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danto's inferno

Post #506 • March 30, 2005, 7:48 AM • 54 Comments

Barry Gewen for the New York Times: 'Unnatural Wonders': Art for Arthur's Sake.

In "Unnatural Wonders," a collection of reviews written for The Nation between 2000 and 2004, framed by a few broadly philosophical essays, Danto declares: "I was in a sense the first posthistorical critic of art. . . . What was special about me was that I was the only one whose writing was inflected by the belief that we were not just in a new era of art, but in a new kind of era." Greenberg was set on his critical path by Jackson Pollock. Andy Warhol performed the same function for Danto, who argues that ever since Warhol's Brillo boxes of 1964, an art object could be anything at all (or even nothing), that for the first time in history artists were free to do whatever they wanted -- to slice up dead animals, throw elephant dung on canvases, display their soiled underwear and used tampons, mold images of themselves out of their own blood. In this world of total freedom, the actual physical attributes of a work counted for less than its philosophical justifications. All art had become conceptual art, and the job of the critic was to articulate what meaning the particular artist wished to convey and how that meaning was embodied in the work at hand.

Ah, freedom. How can you argue with freedom? As I've said before, art is free to do whatever it wants. Including suck.

To be sure, the often confounding world of modern art can wear anybody down, and Danto is not always at the top of his game. He seems most sympathetic to protean, jack-of-all-trades artists like Richter, who makes a point of working in a variety of styles, or Roth, who purposely blurs the boundaries between art and refuse -- creators, that is, who self-consciously parade their freedom in what Danto has identified as the age of freedom. One begins to suspect that in these cases, Danto's theory sometimes drives his opinions of the individual artists. (He can also, when he loses energy or feels stymied, fall back on the critic's bullying vocabulary, letting words like "sublime" and "epochal" and, most intimidating of all, "beautiful" do his work for him.) Still, Danto's extreme generosity is an important quality in a critic as prone to theorizing as he is. Greenberg went wrong when he turned rigid, becoming a prisoner within his own conceptual framework. Danto always has the image of the later Greenberg before him as a caution. As he writes, "I keep myself open."

Too much has been made of Greenberg's falsely alleged rigidity and not enough has been made of the fact that art degenerated out from under him. Danto fell down with the collapsing heap while Greenberg stayed suspended by his eye and his standards. "Generosity" is a nice way to put it, nevertheless, a gate stuck in the open position is still stuck.

And to see where we're going with this freedom, have a look at this article by Sarah Boxer from two days later in the Times about the Museum of Online Museums, which is a sophisticated gag designed by the amazingly talented people at Coudal Partners. By way of justification, here come Danto and Warhol again:

In the 1960's, deep in the age of MoMA, Andy Warhol painted a stack of plywood cubes to look like Brillo boxes. That was the end of art, the philosopher and art critic Arthur Danto proclaimed. He didn't mean that after Warhol there would be no more art, but rather that anything could be art.

If anything could be art, then it follows (by about 40 years) that a collection of anything - birth-control packages, grains of sand from all over the world, Swedish magazines with Ingrid Bergman on the cover, bossa nova album covers, lederhosen, nostrums, moist towelettes, microphones, "misused" quotation marks, Japanese milk bottle pull-tabs, stickers peeled off East Village streets between 1992 to 1995 and air-sickness bags - could and will be a museum.

Free, free, free to suck.

In 1978, James Faure Walker interviewed Greenberg and challenged him that he might sometimes be fooled by his taste, "that you can dismiss original art as being local or idiosyncratic when there's no nearby mainstream to relate it to." Greenberg replied with a better idea about keeping your mind open than the one presented above.

I can't exclude that. You are supposed to make every effort, as it were, to overcome yourself. You travel abroad, you look at art with an innocent eye, no preconceptions. You may have accumulated experience behind you, but the accumulated experience only serves to make you eye more innocent, I believe. ... Relativism of taste is a construction, a received idea.

Danto's idea of freedom necessitates a class of interpreter-priests to translate artistic speaking-in-tongues into discernable meaning. Greenberg's idea has the individual becoming ever more open. The latter seems more evolutionary - a better freedom.




March 30, 2005, 5:49 PM

The fact that Danto's entire view of art apparently stems from some "epiphany" over Warhol's Brillo boxes is all I need or want to know about him. I'm grateful he's made it so blindingly clear, so unmistakably obvious (to me, at any rate) that he's not credible--in other words, a crock. He's welcome to his theories, his sense of being important and "special," his collected reviews and all the rest of it. I regret to inform him that, as far as I'm concerned, he means nothing and is nothing. He has no bearing whatsoever on my relationship with art.



March 30, 2005, 5:55 PM

I know we can't call each other names, and for good reason, but This Danto guy is fair game. He is a windbag and a horses ass. Like all bad critics he has no eye. it is beyond me that anyone with his prominence as a writer about art cannot work up a little more sophisticated idea of "freedom", something beyond "gee, isn't it great". and "wow, now artists can do anything. I better write about that".

Anyone who has thought twice about "freedom" knows it is a double-edged sword and so easy to misunderstand and misuse. Freedom is a condition, not a value. Freedom allows us to choose, but choice limits freedom. This is how art is made.

Art does not arise from freedom, it arises from limitation, the kind of hard-won limitations that evolves when an artist makes limiting choices to make art. Art, and any human excellence, is born of stutructure, not chaos. It is narrow, an arrow that hits the mark, not a shotgun spending itself uselessly in the air. Greenberg understood this.

If Danto is so dense and thoughtless that he likes deadly art like Richter's because of its variety he merely give away his own unfortunate limitations. Frankly I wish he would shut up and go away.


that guy in the second to last row

March 30, 2005, 5:58 PM

I saw Danto speak last summer at UM and he was just as smug and self assured as the quotes above suggest. If he wants to avoid his responsibility as a critic, thats his business, but printing his writing is a waste of cultural resources, and somebody should expose him for what he is. A fraud.



March 30, 2005, 6:04 PM

I've only read a few pieces of Danto's writings so I won't attempt to provide any sort of critical insight.

What is "posthistorical"? It's not in my dictionary so we will have to dissect the word.
As in a signpost?
As the starting point of a horse race?
As (post) a No Trespassing sign?
As a name on a published list?
As riders at posted intervals?
As to mail a letter?
As an entry into a ledger?
After in time?
As being concerned with history?
As an account of what happened?
As an account of what might have happened?
As all recorded events in the past
As something that belongs to the past
As something important enough to be recorded

Poo poo

What happens next year?

In case no one has noticed, we are experiencing a generational changing of the guard, in all fields, as the currently established participants try to nail down their place in posthistory. The young turks will move in to fill the vacuume.



March 30, 2005, 6:21 PM

Good for you George.

I think the "post" is the one he has stuffed you know where, like the figure on top of the Christmas tree.

Tell those young turks to hurry up, and try to get it right for once. I am tired of fighting these ancient battles.



March 30, 2005, 6:45 PM

I'm going to have to go back and read my Danto, because I read that Times article and had the same thought I always have: i.e., once again, Danto has been wildly misinterpreted.

I've only read one of his books and a few random essays, but I never understood him to say that "anything can be art." Instead what I understood him to say is that we can no longer make the determination of what is or is not art by reference to a particular set of a priori formal and conceptual properties. That doesn't mean we can't make a determination of what is and is not art, and certainly doesn't mean we have to suspend our judgment of good and bad. It just means we can't do it the same way we did it 50+ years ago. Lots of people collapse that entire philosophy down to "anything can be art," but really there's a world of difference.

With the former, we can look at things like African mask rituals, tea ceremonies, and even photography, and consider the ways in which they are art--good art, bad art, whatever, but art. The latter assertion is simply too dumb, simple and flat to be of much interest at all.

As far as people making plain old bad art...well, anybody who knows me knows I'm less tolerant of it than most, but I can't blame that on Danto. I never read where Danto said that just because we call it art that necessarily means it's good art. (It's possible that he did say that, I just never read it.) Ironically, my reading of Danto's formulation actually contains Franklin's charge that art is free suck, suck, suck like the wind.

Artists just make things; I don't blame them as much as I used to. Critics explain things; I don't blame them either. I blame curators whose sloppy and unquestioning readings of critics like Danto serve as an excuse to foist bad and dishonest work on us.

And by the way, "Greenberg stayed suspended by his eye"? Was that homage to A Man Called Horse?



March 30, 2005, 6:46 PM

Of course, Oldpro, if you have no eye, it makes perfect sense to declare everything acceptable and valid, because that greatly reduces or eliminates the need for discernment, discrimination and judgment. It's an extremely convenient and useful cop-out, and those who have no talent will hail you to the skies as a liberator. As I said, a crock.



March 30, 2005, 7:08 PM

Cinque, you write:

"what I understood him to say is that we can no longer make the determination of what is or is not art by reference to a particular set of a priori formal and conceptual properties."

Which is to say, anything can be art.

Of course now, in practice, things become art by virtue of the "a priori poroperty" of simply being called art. We should all just wander around enraptured by everything, because everything is art. I'm sure there is some ancient Asian philosophy to go among with this. There's "freedom" for you.

I have no problem with this, as such. But it has been around long enough and is unprofound enough that we should just recognize it and get on with things.

"I blame curators whose sloppy and unquestioning readings of critics like Danto serve as an excuse to foist bad and dishonest work on us."

yes, indeed. But Danto is a willing co-conspirator.



March 30, 2005, 7:34 PM

"what I understood him to say is that we can no longer make the determination of what is or is not art by reference to a particular set of a priori formal and conceptual properties. Which is to say, anything can be art." (oldpro via cinque)

Whoa nellie. That is not how I would interpret the remark.

We can no longer define art just in terms of its past historical forms. This implies that there must be new forms which there are.



March 30, 2005, 7:45 PM

I wasn't interpreting, George. I was going by precisely what Cinque quoted.



March 30, 2005, 7:54 PM

Oldpro - You wrote this above:

Which is to say, anything can be art. [ ... ] I have no problem with this, as such. But it has been around long enough and is unprofound enough that we should just recognize it and get on with things.

Thanks for saying this. But if anything can be art, then I have a hard time understanding why only a small subset of it can be "great," and why there can't be pockets of "great art" which exist in different sub-spheres from each other, with different standards of judgment and different definitions even of "art" (vis-a-vis determining greatness).

You said in the previous thread that consensus is evidence. Good. Perhaps it is. What should we make of the consensus of favorable opinion toward Warhol, Duchamp, and such?



March 30, 2005, 7:59 PM

Oops, I stuck this in the other slot but meant it for here

Following along with the idea that we can no longer define art just in terms of its past historical forms. How does Pop Art fit into this definition? It appropriated its subject from the popular culture, from advertising and



March 30, 2005, 8:30 PM

More art does not mean more good art, Hovig. there can be all kinds of subsets and pockets or what have you. if you want to take the subset of Pop Art, for example, I would say that the only really talented one is Jim Dine. But he is not a great artist. The category subsumes its subsets, after all.

I said the consensus was evidence but I also said that what it is evidence of needs to be discussed. I don't think it ever has been, not rigorously, anyway. All it really does is help point to the art we have sorted out which we think ir good so we know what to look at first. It tends to change rather markedly with time.

If it presently says that Warhol is good then i disagree with it. I think it will agree with me in time, but maybe it won't.



March 30, 2005, 8:32 PM

George, sorry, I am not sure what definition you want pop art to fit into.



March 30, 2005, 8:50 PM

I just used Pop Art as an example. In the realm of painting, Pop Art was just a fresh take on the subject, a way of introducing aspects of the popular culture into painting. I think this was important and that all media derived imagery in painting owes its legacy to Pop.



March 30, 2005, 8:57 PM

The consensus on Warhol is relatively young. It will probablly change. I expect he will wind up something like Beardsley, good enough to be interesting, but on the lower level than "great". In which case, Danto will wind up in someone's footnotes.



March 30, 2005, 9:08 PM

I think the comparison is an interesting one, Flatboy.

As for Danto, I would like to see him as a footnote, or perhaps a main character, in the foirthcoming (whenever it gets written and comes forth) book about "Art Madness".



March 30, 2005, 9:15 PM


Danto would say that questions about Pop Art don't follow from a new definition of art, but are in fact the very thing that prompted new definitions to be considered. It went something like this: Andy made the Brillo Boxes. Boy, they looked exactly like the real thing! Right or wrong, the general consensus was that they were art. Right or wrong, that's what people decided. Danto came along and said, "OK, well then if that's art then obviously art is not about what something looks like. There must be something else. A-ha! In this age, art can't be defined by the fact that it looks this particular way or that particular way," which is pretty much against all of art history from Giotto to Greenberg. All of the above ultimately relied in large part on how things looked. Of course, I'm simplifying here.

The fact that many now consider at least this initial point to be obvious only attests to how successfully the idea has worked itself into our collective understanding of art. All revolutionary ideas become, in time, mundane. Think about how mind boggling it once was to suggest that all human beings are born innately equal.


OK, if we can reduce my reading of Danto down to "anything can be art," then that is still a far, far cry from "everything is art," and even further still from everything is good art over which we should be "enraptured." It's this exact tendency to exaggerate his claims many steps beyond anything he himself said that has given us so many bad conceptual art shows. I submit that you and the unnamed curators I've mentioned are both guilty of the same misreading.



March 30, 2005, 9:24 PM

Well, Cinque, as I said, I don't have a whole lot of trouble with the concept. Nothing is art until it gets taken as art anyway, and nothing is any good until it registers that way with someone. And if you go look you will see that I did i did not ascribe my sarcastic asides to Danto. And please don't lump someone who thinks Danto is full of baloney with curators who follow him foolishly. Geez, man!



March 30, 2005, 9:41 PM

Oldpro - I think you misunderstood me when you said "the category subsumes its subsets."

I'm saying we should allow Pop Art to be its own independently-judged set. You're dragging Jim Dine back into your subset of art [non-narrative, aesthetic-only, abex, color-field] and rating it against your subset's criteria. I'm saying leave it where it is.

Judge each form of art according to the criteria of greatness vis-a-vis its own subset. (This is like Franklin's idea of art as independent music genres.) If you don't like Pop Art, and you want to judge Jim Dine according to your subset, go ahead. Call it "bad," but realize it's only "bad" according to your subset. I have a hard time accepting the universality or primacy of one set over another. Maybe there will come a cross-over artist who satisfies many sets. If it doesn't fit one subset, if doesn't mean that's the only satisfiable set.

I'm also disappointed to hear you kick the ball down the field and say "evidence of what remains to be discussed." The point is, you admit there is a basis for admitting that consensus is evidence. Whether or not you can put your finger on it is beside the point. The fact of its existence remains.

Let me dovetail my previous two paragraphs together. One consensus can define the qualities of greatness for Pop Art, another define them for abex, and yet another for, say, mythological allegory. It might be that a work of art can be rated a "10" by pop artists, a "4" by abexists, a "1" by figuratives, and a "6" by mythological allegorists. This makes it a "great" work of pop art, a "good" work of mythic art, a "bad" work of abex art, and a "terrible" work of figurative art. The work commands a high price from a buyer in tune with the pop art aesthetic, and that's what it is. No " good" or "bad" about it. Just "good among pop art."

There's also a subtheme we're not yet touching, which is whether a certain example of art will last indefinitely into the future. I understand that the longer a work of art lasts, the more in tune it probably is with our deepest human nature, and I understand that the more in tune with human nature, possibly the more valuable, but it's still meaningless in my mind to contemplate the infinite-historical value of art as we live and breathe today, unless we all believe Heaven is a museum and God is its curator.



March 30, 2005, 9:47 PM


Well, I only lump you in in that they misread Danto and say, "woo-hoo! Now we can do anything and it'll count!" You misread Danto and say, "Oh crap, now we can do anything and it'll count." It's the same misreading.

But I'm still open to someone pointing out to me how I may be misreading Danto. Does he in fact say somewhere that everything is art and that it's all good? I'm not an art historian and honestly don't know. (And I'm not interested in where somebody else said he said that; I'm interested in his actual words.) If that is his assertion then it would seem not only inaccurate, but also not very useful.



March 30, 2005, 10:27 PM

The radical aspect of the idea "anything can be art" is the expansion of the scope of the root object (i.e. the art object)
The other day I suggested that the logical structure used for object oriented programming languages could be applied to art criticism.
At the root would be the art object (which doesn't necessarily need to be a physical object). The art object by definition is inclusive in scope, it must include all past art and all future art, it is an abstract class. A rigorous analysis would look for root properties of the class. What we consider art objects, paintings, sculpture, new media etc would be subclassed from the root object and inherit all of its properties.

Within painting one could further subclass the analysis to include the examples Hovig gave, AbEx, Pop, Minimal etc. One might subject one of the subcategories to critical analysis and arrive at some consensus on what is "good" This analysis can percolate in both directions, so a critical analysis of say Pop paintings will eventually have to be in the scope of the critical analysis for (all) painting. This would defeat Hovig's example of different ratings from different perspectives. While in practice this might occur like it does here, in the end the subclasses will be evaluated by their own parameters and then within their superclass but cross critical analysis has to occur at the higher level.

Each node could develop its own critical framework but ultimately it will be absorbed by the next higher level. So unlike many here, I think Warhol will ultimately rank higher than say Jim Dine because more than brushwork will be considered



March 30, 2005, 10:50 PM

This is getting to feel like the old days here on the blog, where misunderstandings and misquotations abound and no one gets anything righty.

I did NOT say "Oh crap, now we can do anything and it'll count." I simply rephrased something you had written. Nor did I imply this was "crap", but said twice (3 times?) that the idea was OK as far as I was concerned.

There is no greater impediment to a duscussion than inaccuracy, because it necessitates constant correction before anything can proceed.



March 30, 2005, 10:56 PM

I guess you can subcategorize until the cows come home, George. I don't mean to be dismissive, it just doesn't interest me that much.

I have no idea who will rank higher in the future, but I don't think it will have anything to do with brushwork. I don't really care anyway because as far as I am concerned Dine is a way more talented artist than Warhol. Warhol was very good at what he did but his talents lay elsewhere.,



March 30, 2005, 11:35 PM

I just re-read the quotation of Danto at the top of the page. It's brief, but extremely telling. Either he's bluffing, which I doubt, or he's indeed a pompous windbag. The very notion that I should give a rat's ass over anything he says or stands for is hysterically absurd.



March 31, 2005, 1:04 AM

George - Thanks for noticing my post. My subcategories were guidelines only, just for the sake of example. My real point was that there are going to be niches, and I think it's more reasonable to say "this work is great according to these criteria, i.e., this niche."

I'm trying to resist attempts to say "Artist One is universally better or worse than Artist Two." You allude to this not only by comparing Dine and Warhol in universal terms, but also by saying there will always be a supercategory in which the most important debates will occur.

I'm not as sure of this as you. I think at some point one hits a ceiling. Today there are people we call "specialists." These people are experts in Medieval tapestries, or Hudson school landscapes, or Greek marbles, or what-have-you. It might be clever to compare a Hudson school landscape to a Medieval tapestry, but I'm not sure how relevant it would be beyond the initial curiosity.

I don't think there's a "supercategory" that allows for a comparison between these two niches, unless, like oldpro is trying to do, you stick to the supercategory of the abex-ologically pure triplet of composition, color and craft, which I think is valid (and may turn out indeed to be the most universal set according to primitive human nature after all), but which I also think can be limiting if one's aim is to actually enjoy art.

My reply to oldpro was primarily intended to see whether we could agree that there are multiple sets of equally valid criteria, and that just because an artist doesn't mean much to one crowd, we can't make any determination that they are universally "less great," only that they are less great according to some crowds.

I also think there's a bit of winner-take-all mentality underlying this entire debate which I think is unproductive. I don't think it's enjoyable to look at a work of art and wonder whether I should be appreciating it more because it's going to still be famous in 500 years. What do I care? And how would I know anyway? If I'm an artist, then maybe I can use historical value as a proxy for universality, and maybe I use that to guide me because want my work to be as universally acclaimed as possible, but I don't think it's a valuable consideration per se whether or not a work is long-lasting.



March 31, 2005, 2:34 AM

Hovig, there are no valid criteria for judging art, so there cannot be "multiple sets of equally valid criteria".

Art is judged intuitively. That is what it is there for. You like what you like.



March 31, 2005, 2:59 AM

Multiple but equally valid definitions of greatness, then. I'm not discussing "What you see is what you see." I'm discussing "Your way of seeing is inferior to mine."



March 31, 2005, 3:08 AM

Before continuing, I would note that this blog seems somewhat unique in that it has an ongoing inquisitive dialog among several people. Franklin deserves a LOT of credit for steering the ship.

Hovig, First off, the OOPs model is something I've been mulling over because it seemed like a viable idea (for someone else with a lot of time;-) I understand the programming paradigms and can see how they might be applied but it's too complex to take further here.

You said "to see whether we could agree that there are multiple sets of equally valid criteria" I think this is a good point. In general I would say most artists are egotistical people. Along with the territory comes an emotional vulnerability, people are want to defend their territory. It seems normal to me. As an aside here, I respect OldPro's position and his passion to share it, I don't have to agree but I'll remain flexible.

That said, I have some difficulty with how quickly certain works or artists are dismissed. This morning GnuMiami made a positive remark about Marlene Dumas's work, in the context of the thread this seemed like a brave, maybe foolhardy, act. The response was about what I expected. I don't know any of you, I don't know if you know GnuMiami or not, but if he/she is a new participant I can understand why he/she might not be so eager to add something else. So what might have become a dialog was cutoff at the knees.

Why should this be? I am cautious to comment to extensively on an artist whose work I haven't seen first hand. In Marlene's case that leaves me at a disadvantage. So I will hold off on a tactile evaluation and just say that I think it is serious work made by an experienced painter. Further I happen to think the content counts. Content, the image, the subject, call it what you will is the single most important issue in painting today. It is not technique, beauty or the right formal moves, those things are basic requirement for a painter in today's polyglot world of imagery. The issue is and always has been communication with the audience, the viewer.

Earlier I mentioned how certain paintings have moved me to tears.
As an artist I remember these rare emotional moments as a future reminder of what the work is supposed to do. What I didn't mention was the other side of this, which is understanding or remembering the feeling I have when I have successfully connected with the audience. When the painting "worked" for someone else.

For me the audience is a crucial part of the process. What I want is a passionate response, if the viewer loves it or hates it I'm happy. If I get a "that's nice, let's get a drink" I've missed somehow.



March 31, 2005, 3:15 AM

Sometimes the act of enjoying and the act of perceiving quality are different acts; Greenberg himself writes about this in the book linked above and I agree. You can enjoy the heck out of stuff that you know isn't great - JT Kirkland just wrote a hilarious post about this. In fact, I think that's all that a lot of contemporary art is trying for - amusement, titillation, a train of thought, whatever.

There's a place for that kind of enjoyment but I don't think it's a substitute for awe. I would enjoy a lot more art if I wasn't seeking to be blown away. But too bad - once you get a taste for the good stuff it's hard to go back. I think the converse is true as well - if you latch on to minor art hard enough even major work looks minor to you.

Concerning Hovig's supercategory, I don't think it works that way. You can experience different kinds of work as great and some works as greater than others. Sometimes comparisons between very unlike objects is difficult - one simply says that one can't make them. But sometimes one can. I went to the Hong Kong museum in 2000 and while I saw a ton of great work, I felt at the time that China had never produced anyone on the level of Monet. Now that I'm learning to write Chinese I'd like to go back and see if I feel the same way. I'll bet I don't - a deficiency of seeing will have been cured. Spaces between strokes that I simply wasn't seeing before now jump out at me. Even as a westerner I can see that while a great variety of marks is permissable, certain ones don't work.

So speaking for myself, my way of seeing would be superior to the one I had.

George - I haven't given up on your OOP idea but I don't quite see what to do with it yet. This is probably too close to Hovig's day job for him to consider with any pleasure.



March 31, 2005, 3:39 AM

George, if you said you were "moved to tears" by Dumas i would be puzzled but I would have no motivation to "cut you off at the knees" any more than I would scoff at Franklin because he doesn't like Louis Armstrong. The reason Gnu got a sharp rejoinder from me was that he made a dumb comment about how Dumas's political activism was "more than just paint" and said it in a very presumptious, trite way. And if the new gnu knew what the old gnu knew ... (sorry) ... if Gnu wanted to come back, who's stopping him?

Hovig, OK definitions of greatness then, but I'm sorry I don;t find that partularly interesting.
If you are talking about "ways of seeing" Franklins description of becoming familiar with another way of making or seeing art is worth reading because it describes a real curcumstance of learning.



March 31, 2005, 3:55 AM

GnuMiami said " for painting like nobody's business, for addressing issues such as aparthied and not just paint." I think he's right.



March 31, 2005, 4:14 AM

You're welcome to, George, but I'd rather have a difference of opinion with you or Hovig, by virtue of being able to explain yourself better. I was unduly harsh with Gnu but I stand by my point - when it comes to addressing evil on the magnitude of apartheid people have evinced a lot more courage and skill than Dumas (Mandela in the political arena and Goya in the aesthetic one came immediately to mind), so if addressing issues is important to the Gnu, I feel compelled to point out what "addressing" can mean at a level of greatness.



March 31, 2005, 5:01 AM

The old phrase for it is "wearing your heart on your sleeve".

I don't have much patience for it, and I think one is foolish to fall for it.



March 31, 2005, 5:07 AM

George paid me a fine compliment up in #29 and I neglected to thank him. Glad it works for you, George - thank you for reading.



March 31, 2005, 5:21 AM

Of course content and meaning count. That's not at issue. The issue is that, if something is put forth as a work of visual art, it has to work and be good as such regardless of content or meaning. If one wants to call that meeting the basics, fine, but the basics must be met. If a purported work of art fails to do that, it fails as art for me, and I will reject it as such. It can have all the meaning and relevance in the world, but that does not make it good or successful as ART. I will not negotiate on that score--basics first, front and center--no concessions, no substitutes.

Otherwise, any hack could simply confine himself to certain issues or topics or messages and get away with work mediocre or worse as art. I don't care how much of a market exists for such work. I won't have it.



March 31, 2005, 5:42 AM

(i don't type well so please excuse the lower case)
i recall reading a danto essay about a painter who wanted to paint a portrait of someone he loved. he studied and practiced traditional painting techniques for years and developed his skills to the point of excellence. when it came time to paint this picture (and for the artist, it had to be perfect in order to convey the love he felt) he could'nt. time went by and he still had the canvas blank. after he passed away, the blank canvas was exhibited with a title that described his love and inability to capture this in paint. danto believes that this is a better painting than if he would have illusionistically capture his model. the viewer then would transend the limitations of illusion and have a deeper understanding of love - philisophically. the artists ego/style would block the viewer from a greater human understanding. this he thought was better.



March 31, 2005, 6:28 AM

It's a pretty story, Jordan, if you like the sentimental. It's also a story of failure--failure of understanding or failure of nerve. One shows love for someone by doing the best one can for them, by giving the best one has to offer, not by waiting for an unattainable perfection and ultimately dodging the bullet and giving nothing. No artist is expected, let alone required, to be perfect. He or she is expected to offer the very best s/he is capable of, and to have the courage to put it out there to be accepted or rejected, for it may or may not be good enough. I know it takes courage, if the artist is serious, as opposed to posturing or playing games. It's a tough business, because the standards are very high, or should be. A lot more people are in it than are fit for it, and unfortunately, too many of them are getting away with it. Danto and company are part of the reason.



March 31, 2005, 6:38 AM

Jordan - The story is fictional. Henry James wrote a short story called The Madonna of the Future, with the plot you describe. A man decides to paint a beautiful woman in the style of Raphael's "Madonna della Seggiola." Not only does the woman grow old, but he eventually dies himself before making a brushstroke. I'm not familiar with Danto's analysis of the work.

Franklin - I came across a Danto quote which I think is quite revealing. I'm going in fact to call it the Danto quote. His Brillo-box epiphany was in fact this 1964 observation:

And the whole world consisting of latent artworks waiting, like the bread and wine of reality, to be transfigured, through some dark mystery, into the indiscernible flesh and blood of the sacrament? Never mind that the Brillo box may not be good, much less great art. The impressive thing is that it is art at all. But if it is, why are not the indiscernible Brillo boxes that are in the stockroom? Or has the whole distinction between art and reality broken down?

[...] It is the role of artistic theories, these days as always, to make the artworld, and art, possible. It would, I should think, never have occurred to the painters of Lascaux that they were producing art on those walls. Not unless there were neolithic aestheticians.


that guy in the second to last row

March 31, 2005, 6:42 AM

chick flicks make a lot of people cry. But no one goes around calling them great art. For me art happens to stand higher. You can equate the two in your little niggling categories all you want, I'll stick with the one true arrow that hits it's mark.



March 31, 2005, 7:13 AM

Thanks, Hovig, now we have some actual Danto to deal with, as Cinque would have it.

It strikes me how Catholic this is - not just the blood and sacrament bit, but the whole elevation of object into arthood by virtue of theory. Theory is the Holy Spirit in this model. And again, interpreter-priests are needed as intermediaries, for "it is the role of artistic theories, these days as always, to make the artworld, and art, possible." As always? This is exactly what Greenberg was calling "a construction, a received idea." It's also false. I infinitely prefer Greenberg's direct contact.

And I think there were neolithic aestheticians. So there.



March 31, 2005, 7:14 AM

Hovig, the Danto text you link merely provides further evidence of his risibly inflated view of theory and, naturally, of himself as a purveyor thereof. I have neither need nor use for his theory or him. Which makes the following statement, for me, so much insufferable, self-serving tripe:

"It is the role of artistic theories, these days as always, to make the artworld, and art, possible."

Funny, I always thought artists did that.

Take a hike, Arthur. You're full of it, and you're not even clever enough to disguise it.



March 31, 2005, 7:24 AM

Having read some Danto, but not a whole lot (I couldn't stand it) these stories only serve to make him seem even more inane than I thought. What a jerk!

Franklins observation is pretty keen.

As for esthetics in Lascaux, does anyone think those pictures came about just because some talented cave man found some charcoal & ochre and started in on the wall? Not a chance. There was a culture at work.



April 1, 2005, 7:03 AM

on Marlene Dumas.

I didn't like the way she was being dismissed here in artblog. so i had to say something. The Rubells' collection features a few Dumas. I have seen them many times. her images have gravitas--i don't necessarily like some of her works, but i give the paintings time to make an impression. some have. I really like this image( ); apparently the painting fetched 3 million at christies. I enjoy a certain aspect of her works--mainly , her frankness.
she seems to explore sexuality about as much as she considers her south african condition.
I believe I am more than fair to most works that i encounter. I usually stay away from easy judgement--like good/bad/great or important. but i consider what might have moved the artist, what is the artist thinking about will creating. thinking afterall is what propelled our species on the evolutionary tract and is therefore something i like to think as being critical to my appreciation of all creative act.
And this is partly, what makes Danto great; he considers what isn't not on the canvas.



April 1, 2005, 7:51 AM

Danto is great because he considers what's not on the canvas?

Work out the implications of what you are saying. Gnu.



April 1, 2005, 10:41 PM

Over the last day or so I have rethought my comment (number 4) on Dantos use of the term posthistorical.

I dislike the use of post as a prefix, as in postmodernism, because other than implying "that which follows" modernism it has no other redeeming descriptive qualities. Misapplied it could lead to infinite loop logic, "post-postmodernism" which is as equally inane as "postmodernism".

However, I am willing to concede that the term "posthistorical" does have a rich implied meaning which is applicable to the conceptual and practical developments in art since about 1960. The posthistorical world is a result of information cross linking initiated by the advent of communication revolution which started in earnest when television saturated the culture in the early 60s.

Further, the point where I have difficulty with the prefix post, the post-post, will inherently collapse on itself as history consumes the events of the posthistorical. Moreover, it seems to me that the aspects or details of the posthistorical occurrence are specifically tied to the communication revolution and will occur only once with the next great revolution finding its root cause in a different aspect of the culture. This is not true for modern vs. postmodern, unless I am to assume that "modern" is tied to only the industrial revolution which would leave us at a loss for a good word for "that which is contemporary" "Modern" was so tidy.

Whatever, "posthistorical" makes sense to me now



April 2, 2005, 1:02 AM

I don't know if one should try so hard to some to terms with inflated, nonsense, George.

If you write about a large brown dog I will pretty much know what you are referring to, but a nonword like "posthistorical" will float forever in limbo no matter how hard you try. There will never be any clear agreement on what it specifically means because there can be no specific meaning.



April 2, 2005, 2:18 AM

Posthistorical is a synonym for "today." (Which is why it may seems to an artist born in 1943 to being in the 60s; for someone born in 1968 the dividing line of "post-history" may be drawn in the late 80s or 90s.) A generation from now, our days will be "historical," and those days will by definition be "post-historical." I can't help but think Danto uses the term to confuse people.

I also wonder whether he's correct in the first place. In this day of instant document recall from massive knowledge bases, rigorous scientific and econometric methods and instant international communication, if anything we've entered a "co-historical" age, history being written while you wait. This is a bit of an exaggeration, because I think the unit of history will always be the human generation, but I think "co-historical" describes our current era more aptly than "post-historical."

Danto also uses strong claims of a "new era," of course!, to convince people to keep their "old" standards to themselves when trying to judge him.



April 2, 2005, 3:29 AM

So this means if I say to my wife

"let's got to a movie posthistorical"

she will know what I mean?



April 2, 2005, 3:40 AM

Only if you're seeing The Pirates of Penzance, an artwork made with humor categorical.



April 2, 2005, 4:38 AM

I'm very well acquainted, too, with matters artistical
I understand artists, both the kindly and sadistical,

About artistic theory I'm full of information,
With many cheerful facts about postmodern depravation.



April 2, 2005, 5:12 AM

I see your attitude tonight is quite improvisational.
I wonder if your studio has issues ventilational.



April 2, 2005, 5:47 AM

I'm consummately well-versed in soiree, opening, and vernissage,
I've memorized the contents of the Louvre and the Hermitage;
To speak among a crowd of yappy art theorists, I am the first,
Forming obtuse connections 'tween Velazquez and Damien Hirst;
I am well-armed with coinages like jouissance and differance
And lots of scary-sounding terms that come from fancy schools in France.

Handing out my business card as if I were obsessional
I am the very model of a modern art professional.

Handing out his business card as if he was obsessional
He is the very model of a modern art professional.



April 2, 2005, 8:10 AM

we got to be careful

or every blogger'll

clog up the web

with globs of doggerel



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