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tanatalizing possibilities

Post #303 • June 21, 2004, 7:51 AM • 21 Comments

Remember how I was just talking about how "highbrow taste needs to create its own networks if it can't find satisfaction via the traditional channels"? Today ArtsJournal provided a link to an article in the Art Newspaper about new trends in dealing that suggest a partial but important move away from the traditional gallery space, thereby suggesting some tantalizing possibilities in the aforementioned regard.

Comment

1.

oldpro

June 21, 2004, 6:07 PM

This article is somewhat interesting as a description of trends in art dealing, but it has nothing to do with "highbrow taste" and everything to do with schlock merchents finding a more efficient way to push their wares. They have little or no interest in art as the painful and difficult and sometimes exhilirating craft we know it to be. It is a different world. The "networks" we need, as artists, are the age-old networks that go back to the apprentice system of the Rennaisance and continued through the mutual contacts of the Impressionists, who couldn't sell a thing, to Picasso and Braque in Cet inventing Cubism together, to the Abstract Expressionists arguing in the Cedar Street Tavern. This is how art happens. This is where we should be as artists. The other stuff is just crap.

2.

ART STUDENT

June 21, 2004, 9:55 PM

Can you really expect anything else from the art world and those who have a vested interest in things-as-they-are? This sounds great -- so long as you're only interested in selling art to the very rich, and have no interest in art itself as a living enterprise.

3.

Franklin

June 21, 2004, 11:17 PM

Oldpro, I think we can apply some of the techniques of the shlock merchants to push art we believe in, and moreover, we ought to. I take John Link's point about highbrow taste not affecting the art system as having an economic component, and the article above indicates ways around the gallery system that partly enables the current arrangement. It may be crap, but it's one of those aspects of life that has to be dealt with. (I guess we don't have to - we could put our completed work in the closet and leave it at that - but that's no fun.)

On the other hand, you're talking about social connections and to some extent, collaborative ones. Do you think that these don't exist now, and if not, what would be a good way to foster them?

AS, I think it would be possible to sell mid-priced work to the Less than Rich using the above arrangement, and do so with integrity.

4.

alesh

June 21, 2004, 11:22 PM

i tend to agree that this development does not do much good for artists or the regular art-enjoying public. i doubt, however, whether art 'dealers' are, with any regularity, people who care more about making a buck then about the art/artist. surely some of them may be disilusioned to some degree (after all they are older, on average, then most artists), but i think they are in it ultimately for the love of art; there are much easier ways to make a buck if that's what one's after.

there are a few alternative spaces that show art in miami, from non-profits, to totally informal (and quasi-legal) warehouse shows. if anything, what miami needs is some sort of organization to help make more of that happen. usually these palces are started by idealistic young artists interested in curating, and they could sure use a little help.

5.

oldpro

June 22, 2004, 12:30 AM

The underlying determinant here is that promoting and selling art and making art are so very different. They use different parts of the brain. My experience is that most artists who are really involved with their art, for whom it is a "living enterprise", in Art Student's phrase, dread the promoting and selling and are very bad at it, and, conversely, the excellent promoters and sellers are not very good artists. Forgive a generalization which borders on clich but I think it is pretty accurate, and history bears it out.

In the past couple hundred years the best art has been rejected and then accepted and then elevated. But if you look closely at this you find that the efforts of artists to put themselves across has, more often as not, been ineffective, often pathetically or comically so, as in the case of the Impressioinists.

What has brought great art forward in the past has been been strong voices who slowly convince us, that, yes, Cezanne is, in fact, a great artist. There are never many of these people but their conviction makes up for their numbers. Other artists are part pf this, of course; Cubism spread like lightning among artists in Europe and America as soon as it was seen in the studios of Picasso and Braque, long before it had any acceptance by the sophisticated public.

The markets have worked this way for a hundred years or more. There was always the winnowing, persistent authority of the "good eyes", the discerning connoisseurs who could tell the difference. That authority, based on real conviction, on real art, not the fluttering winds of fashion, would hang on and slowly win through and set things right. But we have learned to despise the filtering eye, and we have learned that we can do so with impunity. When esthetic authority is discredited the market will create icons elevated and perpetuated by simple publicity and hype. What's "good" is not just pushed back, it becomes beside the point. Hence the 5 million dollar Koons, the 7 million dollar Warhol, and, God help us, the 2 million dollar stuffed horse, all sold with in the last month or so at the New York auction houses. It has gone beyond any question of "liking" the art, way, way beyond that. This is a trophy market, the superrich version of the 12-point buck strapped to the front fender of the pickup. This is what you buy when you already have the houses and the cars and the boats and the bimbos.

Not only can we not compete against this, we have to protect ourselves against it. I don't think it is a question of dealers in it for the "buck" or because they "love art". their motives are much more complicated than that. The problem with most dealers is that they don't know what they are doing; they do not know the difference between the genuine and the shoddy and wouldn't know how to deal with it if they did, and they are pathetically incapable of resisting trends. And the "alternative spaces" (God, is everything "alternative" these days?) I have seen are as trendy and vacuous as can be. Obviously there is nothing wrong at all with getting the work out and selling it. But it is painful and frustrating and takes one away from the studio. For me it isn't worth it.

Sorry to be so long-winded!

6.

alesh

June 22, 2004, 4:25 AM

that is some very eloquent griping, oldpro, but i don't hear any suggestions from you. you may not like the art of koons, warhol, or cattelan, but some of us do like it. art dealers are a middle man between artists and the art-interested public. they are business people, and they have some control over what gets seen, but then they've earned that right by performing what amounts to a valuable service.

i do not share your view that eventually great art gets discovered. i think this happens in some cases, but i'm sure that for every posthumously discovered master, there are a hundred that never get discovered, who's work rots or is destroyed. this is not a function of the art world. it's a function of human nature - if you examine any endeavor that involves groups of humans closely enough you will find it to be, at its root, absurd, or corrupt, or both. when greatness happens it is to be cherished, but i for one, cherish imperfect messiness of the system as it stands as well.

7.

Franklin

June 22, 2004, 4:25 AM

I'm not so interested in competing against all this as I am in surviving within it. To make a living in art, rather than make a killing. It seems like that would be possible to do in an honorable fashion, in a way that did not take too much time away from making art. This is what I had in mind when I suggested that the whole notion of prevailing needed to be revisited. I'll prevail if I can support myself with my artwork and maybe one or two other things. I'll prevail if I die at my easel.

8.

alesh

June 22, 2004, 4:27 AM

franklin~

dang! that's the second time today we posted something at the same exact moment. i type my comment, refresh, only to find that you got in just before me.

9.

Franklin

June 22, 2004, 4:29 AM

Alesh, I think you beat me on that last one.

10.

oldpro

June 22, 2004, 2:06 PM

Well, thanks Alesh. You have every right to like those artist's work, and I have every right to say that if you do like their work you just can't see art.

If you really think there are hundreds of downtrodden undiscovered masters out there whose art lies rotting away (overlooked by those valuable-service performing art dealers, I presume), could you unearth a couple and let me know who they are? Or have they been buried so deep by this corrupt and absurd species of ours (which I suppose must include those upstanding, public-spirited dealers) that they are fated forever to escape notice? Funny, I have been at this art thing for years and years, and although I know several artists who do not get their due I have never found any who were utterly overlooked. I'd sure like to know about them. Or even just one or two.

On the other hand, there are some quite without merit who are wildly overrated. Hence, as I said, the 5 million dollar Koons, the 7 million dollar Warhol and the 2 million dollar stuffed horse. Tell me, what keen and refreshing insight into the human spirit - absurd and corrupt as it may be - is confided to us by a stuffed horse hanging over our heads? Or a porcelain rendition of Michael Jackson and his monkey?

11.

Hovig

June 22, 2004, 7:23 PM

Oldpro - Can you provide an few examples of art which provides a "keen and refreshing insight into the human spirit," or any other valuable insight? As an art outsider, but enthusiastic viewer, I don't understand why I shouldn't believe all art is saccharine anyway.

I ask this question sincerely, as a person who himself has experienced great emotion as a result of viewing art. I merely wonder whether such emotion is limited to only the visual sphere (as opposed to the real world), or at best, whether it only reinforces thoughts the viewer is already receptive to, whether or not the artist even remotely intended it.

I'm not sure it's my place to say why some people enjoy Koons more than others (except to note that he's an undeniably effective producer of "gloss," in and of itself), but by observing Koons's effect, I'm even less sure it demonstrates any wisdom to expend energy denying it.

12.

oldpro

June 22, 2004, 8:41 PM

Hovig: Forgive me, "keen and refreshing insight into the human spirit," was merely an indulgence in what is politely called rhetorical excess. I honestly don't think art provides "insight" of any kind, except perhaps when you yourself are an artist and you learn something specific for your own art. What art does is what you say it has done for you when you have "experienced great emotion". That's what it does for me, when it is good enough.

What you go on to ask is both interesting and hard to answer. From my experience - and that is all I really have to draw from, I think the experience of art is different from real-world experience, but that all good art provides a similar experience. I do not think art reinforces "thoughts" the viewer is receptive to; the viewer has to be receptive in general, ready to see art without any specific "thoughts" or expectations. What the artist intended is best left alone. It can never be properly specified - at least in the case of real art - and it doesn't really matter anyway. In art, declared intentions are almost used to support inferior art.

In your last paragraph you state that it might not be "your place" to say why people enjoy Koons. Sure it is. You have as much right as anyone. And your last sentence "...but by observing Koons's effect, I'm even less sure it demonstrates any wisdom to expend energy denying it" seems to criticise me for doing just that, and of course you are right. I should be spending the time in my studio. In the long run Koons is just a minor blip in the history of fashion.

13.

Call Me Stupid

June 22, 2004, 10:44 PM

Hmmm. keen and refreshing insights. Isnt any insight essentially personal at its very core anyway? What makes an insight revealed through art any different from an insight retrieved from any other place?

As a person who does not make art myself, I guess I feel as though my own, very personal connection with art is being devalued here

Like in this phrase: "I honestly don't think art provides "insight" of any kind, except perhaps when you yourself are an artist and you learn something specific for your own art."

Isnt it like saying that a book can only offer insights to those who write? I mean, while the relationship between a text and any given author might be forged a little differently than one that exists between those words and a person who doesnt laboriously put them on paper, the value of reading by non-authors is certainly not something to be undervalued on its own terms.

I suppose the above is not the best analogy; most of us who have received any level of an education have been fed books throughout our academic careers, and we are taught to navigate our relationship with images in quite another way (whether dodging the avalanche of aggressive advertising or passively consuming those pretty little decorative objects intended for admiration purposes only).

BUT that doesnt mean that some of us non-artists dont passionately connect with images, that we dont take from them a better understanding of ourselves and the world around us. In fact, for me, images are much stronger and more expressive -- on both intellectual and emotional levels -- than words could ever be. Not too far removed from a written narrative, an image, or even a gesture, can tell a story, or offer a glimpse of history, or provide both corporeal and philosophical information about a given social situation, though usually in less obvious (and perhaps more truthful) ways than words on a page. Looking at art has also catapulted my curiosities to places that they wouldnt have been inspired to go otherwise, and as a result, Ive explored ideas that I would likely have never been exposed to.

Art is so much more to me than simply some random, attractive objects hanging silently on a wall somewhere. Art is also more to me than an emotional experience. Art, for me, is what links all manners of experience. Art that I would like to qualify as good art is good in my mind precisely because it offers me the kind of insights that link my feelings, my thoughts, and my understanding of how the world works in a way that makes me feel as though the top of my head has flown right off.

I truly believe to quote a terribly clich phrase that art DOES possess a great deal of transformative power. And yes, I see this power as primarily personal but that does not make it any less significant. I say this from my own experience, however pathetically dramatic it sounds, because art has been a powerful presence in my own life in ways that nothing else has. And if artists themselves devalue this power well, I just wouldnt see the point in making art.

Oh, one last thing: I dont understand how an encounter with a work of art is any less of a real-life experience than anything else I do in a day. To me, it seems to be the moment when I am most real, when I am most in touch with all aspects of myself both the physical and the immaterial. Of course, looking at art doesn't feed a hungry stomach -- but it sure as heck does something for me that vying for sustenance does not, something that I need in order to feel truly, completely alive.

14.

Hovig

June 22, 2004, 11:11 PM

"Call Me Stupid" - Are there any specific works of art (or artists) which provided you with insight, or demonstrated transformative power to you? Did you receive insight because you were looking at art, or because you were searching for insight? And as I wondered above, did it give you new thoughts, or did it only reinforce your own inherent thoughts?

I agree with you that art can affect the human psyche and human spirit, perhaps influencing us to tap more deeply into our creative side (perhaps this is what you meant by a transformative experience), but I'm not sure whether it can do more for us than living in a world filled with people and other interactive entities, against whom we can continually test our beliefs; or contemplating the world in a meditative way, in the absense of visual stimulation. I'd enjoy hearing about your experiences.

15.

oldpro

June 22, 2004, 11:16 PM

Stupid (that's what you wanted to be called, right?): Your observations are not stupid but for the most part seem to arise simply from a feeling that the foregoing discussion somehow slights the sanctity of art: "I feel as though my own, very personal connection with art is being devalued here". This always happens when true and real things are said about art. Please just understand that experiencing art is not dimished by thinking clearly about it.

Much of what you go on about here is really just unclear thinking, If I may say so. You are reacting to your own feeling that something you cherish is being attacked without understanding what has been said and then flail about fighting goblins of your own devising. No one is attacking or diminishing art here. Certainly not me; I have been strenuously and continuously involved with art since I was a kid. it is my life, as they say. But I love art and what art does too much to put up with all the bullshit. Read over what you wrote and ask yourself if it really makes good hard sense. Not whether you "really feel" something, or agree with yourself, but if it makes real sense.

16.

Okay, so not quite stupid (just less verbally gifted?)

June 23, 2004, 2:19 AM

Let's see if I can be quick and thorough in responding to both your questions at the same time:

I've encountered so many moving works of art that it's hard to limit discussion to only a few. But I guess I could start with the first time I ever saw a Jackson Pollock painting. I was in Australia. I saw Blue Poles.

I had seen Pollock's work before... in books, and had been rather put off by them. Too redolent, I think, of those horrible splash-painted t-shirts, the kind I was forced to make at summer camp back in the 80's.... eeek...... Anyway, seeing one of his works in person was a completely different experience. I was fascinated by the way the paint pooled in places, the way it traveled across the canvas. I was also entirely mesmerized by the materiality of the work, by my physical relationship to the canvas. I read later that Parker Tyler had once said, in reference to the performative quality of Pollock's work, that one had to be an acrobat to participate with his paintings. I couldn't have put it adequately into words at that time, but that was precisely how I felt, moving back and forth, following the paint across the canvas. I felt that I wasn't just looking at a painting - that I was participating in an environment.

This was new to me - art had always been for me exclusively something that facilitated escape into my own head, a way to free myself from the constraints of a less than idyllic life, not something that would actually put me in touch with my own physical being. But it was the way in which my response to the materiality of Pollock's work inspired my own imagination.... The notion that we humans can indeed create entire universes, even if, at this moment in question, they are limited to finite canvases, trigger a sense within me that I could be a more active participant in my own life, that somewhere inside us we can spark the resources to direct our own lives, which is important to me and my desire to find ways to promote social change. I spent a very long time in front of the painting, thinking about what it meat to be able to access such an experience, how similar experiences can be/have been manifest in other aspects of my life and the other lives Ive witnessed around me. My own intellectual journey, my drive to attend college in spite of the financial odds stacked against me, my desire to find and nurture those things in life that are most important to me, including transforming how I understand and act out my relationships through other people, has been largely initiated through the lens of visual art.

I realize this might sound a bit loopy to some people.

Other work of art have affect me in ways that might be considered a bit more tangible or relevant, I guess I could mention my experience with Manet's work, Jesus Mocked by Soldiers, or with de Kooning's Door to a River - both really humorous exercises in fabrication and pretension and to me, very powerful attempts at breaking apart accepted norms - again making me reflect more thoroughly on the state of affairs both currently and in the recent past. Specific art works have also drawn my attention to social concerns - Hans Haacke, Adrian Piper - artists who have charted various experiences and narratives through their work that were completely new and thought provoking for me .. Im getting long-winded.

Oldpro: I do realize that I was frolicking a bit with that proverbial straw man in my last post.. partly because I dont understand completely your point of view. On one hand, I understand I think -- what you hope art to do for you, and why Koons (or the popularity surrounding his work) unnerves you. Im not a fan of the guy myself. However, I have on many occasions really connected with moments or with artworks that other people, for whatever reason, find inane and thats usually because Im coming from some other angle, given my particular experiences, where Im at in my personal development, and what Ive learned. I could easily see myself getting something out of a work of art that another person, probably someone more familiar with its context and manipulation within the commercialized art world, would find as tiresome and overrated as you find Koons. But maybe this hypothetical work of art would speak to me in spite of its tedious fanfare and if the artists intentions are unimportant, I cant see why this cant be case. I wouldnt want someone telling me that I was of inferior intelligence, or of inferior background, or that I had an 'inferior eye', as a consequence of my experience. (That has, actually, happened before something I most likely read into your post that may not have actually been there.)

On the other hand, I sensed that you do subscribe to some hierarchy of taste, and that somehow you are one of the few and noble gifted authorities, blessed with the divine ability to determine what that hierarchy is. and maybe thats misguided of me, but if that i an undercurrent of your thought process, then it troubles me a little bit.

I guess because for me its less important what someone likes or doesnt like, and more important why they like it.

Did that make ANY sense at all?

17.

oldpro

June 23, 2004, 3:52 AM

I think art shows us something very good about ourselves and that the better the art is the better it does that. That "good", which I will not try to define, comes across when we experience tha art, and it is that undefined characteristic of "goodness" (I know the word "good" is inadequate to the point of parody, but I don't know what else to call it) which in the long run, misguided or not, gets people spending millions of dollars on art.

Now, it is certainly possible to have experiences through art which are not "pure" esthetic experiences and it is quite possible that art can lead to action. reflection, "transformation" (which is what Hovig seems to be looking for) and much else; art can be "used" for all kinds of things just like anything else can. You quite eloquently described just such a thing when you interacted with that Pollock painting. There is nothing wrong with this. All I am saying is that just as an automobile is made to take us from place to place and food is made to satisfy hunger, art is made to transmit this "goodness", no matter what else we do with it, and that this is why our species values it so highly. This is the foundation for everything else that happens around it.

Within this large effort of making and appreciating art and getting something out of it and all the rest, there is certainly, very defnitely, a heirarchy. There is good art and bad art. There is no way I can prove to you that the Pollock is good art and the Koons is bad art; only my experience tells me this. Art is the only thing we have (this may be a slight overstatement) the value of which relies entirely, I mean entirely, on judgement, with no recourse to criteria. This is what art is. There is no way anyone can tell anyone why any work is good or bad. All you can do is argue and convince. There's no proof.

However, this does not mean that value in art is subjective, only that the judgement is personal and intuitive. And the consensus, the mysterious force that eventually gets that tiny, tiny percentage of the good stuff in the museums and consigns the rest to the commercial dustbin, is the evidence we have for it. Valuing, rightly or wrongly, is what the art business does, day after day. It is intense and ongoing and is nothing but judgement, pure and simple.

So again I say: hence the 5 million dollar Koons. Nothing I am saying here is new, but for whatever reason no one seems to pay much attention to the basic facts of the enterprise. As soon as anyone mentions "art" things get weird and mysterious and quasi-religious. Don't ask me why.

"noble and gifted authority"? That's a bit grand. I do think I have an eye, I know I love art and what it does, and I am cursed with a contentious nature that won't put up with what I take to be bullshit. Art is not for everyone, any more than brain surgery or tap dancing or zoology. If you like art get out and see as much as you can, find others go with you, talk about it, argue about it, write to blogs about it. It certainly is interesting stuff.

18.

Stupid, once again

June 23, 2004, 4:32 AM

Oldpro I appreciate all of your comments!

Why I was attracted to art in the first place was its seeming opposition to or at least its questioning of the many of the value judgments that were normalized in our society, and ones that were taken for granted as just the way things are but with which I always felt some underlying discomfort. I would like to see room for that kind of questioning in art. I have a fear that promoting specified value judgments could limit that kind of dialogue. though, on the other hand, each one of us has our own set of standards that we use to judge what we see, regardless of how objective we try to pretend we are.

perhaps a hierarchy does exist; how do you know, oldpro, that you're instincts are right? how can you classify your 'eye' as better than another's? and I'm not asking this in order to undermine your taste -- in fact, i have a feeling that teh two of us may actually like similiar art works -- but rather because I'm wrestling with various issues surrounding 'value' myself. I mean, aren't you afraid that premature confidence in what is and is not 'good' could suppress much needed dialogue in local art circles?

I would like to think that art has the potential to present a forum in which different perspectives could be voiced, where various systems of value could be proffered, set against one another, explored and dissected, and not silenced because they dont make immediate sense to (what is posited as) the majority of us.

At the same time, Im a bit disgusted by the commercialism that pervades the art business, by the fact that the only voices who really get heard are the ones with at least some form of monetary cushion. I feel myself to be a bit segregated from the art world due to its elitist and exclusive nature. I would hope that the art business and the publics interaction with art arent exactly one and the same. I would like arguments on behalf of the art that I dont personally connect with to encompass more than their immediate trendy-ness; I would like to see the non-commercial levels on which it reaches other people discussed in more detail. I want to understand why someone would endorse Koons! I do! But then these complaints have less to do with the artworks themselves than they do with the way these works are received and discussed within the art world.

19.

oldpro

June 23, 2004, 5:50 AM

What is radical about art is precisely that there is no "system of value". "normalized judgement", "premature confidence" and all that. You stand in front of every work of art expecting only to get what is there to be gotten. Any preconceptions just get in the way. Every work is new, no matter how many times you have seen it before. That is the only expectation, and the best art rewards it. Anything else and you are not seeing the art.

My confidence is built from years of experience, but I would do anything to have it shaken. There is nothing better than grappling with something that is way ahead of your taste. Koons is not ahead of my taste; physically and esthetically it is not much different from Duchanp's urinal, which was first shown almost 90 years ago. and even then it was, and was meant to be, a joke. Interminable videos of funny-looking people doing silly things was old hat in the 70s. Installations have been going on since the Surrealists started doing it 50, 60, 70 years ago. Ugliness, obscenity, offensiveness, disgust, alienation, blood and guts and gore - all done to death. Believe me, I am hungry for anything new and different, something that will make the short hairs rise. Instead all we get is pretentious dreck from unimaginative shockjocks, silly, stultifying "meaningful" minimalism and cozy "issue art" about things everyone in the art world already agrees with anyway. Yarrghh!

As for "dialogue", I would love some. But these days everything is relative, everthing is OK, well, sort of, you know, I mean, anyway... We don't want to be judgemental or elitist because then we will offend someone's delicate sensibilities and even worse, someone will come along and call us fascist. When everything is nice and cozy and nonjudgemental and acceptable, and everyone agrees, that's when you have no dialogue. Dialogue comes about when people have strong opinions and convictions and are not afraid to voice them.

20.

Franklin

June 23, 2004, 1:58 PM

Oldpro, your last point about expressing strong opinions, which has fallen out of favor to a great degree in print, has led some to state that blogging is going to save criticism. With no word length cap, minimal publishing costs, and a wider range of sactioned tone, this medium may be where criticism's gutsiest work gets done.

21.

oldpro

June 23, 2004, 3:31 PM

It may be the only place where it gets done. No reason we can't directly take on the Herald, for example, and make them sit up and listen; some of their features in the past few weeks have been painfully tempting targets. I get the feeling that a lot of those who read the blog and write to it have a real interest in art but are not getting any good, strong help and information. They feel left out. Meaty topics which spark controversy will entice them, and an increased readership will draw larger attention. Onwards and upwards!

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