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Post #458 • January 20, 2005, 6:37 AM • 103 Comments

Lately we've been kicking around names for the movement that's following Postmodernism. I'd like to nominate Reconstructionism. This all but assures that it won't get adopted, but what the hell.

Looking into the names of the other stuff going on, I realized why we have such trouble with contemporary art terms. Modernism is generally held to be the pinnacle of Enlightenment thought, but one of its greatest exponents in the arts, Clement Greenberg, openly relied on an intuitive method that seems to directly insult Enlightenment rationality. Postmodernism ostensibly reacted to Modernism, but really just reacted to aspects of Modernism it didn't like. I was mistaken about Pomo and Deconstructionism having much to do with each other - I thought the former was a subset of the latter, then Dan Hopewell opined oppositely on this site, but most accurately one might describe them as frequently intersecting but separate paths, like asynchronous sine waves.

So no one can define Modernism exactly, no one can define Pomo exactly, and people have spent entire careers not defining Decon exactly. No wonder we run into so many problems around here.

Decon frequently employs two strategies. One is to challenge linguistic arrangements to show that they have no inherent basis. Another is to identify a dialectic, separate it into oppressor and oppressed elements, and privelege the oppressed element in an attempt to right the scales. If I understand it correctly, Pomo has often borrowed these strategies to react to Modernism (I'm confining this discussion to the art world). Sometimes this takes on a political flavor, reacting against the power structures that surround the making and presentation of art. Sometimes it takes on an aesthetic flavor, reacting to the relative visual coolness or blankness of Modernism. But I don't think anyone would argue if I said that generally speaking, Pomo and Decon both favor diversity and discontinuity.

Diversity and discontinuity are refreshing, of course, and there is no inherent problem with them. Even Clement Greenberg found Pomo's early appearances refreshing. But Pomo has simply exhausted itself. Most contemporary art does not react to Modernism as much as it draws on a tradition of older Pomo. Pomo generated a particular non-art look and attitude that has inspired imitators for four decades across the entire pluralist gamut. Of course, a tradition of discontinuity is hypocrisy. The categories, Pomo most of all, hardly apply anymore.

That's why so much contemporary art that aims to react to what-have-you feels tired, and why a list of current hot properties - John Currin, Matthew Barney, Inka Essenhigh, Laura Owens, Elizabeth Peyton, and so on - make work that has a discernable non-non-art look: an art look. They represent a transition.

Towards what? Well, on the other side of diversity and discontinuity lie unity and continuity.

Reconstructionism already exists as a term within religion. In Judaism, it refers to an effort to bring back the mysticism that was more highly valued in the past, such as among the masters of Hasidism, without the anachronistic rigamarole of Orthodoxy. (In Christianity, it refers to a bunch of theocratic whackjobs who would be happy to convert everyone in the world by means of economic, legal, or bodily force. We'll go with the Jewish version, thanks. Oy gevalt.)

Reconstructionist art (again, what the hell, let's call it Recon) will innovate based on inspirational examples from the past in an effort to express current inspirations. It will shed irony and jouissance in favor of sincerity and competitive play. It will not pretend that the past or the present doesn't exist, but invite both to the table. Instead of identifying dichotomies, it will identify shared experiences - ones that cross boundaries of race and gender and class because nearly all humans experience them. I don't know what it will look like exactly, and suspect it won't look like anything in particular because of pluralism. In fact, I don't think it will be a movement at all. It will be a great number of movements, and its masters will form a pantheon of little gods that differ while holding a few essentials in common.




January 20, 2005, 3:53 PM

Looking at Modernism and Post-Modernism only in the context of the art world is reasonable for this blog, but it obscures what is, I believe, a huge difference between the two. Modernism was a movement that truly crossed disciplines - we had Modernist art, architecture, typography, literature, philosophy, music, furniture design . . . the list goes on. To some extent, whatever interesting things happened in each of these fields in the period from the 1920s to the 1950s got grouped under the term, but I would argue that in a very real sense Modernism was a "real" movement. Post-Modernism, on the other hand, is something that existed primarily in architecture. Bits of it have trickled down to the design arts and (even less so) the fine arts. But PoMo in art has a pretty thin connection to PoMo architecture.

As you point out, lots of what passes for "Post" Modernism just happens to be stuff that's after modernism, and is not modernism (I'm playing fast and loose here with capitalization, although I'm assured that "post-modernism" and "Post-modernism" are very different things?). When we look back on all of this stuff in a couple of hundred years, I think Post-Modernism will be a footnote to Modernism, which is, at this point, our last "real" movement.

Reconstruction? Well, I can see the angle. If you're looking for it, there's art around that is at odds with the notion that "successful art must be different from whatever came before it," a notion that ruled most of the 20th century. But I think that we, as the people living in this particular period, must stick to the other term you use, "Pluralism," (which on some level includes subscribing to the rule above).

There is lots of stuff going on. Some of it may be Reconstructionist art. Most of it certainly isn't, although that doesn't mean the (what the hell, let's call it) Recon stuff won't be what our "period" is remembered for.

Reconstructionism? Let's make the call on that one in a couple of hundred years.



January 20, 2005, 3:54 PM

John Currin certainly can be said to foster the non-non-art look. He's got skill too, and plenty of pretty. But his pictures don't seem to have the power I would suppose is necessary to push culture around a corner. Julian Schnabel seemed stronger when he first emerged and initiated the pomo crusade.

But the world always can use another pretty picture.



January 20, 2005, 4:16 PM

relax kid, don't try to change the world...



January 20, 2005, 4:30 PM

We're all in this together, dude.



January 20, 2005, 6:19 PM

You wrote:

"Modernism is generally held to be the pinnacle of Enlightenment thought, but one of its greatest exponents in the arts, Clement Greenberg, openly relied on an intuitive method that seems to directly insult Enlightenment rationality."

This is a misinterpretation. Enlightment thought encouraged reason, not a rational explanation of all things. That would be unreasonable. Immanuel Kant, himself part of the late enlightenment, deduced through reason that art was intuitive. There is nothing irrational about intuition.

I strongly recommend this discussion of something called "critical realism":



January 20, 2005, 6:33 PM

And if this to be called reconstructionism, are we all going to be carpetbaggers?



January 20, 2005, 7:28 PM

Ten years ago as a lowly undergrad painter I got all up in the faces of the Pomo theory-hounds at my school, calling my work "Reconstruction, not Deconstruction", which also references an REM album, and, in the South (where my school was), some particular historical meanings. They threw Baudrillard and Foucault books at me... I wasnt hurt - those books only SEEM heavy...

I was trying to articulate what it seems you are - making work in the wake of Pomo's clear-cutting. I know you all bust on the glitter-and-glue crowd, but I see something sincere and obsessive in some of that work (certainly not all of it) that I rarely see in more "thoughtful" works.

Reconstruct what though? Meaning to images? Beauty or something? Sincerity? sometimes I just say fuck it and do what's fun to do, then think about it later...



January 20, 2005, 7:47 PM

I, too, was going to point out that Post-Modernism and Modernism have lives outside of the visual arts.

I consider Post-Modernism to be predominantly a movement concerned with a re-evaluation of critique and canon itself, not specifically with the works produced. Artworks were more secondarily Post-Modern than Primarily so. That is to say, arts created during what we conisider to be the Post-Modernist period did not so much draw on the idea of the Post-Modern as they did various concepts such as semiotics, simulacra, narrative, post-structuralism, and even the older structuralism and formalism.

"Post-Modern" architecure and design got a lot of play becuase they were such large and visual representations of what was happening in terms of that canonical re-evaluation, and in the change in anaylsis of the creation of works of art.. Because of the canonical re-evaluations, a more diverse sampling of artistic outputs was shown, some of which stood in sharp aesthetic contrast to what is more traditionally approved to be representative of an "art" aesthetic. I think it is a fallacy to suppose that works were produced across the board to capitalize on a "non-art' look, perhaps some were, but the supposition is rather ethnocentric.

For the first time, non-white, non-male, non-european artists were getting play, (because of the reconsideration of both the canon and critical perception) and it should have been no surprise that works were perceived not to be aestheically appropriate, nor appropriate in terms of subject matter.

It may be hard to recall in these days of extreme globalization, but back then the Gap (subsitute other corporately promoted culture here at will) was not the cultural Lingua Franca it seems to be now.



January 20, 2005, 7:50 PM

I also like your last image - a pantheon of little art-gods, a pluralistic Olympus. Sometimes when I'm making soemthing I try not to say "or", I think about Yogi Berra and "When you get to the fork in the road, take it."

But we should still stick knives in the crap.



January 20, 2005, 7:52 PM

Reconstructionism sounds to me a bit too much like Reconstruction. I liked oldpro's comment about the carpetbaggers. "Pluralism" doesn't seem to fit either. Perhaps something that reflect art's increasingly global arena. Post New Yorkism? (just kidding).
How will your ideas on post Postmodernism affect your Drawing Project?



January 20, 2005, 8:34 PM


There is nothing wrong with "canonical re-evaluation". This is one of the cardinal procedures of Modernism.

Postmodernism, in its everyday, corrupted form, dismisses esthetic valuation altogether.

When you dismiss esthetic evaluation you are not looking at art you are looking at the vehicle of another purpose. This may have some social value but, except for going by the name, it is not art, and usually will not hold up under esthetic scrutiny, whether or not it asks for it.



January 20, 2005, 8:48 PM

I think the idea for the choice of the word "reconstructionism" is totally on, but it seems like there ought to be a slightly better word for it. Rejuvenationism sounds stupid. Recoverism sounds stupid too. I think Rehab-ism is more precise, but it's too American and comes with some unfortunate baggage.

I think the art world got on a certain track throughout the 20th century. Like Alesh said, it is the "successful art must be different from what came before it" track. Modernism took it to its most formal extreme and postmodernism has taken it to every other extreme.

This is what my professor means when he says, "if you think you've come up with something new, forget it, somebody has already done it." I don't think he is trying to make me feel hopeless. He may have a legitimate point in that all the "big" things have been done as far as movements go. If I am wrong and any of you can come up with something else that is "big", then perhaps that would be the logical next basis for a movement.

If the "newness is necessary" premise is correct, then Recon would be great because it doesn't require us to come up with anything new. I think this newness issue could be a lot more important than people realize.

I had a history of photography class that I loved. We learned how the sudden availability of photographic images caused a tremendous impact on society. For example, 200 years ago, most people did not know what they looked like as a small child or even what Hawaii looked like. In the present day, we are deluged with images to the point that we take these things for granted.

Now we have the Internet and as AcademicElephant said in a different blog, "you can find anything on google." There is a pervasive sense that we've seen it all (or we could if we wanted to). As a society we have become much more difficult to impress. It seems to me that this has caused an unprecedented challenge to the Fine Art world.

Walter Benjamin wrote that an art object must be surrounded by some sort of mystique in order to retain its value. I always thought he was wrong. What if he wasn't? Where does that leave the art world (in the age of image saturation)?



January 20, 2005, 9:07 PM

Sophie, et al:

There is a serious movement afoot called "critical realism" to which I alluded above, with a web address, which confronts this question. it is worth reading.

I don't know if that is a direct quote from Walter Benjamin, but if it is, it is nonsense, unless he has some special meaning for "mystique". I have never understood why everyone takes him so seriously.



January 20, 2005, 9:20 PM

You know, I thought this Critical Reason thing sounded familiar.



January 20, 2005, 9:22 PM

I meant Realism, of course. Low blood sugar. Also, gotta stop putting whiskey on the cornflakes.



January 20, 2005, 9:55 PM

Aesthetic evaluation was not dismissed during the Post-Modern era; other aesthetics were introduced. Not all aesthetic systems were analogous. It is likely that many who were not receptive to the aesthetics of cutures outside of or more marginal cultures within the dominant culture misinterpreted what was happening as a dismissal of aesthetic evaluation, since they no longer saw a plurality of the aesthetics which they personally valued and/or were able to interpret as "good".



January 20, 2005, 9:56 PM

My above comment was directed at Oldpro.



January 20, 2005, 11:12 PM


I said I thought he was wrong. I was forced to read it in an art history class. I take him about as seriously as my daughter's stuffed animals.

That was definitely a paraphrase. His point was that art had to be really special, one-of-a-kind, and inaccessible to the "masses". I'm 90% sure he did use the word mystique.

I shall check out your Critical Realism link later tonite. I'm not feeling very well and I'm going back to bed.



January 20, 2005, 11:12 PM

It sounds as if you are just saying that as time went on more things got to be introduced as art and taken seriously. This is just normal change. My point was that Postmodernism dismisses all esthetic evaluation.

Can you give me an example of "2 esthetic systems" that employ different procedures?



January 20, 2005, 11:18 PM

(I was responding toi Kathleen above).

Sophie: I know you said you always thought he was wrong, but then you said "what if he wasn't?" If it is nonsense it cannot be either. But I like the stuffed anmal conparison, except stuffed animals are cozy and this high-falutin art theory is anything but.

Feel better!



January 20, 2005, 11:45 PM

Messy Democraticism.

I was surprised to find - through my statcounter thing - that someone googled "democraticism" and anaba is the first thing that comes up!



January 21, 2005, 12:17 AM

Aesthetic evaluation was not dismissed during the Post-Modern era; other aesthetics were introduced. If only. Unfortunately, scholars coined pejorative terms for the Western canon - dead white males and phallogocentrism come immediately to mind - in order to privilege the oppressed part of whatever dialectic concerned them. This springs out of an attitude, which I realize is far from universally held, that resistance to the more recent aesthetic ideas comes from entrenched sexism, racism, classism, and/or xenophobia. I have witnessed, even on this blog, that some Pomos feel entitled to assume these serious failures of character in people who don't share their views.



January 21, 2005, 12:36 AM

Oldpro said: There is nothing irrational about intuition.

Right. But neither is there anything rational about intution. Like the scholastics liked to say about faith and reason, there is no conflict between the two. They are just different.

But the enlightenment went overboard in favor of reason, so in that sense, Greenberg's reliance on intuition was, as Franklin put it, an insult to their attitude that reason is a panecea.

(We are beginning to quibble here.)



January 21, 2005, 12:47 AM

Your statement doesn't work, Flatboy.

I don't know if it was ever stated that "reason is a panacea", but even if that had been said it is inherently unreasonable.

And even if intuition is discounted by an approach that overvalues reason the use of intuition is not an "insult" to it.

If this is to be argued it at least needs to be rephrased.



January 21, 2005, 1:11 AM


I wasn't there, but I think phrases like "dead white males" were used to make the establishment (i.e. the living white males) realize that there was, in fact, artwork created by other groups that was worthwile.

For us to call it excessive now would be like saying that of course African Americans should have equal rights, but all those marches and protests were a little too extreme.



January 21, 2005, 1:19 AM

Alesh: That is what is classicly and rightly known as an "odious comparison". Good grief!



January 21, 2005, 1:21 AM

I will assume you know what I was talking about, Oldpro.



January 21, 2005, 1:48 AM

That is sort of enigmatic, Flatboy, but let's leave it at that if you want to.



January 21, 2005, 4:02 AM


Odious? Are you sure? The exclusion of famale, minority, and non-western culture artwork from the discussion for most of "Art History" seems pretty parallel to racism in other spheres of society.

Therefore, I thought the analogy was pretty apt.



January 21, 2005, 4:59 AM


You compare the struggle for civil rights of a whole people who had come out of slavery and had to fight on every front for living equality to the power-grabbing, hypocritical lip-service corrupted postmodernism gave to some so-called marginalized art by piggy-backing on those great struggles?

Yes, it is an odious comparison indeed.



January 21, 2005, 5:00 AM

Alesh, you're conflating multiculturalism and postmodernism. Really, the people who chide me for using Pomo as a catchall ought to be getting all over you. They must be having a late lunch or something.



January 21, 2005, 6:05 AM

hey, hey, hey!

I didn't say I was defending Postmodernists. I was defending the phrase "dead white men." Seems like a phrase useful for bringing non-white male art into academic consideration, which is a pretty good thing. If the Postmodernists did that, then they did something useful. If they used a questionable tactic, then I believe that tactic was necessary. Whatever other objectionable arguments they may have made are separate.

Franklin said: Unfortunately, scholars coined pejorative terms for the Western canon - 'dead white males' and 'phallogocentrism' come immediately to mind - in order to privilege the oppressed part of whatever dialectic concerned them.

I would question the word "privilege" in that statement. If i'm studying, say, Sir Lankan art in the 1960's and my academic peers are ignoring me, I may eventually resort to phrases like "dead white men". Do I want "privilege" for Sir Lankan art? Not any more then a Rembrandt scholar would want privilege for Rembrandt. The same goes for those promoting art by women. The same goes for those promoting lots of things that we now all (?) agree are worthwhile.

So no, I'm not conflating squat; I'm defending the above practice. File under the baby and the bathwater, and Thomas Jefferson's ideas being worthwhile even if he engaged in some hypocritical behavior.



January 21, 2005, 6:38 AM

Alesh: When someone uses a "guilt trip" to get attention for their favoirte art and artists, it makes it hard for me to consider the art. But I'll admit the guilt trip approach works in many quarters, for a period. But the time will come when no one feels guilty anymore about the same things they feel guilty about now, and then what?

Whatever art is for, it really does not work very well as a moral agent. Morality can become part of the work (Guernica, for instance) but it is rarely a significant effect of the work. I'm amazed so many act as if art can improve moral behavior.

I believe politicans who happen to be personally corrupt but effective in their profession are typically better agents to implement morality than art, including art that takes an impeccable moral stance. Lynden Johnson, of the last century, is a good example of a politican who did more to correct racial injustice than any artist before or since. Johnson was not an outstanding moral specimen. For a good part of his career he supported segregation, in fact.



January 21, 2005, 6:54 AM

Sophie said: Walter Benjamin wrote that an art object must be surrounded by some sort of mystique in order to retain its value. I always thought he was wrong. What if he wasn't? Where does that leave the art world (in the age of image saturation)?

Oldpro commented: I know you said you always thought he was wrong, but then you said "what if he wasn't?" If it is nonsense it cannot be either.

I have not noticed that the world is so neatly arranged between right and wrong, sense and nonsense. To entertain that something can be both wrong and not wrong is to set aside logic, for sure, but it can yield a better perspective than the one logic limits us to. There is no reason we must be always reasonable. There is every reason, in fact, not to always be.

There is a question in physics similar to Sophie's. Einstein's physics said there can be no planet Vulcan circling the sun inside the orbit of Mercury. Newton mechanics says there must be a Vulcan. Both theories are still useful. Most experts think there is no Vulcan, but many of them still ask, what if there is? Keeps the perspective honest.



January 21, 2005, 7:11 AM

Flatboy~ I'm not sure how old you are, where you're coming from, or whatever, so I'm not sure how to tailor my response... But look: almost ALL art by women, minorities, and other "outsider" groups WAS ignored by western art scholars for all of history until sometime around forty years ago, when it was forced on the westenrn art scholars (WAS's?) by other people. Those others used the phrase "dead white males." Their tactics could, I suppose, be characterized as a "guilt trip."

You can choose to dismiss all that art because of how it came to be considered. I suppose you can even choose to feel "brave" for doing so.



January 21, 2005, 7:24 AM

alesh: I'm 35, a white male too. How can that be important? Anyhow, guilt gets in the way of experiencing art. It is not a reason to either dismiss or accept. It is just a side track. Liking or not liking art has nothing to do with bravery. Your bringing it up seems a little like an attempt to bring on some guilt. So I am guilty of being a 35 year old white male. I hope my feeling bad makes someone else feel wonderful. You perhaps?

I don't think not liking art is a choice, it just happens, same as liking it. Feeling brave is probably similar.



January 21, 2005, 7:35 AM

Whatever new recognition was created for the art of disadvantaged groups came about because of social changes made by political activists. The people invoking "dead white males" were jumping on the bandwagon after the show was over. Your comparison was inappropriate at best and offensive at worst. I am suprised someone else more inclined to righteous indignation than I am hasn't jumped all over it.

Flatboy, there you go again. If something makes no sense it cannot be right or wrong. Period. This is just plain obvious, not a matter of "arranging the world" or "yielding a better perspective" or Einstein or Newton. Geez! Gimme a break!



January 21, 2005, 7:39 AM

Oldpro, I don't want to repeat what I just said. I still stand by it.

But I'll ask you, do you think the world is entirely orderly and that "reason" rules?



January 21, 2005, 8:13 AM

Of course not. But I do believe that if something does not make sense it cannot be either right or wrong. It can't be right because it makes no sense. It can't be wrong because it maes no sense. To be right or wrong something has to make sense. That's all.


that guy in the back row

January 21, 2005, 9:02 AM

oldpro: I just got a chance to read the suggested reading and can only add one thing: why you woman hating, elitist, common sense making, white male, how dare you step on the toes of 40 years of pseudo science! just kidding, maybe now we can publish an art mag called "Critical Art Realismo" or something more catchy. It does not solve the predicament good artists are in today unfortunately, but it is a start.



January 21, 2005, 3:24 PM

According to oldpro: I do believe that if something does not make sense it cannot be either right or wrong

I guess this statement is compatible with "we can experience things we can't understand". Making sense has its place, but does not exhaust all the possiblities if one wishes to live fully.



January 21, 2005, 4:17 PM

Really, Flatboy, I have to assume you are just being mischievous now, because you are so sharp and dead-on about so many other things.

There has never been any implication that making sense had any relationship to "living fully", (even though I believe it helps) and of course we experience things we can't undersdtand.



January 21, 2005, 4:23 PM

Guy: because we are addicted to "isms" I suppose the reaction to pomo will be yet another one. Whether or not this "critical realism" will be what catches the ring I don;t know, but whatever it is I hope it has a large enough dose of common sense to be able to appeal to those who think common sense is a virtue.



January 21, 2005, 5:01 PM

That was fun. Especially Flatboy and Old Pro.
Recon okay with me.
But Rehabism was my favorite!!



January 21, 2005, 5:11 PM

Oldpro's last post convinced me even more.
Since we are addicted to "isms" we definitely need Rehabism...
Seriously though, a needed dose of common sense could help all factions of the art world. But it is in scant supply these days...

common sense isn't "new" enough to garner much attention.



January 21, 2005, 5:11 PM

I finished grad school a few years after the whole Helms-Mapplethorpe thing blew up, so I wasn't exactly there either. But I was there for when the NYT Magazine did a feature on the UCLA art program. This would have been around 1999 or 2000. At one point the reporter challenged Mike Kelley on something and he spat back, "We are not going back to white male versions of art history!" (I may be paraphrasing slightly; it was a while ago and I can't find the quote online.) Kelley is white and male, of course, and as it happened, the illustration on the same page was a lineup of the "UCLA power faculty." It was seven-tenths male, and except for a brownish gentleman on the end named Gonzalez, all white. (Why was Gonzalez at the end of the line? And does anyone hear "white" and "power" with uncomfortable proximity?) To top it off, they were standing in snow - gleaming white snow. I thought, come on, I can't be the only person who sees how ridiculous this is, from both logical and semiotic standpoints. This has been my experience with these pejoratives - they are used as scare tactics to stop discussion when the status quo becomes threatened, by people with a gargantuan tolerance for hypocrisy. Whether they did some good at the beginning I don't know, but based on my own experience, what Oldpro, who was there, said about piggy-backing sounds about right.

Regarding the sense discussion, I want to distinguish between the poetic mysteries of life, which don't make sense, and plain old not making any damn sense. I think we can have a full life embracing the former and rejecting the latter.



January 21, 2005, 5:33 PM

Granted, common sense is how we often proceed best. But Oldpro overdoes it and then it interfers with discussion, something like a Robert's Rules of Order fanatic can interfer with a meeting: "You're out of order", such a sticler will say. Oldpro has his own device, the rules of common sense.

"Common sense" belongs to everyone. Statements like I do believe that if something does not make sense it cannot be either right or wrong, while logical in the extreme, seem personal to Oldpro, rather than belonging to the common experience. Logic does not rule to the exclusion of all else.

There is room here for violations of OldPro's sense of common sense. Sophie, who OldPro called for expressing one, had a good point nonetheless. I'm confident there are some if not many who saw the value in what she said and how she put it, even if they held back from the discussion.

On the other hand, Oldpro makes many good points under the agesis of common sense and is often a breath of fresh air in a room that too often has gone stale with thick bullshit. I applaud him for that. But like Greenberg's eye, his shit detector is far from perfect.



January 21, 2005, 5:39 PM

Yes, Franklin, "plain old not making any damn sense" is what I was trying to get at.

"Scare tactics to stop discussion when the status quo becomes threatened", though unrealted to the above, is also accurate.

I may have read in that same NYT magazine article (Maybe a former student told me?) about a crit a student had with the instructors and the graduates. They were very tough on him and at one point in response to a question he said "well I guess I didn't get it right"
Which provoked a gale of derisive laughter. In response to his puzzled look it was patiently explained to him that there was no such thing as "getting it right". There was no disagreement from anyone in the class. Brainwashing, anyone?

Bookworm: I think your observation that "common sense isn't 'new' enough to garner much attention" is certainly correct. For anything to take off it needs something catchy up front to sell that old plain vanilla. It seemed to me that "critical realism", though not very glamorous sounding, at least had a solid, academic ring to it. Academie Elephant and I were batting around the term "nomikerism" (after joking about a typo based on the word "moniker", but that probably wouldn't get anywhere.



January 21, 2005, 5:53 PM

Flatboy: Fun is fun, but this is getting tiresome.

Merely by insisting on very simple, plain, obvious, everyday logic in a very specific, limited instance I am being cast as some sort of acutely limited hyperlogical Scrooge with an imperfect "shit detector", insisting on some peculiar thought process peculiar to me and not part of the "common experience". Aarghh!

Please, Flatboy, give it up! if you do not want to give it up, then at least stop characterizing me and make your point by producing a statement that does not make sense and can be clearly determined to be right or wrong.



January 21, 2005, 5:57 PM

Number 49 was not written by me.



January 21, 2005, 6:00 PM

And, as I laboriously tried to point out to you in a recent exchange, Greenberg's eye was never a "shit" detector but a "gold" detector (in the sense of "panning for").

You can disagree with me if you want, but I am beginning to feel like we have these long interesting exchanges and what I am saying is just whizzing past you.



January 21, 2005, 6:01 PM

This is terrible, I did it again. Sorry!



January 21, 2005, 6:05 PM

Oldpro, you would probably be surprised, then, to know how much of what you say does not whiz by. Much of it sticks, because it is good.



January 21, 2005, 6:14 PM

Thanks. Sorry about the misnaming. I think sometimes i get so impatient with you that i just want to say "now see here, Flatboy!" as if we were face to face.



January 21, 2005, 6:22 PM

In the quest for a title, I still support Nomikerism (the "k" seems to add a certain je ne sais quois), but since that might be a little obscure and "Common Sense-ism" (pace, Flatboy, but there is such a think as sense) is awkward and as Bookworm says it's not very glamorous, how about just plain "Constructionists?" Then you lose the post-Civil War baggage, and it's not too close to "Constructivism." Apparently the term does exist in education as a practice of "learning by making," which does apply rather well to what we're proposing--an approach that follows where scholarly research takes it, rather than trying to force research into a pre-ordained theory.

I too am battling a horrible flu and when I'm not croaking at my students I've taken to my couch, so if someone already suggested this I apologize.


Chad Harris

January 21, 2005, 7:39 PM

This is probably too late, but regarding the discussion of miniorites in the arts and postmodernism's apparent missuse of their struggles, I have a good open-ended quote. I hope I haven't butchered this too much pulling it from my memory:

Art is a European invention. However, Europe is not entirely a European invention.

-Jimmie Durham



January 21, 2005, 8:43 PM

Art is a European invention?

Mr. Durham needs to take Art survey 1 somewhere.



January 21, 2005, 8:58 PM


I think "constructivism and "contructionism" would get hopelessly confused, and Nomikerism would have an uphill fight against the "critical realist" labvbel which already seems to have a book behind it.

Maybe we should just have a secret society of Nomikerists, like the Masons, with rituals and all that. In college we had a thing called "The Tuesday Night Euripides Club", which met on Thursday nights and had the motto "Nil admirare" (admire nothing). It was devoted to promulgating nonsense. Naturally everyohne got very serious and it lasted a very short time. Maybe now we can have one that will be devoted to promulgating common sense and will last a very long time. However, translating "common sense" into Latin is far beyond me at this opoint.



January 21, 2005, 9:11 PM

Hello OldPro--communis sensis--I'm not joking, that's really the Latin for common sense--but everyone will think we made it up. We might work with "prudentia" or practical wisdom. "Prudentism" might work, unless we're accused of being conservative "prudes" (however, given the etymology of the word one wonders if it's an insult). I do like Critical Realism, but after what I learned about the origins of the term "lobbyist" yesterday I wonder if the accidental and organic Nomikerism might still be a dark horse?

Maybe too much cold medicine?

Incidentally, I've taught ARTH 101 and we do not start in Europe.



January 21, 2005, 9:22 PM

I forgot to mention to WWC that "those books only SEEM heavy" (#7) was really funny, and that his strategy to make art that he feels like making is undoubtedly the best one. Also about the knives - yep.



January 21, 2005, 9:23 PM

Oldpro to flatboy: Please, Flatboy, give it up! if you do not want to give it up, then at least stop characterizing me and make your point by producing a statement that does not make sense and can be clearly determined to be right or wrong.

Sophie already made such a statement. I determined she was right, but I can imagine someone else might determine she was wrong. OldPro determined she did "not make sense". (obviously I don't think right and wrong are mutually exclusive categories.)

To Franklin, paradox and mystery apply to a lot more than poetry. They can apply to wallpaper, as Rosenberg once attempted, unsuccessfully. Of course discussions can get wacko in extremis. I see no reason to make rigid sense all the time. All things in moderation?



January 21, 2005, 9:38 PM

Try subsituting capital A "Art" instead of the "art" you must be thinking of. Also of intest:

"We’re working with a conception of art in which most art is isolated in little cultural zones like the museum, the concert hall, the poetry reading, where art is supposed to function by sweeping us from our grubby little world and into the exalted realm of the aesthetic. When a student finds art in that sense irrelevant to her grubby little life, we congratulate ourselves on the success of our ideology. Take a gander at modernism, with its systematic purgation of extra-artistic content, with its formalism and its attack on pleasure and interest and desire, with its abstraction, atonality, self-reference and so forth: the only surprising thing would be if people were ready to bring it into their day-to-day lives. The stuff is defined by its exclusions."

and (from same article):

"I try to take a very broad notion of art: one that, among other things, counts crafts as arts, counts popular arts as arts: one that makes art a way of making or experiencing things rather than a set of objects or genres or geniuses or institutions. That’s close to the pre-modern western conception of art, and it’s part of the artistic and spiritual traditions of most cultures."

From an essay called "Teaching Non-Western Aesthetics", by Crispin Sartwell, located here:



January 21, 2005, 10:00 PM

Considering how little makes sense, and all the different systems under which things can be 'rignt' and 'wrong,' i'm suprised this is even an argument. Of course things that don't makes sense are more correct than things that do.

I'm not sure I understand the point of your story, Oldpro. Is there a right answer in art? Certainly there are issues within art that have answers that are definetively 'wrong,' but maybe there are multiple 'right' answers. Here's my best guess at the meaning of your story:

In an art critique, the critiquer(s) can take one of tow approaches: you can look for what is right, good, or strong in the work, and talk about that. This would be a good strategy with a beginning student who needs direction, who needs doors opened. Or you can focus on the weaknesses of the work, and talk about that. That would be appropriate for experienced students who believe in their work, and need to have their approach focused, or need to re-examine particular aspects of their work to make sure they're doing what they really want to be doing.

It seems to me that the latter is what happened in the story. In which case the "I guess I got it wrong" remark would be abusrd, and the laughter would be appropriate?

Franklin~ I don't know. Maybe I'm the only one who thinks it took some work to get the art establishment to buy into minority artists and women artists. I'm inclined to be skeptical. I think it took lots of work, I think it happened during and after the civil rights sturggle, and I think it employed multiple strategies, one of which would be loaded phrases like "dead white males." Can those strategies be abused? Sure. Maybe that's what happened in your example. It seems pretty easy to deal with those abuses when they happen. In your example, the phrase may have been intended to stop discussion (I doubt it was), but I'm sure it didn't. Some people occasionally resort to sensationalist language in debate - it may be poor form but I think it's rarely destructive.

Last: Capital "A" Art, along with "Artist" the way we understand the term, is for sure a European invention.



January 21, 2005, 10:01 PM

I swear I was making my post at the same time as Kathleen, and didn't see her "capital-A Art" comment. But that's it - we are the great minds who think alike.



January 21, 2005, 10:11 PM

Okay, somebody want to distinguish Art and art for me?



January 21, 2005, 10:30 PM

Flatboy: Forgive me, but the only way to argue the sense/nonsense matter at this point would be to follow the entire thread from beginning to end, because by introducing Sophies orginal comment the way that you have above creates a need for a kind of fine tuning which I think may be boring to the readers. I will follow it through if you really want to, but given the activity and other interesting stuff going on i would be willing to just let it drop at this point. It's up to you.

Elephant: But I would guess that "communis sensis" would not have the same vernacular meaning in Latin. Of course that may not matter. I sort of like "prudentia" . I don't think the etymology has to come into play but stiull it has an inert flavor, like "a piece of the rock".

Kathleen: The quotes about art currently operating separate from "life" are accurate enough, but what he says about how art operated in "pre-modern western cultures" and "most cultures" is to some extent the kind of rustic delusion intellectuals like to employ to criticise our culture. Most art in most cultures is made for, and to a lesser extent by, the higher economic classes. I am not saying this is good or bad, just that comments like Mr. Sartwell's demand a lot of qualification.

Alesh: as for the "sense" argument, it has nothing to do with a "right answer in art". It is just a simple logical construction the discussion of which has gotten out of hand. I would love to drop it at this point, but as i said above I will keep it up if anyone is interested.

As for the "art establishment taking time to buy into minority artist and women artists", sure it did. All I said was that it was the product of political action, not pomos talking "dead white male". This is a simple historical observation.


Chad Harris

January 21, 2005, 10:51 PM

Another issue with minorites and women in the arts is that of tokenism. Gallerists want black artists to address racial concerns, not just be artists - Japanese artists must follow a preconcieved code of Japanese-ness (Zen, pop, whatever) .. etc etc. Somehow a womans art is seen always a "feminine" when a man's doesn't have to be masculine. Now, of course there are cultural/biological differences in terms of perspective, but most of contemporary art seems interested in exoticism.


Art = Art for Arts sake, as we know and practice it - a European concept
art = craft and cultural traditions that involve the visual - this is present in every society in history

It seems fair, to me. No?



January 21, 2005, 11:03 PM

Chad: the impilicit tokenism you mention is one of the perverse aspects of the effort toward equality. I have heard black and female artists gripe about it, that somehow they are restrained from competing with the "live white males" unless they sneak in some kind of "ethnic" content. However I think this sort of thing will fade away as social equality becomes the norm.

"Art for arts sake" is a European phrase in origin, but art as a seperated vehicle of esthetic pleasure is not, or at least not that I know of. (I don;t want to argue this; I am getting a headache from all the bloogging going on lately).

Also, I think the capital/lowercase division might be seen as invidious by some of our devoted bloggers, and this may launch a massive discussion which we may not need at this point.


Chad Harris

January 21, 2005, 11:16 PM

Massive discussions are always needed. I'm making it a personal goal to try and help get the Dorsch post of 9 days ago to 200 comments.

I guess I'd be curious to know the origin of the word art in general. It is the root of "artifical", no? I don't know where it comes from and that might answer some questions.



January 21, 2005, 11:24 PM

ARTc.1225, "skill as a result of learning or practice," from O.Fr. art, from L. artem, (nom. ars) "art, skill, craft," from PIE *ar-ti- (cf. Skt. rtih "manner, mode;" Gk. arti "just," artios "complete;" Armenian arnam "make," Ger. art "manner, mode"), from base *ar- "fit together, join" (see arm (1)). In M.E. usually with sense of "skill in scholarship and learning" (c.1305), especially in the seven sciences, or liberal arts (divided into the trivium -- grammar, logic, rhetoric -- and the quadrivium --arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy). This sense remains in Bachelor of Arts, etc. Meaning "human workmanship" (as opposed to nature) is from 1386. Sense of "cunning and trickery" first attested c.1600. Meaning "skill in creative arts" is first recorded 1620; esp. of painting, sculpture, etc., from 1668. Broader sense of the word remains in artless (1589). As an adj. meaning "produced with conscious artistry (as opposed to popular or folk) it is attested from 1890, possibly from infl. of Ger. kunstlied "art song" (cf. art film, 1960; art rock, c.1970). Fine arts, "those which appeal to the mind and the imagination" first recorded 1767. Art brut "art done by prisoners, lunatics, etc.," is 1955, from Fr., lit. "raw art." Artsy "pretentiously artistic" is from 1902. Expression art for art's sake (1836) translates Fr. l'art pour l'art. First record of art critic is from 1865. Arts and crafts "decorative design and handcraft" first attested in the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, founded in London, 1888.



January 21, 2005, 11:48 PM

Fair, Chad? I guess it depends on how you feel about defining something called Art as a European invention and then criticising it for not including non-Europeans. Sounds like a set-up for an argument in bad faith.

On the other hand, if you think of art as something that has been exchanged, along with the technical expertise for making it, between the peoples of Europe, Africa, and Asia without interruption since the time of Alexander, and you don't sweat for what sake it was done, I think you end up with a more accurate picture of the art world for the last few millenia. That's the view I subscribe to.


Chad Harris

January 22, 2005, 12:08 AM

I'm not critizing "art", I was critizing "gallerists". Maybe I was unclear. It is impossible to critize "art" - it is a word, incapable of making decisions. Also, Art is greater than it's known history - I don't believe the gallery/museum system defines it solely.

Using your definition of art, explain the term "Avant-Garde".


Chad Harris

January 22, 2005, 12:13 AM

Also, your view of art also goes hand in hand with the Durham quote. Why are we even talking about this, anyway?

Thanks for the meaty definition, oldpro.



January 22, 2005, 12:15 AM

hey, this is fun chad.
Of, relating to, or being part of an innovative group, especially one in the arts.

A style of music on the forefront of experimentation; originally applied to jazz styles such as freebop and expressionism

French for advance guard" or "vanguard." Those considered the leaders (and often regarded as radicals) in the invention and application of new concepts in a given field.

Intellectual, literary, or artistic movement that breaks with tradition and seems ahead of its time.

a dated term signifying the newest artistic expressions usually in contrast to anything mainstream or embraced by society as a whole.

(a-vahnt guard) Advanced or forward thinking fashion design. French term for "advance guard".

Those whose work can be characterized as unorthodox and experimental.

A French military term meaning "in the forefront" which in the 19C was applied to artists or movements considered to be new, radical, and often and revolutionary. For example, the ideas and work of Edouard Manet were regarded as avant-garde within the context of 19C French Salon painting.

any creative group active in the innovation and application of new concepts and techniques in a given field (especially in the arts)

radically new or original; "an avant-garde theater piece"



January 22, 2005, 12:16 AM

Im getting punchy, franklin, I promose not to do it any more.


Chad Harris

January 22, 2005, 12:26 AM

I love "advance guard". The military imagery is so approprate for some reason.

I am wondering how to tie in this to Franklin's well reasoned idea of art - as in, where did the avant-garde come from? If the arts are Eurasian and African, then why Modernist appropration of African masks? Shouldn't these masks be a part of the Modernist discourse directly, if it is all so simple?



January 22, 2005, 12:35 AM

Sometime (I believe it was during the late Renaissance), the idea of the artist as we currently understand it came about.. Prior to that, artists were viewed as tradesmen, not too different from a metalsmith - you have a particular skill, you do work to order for money. Art, existed to serve some other purpose - glorify god, illustrate something, etc. This is what I originally meant by the lower-case "a" art. Art as we understand it today is difficult to define correctly, but pretty central is the idea that the will of the "artist" in creating a "work" is unhampered by outside forces except as he or she allows it.

This may be practically impossible, but the distinction between the previous version is pretty dramatic.



January 22, 2005, 12:38 AM

OldPro: My Latin teacher considered "communis sensis" acceptable usage, so I'm sticking with it for nocturnal dialogues with Cicero. But I'm warming to Critical Realism more and more. In response to an earlier post that protested about the notion of "right" in art, it is of course true that no one is "right" about art--analysis or scholarship or creation for that matter is purely subjective--but there are right or responsible ways to get there. However, we don't want to give you a headache so we can leave it there for the moment.

I disapprove of the art/Art debate. It's quibbling. If you don't know what it is, then leave it alone. Sure, it's the root of artifice--and what is art if not artificial or rather man made--also articulate, artifact, and I suppose artichoke.

Avant-garde means both a scout and the one who calls the guard to move out. Think twice about the French army before following.



January 22, 2005, 12:41 AM

I agree with Durham's "broad notion," but not with his idea that Modernism is somehow opposed to it or that the broad notion precludes thinking of things in terms of "objects or genres or geniuses or institutions." My notion is broad enough to include them, the little cultural zones, and all the other bugaboos that people like Durham get their undies in a bunch over. I think this capital-A vs. little-a thing is a red herring.



January 22, 2005, 12:49 AM

Alesh: Sorry to stick my nose into your thread, but this is a topic in which I am very interested. For what it's worth, you might date the phemomenon to the very early Renaissance when Dante equated the human creative act with the divine creative act, but I believe it has its roots in the myths of artificers such as Daedalas and the "miraculous" mathematical artificers of the French Gothic. Fine artists begin to actively exploit the notion to further their own quest for social advancement in the 15th century (although again, I worry this is too "modern" as what about Giotto? He was certainly interested in celebrating the intellectual creative act as the valuable element in a work of art). I strongly caution you about "the idea that the will of the "artist" in creating a "work" is unhampered by outside forces except as he or she allows it. " This is an attractive ideal, but as impossible to realize as an "authentic" representation of the self. Outside forces have a way of creeping in, and the notion that we have achieved a radically different quality of art in the post-Renaissance period may be somewhat misleading.



January 22, 2005, 12:51 AM

Shouldn't these masks be a part of the Modernist discourse directly, if it is all so simple? Yes. They are. It is. Picasso drew from them, Barnes collected them. Quality can be detected cross-culturally, and to argue otherwise is to take a repugnant position (not that you are, Chad, but some have and do).

Artichoke! Hee! And, um, aardvark. Like I said, Elephant, you are always welcome here.



January 22, 2005, 1:02 AM

Thanks Franklin--this has been a fun activity on a sick afternoon. I did like your definition of art since the age of Alexander very much--especially the part about not sweating too much for what sake it was done. Certainly motivating factors are of interest, but if we apply too much hindsight morality we're going to have to toss the accumulated cultural heritage of every major global tradition, not just the western one.


Chad Harris

January 22, 2005, 1:03 AM

I do not understand "Quality can be detected cross-culturally, and to argue otherwise is to take a repugnant position". Are you denying cultural differences?



January 22, 2005, 1:11 AM

Not that cultural differences don't exist, Chad, but that the differences matter less than the similarities.



January 22, 2005, 1:30 AM

Elephant: Artichoke is what I do when I look at Postmodernist art.

I don't think quality in art is "subjective" but I refuse to argue about it now. Maybe later. That was another one of the Mighty Hassles from last summer.

Be careful everyone, Elephant knows classics & history.

Shouldn't African masks be part of the Modernist discourse? Good grief, Chad, where ya been?

Alesh: Outside forces" are inside us and outside us and all around us. We dance to their tune. We only let them influence us when we let them? Let the ego dream on!



January 22, 2005, 1:56 AM

Shit, that was Sartwell's broad notion. Where the hell did Durham come from?



January 22, 2005, 2:03 AM

#56 Art is a European invention. However, Europe is not entirely a European invention.
-Jimmie Durham

My comment: Mr. Durham needs to take Art survey 1 somewhere.



January 22, 2005, 2:19 AM

Okay, I guess I answered that too.



January 22, 2005, 2:56 AM

Yikes--the classics and history elephant sounds like a nasty and pompous beast best avoided--it likes to drag its own field into everything, even contemporary art. Makes it feel relevant and hip.



January 22, 2005, 3:24 AM

Hey Elephant, we can use some accurate historical facts now and then. Keep on draggin' in.



January 22, 2005, 5:34 AM

I was pretty clumsy in trying to explain capital-A Art. Thanks, Elephant, for correcting my dates. And oviously "free from ourside influences" is a pretty stupid statement. To put it less formally, an Artist, as we think of one today, decides what to do and how to do it. Whatever asterisks and qualifications follow this statement, that is the ideal. Until the early Renaissance in Europe, and until much later almost everyhwere else, there was no such thing as an "Artist" in this sense.

I'm not exactly sure what relevancy this has to the discussion, but to me it is a very important fact, and worth keeping in mind (for example, those African masks were created by someone who was thinking something very different while making them then what Picasso was thinking while painting from them).

Re cross-cultural detection of quality, I withhold my position for the moment, and present my personal golden standard thought experiment for considering this issue (which is huge): Intelligent aliens from another planet land on the Earth. Assuming sensory/language issues are resolved, would they be able to detect quality in our (human) art? Would they recognize a Rembrandt from a flea-market imitation? Would they be able to appreciate a Jackson Pollock? What about Ornette Coleman?



January 22, 2005, 5:38 AM

OldPro etc.
I'm late to the party but did have fun reading...
So does the definition you provided mean we have regressed to the 1600's?
"cunning and trickery" being in large doses around the collections and art mags currently
I like that, the artist as conjuror...


Chad Harris

January 22, 2005, 6:43 AM

Speaking of Ornette, this reminds me of him for some reason, and it is relevant to discussion.

I am not saying that I agree with it, just that it's amazing and weird and worth reading:



January 22, 2005, 8:16 AM

Bookworm: Did i define something?

Do the aliens dig art? Doesn;t everyone know they had a whole convention for it called Art Basel, and they are transporting all the ill-gotten gains back to Krypton, laughing all the way?

"Wow", they are saying to each other, "that was easier than we thought!"



January 22, 2005, 11:20 AM

OP- That was a good one.

Wow, I was sick for three days and this blog took off in a major way.

I see my Benjamin comment took on a life of its own. It's interesting that it turned into a right or wrong paradox debate. (How can it make sense if both conclusions are entertained)

Answer: I have made it through my scary life by concentrating on what is right, not on being right. I always thought Benjamin was wrong. Lately, I feel the need to readdress the question. I was hoping to hear some thoughts on that. Nothing senseless about that.


Chad Harris

January 22, 2005, 11:41 AM

What a dorky joke oldpro. Art Basel was so crappy it was depressing, but there's no alien reasoning behind that contemporama, Euro-trash flea market. It's just the effect of a fickle marketplace.



January 22, 2005, 4:22 PM

Well, golly, Chad, now I will have to rethink my whole position.



January 22, 2005, 7:30 PM

Post #92: I'm not so sure that returning to 1600 would be a regression, at least in terms of this discussion--the definition of "good" art and "bad" art was very clear at that point--it had to do with how successfully and originally the work filled its purpose.

Artist as conjuror is a long and venerable tradition. Again, back to the Gothic architects...



January 23, 2005, 2:21 PM

as franklin had commented, perhapes reconstructionism (or maybe reconstructuralism) could be related to a simple greyscale, where each value transists into a gradual increase or decrease of incremental change based on the idea of progression and succession. judging upon these artists ( and presumably their work) he has mentioned, this does'nt seem to be the case, the question is then , where are the gaps?



January 23, 2005, 7:18 PM

In the past, the names of movements or periods in art were added after the art was done, like the "Baroque" period, or the critic who circa 1912 exclaimed "it looks like a bunch of little cubes", perhaps misnaming the movement then popularly dubbed Cubism. Naming your "movement" in advance still smacks of those professors who yell and scream and throw Foucoult/Derrida books at non-conforming (or talented) students.

Postmodernism was never more than a romanticized, purely academic rehash of earlier movements like Dada & Surrealism, with loads of Marxist cultural verbiage and identity politics heaped on top. Its works were never more than illustrations of academic/political cliches. It simply does not exist outside of the narrow world of academia and the tiny circle of curators, galleries and museums who are its footsoldiers.

Any new movement will have to grow of its own accord, free of over 40 years of reruns of movements that peaked well before WWII and were hardly more than pure, bad romanticism about "being an artist", "what is art" or the "meaning of art" in the first place. Stay away from non-art and anti-art, or stay stuck in Pomo the Sequel, Episode 68...



January 23, 2005, 7:41 PM

Hi Raphael.

It [postmodernism] simply does not exist outside of the narrow world of academia and the tiny circle of curators, galleries and museums who are its footsoldiers.

That circle ain't so "tiny". And how can we ignore the fact the word "postmodern" can be found in many popular magazines that are far far away from "academia" and way way bigger than academia. They are the civilized world. Consider that you may be sticking you head in the sand, my british buddy.

Instead of opposing pomo (an exercise in genuine, not postmodernist futility), why not leverage it for whatever it is you want?


Chad Harris

January 24, 2005, 2:54 AM

Good point flatboy.



January 24, 2005, 4:46 AM

Flatboy, you find it in magazines and newspapers and yakked about all over but it is just not part of real life, not outside academia and intellectual and art circles anyway.

It cannot really be part of real life. If we lived a pomo life we would not last 5 minutes. Postmodernist police work, anyone?

But saying why complain, use it to get whjat you want, well, that is certtainly realistic. Except of course you might feel like a major league jerk while you are doing it.



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