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the market has spoken

Post #505 • March 29, 2005, 7:09 AM • 60 Comments

Carol Kino for the New York Times: Marlene Dumas's Number Comes Up. Dumas just set a auction price record for a living female artist - US$3.34 million. I wonder how many people picked up on Kino's barb in this paragraph:

Aside from testifying to the market's heat, the price spike suggests what is sought-after in art today. First of all, Ms. Dumas makes paintings - an enimently "housable" medium, as auction house experts like to say. Her work intermingles high and pop-cultural imagery and touches on favored hot buttons, from politics to female sexuality to race. Her overall subject can be construed as the ambiguity of the pictorial image, a major critical talking point right now. Add to that her strong museum track record, and you have market kismet, for in the current boom, as any dealer will tell you, "quality" is king.

This is pretty nasty for the NYT, and rightly suggests that the term quality has been co-opted by people who are using it to describe sales potential, social relevance, or anything besides inherent goodness.

See if you can unpack this comment by former Miamian Amy Capellazzo:

For Amy Cappellazzo, who jointly runs postwar and contemporary art sales at Christie's New York, there are obvious reasons for Ms. Dumas's market spike. "This is a perfect market in that here is an artist who is not a child - she's a mature artist with 25 years of work behind her," she said. "The subject matter is so rich and relevant and compelling. There are not too many paintings in places where you can't control the market. It's just the right formula."

So the formula is: mature artist, plus compelling subject matter, plus something about not being able to control the market, equals price spike. I think this is another barb from Kino, to let Capellazzo sound fatuous like this.

Dumas's charmless awkwardness and her sissy humor at the expense of artists who can paint circles around her don't do much for me, but the market has spoken. It said, "baaaaa." This is the flipside of the market, which I have been praising lately as a possible corrective force: it will only work thusly if someone exercises some spine.

What we need is a clever sheep.




March 29, 2005, 5:11 PM

The Rubell Collection is currently showing a Dumas' (Miss January I think). Wow. Not a great painting by another artist making the headlines yet cranking out mediocre work. The room in which the painting is featured could easily be a case study for's market of contemporary figurative painting. Yuskavages and two Dana Schutz, an artist I was not familiar and shouldn't be. Next to Krome Detention Center, it's the most depressing room in Miami.

In a retated note, Christopher Mason in New York Magazine (m 7) wrote an article on "an overheated market." Collector Jean-Pierre Lehmann's lawsuit against gallerist Christian Haye of Project Worldwide. Lehmann was "thwarted access for contemporary art", in particular Julie Mehretu's. Lehmann invested in the gallery in order to facilitate collecting Mehretu's work; instead he was passed over to more notable collectors: Saatchi, the Rubell family, etc. Lehmann won the suit; I don't know about damages but they speculate between $120k to as much as $1.9million.



March 29, 2005, 5:22 PM

Let's add a little oil to the salad dressing. Here is the link to the whole NYT article on Marlene Dumas. Read the parts where she is quoted, she is just as serious a painter as anyone here with the same problem as we all face, "how to make a painting that will stand up to time"


that guy in the second to last row

March 29, 2005, 5:56 PM

My favorite line: "Ms. Dumas somehow combines gravity with a lightness of touch, to the point that her work resists snap judgments. " I guess that is the opposite of having an anti-gravitational heavy handed touch which encourages a snap judgment? Ahh,... Now I understand. Thanks NYT.



March 29, 2005, 6:11 PM

that guy in the second to last row ...

Well, ok, explain to me what you "now understand"

Somewhere in the last 100 comments there were some remarks regarding "the figure" and the need for someone to make it viable again. So here we have Marlene Dumas hitting auction records, how is that for visibility? What is the problem? These are serious paintings.



March 29, 2005, 6:23 PM

Whenever you think the market has done its utmost by, say, paying $5 million for a Koons whiskey bottle, it comes up with another stunner that rocks you one your heels.

Dumas is another of that Luc Tuyman type painter who does scruffily painted, blank expressioned figures. We discussed them on the blog a while back. I noticed a while ago that she was getting big prices and it piqued my curiosity because she seemed particularly inept.

The picture that brought almost three and a half million is, as I recall, taken from a photo of a school class, or looks like it. I know reproductions are insufficient, especially in a newspaper, but I could find nothing at all to distinguish it, apart from its ordinariness. There were other pix on the page, including one of women dressed in bride's clothes with some cute art-world references and a series painting of a white woman and a black man embracing which looked particularly badly painted.

I have given up being "shocked" by these auction prices and instead study them with the attitude of one seeing the snake strike, immobilize and swallow the hypnotized rodent type films they like to show on nature programs, you know, horrible but fascinating, and too bad for the rodent, but that's nature, ain't it.

I hope some sharp PhD candidate in social psychology, searching for something current and interesting to write about, is paying attention.



March 29, 2005, 6:26 PM

George, from the standpoint of the market and general acceptance the figure has long since been made "viable". Everyone is painting the figure, and with these prices there will be hundreds more. But the work has to be better.


that guy in the second to last row

March 29, 2005, 6:26 PM

"understand" was facetious. I think her paintings are silly. Have you seen the work in question? These multimillion dollar paintings cant be cast to one side at this point. If you read between the lines towards the end of the article, you can tell the dealers are getting worried. Dumass will be left out in the cold because I don't think the market can hold these levels very long. We have to wait and see.



March 29, 2005, 7:01 PM

I've seen Dumas's Young Boys at Saatchi [some exhibit highlights here]. The painting in person didn't seem any different from the painting in reproduction -- I think it was quite flat and unsubtle -- but I also didn't care to look more closely. The painting above it on the Saatchi link, Peter Doig's Orange Sunshine, was more interesting to me. You can't see it in the thumbnail offered above, but there is a yellow-orange silhouette of a snowboarder painted into the sky of the piece, actually dominating the upper-right field. Conceptually I don't think Doig's work is meaningful, but as an aesthetic expression I found it nicely done, and also pretty subtle. You can see a better shot of it in this review by Richard Dorment here. Click the "In pictures" link to see it a bit larger in a popup window. For the life of me I can't remember if I also saw Doig's Canoe Lake in person or not, but that's another of his works I find worth looking at. The concept and narrative aren't interesting, and the figure is drawn clumsily, but I like the look of the water. Ironically, the Dorment review says exactly the opposite: Dumas and Tuymans are the hefty ones, while Doig is the slight one. I dunno. I liked looking at the Doig(s) more than the Dumas or the Tuymans. (I've seen other Tuymans I've liked [at his Tate exhibit last July] but not the one at the Saatchi).



March 29, 2005, 7:10 PM

A "million dollars" once meant something, now that there are over 500 people on the Forbes billionaire list, it's chickenfeed. It makes the news but doesn't leave much to discuss as far as the art is concerned. I am a serious student on the psychology of financial markets, no doubt her prices will fluctuate but I learned a long time ago that markets can hold "these levels" longer than one would expect. If the dealers are worried it is because they don't have a Marlene Dumas in the backroom to deal in the secondary market. I don't think she will be left out in the cold.

My problem is that I haven't seen enough of her works firsthand to make a definitive tactile statement. I was less fond of the girlie paintings but I happen to like the paintings that were reproduced in the NYT. Looking at these paintings I note the cursory handling of the figure. Since this is consistent throughout the works, so I can only assume that this is a stylistic decision, not that she can't paint the figure. I think the "ordinary class photo" painting is in fact quite extraordinary



March 29, 2005, 7:30 PM

George, if you are a serious student of financial markets tell us what is happening in this one. it really is very interesting..

There is nothing wrong with "cursory handling of the figure". Matisse did that and it turned out OK. Anyone with some ability can learn to do the figure in a cursory or non-cursory way. Of course the cursoryness is a stylistic decision, just as it is with all the others who are making similar pictures. The problem is that Dumas is not a very good painter.

Dumas may be a million dollar painter, but I would advise her to put her money in the bank agains that rainy day. It will come.

Thanks for the links, Hovig. Pictures always help! These painters are not without interest but for the most part leave me cold. There is too much other art out there, old and new, that makes them look awfully weak, I think.


that guy in the second to last row

March 29, 2005, 7:47 PM

weak is what they are going for I think. It just doesn't help their pictures much. A lot better art can be had at much better prices.



March 29, 2005, 8:26 PM

I certainly respect Dumas more as a painter than Damien Hirst as one, though that's not saying much. Whatever she does or does not do in her work qualifies as a stylistic decision, but the reason(s) behind such decisions are another matter. I will not put words in her mouth, but these days, it's fairly routine to deflect criticism with something along the lines of "that's what I intended" or "I did it that way on purpose." Fine. I still get to decide whether or not I buy it, regardless of whether the artist is telling the truth or not. Either it works or it doesn't; either it's good work or not. That's all that really matters, not the theoretical explanations or the conceptual justifications, and most certainly NOT what an Amy Cappellazzo says--why even quote such people on something like this? So they can get in some free promotion? Please.

Dumas has her shtick down, like others have theirs. It's what she does, and she's entitled. Obviously it sells, as do all sorts of things, good, bad and in between. Somebody paid $12M for Hirst's pickled shark, a piece that looks more ridiculous to me every day. It happens; the market is what it is; "major" collectors are what they are. I am not impressed.



March 29, 2005, 8:41 PM

Market behavior, some background concepts.

Price is a function of perceived risk and this may be different from actual risk. If the buyer thinks the price will be lower tomorrow he will refrain from buying or lowball the bid. On the other hand if the buyer expects the price to be higher tomorrow, he will raise his bid.

In an auction market these are fundamental concepts. The key psychological issue in the statement above is centered on what the buyer "thinks" the price will do.

Very often this decision is not born out by the underlying fundamentals (connoisseurship) and becomes an emotional decision influenced by the events of the moment. The perception of "what the price might do" affects the price. Contrary to the generally accepted ideas of supply and demand, in auction markets, rising prices increase demand. In the rarities markets, limited supply will put upward pressure on prices and to the contrary, increased supply will put prices under pressure. This was graphically illustrated on the PBS Antique Roadshow in relation to the pricing of Disney animation cells. It turns out that prices have fallen about 50% over the last 5-10 years because there turned out to be a bigger supply that was originally thought until they started turning up consistently on the TV program. In the trade it is now called the "Roadshow Effect"

As prices rise, the speculators enter the fray, maybe the smart ones got in on the ground floor, the IPO so to speak. Whatever, the intention of the speculator is to flip the works in a relatively short period of time for a profit. I would surmise that this is what we are seeing in the current art auction market. (the day traders)

This brings us to a critical juncture, who bought the works at these prices and what was their intent? Serious collectors, like Saatchi ect probably intend to hold the works for an extended period of time. They pay up because of the rarity factor and essentially remove the works from the market for awhile. (trade like insurance companies)

Backing up a bit, why does any of this occur? Historically, equities or paper assets are the first to trade through the boom bust cycle. When the equities markets roll over, like they did in the Millennium Crash, the money exiting these markets has historically moved into hard assets, art, real estate, commodities and gold. In my opinion that is what has occurred, all these markets are booming.

Back to the cycle. Remembering the idea of "perceived risk" Sooner or later markets get to a point where the early buyers decide they want to realize their profits and where the later buyers start to reevaluate their "perceived risk". The rarity factor is where the art market differs from other auction markets, this can create unequal pricing tiers but the general result is that prices will start to fall. When this occurs, demand dries up and prices will fall. Buy and hold collectors see their holdings devalued on paper. The speculators have to decide how to trade it, from a trading standpoint the correct decision would be to sell, which of course puts further downward pressure on the markets.

Initially I thought, the art market looked like a bubble due to burst. At this stage I would not predict this occurring unless we see a significant downturn on the world economy. This may be in the cards but there is no clear evidence that it is occurring at the moment. Moreover, I am inclined to think we might see a more inflationary environment over the next five to ten years. If this is the case and the inflation is modest than art prices should hold their levels. Any market can become temporarily overvalued and prices will react as the players reevaluate their risk perceptions. Although prices may fall it is not necessarily the start of a collapse



March 29, 2005, 8:50 PM

Someone help me out here.

It appears most of you have been posting here long enough to know one anothers likes and dislikes.

So for those who are not favorable towards Marlene Dumas's work would you give me some examples of living artists whose work you do think is important.



March 29, 2005, 9:10 PM

Go see the Olitski show at the Goldman warehouse, George.

I just tuned in & will read your long blog above. Looks interesting.



March 29, 2005, 9:25 PM

George, make a distinction between "good" and "important". Dumas's work is "important' if it fetches $3 million bucks, but it is not much good.

I have noticed the swing between stock & real estate, the rise in gold (which las levelled off in the last year or two, hasn't it?) and the Fed telling us inflation is on the way up. I think your "5 to 10 years" might be too far out to guess, but this is all good for hard assets.

Art should hold up well until we get another economic downturn, but I am not sure of myself here because this new market is so very extremely frothy. Other things might affect it. It almost looks every one of those 500 billionaires you mentioned are going after contemporary art. I wish they could go after mine so i could sit here and worry about it.

I saw the Roadshow last night (one of my favorite TV shows) and the Cel discussion was a nice lesson in market economics. Actually the show is a nice art economy lesson in general and I recommend it to all artists.



March 29, 2005, 9:54 PM

OldPro, I'm not sure I want to make a distinction between "good" and "important". I don't think price should be an issue determining "good" or "important" rather it is a consequence which follows the perception.

The 5 to 10 year observation is based on long term commodity cycles. Gold has been appreciating at about a 15% rate since 2001 and is heading to well over $1000 an ounce (but not in a straight line). This has some positive implications for the art market as well, also not in a straight line.

BTW, I'm not in Miami or I would have gone to see the Olitski show



March 29, 2005, 10:41 PM

Sorry, George. I think you mentioned you lived somewhere else, now that I think of it.

Anyway, Olitski is my nominee for the best living artist. Not a majority opinion by any means, but he was all but written off 10 years ago and is coming back strong. We'll see.

I speculated in gold all during the 80s and just about broke even. I am very shy of gold investments. "Going stright to $1000" echoes painfully in my mind; that's where it was absolutely certain to go 15 years ago when it got to $800 and it immediately turned around and went straight down. Then it was repeated all through the 80's and sank even further in the 90s.

Sure, it has come back; I think at $200 or $250 it is undervalued. But right now it seems to be moving with the value of the dollar rather than as a monetary underpinning.

"Good" and "important" are very useful distinctions. They should not be confused with each other. "

Good" can be used to describe art that has a lasting effect, that moves people through the ages, art that gives the old "art thrill" year after year. "Important" can be used to describe art that is well known, on the scene, influential, expensive, in the museums, and so forth.

Naturally much "good" art is also "important" especially over time. On the other hand, much "important" art is not very good, especially in the short run.

Frankly I don't care whether art is "important" or not. As an art lover I am only interested in what I think is "good". The distinction can be very useful, as I said. but you are under no obligation to adopt it, obviously.



March 29, 2005, 10:59 PM

I certainly see the deficiencies you all find in Dumas's paintings. They're darned flat and not a little crude. Her handling of color is perplexing. I have to admit, though, that there's something quite appealing about them, though I can't quite place my finger on what it is. The painting of a white woman and black man (apparently the same two people repeated five times??) is tough, but there's something very charming and enigmatic in the classroom picture. Stay tuned, I'll try to verbalize it later.

I've been in that room at the Rubell Bob refered to. I actually think Dana Schutz is a good painter. One of the pices there, though, is just beastly (a bad, bad picture of a naked dude!). The other, bigger, one, though, I remember liking a lot.



March 29, 2005, 11:20 PM

OldPro, I won't burden the blog with too much on gold other than to say when it hit $800 it was in a speculative frenzy (like stocks in 2000). The long term gold cycle should trend higher for about as long as the decline (1980 to 1999), or another 14 years from here. So far it has been inversely tracking the dollar, going forward an accelerated price rise should be caused by some other economic event.

I knew what you were inferring with the distinction between "good" and "important", I was prodding. For me part of the issue is that "good" ends up being subjective. What moves one person, might not move another, leading to disparate definitions of what's good. In a case like that the idea of "important" can help. As an artist I think we all have to come to grips with what we think is "good", what we expect to experience from our art and what we expect the viewer to experience. I don't think we all need to agree, that would be boring as could be. On the other hand, before I dismiss something out of hand, I really try to give it the benefit of doubt to see if it might hold up.



March 29, 2005, 11:57 PM

Well, I suppose I'll have to gird my loins and venture into the land of the brave to see all this "important" work that's being mentioned in #1 and #19. I've seen the Dumas there already; it's certainly very...large.



March 30, 2005, 12:46 AM

George: You write "'good' ends up being subjective".

It is more complicated than that. Art starts out being "subjective" but it doesn't end up that way.

A work of art is evaluated by the experience of the individual encountering the art. If you like the art it is good for you. We will have different judgements, one to the other. This makes the "goodness" of art seem subjective.

But the problem with subjective is that for some reason we don't treat art as subjective in spite of the fact that art is the one thing we have which is generally judged intuitively, without criteria, in a way that seems more subjective than anything can be.

Subjective is whether you like steak or pork chops, or a black car or a white car, or who you choose for a mate or what TV show you watch. These are preferences. These are subjective. We may talk about what TV show is "better" but in the final analysis we chalk it all up to "taste". Non disputandum.

We don't treat art this way. We want art to be "great". Art is made to be good, and it is evaluated purely on that basis in the long run. When we say a work is art is good we mean, as Kant said, that it is good for everyone, whether we intend to or not,

Art at its best shows us the best of ourselves, it embodies "goodness" (I don't know what other word to use) and that's the way we in fact treat it. Just as an automobile is made to take us from place to place and food is made to satisfy hunger, art is made to transmit this "goodness". It has no other use. This is why our species values it so highly. This is why we spend so much time trying to figure out what will "last". This is why, corrupted and messed up and perverted as the particular instance may be, that we pay $3 million for the Dumas painting. This is why i am so grateful to the people who kept playing Mozart and recording Louis Armstrong so I can buy a $15 CD and hear the most thrilling music there is.

The goodness of good art is not subjective. Intuitiuvely arrived at, unproveable, but not subjective. Good art is good art. It just sits there and waits for us to figure it out.



March 30, 2005, 1:21 AM

When we say a work is art is good we mean, as Kant said, "that it is good for everyone"

The problem with this is that if you ask 50 people they won't agree.

This seems to be the crux of the problem here, we find we don't agree. So maybe we are in the dark and this is a case of "waiting for us to figure it out". I feel that, in spite of our intentions to remain objective, our personal psychological bias, colors our opinions adding a subjective veneer to our formulation of what is "good". Over time does this level out? I suppose, but then other biases sneak in. You know that in theory and in my heart I don't disagree but from a practical standpoint I think we must supply more concrete analysis.

Regarding Marlene's work again. The NYT illustrations made me think of the Goya frescos at the Florida in Spain. In my opinion these are among the greatest paintings ever made. She tried.



March 30, 2005, 1:57 AM

Art is not a science. It is a personal relationship between the viewer and the work, or so it is and must be for me. I will not have it any other way. Therefore, whatever critical methodology may be devised for the sake of purported objectivity and/or concreteness, the final judgment will always be individual, based on personal taste and criteria. Certainly that's how I operate. Approaching art by proxy strikes me as dishonest and/or cowardly. Obviously people can do as they choose in this regard, but their opinions or practices are beside the point. I'm not in it for them; I'm in it for myself.


that guy in the second to last row

March 30, 2005, 2:11 AM

Goya's frescos. Thats a real stretch George. Those frescos at the Church of San Antonio De La Florida are way beyond anything Dumas has ever done. I had the good fortune of seeing these in 2000, and I was taken aback. Try as she might, she sucks.

Here are some small pics of the Goya's in question. You just got to go there if you haven't yet.



March 30, 2005, 2:36 AM

George, thank you for that analysis in #13. That was fascinating. Economics are so alien to my training as an artist that I feel like there's a whole world out there that I ought to get familiar with.

I have a slightly different take on the subjective/objective problem. I think individual decisions about quality are partly cultural and partly biological. The relate to the fact that we prefer some kinds of experience to others, subjectively, and also to the fact that all human cultures at all times seem to find pleasure in producing designs and visual representations; I believe the latter has been adventageous in the Darwinian sense and is part of our makeup. It also deals with real, objective facts about the world and the way we interact with it. If tastes were purely cultural then cultural remove would defeat them - we would look at, say, Shang bronzes and they wouldn't even register as art. But they do, because the pleasure we get from design and representation is innate and something crosses over.

Sometimes I feel like the only person on Earth who doesn't like Louis Armstrong.



March 30, 2005, 3:25 AM

Franklin, my heart goes out to you. Please let me give you a Louis Armstrong Seminar. You have not heard the good stuff.

I was waiting for you to say that George. Now comes the hard part.

It doesn't matter that we disagree about what is good (in the long run we don't, but hold off on that). What I said, and what Kant said, was that when we say art is good we are saying it for everyone. You cannot say art is good without doing that, because being good is all art does.

Saying this (and here is where things fell apart when we had this discussion here last summer) does NOT mean that you have to be "right". It does NOT mean that you are being "presumptuous" and "forcing your opinion on other people". It does NOT mean that anyone has to accept your opinion. It simply means that in you opinion the art is "good", pure & simple, and if you think it is good you think it is good for everyone. It is good, period.

And, in fact, we sort out what we think is best. That's what we do with art. That's what we have in the museums. This does NOT mean that you have to agree. It is really only a kind of convenience. I have looked at what history has decided, and my experience tells me that history has done a pretty good job. That's the way it works.



March 30, 2005, 3:55 AM

OldPro, some of our fellow bloggers say you are too sure of your views, but I think you are waffling too much on this goodness thing.

Where I start: When we know a work as good, that is what we know, not what we "think", not our "opinion". When someone disagrees with my knowledge, they are wrong. There is no other way to deal honestly with such a fact. It is not a difference of opinion, it is a problem of knowledge (intuitive knowledge has no less standing than any other knowledge), and when someone says I don't know what I do know, they are wrong and I am right.

Of course I recognize others have different knowledge. Maybe they fail to grasp things as well as I do, maybe they have a better intuitive faculty, one that gets at what is "out there" more than mine. There is no way for me to tell. But it is a mistake to call it a difference of "thinking" or "opinion". To yak a little philosophy, I am talking about Kant's noumenon, the transcendent object. If the noumenon of art did not transcend its relationship to knowers, the consensus of taste would be just more babbling about art, not the definitive phenomenon it really is. (Definitive does not equal perfect.)

The only serious qualification is that when we look at art we must be brutally honest in reckoning with what we have come to know. If our intution happens to be ambiguous, as it can be, then there is no clear knowledge and we must admit that. But some encoutners with art are so very clear there is no need to waffle.

An example. It is very clear that Pollock is better than Warhol. Anyone who sees it different does not see what is transcendent about both artists. They are wrong now and they will always be wrong.



March 30, 2005, 4:03 AM

Franklin - I think culture is a subset of experience in general, just a longer-term, shared version. Traumas and happy occasions can embed associations deep in the mind too, regardless of whether or not they're part of "nurture" ("nurture" being the opposite of "nature" in the famous debate). I like to think of nature as a potential, like a large multi-faceted container, while experience determines how well one fills it.

Oldpro - I'm interested to know whether you truly believe there's a difference between subjectivity and personal preference [two concepts I thought were synonymous], and whether it's truly a fact that Franklin [everyone] must love Armstrong [all great art].



March 30, 2005, 5:43 AM

For those of you who are not familiar with the Goya frescos in San Antonia de la Florida chapel in Madrid I made some scans from an old Skira book I have.

The frescos are high in the chapel so the reproductions are decent way to get an idea of the work.




March 30, 2005, 5:47 AM

For those of you who are not familiar with the Goya frescos in San Antonia de la Florida chapel in Madrid I made some scans from an old Skira book I have.

The frescos are high in the chapel so the reproductions are decent way to get an idea of the work.

The Goya Frescos



March 30, 2005, 6:41 AM

OldPro, In all honesty, I do think we probably agree on what is "good". Where we differ is "in what we like" Awhile back, you zeroed in on my remark about works that "moved me to tears". For, me this is one criteria which I cannot ignore. At the same time, I would admit that it is a response mediated by personal history. Some things get to me deeply in an emotional way and others I just love for what they are. I suspect that at the root of these two "quality" responses is a division between the emotional and the intellectual aspects of my being. Certainly, both can coexist but generally one or the other comes first leading to a more complex emotional-intellectual experience over time.

"when we say art is good we are saying it for everyone"
This is fine as long as we somehow can come to an agreement about what is good. By this, I am not expecting a definition or a shopping list of criteria, just that we are able to agree on the metaphysical concept of "good" Further, I would suggest that our knowledge on what is "good" is incomplete and therefore exclusionary judgements, i.e. what is "not good", can be suspect.

I think for a practicing artist, the issue of "quality" is a thorny one. We all have our own personal metric for this, but the danger always lurks that in our fervor to "get it right" it blows up in our face. It's a balancing act and from my point of view the only way I can make any progress is by daring to fail.



March 30, 2005, 7:07 AM

Even as reproductions, the Goya images are not only very impressive in formal terms--they are vital, vibrant, ALIVE. There is no mannered posturing here, no self-conscious "hidden meaning"; everything seems very natural, true, even inevitable. And of course, there is the painting as painting, apart from subject matter or meaning, which is wonderful.

Dumas may have tried, as do all artists, but there is no comparison. Her work seems much more calculated, contrived, posed, and affected, not to mention far more crude and clumsy technically. It doesn't matter to me whether that's deliberate or not, whether it's the best she can do or not--it's what she does and what she offers, and it doesn't do much for me.



March 30, 2005, 7:11 AM

Flatboy: A person may declare that a Pollock or a Warhol is a 'good" work of art without having any experiential knowledge at all - in fact, this is quite common. Whether or not such a statement reflects "knowledge" or "opinion" or "belief" is another discussion. My use of those terms in the above statement was merely to try to defuse the misunderstandings that happened last time it came up. My contention was that the declaration itself is by its nature universal rather than dependent on variable criteria.

Hovig: This may be something we develop in use for a discussion like this. Subjectivity and preference are two good words, so, though related, they should carry different meanings, just for the sake of semantic subtlety. Preference is an expression of choice; subjectivity is the nature of that expression. Preference is by nature subjective because it tends to be applied to choices which are not established by external influence. You can have a preference for Ziti over Rotini, but "preferring" pleasure over pain sounds ludicrous.

Yes, Franklin has to love Armstrong. it is my duty to see to that. But no, of course everyone does not have to love great art. Art is just a narrow specialty. Most people don't even bother with it. People who care love great art, take care of it and sometimes try to let everyone know about it.



March 30, 2005, 7:18 AM

Jack, I didn't mean to imply a direct connection between Marlene's work and Goyas. At the time I read the NYT article it reminded me of the Goyas so I dug out the book. The Goya frescos are an exceptional accomplishment.

I think it is hard to remain objective when people are throwing around multi-million dollar figures about an artists work. I also think we tend to be more critical in areas closer to our own sensibilities. I once noted (to myself) that I tended to like artists where I had a shared sense of sensibility (say Van Gogh) and with those who did something I loved but couldn't bring myself to do (say Mondrian) I try to keep an open mind and I'll withold an opinion on Dumas's work until I have seen more of it firsthand.



March 30, 2005, 7:36 AM

George, If you think something is "good" you have to "like" it, and if you are "moved to tears" you have to think is is "good". When I zeroed in on your "moved to tears" statement it was because we were having this awkward discussion about establishing what is "good" and I want4ed to say "there it is, you have it!" You don't decide or accept what is good, you determine it through experience. When enough people who care have have a direct positive experience with a work they will let it be known and the art will be preserved and be called "good", but it is not "good" until you experience it and decide for yourself. It comes across through feeling, not anything "intellectual"

What people call 'good" is not objectively good or not good, it is only called that so you can have a chance to go see for yourself.There are instances where I suspect my own take on something, an artist or a work of art which people whose taste I respect say is good and I just don't see it. All I can do in that case is say that maybe I am missing out, and that's a shame. It is OK to miss out sometimes. Nobody's perfect.

My immediate reaction to Franklin saying he didn't like Louis Armstrong was to feel sorry for him. He's missing out. I want to go play him the Hot Fives and Hot Sevens and miracles like his Bessie Smith accompaniments. But if he sits there and says "I still don't like it" there is nothing I can do.

We do not have to come to agreement. When I say art is good I am saying it for everyone, but no one has to agree. it is not a matter of agreement, it is a matter of experience. If they get the charge I do they will agree. Then they will say "this is good". If they don't, they won't.

Of course the "fervor to get it right" blows up in your face. it is one of the perverse, nasty suprises art has in store for anyone who tries to make it. Art wants you to get it right without trying to get it right. It is torture!


that guy in the second to last row

March 30, 2005, 7:38 AM

thanks for the pics George much better than the little pamphlet I scanned. I don't see any comparison between Dumas and these. It's a must see if you are ever in Madrid. The lunettes which you can make out on my page are really good to.


that guy in the second to last row

March 30, 2005, 7:59 AM

wupps, wrong link above, try this one.



March 30, 2005, 8:01 AM

Even the pix George supplied are very washed out. Maybe that's why he thought they reminded him of Dumas's work.

Download them and run them through Auto Levels in Photoshop. Big difference!



March 30, 2005, 4:42 PM

I was aware of the lightness of the Goya reproductions, I always assumed it was an artifact of photographing the fresco, which has a crystalline structure, with a lot of light on it. Also the book I have is 40 years old, it was a gem in it's time but color printing has improved much since then. Without guidelines, I decicided to leave the scans unaltered. The scans are as accurate as the book.
What is of interest to me is Goya's dashing attack with the mark to create the images

Whatever, it had nothing to do with Dumas



March 30, 2005, 4:50 PM

for all the faults and for all the defincies of reproduction when i look at these pictures I am just bowled over by the palpable authority of the man's painting. Just makes me weak in the knees, even when i am sitting down. I still remember seeing the Goyas in the Prado when I was 23, badly lit and dirty. What a charge!



March 30, 2005, 4:59 PM

I see why George thought of them. Goya's using sort of a smoky palette, especially to render the shadows, which might be a product of reproduction but would be consistent with much of his other work. Tonally the Dumas's resemble them. That's about it for comparison, though.



March 30, 2005, 5:08 PM

Yeh, I've always been bowled over by these frescos even just in reproduction.
There is an economy of the marks along with the willingness to let the mark exist as just a suggestion, knowing that from a distance it would be sufficient. The photographs may not be a totally accurate rendition of the appearance of the frescos but what I loved about the book was what it revealed about how Goya made them.

I saw a Rubens in Brussels once. A huge painting of a king og a horse, full of little dollops of white for highlights on the regal uniform. From about 20 feet away you see a brown dog in the lower right corner of the painting. Walk up closer to the painting and it dissolved into about 4-5 squiggly strokes of red oxide, whew!



March 30, 2005, 5:09 PM

George: +24 for all comments above--outstanding remarks on market and crystalline structure of fresco.

Franklin: -11 for Louis Armstrong faux pas.

Oldpro: +3 for wanting to school Franklin on Louis Armstrong.

Marlene Dumas: +53 for painting like nobody's business, for addressing issues such as aparthied and not just paint.



March 30, 2005, 5:19 PM

Nelson Mandela addressed apartheid. Dumas references it. Glibly. You want to address issues as an artist, Goya's your man to catch up to.



March 30, 2005, 5:25 PM

Thanks for the 3 points, Gnu, but you have to learn to take painting for what is and not fall for the weak old "more than art" scam.

"Addressing issues", by the way, is one of the primary artspeak phrases on the "forbidden" list for my writing class.



March 30, 2005, 5:29 PM

George Al though I don;t know the painting I know exactly what you mean by the dog dissolving thing in the Rubens. When you know how damn hard it is to do it is a double thrill. "Whew" indeed!



March 30, 2005, 5:31 PM

GnuMiami, on Marlene Dumas, it's good you have an opinion.

Franklin, Hmm, "Dumas references it..." and "You want to address issues as an artist..." I'm going to take this over to the Danto thread



March 30, 2005, 5:32 PM

(sorry for the triple post) Also, Gnu, Franklin did not make a "faux pas". He simply said he didn't like Louis Armstrong. Thats not a "faux pas". He is allowed to like whatver he wants to, whether we agree or not, and good for him for sayintg it in public.



March 30, 2005, 5:57 PM

Oldpro - I think you're saying there's a method by which we can determine that a piece of art is of a certain quality, and this quality can be recognized even though we personally don't care for the work. We can look at a home constructed to the finest standards, and declare that while it's "of quality," it's simply not our style.

If I have your position right, then I have to say I have a problem with it. I wonder if you help me by revealing your standards for determining a work is "of quality," because I also wonder whether those standards themselves aren't completely subjective.

Consensus is not the same as evidence.

When I see Cellini's salt cellar, I can see immediately it's "of quality," but only because I recognize its craftsmanship. The renderings are faithful to life, and the materials are handled delicately. I haven't yet begun to look at the cellar as a "work of art," however, only as a finely crafted object. I'd look at a Faberge egg with the same eye.

But we only recognize the Cellini work as being of quality because, frankly, we all agree to do so. There's no inherent quality to it. A home is of quality when it stands up against the weather. An artwork is of quality when? When it doesn't decay over time? It's not like the home, but more like the land. Land's quality is purely preferential. Besides saying a piece of land is stable and near a major city, there are no objective criteria for it.

I don't see any objective empirical measurement for art [besides craft]. I think we only agree that brushstrokes are important because those who care about brushstrokes say they are, and there are enough of those people, and the rest of society doesn't feel a need to go around chopping of their heads rhetorically. We can also agree that certain types of compositions and color combinations are more successful than others, and perhaps there's some biological basis for that, but brushstrokes and compositions and color combinations still aren't "art."

If you can demonstrate for me some empirical methods by which you can transmit to me the quality of a Jules Olitski piece, I'd love to hear it. The fact is, the way quality is transmitted in art is by example. This piece is of quality, so if you make a piece kind of like it, then your piece is of quality too. That's subjective from the get-go.

In literature, "finely crafted" means something different than for art. Poetry and music also have their analogs, as do acting, public speaking, and even computer programming.

If I use a visual medium to portray an idea of literary quality, or acting quality, or another type of quality, can I not use the standard of literary quality [or other quality] to judge it? Am I locked into only producing Cellini salt cellars and color-field paintings and chapel ceilings, because that's the only standard of visual quality we can determine? I'm not allowed to make a visual expression to convey something other than the craft of pigments and plaster and marble? Is this what you call "illustration"?

Would it be okay with you if the world decided illustration was valuable?

Also, would it make sense for me to inspect the code of an artist who produces visual art using software, and determine whether the code's parentheses and semi-colons were in the right places? I'm not sure if I'm getting a good sense from your theory, oldpro, of the delineation between art and craft.



March 30, 2005, 6:16 PM

Hovig, you write:

"If you can demonstrate for me some empirical methods by which you can transmit to me the quality of a Jules Olitski piece I'd love to hear it"

I'd like to hear it, too. I can't. In fact I have busted a gut on this blog and taken a lot of abuse for saying consistently that this cannot be done. All I can do is say I think it is good art, go see it.

"Consensus is not the same as evidence."

Consensus is certainly evidence. But evidence of what? That is an interesting question.

"Would it be okay with you if the world decided illustration was valuable?"

I think illustratiion is valuable. Don't you?

"I'm not sure if I'm getting a good sense from your theory, oldpro, of the delineation between art and craft."

I am not trying to redefine anything. I pretty much accept the given general definitions of art and craft. in concentrated discussions like these we have on the blog here we may refine them somewhat, but if that goes too far you lose meaning.



March 30, 2005, 7:20 PM

Oldpro - We're just going to have to leave it there. Thanks for replying in detail.

Regarding the word illustration, I must be misunderstanding you, but when I've seen you use the word in the past, I've taken it to mean something lesser than great art -- dismissively employed -- something where the value of the piece had less to do with the physical qualities of piece itself -- the work as "object," is that right? -- and more with what it depicts.

I have apparently misunderstood you to mean that "illustration" in this sense was an inferior form of pursuit than "great art." I took it to mean that anything which deviates from the physical nature of a work of art is illustrative, and not as valuable as the physical. A work must be self-contained, isn't that what you've said? I've always thought that was the entire point of abex art and its color-field speciality.



March 30, 2005, 7:31 PM


Illustration is something that illustrates. It is not by definition or nature either art or not art.

I believe I have always tried not to make terminological assumptions of value, that is, using a word that is not expressively negative, like illustration, to imply a negative. Nevertheless in common usage illustration tends to carry that implication. The only thing to do is take an illustration and ask it to be art and see if it works.

This was done by the pop artists, of course. I don't think they were successful at it, but that is their fault, not Illustration's.



March 30, 2005, 7:58 PM

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, 8:12 PM

"Empirical knowledge" is, by its nature, reductive, having reduced its object to that which can be measured.

"intuitive knwledge" can take all aspects of its object into account, including those that can be measured.

Why is it that many people trust empirical knowledge so much more than intuitive? Is it that they secretly think everything important is a quantity?



March 30, 2005, 8:38 PM

Interesting question, Flatboy. Could it be the habit of linguistic justification we are educated into? I don't think intuitive knowledge is something that most people would even recognize.

Once again, I recommend Donald Hoffman's "Visual Intelligence". It should be on the best-seller list.



April 1, 2005, 4:53 AM

franklin: I think you have shortchanged Dumas's 'reference'. Dumas is considering guilt in south africa under the cloud of aparthied; she is examining priviledge and class--though, not from the point of of the oppressed. She is doing more than just referencing.

ol'pro: Not liking Louis Armstrong isn't a faux pas; it's ill-considered. I understand some students are savvy enough to understand artspeak to get them out of jam. this isn't your class. whats objectionable in the phrase 'addressing issues'? You have to elaborate on this; as you must expect your students to actually address the issues not just list them.



April 1, 2005, 5:06 AM

Not liking Louis Armstrong makes me worry about what Franklin has listened to, and perhaps whether has a blind (deaf) spot, but it is not "ill-considered". He simply does not like what he has heard.

"Addressing issues" is a pure red flag. If you use the phrase you are not conscious that it is deep artspeak and by this time completely depleted of any force and nearly devoid of any meaning. It indicates that you are not thinking about what you are writing, that you do not stop to think what you are really trying to say to work up a better way to say it. When I hear it the student is instructed to tell the class what she/he is trying to say, and the class is instructed to ask hard questions. It inevitably turns out that the student was trying to say something else, and it inevitable gets revised and improved and quite often changes the whole direction of the essay, always for the better.



April 3, 2005, 7:48 AM

Oldpro, Tell me the definitive Armstrong CD, and your favorite.

In return: Paco de Lacuia: Siroco / Paco de Lacuia: Entre dos Aguas




April 3, 2005, 3:39 PM

I don't know the names of CDs (they are all in my office), but there are any number of collections easily available. You should start with the King Oliver band, Hot Five and Hot Seven groups and any blues accompaniment (eg Bessie Smith), the Fetcher Henderson groups, any small group at just about any time. You can't go wrong with anything from the 1920s. After that some selection is needed, but there is still so much that is wonderful, even the real pop stuff from the 50s, like "Coconut Island", but get to that later.



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