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thinking about thinking and not thinking (or, my dinner with j.t.)

Post #431 • December 15, 2004, 7:36 AM • 114 Comments

It occurred to me when I was writing it that yesterday's post, "Thinking and Not Thinking," wasn't going to go over so well at J.T. Kirkland's Thinking About Art. My throwing him into a 2300-word spin surprised me, though. Out of respect to Kirkland and the thought he gave this topic, I'd like to answer some of his concerns, even if it means writing a post in reply that makes his look diminuitive. Go read his post and return here.

To simplify the problem a bit, I'll switch the topic from art to sex food. Let's say J.T. and I are at a restaurant and we're splitting the Three Mushroom Risotto. Out it comes, and we dig in. It's delicious! Yum! And in a complex dish like this, there may be opportunities for analysis. Is it possible to distinguish the porcini from the shiitake? That's a fun game. Then I start going on for awhile about trivia I know about shiitake. Did you know that shii (シイ) is the Japanese word for oak, and that the best are grown on oak logs? At this point J.T. is starting to think I'm a pedant and he wishes I would pipe down because he's trying to enjoy his meal, for crying out loud. (Update: Thank you to Momoko for fixing the order of the characters.)

The component of eating that provides the first enjoyment and the basis for the subsequent ones is taste. Without good flavor, our discussion isn't going to be a pleasant one. Without any food in the first place, our discussion is pointless, if it even occurs. And great taste - exquisite taste - stops thinking. Not involuntarily, of course (although it might). But if we put ourselves in a mindframe to enjoy it, we set aside thought in favor of sensation, and the food rewards our attention.

That sums up my assertion. Back to J.T.'s post:

I'm glad that Franklin feels the painting is beautiful. But to me, that says nothing more than Franklin thinks the painting is beautiful. How could it say more?

It doesn't.1 More on this later.

...I don't think we can say with any certainty what art is great. Because Franklin's mind went blank when he viewed it, doesn't make the painting Great... it merely makes it great to Franklin. Again, the intent of the [Matisse] painting is to acheive beauty... not spark some great debate. I don't know this for certain, admittedly, because we'd have to ask Matisse about his intentions.

This passage contains a few fallacies. The first presupposes that greatness is an objective or externally decided state. I would instead describe greatness as a massive agreement of subjective responses from people with self-critical tastes. The fact that I see the painting as great is important, because I have self-critical taste, and I become part of that massive agreement and reinforce it. (I am not, not, not saying that you don't have self-critical taste if you disagree with me. If you have self-critical taste and disagree with me, you undermine whatever consensus I help to form.) This addresses the second fallacy - that my subjective response doesn't apply to the painting's objective greatness (which I don't think exists).

The third fallacy regards Matisse's intentions. This comes up again later in Kirkland's post:

So what if Kitty could riff on anything? This doesn't mean anything in and of itself. We could all riff on anything.

My point exactly. That's why being able to associate a string of thoughts to a work of art does not validate it.

But, if Marcaccio's intent in making his art is to provoke the exact thoughts that Kitty expressed, then hasn't he succeeded? If this were the case, then perhaps the doubters have it wrong. Of course, Marcaccio's intent could be to make some object that has no meaning or beauty and is only meant to be displayed in a museum and hopefully make him a lot of money.

Kirkland is conflating a few different kinds of success. For Kirkland, a work of art succeeds if it achieves its intentions. This is logical. But when I talk about a work succeeding, usually I'm talking about aesthetic success, which exists in a tenuous relationship with the artist's intentions. Aesthetic success depends on the artist's aesthetic instincts and his ability and willingness to weild them.

Let's say we have a postmodernist, prankster cook who dumps a vial of novocaine into our Three Mushroom Risotto with the intention of making our mouths go numb, calling the act of eating into question and challenging traditional notions of the culinary experience.2 He may succeed, but he's going to piss me off. That's not why I eat, and that's not why I seek out good food. I'll try new flavors at the risk that I won't like them, but I'm not interested in short-circuiting the process by which I enjoy food in the name of some half-baked (sorry) ideological agenda.

You probably see where I'm going with this - a large segement of the art world is dining at Chez Contemporain, I'm being offered Three Mushroom Risotto with Novocaine Sauce, and when I complain, the waiter sneers at me that I don't understand contemporary cooking. Meanwhile, at another table, Mark Coetzee has ordered platefulls of the stuff, at $18,000 a serving, for Don and Mera Rubell, and they're all shoveling it down with self-congratulatory gusto.3

This ought to take care of the rest of Kirkland's assertions about the artist's intentions in a work of art. I don't accept all art-making philosophies as equally valid. I'm open to trying a new restaurant, but I'm not open to eating sand. Just because an artist satisfies his intentions, that doesn't mean that I'm going to value his achievement.

Franklin then states, "... the ensuing argument still holds: depending wholly on the viewer to supply the meaning is a crutch that I was seeing too often three years ago." How do we know if the artist or art depends wholly on the viewer to supply meaning?

We might not, but in yesterday's cases, the art was explained that way either by the artist or the institution showing it. One clue otherwise might be that you have to crank through a bunch of strained analysis or associations in order to get anything out of the work. By "strained" I mean resorting to pedantry like that of my first example. Analysis is fine, but at a certain point it becomes extraneous, irritating, self-parodying, onanistic, mandarin, and fruitless (sorry).

Franklin and some others seem to be saying that art shouldn't be about an idea or specific meaning. I just don't buy it... I don't know how you can avoid it.

I apologize if I gave that impression. Art can be about whatever it wants, of course. I'm saying that the aesthetic component that I value over everything else operates independently of a work's ideas and meanings. Artists always have ideas in their heads when they're working, even abstractionists. But whether a work of art succeeds, by my standards, depends on the artist's aesthetic instincts.

...he implies that there is something wrong with art that provokes discussion. What if the piece is not meant to be beautiful? It is only meant to inspire thought and discussion. Would we say it isn't art? Must art strive to be beautiful? Would we say that the piece cannot be great?

Beautiful art can provoke discussion - it's not as though no one has ever written about Matisse. Art that is only meant to inspire thought and discussion has the potential to be very interesting, but it will only have artistic value, as opposed to literary or philosophical value, to the extent that it engages aesthetic concerns. That means dealing with beauty - in the largest, most powerful sense of that word.

Personally I think art can be great (in my opinion) only if it has some amount of thought associated with it. I can find beauty in nature... but what elevates art is that there is an idea behind it. There is something to think about. Beauty enhances that.

You can find beauty in nature but nature isn't trying to be beautiful. It's trying to survive, and beauty has been part of its survival strategy. The creation of beauty by humans, in the form of art, has been a sophisticated, complicated, long-term process that values ideas and workmanship. Ideas and workmanship often, but not always, enhance beauty. The opposite statement that Kirkland says above, that beauty enhances ideas, I'm not convinced about. Beauty might make ideas more attractive, but their inherent worth is based on other factors like applicability, logic, truth, etc. And if Matisse's idea is beauty, as Kirkland implies, what happens to that assertion?

I want to bring back up something Oldpro said, "I am merely saying that if a work of art says 'think about (whatever)' it is directing you away from itself to something you already know about. You don't need art for that." What exactly do we need art for? I want to see a piece of art that isn't about something we already know about. Show me an art object that is foreign to me. The Matisse painting above isn't foreign... I already know about flowers, vases, etc.

I challenge that. One day the Buddha held up a flower in front of his assembly, and only Mahakashyapa smiled. The Buddha said, "For forty years I have been teaching the Dharma, and I now transmit its realization to Mahakashyapa." The assembly included senior monks, like his attendant Ananda, who had eidetic memory and could recite the Buddha's teachings like a human tape recorder. They all knew the Dharma intellectually. So what did Mahakashyapa see in the flower? If you know, teach me!

If that's too esoteric for you, we may know about flowers and vases in general, but the painting in question is about Matisse's life, and his sensibilities at the moment he put that work together. Those sensibilities had great profundity and refinement. That's why the painting conveys so much beauty.

In my art, I intend to make visually appealing objects. But I only consider myself successful when it provokes further thought. I can find beauty in lots of places... I can't find things that provoke thought. I hope my art isn't a waste of time because I want my work to inspire people who aren't thinking anyways. Franklin wants to stop thinking... I want people to start thinking.

Anything can provoke thought - just start thinking about it (or go talk to Kitty). You can start with a blade of grass and go all day long. Where does this come from? Why is this the way it is? How does it work? I don't want to stop thinking, and I have a blog to prove it. Rather, I want to make art that will ring your heart like a bell.


1. Notice the equivalence of thinks and feels in this sentence. Yes, you can use the words this way, but given the topic it indicates that Kirkland may categorize more varieties of conscious activity under thinking than I do. (back)

2. You know, PoMo cant is pretty easy to write once you get the hang of it. Is there a freelance market for this? I could adopt a French pseudonym (François Unparole?) and make a little something on the side. (back)

3. Did I mention that they posted the menu on the other side of the room? (back)




December 15, 2004, 5:48 PM

Franklin's restaurant metaphor is a wonderful tool for getting at this thorny (to some) subject. There is only one problem that I can see in it - the question of "objective greatness" in art. Just about everyone backs off from that in one way or another. Franklin joins this group when he says:

"...the painting's objective greatness (which I don't think exists)".

Gee Franklin, why give in just when you have your opponent by the short hairs? Once you concede that maybe, just mabye, there is nothing out "there" that is the cause of your subjective state, you might as well agree that it is all about free floating word structures imagining that "greatness" is at hand. These word mongers, no matter how "self critical", have no method of knowing whether greatness is really "there" because you deny that it exists. Therefore it IS all just talk.

A "consensus" of floating unattached "self critical" subjective states is simply a large group of opinions that are, in the end, attached to nothing but themselves. If the greatness they think they see does not exist, they are not just unattached but also deluded.

This type of thinking belongs to a general branch of philosophy called Idealism. It says the world is my idea, that there is no reality outside my ideas. Sam Johnson, a great essayist of a couple centuries ago, confronted one of Idealism's proponents of his own time named Bishop Berkely. Johnson said in effect "if you believe there is no reality outside your thoughts, why don't you go over to that big boulder over there and kick the crap out of it with your bare foot". Berkely valued the health of his foot too much to accept the challenge.

Skeptics and Idealists are natural buddies who take the submissive role in the word bondage game Warren Craghead mentions on Kirkland's blog. But when they go to lunch together, they order the Three Mushroom Risotto, not an empty plate.



December 15, 2004, 6:32 PM

Great post Franklin.



December 15, 2004, 6:48 PM

I could adopt a French pseudonym (Franis Unparole?) and make a little something on the side.

How's 'Franis Lang-Unparole' strike you?


J.T. Kirkland

December 15, 2004, 7:03 PM

Catfish -

I'm not so sure Franklin ever had me by the "short hairs" but he makes some very interesting points. In fact, I was so struck by his post that I've already generated my response... which is posted here:

I find a few faults with Franklin's analogy of the restaurant and I discuss them on my site.

The struggle in art appreciation is that we all want different things from it. That makes it almost impossible to come to a concensus about anything art related. For example, I don't want an empty plate at a restaurant (I want food - nothing more or less), but in art it can be quite profound. Look at Minimalism and the "idea" of a blank canvas. It can be quite incredible. Go back to Duchamp's Urinal... nothing beautiful there but it is extremely significant and jumpstarted modern art as we know it (for better or worse). I'll take the Urinal over most beautiful paintings any day. But that's my tastes talking.

Thanks to everyone for participating.


that guy in the back row

December 15, 2004, 7:12 PM

Kirkland's prolific verbosity is almost as numbing as those mushrooms were.



December 15, 2004, 7:54 PM

Hold the phone, Catfish. If there was an objective stamp of capital-G Greatness, there would be no need to worry about the whole artistic enterprise tanking from confused standards, as Oldpro and others have done on this blog.

But my position isn't that relativistic anyway. I said I would instead describe greatness as a massive agreement of subjective responses from people with self-critical tastes. Okay, that sounds totally subjective, so let me expand on it.

I believe that the massive agreement is caused by objective, physical realities about the materials that go into the art, human physiology and cognition, and other undisputable facts about the world. But the perception of something as great is a cultural phenomenon that is based on individual responses. I liken it to the nature/nurture argument in learning: artistic response has both components as well. We can talk about the parmesean component of the risotto but after it's melted in there, it's too late to extract it.

Once you concede that maybe, just mabye, there is nothing out "there" that is the cause of your subjective state, you might as well agree that it is all about free floating word structures imagining that "greatness" is at hand.

I disagree - that line of thinking sounds like a relativistic meltdown. The responses aren't word-based responses - they're felt responses to physical realities (eg, paint application). It's not that nothing exists except my opinion (I ain't gonna kick that boulder either) but that artistic culture is a set of agreements about certain objects, and decides greatness based on a great number of responses. Objects that attract responses of awe do so for reasons having to do with its physical arrangement. That puts greatness on both the objective and subjective sides, working at the same time. How's that?

wwc - thank you.

Dan - excellent! Even more horrid than mine!

Guy - I have lost all standing to accuse anyone of verbosity right now.



December 15, 2004, 7:58 PM

I would like to respond to all this but because of the length of Kirtland's essay and the profusion of logical and categorical errors, and his apparent lack of understanding of what function art has for us, and because of Franklin's rather thorough and adequate response, and my current lack of time, I can't. This amounts to a cop-out, I know, and i apologise, because Kirtland's basic confusion about the nature of art is typical and therefore interesting. If it were more succinct and clearly stated i would love to take it on. As it is, in the middle of a semester-ending grading period, it is akin to reading and correcting yet another MFA thesis document, and This is the worng time for that.



December 15, 2004, 8:03 PM

Besides, mr. Kirtland freely submits that he will "I'll take the Urinal over most beautiful paintings any day." I think we should just let him have it.



December 15, 2004, 8:07 PM

If this is all about verbosity on parade, might I humbly self-servingly offer up this?


J.T. Kirkland

December 15, 2004, 8:10 PM

Oldpro -

"his apparent lack of understanding of what function art has for us"

Very interesting... I wouldn't have expected less from you though. When time allows, please send me an email so that I may be enlightened as to what function art has for me. I'm anxious to find out so I can put to bed any silly notions I have conjured up in my mind. You apparently know better than I do how art functions for me.

What is more interesting though, is that already twice I've been put down by commenters on this site. On Thinking About Art I can't recall the last time someone tossed out an insult or put down.



December 15, 2004, 8:15 PM

Oh, one other thing. Franklin's food analogy is instructive. Having a meal and enjoying it and talking about it is just fine.

But a truly postmodernist restaurant would give you a menu to read and no food. And expect you to pay dearly. I have a problem with that.


J.T. Kirkland

December 15, 2004, 8:16 PM

Oldpro -

At least show me a little respect by spelling my name correctly. It's Kirkland... not that you really care.

I believe there are more beautiful paintings in the world than works such as the Urinal which has had a profound impact on art history. How often has a beautiful painting changed the course of art history?

I'd gladly take the Urinal and wouldn't think twice about it.



December 15, 2004, 8:21 PM

Mr Kirtland: I apoligise, again. I am not trying to "put you down", but it does look that way. I really do not like it when people toss out objections without substantiating them, and here I am doing it myself. It is just that to thread my way through what you wrote sentence by sentence and deal with everything would take half a day, and I haven't got the time right now. Maybe I can pick a few things out later and talk about them.Sorry. Maybe I should have written nothing.



December 15, 2004, 8:21 PM

How often has a beautiful painting changed the course of art history?

Quite often, I'd imagine.



December 15, 2004, 8:22 PM

Thank you - I will spell the name correctly, and I apologise again. Maybe I shoulda stood in bed.



December 15, 2004, 8:24 PM

"I'd gladly take the Urinal and wouldn't think twice about it."

Really? I guess that proves Franklin's point.


J.T. Kirkland

December 15, 2004, 8:32 PM

Dan -

Now that I think about it, you're right. Quite a few "beautiful" paintings have changed art history. I assume many paintings have changed art history and the case can be made that all paintings are beautiful (well, to someone at least)... even sculptures like the Urinal. So, I guess I was wrong... I apologize.


J.T. Kirkland

December 15, 2004, 8:35 PM

A dear friend of mine, James W. Bailey, a man that I respect a great deal, just left the following comment on my site:

"Conceptualism really seems to piss-off the Artfanistas, art scribes, traditionalists, representationalists, realists and others who pine for the lost days of real art created by real artists. Im of the idea that a pissed-off traditionalist artist has a better shot at creating an art masterpiece, as opposed to a placid, languid and content traditionalist artist, so, in an effort to inspire the traditionalists, I say bring on the Conceptualism!"

Undoubtedly most of the commenters on this site will disagree, but I think he has a point. Wanted to share it here.



December 15, 2004, 9:00 PM

Please, everyone, give Mr. Kirkland his due. He has made his position admirably clear and unmistakable, and obviously he's entitled to it.

"I'll take the Urinal over most beautiful paintings any day."

Unequivocal, economical, and utterly sufficient. No need to add another word. Also, in effect even if not by intent, very considerate. It saves the potential waste of time, effort and energy of fruitless discussion.

Carry on without me, as you certainly can and no doubt will.



December 15, 2004, 9:24 PM

Mr Kirkland: The artists I admire the most are pushed around ("inspired") by good art, not bad art.



December 15, 2004, 9:25 PM

How often has an ugly thing changed the course of art history?

Duchamp's urinal is the only one I can think of, but with severe qualification. He demonstrated anything, including ugly things, can be placed at aesthetic distance, and viewed as an aesthetic object. But putting them up for judgement does not determine the result of that judgement. So he changed the theory of art history that said only beautiful things can be placed at aesthetic distance. His urinal did not contribute anything to our heritage of beautiful things. It was ugly and remained ugly when viewed aesthetically. Only now we know, thanks to him, that we can establish contemplative distance with any piece of junk. And have fun in the process.

He also created what Rosenberg called the "post art artists", the artists "too big" for art, the artists who will not count in the long run because their art does not cut it. Unfortunately, most of their crap is not funny, but instead soaked in academicized pretension.

I gave a class in art appreciation an assignment this semester. It was to compare the best of King Tut's thrones to Rodney McMilliams chair. McMilliam's chair can be seen at

I thought I would get back something about the irony that a somewhat funtionally oriented throne comes off as staggeringly beautiful for its own sake and an "art for art's sake" chair is such a flop as to be a waste of time to make it part of an assignment.

Instead most wrote they did not care for McMilliam's work at all until they were required to think about it as part of my instructions for writing an interpretation. The more they thought, the more they found they could write about it and therefore the better it seemed, until most of them concluded it was just as good as King Tut's throne. A couple went so far as to say McMilliam's chair was better than Tut's throne.

I also found that the strength of Tut's throne limited their interpretations considerably, even those who preferred McMiliiam. Most focused on its presence, its feeling of power, importance, splendor, formality, and how each detail helped create these impressions. There was amazing agreement. McMilliam's chair, on the other hand, spawned a zillion different ideas, ranging from the plight of the impoverished to the meaning of comfort for one's bottom.

Borrowing from Aristotle, I speculate that the objective FACT that the chair was next to nothing as art left it in a state of great potential to be anything else. According to Aristotle, the more a thing is realized, the less it can be something other than what it is, and vice versa. (Plain talk for the enlightened.) Tut's throne is in a magnificent state of realization and thus limits reasonable interpretation to what in fact it actually is. McMilliam's chair, existing on the edge of nothingness, stirs a far greater range of speculation because it lacks much of substance that would naturally limit the discussion. The students were all amazed that a piece of junk was so "thought provoking".

I'd put that a little differently. There was nothing about McMilliam's chair that could prevent idiots from acting like idiots. I'd say the same thing about Fountain.


that guy in the back row

December 15, 2004, 9:26 PM

Franklin, at least when you go on at some length your intelligible. Besides, evan the name is succinct, unlike



December 15, 2004, 9:30 PM

Excellent anecdote, Catfish!



December 15, 2004, 9:35 PM

I'm a bit slow on the uptake... back a few comments ago:

Bailey: "Im of the idea that a pissed-off traditionalist artist has a better shot at creating an art masterpiece, as opposed to a placid, languid and content traditionalist artist, so, in an effort to inspire the traditionalists, I say bring on the Conceptualism!"

And the Democrats are better off with Bush winning...

There is some truth to Bailey's comment, but I'm not sure I'm down with the apparent suggestion that an adversarial condition ought to prevail between Conceptualism and whatever you choose to oppose it with.

Is opposition really the be all end all engine of greatness?

Conceptualism has many gifts to give to a more traditional art, the foremost of which, I think, is its aestheticization of thought.


James W. Bailey

December 15, 2004, 9:40 PM

I'm really enjoying this thread. Unfortunately, like OldPro, I am under the gun in the real world of supporting my life and hope to jump in with more thoughts in the not to distant future.

I consider myself to be a Littoral Artist, schooled in the philosophy of Bruce Barber, with a genealogy that traces back to Conceptualism.

I would like to offer the following poem for contemplation:

Matthew Meers: or Art Has No Meaning

There was a man who had a clock, his name was Matthew Meers
He counted every tick and tock for eight and eighty years
And then one day he found the seconds turned to things
That you could work like puppets with imagination's strings
And he who had been eighty eight switched back to twenty nine
About to be joined in wedlock to a woman half divine.
Now when the men of ninety saw this miracle so strange
They all bought clocks and counted tocks and waited for the change.
But they couldn't get the secret from this man called Matthew Meers
And the moral of his marvel in no history appears.

-Patrick Kavanagh
Copyright Estate of Katherine Kavanagh

I posted on J.T. Kirkland's site (I consider him to be a friend , a very thoughtful person/artist and an art blogger who has invigorated the Washington, D.C. art community in an innovative way) that I feel like the ghost of Clive Bell is floating above this dialogue.

I'm new to this site. Do any of the regular contibutors have any thoughts on some of the more Formalist ideas that seem to be sustaining some of the comments.


James W. Bailey


that guy in the back row

December 15, 2004, 9:50 PM

Dan, artists are inspired by what ever art gets under their skin. Artists who I've come to know and respect are only spurred on by the best art. Chasing something other than that seems to me like a waste of time.



December 15, 2004, 9:52 PM

I don't know what "formalist ideas" we are operatin g from, but I sure would like to talk to that Meers fellow.



December 15, 2004, 9:54 PM

Mr Bailey: "littoral" means pertaining to the shore. What is a "littoral artist"?



December 15, 2004, 10:08 PM

Artists who I've come to know and respect are only spurred on by the best art.

I guess that's precisely my point.


J.T. Kirkland

December 15, 2004, 10:11 PM

That guy in the back row... that's a succinct handle if I've ever seen one. "J.T. Kirkland" is shorter therefore I am right and you are wrong.

And the fact that is shorter than obviously means that Franklin is smarter than me. Thanks for clearing that up. You're a real swell guy! That's the third insult on this site... do you condone this Franklin?

I think the point of this whole discussion is that some seem to be saying that one person's opinions and tastes are wrong, or at least less valid than their own. Thus far we have not been discussing facts at all and I'm amazed that the same people upset at the snobbery of the contemporary art world are so eager to tell me that my tastes are invalid.

Finally, back row states, "Artists who I've come to know and respect are only spurred on by the best art. Chasing something other than that seems to me like a waste of time." Could you please point me to the book or list that contains the "best art"? I'd like to stop wasting my time pursuing what I pursue and get on board the proper art making train. Please refer me to the "best art" and I'll get started immediately.

I apologize for the length of this comment, but at least I didn't call you a "dumbass."


James W. Bailey

December 15, 2004, 10:22 PM

Dear OldPro,

I'm an experimental photographer born and raised in the state of Mississippi. The readers of Mr. Kirkland's site are probably used to my Southern Baptist influenced fire and brimestone approach by now and understand my deep Southern humor.

On the serious side, and with Franklin's permission, I'll post the scripture of Littoral Art as written by Bruce Barber.

Sentences on Littoral Art, 1998

1) Littoral describes the intermediate and shifting zone between the sea and the land and refers metaphorically to cultural projects that are undertaken predominantly outside the conventional contexts of the institutionalized artworld.
2) Littoral projects are lifeworld affirming as opposed to system reproducing. Littoral Artists work between the private realm and the public sphere.
3) Littoral Artists recognize their position as political subjects and act accordingly.
4) Social actions may (re)produce cultural judgments.
5) Cultural interventions may lead toward social change.
6) Public, community based art is essentially political.
7) The political positions that artists adopt should be followed ethically.
8) Littoral artists acknowledge Marx's injunction in his 11th Thesis on Feuerbach, that it is not up to philosophers (artists) to simply interpret (represent) the world; the point is to change it.
9) In Littoral art projects social interactions should be co-ordinated with less emphasis on egocentric calculations of success for each individual than through co-operative achievements of understanding among participants.
10) Social and cultural actions can be strategic, exemplary, instrumental or communicative. Communicative actions attempt to lessen provocation and encourage dialogue. They are the result of the conjoining of theory and practice into a political praxis.
11) In Littoral Art projects no one individual should assumed absolute control of the communicative process; rather it should be, in the best sense possible, participatory and democratic.
12) Public art projects are aimed at stimulating dialogue and participation within a specific community to engender (or engineer) conscientization, and possibly, social change.
13) The interaction between marginal groups, and their integration in such projects can lead to extraordinary results in which artistic, social and environmental objectives overlap.
14) Littoral art helps to stimulate dialogue and elevate the standards of conversation between different communities and disciplines whose paths would normally not cross.
15) The littoral artist may use any form and employ any materials, techniques or procedures to reach his/her objectives.
16) Littoralist art is more about giving than taking.
17) Within littoralist art practice, donative art strategies extend the language of the altruistic gift into a more politically efficacious education about the nature of gift giving and reciprocity.
18) Littoral artists acknowledge their debt to history and respond positively to successful models presented by the historical avant-gardes and neo-avant-gardes of the more recent past.
19) Littoral art projects can provide a powerful incentive for social integration as opposed to individual competition.
20) Littoral art can provide an alternative to capital accumulation and power as an indicator of success.
21) Political correctness cannot rescue a bad idea. It is difficult to subvert a politically correct position.
22) Littoral projects may become art if they are concerned with art and enter the fields of discourse associated with art theory and criticism.
23) Some successful littoral projects may begin from a position of naivete.
24) Surveillance is a form of control. Observational techniques represent methods of social control.
25) Littoral artists should attempt to understand the affects of their actions and interventions in the public sphere and learn from their mistakes.
26) Artists may perceive the littoralist projects of others to be better than their own, but they should strive to approximate success at every level of their social engagement.
27) Littoral projects may engage directly with an institution.
28) Once the immediate objectives of the project are established, the course of events should be allowed to unfold organically. There may be many side effects that the artist cannot imagine or control. These may be used to stimulate and/or assist the development of new work.
29) The process is social and should not be tampered with. It should run its course.
30) There are many elements involved in a littoralist project. The most important may not be the most obvious.
31) It the artist uses the same methodology in a group of projects but changes the techniques and materials, one would assume that the artist's work privileged the method.
32) Banal ideas cannot be rescued by privileging the aesthetic values that may reside in the work.
33) It is difficult to bungle a good littoral project.
34) When an artist displays his/her craft too well, it may result in the loss of the social importance of the work.
35) These sentences comment on littoral art but are not art.

My past Littoral Art projects are detailed on my web site, My past projects were low key unpbublicized affairs that explored the potentail of creative communications between associated parties to an event that I sometimes staged.

My current Littoral Art Projects have become more activist and public. As is well known in the Washington, D.C. area, I have taken a very public stand in support of Philip Barlow, a curator of OPTIONS 05, a major emerging artist biennial that is sponsored by the WPA/Corcoran Association, after he was fired by the Board of Trustess of the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

I launched a Littoral Art Project web site, ANTI-OPTIONS 05, in support of the concept of a definition of Freedom of Artistic Expression that applies equally to curators, as well as to artists. ANTI-OPTIONS 05 can be viewed here

I basically believe that art has the real potential to change the world in a real and meaningful way. Littoral Art concerns itself with being activist in this process. ANTI-OPTIONS 05 is a Littoral Art Project that is seeking justice for Mr. Barlow, while as the same time seeking to involve regulatory agencies in holding the The Board of Trustees of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the WPA/Corcoran Association accountable for their actions as an IRS approved 501(c)3 organization.

As I mentioned earlier, I'm from Mississippi and most of my home state's artists are off the chart! Witness George E. "The Mad Potter of Biloxi" Ohr, Walter Inglis Anderson, and many others.

I honestly wish I had more time to contribute to this dialogue. I'm really enjoying reading it and hope this explains, to a limited degree I understand, where I'm coming from with my art.


James W. Bailey



December 15, 2004, 10:25 PM

You did ask, Oldpro...



December 15, 2004, 10:27 PM

Mr. Kirkland:

We go over the "good art" matter every month or so on this blog.

To summarize: art viewing (listening, liiking, tasting, whatever) is a matter of valuating. What is good is an individual choice. (Whether that is "subjective" demands a much longer response). If two people agree that something ifs good then it is good for both of them. If a lot of people think something is good then it is good for all of them. We have a process for deciding what is good called the "consensus", which over time takes a certain very tiny percentage of art and makes it desirable and puts it in musuems.

This is what we mean by "good art" and it is available to everyone. It does not mean that it can be proven to be good or that you have to like it or agree. But you cannot say that we do not have any clear public statement about "what is good art", because there it is.



December 15, 2004, 10:31 PM

Yes, Franklin. I did ask, didn't I.

Thank you Mr Bailey. Good luck.


that guy in the back row

December 15, 2004, 10:41 PM

sorry about the dumbass comment. We may have gotten off on the wrong foot, therefor I doubt I'll be able to convince you where the best art is and who is creating it, so I won't bother with it. From your "about you" page I gathered you are twenty six. My guess is if you keep looking at art, without letting your strongly held preconceptions get in the way, you may one day have your very own value judgments. Hopefully you'll share those judgments with us when you get there. Until then, yes I'll continue to know that I have superior eye when it comes to judging art, and that your tastes are shallow and malformed.


J.T. Kirkland

December 15, 2004, 10:44 PM

Oldpro -

Based on what you said, would you assert that all works of art in museums are "good"? And when you say consensus, do you mean majority of people who have viewed it? Is there a survey somewhere?

I ask the following because I'm sincerely interested in your thoughts (I admit to having no clue about it). Grant for me if you will that there has been a piece of art that for the first 10 years of its existence, the consensus (whatever that is) said it was bad art. But over the course of the next 10 years, the consensus switched to say that the piece was good. So, let's look at two data points: after 10 years it was bad and after 20 years it was good. So, can the "quality" of a piece of art change? Can it be both good and bad, depending on the time? If so, then doesn't the possibility exist that all art could be good or bad... we just don't know it yet?



December 15, 2004, 10:44 PM

Guy... Oh, snap!



December 15, 2004, 10:46 PM

Mr. Kirkland: Things do get a little rough around here, don't they?


J.T. Kirkland

December 15, 2004, 10:54 PM

Back row -

Yes, I am a mere 26 years old... still wet behind the ears. The world is a scary place and I have yet to experience any of it. So, I just hide in my room playing Xbox and watching cartoons.

If there were ever an argument that tires me most, it's the experience means you know best (it can suggest you know best, but it alone can't determine it). I've railed against this on my site so much that I can't muster the desire to do it here.

What are my strongly held preconceptions and what makes them an obstacle for me but not for you? It's clear you have strongly held preconceptions. And yes, I'll email you when I get my very own value judgements... I've got my eye out for them!

"yes I'll continue to know that I have superior eye when it comes to judging art, and that your tastes are shallow and malformed."

I'm glad elitism knows no bounds. Heaven forbid you have an open mind to potentially learn something from me. Though you have been far from nice thus far, I still respect your opinion and I'm trying to learn from you. It's disappointing that you can't do the same for me. I'll return to playing flag football in the park now. At least as soon as I finish my algebra homework.



December 15, 2004, 10:55 PM

wow. I've been out of the loop since I read Franklin's post yesterday morning. I had a knee-jerk reaction, but I deceided to give myself some time to reflect first. In the meantime, a lot of discussion has gone on, which I haven't gotten a chance to read (i was glad that JT quoted the discussion between oldpro and me, though, buecause I'd suspected that that had in part prompted Franklin's original post).

I can't imagine I'll be able to think of anything that hasn't already been said, but it looks like it's been a very thourough debate.


Alfredo Triff

December 15, 2004, 10:57 PM

Very interesting discussion guys! Im glad Franklin posted it (it made me discover J.T. Kirklands site). Both arguments fly well and theyre not-so-distant from each other. Food is a great way to talk art: they both deal with taste. Food-talk is not exclusively about our utterances, but something there in the plate. It will never by physics, but who needs it?
I believe we can approximate what F. calls self-critical tastes (I would call it plain educated taste) to the thing there in the plate. I guess J.T. Kirkland comes from a more conceptual scheme, which made me think of Nelson Goodmans Languages of Art (a superb text though difficult to read). Goodman thought that any talk about art necessitates a concept prior to any observation. True, but careful! Art talk has a bit of both objective and subjective valuations. A community of experts is a good example to settle whether 1996 Dom Perignon (one of its best recent vintages) is better than 1990 Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin. They have acquired the expertise by developing their tastes in subtle ways. If I say, I hate it 1990 Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin Id be justified (for whatever reasons, may be Im allergic to the bubbly flavor). If I say, 1990 Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin is a shitty Champagne I am plain wrong. Finally: Kirkland: An empty plate can be food (or its absence) and its been already thought of by Catal virtuoso Adri Ferr the idea is to smell a scent on an empty plate so powerfully concentrated that --mentally speaking-- one is filled. Go on


that guy in the back row

December 15, 2004, 11:03 PM

on experience with art: If you are open to that experience you might do well. Last weekend I spent a few hours listening to one decrepit old Arthur Danto. He shut himself off from art before he even had a good look. Its just a warning shot.



December 15, 2004, 11:05 PM

No, all works in museums are not good, not according to my judgement. But, on the other hand, from what I have seen, I think most of them are, especially the older work.

Works in museums are those that are held to be good by a kind of summarization of judgement. It is complex. I certainly cannot describe it's anatomy. You can see it at work as easily as I can. it is just a fact. You don't need to ask me what is meant by "consensus" or ask "is there a survey". Go look.

Generally, much of the newer work that is judged to be good falls by the wayside in time. In effect, yes, it is thought to be good by the general consensus and they later is thought to be not so good by the general consensus. The art has not changed, the opinion of it has. Again, the inner workings of this process are complex and I am not equipped to describe how it works. But the fact that it is at work is wide open for anyone to see, including yourself.This is not some kind of elaborate mystery. It is just what goes on in the artworld every day.


J.T. Kirkland

December 15, 2004, 11:16 PM

Alfredo Triff -

Thanks for commenting. I don't think we are so apart either. I think we're different in terms of what we like and that's ok. I would never say the Matisse is "shitty" but it doesn't do as much for me as Duchamp's urinal.

One thing I'd like to say, because I may be bowing out of this conversation soon (do I hear applause?) is that I think the general attitude expressed so far on is a detriment to art. What I mean is, you guys are quick to talk about accurate opinions and such. The art world is in trouble. See this comment by James W. Bailey on my site:

The general public doesn't experience art. They don't go to museums. Many people think it's a waste. I think we should be happy when people look at art. We should be happy when they think about it. We should nurture this. We should not put people down when their tastes are different. We should encourage them to keep visiting museums and galleries. Once we reach the point where 50% of the US population visits at least one museum per year, then we can worry about the intellectual aspects.

This is not to forget artists. We should encourage artists to continue creating and learning. They should not have to pursue a particular ideal. They should just create.

I think the attitude of some commenters on this site are nasty and elitist. At Thinking About Art, I hope to encourage the participation and dialogue of all artists, regardless of them being "good." The government is taking away art from schools - I never had it. Let's not make art for the few smart enough to get it. The world is bigger than the 10 or so of us. Franklin's site is open to the public as it should be, but I wonder how many art viewers or creators have been turned off by the snobbish attitudes here. Perhaps none... perhaps some.



December 15, 2004, 11:35 PM

Hey Alfredo! I love your esoterica!

Gosh, I swill so much of that Dom Perignon that I clear forget to compare it to Veuve Cliquot.

I just don't think an empty plate is food. Sorry. Put some ribs on it, please.



December 15, 2004, 11:39 PM

James Baily: In a talk on the autonomy of art Clement Greenberg discussed "formalism":

"What I'm getting at, in a way I hope isn't so roundabout, is the fact that art and the history of art can be approached and discussed illuminatingly all by themselves, as though taking place in an area of experience that's autonomous, a place that doesn't have to be connected with any other area of experience in order to have sense made of it. What I've just said is the most radical expression I can think of what's called vulgarly "formalism." I want to go on to say that better sense can be made of art, justice can be done to the experience of art qua art, if it is dealt with as autonomous, as being abstracted from all political, social, economic, or religious or moral issues or factors. That is, if art, so to speak, is dealt with in a vacuum. I know, that is horrendous -- we're not supposed to do that. All the while we realize, of course, that art doesn't take place in a vacuum. What I mean -- here I'm using some more fashionable jargon -- is that art qua art can best be dealt with by being "bracketed off," as phenomenologists would say, in order to find out more about the experiencing and making of it. Actually we do bracket off the history and practice of science and medicine and engineering, and many other disciplines, in order to scrutinize them better. As we try to scrutinize them in themselves, we do a kind of phenomenological reduction."

Clem's statement represents how I look at "formalism". That is, it's a term that is mostly used wrong-headely, but if someone wants to use it, this is the way it ought to be used.

By the way, to his dying day, Clem denied being a formalist. He was just talking about the term. Since so many nasty things are attributed to him so foten, I thought it best to let his words speak for themselves.



December 15, 2004, 11:43 PM

Listen JT. The general attitude expressed here, what ever that may be, is certainly not a "detriment to art". It is a detriment to bullshit. We are "snobbish" about that, for sure. Believe it or not, art is what we like.

Good luck with the Good Works. No one is taking issue with you there, so stop whining about it.



December 15, 2004, 11:49 PM

Re: Triff's comment on "educated taste"...

MAeX Art Blog asks, what is the importance of connoisseurship?


J.T. Kirkland

December 15, 2004, 11:52 PM

Oldpro -

The conservatives swear up and down that G W Bush isn't bad for the country. The liberals say he is. The conservatives say that the liberals need to stop whining.

I'm glad that neither side shuts up. Neither side is necessarily right.


that guy in the back row

December 15, 2004, 11:53 PM

JT: I think people speak clearly hear because they love art. If no one cares to post on your
it maybe the dull sophistry that goes on there.



December 15, 2004, 11:54 PM

Good reference, Dan. Puts the problem in a nutshell.

it might be called "sailing in a leaky boat without a rudder"



December 15, 2004, 11:58 PM

the winners are never the whiners, JT.


J.T. Kirkland

December 16, 2004, 12:07 AM

Ah, it's all about winning? Why even have multiple political parties if the idea is to win? Why have opposing viewpoints? Is it better when 50% of the population wins and 50% loses? If the conservatives (the winners this time) had it all right, then why didn't they get more votes? I guess it's those damn uneducated liberals to blame... they just don't understand. John Kerry and his "sophistry."

Many people hate the Yankees because they spend so much money to win... but when did they last win? Why even play the game? Well, because teams like the Florida Marlins can win when there is no way they should be able to. If Major League Baseball held your view, they would look at the team's statistics on paper at the beginning of the season and declare the winner.

No one's whining Oldpro... writing several posts does not equal me losing any sleep over this. In fact, I think it's fun. Thanks for participating in a fruitless discussion.



December 16, 2004, 12:42 AM

Um, trying to figure out where to jump back in here... Okay.

I don't try to control the tone on this blog. I think people generally know that they're trading credibility for vitriol. (Right?) The vitriol comes in handy at times, like when we need to go take down Artforum Diary or something. Miami is not a genteel place. And yes, I do feel concerned that meeker participants are being discouraged from participating, but I refuse to police the blog in order to make that happen. I believe in freedom.

I left a big question of elitism open and nobody jumped on me for it: I would instead describe greatness as a massive agreement of subjective responses from people with self-critical tastes. Well, what about all those people who don't have self-critical tastes? They don't matter. They matter to each other and the market and much else, but they don't matter to the progress or continuation of great art. And people with sort of self-critical tastes? They matter more. So, yes, some tastes are more valuable than others. Now, who decides who has good taste? No one and everyone. How do you decide who is a good person? You have to get the facts right and decide for yourself. How do you know you're a good person? That's between you and your conscience. It's a similar problem.

But within that, self-critcial taste seems to be open to everyone, regardless of age or makeup. So it may not be all that elitist in the end.

Bottom line - I'll give the time of day to anything, but no idea is sacred, and many of them need a-killin'. I agree that the art world is in trouble, but much of that trouble was self-inficted through a bunch of failed priorities. I feel that I do my part to make it better if I make a call about something to the best of my ability and state it, even if that means turning some sacred cows into cat food.

Alright, I have more, but I have to beat the traffic home. Later.


Alfredo Triff

December 16, 2004, 1:05 AM

Thanks, oldpro... nothing wrong with ribs. I enjoy them myself (with the help of an old friend's formula). But Arriis a master. People from all over the world go to his restaurant to savor these food-concepts. Dan, by connoisseurship I understand applied knowledge a sotr of knowledge by acquaintance, very important to establish standards... I guess one needs an open mind, a good imagination and train diligently to acquire the skill. Example: Two interpretations of Chopin's Nocturnes, one by Arrau one by Rubinstein. Arrau is fantastic, Rubinstein is a paragon. Most critics concur. His 1960's recording is simple unsurpassable. Some still may disagree. What is valuable is to investigate and understand the reasons for such disagreement. It's there that you'd find similarities with today's provocative discussion.



December 16, 2004, 1:27 AM


I like ribs, but I have yet to savor a "food-concept". What do they taste like?


All I said was "the winners are never the whiners". The rest of your response is you talking to yourself. This is what makes a "fruitless discussion".



December 16, 2004, 1:34 AM

Though the word is often associated with a notion of sophisticated elitism, I like the idea of a "cultivated" taste, with its implications of the time and care involved in the process of developing sensitivity and judgment.


J.T. Kirkland

December 16, 2004, 1:37 AM

Oldpro -

Then why did you read it? And to expect me to believe that you just said winners are never the whiners and you weren't implying more is silly.

This entire discussion was fruitless because you and your cohorts always had the correct answer and would never even consider alternate opinions. I'm not sure why you even acknowledge my writing. From the months I've spent reading your comments on this site I've come to learn that it's the Oldpro doctrine and no other... dialogue is unnecessary.



December 16, 2004, 1:42 AM

Also, I napalmed the Rubells. Even I felt a little guilty about that. No defense for them, eh?

Neither side is necessarily right. Since the response to great art is felt, there's not an objective Right to arrive at. Let's go back to the risotto: let's say the restaurant decides that Three Mushroom Risotto (sans novocaine) is a Great dish. They put it on the menu. What is its greatness? It's greatness is a combination of ingredients, preparation, recipe, and sensitive palate. (Or, material, technique, composition, and feeling.) The greatness lies in both the subjective and objective realms. Nevertheless, individuals have to make the call about their own experiences. That's how taste gets educated and how consensuses form.



December 16, 2004, 1:55 AM

Here is (part of) my take. I've lurked through several rounds of this recurring conversation, and while I don't particularly care about debating with anyone (or have the time to do so), I just wanted to contribute some (late) thoughts.

When I perceive a work of art as beautiful, and/or that it produces that *click*/wow!/sublime moment factor, I would most likely qualify that work of art as good or great. However, I don't privilege that over other manifestations of quality in art. Good art "works" in different ways. Aesthetics are a big part of that--for certain types of art. I agree that sparking dialogue or making you think alone does not automatically confer quality or art-ness. With a nod to Onajide's recent post, I feel that evaluating the success of the work of art hinges on a balance between qualities associated with both conoisseurship and theory. If a work is aesthetically beautiful/successful, but very conceptually or ideologically flawed, I can't accept it as great on all counts. And sometimes this only happens with the benefit of hindsight. (To refer to film again (sorry, folks), D.L. Griffith's Birth of a Nation is one extremely influential example.) Likewise, if a work is based a lot of good ideas, feelings, or thoughts, but fails to communicate them (visually or otherwise) in an effective way or elicit any strong reaction at all from the viewer, I can't accept it as great on all counts either.

My own beef (sorry) with the way this repeating conversation keeps playing out is that the ideas of quality and art-ness asserted by many posters here are often rooted in a tradition of a certain culturally specific, and, yes, formalist standard of Good Art associated with certain Western painting traditions. Franklin partially acknowledged this when he said that "But the perception of something as great is a cultural phenomenon that is based on individual responses. I liken it to the nature/nurture argument in learning: artistic response has both components as well." I am not arguing that the standard in question is absolutely not valid, but that it's simplistic to talk about it only in terms of personal taste, or that it's developed purely from education and "from looking at a lot of art over a long period of time." Applying this standard uniformly across the board to all art simply does not take into account all of the factors that influence cultural production and the different functions of art. Why is this a problem? Because it leaves out so much, it shuts down constructive discussion, it doesn't leave room for alternate perspectives and experiences.

I wish we would stop using the P word around here, because it's usually used lazily, but that is more of the fundamental argument of the more "responsible" derivations of postmodernism that we see in art/academia--not that there are no standards and everything goes. I trot out this whole spiel not to defend The Chair or bad art in general, but partially because going back, over and over, to the same three or four posters clucking about their good taste, jeering at dissenting opinions, and saying things like "if you don't know what good art is, you'll never know" makes for a pretty limited and repetitive discussion on an otherwise good blog.



December 16, 2004, 2:21 AM

I couldn't know it was fruitless without reading it, JT, now could I?



December 16, 2004, 2:24 AM

"if you don't know what good art is, you'll never know"

Did someone say that?



December 16, 2004, 2:32 AM

once again denise writes down exaclty how i feel about this blog.



December 16, 2004, 2:32 AM

once again denise writes down exactly how i feel about this blog.



December 16, 2004, 2:49 AM


when art "...produces that "*click*/wow!/sublime moment factor", as you put it, then it is good art. If it does not clickwow for me it is not good art. We may compare notes. You may say, "go look again". I may still not like it. or I may say "I don't know what I was thinking, that is a good picture". When a lot of people over time look at the picture it gets lots of evaluations. Maybe it will be forgotten. Maybe it will end up in a museum and be officially considered "good art". Maybe you will see in the museum and say "what was I thinking, this sucks". Maybe I will...

And so forth, and so on.

All these things have happened to me, and probably to most people here. This is how it works. I love art because certain art does the click/wow for me, and it seems to be that it somehow represents, or is, the hightest human achievement, so I try to make art that will do it for other people.

I have never held any other general, overall opinion about the making or perception of art than this in the many months I have been posting on this blog, and yet I am the chief target of the howls of "formalism" and "elitism" hurled about in these precincts. I don't mind; I ask for it and i am used to it. But for the life of me I can't understand it. I have no tolerance for bullshit and evasion and pretense, and that can get pretty abrasive at times.

But Is my position "formalist" and "elitist"? I don't think so.


J.T. Kirkland

December 16, 2004, 2:53 AM

Oldpro -

I assumed you knew when this conversation started (whenever that was... I forget), that you knew your position was the only valid one. I say this because you don't seem interested in learning about my position and why I hold it. You seem more interested in lecturing and spouting off about what you know and others don't... making this entire discussion fruitless.

Denise -

Thanks for bringing to this discussion a little bit of common sense and dignity.



December 16, 2004, 2:59 AM

JT -

Here's a perfect example. You said just now that I was " spouting off about what you (oldpro) know and others don't".

But I did no such thing. Alfredo did; he is addicted to dropping names and esoteric references to things that few people know about, and I kid him about it. But I did not do this. What you said is plain false.

So why did you say it? What is your motivation?



December 16, 2004, 3:10 AM

To all: I don't understand why oldpro gets all the blame for the opinions expressed here. Perhaps it's his moniker. "Old" is certainly pejorative. "Pro" is threatening. But I am certain he is both old and a successful professional, with a ten pound resume, if that is how you like to measure professional. So it is an accurate moniker.

He is certainly fluent and devotes a lot of time to his contributions. They are so well written that even those who hate them must take them seriously. Maybe that's it. He rattles our brains a little too hard.

But he doesn't speak for anyone but himself. You make a mistake if you think the rest of the regulars agree with everything he says. I'd say he is a little too fluent for his own good and way too patient. And, unlike him, I readily admit to being a formalist, even though I don't exactly know what it means.


J.T. Kirkland

December 16, 2004, 3:12 AM

Oldpro -

Really? I thought Alfredo contributed something positive to this discussion. The reason I say it is because I've read hundreds of your comments and I don't feel like you're trying to understand my position. I feel like you are against it (which is fine), but I don't think you are openminded to my opinion. Do you really dispute this?

I remember you saying the other day this:

"If it looks like shit, smells like shit and lies there like a steaming pile, well, guess what?"

Maybe you really are an "elitist" and "formalist." Why would so many people be howling it at you? Maybe though you don't like to taste the medicine you prescribe to others... The way you come off to me is that you are a bitter, impotent, old man who never quite made it as an artist. You're angry at the youth of America for not appreciating the good ol' days. You sit behind a fake screenname and howl down at those less intelligent than you. You're angry. You're self-centered. Maybe a little out of shape. You just sit down with a book on Matisse or Monet or Picasso and harmonize on the days of old. You won't open your mind to contemporary, conceptual art.

Now is any of this true? Who knows? But based on your quote, this is how you come off, to me. But you know what? I don't want to believe it. I want to be openminded that you have a lot to teach the younger generation that I'm a part of. So I continue to read your posts... getting angry at you at times and leaving this site for a week or so. But I always come back and try to understand your style and your perspective. I just ask that you prove my impression of you to be false. I ask that you open your mind and admit that you may not know everything about art. I ask that you understand my perspective and why I hold it, and not immediately dismiss it.

I may be talking to myself again here, but alas, I'm reaching out. I don't agree with you guys but don't push away someone so eager to learn and think. You guys have knowledge... you should share it. It does you no good in the grave. Don't let your own medicine be true about you!



December 16, 2004, 3:16 AM

Sorry, JT. That doers not deserve a response.


J.T. Kirkland

December 16, 2004, 3:32 AM

I didn't expect otherwise. Why on Earth would you open your mind to new ideas. Why would you even consider that "elitist" and "formalist" really do apply to you. Nope, your "smells like..." test only applies when oldpro decries it on other matters... but not himself. I'm far from shocked.

Why would you respond to the most sincere post I've made all day? You wouldn't. It's beneath you.


Alfredo Triff

December 16, 2004, 3:36 AM

oldpro: I don't think I "drop names" (not at least in the sense to make people aware I know names). I simply cite sources and make them public. It's much worse to talk about what someone else said without acknowledging its provenance. Few people know about? Speak for yourself buddy. On the other hand I give you that citing sources can carry a bit of bad reputation. Sorry, but I can't stop my thinking to please you (at least in that regard). Now that you know don't feel that way. Finally, what you call "esoteric references" I call language. The possibility to create new metaphors and open up new worlds. Don't take it personally, Ok?


Phil Isteen

December 16, 2004, 4:03 AM

Earlier today I read JT's & Franklin's posts & I also came away thinking there was more agreement than disagreement! (I agree with Triff on this and most of his esoterica ;)

The entire thread cut into my productive time very nicely. Thanks Franklin, et. al.

*click*/wow!/ (thanks Denise)
I had that a few days ago at MOCA with Cristian Marclay's "Video Quartet."
...But I hate video "art"!? #@ (BC redeems herself)

After, I couldn't help but wonder "is it art?"

Has anyone else experienced it?



December 16, 2004, 4:03 AM

Frankin, i'm glad you decided to make explicit the idea of Zen. That's what made me hesitate to respond yesterday morning. I also think your observation in footnote 1 is key.

It is possible to appreciate the beauty of something in at least two different ways; on involves "thinking" about it and understanding why you believe it is beautiful, the second is a kind of wordless state of wonder and awe. You refer to the latter as a state of absence of thought. Of course, whatever is going on while you look at the Matisse is going on in your brain; therefore it is thought. BUT it is word-less thought. I would say you meditated on the Matisse. I'd bet that at some point you stopped doing that and actually thought about it with words just a little bit. But even before that happened, your brain was doing all kinds of work, analyzing the relationship between the brushstrokes and what you, personally, know about the reality of mirrors, flowers, Cartesian space, and all kinds of other stuff (not the least of which, come to think of it, is brush strokes). You know this stuff so well that the brain does it sub-consciously, but nonetheless it is thought, and it is essential to your pleasure.

So you went into a wordless, Zen-like appreciation of the painting. That's pretty great, but don't give the painting all the credit - it was as a result of the painting being a near-perfect example of what you hold as sublime. I had the same experience at Basel while looking at a Wolfgang Tillmans photograph of a pink rag in water. It's powerful stuff.

Personally, I just do not believe that that is the only way to judge great art. I stand by my original statement; that art is great in proportion to its ability to evoke an idea/feeling.

Idea/feeling is a pretty vague bundle, so let me try to explain it. There may be a continuum of brain activity, from the Zen-like wonder which you describe, to a deep feeling of a specific emotion (i.e. sadness), to a feeling of sudden profound realization . . . ending up at a complicated, tangled, intellectual reasoning of some sort. I think great art can hit on any combination of these notes.

By the way, I think lots of other things besides art can hit on any of these notes, too. I loved your melting newspaper example; I think it's a good example because of its intellectual metaphorical "meaning," but probably also because it looked pretty cool.

I've got to tell you . . . I drive from Miami Beach to Hollywood every morning. Sometimes, crossing the Macarthur causeway, I have a very profound feeling of oneness with the universe, which is impossible to explain with our crude language . . . I don't give art any special status in the world, except that there was an artist behind the work of art who had an idea/feeling when he was creating the work (you allude to this, too). Ultimately, though, that is irrelevant to the work's success. But that's another discussion.


J.T. Kirkland

December 16, 2004, 4:19 AM


Whether you are right or wrong (if that exists - perhaps I should say if your comments reach consensus or not), I really enjoyed reading this. I think you touch on some key points. I think I do less wordless thinking. I think I jump pretty quickly into thought that I don't even recognize the wordless time. Maybe it's there. What triggers the best reaction from me, I don't know. But consciously I am more impressed by innovative, thoughtful works instead of beautiful works. I can't formalize my thoughts on this, but maybe beauty doesn't have to be an aesthetic... maybe an idea can be beautiful... if it is beauty that triggers wordlessness.

I don't know...



December 16, 2004, 4:21 AM


The following are from today's post. I know the Champagnes & the Composer and the Pianists. I do not know Mr. Goodman's book or the chef. (I assume is a chef; the question marks came with your post on my computer). I doubt that most of the folks posting here knew any of these references - maybe Dom Perignon and Chopin.

Nelson Goodman's Languages of Art
1996 Dom Perignon
1990 Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin.
Catal?virtuoso Adri?Ferr?
Chopin's Nocturnes
Arrau and Rubinstein.

I call this "dropping names". If you don't think this term is accurate, that's OK. You have done it regularly here. I don't mind. I think it is kind of charming. I certainly don't "take it personally". Why would I?



December 16, 2004, 4:29 AM


I don't agree with all of it, but good post. Very reflective, very searching. Lets have more of this, guys.



December 16, 2004, 4:29 AM

"What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or disturbing a comforting influence, a mental balm-something like a good armchair in which one rests from physical fatigue." - Matisse



December 16, 2004, 4:41 AM

Denise, I wouldn't mind seeing the P word disappear myself, because I'm usually referring to a Culture Wars, mid-90s era use of the term that I don't think accurately describes what's going with folks who have non-modernist or non-traditionalist concerns exclusively. Can you nominate some alternatives?

I do privilege [sp?] the Wow reaction over other kinds of quality in art because that's the way I interact with all other creative media. If you had a CD of music that didn't sound good but was theoretically interesting, how often would you play it? Me neither. I find the Beastie Boys latest effort to be ideologically flawed - I sympathize with the politics but find them simplistic. But when they sing "George W. got nothin' on we / We got to take the power from he" - heck, that's not even grammatically correct, but they kick it, and it comes off. It sounds good. And I can switch modalities as well as anyone - I just got a CD of Chinese pippa music. That kicked too.

So why don't we require this of art? Well, I do. I require it of art, music, cooking, architecture, writing - everything that provides sensation or gets a feeling across. I think it's consummately weird that I'm supposed to make an exception for visual art just because somebody wants to work with other concerns. A level of boredom and ineptitude that would be unreadable and unlistenable can still get taken seriously as art. I feel quite free to reject it if it doesn't kick.

Item next - Why is it so important to that Oldpro come around from his position? Really, you couldn't ask for a better regular commenter than Oldpro. Someone said to me in person that Oldpro is like the one really annoying character on a reality TV show that you have to come back and watch. I guess this is why I don't get into TV, because I just see him as someone with an opinion, who sticks to his guns, and is right a remarkable amount of the time. He doesn't agree with you? So what? He's not listening to you? And? Oldpro is one of the sharpest tacks in this drawer and I enjoy his presence. He's worth a few hundred sharp pokes. I don't always agree with him but I don't feel like I have to change his mind. But again, y'all do what you like.

I just want to state for the record that I am extremely angry that Ajax got through my anti-double-post script. Hovig, if you're reading, your disciple beseeches you...



December 16, 2004, 4:43 AM

I lurk here and over at thinking about art, and this thread is weird to see them mashed up. Like when the X-Men met the Teen Titans and they fought at first, but the realized they were on the same side and teamed up to fight the real bad guy. Which in this case would be who? Art writers?



December 16, 2004, 4:56 AM

Some further thoughts on the comments:

JT~ If you disagree with certain commenters on this blog, you're going to have to be prepared to be insulted.

Oldpro/Franklin~ Regarding that what "is good" is determined by the concensus. I tend to agree, but with a qualified understanding of who determines the concensus. I prefer Franklin's "people with self-critical tastes" then Guy's "99.9 percent of people."

Franklin: If I'm not having a pc/mac issue and my punctuation is not being changed to question marks, why is it happening to so many people lately?

Hey, you didn't napalm the Rubells; you poked a little fun their way. I first saw the empty room with the hanging guy over a year ago. I thought it was silly and pretty great, and I don't think they'd mind your disaproval.

Cheers! in the general direction of Denise.

Catfish: Oldpro gets attacked a lot percisely because of his intelligence. He is reasonable, well-spoken, and very often wrong, which is what makes it so much fun to post on this blog.

Where by "wrong" I mean: coming from a very specific, rigid, old-school way of thinking. Yes, Oldpro, to kids like me and JT, that very certainty can often seem silly. JT does not write as eloquently as you or Franklin, but at root I tend to agree with his ideas. What it comes down to, for me, is that given situation X which I dislike, my instinct is to try to understand and to like it, rather then to convince others to dislike it. I tend, at least, to see my dislike of something as a lack of understanding. In some cases my dislike is resiliant to attempts to understand. In other cases still, i start out liking something only to come to dislike it as i understand it better (for example the Marcaccio piece, or, for that matter, ritualistic genital mutilation). But whatever . . .

holy crap - six more posts while I write this. oh well...



December 16, 2004, 5:23 AM

Alesh - I like to refer to the notion you and Franklin are trying to describe simply as engagement, with no stricter definition than that. Art engages, great art engages more. Each viewer is engaged by different qualities in different fashions. Some qualities are more primitive, some are more learned. Everyone mixes and matches to form their own taste.



December 16, 2004, 5:38 AM

Alesh wrote: by "wrong" I mean: coming from a very specific, rigid, old-school way of thinking.

In other words, oldpro is too "old" in his thinking to be "right". I appreciate your honesty about this, because I have suspected that is part of the "problem" all along. But, he is no more "rigid" than his tormentors, perhaps less so because he explains himself over and over with reason and intelligence and eloquence (as you note), while his opposition rigidly howls that he ought to change his mind and that is that.

Now, a long time ago I realized that the one who wins an argument is not necessarily "right"; that the one who is most eloquent does not always have a better grasp of the truth than the rest of us. So I can be very confident of my own opinion in the face of disagreement from someone like oldpro. Or I can change it when I see something in the other side that clicks for me.

So why doesn't everyone lay off this "get oldpro" thing? It has gotten to be like bear baiting around here. And a lot of the dogs are getting killed, in a manner of speaking, when there is no need for such a spectacle. (Bears bite back.) But, as you say, it is a fun thing to do for many. Myself, I'd say they protest too much.



December 16, 2004, 5:44 AM

Just to reply to a few comments upthread (I'm having problems getting online so this is super delayed reaction) - l don't think it's fair to say I howled. I didn't mention any one person specifically in my comment, or use the word "elitist." Also, I didn't put a qualitative value judgement on formalism, or use it in a pejorative way. It is one of many ways to think about art. Yes, oldpro is a smart and articulate guy, and I don't doubt he has many years of experience in the art world. There are other posters who get on my nerves more than OP. At least he has a decent sense of humor.

I am fine with disagreeing with people. I enjoyed disagreeing with people during critiques in art school. More than anything, I take issue with the way that some of TVP (it's shorter than writing "The Vocal Posters") (hey! TVP also stands for Textured Vegetable Protein) talk about their (differing) opinions and talk to other posters. Bluntness and honesty and rigorous standards are great, but sometimes, some of TVP come across (perhaps unintentionally?) as speaking with a lot of smugness and swagger, or even arrogance. For me, the result is an at times volatile "commenting culture" (to borrow Dan's phrase) that makes reading this blog compelling in a similar way to say, watching The Swan or [insert name of ridiculous reality TV show here] (i.e., "He did NOT just say that!"). But it's not always so conducive to getting into a really satisfying discussion about art. (Which is not to say there haven't been good discussions here, because there have.)

(Since it might be sort of obvious now (Franklin's comment went up after I finished writing my comment) I out myself as the person who said that to Franklin. But, um, I was sort of speaking more broadly than just about OP, seriously! :) )



December 16, 2004, 5:47 AM


If I am wrong anyone at all is welcome to say why. But if you do not make sense I will say so. I write English and I try to make simple common sense. That is the only place I "come from". Please do not try to ascribe differences of opinion to place, age, profession or any other presumed characteristics. It doesn't wash.


J.T. Kirkland

December 16, 2004, 5:58 AM

Franklin said about oldpro:

"He's not listening to you? And?"

Well, the decent thing to do in a discussion, or a conversation, or an argument, is to listen to the other participating parties. I don't feel oldpro does that. In fact, I don't think several of the commenters here do that. Is it a requirement? No. But come on... show a little courtesy.

He doesn't have to change his mind on anything and I haven't read anyone say he should change his mind. But, he should be open to other ideas. I think he should grant that he might not be right about everything. Why? Because it's the decent thing to do. Decency isn't so prevalent here, at least that I can see. I know you guys are technically from farther south than I am, but in Kentucky where I'm proud to be from, we are big on respect and courtesy. If you're talking with someone, you're mostly listening, partially talking.


J.T. Kirkland

December 16, 2004, 6:01 AM

"I write English and I try to make simple common sense. That is the only place I "come from". "

No oldpro... clearly you are not elitist. I'm sure there is a point to your dig that you speak English (I haven't read any other languages here) and who cares if someone says "come from." You know what is meant by it. This isn't a blog about grammar. Get off your high horse... you're smelling like shit.



December 16, 2004, 6:15 AM

I was responding to Alesh, JT. Quit complaining.



December 16, 2004, 6:19 AM

JT said: in Kentucky where I'm proud to be from, we are big on respect and courtesy. Then he said about oldpro: you're smelling like shit.

JT, do you have any idea how this comes across? But that said, what does it have to do with how great art does or does not "stop thinking"? Can we get back to that, or do we forget about art and just go after each other?



December 16, 2004, 6:20 AM


check the ryhme, yo: 'old-school' does not mean 'old'.
not bad as in bad, but baaad as in good. word.


nuff respect. but if you seriously think 'common sense' is the only place you're comming from . . . i mean, that's almost . . . you don't REALLY think that, do you? There's certinly a lot of sense to everything you say, but it seems to come from a very specific view of aesthetics. A view which seems to be at odds with the prevelant view in the art world today. A view which was not at odds with the art world 40 years ago. Am I wrong??

I call everyone's attention, as I have before, to 'The Art Question', by Nigel Warburton. An interesting point of this book is that art thinking and art criticism change, generally to make the art of the day seem like the center of the universe. He points out flaws in art criticism from the post-impressionist and modernist periods.


J.T. Kirkland

December 16, 2004, 6:23 AM

Oh ok, since you were talking to Alesh that's ok. I'm sorry... I should mind my own business. Actually no... if you're a bastard to someone who doesn't deserve it, especially after saying you are not elitist (when all evidence points to the contrary) I'm going to call you on it. Do you mean to tell me you weren't making a dig on Alesh? If you say no, that's bullshit(pardon the pun).

I just wonder if everyone here is so enamored with your prose and smarts that they don't recognize you're a jerk. I pointed out a perfect example and you told me to quit complaining. The smell is creeping up the east coast...

Justify your comment about "english" and "come from." Tell me how it contributed to the conversation. Or ignore things that clearly point out your faults... that appears to be your style. Your comrades have defended you... I'd like to defend Alesh. Although I hope he calls you on it as well.



December 16, 2004, 6:23 AM

by way of full disclosure, I sheepishly admit to coming down on the side of the urinal. sorry, guys.



December 16, 2004, 6:26 AM

Alesh: If I amend my statement to read In other words, oldpro is too "old-school" in his thinking to be "right" it still means the same thing as what I wrote.

I don't understand what you mean by "baaad as in good. word". Could you enlighten?


J.T. Kirkland

December 16, 2004, 6:29 AM

Dear Catfish -

You said:

"JT said: in Kentucky where I'm proud to be from, we are big on respect and courtesy. Then he said about oldpro: you're smelling like shit.

JT, do you have any idea how this comes across?"

First, the shit comment was in reference to oldpro's "if it looks like shit, and smells like shit" etc... I think he's smelling like shit right now... Not literally of course. But he comes off as elitist... all evidence points to that. So, perhaps it would be easier for you to understand if I said oldpro is looking elitist and smelling elitist... he must be elitist.

Now, to ask me to get back to the point, and not ask oldpro to do the same (again, the "english" and "come from" statements) shows you clearly favor him. Why single me out for something that oldpro has done as well?

I'm sorry that you misunderstood the shit reference. I thought it was a clear reference to an earlier oldpro post. I hope you understand now... I have no clue what he smells like. I'd assume he smells quite nice.



December 16, 2004, 6:30 AM


At least once, I've found myself as pissed off at oldpro as you seem to be right now. Reflecting on that incident now, the most I can accuse him of is ignoring the strong part of my argument and focusing on my weaker points, and, on one occasion, putting words in my mouth. w/r/t "english" and "come from," I'm not sure i care to analyze his intent.

It's an interesting aspect of this sort of text-conversation - people can ignore what you think is the best part of your argument and proceed as though you'd never said something, attacking your weaker moments. This is where a live round-table discussion is preferable. Oh well.

I find that logging off the internet for 24 hours or so works wonders for one's perspective.


J.T. Kirkland

December 16, 2004, 6:32 AM

Alesh -

Don't be sheepish about anything here and don't apologize. That's what these guys want. Be strong!!



December 16, 2004, 6:34 AM

Um . . . ok. By the way, I'd always imagined him smelling of lavender, with a hint of red meat. Nails neatly trimmed. A real class act.


J.T. Kirkland

December 16, 2004, 6:35 AM

Alesh -

We may never know oldpro's intent for pointing out that he writes English and that you said "come from." However, it did not contribute anything to the conversation. Why would he bring it up? Well, I think it is to discredit you and to get a giggle out of his buddies. That's why he didn't explain himself. If all else fails... attack poor grammar!! That's how to win an argument.

Seriously, why on earth would he tell us that he writes in English? He's dissing you my man.



December 16, 2004, 6:37 AM

JT: I've watched oldpro long enough to be confident he will get back to the question as soon as people quit attacking him. His latest statements are in response to attacks that seem mostly ad hominems.

Somethng about your explanation of "smelling like shit" thing does not absolutely convince me, but I'll just accept it as a misunderstanding and hope the conversation will drift back towards art.




December 16, 2004, 6:40 AM

responding to catfish way up in #93~

No; not that he's too old-school to be right. What I'm saying is that us idiot kids put less importance on being "right" and more importance on being able to see all sides of the issue.

I've even been known, in some instances, to say that both sides of an issue are "right" in their own way. Even when they're contradictory. That's right, doublethink, baby! Orwell would be proud.

JT~ He may well be. I can deal.


J.T. Kirkland

December 16, 2004, 6:43 AM

Catfish -

Check out comment #69. I hope that clears up my reference. Perhaps you missed it the first go around... it's been a busy day here.

I agree, back to the art...



December 16, 2004, 7:06 AM

Yes. Back to art. Enough of the evil oldpro.

I have to sign off anyway, but will be happy to continue tomorrow after noon. Massive broadsides of hostility are kind of hard to do battle with, however. It would help if you guys could be a little more specific.

Franklin, I think this page is approaching a record in both volume and vituperation. It is like the old days with Dr. B.



December 16, 2004, 7:11 AM


Lavender? Red meat? Neat fingernails? Good grief!


Phil Isteen

December 16, 2004, 7:12 AM

Seeing that its the middle of a semester-ending grading period I shudder to think what the administration would think of all the time wasted here beating up each other.

At some point during the day, clearly seen here on this blog, aren't some of us on someone's clock, on someone else's dime? Is this why art school tuition is so high?


Phil Isteen

December 16, 2004, 7:16 AM

If the winners are never the whiners, who IS the Kingof the whiners in this blog?



December 16, 2004, 7:18 AM

JT: just for your edification, I was responding to this, from Akesh, way up there somewhere:

"Oldpro gets attacked a lot percisely because of his intelligence. He is reasonable, well-spoken, and very often wrong, which is what makes it so much fun to post on this blog. Where by "wrong" I mean: coming from a very specific, rigid, old-school way of thinking."

I gotta go. This is someone else's machine and they are shutting down.



December 16, 2004, 7:32 AM

Well, at over 100 comments, there certainly has been carrying on, even more than I anticipated back in comment 19. As I also anticipated, this has been a largely fruitless exercise (except for Franklin's hit meter). The fact it's brought out more than usual out of the woodwork is of some interest, but that doesn't change the outcome significantly. The matter was plain enough early on, and it was made even plainer:

"I would never say the Matisse is 'shitty' but it doesn't do as much for me as Duchamp's urinal."

Mr. Kirkland, again, is perfectly entitled to this position. That is not an issue. His taste, beliefs, theories and so on are his business. So let him have the urinal if he likes it and/or it works better for him than "most beautiful paintings." One's either receptive-responsive-attuned to certain things or concepts or one is not. My point is that for people with radically different, if not downright alien, sensibilities to argue with each other like this makes little sense, if any. The way the discussion has seriously degenerated by now only highlights the wastefulness of the enterprise.


Phil Isteen

December 16, 2004, 7:35 AM

ALSO JTK is right in berating those who don't like to taste the medicine prescribed to others... the bitter& impotent who never quite make teachers even...the angry & self-centered & out of shape who don't realize that their so called 'intelligence' is the very thing that stands in the way of moving forward & succeeding.



December 16, 2004, 7:39 AM

There has been a lot of silliness.

But "good art stops thinking" remains a pretty serious, and obviously controversial, claim. To find fault with JT's criticisms of it is still a long way from defending it. This kind of thought can occupy year years of contemplation.



December 16, 2004, 7:43 AM

Maybe we all just need some sleep. The question of whether art provokes thinking or stops thinking is as profound as it is simple, and can be explored for a long time as far as I am concerned.

It says a lot and has the virtue of being extremely clear and to the point. I will be using it in my studio discussions with other artists for a long time.

While I certainly don't expect every other artist to accept it either immediately or ultimately, it has that undisputable ring of truth about it that many will hear in one way or another. I'd be happy to entertain more discussion of it. Tomorrow.



December 16, 2004, 8:21 AM

Lavender? Lavender?

Pardon me while I ROTFLMAO... If you only knew how funny that was... In fact, thank you, because I'm going to tease him about that for years to come...

Just for the record, Miami isn't the South. The South doesn't start until you get north of Palm Beach county. I know that doesn't make any sense geographically, but take my word for it. All those excellent Southern virtues related to courtesy and hospitality basically aren't in effect down here.

I want to thank everyone for getting into the ring today. That was cool.



December 16, 2004, 9:03 AM

At the end of the day it is the viewer who validates a piece put forth for contemplation as a work of art by his or her deliberate consideration. And he or she who decides whether or not to assign meaning to a work.



December 16, 2004, 7:42 PM

You better not, Franklin, or i will scratch your eyes out with my neatly trimmed nails.



December 16, 2004, 8:08 PM




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