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new essay at newcrit

Post #492 • March 14, 2005, 6:38 AM • 73 Comments

Academy, Marketplace, and the End of Institutionalized Taste, now up at newCrit. readers will recognize this as a developed version of a post from early January.




March 14, 2005, 4:04 PM

"Balkanization" is a great metaphor from my point of view.

Yet I wonder if "the system" experiences itself like the real Balkans do. That is, those inside its broad borders are not fragmented; they are quite cohesive, even when their cohesion fosters great diversity. They love it all ... except serious art, which has just a small presence. It's only effect is to give central headquarters something to work against, again, in unison. If serious art did not exist, they would be well served to create it.

But serious art does exist. Those engaged in it feel like they are part of a civil war conducted from all sides, a leaf in a very nasty wind. But the God's-eye view of all that may look like a small band of criminals still exists, a band that has not learned how to avoid detection because it wants to be detected.

I don't have Franklin's faith that the "sub-communities" will carry the ball from here. The Olitski show was a big event for many who participate here, but to Miami itself, probably not so big. And to the art system, hardly a blip. David and Goliath is a great story precisely because it describes what we want to happen, but never does.



March 14, 2005, 4:12 PM

Never happens? Ye of little faith.

Actually, that kind of decentralizing is becoming normal. Who would have thought that bloggers would hasten the end of Dan Rather's broadcasting career? Or that ITunes would ever get to the point that it's at right now - about to download its 300 millionth song? Headless Goliaths are all over the place, with more to come, and it mostly requires courage and good aim to make them.



March 14, 2005, 4:44 PM

Yes, I have lots of love for art, but little hope, even less faith for its immediate future. In the words of the famous hamburger ad, "show me the beef".

Rather was brought down by his mistake and his institution's policy towards such mistakes. Bloggers, like millions of others, simply noticed it.

Apple is a giant corporation in the community of giant corporations. Microsoft was hardly beheaded by iTunes and may eventually absorb it like they did the Apple mouse (which Apple absorbed from Xerox).

These are stories of Goliaths going against other Goliaths, one professional gladiator hacking at another.

I like your essay nonetheless. Many good points. I don't believe a "single ascendant style will appear again for a long time", for instance. And the Goldmans of the world may become the equivalents of the Irish monks who preserved culture in the dark ages a thousand years ago.



March 14, 2005, 5:08 PM

The Catfish has a point about the examples offered, but Franklin has the larger picture right There are many Goliaths about that deserve beheading. Young folks don't buy into what the Goliaths represent, and we are forming our own community. We will slay them one way or another.

You say you love art Catfish. Now all you need is to develop a vision.



March 14, 2005, 5:10 PM

Hey flatboy: I have a vision ... of reality.


that guy in the second to last row

March 14, 2005, 5:23 PM

Decent essay Franklin. Not enough punch in my estimation but decent. I'm not sure new technologies will be able to grapple with the best new art, enough to make a difference in the art market machine. I see refined taste in general as having a sort of half life, if not exercised or exposed to great art, it degrades and losses the ability to recognize its own former greatness. I think we are headed for a major schism in the art world, rather than the cracking up of the "Balkans".

The blogs are a good forum for this because the art media is too chicken shit to say anything about what is really happening in the art world. And chooses instead to parade around its own homemade playpen of shallow ideas and like minded "art professionals".

When enough people refuse to play nice with this current morass of mediocrity, new collectors and then museums will come to the aid of culture.



March 14, 2005, 5:29 PM

You are hinting at a vision yourself, Flatboy. Care to elaborate?

I believe it was "Where's the beef", Catfish.

Certain perceptive art writers predicted a generation ago that developing art forms would split like amoebae and go off on their own, but it hasn't happened. The world of visual art is still like a squabbling family living together in the same house. Fanatic Pomos regularly announce the death of painting even as painting surges all around them. Painters sneer at Pomo even as it prevails in the art mags and academia.

It's too bad. We should just say, look, this stuff is visual art, that stuff is non-visual art, so long and good luck. The pie should be big enough for everyone.



March 14, 2005, 5:48 PM

oldpro, yes "where's the beef?" was the original phrasing.

The art world does not really seem to be squabbling much. The pomos accept Richter, a sometimes abstract painter because, hell, I don't know. But they accept his painting. Modern Painters has a substantive following, though it is hardly a majority. There are no majorities, as Franklin says. But the various tribes get along well enough, and seem unified in their position against serious art.

What are the squabbles? ... besides painters sneering; by their nature painters sneer at everything.



March 14, 2005, 6:16 PM

There are no squabbles just like there are no squabbles between the rap and bluegrass people - they just ignore each other and keep making their music. That's the way it ought to be. They both think music is important, but don't form a dialogue in the interest of advancing their competing visions. That's where we're headed in visual art, I think.

Again, increasing decentralization and increasing pluralism indicate a need for these squabbles to happen on an increasingly local level. We have Clem around here, the bluegrass people have Django, the rap people have whoever's gettin' over this year, etc. etc. Your job is to find your circle, learn its jargon and parameters, and move into it. The most viable projects will survive and inspire others. This is an unprecedented situation in the art world and requires a new network of support.

Anyone want to tackle the untapped market problem?



March 14, 2005, 6:20 PM

This is a minor point, but Modern Painters is a misnomer, and it pisses me off because I bought a 2-year subscription sometime ago. I did NOT buy it to see a cover story on Richard Avedon. They cover all sorts of stuff that is decidedly not painting. Their "new and improved" format is no such thing, though it is slick, trendoid and surely more appealing to the typical art scenester. I will not be renewing my subscription (which is becoming the story of my life). Arrrrgh!



March 14, 2005, 6:29 PM

Franklin said This is an unprecedented situation in the art world and requires a new network of support.

The Dark Ages are the precedent and the Renaissance was its "new network of support".



March 14, 2005, 6:38 PM

What are the squabbles, Catfish? What have we been doing just about every day on this blog?

Maybe we are talking at cross purposes. I see squabbles between the camps, which, as you say, are pretty well united against serious art. You see the only real squabble is between those hwo like serious art and all the rest. I suppose that is basically the truer observation.

However, what do you say to the case of a graduate student who is a dedicated painter but gets a fierce dressing down from a faculty member who says that painting is dead and that pursuing it is career suicide, and decides that he has to create a completely fabricated project he clearly knows is just a con job just to get into an important art program in NY? He knows what he is doing and he knows what serious art is, but he sees that to make his way he has to do this. This is hardly "decentrralization".\

Franklin, Bluegrass and Django? Try Bill Monroe, or Flatt & Scruggs.



March 14, 2005, 7:18 PM

Oldpro, what would you say to a talented singer who wanted to pursue serious music but has to sing about boys and dance around in a paltry amount of skin-tight clothing in order to get considered by a major label? It's too bad for that painter, but if the big NY program represents a decline, he should stay away from it with a clear conscience. And as soon as he creates his own network, you indeed do have decentralization.

Django is a gypsy music guy. Sorry about that. A lot of bluegrass guys love him though.



March 14, 2005, 7:28 PM

You can decentralize all you want to as far as your work and the work you admire, but i think what we are talking about here is the market, and that includes art jobs and all the rest as well. Right now it is simply not decentralized and does not seem to have any intention of doing so.

Everyone is fighting for space in the same galleries, magazines, museums, art departments, collectors. It seemed 30 or 40 years ago that we were headed for a healthy split in the venues for art as the forms of art-making split, but it has not happened. Instead we have a situation of vicious fighting over territory.

Sure, I love Django too. Anyone who appreciates jazz guitar, or any guitar playing, more or less has to.



March 14, 2005, 7:58 PM

I think the basic problem is that the people who are the source of the money that finances and maintains the system are, by and large, the hapless or willing pawns of said system. The system has them brainwashed or convinced or intimidated into accepting it at face value, and as long as they keep forking over the money, the system is safe and powerful. There's some hedge fund wizard, for instance, running around paying 8 figures for things like a Hirst pickled shark, and he's by no means alone--just a bit more loose with his money than others. He's already spent over 300M on his collection. Of course, the dealers he buys from can't praise his "good eye" highly enough. With clients like that, why the hell should they care that I think they're glorified con men? Why should Hirst care that I think he's full of it? Why should any of the responsible parties care, as long as money keeps being thrown at them?



March 14, 2005, 8:05 PM

Oldpro: Do you personally know any artists that have made or continue to make art against their "a con job" as you call it? I think in all art schools/universities you'll find a healthy air of resistence on the part of students. The magazines are the biggest push for their work. And how can you compete with ArtForum, etc; even Jacks talks about Modern Painters demise.

And on a similar note that you all will love: Jeffrey Deitch will star in his own reality show--think Trump's "Apprentice" or American Idol-- called "Artstar", where artists compete for a solo show. Imagine the heartfelt critiques and constructive criticism.



March 14, 2005, 8:05 PM

Instead we have a situation of vicious fighting over territory. That's only because we haven't done enough to stake out fresh territory. Probably five people reading this even know who Django is, but he's revered by the people who matter. That's the kind of success we ought to be going for.

30 or 40 years is about how long someone can last in a tenured position, which is why the academies and the academic market look the way they do. So, screw them. Galleries serve all kinds of niche markets and could be mobilized immediately. Little realist ateliers are popping up all over the place, and it ought to be possible to form ones with other philosophical bents.

John Link sagely remarked that artists "would much rather be in the next Whitney Biennial than recognize the decline it represents." Well, I recognize the decline and think a cleverly-wrought social capitalist organization could take the edge off the corruption of the mainstream. Several of them could form their own network. Ten more guys like Tony Goldman down here could make a big difference. The thing is, Goliath doesn't have to get beheaded if enough Davids are around to work at cross-purposes to him.



March 14, 2005, 8:28 PM

hi everyone
well it seems the discussion is centered on the business of art, not the creation aspect of it. Now, i'm sure it has been discussed, but in the event it hasn't, take Britto. I know everyone probably saw the name even before they got to the line where it was included, a very annoying bug. There is immense power there. Anyhow, this is not as simple a case as i have read through and through-yes artist-no artist. I believe it to be unconscious art (and to me not the work of an artist since it has to be intentional, but this is a question that still needs more info to be answered) in that it treats the business or market of art as art; as a developed technique. The "product" itself is the recipient of most of the arrows,but I think most of the negative energy directed towards him is a kind of jealousy-that they would like the fame and influence, but they would " do something else with it". I believe this forum is discussing precisely this. Creating your own whatever-venue, form,etc.. and to dismiss it on superficiality is irresponsible. I am not sure i have been to clear as the subject is quite extensive and think that i have spoken in phrases. In the end i think this could be a case study.



March 14, 2005, 8:44 PM

You are right, jack, the money supports it. Over the weekend I heard any number of stories about brainwashed rich folk and the collections of "only the art we love". which mysteriously is always the same much-loved artists.

Every new collector should be required to read "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds" by Martin Fridson, et al, before buying anything.

Hirst, by the way, is now doing what today's NY Times calls "photo realist" paintings (they are not photo-realist, but if it says so in the Times it must be true) of appropriately gruesome subjects, including skulls, (of course), so that his loyal supporters can puff themselves up and say, as one of them was quoted saying, "It's all quite challenging. Not exactly for above your sofa".

Well, not my sofa, for sure, even if I wanted one. The show is sold out with prices from $250K to a couple million. How can people who are smart enough to make a zillion dollars fall for this tired old "this-is-not-sofa-painting" hokum?

Hirst's ideas and musings on art are solidly pedestrian and trite, as are the paintings, notwithstanding their utterly conventional "shocking" getup. This is one key to his success. If you want to be really sucessful in this game make up your mind to be determinedly middlebrow and corny while tooting the avant-garde horn with all your might. The suckers are lining up for the slaughter and some of them, like the Cohen guy Jack alludes to, have more money than they can spend in a lifetime.



March 14, 2005, 8:54 PM

You are right, Bob. There is a lot of healthy resistence. And there is a huge silent majority iceberg out there which deplores all the hype and phony art.

And as Franklin insists, God bless him, perhaps we will make our own world. Wouldn't that be nice. Ten more guys like Tony Goldman? It took until now for us to get one, and our daily newspeper will not even review what he did, which was to put on just about the best show this twon has even seen.

Don't hold your breath.


John Sanchez

March 14, 2005, 9:15 PM

Hey folks I think that I am trying to grapple with an idea about this issue maybe you all can help. From what I think I understand so far according to the climate of art critique these days there really isn't anything good out there, no beef to look at (I think I disagree with that, but I don't want to defend or make statements right now about this for other reasons) no no I take this back because it actually is part of this argument. There IS good work out there for those who want to buy or see it, despite our "educated?" "Elitist?" "Jealous?" assesments of what we see around. If Joey Shmozalez from West Miami has some money to spend on work, I am sure if he uses his own judgement that it wouldn't be a problem to make him happy. What I am saying is that the market seems just fine and what Franklin seems to be talking about is marketing in that some of us or a group of us have to make noise in order to attract the likes of Joey. Yes?



March 14, 2005, 10:04 PM

Pretty much, John. I said that the market doesn't correct the excesses of the academy like it used to, but otherwise it still could be made to work for us, like you said.

Say hi to Joey for me.



March 14, 2005, 10:24 PM

Oldpro, the anecdote you relate concerning Hirst's new work and the all-too-predictable (and smug) response from one of the usual suspects ("It's all quite challenging. Not exactly for above your sofa") is a classic example of what I'm talking about. These people are highly invested (figuratively and literally) into appearing fearless, unshockable, and quite beyond the paltry misgivings and scruples of mere mortals, who are of course bourgeois philistines of no consequence. Anything that flatters and strokes this propensity, no matter how cynically calculated and/or patently awful, is likely to be eagerly seized upon as "brave" and "challenging." It's like something out of a psychology textbook, but it's very common. Hirst knows the game extremely well by now; he's simply giving the "WE are not afraid" crowd what they're begging (and paying big bucks) for.



March 14, 2005, 10:30 PM

"The influence of the dealer is one of the chief characteristics of modern art [who is responsible for...] the immense increase in the prices of pictures." -- The Art Journal, 1871 [quoted today in the London Telegraph].



March 14, 2005, 10:48 PM

John, Franklin is basically saying that we should get off our butts and stop complaining and make our own market.

I will not argue with that, except to say that the "we" he is talking about is a bunch of people who want to sit in the studio and make art and usually are not very good at creating markets and selling pictures and promotion in general. That sort of activity seems to be the province of the type of person who is not very good at making good art.

I went to 3 different large openings last week and it was impressed on me once again how much selling art has to do with schmoozing and networking and how little it has to do, in the short run at least, with how good (or bad) the art is.

Joey Shmozalez (excellent name; sounds like a mafiosa rabbi from Cuba) might do all right if left to his own devices but it takes a strong person with determined taste to avoid falling prey to the hucksters, and the big collectors all seem to turn into jelly when they go out to buy art.



March 14, 2005, 11:08 PM

Just in case you non-Miamians didn't catch the "WE are not afraid" reference...



March 15, 2005, 12:03 AM

Well, Franklin, i am a Miamian and I din not know about it. Thanks for the link.

Makes the very skin crawl.


that guy in the second to last row

March 15, 2005, 12:46 AM

Well at least the one customer review was pretty funny. That guy should get a prize.



March 15, 2005, 12:54 AM

Here, from the Amazon site for the "we are not afraid" book is the Rubell version of the standard disingenuity "we only buy what we love".

"We just bought the pieces that really amazed us at the moment we encountered them....every time we buy a work, its the same feeling. We always think its the most exciting thing we ever looked at."

Odd, isn't it, that everything these bold courageous collectors get so excited about and buy is exactly what all the other bold courageous collectors all over the world are getting excited about and buying at the same time.

Perhaps this translation of the above might be a little closer to the truth

"We just bought the pieces that the dealers told us to buy....every time we buy a work, its the same feeling - If we don't get one pretty damn fast we look like Shlemiels."



March 15, 2005, 1:50 AM

Bingo, Franklin. "WE are not afraid," aka "The Chapman brothers don't faze US." The Chapmans don't faze me, either, it's just that "transgressive" tripe bores me (well, OK, sometimes it makes me snicker). It's like "Oooh, genitalia! Ooooh, self-mutilation!! Oooooh, elephant dung and assorted body fluids!!!" Yawn.



March 15, 2005, 3:25 AM

My comments above obviously represent my opinion based on my observations. Not being telepathic, I can't tell what actually goes on in the minds of rich people who spend very substantial sums for what I see as dubious art. I expect there are significant non-art considerations at work, but the logic involved, if it can be called that, still strikes me as very problematic. Certainly, people can spend their money as they damn well please for whatever reasons, whether I like it or not. My issue is not with what any given collector throws money at, which is his or her business, but with the cumulative effects on the art world of problematic buying and promotion by the affluent collector population as a group.



March 15, 2005, 5:27 AM

I read the same NYT article and the thing that stood out the most for me was Hirst nearly admitting that he actually can't paint very well and his thirty (thirty! count them) assistants are actually doing the painting.

The ideas and the images for the paintings weren't original either.
He culled them from his collection of over 1000, (1000 ! count them) images and photos that other artists and photographers with astute eyes captured. He merely had the astuteness (as he would have us believe) to collect them then later have them handy to purloin for his own use.
And now all the art students in schools all over the world can say, wow why didn't I think of that.

Now I can't say that if I had the chance to let some poor slob do all my work for me then I could turn around and sell it for a million dollars, well, hell I would do it too. I just wouldn't call myself an artist.

But who knows what Hirst calls himself or thinks of himself, he's having a great time and supporting a lot of people doing it so who the hell am I to complain. But don't call it art...
OR this IS the new art... wow, I'm going to bed and sleep on that one.



March 15, 2005, 5:49 AM

The OldPro said in #7 "You are hinting at a vision yourself, Flatboy. Care to elaborate?"

Glad to respond, OldPro.

When I talk about art, especially its future, I want to frame what I say with certain issues from its past. That's because one thing I know for certain about art is that it decides for itself what its future will be, without consulting commentators.

As you know, I hold that modernism is a done deal. Much of the art that came after its demise was not as intense as the best modernism had to offer. Pop, conceptualism, installation, performance avoided intensity/quality/goodness in favor of other values. Some of it was a lot of fun, Warhol for instance. Some of it was boring, Mel Bochner, for instance. But, like the fall of modernism, these things happened and ithey can't be taken back.

During the Dark Ages art disconnected from itself. Catfish confuses a setback of a couple decades with those many centuries of gloom. Yet he seems to point to something I accept: if there is a complete dissconnect the next growth period in art will be something totally different than anything we can imagine.

Thus the most probable course for future of art must include pop, concept, installation and all things pomo. But this group, like Duchamp himself, does not include any real players. Instead, they are referees, forces that keep the players honest. They will not be left behind, but they won't contribute much that is positive. This does not diminsh their importance. Duchamp has an important place in art history because he deserved it. He will have a role in the future, but not as a player.

Minimalism has been underappreciated. Olitski and Poons were minimal in their early years and made fine pictures under that method. Frank Stella, Tony Smith, Sol LeWitt and others may not have been as good, but they helped preserved the "purity" of modernism against the assaults of pop, Warhol who made discounting art an art in itself, and the dry dry mentalistic academic gymnastics of the conceptualists. Minimalism will probably have an influence on the future players. I don't see how it can be avoided.

The figure is a permanent fixture in the methods of serious intense art. It never left the scene, though it got bad mouthed for too long a time. But artists like Lucian Frued and Odd Nerdstrom are so coagulated and closed they will probably fall to the wayside. Someone like Alex Katz, only with lots more talent, could bring explosive power back into the figure. Figuration is something the future players must deal with.

Ansel Adams did the landscape in a way that begs for inclusion in the future.

Youth replaces the aged, as it always has. The only limitation is that we must include the best of what came before, even as we wrestle it to the ground and kill it as well as we can.

I have nothing to say about the markets except that I too would like to be in the next Whitney Biennial.



March 15, 2005, 6:23 AM

Flatboy (#33) writes:

"They are referees, forces that keep the players honest."

My (unauthorized) translation:

They are referees, forces that keep the players PLAYING.



March 15, 2005, 8:12 AM

As you know, Flatboy, I enjoy what you come up with even as i disagree with it.

But this "vision", with all due respect, and although it is not without interest and hits a nail on the head here and there, is little more than a ragtag patchwork of guesses and suppositions. It's not your fault really; as you said yourself art will decide anyway. "Visions" are usually no more than just visions.

Minimalism may carry something forward, at least there's a rational foundation there. I don't think Duchamp will ever amount to anything more than a lame excuse for a lot of bad art, and will be seen that way in the future. The idea that Alex Katz might bring "explosive power" back to the figure is entirely contrary to any realistic assessment of his wonky mannerisms.

Our problem, art's problem, is not the "death" of modernism or the existence of silly forms of art-making. Visual art's problem is that it is the only art form in which the product is a singular object. Theater, film, music, dance, literature can all be experienced relatively cheaply because they can be reproduced without loss of identity or quality.

Visual art objects are physical commodities, like cars and houses, and, unlike the others, they adapt immediately and persuasively for use as objects which reflect status. Soap opera, romance novels, an action films, teenybopper music - all the effluvia of pop culture can go out into the world and make millions of dollars and we take it or leave it without a thought and attend to what we like. You can watch the soap opera on the sly and go to junk movies and be careless about the music you listen to because, so what, it is just pop culture, and who cares. There is little reason to try to convince anyone that the garbage is great art. People will buy it anyway.

But if you pay $10 million for a flat, lifeless picture of a movie actress and put it on your wall to show everyone what a sophisticated dude you are you damn well better have some heavy duty backup. And, because the money is there, you will get it.

That's the problem. Only in visual art is there such a highly refined, highly paid, hardworking effort to convince us that dreck is great art. There are culturati in all the arts making sproadic efforts to elevate trash but only in visual art is it so necessary or so spectacularly successful.

And this, in turn, means that we are all climbing the same tree. And that, again in turn, is why it is so damn hard to split - like all the other arts - into coexisting camps.


taterh###333d/z MARKZ--//--

March 15, 2005, 8:39 AM

head spinning. i was going to keep up with this thread today, i even read Franklin's essay this morning . . . ah, no iexku2es. quick notes, instead:

there is a lot more truth in Flatboy's post above then O/P is prepared to give credit for. Duchamp is an interesting lens for looking at the art of the last hundred years through.

bookworm's outrage in #32, above is . . um . . . about 40 years out of date. it does not reflect well on the painting-centric view of art that rules around here. one of the things i would suggest to FLATBOY is that whereas the class of PAINTING has generally been considered a subset of the class ART, in the future they may be separate classes with an area of overlap.

I like the Rubell collection on the whole, but the title of their book is some funny shit. They do, in fact, practice art-collecting-by-the-numbers. Also, the book itself is a piece of crap, far below the usual Phaidon standard. It's full of bad reproductions of interesting work (the Rubell bookshop, though, is amazing).



March 15, 2005, 4:21 PM

Dear OldPro,

I said: Someone like Alex Katz, only with lots more talent, could bring explosive power back into the figure.

Someone like Katz, only with lots more talent, is clearly not Katz himself. Katz will not bring "explosive power" to the figure, but at least he has not congealed it into a tight, overly coherent mess. Instead of closing down the figure with a bunch of knots, someone like him might pave the way forward. I don't know who that someone might be, so I set up my qualified Katz as a surrogate.

Admittedly, a view like Catfish's (that the Dark Ages are the precedent for what is happening now) has the clarity that goes with saying that art is headed over a cliff. Any positive alternative I can imagine is going to be "little more than a ragtag patchwork of guesses and suppositions". But maybe yours transcends that. Do you have a vision that is not so?

Whatever the future is, it will include Duchamp and his offspring for some time to come. Duchamp didn't play like Picasso played, Warhol didn't play like Pollock played, and so on. But they were there, part of the most vital scene going, and they have not gone away. 500 years from now, they will still be part of art history.

Your idea that there is a "highly refined, highly paid, hardworking effort to convince us that dreck is great art" sounds like a conspiracy theory. Seems more like typical group behavior by humans who are part of the sub group that is highly educated and wants to participate in advanced culture. There are too many of them to conspire with each other, they communicate on a much lower level, like cattle on the move. They have been around for a long time. They have their fun. If they put me in the Whitney I will love them.

OldPro sees lots of "squabbling" at one level when he talks about this blog's activities, then he cites "the same much-loved artists" that indicate agreement among enough art-people to drive the prices of those artists sky high, then he talks about a "silent majority" that agrees those sky high prices are ridiculous. These statements are in conflict with each other, just like common sense often conflicts with itself. ("Don't cross the bridge until you get there" versus "A stitch in time saves nine") Such conflicts are what make life as an artist interesting. They color and bias our attempts to see the future of our business. The only way we will ever settle it is to work out way there. Like referees say to boxers caught up in a clinch, "box your way out".



March 15, 2005, 5:23 PM

What I wrote above - after midnight and rather tired - is merely a quick presentation of one circumstance that helps explain why visual art is in the state it is in right now. A blog is obviously not the place to work it all out but a place to toss in ideas and let people work them over, like a conversation.

We must also consider the reproduction, or "jpeg" problem, for example. All the other arts, with the arguable exception of recorded music, are experienced directly. Most of the visual art we talk about we see in reproduction. it is possible to retrieve over 90% of the factual data about any work from a good reproduction, but, unfortunately, that last 10% is where the full experience of the art lies. So we see the picture and miss the art.

This, in turn, militates against art which is highly "visual" as opposed to highly "pictorial", art that emphasizes qualities peculiar to the working of paint on a surface, for example, rather than clearcut, easy-to-grasp imagery, and has helped promote the ascendence of visual art that is non visual in nature, idea art, art that dispenses with visual subtlety and sophistication in favor of blunt, easily understood form and concept, art that comes across well in reproduction.

This is why we now have so much "visual art" which is not visual, which almost does not need to be seen. And visual art that is not visual is souless art. It is art without delight, a menu with no food.

If Duchamp, that persistent bugbear, is "important" (that word should be banned from art discussion) he is important because he is the purported progenitor and certainly the poster boy for the plague of non-visual art that presently holds sway.



March 15, 2005, 5:43 PM

Sorry I missed the "like", Flatboy. It was late. But Katz is certainly a peculiar one to point to for the future, talent or no talent.

I don't know that art is headed off a cliff. It is less dramatic than that. Art is more like a lively continuum that once in a while spikes up.

I don't have a vision. I just look for the art I think works and try to make the same and hope for the best. Visions can be fun but they don't have much to do with reality.

What is working against art probably should not be called a "conspiracy". That suggests something you rightly reject. Your alternate suggestion is accurate enough. "Cattle on the move" is good.

But there is an underlying need, which is well enough perceived by enough people in the business to seem like a conspiracy of a sort, to promote characteristics in art that keep the money train rolling. This may help make art worse but they are not doing it for that reason. It is just one of those "unintended consequences".

If they put you in the Whitney love them all you want, but don't let it get to your art.

Could you explain the contradiction you mention in your last paragraph? I don't see it.



March 18, 2005, 3:45 PM

Hey OldPro, I didn't see contradictions, just "conflicts". I don't consider conflicts to be a problem. That they infiltrate your statements is a sign you are tuned in.



March 18, 2005, 5:16 PM

I guess i should be pleased that you approve of the "conflicts" in my statements, Flatboy, but I still cannot understand what you were saying.

I was pointing to conflicts in the art business, obviously, but you said that the "statements are in conflict with each other". Doesn't that mean that they contradict each other/



March 18, 2005, 5:34 PM

Yes, OldPro, you should be complimented. Next thing you know, I will praise you for embracing paradox.

There is an apparent conflict between saying there is a "silent majority" that opposes the "same loved artists" and the implied basis of agreement that goes the other way with enough force to drive prices through the sky ... unprecedented prices, really. Then in another place you insist that squabbling exits as some apparent universal.

Of course all these phenomena can exist simultaneously, and so your statements can all be true, but they still conflict because they point in opposite directions.



March 18, 2005, 6:29 PM

Flatboy (#37), any number of once-great reputations subsequently became obscure footnotes, so to speak, even though they remain "part of art history." The question is not whether Duchamp, or anybody, is part of that history, but WHY. The "why" may or may not relate to actual merit.



March 18, 2005, 8:00 PM

Duchamp made his way into art history by showing that ridiculous things can be regarded as art, while arty things are not always worth the bother. Ultimately, his sense of humor triumphed over his relatively weak performance as a painter.

He showed that "making art" is not the only important vector in the art world. Showed it rather convincingly, too.



March 18, 2005, 8:38 PM

It has always been known that "arty things" may not be worth the bother; that's where discernment, taste and judgment come in. Duchamp was never needed for that. As far as regarding ridiculous things as art, that's a rather dubious proposition, if they are indeed ridiculous things. If anyone cares to take them seriously, fine, but that obliges no one else to do so. As far as Duchamp being convincing, ditto.



March 18, 2005, 9:20 PM

Well Jack, you asked "WHY", not whether it was a good idea for Duchamp to be in art history.



March 18, 2005, 11:38 PM

Actually, Flatboy, I didn't ask. I know why Duchamp's part of art history. My point was that being part of history is not the issue--not for me, anyway. What matters is the reason for being "historical," and in Duchamp's case, the reason does not impress me or elicit my respect. You and/or others may feel differently, but that does not affect my position.



March 19, 2005, 1:11 AM

Not that it is particularly important to me, Jack, but here is what you wrote in number 43: "The question is not whether Duchamp, or anybody, is part of that history, but WHY."



March 19, 2005, 1:28 AM

Flatboy, either you misread me or I was not sufficiently clear.

"The question is not whether Duchamp, or anybody, is part of that history, but WHY."

Rephrase of the above:

What matters is not whether Duchamp., or anybody, is part of that history, but WHY.



March 19, 2005, 2:52 AM


Duchamp never "showed us" anything, much less an "important vector", whatever that is. No one paid much attention to him until his example became useful in the inevitable, unyeilding effort to make art easy, or make easy stuff art, whichever.

He was used, not followed.

That's his legacy to art history, and that's why his "importance" will fade away.



March 19, 2005, 5:50 PM

At the risk of beating this into the ground, I'd like to add that Duchamp's purported humor strikes me as rather primitive, not to say infantile. It's not that the establishment he confronted was sacrosanct or beyond reproach, of course; no establishment ever is. However, taking a urinal, calling it "Fountain," and putting it in an art exhibit is not much different from including, as part of a buffet set-up, a tray of steaming turds as a "challenge" to perceived notions of taste and gastronomy.

There would always be those who'd praise such a stunt as "daring," "brave" or "transgressive," even "brilliantly innovative," but seriously, whom are we kidding?



March 19, 2005, 9:26 PM

Those art-food analogies sure come in handy, don't they?



March 19, 2005, 10:01 PM

If I compare the urinal Duchamp chose for his work to a typical turd, or any turd, for that matter, the urinal offers several magnitudes more pleasure. Many more magnitudes, if you want to get precise about it. That's on a purely visual scale too, forgetting about its meaning or its role in the art world.



March 20, 2005, 12:51 AM

I see your point, flatboy.

The urinal would afford me many magnitudes of pleasure too, if I needed to use it.

However, I would not bother with the turd. I'd just flush it.

How about "magniturds" of pleasure? That's what I got out of Art Basel.



March 20, 2005, 1:38 AM

Flatboy, you appear to be missing or ignoring my point, which related to Duchamp's rather puerile "humor"--remember the Mona Lisa with the mustache and the "rude" acronym? Man, what a laugh riot that was! Still, you're welcome to whatever aesthetic pleasure a urinal affords you. Any number of perfectly mundane objects, natural or man-made, could afford some similar pleasure, if one were inclined to focus on it. That does not make such objects art, nor does it make someone who simply appropriates them and puts them on display an artist, but I don't want to get into labels or semantics. I know what I mean, and I think you do also.



March 20, 2005, 2:35 AM

Yes Jack, I know what you mean. You can't stand most of what Duchamp is known for and probably nothing will change that. And the OldPro would rather "use" Duchamp's urinal than "bother with" a turd. So would I, if "bothering with" means to contemplate the thing, but that mixes the values of art with the value of relieving oneself of internal pressure. Not exactly sure what the OldPro means by "bothering with". I certainly would not expect the OldPro to attempt relieving himself "in" a turd. But Duchamp's urinal is turned on its side and not connected to any plumbing. Would the OldPro simply urinate "on" the sculpture, doggy fashion? If so, that would reduce the sculpture to just another object in the world of objects, and neither affirm nor deny its value as art.

But if a man-made object, presented in the context of aesthetic distance by human ingenuity, actually yields aesthetic pleasure, that notifies me that the object is art, and my experience of it is the final authority for my certain knowledge that I have taken it as art. Duchamp showed that very unlikely objects can be so presented and so taken. His particular urinal, not any old urinal, nor urinals in general, is what produces this result. His original urinal is missing, I understand, so an edition of exact copies has been commissioned. What's wrong with that? There are editions of prints and sculpture. Each instance is created to be as satisfying as each other instance. If one works, so do the rest. They are all art. All of this is a matter of classic Kantian aesthetics.

Humor can be part of aesthetic life. Just as humor criticizes so can humor itself be challenged, even to the point of having humor that addresses humor. The presence of humor is not an indication of lack of seriousness, nor does it preclude aesthetic success.

"Fountain" is a pleasure to look at as well as humorous. A nice unified effect, like all good art. The consensus of taste has confirmed that it is objectively beautiful. That does not mean eveyone's taste is developed enough so that everyone will get it. I can't see for Jack and OldPro, so I must trust their own reports of dissatisfaction. But when someone is at odds with a 100 year consensus, I become suspicious that their taste is a little defective. Again, I cite classic Kantian aesthetics if someone wishes to explore the matter further. Kant was one of the first, if not the first, to analyze the consensus of taste. Flatboy is just a humble follower of the great god Kant.



March 20, 2005, 3:06 AM

C'mon, Flats. You're way overreacting. Can't a guy make a joke around here?

Please don't say that "the consensus of taste" has determined that Duchamps urinal is "beautiful", or that any consistent take of any kind on the thing is "100 years old".

It languished in obscurity until Sidney Janis got Duchamp to sign an edition of urinals after Duchamp started to become a Pop hero. They weren't even the same make of urinal, what ever difference that makes.

No "taste" has determined its "beauty". The people who go for it don't believe in "taste" and "beauty". The main function of the damn thing was and still is to ridicule and undermine these concepts.

If there is anything humorous about the urinal it is the people who ooh and aah about it. You know damn well if you had never heard of it and saw it on a pdedstal you would walk by it without a second glance.



March 20, 2005, 3:52 AM

No, Flatboy, nothing is likely to change my view of Duchamp or his acolytes, however numerous or persistent. If his urinal works for you, and you can accept it as art as opposed to a lucky deified prank, you are quite right in sticking to your guns. You will, of course, understand and accept my insistence on sticking to mine, since your experience does not apply to me, and I also claim absolute and final authority for how I relate to art.

"Humor can be part of aesthetic life...The presence of humor is not an indication of lack of seriousness, nor does it preclude aesthetic success." I quite agree. However, Duchamp's vaunted humor strikes me as largely juvenile, and it does not raise his work in my estimation.

As for the consensus of taste and so forth, Duchamp's been a "god" for rather less than 100 years, and even a century is not that long. I will continue to trust my "defective" taste, especially considering the degeneracy of what has become the official or PC taste, aided and abetted by the rampant dissolution of standards. Not you, not even Kant, can get me to go to with that flow and join that sort of "consensus."



March 20, 2005, 6:59 AM

Jack and OldPro just cannot get comfortable with Duchamp's reputation, especially the possibility that it has become durable. I can because I like his work. If I saw "Fountain"on a pedestal without ever hearing of it, I would like it.

Glad Jack understands humor in general as a possiblity for aesthetics. Duchamp's humor does not raise his work, it is simply part of his work. Like many juveniles, he had a knack for getting the goats of the arty ersatz serious crowd, then and now. That's part of why he has become durable. He will be around for a long time. Some are happy about that, others are sad. Me, iHappy.



March 20, 2005, 7:39 AM

Flatboy, Duchamp and his current reputation don't make me uncomfortable; I just don't buy into either. The work that reputation's based on has essentially nothing to offer me, nothing I want or need, though you're welcome to like it. I simply can't take it seriously, but I suppose you'd expect that, since you've decided I'm merely an arty ersatz serious type, which is considerably worse than I would have called you. Maybe I just don't understand the juvenile mindset.



March 20, 2005, 7:44 AM

I think there is nothing to be gained taking this any further.



March 20, 2005, 9:22 PM

OldPro said "I think there is nothing to be gained taking this any further."

I must agree, to a point Once any positive comment is made about Duchamp, no matter how carefully qualified, your intractable negaitves are triggered. That will never change and so why even start, much less attempt to go somewhere with it?

But some readers may find enlightenment in observing the difficulty you have in defending your position. While you're so very very good with words, your statements ultimately seem desparate, if not awkward.



March 20, 2005, 10:12 PM

Flatboy, the fact you do not understand or do not accept my position in no way refutes it, nor does it prompt me to question it in the least. If it suits you to take that as desperation as opposed to conviction, be my guest. I'm afraid Oldpro is right in #61, but I will make one more comment:

You don't really know me or Oldpro, yet you blithely dismissed us as part of some "arty ersatz serious crowd." I will not dignify that with a defense of myself, but I DO know who Oldpro is, what he's done and what he does. For you to characterize him that way is about as ludicrous as doing it to Olitski. Such flippancy significantly lowers your former stock with me, whether you care or not. It appears I gave you too much credit. I shall know better in future.



March 20, 2005, 10:25 PM

Actually, if we're giving out awards for desperation, #62 would be my choice for first place. Let's advance the conversation, please.



March 20, 2005, 10:32 PM

Flatboy said "Like many juveniles, he [Duchamp] had a knack for getting the goats of the arty ersatz serious crowd, then and now. That's part of why he has become durable. He will be around for a long time. Some are happy about that, others are sad. Me, iHappy."

Jack: I thought you couldn't stand Duchamp and hence, you would be "sad". That isn't the same as having one's goat got. I was talking about why Duchamp endures, not you. Nor do I have any idea what any of this has to do with Olitski. But it's true I am flippant/spontaneous, a trait I value on the whole.

Oh well, the problems of hacking away at a computer screen are once again demonstrated. That's why I don't take any of the stuff I see on my screen personal, this included.

And I still believe one of the merits of this discussion is that some who are far less articulate than the OldPro will see that it is difficult to completely reject Duchamp and retain credibility.



March 21, 2005, 2:21 AM

Flatboy, this thing you have about "arty" types and Duchamp getting their goats ... It may be true Duchamp got the goats of a few arty people when he first appeared, but it was not long before he had become part of the art scene, or the art scene that didn't initially like him morphed into an art scene that included him - whichever way you want to view it. Certainly, for the past 40 years Duchamp has been one of the canonized saints of the arty crowd.

What Duchamp specialized in, practically from the beginning, was getting the goats of the vulgarians, those who are outside the art system and largely ignorant of most contermporaneous art. Vulgarians have resisted Duchamp, then and now.

Because the vulgarians are such easy and obvious targets, the in crowd has agreed for decades that Duchamp is the great hunter who slayed the ignorant dragon. The arty types are his buddies, not his target.



March 21, 2005, 5:03 AM

It is unusual for you to stoop to characterizing, Flatboy. It's disappointing.



March 21, 2005, 5:57 AM

Dear OldBoy,

I said regarding OldPro: "your statements ultimately seem desparate, if not awkward".

The OldPro has said, in the past, that my statements were incoherent, nonsensical, and so on. "There you go again, Flatboy" I seem to remember him writing, as well.

Yes, I characterized OldPro's statements. Stooped, no. Has OldPro characterized my statements? Also yes. Stooped, no.

"Characterizing" statements is part and parcel to intense discussion. This has been a good one as far as I am concerned. Duchamp remains a key figure that is worth conversation. Speaking of which...

Catfish has a point about Duchamp's typical target. Duchamp gets vulgarians most of all. Catfish is right about that.



March 21, 2005, 6:10 AM

This has been a long day. I conflated "oldpro" and "flatboy" and got "oldboy". Sorry.

Next thing you know I will be signing "Flatpro".

I may very well have stooped to characterizing in the past. I probably shouldn't have. You probably shouldn't have either. At least not without justification .

But I will characterize again anyway: Duchamp is a bore.



March 21, 2005, 6:29 AM

So "oldboy" was not a new character! I thought the plot had thickened.

Well, OldPro, be assured I don't mind my statements being characterized by you. Even when your figure of speech goes as far as to say "Flatboy is incoherent" it does not bother me. The discussion is always good with you and that's what I like about you.



March 21, 2005, 6:55 AM

But there are all kinds of characterizing, Fboy.

If I say you are incoherent I should justify it by example, but even if I don't I am assuming that the evidence is there in the particular statement to which I refer.

But when you make the broad claim that my statements seem "desperate" when I have expressed my opinion of Duchamp in considerable detail & complexity on this page and other pages and there is no overt "desperation" to be seen you are obliged to at least point to some clear indication of it.

This may seem like a subtle distinction but it is one we all conform to every day: the less self-evidence the more need for explanation.



March 21, 2005, 8:27 AM

OldPro, your comments did not seem desperate until you decided to leave the discussion -as if you were above/beyond it. Seeing you make this exit after you had been deeply engaged in discussion seemed like you could not think of anything else to say, because you certainly had not been above/beyond - you were in the middle of it. It was the fact you HAD presented so much detail that underlined how different your new position seemed. Your previous statements were now colored with a loss of hope, a sense that you wished Duchamp and my comments about him would go away but he wasn't and I wasn't and so you would go away instead. So I quoted your exit statement and added my two cents.

I don't think much in this world is self-evident, certainly not in discussions about art among passionate people, probably nothing is self-evident. But as I typed the explanation above, it seemed tedious and I'd rather avoid tedium. I'd rather not get into all this detail. What I said was not self-evident, it was an interpretation. When someone says I am incoherent, it isn't self-evident either, but I don't feel the need for a detailed explanation. What they think is clear enough without going on about it. When you say Duchamp is a bore that is not self-evident either. Details, however, are not necessary to get the idea across.



March 21, 2005, 9:02 AM

It had been talked to death, Flatboy. I am bored with Duchamp.



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