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Post #446 • January 6, 2005, 8:02 AM • 36 Comments

(For the CMU MAM application: "Attach an essay of approximately 1,000 words in which you describe one of the challenges facing your field and how your experience and proposed study will help you address that challenge." Draft #1, excerpt.)

The art world, in its current state, largely promotes the wrong ambitions and discourages the right ones. This problem began in the late 19th Century and its cause boils down to this: official, status-granting institutions have done a poor job identifying quality amidst a diversity of artistic production. As that diversity has widened, their track record has worsened. Over the last two decades, the very idea of quality has come under attack, and the surest way to progress in this environment involves values that de-emphasize artistic excellence.

Institutionalized taste produced the glory of the Renaissance and many later artistic triumphs, but started to get it wrong about the time of the Impressionism, which represented a radical expansion of range in the Western tradition; Hals looks rather unlike Rembrandt, but Monet looks nothing whatsoever like Gerome. Brave players in the art market who stood behind their own judgments finally caused their work to prevail, but only after the artists suffered for years in an atmosphere of rejection and meager living. Something similar happened to the masters of postwar abstraction. Shortly after, though, the corrective mechanism stopped working in the way that it used to. Bay Area Figuration didn't prevail over the contemporaneous Pop movement even though the work was far superior, largely because of the music-star-like career of Andy Warhol. As the art world became more and more pluralist, the very notion of quality began to degrade, as intellectuals of various stripes started to attack the notion as elitist and colonial. Connoiseurship in such an atmosphere becomes a challenging exercise.

A remarkable similarity exists between the French salons of the last part of the 1800s and the current climate in New York City: the apologists of both milieux latch on to mythology as a driving force in the work. Bouguereau had his nymphs; Elizabeth Peyton is a nymph, whose lackadaisical affect was recently trotted out as genius by fashion writer Dodie Kazanjian for the October 2004 issue of Vogue. In fact, the art world is going the way of the music world, insofar as critical attention now focuses on increasingly young people with increasingly facile talent - for ever shorter durations. (In a distinctly 21st Century development, writers have become prone to discussing the artists' clothes.) This situation promotes career ambitions and compromises artistic ones, because now the two no longer correlate like they did at the time of Leonardo. Because they no longer correlate, the career ambitions have become increasingly personality-driven.

As a writer I have fought this self-inflicted dumbing down of the art world, and considered pursuing a PhD in Art History in order to do so with beefier credentials. But I concluded that too much corruption has taken place in the art and humanities systems for yet another unemployable academic to have any effect - particularly if he only has critique as a method of interaction.

Instead, I have decided to concentrate my efforts on Drawing Project. I founded Drawing Project to advocate drawing and its allied arts. I modeled it on attractive ideas I picked up from reading about social capitalists, with a similar intention of asserting corrective values without relying on public largesse. (In 2003 Florida Governor Jeb Bush oversaw an 80% slashing of state arts budgets; friends of mine in the museum sector lost their jobs, and the self-sustaining operations model took on a renewed sheen.) Drawing Project hypothesized that people who believe in drawing as a meaningful skill will form a community if given the opportunity, and this seems to be bearing out. I have figure drawing workshops scheduled for late February and early March. Under a Drawing Project imprint, I plan to publish (digitally and in print) an anatomy book for artists I've written, and two other authors have expressed interest in publishing with me as well. An artist has proposed an exhibition that Drawing Project will curate. Long-term possibilities include a travel program and a permanent center for residencies and exhibitions.

Essentially, I want to create the visual arts equivalent of Sub Pop Records. While most of the rest of the music industry invests in easy-to-like, youth-oriented, superficially sexy music in hopes of getting rich off of it, Sub Pop commits to serious talents that promise more modest returns but longer careers making high-quality music. As the art world begins to resemble the music world in the above-mentioned respects, communities are going to form within the art community. These sub-communities will develop their own styles, jargons, and priorities. Just as the rap people don't generally interact with the bluegrass people, the various art communities will operate on localized values and otherwise develop themselves while ignoring each other. Since hegemonically successful art styles have disappeared from the creative landscape, the landscape is Balkanizing.

I've designed Drawing Project as a new kind of arts organization that can survive in this divided art world.




January 6, 2005, 6:06 PM

This is a nice analysis. Sub-communities have existed within the art world since the early 19th C., of course; in our time they will become more evident and deliberate, propelled by the dissolution of superior product in and loss of leadership from the big art centers and the schools and museums. This is a natural process of renewal and I am all for it.

You may have success because there is a "market". I understand that there are large numbers of put-together groups of people drawing from life all over the place. I know of several nearby.



January 6, 2005, 7:45 PM

A nicely-written and agreeable essay. But I still don't understand the whole bit about Warhol ruining everything. Rubens isn't exactly suffering at auction, nor Duccio either, for that matter, and unless I'm not decrypting the symbols right, I didn't see any post-modern jargon in the Ruben painting's 7,500-word Provenance, or the Duccio's equally lengthy description. They were obviously not written in the 19th century, and I'd find it difficult to believe they were written by people without PhDs. Maybe they had PhDs in astronomy? Horticulture? What was it? Ornithology?

But never mind. Maybe the real problem is that we're not capitalist enough about art. There's putative "competition" among private galleries, but there are no real market signals in general. Today's market maker is essentially the museum, and all museums seem to have similar practices, codified and strictly adhered to. (OK, OK, maybe not so strictly.) There's actually quite a diversity among real folks tastes out there.

Private galleries are effectively just junior entryways before the grand gates of the museum. The final resting place for any successful piece of art, and the ultimate measure of its worth, seems to be "to the museum, sir!" Just for fun, try going to a curator's convention someday and yelling "deaccession!" What a riot that would be.

It's the perfect oligarchy, and all traffic flows in one direction. It has nothing to do with "academic art departments" or "postmodernism." It's pure lack of competition. Maybe if major historical paintings changed hands more often, and more money circulated around the world because of it, people would be more secure about the Role of Pre-Modernist Art in the Universe, and more people would have a desire to study it for what it was.

As long as there's an institutionally-supported art-buying cartel, the market is going to be shaped by one set of rules, and when the rulemakers shift their ideologies or practices, there are no checks or balances to guide or influence the process. Maybe we need more high-profile $75m Rubens sales out there. Maybe we wouldn't have so many $100m Picasso sales. Maybe there's just too much money chasing too few goods. Textbook inflation, people.

And given the inept handling with which supposedly authoritative institutions have treated their holdings, and the controversies that often erupt, I'm not sure the fears of private ownership carry much water.



January 6, 2005, 8:15 PM


Your respose is odd and puzzling. It does not seem to be relatied to what Franklin was writing at all. Franklin was writing about the detrerioration of standards in the current art world. This has nothing to do with the market for Rubens and Ducio and Picasso or who writes about them and what degrees they have.

You say there are "no real market signals" - of course there are. Every Sothebys auction is a market signal. We do not have an "oligarchy", and not, certainly, a "cartel"; this implies, or rather states, that there is some organized conspiracy behind art pricing. There is no such thing.

And of course there are "checks and balances", they are not legally imposed, of course, but free market checks and balances. What the "one set of rules" is, apart from simple market "rules", is utterly unclear. And your examples of inept handling, that the Mona Lisa has deterioration (what a shock!) or that there is 'controversy about the cleaning of the David (another shock), are apparently not even relevant to your own point, whatever it is

I'm baffled!

By the way, "deaccession" has been shouted around the museum world for a generation now, very loudly, in fact, ever since the Metropolitan Museum controversy 30 years ago. There have been entire conferences devoted to the subject.



January 6, 2005, 8:18 PM

Oldpro - thanks.

Hovig - I guess I didn't make it clear that I support more capitalism in the art world. I think things go screwy when the market hits un-capitalist world of the museum, where the values supported by taxpayer dollars but not beholden to them start to spin the ball. Galleries use this institutional support to increase the marketability of their artists. We also have a grant system that I support with less and less enthusiasm the more I think about it, not that it's kicking my door in to give me money. I'm not saying to shutter the museums and grant programs, but I think that some of them have shirked responsibility to play ball with everyone in return for their public support.

The thing about the social capitalists is that they are not using money to guide their ethics - they are deciding their ethics independently and then figuring out how to use capitlism to support them. Substitute "aesthetics" for "ethics" and you'll see where I'm going with this.

Did I say anything about - you know - that word that starts with P and ends with "ism" here?

Freedom of speech does not give you the right to yell "deaccession" in a crowded curator's convention. Oh, wait, it does. Go for it!



January 6, 2005, 8:20 PM


Why Sub Pop? It strikes me that they are very much a has been organization, who relied and rely on a one trick pony. What about Merge, Touch & Go, or heck Maverick? I disagree completely with your statement that they "commit to serious talents that promise more modest returns but longer careers making high-quality music."

On a positive note, I agree entirely with your statement "the art world begins to resemble the music world..."

I find it very interesting that you, too have come to a similar conclusion, as I have, although up here to the north I am attempting to lead the charge into the rock 'n' roll-ization of the visual arts world, ;cuz it isn't quite happened yet, here. Do you know where I can find a Lester Bangs ghost who writes about pictures?



January 6, 2005, 8:31 PM

Thanks for the link to the Peyton piece on MAN. The article it skewers would seem astonishingly vapid if it weren't so typical of the current situation. Peyton is perfect for Vogue, and going by her statements, she and her ga-ga interviewer deserve each other. Tyler Green was unduly critical--this was simply a confluence of natural affinities, and one can hardly blame birds of a feather for flocking together.



January 6, 2005, 10:00 PM

While most of the rest of the music industry invests in easy-to-like, youth-oriented, superficially sexy music in hopes of getting rich off of it, Sub Pop commits to serious talents that promise more modest returns but longer careers making high-quality music.

I'm bothered by these sentences, but not in the way that Zeke is. Rather than suggesting another independent music label--Touch and Go, etc.--I wonder about the central trope of authenticity. In some ways, you are engaging in an art world version of rockism--see Kelefa Sanneh's New York Times article from Oct. 31, 2004. I agree that the art world should be more rocknroll, but not if that means stodginess and placing a value on seriousness rather than on surface, playfulness, or even slickness. The "superficially sexy" music you allude should be given the same consideration as your favorite Sub Pop act. Both are artificial, neither is removed from marketplace considerations; one is not any more superficial than the other.

There are good chart pop songs just as there are good indie rock songs. A good chart pop song, however, just might require you to evaluate it on terms that are initially unfamiliar to you. I'm not implying anything about you personally, but rather speaking from experience--it took me a while to allow radio-friendly hip hop to enter my Sonic Youth/Pavement/Stereolab life. Rather than segregating and forming sub-communities of people who are only invested in one of the other, isn't it possible to at least attempt to make connections between the two. My top ten singles for 2004 (on my blog) had both Lil Jon--the current king of crunk--resting next to Arthur Russell, a classically trained cellist.

I hope that it's possible for the bluegrass people to talk to the rap people, both in music, and carrying the analogy over to the art world. It's possible to like both the flavor-of-the-month hot young thing AND the mid-career, established, hardworking artist, no? Why mourn for the lack of longevity of artists if what is being produced at the moment by fresh talent is more exciting--would I rather listen to Annie (a rising Norwegian pop star), or Low (who have been producing the same record for the last 10 years)?

Sorry if this is totally off-base or comes across the wrong way, but if nothing else, it allowed me to think through some things.



January 6, 2005, 11:28 PM


For the bluegrass and rap fans out there, I recommend Run C&W, not exactly what you asked for, but pretty darn close.

Second, my basic take on the rock 'n' roll-ization of the visual arts stems more from a desire to see the visual arts as integrated into people's lives as much as pop music is. In popular music there is room for an academic side that is tucked far away from most people's everyday life, there is also a small niche for conceptual stuff that eventually gets accepted by the mainstream 10 years after the fact. I could also make the same analogy with regards to film, as well. Somehow all of the visual arts have been tucked away in dark corners for the general public. This has got to change.



January 7, 2005, 12:06 AM

Zeke - "has been"? I don't know - I've been listening to Iron & Wine constantly lately and I'm itching to pick up something by Postal Service. (As for the rap/bluegrass crossover, I was thinking LL Pickin' J.)

Mark - I don't mean to beat the simile to death. Of course some people can write great pop songs, and you're welcome to like whatever you like. And inevitably there will be a rap/bluegrass crossover eventually that will work - J-Zeke or someone will do it. (Sorry, man. :o) You know, now that I'm thinking about this, Missy Eliott already sounds like a rap/bluegrass crossover.) Sarah Hromack was just covering a crossover between hip-hop and clowning, for crying out loud. And of course, it's awesome - check the clips on Tommy the Clown's site.

By "serious," I don't mean stodgy, I just mean that the art won't stop holding up when the trend that floated it washes back out to sea, and the artist takes the art more seriously than he takes himself. You can imagine Winton Marsalis having a career at age 65. I'm having trouble picturing the same for Lil Jon & the Eastside Boyz. Crunk sounds like it has all the emotional range of death metal, and we know how death metal is doing as a form. (Now, a crunk/death metal crossover, that would kick... How does "Lil Jon & the Satanic Boyz" sound to you? Whoops, we need some umlauts over those vowels...)

How entertaining an work of art (music, poem, whatever) is and how moving it is are two separate concerns even though both can operate at the same time. Personally, I don't look to visual art for entertainment, and I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the two concerns are more at odds in visual art than in other media, if only because you experience art all at once, usually. That makes it weak mechanism for narrative - unless it's using comics devices, you have to practically suck the narrative out of it. Unlike film, say, which can be hugely entertaining.



January 7, 2005, 12:10 AM

Franklin - I never said my post was a disagreement with you, and sorry if it sounded that way. I agree with everything in your rejoinder.

I was merely trying to say I didn't think Warhol "ruined" anything; just that, if you want to bemoan the lack of diversity in the "market," maybe it's not because Warhol became such an icon, but because -- oldpro, maybe this will help explain my sentiments -- the marketplace for art had 100 Warhols in it for every Rembrandt. When a major Rubens comes on the market, it immediately goes for $75m. Maybe if there were more Rubens works on the market, they'd be more a part of the "air we breath," so to speak.

Oldpro - Your points are well taken, but I still think deaccession is still a dirty word in museums. They really go quite a bit out of their way to hide or downplay their sales when they occur, and they rarely if ever sell members of the top 80% of their collections.

And I also think there are no market signals vis-a-vis the aesthetically superior works that this site seems to want to promote instead of more "fashionable" art. A security expert recently said he thought La Grande Jatte might be the world's first billion-dollar painting. This tells me that a lot of the better works in museums, if they didn't travel in one direction only -- to the Home For Retired Artworks -- might actually create more of a "buzz" in the world if they were sold and traded hands every so often.

Right now a lot of people talk about fashion having replaced aesthetic value. Maybe it has. But on the other hand, what if it's really a matter of aesthetically valuable works having dropped out of the scene? When you scan Architectural Digest, you see 20th-century paintings one after the other, but no major works before that. Why? Because they're all stuffed away in museums. It's not trendy to own such art.

People are still social and emotional creatures after all. They don't all nail PhD theses to their walls and engage in existential dialectics over martinis. We're still social creatures, and want a little social confirmation from our peers. I can't help but believe that if there were expensive and high-quality works of art as available as Picassos and Warhols, they'd be just as "fashionable."

What if all the beautiful people all went to the museum, and stayed there, and never came out to party? Did you think it was going to be fashionable to stand around the museum and point at them and ask "can you come out and play now?" I'm wondering -- and that's all it is, I'm just wondering aloud over here -- whether fashion has replaced aesthetics because the paragons of aesthetics have become "unsociable," as it were.

P.S. I still want to know whether the Duccio and Rubens provenances were written by ornithology PhDs, given that academia is supposed to all be about, I dunno, childhood traumas and feminist theory and all those whatnots. Did someone escape?



January 7, 2005, 12:13 AM

Shit - Run C&W is a real act. I thought you were kidding.



January 7, 2005, 1:15 AM

I don't make stuff like that up, they're albums are goofy fun, but get tired after about 3 days.



January 7, 2005, 1:55 AM

Over the last two decades, the very idea of quality has come under attack, and the surest way to progress in this environment involves values that de-emphasize artistic excellence.

Hmm. Think I agree here with Mark re his "rockism" critique. If I understand correctly, Franklin, you are advocating an objective, hierarchical standard of quality roughly correlated with skill, as you define such. That not only dismisses a number of works categorically (if I understand you; and correct me where I don't), but also endorses a divorce between aesthetics and many philosophical observations.

One example of a "metanarrative" that would seem to attract you is the role of institutions in defining what we perceive to be aeshetically preferable. (That's sort of the gist of the post, after all.) Yet it seems that if an artist were to create art that referenced this dialectic, that artwork would come under attack in your framework—based on what I perceive from your comments regarding "excellence," Andy Warhol, etc. (How could Rubens possibly address such a trend? Should it therefore not be addressed, etc.)

I hope you don't take offense in my reading a great deal into your post that you didn't explicitly write. But I think that there are many, many problems associated with trying to establish "common sense" objective criteria for successful art, a primary example being that no set of standards can adequately address the range of questions that ought to be addressed.


that guy in the back row

January 7, 2005, 2:17 AM

Kriston, which art would be dismissed "categorically"? If I read him correctly all art would be judged equally on its own merits or lack thereof.

and please explain metanarrative....


Jerome du Bois

January 7, 2005, 2:36 AM

Franklin et al:

Bluegrass depends on banjo, which is derived from an African drum. I see all music as a spiral, not a circle. Right now, we're listening to George Jones, 50 Years of Hits, David Lindley & El-Rayo X, Very Greasy, and Jim White, No Such Place.

Hope we're all having a Happy New Year.




January 7, 2005, 3:23 AM

I don't take offense, Kriston, but with all due respect, your post illustrates perfectly how the people who value drawing as a meaningful skill will find community with one another, and the people who don't are going to get their community on elsewhere. Allow me to pick:

"If I understand correctly, Franklin, you are advocating an objective..."

Some of this addresses the objective/subjective issue.

"...hierarchical standard of quality..."

Yes, it's hierarchical. I value some works of art more than others. You probably do too. You're in the music store with a $20 bill. Do you choose something according to your preferences, or do you just get anything at random?

"...roughly correlated with skill, as you define such."

Very roughly correlated. I value skill, such as it fits in with my four elements of art theory, under "technique."

"That not only dismisses a number of works categorically..."

Okay. Somebody just did it to my work. I think it's only fair to do it back.

"...but also endorses a divorce between aesthetics and many philosophical observations."

Let's be careful here - if by "aesthetics" we mean "study of beauty," then no, I wasn't talking about that. I we mean "experience of beauty," which I think you do (correct me if I'm wrong), then I have to say that they're not exactly married to begin with, as per the dinner post linked above.

I don't understand what you're referring to as the "dialectic" in the following paragraph (between institution and viewer, maybe?) so let me try an end run - my observation is that institutions show a worsening track record of distinguishing quality as the range of artistic production has increased. That implies that a small organization with localized values (I mean philosophically localized) will make a better vehicle for distinguishing quality in the fractured, pluralist landscape - it can at least please its own members, if nothing else. Let me put it this way - what bluegrass musicians call "skills" and what rappers call "skillz" are not the same skills. Nevertheless, each of those communities can determine which members have them and which don't. Severe hierarchical standards are in place, and it requires tour-de-force demonstrations of innovation in order to revise those standards. Even friendly competition between practitioners in both genres, based on the standards, is brutal. (Compare the "Dueling Banjos" scene in Deliverance and just about any rap song where MCs are dissing some hypothetical competitor.)

That brings us here: " set of standards can adequately address the range of questions that ought to be addressed." Well, what do you mean by "ought"? You're at a rap club, and you get up and try to bust the mike, and everybody shakes their heads because you suck. Then you pull out your banjo and start showing off your madd fingerpicking skillz, and now everybody's thinking that maybe you'd feel more at home somewhere else. Are they wrong? Are you? Yes and no.

If that doesn't answer your issues, let me know and I'll take another shot.



January 7, 2005, 5:49 AM

I never took care of some of Hovig's points. It's overstating it to say that Warhol ruined everything. But it's not overstating it to say that David Park's middling work looks better than Warhol's stronger work - and I say that as a painter who deals with painting issues, not a historian who cares about Warhol's hooking into the zeitgeist and whatnot. Warhol marks a point where the marketplace begins to reinforce lapses of institutional taste instead of correcting them. (It's not too late, by the way. We're only talking about forty years of history, and nothing ever gets decided once and for all until the work is destroyed.)

Were you asking something about feminist ornithologist Ducciologists? Okay, obviously, some straight arrows got off, but I was specifically talking about PhD programs in contemporary art. It's not just the PoMo indoctrination that dissuades me - it's the butt-kissing and trivia-parsing as well.


that guy in the back row

January 7, 2005, 6:13 AM

well put Franklin, you should see the community that is amassing at the convention center right now for Art Miami.... I had no idea art could be so bottom of the barrel. My assessment: One french gallery had two decent paintings by Magi Puig (Galerie Ariel Sibony I believe), and one gallery from San Francisco across the way had some well put together little pieces. The rest aren't but a smidgen better than the true finds on ebay's art pages. I have to admit I ran out screaming and couldn't bring my self to see the rest.



January 7, 2005, 6:54 AM

Ah. The shingles fall from my eyes. PhD programs in contemporary art, then. That's a song of a different chorus, innit. I'll have to reflect on that.

You're right, a quick search of PhD titles in art history departments shows a remarkable bifurcation: standard studies of pre-modern art on one side, "post modern" studies of, well, post-modern art on the other. Interesting.

Still, if you're really that interested, I wouldn't take Kimball's word for nuthin. Ask various art history departments what their current PhD projects and recent PhD titles are. Maybe you'll find an opening.



January 7, 2005, 8:41 AM


What you are saying seems reasonable enough and I would like to answer, but I don't quite catch your drift, and it is late. I think we may be talking about two different things.


We had an excellent all-out battle over "objective standards" on the blog last summer sometime and I think a lot of good things got said. My position was that you cannot establish reasonable objective criteria for excellence in art, period. You like what you like and if enough people agree it goes in a museum. That's the way it works.

That got a lot of people upset, and I know it does not appeal to the philosophically minded, but though many tried no one was able to refute it.



January 7, 2005, 6:27 PM

Oldpro - I'll try very hard not to belabor the point -- and I'll try to be less long-winded this time -- but I think it's worth another try, and I think you said something that dovetails with what I tried to say.

You just described the artworld as such: "You like what you like and if enough people agree it goes in a museum." That's exactly my point. My thesis is that art is not a free market, which is why it's going in apparently unresponsive directions.

In any other universe of human activity, excellence is usually best identified, and thus determined, by a free market. If in art excellence is determined by what "goes in a museum," and if all museums are basically one-way streets (you can check in any time you like, but you can never check out), and if all museums are run by the same codes of principles and rules, then you don't have a free market at all.

You have an oligarchy, a cartel, a monopoly, whatever you want to call it. I don't mean this in some sort of Marxist-postmodernist-revolutionary sense; I mean this sincerely, in the sense of the rational logical economic definition of the word.

Private galleries don't help matters. They're basically of two stripes: Selling decorative art to people who want pretty things at good prices, or selling "serious" art to people who have some hope of seeing this art issued the benediction of the museum.

Also, if art's success is based on "going in a museum," and if museums are stodgy organizations that are open 10am to 6pm Tue-Sun, and if all the "great art" is in museums, then it's obvious that social activities are being held in the absense of good art. The appreciation of great art -- or perhaps it's better to say pre-modern art -- is simply not being inculcated in the average person.

The average person now equates "great art" with "homework," not "fun." This may be why there is now perceived to be a divergence on this blog's pages between "great art" and "fashion," because in order to see "great art," you have to go to the big imposing fancy building downtown, walk around very quietly, under the watchful eye of so-called "security guards," take no photographs, use only pencils, never sit comfortably, not run in the corridors, wipe that smile off your face young man, and all that. And you can forget about having that martini. It's as unsocial an atmosphere as I can imagine.

"Great art" has become an obligation upon the viewer. This is as unsuccessful a popularity campaign as I can imagine. If one wants to know why the public has lost interest in "great art," look no further. If one wants to again blend "fashion" with "great art," one has to release great art from its prisons [which in the case of MAM Fort Worth I mean literally -- I hated that horrible place, despite its perfect collection].

Franklin walked around Art Basel Miami Beach and found little more than one "wondrous" work, the Matisse painting, because that was the only one of its ilk for sale. (ABMB was a sales show, don't forget.) If more such works were on the market, more might find their way to ABMB, and -- here's my point -- it might become more popular among the everyones, and more artists might try to follow it.

OK, so I was long-winded again, sorry. Hopefully my thesis advisors will understand.



January 7, 2005, 8:24 PM


Your descriptions are Ok but your conclusions are tortuous and odd.

I don't see how what i said characterizes anything but a free market, as free as it can practically be, in fact. And "excellence" is not determined by the market in any sphere of business (although in the very long run I think it does a fairly good job) - look at all the crap of every kind that sells. The market is basically a popularity contest.

I don't think "freedom" is the issue. If I want to see a Jackson Pollock the only way i am going to see it is to go to one of those stodgy old museums. No gallery will have one; no collection with one will be open to me.

You are certainly correct that "great art is an obligation on the viewer" but only if you insert a qualifier like "average" before "viewer". You have to acquire the taste. I, for one, have been digging art since I was 6 or 7 years old and making it since I was a teenager and for me it is a joy. If some expert tells me something is "great" and I don't like it It does not become an obligation. I say the hell with it. I know what you mean by obligation, but it is not an obligation once you look enough and get familiar with what is out there. It may take a little work but it is worth it. And if it remains an obligation then you better find something else to get your kicks from.

And why should art be popular anyway? As Wilde said, "art should not be popular, the public should become artistic". The idea that art should come down to the public's level, which seems to be the driving force behind artists and markets alike right now



January 7, 2005, 9:00 PM

The last part of my comment got cut off:

"...,is the single most corrupting force in the art world today"



January 8, 2005, 12:14 AM

Oldpro - I think we're talking past each other, so lemme focus narrowly on what you said: "The idea that art should come down to the public's level, which seems to be the driving force behind artists and markets alike right now is the single most corrupting force in the art world today."

Fair enough. I don't want to argue that art should "come down," but that it should "come out." I don't want art to change in order to become fun, but I think art would become more fun if it "got out of the house" a bit more, by which I mean the art that goes into museums and never leaves.

I also take your point that a Pollock locked in a private home might make it difficult for average folks to see it -- note: not impossible, as museums borrow works from collectors all the time -- but society needs to make a choice: If every Pollock work eventually goes into a museum and never come out, then eventually his name won't be in the news, people will think he's homework because they'll only be in museums, and he won't be fashionable because Sotheby's will have none to sell to rich folks trying to show off their wealth, which is as fashionable as you can get.

But I don't think fashion is mutually exclusive from greatness in art; and in fact I think they align more often than one might think. (Fashion and charity go hand in hand as well, to the detriment of neither one.) I believe the simple act of making Pollock's works available in the financial markets would make his works more "fashionable." This is not to say they would become less serious, or less "great," but that fashion and greatness would co-exist, and that young, ambitious artists would be impelled to imitate a master: they'd see that's where the money is.



January 8, 2005, 12:32 AM

Well, Hovig, I am still puzzled about whether you are proposing something or not. The art world is not going to change, so I guess what you are saying is more or less utopian. If an artist's work is highly regarded those works will be bought and gradually dry up on the market. Pollocks will not get more available until someone successfully shouts "deaccession" or makes believable fake Pollocks. And I think young artists alreeady know "that's where the money is". it's no secret.

I don't think art has to do anything except get better. It is having a hard enough time of that right now.



January 8, 2005, 2:01 AM

Oldpro - You and I seem to be very much in agreement.

I'm not proposing anything except a belief that the current marketplace of "fashionable art" might be a consequence of museums grabbing all the "great" works and never letting go, turning them all into spinsters.

It seems our biggest difference of perspective is that I believe museum acquisition policies have a much bigger negative impact on the market than you. (PS: Museums never die, but major private collectors eventually do [a stunning collection indeed].)

If it's valid to say people should circulate more among great art, perhaps it's just as valid to say great art doesn't circulate enough among people.



January 8, 2005, 4:41 AM

No, I did not think we were disagreeing as much as missing each other's point. In fact, if you want to maintain that "great art does not circulate anough among people" I couldn't agree with you more.

This is a major problem for the art lover. Look at Miami, with a population in the millions. Where can you go to see anything even passable, much less "great"? it's a terrible situation. We are all reduced to looking at pictures in books and on screens. Not only is this inadequate but it perverts the process of seeing because of the physical nature of the images and the fact that every artist's reputation seems to rest on the same half dozen pictures that get reproduced. This is no way to enjoy art.

One of the great pleasures of living in NY, where I spent most of my life, was going to the previews at the big auction houses. There you could commonly see lesser work of great artists and often enough very good work of lesser artists all packed together, uncurated, unfussed-over, randomly tossed together because that is what they had to sell at the time. it was like going to a huge buffet after being stuffed with the same tiresome meals every day. There were always discoveriues to be made and pleasures to be had.
I really miss such things in this cultural kindergarten of ours.



January 8, 2005, 7:36 AM

Hovig, I don't want to put words in your mouth, so correct me if I misread you. You imply that if "museum art" is more actively brought to people, marketed more aggressively or put on their laps, so to speak, and made to seem less "elitist" or formidable, then those people will appreciate it and embrace it (at least significantly more so than they do now). It's an appealing and not unreasonable theory, but I don't buy it.

For one thing, it doesn't correlate with my experience. I was never steered towards art or museums by anybody. I was not raised, educated or socialized to be into art. The closest I ever got to living in a major art city was a few years in the Baltimore-D.C. area, but that's hardly New York or London (and by then I was already hooked). Nobody made art convenient, popular, inviting or fun for me; nobody had to. All it took was some fortuitous exposure to it; the "on" switch was flipped, and I ran with it--by and for myself, out of my own initiative, desire and interest.

The reason, I believe, was that the requisite aptitude or affinity for art was always there; if it hadn't been, no amount of promotion, access, packaging or prodding would have made me a serious art lover. It's the same for higher math, philosophy, scientific research and any number of disciplines or pursuits: either someone is naturally inclined that way or not, and that's crucial. I don't mean that external factors don't matter and aren't significant, but they can only facilitate, develop and enhance; they can't create real appreciation, identification and connection out of nothing.

The problem, as I see it, is not that art winds up in museums and stays there. That never impeded me; I always loved museums and found them both stimulating and relaxing. I was never put off by what you describe as potentially forbidding, boring or oppressive qualities. The point is that I craved what was inside those museums, naturally craved it, so it was both natural and easy for me to be at home in that environment with those objects. There was no need to bring them out to play, or make them "relevant" or hip or "user-friendly." They called to me; I heard them just fine, and simply responded.


that guy in the back row

January 8, 2005, 9:38 AM

Jack, thats a good point. Your entry into art sounds honest and to the point. I think the main reason people get so irritated about the comments and arguments that ensue on this blog is that many have yet to experience art "properly" as you obviously have. I'm sure people will be enraged over the idea of a proper way and I don't claim to have a formula for them. but it seems that the personal way is the only way. If art doesn't work for him or her, pursue a different path plain and simple. See as much art as possible so the differences can be felt. The faint hope that my switch will be clicked keeps me a scout. It seems yours is a great starting point for anyone interested in art.

Oldpro: This Christmas I was in the midwest and saw some minor work by major artists. Couple nice Vuillard's and a tiny but fine Corot. My friends were shocked when I told them that we rarely see a show like this (puny as it was) in Miami.



January 9, 2005, 3:46 AM

Franklin and I were discussing this pop (poop) star/art star phenomena the other day and I comprehend his analysis completely; proof, the CEO of Sub-Pop bought a small oval painting of a white skull on a white cloth on an oval support surface, ( a simple perceptual study in oil) from the back room of the Dorsch gallery a year and a half ago. It was a part of a group of six 16x12 inch non-contemporary dusty unframed pictures sitting around there. This came as a pleasant surprise.


young flatboy

January 10, 2005, 4:14 AM

jordan, just like Modonna can construct sexuual seriousness from the paradigm of the slut, looks like this "CEO of Sub-Pop" can realize old-fashioned taste out of class-warfare depravity, or some such. Maybe it is the beginning of postappropriation. The plastic skull from the Halloween display at Toys R Us rises from the ashes of a retro thinking gallery's bin of the forgotten and becomes a cultural situation standing on its own merit, rather than invalidating contextual communication.

Why not? Some good seems to be emerging here. Is it anti-patriarchical truth? Nah. Just the revenge of the vulgarians.



January 10, 2005, 6:32 AM

Thanks, Oldpro. (Especially for that envious description of NY.)

Jack - Thanks for jumping in. There seems to be a subtlety I'm unable to communicate. Sorry to keep hacking at this -- esp. so verbosely -- but thanks to everyone for making me refine what I'm trying to say.

I agree that all of us here will seek great art no matter where it is, but connaisseurship isn't the problem. People at this blog keep wondering why new art doesn't walk in the footsteps of the masters, or why new art fails to receive institutional support. I don't have a problem with non-traditional art, but I agree that half the art market seems under-served. But why? There are tons of money being spent on art, so pace Kimball, I can't believe it's the result of some grand academic conspiracy.

I'm trying to distinguish appreciation from fashion, yet let them co-exist -- or actually, to support each other. I think this is my idea in a nutshell: Rich people want to throw money at art (inter al.). Joe Duveen didn't wait for the Jacks and Hovigs of the world to ask him what to buy (he didn't wait for unwealthy connaisseurs to ask), but approached millionaires and told them what to buy (he created de facto connaisseurs of the wealthy, from whole cloth).

Also, rich people travel not far from beautiful people. A rich person buys a work, his sycophants admire it, his wannabes envy it, the gossips chat about it, and all us regular folks read about it in ArtNews, People Magazine, or their bloggiquivalents. This creates buzz. Other rich people covet his art, and more buzz gets created. Repeat.

(This month's ArtNews, has a great piece on B&N CEO Steve Riggio's mansion -- which, nota bene, contains not a single pre-20th-century work).

Even a character like Noam Chomsky recognizes that rich people make the world go 'round. If a latter-day Joe Duveen like Larry Gagosian were sitting on a Rubens, he'd try to sell it as hard as he could, for as big a number as he could get, attaching to it all the ornithology theses his assistants could commission.

So I'm saying that taking Rubens and other great works out of circulation reduces their buzz, leaving us with classic inflation: too much money chasing too few goods. All the money goes to the buzziest folks out there, Damian Hirst, Liz Peyton, whatever. But note for example that artists like Lucien Freud and David Hockney have both greatness and buzz in spades. I don't think the two qualities are mutually exclusive.

When you've got buzz, you've got imitators, and new artists will want to walk in those footsteps; and conversely, when you've got no buzz, new artists will be directionless, and go in made-up directions of "self-expression." There's no buzz around great art because it goes in one direction only -- to the convent museum -- and out of circulation, and therefore out of society's eye, dead to the contemporary world.

Might academia contribute? Sure. But a real free market always provides competition. As long as great art keeps going chastely into convent, never to return, the competitive effect of Rubens and Rembrandt is zero.



January 10, 2005, 7:38 AM

Hovig said: "Lucien Freud and David Hockney have both greatness and buzz in spades."

Hold it. Greatness? You mean spectacle that goes down easy, don't you? We must distinguish between narrativity that is a means that leads to something big and narrative that remains bound in itself, perhaps yielding ersatz big, but no totality. Spectacle does not guarantee totality and both these artists show that, though I must agree about the buzz. They do buzz.

Not that the two aspects are "exclusive" (I agree with you there) just that "greatness" does not coexist with buzz in these artists. A really great artist could, of course, appropriate either one and knock him dead. But that would not change the market for the work.



January 10, 2005, 8:12 AM

Flatboy, you seem to have some real opinions tucked up in that chatter. Keep it up.

Hovig, you are certainly persistent. Once again I will say that real artists don't need "buzz" or commerce to be turned on to good art, they only need to see it, and museums facilitate that.



January 11, 2005, 2:29 AM

Hovig, apart from the fact that a Duveen would have had no interest in someone without serious capital, I wouldn't look to him or anyone else to tell me what to buy (unless it was an authenticity issue, and even there he was probably not above massaging the data, so to speak). The idea of liking or buying art by proxy, based on someone else's mind and/or eyes as opposed to one's own, is highly objectionable to me.

I believe that a real, serious art lover will seek to acquire and develop connoisseurship independently in a self-initiated way, and museums are obviously highly suited to be very helpful in that pursuit, or at least that's traditionally been the case. I agree with Oldpro's closing assertion in comment 34 above, only I'd add "art lovers" to "artists."



January 11, 2005, 3:11 AM

sure, the same goes for art lovers, of course.



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