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how the phd in art history changed my life - when I blew it off

Post #443 • January 3, 2005, 7:10 AM • 86 Comments

I doubt anyone will moisten their hankies over this, but I have decided once and for all not to pursue a PhD in Art History.

I like to write about art, so I thought of going into a program where I could put that liking to use. Then warning signs began to appear, as if on cue. Goodreads and Modern Kicks began featuring articles about the water-moccasin-filled cesspool that contemporary academe has become, and the people who had added great joy to their lives by refusing it. (Tim, Miguel, if you're reading and have time to throw up some links, I'd gratefully appreciate it.) I consulted with the smart people in my life, who pointed out that critical commentary such as my own will not receive a warm reception among academics (in other words, I am going to politely turn someone's pet theory into a fricassee and spend the rest of my academic career engaged in open warfare). I realized on my own that none of my favorite art writers possess commensurate academic credentials, and I began to suspect that cause, not coincidence, produced that fact.

I'm still considering one program, a very unusual and practical master's that I can apply to Drawing Project. Attending will introduce a logistical nightmare into my life but it may prove worth it.

But besides that, by going through the contemplation, I feel aligned with painting more than ever, and my New Year's resolutions reflect that. Someone else will write the art history. Me, I will do my best to make it.




January 3, 2005, 3:43 PM

I think the Carnegie Mellon program would be much more interesting and useful than a PHD in art history. And it would give you insight about how to launch your Drawing project..Or it could open doors in other art management opportunities but of course...
will it obliterate your own art...
I hope not!!! Keep us posted...



January 3, 2005, 4:35 PM

Way to go Franklin. Keep swinging for the fences, not the dugouts already full of footnotes and other drivel.



January 3, 2005, 6:03 PM

After reading Roger Kimball's The Rape of the Masters, which documents in considerable and disgusting detail the depths to which academics have sunk, I understand your decision completely. The stuff in the book is so outrageous that it's often difficult to believe, but it's all factual and backed up with relevant references. That such outright charlatans could ever get anywhere, let alone the top of their field, is damning indeed.



January 3, 2005, 7:26 PM

I think most academics invite criticism of their theoretical works—like any good academic, art historians have taken Popper's falsification instruction to heart, and they are the first to look for weaknesses in their work. If they're worth their salt. Turning away from the academy is entirely respectable, but I don't understand the hostility that so many art writers feel toward higher education.



January 3, 2005, 7:39 PM

Anyone who reads The Rape of the Masters can easily understand Kimball's hostility (and mine) to the rotting corpses of perverted scholarship he dissects. They are, by and large, beneath contempt.



January 3, 2005, 8:14 PM


it is not hostility toward "art education" - which is the phrase you used - it is hostility toward the sort of thing that goes on within some parts of higher education, and seems to have come to dominate the field of art history, as outlined in the book by Roger Kimball Jack is alluding to.

Its true; this stuff is really criminal, literally criminal, because we are using public and private money to support it in the name of education.



January 3, 2005, 9:10 PM

Sorry Kriston - "higher education" is the phrase you used.



January 3, 2005, 9:14 PM

I've read the book, but I don't find that Kimball makes a compelling case that multi-culti postmodernism presents either a prevalent or particularly compelling threat to art criticism. He cherrypicks a few examples of difficult or abstruse scholarship and condemns whole-cloth the academics in question. For example, I don't think that Michael Fried's body of work is represented whatsoever by the texts Kimball quotes, but regardless, one can disagree with one instance of Fried's criticism and still appreciate or at least acknowledge the other contributions he made. Heidegger clearly made controversial claims in aesthetics, and citing him as representative of mainstream scholarship is misleading.

Worse still, Kimball's smug tone betrays a tendency to rely on his readers to accept or share his biases. Instead of a useful and principled disagreement with either the critics or the major tenets of postmodernism, he contents himself to mock them and invite the reader to join in the joke.

But this is all beside the relevant point: graduate education isn't an indoctrination, and no one need become a postmodernist. Good scholarship is certainly being done in contradicting the postmodernists, and that work will be far more useful for developing art criticism than Kimball's mocking a few scholars.



January 3, 2005, 9:30 PM

I've managed a few interns from the program (CMU Arts Management) and from what I understand, it's geared much more towards theater and the performing arts. CMU does not have an art history program, and though their MFA program is better than many, I'm not so sure about Arts Management as a route for someone who is, still, an art historian. I only say this because I, too, decided not to go the Phd route and looked into CMU when I first moved back to the 'burgh. Lots of crazy theater kids and buisness classes, plus math requirements (enough right there to send me packing!)

Congrats on deciding against spending six years with your snout up Ros Krauss' ass or whatever.




January 3, 2005, 10:05 PM

What Kimball mocks in his book eminently deserves mockery. It deserves worse. Even if the examples he cites are not completely representative of all the work done by the academics in question (and in at least some cases he says that), they are still disgraceful and ludicrous enough to call into serious question the credibility of said academics and the institutions behind them. I most certainly question it.

Once any supposed authority makes such a blatant muddle as those Kimball describes, cherry-picked or not, I go into immediate red alert mode. There is no excuse for such tortuous, contrived rubbish.



January 3, 2005, 10:13 PM


I certainly think that the image you present at the end of your post would dissuade anyone.


You say "graduate education isn't an indoctrination", but in fact at many schools it is just that. Kimball may be picking what he wants to pick and using a mocking and sarcastic tone - that is his style - but what he is pointing to is all to true and all too prevalent.



January 3, 2005, 10:16 PM

Here is what Lynne Munson, the Deputy Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, says about recent developments in art history. Munson, like the Chairman of the NEH, is herself trained as an art historian.

I look at the art history department at Harvard which, in 1874, was the first English or American university to offer an art history course. Harvard spent a century turning out students with an encyclopedic knowledge of art and extensive firsthand exposure to art objects. In course after course students would learn about art by examining objects of the highest quality at close range. In fact, the collection of Harvard's Fogg Art Museum was so central to the graduate program that students were said to be enrolled not at Harvard but "at the Fogg." Graduates included future directors of the National Gallery of Art and the Metropolitan Museum, the founding director of the Museum of Modern Art, and the current directors of New York's four largest art museums.

But as postmodern theory swept the discipline in the early 1980s much of Harvard's art history faculty all but divorced itself from the Fogg museum and even talked about selling off its collection. Soon classes from the freshman survey to the graduate seminar level were stripped of their connoisseurial components. And a new faculty member named T. J. Clark, who had become a rising star in the profession by advocating for an art history concerned more with social context than with art objects themselves, told his students that they could not also study with Sydney Freedberg, the department's senior connoisseur. This boycott essentially pushed Freedberg into early retirement and marked the end of the tradition of connoisseurship at Harvard. By 1995 the program had changed so dramatically that a Washington Post art critic could write almost matter-of-factly about how "Marxism, semiotics, structuralism, radical feminism and other ideologies have swept Harvard's fine arts department."

Now you may ask: Why be concerned with how professors teach art history in the enclaves of Harvard and the like? It's for one simple reason: The kind of shift we saw at Harvard, away from objects and toward politicizing art history, is not merely "academic," because other institutions follow suit.

For example, under the rubric of what is called the "new museology," some art historians now advocate turning the traditional art museum, which was dedicated to providing an unfettered forum for learning through looking, into a new revisionist institution committed to challenging the importance of Western art. Although some museums have resisted this trend, where the new museology has been embraced its impact is evident inside the museum and out.

Munson hits a nail on its head. What's wrong with art history is that it has divorced itself from art objects, attaching instead to words and theories. And that T. J. Clark would not accept students who studied with someone of an opposing point of view -- that points to why it is a good idea to avoid academic settings if you can.

You can read Munson's whole essay at:


It places these remarks about art history into the context of intolerance that is so often practiced as part of Postmodernism.



January 4, 2005, 12:17 AM

I don't think that Munson has ever practiced the theory she preaches—a sympathizer to the excoriation of the NEA 4 could hardly be said to be putting the art above the politics. And "object-oriented" strikes me as an empty if not coded term. What could "object-oriented" mean in this context except of a politics different from the politics that she rejects?

But more to the point: What about postmodernism as a theory is so objectionable that the whole academy should be condemned along with it? For example: once upon a time, New Criticism rained supreme. At a later date both Freudian and Jungian models became popular in academia. None of those has a strong following any longer—one could say that history has proved these theories wrong, or better yet, not useful. It's entirely worth reading them to get an idea of how they and where they faltered or what convincing points they added.

Her principal problem is with art, not theory, except insomuch as the theory does not condemn art she describes as "pornographic." She would prefer art to be apolitical, but that's the myth that postmodernism reveals: you can't mandate that certain artists or texts or theories be eliminated for their politics without mandating another set of politics.



January 4, 2005, 1:14 AM


The last time anything ever "rained supreme" Noah built an ark. I think this is the feeling many of us have when we experience the deluge of postmodernism. (The word you are looking for is "reigned")

Furthermore, please read more carefully; Ms Munson is an official of the NEH, not the NEA. There is a difference.

"Object oriented" means that you pay attention to the art and the clear and describable characteristics and effects of the art. It is not a complex notion, nor is it "coded".

I think it is redundant to ask "what is so objectionable" after several people have taken pains to point out what is so objectionable. If you disagree with what Munson, for example, has said, then disagree; don't ask a question which has been answered.

As for new Criticism, Freud, et al, what's your point? Clearly the fact that these were ineffectual at making literal sense of art, and faded from sight, simply testifies that Postmodernism, like these other fallible attempts to explain much of anything about art, may well follow in turn.

And, furthermore, Munson's "principle problem", as clearly stated above, is with neither art nor theory, but how people treat art and art education in the academy. She is not saying that art cannot be used in a political way, but that the study of art should be devoted to the art. The politics orf art, I am sure she would agree, belong in a Politics or Sociology classroom.

I suggest you read other comments more closely and think a little more clearly, if possible.



January 4, 2005, 1:21 AM

Kriston - What could "object-oriented" mean in this context except of a politics different from the politics that she rejects? If everything is politics, which some believe, this question is going to answer itself - but I doubt it will answer it correctly.

I have no objection to higher education per se, but I have clues that lead me to believe that a PhD in Art History would do me little good. I want to write about art - well, no one is stopping me at the moment, and I can say what I like, in the way that I like it. I have a contentious nature, so much so that I relate to Robert Hughes and his style (get in the ring, swing 'til the other guy's down). To me, Kimball sounds much less smug and less reliant on reader agreement than Judith Butler. I think of myself as a painter who writes. I have an angle that isn't going to go over in an academic environment.

I don't even have objections to postmodernism per se - I object to nonsense, and many postmodernist roads lead there.

Sarah, thanks for the info. The CMU program doesn't provide the right path for an art historian, just as you say. The contact there described the program as having all of the information you'd get in an MBA, but directed at the arts sector. The math requirements scare me less than the language requirements typical of the PhD. (NYU wanted me to come in with French and German. Non, danke. I'll take calculus any day.) I feel ambivalent about the nonprofit angle, as someone who went through the 2003 80% statewide budget cuts down here. I told the contact about Drawing Project, and she encouraged me to apply.

Thank you for that priceless image.



January 4, 2005, 1:33 AM

We got links.

Modern Kicks today.

Modern Kicks cited post.

James Panero's New Criterion article upon which Modern Kicks commented.

Goodread's PhD slapdown.

Many, many thanks to Miguel and Tim.



January 4, 2005, 2:10 AM

Franklin: Those are, of course, entirely reasonable explanations for not going to graduate school. I think that there are certainly even more.

oldpro: I don't think you should be so eager to dismiss my comment until you've realized what it is I'm saying. Munson wrote a book titled Exhibitionism: Art in an Era of Intolerance, in which she discusses the notorious NEA 4 (Tim Miller, Karen Finley, John Fleck, and Holly Hughes) but pins the "intolerance" not on the political and social actors trying to censor these artists (and Serrano and Mapplethorpe) but on an art world that, according to Munson, promotes a radical left-wing agenda. This may be your opinion as well; my point was that Munson is hardly a disinterested observer. Regardless of how loudly she screams that she wants the politics out of art, she pursues the same political agenda vis-a-vis contemporary art as Jessie Helms.

"Object oriented" means that you pay attention to the art and the clear and describable characteristics and effects of the art.

I strongly disagree that art is so maddeningly simple. As if art were composed of objects that simply dictate essentialist meanings at you when you walk up to them in a museum. I find it hard to believe that after the whole of the 20th century, anyone would maintain this view. Munson provides the foil to her own conceit: What is the "object-oriented" interpretation of Serrano's Piss Christ? Or Cattelan's La Nona Ora? She will say that there is none, because these works don't qualify as art—in her opinion. Why? Because they are "shocking" to some people, Munson included. Please. That's not art theory. It's intolerance disguised as a traditionalist sense of standards of beauty. Real art criticism stands to evaluate whether the work is successful according to some rubric, not whether it's pleasant, would fit above your mantle, and doesn't offend the family.

You do make two correct points: I made two typos (mea culpa), and I agree with you that Clark was wrong to impose upon his students with regard to Freedberg. But that concern seems to me to be a biographical detail largely ancillary to the question of whether one or the other was more correct. After all, if we discounted the work of artists and art critics for their personally held beliefs or behaviors, I don't know that there would be much left to discuss.



January 4, 2005, 2:47 AM

Kriston, can you comment here every day? I'm serious.



January 4, 2005, 2:58 AM

Sorry, I didn't know what the "NEA 4" was. But can't you "excoriate" these artists because you think their art is crap? it seems to me that is what she is doing. I think it is crap and I couldn't care less what kind of "wing" it goes under. And you really should not equate her stance with Helms's, becasue Helm's was, in fact, making political hay aout of it, and she seems to be acting from a standpoint of personal outrage. But even if she isn't, so what?

I never said art was simple. I just said what "object oriented" is. This is what I do. I go to art and look at it and see if I like it. That is simple. It doesn't make anything else simple..

I saw "Piss Christ" in a gallery in the late '80. It was large and yellow and in a stylish wide black frame. I looked at it as a work of art, and it struck me as bland and inert, and, knowing the gallery., I wondered why they chose to give him a show. Then I read the label, and I understood. It wasn't "shocking". Give me a break! it was simply silly, and (pardon the pun) "mainstream". Crappy, inane, dull art with a "shocking" label. Snore. And please, at this point in our art history, don't haul out the old "fits above mantlepiece" routine. Geez! And there is nothing at all wrong with being "intolerant" of crappy art. Or nonsense. We need more of that kind of intolerance, not less. And I say this in full awareness that the word "intolerance" is a major PC no-no.

You end saying "if we discounted the work of artists and art critics for their personally held beliefs or behaviors, I don't know that there would be much left to discuss." Can Munson get included in this burst of generosity? It doesn't look like it.



January 4, 2005, 3:04 AM

As if art were composed of objects that simply dictate essentialist meanings at you when you walk up to them in a museum. I find it hard to believe that after the whole of the 20th century, anyone would maintain this view.

Hardly anyone does. It's a caricature of formalism that one finds among postmodernists. Your statement about essentialist meanings doesn't follow from his statement about paying attention to describable characteristics of the art.



January 4, 2005, 3:17 AM

I forgot to ask:

"Real art criticism stands to evaluate whether the work is successful according to some rubric..."

Are you using rubric to mean class, category, name or title? If so I don't understand this.



January 4, 2005, 4:08 AM

Any school of thought that condones (which doesn't mean "allows to exist"), let alone promotes or exalts, the sort of painfully convoluted, ridiculous twaddle described by Kimball, is neither credible nor respectable, and is thus unworthy of serious consideration. Anyone is free and welcome to take it seriously, of course, just as I'm free to reject and dismiss it, along with those who support it (at least insofar as art is concerned). I will not suffer a Rosalind Krauss, say, even if everyone on Harvard's faculty and administration swears by his/her life that Krauss is right. They don't matter, and neither does she.

Incidentally, Kimball's essay on Krauss (included in his highly readable Art's Prospect) is most interesting, even morbidly fascinating.



January 4, 2005, 5:59 AM

Kriston, you seem to take the 100 years of the 20th century as something like the gold standard for dealing with art. I understand that art has been going on for more like 20,000 to 50,000 years. 100 years is less than 1/2 a percent of the larger figure.

I would not give automatic, unquestioned credence to such a small segment of art-history, especially when it goes out on a tangent that attempts to negate the first 99 1/2 percent. Rather, I would say the "new standards" are not likely to endure.

Having said this, it remains that the art of the 20th century that is most certainly good aligns with the earlier 99 1/2 percent, not the far out stuff.



January 4, 2005, 6:39 AM

Re: Munson

The myth of a Monolithic Postmodernism is just as much of a straw man as that of a Unitary Modernism. Only rhetoric is served by such shallow reductions. Enough already.



January 4, 2005, 7:00 AM

To come full circle, I am less enamored with Krauss than I am displeased with Kimball. He could do better than to extract her final conclusions and mock them as sounding ridiculous (without any context). Sure, any pomo terminology—any theoretical terminology at all—would sound ridiculous by his presentation. If his sole point is to say that her terminology sounds ridiculous—as in, the words sound senseless when presented to the ear (as new words do)—then he might there succeed. But if his point is to disprove her, then his case suffers from poor argumentation. For example, here is Kimball on Krauss:

Professor Krauss even uses many of the same decorations with which she festooned earlier volumes. Bataille’s photograph of a big toe, for example, which I like to think of as her mascot, reappears. As does her favorite doodle, a little graph known as a “Klein Group” or “L Schema” whose sides and diagonals sport arrows pointing to corners labeled with various opposing pairs: e.g., “ground” and “not ground,” “figure” and “not figure.” Professor Krauss seems to believe that this device, lifted from the pages of structuralist theory, illuminates any number of deep mysteries: the nature of modernism, to begin with, but also the essence of gender relations, self-consciousness, perception, vision, castration anxiety, and other pressing conundrums that, as it happens, she has trouble distinguishing from the nature of modernism. Altogether, the doodle is a handy thing to have around. One is not surprised that Professor Krauss reproduces it many times in her new book.

Well, that certainly makes Krauss sound silly. I don't know why, though, and Kimball doesn't go on to explain why, either. That's because he doesn't set as his goal any proof that Krauss's schema are incorrect or that he has better schema. If Kimball says disapprovingly, "Professor Krauss seems to believe that this device, lifted from the pages of structuralist theory, illuminates any number of deep mysteries," it would follow that Kimball disagrees. One would assume that he would then explain why. He doesn't. He is, in fact, appealing to a base anti-intellectualism that suggests that the reader should be as mortified as he is that someone would propose structuralist diagrams. And that that should be the end of the investigation.

I am not offended by structuralist diagrams (though I am not convinced by Krauss, either, and I am not writing to apologise for her), so I find Kimball's argument contrived and unconvincing.

By a somewhat similar (but far more appalling) token, Munson suggests that the reader should be as mortified as she is that someone would propose to make shocking art. Her goal, however, is not to discredit the artists by mocking them, but to suppress them. She is fueled by a deep, conservative paranoia about formal exposure for women and minorities or other historical (i.e., non-Western) narratives:

The new museology has challenged the traditional museum's presentation of the history of art as a continuous evolution of creative development proceeding from ancient Greece through the Italian Renaissance up to modern America. Revisionists have dubbed this arrangement the master narrative. Most museums have disrupted it, often by positioning some non-western collections at the front of the museum where there is often a gift shop, and a café, and perhaps a space for temporary exhibitions, so that museum visitors can, in the words of one revisionist art historian, "Visit the museum, see a show, go shopping and eat, and never once be reminded of the heritage of civilization."

To answer oldpro's question, it is of course appropriate to be outraged by art. But as she has made clear in her political career, her goal is to dismantle American art programs, suppress the art that offends her, and buttress the narrowest conceivable art historical narrative to the exclusion of rival narratives. It is acceptable to have a political agenda, but I strongly agree with the goals of her agenda, and find ludicrous her presentation of herself as an apolitical arts avatar defending art against base multi-culti pomos. Were she to say, "This painting's a piece of shit," we may or may not agree, but it would be totally acceptable.



January 4, 2005, 7:44 AM

Kimball says at one point in Rape that you don't disprove a disease, you resist it. I agree with Dan that monolithic postmodernism doesn't exist (I await his suggestions for alternate terms or descriptive labels; heck, I'll take anyone's), but Kimball doesn't make Krauss sound silly - Krauss already sounds silly, and Kimball is pointing that out. Kimball supports basing interpretations on observable facts about art objects - something he needs not state every time he skewers his targets with his usual amusing aplomb.

My complaint about Munson's quote above is that I don't generally see the museums arranged the way she describes, so again, we're coming back to describable properties. What she says doesn't sound right. Neither does Kriston's statement that she characterizes herself as an "apolitical arts avatar" - did she claim somewhere to harbor no politics? - nor does she sound paranoid, and I can no evidence that she is trying to suppress art that offends her. (Criticize, sure, but suppress?) Suppress, essentialist - I recognize the buzzwords, and heavens, what deep ruts they've carved in the road.



January 4, 2005, 8:11 AM

Kraus says plenty of silly things other than what Kimball describes. One only has to read the gibberish she writes. I won't try to characterize it. Just go read it.

Kriston is saying a lot of things about Munson, extreme things, imputing motives and intentions which are not demonstrated by any substantial facts nor by the short excerpt he quotes, which merely exhibits a certain amount of dismay at what is being done by museums. His accusations here are unsupportable and irresponsible.



January 4, 2005, 8:35 AM

If someone who's drunk, stoned, demented or otherwise mentally compromised spouts a load of outlandish gibberish, or something to that effect, I'm not about to refute, "disprove" or argue with the person. There's no point, as far as I'm concerned, and I won't waste my time that way. Either someone is credible and reasonable to me or s/he's not, and that's my decision. If s/he's not, I'm simply not interested, regardless of position, reputation, popularity, zeal of devoted followers and so on.

In other words, if someone's a sufficiently abject clown to confabulate his way to absurdity, as epitomized by David Lubin's incredible take on Sargent's "The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit" (read Rape of the Masters), I'm not going to stand around chewing the fat (more like offal) with the guy. I can't begin to take him seriously. Game over.



January 4, 2005, 8:43 AM

OK, I don't want to paint my position as more strident as it is. I'm not saying that Lynne Munson wants to ban the paint off your brush. But if you read her book, or read about her work with Lynne Cheney at NEH, one can see that she supports what happened to John Frohnmayer and the NEA 4 and also the controversial cultural "flagging" that was practice when she assisted Ms. Cheney. That controversy came about after it was revealed that the NEH was flagging for dismissal proposals content that dealt with issues pertaining to gender, race, and slavery (the famous "not for me!" stamp). Not to get too Guerilla Girls about it, but I would call that small-s suppression.

I definitely did not intend the single quote to characterize entirely Munson's position—just my narrow point about her. Mary Jacoby has written about Munson in her reporting, but Munson's book is the best indication of her leanings.

As for Krauss—sure, I don't find her theory convincing at all, but that hardly serves as an adequate base for dismissing the entirety of postmodernism (Jack). I think, though, that if Kimball wants to advance his preferred theory over Krauss's, ought to come up with a better reddress than, "She simply sounds ridiculous" (oldpro). So I don't find Kimball convincing. It's true that he doesn't have to be convincing all the time (Franklin), but if he were not suffering from a serious case of confirmation bias, he wouldn't assume that his audience already sympathizes with his position. I don't.



January 4, 2005, 8:54 AM

I agree with Dan that monolithic postmodernism doesn't exist (I await his suggestions for alternate terms or descriptive labels; heck, I'll take anyone's)

I wouldn't say we need to dispose of the term altogether. It's certainly fine when discussing a particular time period or certain general tendencies. Our discussions always need some sort of anchors, however imperfect. But it has its limits. When it comes to dealing with specific arguments, I find the term ill-equipped, especially when such arguments entertain any notion that "postmodernism" as such can be easily thought of as a doctrine or school of thought.

When Munson says "Postmodernism is a spinoff from deconstruction," though her confused taxonomy may be beside the general point, it is rather revealing: it's clear that we are not dealing with a reasoned critique but rather a bitter harangue. The partial and extreme acounting of postmodern thought such criticism puts forth is a set up job, akin to (as I alluded to above) the rhetorical maneuvers of the proponents of Postmodernism as an anti-Modernism who held all of the Moderns to account for the Late Modernist excesses of their own ridiculously exaggerated image of Greenberg. (Franklin: "a caricature of formalism that one finds among postmodernists.")

The rational determination in any matter thus layed out turns out to be determined from square one, simply by virtue of the disingenuousness of the rhetorical exaggeration leveled at its opposition. The deck is stacked and the house always wins.

Taking thinkers and artists to task for their ridiculousness is super and all (in other words, let Krauss have it). But let's strive to avoid the easy broad brushes and actually give consideration to the ideas for a bit. This might offer us a view on some viable alternatives—an elusive 'third way' in place of this bipolar game of gotcha.

(It should go without saying that I'm as guilty as anyone when it comes to the aforementioned sins. Still, I think my point stands.)



January 4, 2005, 9:13 AM

And it should be noted that even in my comment I do indeed paint with a fairly broad brush myself... Never said it would be easy : )



January 4, 2005, 3:14 PM

Dan: I actually think we do need a new term or set of terms to replace "postmodernism." I think the Culture Wars ('90s-era) version of PoMo was more monolithic and more squarely anti-modernist, and we're now seeing things that draw from that attitude without harboring all the ideology. If PoMo doesn't derive from broader theories of Deconstructionism, someone's going to have to enlighten me to the contrary; in fact, I don't even hear how that characterization sounds pejorative (as in a "harangue"). And if my point above used PoMo as a straw man, I'd like to hear what more appropriately labeled group tends to reduce exhortations to respect the observable properties of the object to "essentialist" tendencies and dismiss them.

Kriston: I feel a little sympathy for your position, insofar as I have learned by experiment that stridency burns up your readers' goodwill, and Kimball's hand comes down hard. But wide tracts of the PoMo enterprise, despite the highest professional accolades, have a sign on it that says Kick Me, and Kimball does an excellent job of it. Again, I have no objections to PoMo per se, just nonsense.

I don't feel convinced that the refusal to fund work with public money constitutes even small-s suppression, but I have unusual ideas about that.

Tuesday's post is going to come in late - I have to go make some money this morning.



January 4, 2005, 3:22 PM

Kriston refers to "the excoriation of the NEA 4" as if it is impossible to deny such grants for any other reason than politics. Underneath that is a distinct insinuation that the government is obligated to fund such works or be guilty of censorship.

What would be the fuss if a Norman Rockwell devotee did not get funded?



January 4, 2005, 5:09 PM

I don't feel convinced that the refusal to fund work with public money constitutes even small-s suppression, but I have unusual ideas about that.

I think you may be putting the cart before the horse. It wasn't the case that the Cheney/Munson administration at NEH were refusing to fund art because they were ideologically focused on getting the government out of the business of art criticism. They were there, in fact, to fund art that was deemed worthy by some criteria x. Instead Cheney flagged for dismissal works that dealt with certain subjects she abhorred—the usual sensitive topics, such as gender, homosexuality, and discussions on race. It was her intention to suppress ideas.

But on the point, you're not alone. Jonathan Chait wrote a column some time ago advising Democrats to give up the NEA in order to woo voters, writing exactly that the government shouldn't be in the business of arts criticism. Bush's recent NEA funding increase notwithstanding, a large bloc of the GOP has disapproved of the NEA/NEH since the 90s brouhahas. I could be convinced on the point . . . but I think that some of the agencies' other initiatives are worthwhile.



January 4, 2005, 5:51 PM

I agree that the government should not be in the business of art criticism, because these sort of accusations can be made regardless of what criteria are used to decide what gets funded. Whoever doesn't get funded can accuse the government of supression (small or big 's,' depending how indignent they feel).

My understanding is that most of the NEA's money funds art organizations anyway. All of it should. Those sorts of problems are somewhat lessened that way (though of course not avoided alltogether).


An obviously intelligent commenter makes his first post ever on Artblog. You open your response by making fun of his typos. Nice work, buddy. Why don't you make fun of his hipster glasses, too?



January 4, 2005, 5:57 PM

Artists like those mentioned here made art which the average person as well as people in government found abhorrent. This provocation was deliberate. The Endowments funded some of this art and politicians like Helms found it easy to use the endowments as a political target. There was plenty of art "dealing with issues" such as you mention that got funded previously; what became a target was stuff like photos of men with fists up their ass and the like. If you make art like this and a public agency funds it there will be a predictable reaction. This is not my opinion or "take" on the matter, it is just simple reality. Everyone involved was grinding the system for their own benefit. All this huffing and puffing about "censorship" is a bit disingenuous and very self-serving.

As in the case of Kraus, I would advise everyone to read Munson's book and decide on the merits. I was on various NEA and art-related government committees in the late 70s and I saw much of what she describes going on. Her account is highly anecdotal and, although it represents one point of view, gives a fairly accurate historical picture of the change which took place over the years at the NEA.



January 4, 2005, 6:08 PM

Come on, Alesh, lighten up. That wasn't a typo, it was a misreading of a common phrase, it was begging for correction and I did it in a joking way.



January 4, 2005, 6:10 PM

I happen to think that certain governmental bodies have declined to fund my work, which is oriented toward beauty and formal strength, because those values are abhorrent to their ideologies. If you look at it just so you can find oppression anywhere. Munson, I think, was appropriating PoMo cant about elitism and oppression in her work - some of it comes off as tongue-in-cheek rather than paranoid to my ear, while some of the PoMo cant really does sound paranoid.



January 4, 2005, 6:46 PM

None of my comments above mentions postmodernism, "PoMo" or any other blanket designation. I have consistently anchored myself to Franklin's original topic for this post, which relates to trouble in art academia. I have referred to specific egregious examples of that problem expounded upon by Kimball's writing. All said examples are unacceptable to me, and any "authority" or school of thought, be it PoMo or whatever else, that condones or promotes such tripe is, at the very least, highly dubious in my eyes. If that was not clearly understood, I trust it will be now.



January 4, 2005, 6:52 PM

And if my point above used PoMo as a straw man, I'd like to hear what more appropriately labeled group tends to reduce exhortations to respect the observable properties of the object to "essentialist" tendencies and dismiss them.

My remarks weren't directed at you, Franklin. Munson was the primary target. ("Re: Munson")



January 4, 2005, 9:10 PM

I happen to think that certain governmental bodies have declined to fund my work, which is oriented toward beauty and formal strength, because those values are abhorrent to their ideologies. If you look at it just so you can find oppression anywhere.

But an important distinction must be made. The Cheney/Munson administration at NEH weren't making decisions about merit or value. They weren't judging them at all—they were preventing them from reaching the jury.



January 4, 2005, 9:12 PM

Pardon if that was unclear—Cheney/Munson weren't judging the proposals.



January 4, 2005, 9:20 PM

The Cheney/Munson administration at NEH weren't making decisions about merit or value. They weren't judging them at allthey were preventing them from reaching the jury.

Not to mention nixing them after they'd already been approved by the jury (or at least that was my impression).



January 4, 2005, 9:48 PM

I think the Culture Wars ('90s-era) version of PoMo was more monolithic and more squarely anti-modernist, and we're now seeing things that draw from that attitude without harboring all the ideology. If PoMo doesn't derive from broader theories of Deconstructionism, someone's going to have to enlighten me to the contrary; in fact, I don't even hear how that characterization sounds pejorative (as in a "harangue").

As far as I'm concered, postmodernism is the big tent here and Deconstructionism the narrow (albeit expansive) theory.

Any complete account of postmodern thought would have to wrestle with neo-Marxism, feminism, post-feminism, Structuralism, post-Structuralism, Deconstructionism, post-Freudianism, Lacanianism, post-colonialism, Situationism, Conceptualism, multiculturalism, nihilism, anarchism, populism, intellectualism, contextualism, et cetera, ad nauseism. There is considerable overlap and borrowing between these various paths, as well as any number of common threads; there are also numerous contrasts and conflicts.

Postmodernism as a "spinoff from deconstruction" would be alright, I suppose, if you limit your purview to Deconstructionist postmodernism, but that would be rather redundant. This is not to sell Derrida's probably regrettably vast influence short, but it would still be slicing the era rather thinly. As it is, there are innumerable contradictory descriptions and theories of the postmodern, all suited to the particular argument at hand.

Some would argue the postmodernism era was born in the streets of Paris, May 1968. Others see its seed in Nietzschean skepticism (also the fount of the Modern era). Many find it in the rise of globalism, the wake of WWII or the midst of Vietnam. In art, it's often held to begin with Duchamp (or proto-pomo, otherwise considered a Modernist), or in the neo-Dada of Pop, or in the rise of Minimalism and the theories of Smithson, or in the developments of Conceptualist, performance or media art. Many consider the postmodern project to be an extension or latest iteration of the Modern. Others see it as inimical to or flatly critical of it—as fundamentally anti-Modern. Lyotard holds postmodernism to be, anachronously, the nascent stage of Modernism, thus identifying it with the vital avant-garde against a straw man of late Modern decadence. Seems to me we're dealing with a genuine variety of ideas and cultural phenomena here.

And as far as thinkers are concerned, one simply can't roll up Foucault, Barthes, Baudrillard, Derrida, Lacan and Lyotard together into a comfy little ball. Throw in Jameson, Krauss, Foster, Buchloh, Bell (Daniel), Judd, McLuhan, Eagleton, Mulvey, and so forth, and we've got a cacophony. I would just as soon hope to reconcile Sartre, Benjamin, Adorno, Shapiro, Bell (Clive) and Greenberg with Marx, Nietzsche, Hegel and Kant into a suscinct account of the Modern era. Probably not impossible, but requiring far more thought and consideration than the rhetorical imperative generally allows.

Again, this is mostly beside the point if we're talking in general terms. But Munson purports to offer us a brief intellectual history and description of postmodern thought:

The art wars erupted at the apex and throughout the waning days of what is widely referred to as the postmodern era. Postmodernism is a spinoff from deconstruction, a set of theories most everyone here is familiar with, that dominated humanities scholarship throughout the 1980s and 1990s. According to deconstructionists, what we believe to be true--about past events and historical figures long considered significant, or about the merit of artistic and literary treasures--is actually a propagandistic illusion perpetuated by the powerful.

Postmodernists would argue, for example, that Leonardo da Vinci's place in the history of art is less a result of qualitative judgment than of Eurocentric influence, both now and in the past. To this way of thinking, the best artists and the most useful scholars are those that eschew the search for eternal truths and instead engage in an ongoing struggle for power.

It's not so much that this description has the character of a harangue. It is a set up for one. As with all straw men, there is a recognizable truth here, but for the sake of her argument Munson exaggerates or selectively reads the theories she militates against. It's certainly not as ridiculous a caricature as many, but it serves its purpose as an oversimplified mischaracterization. The tough rhetorical work is done, as anyone with eyes to see can already tell that this Postmodernism she speaks of is really a ridiculous thing!

We've danced this two-step before. As Franklin attests, it's the dominant mode of the culture wars, where the theorists say...

My Postmodernism is a textured opening up of the field out of the narrow and facile essentialism of a Eurocentric Modern formalism...

Our anti-PoMo project is a rational reawakening that promises to rescue the Culture from this ridiculous and nonsensical Postmodernism that considers da Vinci to be no more than some dead white man...

"isms" are necessary as anchors or aids for thought and discussion. Sometimes, however, they get in the way. And (returning, if briefly, to the original point of the post here) judging the quality of higher education based on such culture war residue is pretty ungenerous. (Which is of course not to say that there are not many good reasons to eschew the ivory tower.)



January 4, 2005, 10:03 PM

Dan: thank you for demonstrating why it is not necessary for an artist to understand art criticism. Or, to paraphase Rothko (I think?) why birds do not have to know anything about ornithology.

But you do raise a question: does any art theorist understand art theory? And would it make any difference if he or she did? In fact, does art theory make any difference to art?

In any case, nice litany of isms. One of the best I've ever seen.



January 4, 2005, 10:25 PM

Screw the isms. It either makes sense or it doesn't

I think it was Newman, Catfish.



January 4, 2005, 11:47 PM

Yes, I remember now. Barney Newman.



January 5, 2005, 4:32 AM

I must thank you all for the humbling experience of this blog.

"for demonstrating why it is not necessary for an artist to understand art criticism"
For letting me off the hook for not contributing any isms (of which art criticism is one)

As I have stated to my friends "I love anarchy but hate chaos"
And all the isms put me in a state of chaos, even panic sometimes.
But does not diminish by awe of the contributors here today.
I hope to continue to be enlightened...



January 5, 2005, 5:50 AM

Hardcore acedemia is a weird thing; this holds for any topic, some much more so then art history. On this blog there's no shortage of people dismissing this stuff as irrelevant at best. But to the average person it's very existence is a non-entity. Sure, stuff from the acedeme (??) does filter down to our daily lives from time to time, though probably in few fields less so then in art history. Bearing all that in mind, I find it laughable to get upset about people flinging about wild, improbable theories.

If the good art survives, as many of you have claimed, then acedemia cannot hurt it in the long run. Acedemia is mainly a way to look at what HAS happened, test out some theories about it, and for a few smart people to have some interesting arguments.

In the long run, no harm done.



January 5, 2005, 6:27 AM

alesh: Indeed, nothing done.



January 5, 2005, 7:04 AM

Alesh, I hope you're right about the long run, but I observe that these otherwise dissmissable theories find real application in the museums, galleries, and magazines. They become the basis for connoiseurship or the avoidance of it, and have economic impact on the lives of people in the art world. Good art will survive the nonsense, but I would like to see it do more than survive.



January 5, 2005, 7:27 AM

I must second what Franklin says, and then some. It is not the academy as such that takes the life from art as much as the academic attitude within an art, "within" as a cancer is within. Art can survive and even gain strength from the misunderstanding and censorship and opposition we all carry on about, but it cannot survive if it dies at the core. I think a case could be made that this happened to what we used to call "classical" musical composition. It can happen, is already happening, to visual art. it is not Jesse Helms who will do us in, it is the art professor who tells his students that art is nothing but a signpost to "larger issues", and the students who leave the classroom believing it.

Beware the enemy within.



January 5, 2005, 5:28 PM

oldpro: it is not clear to me that the cause of the decline in visual art is "the art professor". After spending almost 40 years in the art academy, it is quite clear to me that almost all art professors are followers, not leaders.

But they do operate as part of a larger herd that certainly includes them - along with art historians, art writers, gallery types, musuem curators, and so on. It is hard to tell who leads these people; they move almost simultaneously, motivated apparently by the fear of being left out, aided by a gut instinct for what direction the herd is taking right now. That instinct is not sophisticated, despite the appearance of targeting the "next great thing". Instead, they are like a herd of cattle on stampede, going nowhere, even as they cause great trouble for anything that gets in the way of their random movements. The "next great thing" always turns out to be nothing more than a temporary resting place, usually one that has been visited before as the terminus for a previous mad dash.

The group embraces any silliness whatsoever, as long as it serves to keep them glued together.

The need to huddle up is deeply embedded in human nature and often dominates our behavior, despite our apparent intelligence and free choice. A friend of mine helpd conduct an experiment on college students back in the 60s. They put 15 or so "actors" in a room with one (unknowing) student who was the subject of the experiment. Then they told the assembled group this was an experiment about "intuitive math", that the university was attempting to find a way to make math easier for the average student. So there would be no drills, nothing, really, that had to be mastered beforehand, everybody was to try to find an easier way to solve the math problem that was about to be presented. Rah rah. The problem was something like: what's the average of the following 5 numbers ... 5,6,7,8, and 9? The experimenter knew who the actors were and called upon each one of them first. Their answers were always outside the range of numbers, way outside. "15", "13", "14", and so on. Then the guinea pig was called upon. 80 percent gave an answer outside the range of numbers but that agreed with the silly answers! This, despite the fact the guinea pig had no other relationship to the actors than being in the same room and being of the same approximate age. Some of them appeared to be uneasy but none were agressive.

The 20 percent that disagreed with the herd tended to do so aggressively. Some would not even wait to be called upon, and instead would declare the actors to be idiots or crazy, and leave the room early, refusing to go along with the madness.

A recent example of herd behavior was the group of investors in the late 90s who were valuing internet companies on the number of "click throughs" surfers performed on their pop up ads. (Now we have pop up blockers, which seem to be the true measure of the importance of pop ups.) Price/earnings ratios were debunked as not suitable for the "new era" as a measurement of value. It also happened that P/E ratios could not be calculated for these companies because you can't divide by zero, but there was collective contentment to avoid examining this convenient coincidence because everybody was getting rich. Or so it seemed. Actually they were "holding the bag" without noticing the bag was full of hot air and nothing else. Instead of taking an objective look a what was in their bags, they looked at each other for support to aggressively refute anyone who told them their bags were empty. It is called the madness of crowds.

I don't know if I would have been one of the 20 percent in my friend's experiment, but hope that I would have been. There is no doubt in my mind that the madness of crowds is in control of the art system, however, and I have opted out of this particular insanity.



January 5, 2005, 5:55 PM

A qualification: I don't mean to excuse the art professor from responsiblity for the meltdown in sanity. I am just saying there are many others involved and that perhaps it gives art professors too much credit to say they are the cause. On the other hand, I cannot determine who or what IS the cause.



January 5, 2005, 6:44 PM

I don't presume to know definitively what the cause is, catfish, but it seems to me a lot of what you describe is tied into insecurity and opportunism, which can obviously coexist. I'm convinced that many people heavily into the art scene in one capacity or another are not in it primarily for love and appreciation of art, but rather for other motives (which may not be consciously acknowledged by them), art being a pretext or a means to ulterior ends. Such people, given their numbers and their not infrequent influence based on money, connections and/or position, contaminate and corrupt the system, in effect even if not by deliberate intent. Indeed, they may see themselves as pillars of the system, which in a sense they are--only they fail to see or admit that the system they uphold is rotten.



January 5, 2005, 8:25 PM

There are legitimate complaints to be levied against academia, but the generalization factor is getting pretty high in here. . . .



January 5, 2005, 9:33 PM


You are right; the generalization level is very high, and it is always important to be as specific and factual as possible and to protest when it isn't.

That said, when you are in academia, dealing with it every day, and see the contstant ongoing pernicious effects the academic attitude has on art inside and outside the academy, the frustration level gets very high too.



January 8, 2005, 12:51 AM

This is a very interesting exchange, and I find myself in a peculiarly unique position to add to the dialogue!

I am a bit disturbed at the near-universal tone of Krauss-bashing (even when veiled behind an "I may disagree with what you say but will defend with my life your right to say it" position). I find myself at this moment in a stalled PhD dissertation, which I actually started to work on with Rosalind. I've not entirely blown off all prospects of completing it now -- life had a funny way of getting in the way, and there's not much in the way of instutional support for such enterprises -- but I can say that while I understand how easily Krauss' work lends itself to unsympathetic reading and parody, there really is (most of the time, anyway) something interesting and significant there. Ditto for Derrida, ditto Lyotard. (does that make me a po-mo ditto-head?)

Ironically, the main lesson I learned from Ros was the idea that -- and check this out -- no matter what the theoretical loop-de-loops (a term which may originally have come from the French) one performs, at critical junctures one must ALWAYS return to the OBJECT. If you review a few of Ros' classic essays, you'll notice the structure -- the first paragraph begins with a detailed, deeply descriptive account of a particular work or image, which then opens into the challenging piece of interpretive theory she hopes to apply to it. At the conclusion of the (often lengthy) argument, we are returned to the original object -- and if she's done her work properly, and if the reader has done likewise in attempting to comprehend it, the work stands in an entirely new, often unexpected light.

My major difficulty with so much of the sludge that currently passes as "theory" in academe is the fact that very few scholars manage to be so rigorous. (I was a philosophy major as an undergrad, and I always found the mental discipline that I cultivated in that field an invaluable aid in applying myself to Rosalind's work.) I have taken from my graduate school training (which included significant influence from Linda Nochlin's social history approach as well) a positive appreciation for the importance of the insights provided by postmodern theory, even as I attempt in my own work to remain grounded in study of the art object as it is embedded in social context, how it functions culturally. Ultimately, this is a political/ideological question. (Helene Cixous: "To say that you have no politics is to say that you have somebody else's.")

this is already a long response....and I've got more to say, especially regarding Andres Serrano's Piss Christ (I wrote the press release for his piss & blood show, a year before he got in all the NEA trouble!), but perhaps I should save it for later....




January 8, 2005, 1:36 AM

This particular page is pretty much dead, Beth, but please keep contributing on new pages.

From my standpoint all this agonizing and theorizing is a headache and a waste of time, and a misuse of art. I find Krause unreadable. Counting her grounding in the object as a major virtue only testifies to how off the wall we have become.


catfish the ditto-head

January 8, 2005, 1:46 AM

I find Krause unreadable. Counting her grounding in the object as a major virtue only testifies to how off the wall we have become.

Ditto. (Never be reluctant to ditto a good statement.) Accomodating the way an object looks is a necessary condition for writing about art well, but hardly a sufficient one.



January 8, 2005, 7:08 AM

I find Krauss's work rigorous, persuasive, and at times enjoyable. Though I am not shocked that others do not—taste differ, after all—I am appalled that some would claim that those who do enjoy her work and theory in general somehow injure the discussion and appreciation of art.



January 8, 2005, 7:38 AM

Beth, you're always welcome here.

Kriston, one of the last things our Zen master, Gesshin Prabhasa Dharma, said to us before she died was, "You will never be able to figure out this life with your thinking mind." Philosophy and theory are all well and good but they can interfere with the direct apprehension of life. To whatever extent art embodies a direct apprehension of life, theory can dance around it without touching it. To whatever extent art embodies theory, I usually find it proportionately lifeless.

To each his own, but I want to point out that we cut ourselves off from reality at our peril.



January 8, 2005, 8:58 AM

I don't know who is making that claim, Kriston. The "those" you mention can only "injure the discussion and appreciation of art" when and if they do it. it is a case by case matter.

However it has always been my experience that the theory people and the art-loving people are two different species. Just an observation.


young flatboy

January 10, 2005, 4:01 AM

I gotta say that the tone of this blog tends to be anti-intellectual. Even if the intellect is not the primary source of inspiration for art, it doesn't hurt art.

Myself, I'm a neo-platonistic quasi-kantian who believes at least a little of what the postmodernists have been telling us lately. It can be said the presemantic theme of the works of Derrida is a mythopoetical paradox that deconstructs the overly generalized into the class of the specific and real. The specific and the real are where art lives, whether it be neocapitalist (aka modern) or postmodern (current).

Presemantic deconstrucitivism, properly interpreted, denotes the futility of rationalizing that which really never leaves the trenches of the studio. What's wrong with discussing that? It's fun. And it is consistent with the statment Franklin intitially posed to begin this blog. You don't need a PhD to deconstruct rationalism. It is a sitting duck waiting to be shot by its fellow ducks.



January 10, 2005, 4:10 AM

Franklin: There may be a damp hankie or two out there over your choice. I can understand your decision not to pursue the art history PhD--it certainly isn't for everyone, nor should it be as the world doesn't need all that many art historians. As one myself, one of two card-carrying conservatives that I know in the discipline, I can strongly sympathize with your frustrations with the academy, and I think Kimball's book is a wonderful eye-opener for what has ailed art history over the last 20 years. Is it any wonder that history of art publishing--once a great success--is in crisis because of plummeting book sales? However, I do have some positive news from the art history underground that suggests that all is not lost. Even among my most liberal academic friends, I am hearing a growing rumbling of discontent with the institutional hostility towards conservative scholarly methodologies--what we call "common sense scholarship." It fills me with optomism to hear colleagues differentiate between personal political affilation and scholarly method, especially as they are increasingly hostile to the "theory for theory's sake" approach of many of our "stars." That emperor has no clothes, and you may find (in hindsight) that Kimball's book represents not an abberation but the first rumblings of an avalanche that will ultimately revitalize art history. For ultimately what are we as art historians? We're not philosophers--we're stewards of a common cultural heritage--and while our pursuit is fundamentally subjective (this is why there is more than one of us), we should all remember that we are in the service of something larger than ourselves--or larger than the theoretical flavor du jour.

And don't give up forever on that PhD. You never know. And we might need you.



January 10, 2005, 6:24 AM

Well, Elephant, welcome to the blog! Please keep at it.

Kimball was hardly the first rumbler. I can easily show you rumbles from over 20 years ago. It's just that the damn pomo thing has been so damn useful to so many people that it is dying a slow death. But die it will.



January 10, 2005, 8:16 AM

And Flatboy, the tone is sometimes anti-academic, but not anti-intellectual when the "ntellectuals" are making sense.



January 10, 2005, 8:39 AM

Oldpro, intellectual life is a free floating structure, going here, going there, wandering until it runs out of steam. In today's milieu it is no longer bound by traditional logic. Static truths are not attainable. Everyone knows that by now. Most everyone. As Heraclites said, "you can't put your hand in the same river twice". Non-sense and sense are aspects of the same thing. That's why intellectualism is so engaging. It does not need to lead to any conclusion, nor does it need to bear fruit. The journey into futility is its own reward. Seriously.

Derrida's insight into how deconstruction replaces generalities with specifics can itself be deconstructed to show that it is as futile as any other theory. Requiring that any theory make sense for long is to ignore the nature of theory. It will surely lead to disappointment.

I must agree with your apparent "anti-academic" stance, though. Academics take this stuff too seriously, at the same time they make a bad joke out of it. It never rises to even the level of mild paradox. It remains straight forwardly trivial. They love the trivial like a pig loves mud.



January 10, 2005, 9:11 AM

I will go at the intellectual thing again. Intellectuals don't have to make sense anymore than artists have to. Nietzsche said in the end it all gets down to aesthetics, everything (including logic) is aesthetic. That's just the way God made the world. We can't do anything about it. Speaking for myself, I like it that way. Welcome to the best of all possible worlds.



January 10, 2005, 9:23 AM

Yikes. It's getting late and I have to take an art history test tomorrow. Bet it won't be as authentic as this blog.


that guy in the back row

January 10, 2005, 9:37 AM

flatboy: I think it was Greenberg who claimed Nietzsches aesthetics bordered on barbarism. If so I agree with him.

also "Static truths are not attainable" , but facts can to be reckoned with. and the fact of the mater is a lot of tuition money and taxes are wasted each year publishing drivel no one reads. Call me carzy but I think there ought to be some correlation between readability and value. It sounds like I'm some right wing nut, carrying on about taxes, but I'm not, just a normal guy trying to find some decent art criticism, and there just isn't much heading to the press these days. and yes...

Welcome Academic Elephant.



January 10, 2005, 3:41 PM

This exchange has been quite interesting because we've been having a discussion about the contemporary use of the term "anti-intellectual" in both an academic and political forum as it has come to be a codeword for "stupid." I think intellectuals should be beholden to make sense, at least some of the time.

OldPro: I'm glad you've been hearing similar things in the discipline because it saddens me when we're all lumped together as whacky, theory-driven hacks. We're having a somewhat bumpy time in my corner of the pond, but I do think the "common sense" movement is gathering steam.



January 10, 2005, 4:24 PM

Oldpro, is postmodernism "dying a slow death" or living a long life? Or is this just a lexical distinction?



January 10, 2005, 5:29 PM


All this stuff about free floating and how we don't have to make sense in "today's milieu" and "static truths are not attainable" is just academic pomo jabber. Any profession that has to engage with the real world works with loads of more or less "static truths' all the time. It is just academia, where things rise on hot air, that all this stuff bandies about. (And then you quote - or misquote, and misspell, I'm afraid - a "static truth" from a 2500 year-old Greek to prove your point!). Academics not only take this stuff too seriously, as you say, they take interesting ideas and pervert them into vehicles of oppression, as has happened to Postmodernism.

If we are crossing the street and I say "watch out for the truck!" you are not likely to stop and consider whether "truck" is just a social construct. And if I am discussing something on a blog and domeone makes no sense I am going to say so. Otherwise there is no communication and what's the point.

Good luck on your exam.


Here in the 21st century we are obliged to seriously consider the idea that there should be a "common sense movement". That alone shows us where our dereliction has led us.
Can we call it "pluperfectpostmodernism" or some other snappy idiotic name so it can get some academic attention? They will never go for something as prosaic as "common sense".



January 10, 2005, 5:33 PM

Flatboy: as for Postmodernism, either way is OK. Unfortunately its original ideas, which were interesting enough, have been misinterpreted and misapplied, and this will end up throwing the baby out with the bath water.



January 10, 2005, 11:42 PM

The fact that "common sense" is now a novel concept in the humanities is pretty stunning--rather like the new guide to free speech rights on campus. How could we have gotten here? Oh well, no sense looking back. As for our 'ism'--none of the nomikers we've tossed around so far have been successful--contextualism is too limited as we have a strong formalist element as well--and I've always struggled with the pluperfect--so maybe Formal Functionalism?



January 11, 2005, 12:29 AM

I will think about it. Names are difficult because it is easier to make one that is accurate or descriptive than one that is catchy, and catchy is important. Of course who woulda thought "postmodernism" would catch on?

Speaking of names,I hope "nomiker" is a neologism rather than a typo.



January 11, 2005, 2:31 AM

Hopefully we can come up with something good, and then write a clear and lucid--dare I say it readable--rationale for the methodology.

As for "nomiker", it is certainly not a typo--this is the form preferred by our superior letterati, as you should know. To wit:

"Of course, my love." The woman held out her hand, and Screed abandoned his almost-meal of White Lab Rat to take it and raise it to his lips. An' th' lady-bird dinna even shudder when Oi kissed 't! he wondered silently. Oi 'ave never felt such uhn 'traction tew anybodies!

"But wait!" he said as she began to lead him back to his home. "Oi don't even know yer nomiker!"

The woman looked over at him lustfully, then leaned close to his ear and whispered, "Call me whatever you wish, my sweet. I have no name other than what you bestow upon me. All others fall on deaf ears."

I copied the above from Just goes to show you that it's true, you can find anything on Google.



January 11, 2005, 3:27 AM

I bow to your letteraticity. Nomiker is excellent.

I am not coming up with a term. It's not easy.

Whatever the methodology, I think it has to be fatally commonsensical, that is, fatal to the opposition. It has to appeal to the man on the street & have populist appeal. (Not that the populi will care). And readability is a must.

I have never liked the labels of conservative and liberal; I suppose it has been said often enough in the culture wars that these words imply things that those who wear the labels often don't stand for. I really just like common sense, and then when on top of that something is actually interesting that's even better.



January 11, 2005, 3:39 AM

Ha! You are always welcome here, Elephant.

How do you all feel about Objectism?



January 11, 2005, 4:02 AM

"objectism" feels like it has an overtone of minimalism, of "hard" art, 3 dimensions. Also there is "Art and Objecthood" to worry about.

"Essentailism" wouldn't be bad, but haven't the pomos coopted that?

Also I think Elephant is looking for something that encompasses more than art.

We should just do it and let the opposition name it. That's how it works in the art business.



January 11, 2005, 4:17 AM

Did the opposition (whoever it was) name Postmodernism?



January 11, 2005, 5:00 AM

Nomikerism anyone? It will confuse them and it does sort of trip off the tongue.

Despite the fact that I am proud of my multi-disciplinary approach, I'm really just out to reform art historical methodology, so while I hope that the commonsensical or rather nomikist approach can extend to, say, comparative literature, I don't want to impose on other people's turf. I do agree that simply proclaiming a nomikist theory won't do us any good--it will place us into the same camp as the theorists we deplore. But at the same time, I think it's important that attention is drawn to nomikerism as a viable alternative to the failing methods that have sapped the vitality of the discipline--in other words, because it's common sense doesn't make it stupid, and pursuing this approach isn't simply haphazard--it can define a body of scholarship.

As for conservative and liberal, I don't find that personal politics is an automatic barometer of scholarly responsibility, but I do think it would be a good thing to have a more visible and vocal conservative presence in American faculties.



January 11, 2005, 7:50 AM

Well, Nomikeris will confuse them all right, nad it certainly does trip up, that is, off, the tongue.

We can just call everything we don't like "antinomikerism" and leave it hanging, as if everyone should know.

of course there should be a variety of viewpoints in Academia. It ain't going to happen soon.



January 12, 2005, 3:56 AM

I think I feel a post on antinomikerism comming on. I'll report back if anyone bites.

Sure, political pluralism in academia is something of a pipe dream, but at least I can tell my kids I tried.



January 12, 2005, 4:03 AM

On your blog? I will check it. I already read a couple good things there.



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