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final ludicrous monument

Post #499 • March 23, 2005, 7:28 AM • 16 Comments

Via ArtsJournal, Jonathan Jones unloads heavy ordnance on a history of 20th Century art written by Rosalind Krauss, Hal Foster, Yves-Alain Bois, and Benjamin H.D. Buchloh.

Well, I have a debating point - this book is the final ludicrous monument to an intellectual corruption that has filled contemporary museums and the culture they sustain with a hollow and boring, impersonal chatter. Art has been lost in a labyrinth of theory. If this sounds anti-intellectual, let me clarify. There is no good work of art that cannot be described in intelligible English, however long it might take, however much patience is required. And yet this book begins with four theoretical essays explaining the post-structuralist concepts the authors believe we need before we can meaningfully discuss a single work of art. It is the supreme expression of an art culture that sneers at "empiricism" as a dirty word.

He even ends with a quote from Leonardo. Fun reading! And further evidence that my decision not to pursue a PhD in Art History was a good one.

Comment

1.

oldpro

March 23, 2005, 4:01 PM

Good for Jones.

The book he describes presents itself as an archetype of the swollen cancer that has been growing on the body of art for a generation.

This is the enemy, folks. If you really love art as a vehicle of joy, exultation and the best we have to give to ourselves, watch out. Like freedom, the price of true art is eternal vigilance.

2.

flatboy

March 23, 2005, 4:41 PM

OldPro, I can accept why you think these art historians are the enemy. They look for art that illustrates their theories, making their ideas more important than art. But, how can "eternal vigilance" be executed? How would you fight what they are doing?

Artists have no equivalent to a militia. Art historians have the biggest say about what goes into art history and how their discipline is to be conducted. This group speaks for a large number of them, at least the ones I have encountered in school. Artists don't write much, and writing has a lot of control. The artists that have achieved fame more or less conform to theories like those of Krauss and Foster. (I never heard of the other two, but assume they are similar.)

3.

John Sanchez

March 23, 2005, 5:24 PM

Can this whole idea of the art world being this way just be a fog of some sort? Maybe things are just fine and the only people that buy into that crap are the ones that write it. I don't see many people browsing the art sections at Borders for these esoteric reads much. Or is this a naive statement? Am I the one in the fog?

4.

flatboy

March 23, 2005, 5:32 PM

John, curators and dealers apparently read them. To an artist, that counts a lot more than what anyone at Borders is reading.

5.

Franklin

March 23, 2005, 5:32 PM

John, I would guess that you're right about people generally not reading the esoterica - that tends to be true of any field. Nevertheless the ideas that Jones is writing against have powerful adherents, and so they end up influencing if not deciding what you're going to see in the museum. To that extent they're worth resisting publicly.

6.

Jack

March 23, 2005, 5:54 PM

I saw this book recently at a store. I started to reach for it, but when I saw that Krauss was one of the authors, my hand recoiled as if from a snake. Honestly, I didn't even want to touch the thing.

These people can play the "anti-intellectual" card all they want, but it's about the same as a child-porn purveyor dismissing his detractors as uptight Victorian prigs.

7.

oldpro

March 23, 2005, 6:12 PM

You are not in a fog, John, but you certainly would be accused of being in a fog by these people, because their prime weapon is intimidation.

What they do is follow art trends, then write about it in indecipherable academic language, which, in turn, backs up what the artists are doing, giving collectors justification for paying lots of money for things which are nowhere near art as we conceive of it.

No one "reads" the stuff. You'd sooner read a telephone book written in Sanskrit. But if you look at what is written you see names and pictures and you see gibberish that has a positive glow to it and is published by a university press or some such and you think, wow, this stuff must be important and I must be a stupid jerk if I don't go for it.

It is a big, nasty con game, Stick to your guns. Better yet, shoot them.

8.

AcademicElephant

March 23, 2005, 6:17 PM

I'm off to a conference next week where Krauss and company will be lionized at a "round table" discussion and at a celebratory reception. Now I can't wait to see what they come up with.

9.

oldpro

March 23, 2005, 6:18 PM

Flatboy, I have tried to fight it all my life by writing about it, but all it gets me is a pronounced lack of popularity in the art world and a reputation for sour grapes. The only real weapon is ridicule, but it is hard to get it out and around. People do not want to publish anything that does against the prevailing trend.

An artist's militia is a good idea. Where is Paul Revere when we need him?

10.

Jack

March 23, 2005, 6:25 PM

Once again, Oldpro, I lay a lot of the blame on collectors, because if they refused to play along and stopped financing the whole business, you'd better believe we'd be hearing a different tune. I can't believe that people who are rich and powerful will let themselves be conned and/or intimidated by charlatans. It makes no sense--which raises the inevitable question: are they really into art, or are they after something else, with art being the pretext?

11.

oldpro

March 23, 2005, 6:37 PM

Jack, you ask "are they really into art, or are they after something else, with art being the pretext?"

Well, yes. They buy trophies, not art. It is a status game.

A trophy is not what you like, it is something that everyone agrees one must have. If they actually bought what they liked they would quickly be laughed into submission.

12.

Jack

March 23, 2005, 7:51 PM

"If they (rich collectors) actually bought what they liked they would quickly be laughed into submission."

But why would they, unless they were pitifully weak? Do you think if I were a rich collector I'd give damn what anybody thought about my purchases? It's not about anybody else; it'd be my money, my collection, MY business, period. I think there's some sort of abnormal psychology at work in this. There must be.

13.

Bob

March 23, 2005, 8:28 PM

I had classes with both Hal Foster and Ben H.D. Buchloh (the H.D., we later decided, stands for hound dog) in the early nineties. Foster dismissed everything he had written up to that point, claiming he had changed his course of thought; Buchloh excused himself for writing about Warhol.

It seems that these influential folks are always jockeying for position on a never ending track. (Foster said it did end, no ..wait, he changed his mind)

14.

Liduam

March 23, 2005, 10:19 PM

Art critics (or art clinics) can get to be very tedious human beings, whose ability to understand beauty is greatly crippled by their absolute need to fit everything into their own wordy taxonomy. To me, they very much resemble large lobsters, slowly crawling around their intellectual circuitry, looking for connections (however vague, however unimportant, however far from any sense of human sensibility) that would help them put together horrible essays full of meaningless trivia that no one ever reads to the end (not even curators and dealers). They are accountants, bookkeepers, making their art inventories from little dark rooms.
I have met a few of these specimens. I had a witty literature professor at FIU who would call certain people "cheerleaders for meaning". I think that pretty much describes what I'm trying to express, in just three words.

15.

oldpro

March 23, 2005, 10:22 PM

Bob writes "changed his course"

To paraphrase the old saying: "Changing whores in mid stream".

When these people see changes coming they start running and clamber on board like an Okie hobo catching a slow-moving freight train.

Jack, yes, pitifully weak. When confronted by big culture these zillionaire captans of industry who command legions with a wave of their hand turn into crumbling butterballs. I have seen it at work, first hand.

If you were a rich collector? Believe me, i wish you were.

16.

Jack

March 24, 2005, 2:20 AM

"When confronted by big culture these zillionaire captains of industry who command legions with a wave of their hand turn into crumbling butterballs."

This has to be a form of serious insecurity and/or ignorance, coupled with a lust for status-image-prestige, and possibly an additional element of investment in a commodity expected to rise in value. Obviously, someone who collects on this basis is not really into art as such, but rather into art as a means to ulterior ends. The problem is these people are very easy to manipulate art-wise (though of course they'd never see it that way, and their delusions are painstakingly nurtured and exploited by those after their money). They are not the original source of the corruption, but they bankroll and sustain it, along with the intellectual perverts who come up with the claptrap.

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