like. It made him not just rich, but influential too, so what the hell. In any case, Ruscha is vulgarly known for his wit, but in his studio he is all about craft and unleashiing his talent, neither of which he has ever had anything but the highest respect for (despite his love of Duchamp). In fact, he is irked that so many people tout his work for the way it predicted mass culture, such as his gasoline station imagry, and its wit with certain kinky constructions of language, which are bound to a specific time period. He says such regard makes his efforts into "nostalgia objects", while he wants them looked at aesthetically, beside the masters. When he talks that way, he is as serious an artist as any who have walked the earth, his association with the glitz of LA and Hollywood not withstanding.

You both ask about "con artists". As Hovig says, talking about a con involves talking about someone's motives, usually. I prefer to leave it more factual. If I buy a nugget of fool's gold from someone at the price of real gold, I was conned, regardless of what the seller knew about the product. That said, academics are good at conning themselves, their students, and anyone in the public susecptible - and academics run the art system today. If you want to put a sharp point on it, call it self agrandizing delusion. I'll stick with "high class con".



June 17, 2004, 12:30 AM

While I recognize the importance of being ernest, a lot of that apparent ernestness is severely compromised by a lack of talent, intelligence and knowledge and a rather hypocritical willingness to keep on trying anything until something goes over - "run it up the flagpole and see who salutes", as they used to say on Madison Avenue. If conning requires motive, proving recent art is a con job may be technically moot, but as far as I am concerned I'd rather leave those laudable but invisible motives out of it and take the art for what it is, at least what it is for me. When I look at most of it, well, like Link says, it is a con job. If a Koons whiskey bottle sells for five million dollars, to hell with ernestness. Somebody is getting conned.

Now Dan, you seem like an intelligent, articulate fellow. Why the inane Richter quote? The man writes as badly as he paints. Breeding cats takes some skill, after all. And I was suffering under the delusion that, although a good picture of mine may be rare and often unexpected, that I did, in fact, make it happen.

And Alfredo, saying that puralism and relativism are not partners in crime is a little disingenuous. An unmediated pluralism, a laissez-faire pluralism, a pluralism that doesnt care, is an ideal. But that is not what we have had in the art business for the last 30 or 40 years. Our pluralism is a feel-good front for "everything's OK". Everything relatively fashionable, at least. I thought this was obvious, but I guess it isn't.



June 17, 2004, 12:50 AM

I like the idea of not being cloistered in this potential Dark Age, but actively doing things. I've known many young artists just sick, SICK that they aren't part of the big bad art world. They didn't realize they ARE the art world.

As for active, vibrant non-big art world communities I think of the alternative comics world in the US. Artists such as Kevin huizenga, Ted May, Jessica Abel, Chris Ware and Dan Clowes are doing godd, sometimes maybe great things in a tiny neglected corner.



June 17, 2004, 1:16 AM

Dan, I like your explanation of the alleged "high-class con job," and Alfredo, I like the distinction you made. I don't understand why a person can't enjoy the work of Damian Hirst Marcel Duchamp on one set of terms, John Currin Jenny Saville Eric Fischl on another set, Bouguereau Norman Rockwell on yet other set, and any other art movement in the world on its own set.

The eye is part of the brain. The brain has multiple parts. Is the love of Chinese food and French cuisine incompatible, since one must never have soy sauce with foie gras, or serve brie with puffed rice? Is the love of opera and heavy metal incompatible, since they share almost nothing in common? (Hint: No.) Does playing chess preclude a person from doing crossword puzzles? And for that matter, does doing crossword puzzles preclude a person from loving art? Why does the love of art need to be monolithic?

John, thanks for your explanations too. You obviously understand the craft of painting with Duco better than most. It won't surprise you if I say many artists wouldn't call it a craft at all, but it might surprise you if I turned your argument around, and asked whether, for example, Damian Hirst's Marcel Duchamp's "craft" were that of intellectual insight, and taken on those terms, he does it perfectly well? I say this with respect, but if there's a self-aggrandizing delusion anywhere in the art world, it might be the belief that anyone objectively has more claim to wisdom than anyone else.

I don't think anyone has the right to tell another person their enjoyment of certain intellectual stimuli are due to the fact that they have been conned, or that they are of inferior intelligence, training, education, experience or understanding. People can say someone shares an opinion with only the minority of people of certain experience and articulacy, but that's just about all objective observation allows. Perhaps it discredits me to say this, but I'm tried of these eschatological, winner-take-all, scorched-earth arguments, where it's not just enough to love certain art, but we also need to slaughter all opposition in the effort, both visible and invisible, casting aspersions on the art, the artist, the gallerist, the critic, the patron, the curator, and the fan. It's really draining of energy, and I have a lot of difficulty keeping myself from calling it a malignant and narcissistic pursuit.

Most days I wonder whether it's not "con jobs" which make the art world go 'round, but rather an endless supply of negative, destructive energy. It's not enough to prepare for the Battle of Armageddon, but it seems we want to practice our combat strategies for it here on earth as well.



June 17, 2004, 1:24 AM


Defending Richter:

It is often rightly said that the art world as a social entity is oftentimes not primarily concerned with art, whether one is grousing about openings where attendees turn their backs on the art while nibbling their cheese or about art culture as celebrity culture or about academics getting bogged down in fussy irrelevancies. Against charges of cynicism and spiritlessness however, Richter, while to a certain extent making light of this (apologies to the feline specialists), defends it as positive in at least one respectthe communication facilitated by its social movementsthat renders it not unlike other passtimes and forms of social engagement. It has its human point. But as far true art is concerned, as it relates to this social game it is a serendipitous thing. This is to say I don't read this necessarily as a denial of an authorial role or individual creativity in the creation of art (a reading that of course weighs heavily, and in my opinion somewhat unfairly, on Richter's painting) but rather as a rejection of the notion that art emerges as a consequence of this world or the fashions and poses it proffers. No, art happens in spite of these. This strikes precisely at the heart of my hope.



June 17, 2004, 1:33 AM

By the way, if today's contemporary artists are engaged in a "con job," then are the billions of pairs of feet which have shuffled across the floor grovelling respectfully before the Mighty Gioconda therefore somehow attached to nothing but the most sublime minds of great artistic insight and intellectual superiority? Given the relative power of each institution, I laughingly wonder which is the greater con.



June 17, 2004, 2:04 AM

Dan: I understanf Richter's point about the social value of artworld activity and how real art comes about not because of but despite this activity, but his words are: "Art happens despite this, rarely and always unexpectedly, never because we make it happen." So, the sentence states directly "Art happens...never because we make it happen". Perhaps "we" refers back to social activity rather than artmaking activity, but then he is constructing his sentence wrongly, or at least confusingly. That's why I criticised it.


John Link

June 17, 2004, 3:49 AM

Dear Hovig:

There are cruel people who put out saccharine water in hummingbird feeders. The birds that feed there are satisfied enough to keep drinking, but they die if that is all they eat.

On the other hand, the birds that feed on real sugar water do fine.

Both groups appear to be satisfied.

Go right ahead and enjoy Duchamp and HIrst. For a complete meal have a little Richter for dessert.

Believe me, art does not care whether you or I or anyone in particular gets this right.



June 17, 2004, 4:45 PM

I found Link's essay provocative and interesting reading, clear and articulate, and evidently reflecting a heartfelt, well-considered position. Such writing, while it need not be agreed with, is always respectable. Knee-jerk ad hominem cries of "Philistine" automatically discredit themselves without need of refutation, and I commend Link for ignoring the slur. It was uncomfortably close to something like: "So, you don't like dead animals floating in formaldehyde? What are you, a fascist?"



June 17, 2004, 5:03 PM

I'll second what Jack said, and, for Hovig's benefit, add that obviously no one can effectively tell you what to like (although anyone has a right to) because "liking", at least when it is honestly felt, is involuntary. The discussion here is not centered around our freedom to choose, which is a given in our culture, but about the less settled (and therefore more interesting) question of the status of value in an activity that has no criteria for value but relies on value absolutely.



June 17, 2004, 6:14 PM

what's all this noise about? stop arguing and make ART!!!! i bet most of the most verbal of you are pretty mediocre as artists...



June 17, 2004, 6:21 PM

Hovig, I think you are quite sage. You have, in all of your comments, revealed a great civility and open-mindedness. Your last two comments are somewhat alarming; they are the most judgemental remarks you've yet written. I suspect that you have inhaled far too much smoke from all of the scorched earth around here, and that you are suffering from a lack of oxygen. I recommend that you abandon this locale for a while in favor of dewy green pastures, because here, in the burning forest of conceptual art, a great bulk of the denizens cannot see the urinal for the pee.



June 17, 2004, 6:38 PM

Kathleen: If you are too open-minded your brains fall out.

Clueless: Equating verbal ability with artistic ineptitude is one of the oldest cliches of the art business, a refuge for ignorance, an insult to artists and simply untrue. Are you trying to justify your pseudonym here?


Phil Isteen

June 17, 2004, 6:45 PM

Golden cascades of pee pee!

It makes me want to go down to
North Miami & ponder who got
conned into glorifying the Jolly
Green Giant's bling bling!



June 17, 2004, 6:54 PM

I have not idea what you are talking about, Phil. Did you stumble into the wrong blog?


Phil Isteen

June 17, 2004, 7:02 PM

I was referring to Kathleens comment about the "great bulk of the denizens [who] cannot see the urinal for the pee"... & since someone had mentioned con jobs, the recent MOCA show came to mind...not worth the price of admisssion.



June 17, 2004, 9:34 PM

Jack et alia

Defending, err..., me:

I never intended to accuse anyone of being a "philistine". I merely wished to point out the similarity (and not necessarily to pass judgement in this respect) between conservative distrust of contemporary art and the public's. In my opinion, the latter springs, in part, from a lack of engagement or understanding, the former from a more trenchant (perhaps a prioristic) disapproval. This allows us to further draw a comparison between conservative distust of the contemporary and the historical public distrust of the Modern.

Perhaps this was a poor choice of a loaded word. I find 'the issue of the philistine' particularly problematic. To what extent such a positioning of the public is the product of artists' contrarian strategies (another legacy of Modernism) is a topic for another day. Still, such a comparison hardly amounts to a slur or rhetorical ad hominem, as it regards not Link's person but his relationship (one of disdain) to that which he discusses, something relevant and at issue.

Contrary to probably most assumptions here, I too found Link's essay "provocative and interesting reading" and well written and indeed found many points agreeable. I took specific issue, however, with his arch doom-and-gloom pronouncements and the comfortable but, I feel, unfair generalizations regarding contemporary art on which they were founded. The idea that today human creativity is being suppressed, contrasted against a glorious and free Golden Age, ignores both the triumphs of the present as well as the trials of the past.

In response I offer up an ubsubstantiated and indefensible bromide of my own: if true art emerges from the margins it is not for sudden lack of some central, progressive monolith guiding mainstream production (as we certainly don't lack that), but only because it always has.



June 17, 2004, 10:00 PM

Philistine is is a good old-fashioned heavy-duty nasty judgemental word. Use it freely and without guilt. The world is full of them.
Link seems to think the margins are a lot more marginalized than they used to be, perhaps to the point of no return. I don't completely share his gloom and doom either but I am an expert at living in denial. Who knows.


John LInk

June 18, 2004, 6:45 PM

If this group is representative of those who constitute the art system, then:

1. The hummingbirds who feed at the saccharine feeders will continue to use them happily and dislike anyone who suggests there is a better way to eat.

2. The hummingbirds who feed on real sugar will continue to think things aren't that bad and will get better any day now.

3. The slide down the slippery slope will continue for all.

It is not a perfect analogy, but it parallels how there are objective consequences to accepting the prevailing doctrine of "the subjectivity of taste". Put differently, "the subjectivity of taste" hides the fact that some taste is better than others, and some of it is simply bad.

And even good taste - including that of the great critic - cannot protect us from the effects of going along with the crowd.

In any case, I am gratified that my essay touched so many nerves. Makes me think I stumbled upon something real when I wrote it.



June 18, 2004, 9:36 PM

If I may count myself among the feedeers upon sugar water in your analogy, it's not that I think things will turn around any day now - rather, I'm prepared to do without the birdfeeder altogether and get my sugar water myself, should it come to that. This is what I'm advocating above. (Whoops - I think the metaphor is bleeding...)


John Link

June 19, 2004, 12:17 AM

Franklin: Three cheers. You got it. Sugar water is ok but the hummingbirds that do best eat nectar that they find for themselves. And yes, I think it has come to that.



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