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universities bleeding intellectuals

Post #512 • April 7, 2005, 11:11 AM • 21 Comments

Diana Rohten, Mind the Gap:

While universities continue to play an important role in intellectual culture, increasingly they are no longer the only game in town. With the rise of the knowledge economy and the spread of decentralizing technology, the academy is ceding authority and attention to businesses, nonprofits, foundations, media outlets, and Internet communities. Even more significant, in my mind, the academy may be losing something else: its hold over many of its most promising young academics, who appear more and more willing to take their services elsewhere and who may comprise an embryonic cohort of new "postacademic intellectuals" in the making.

Rhoten primarily focuses on scientists but I couldn't help but think about my own decision not to pursue a PhD in art history and a recent event thrown by MIT that Miguel Sanchez correctly characterized as a Black Sabbath tribute.

Regarding the former, I realized at the time that my desire to write about art countermanded a PhD program, which if you think about it, is pretty crazy. I mean, that's the apotheosis of art writing, right? Well, no. Art writers make fun of these people.

Regarding the latter, while I recognize that academe ought to be the place where you can have a drunken, possibly vituperous discussion about angels and the heads of pins, one does have to question whether at least some forehead-clutching and beard-stroking executed in the name of "inquiry" don't serve anyone except the participants, and as such, anyone who can sell his thinking is going to self-select out of acedemia even as the humanities continue to throw heavy grease on the sidewalk of reality and revel in the ensuing slippage.

Meanwhile [scholars] are also discovering myriad opportunities outside the university where they can do intellectually creative, scientifically rigorous, broadly relevant work that lets them fuse their academic training with their nonacademic interests. While some of these opportunities can be found in many of the likely companies and laboratories, they are ever more cropping up in previously unprecedented places like, for example, the Molecular Sciences Institute, the Public Library of Science, Google, Vulcan, and the blogosphere.

Where, alas, one can do one's work without jumping through hoops and where one may find a bit of an audience for one's efforts outside academia. You know, the real world.

(Via Artsjournal.)




April 7, 2005, 6:38 PM

If this is true of science people, it should be much more relevant or pronounced in the art arena, where there's far more subjectivity and room for BS. I don't know about others, but art academics can huff and puff and pontificate till they turn purple, and I simply don't give a damn about any of it, unless it makes sense to me and I choose to accept it.



April 7, 2005, 7:41 PM

Bon joure
"The are theories at the bottom of the jargon, theories derived from psychoanalysis, feminism, structuralism, poststructuralism and deconstruction. The trouble is that the theories come first and the art afterward, if at all. It is as though art historian fear that no one will take them seriously unless they littler their writing with pollysyllabic words and quatations from trendy philosophers (or once trendy), almost all of them French."
"Many of today's art historians similiary assume that they understand a painting, a sculpture or an installation more fully than its creator ever could. Such arrogance produces statements such as the following about compositional structures of Jackosn Pollock's Abstract Expressionist paintings:
'They consist of a horizontal antiform as an abstractness uncolonized by the vertical one.' "
Those two paragraphs are from article from L.A. Times on April 4. Text written by Frank Whitford.

Are the French are responsible for this mess? I need change my European plan vacations. Let them suffer financilally for what they did to art. Hmmm...



April 7, 2005, 8:06 PM

We are all responsible, Muh.

The only way to overcome this mess is to keep on speaking out anywhere and everywhere. We have to save art form the academics, and the French, and big commerce and whatever.

Fortunately art keeps bobbimg up all the time anyway, out of the way of all the dreck surrounding it, but it is as fragile as any high-minded human enterprise and if we don't keep at it it could drown for good.



April 7, 2005, 9:00 PM

Of course we are all responsible for this mess, OldPro.
Probably starting around mid 80's, it sounded new and promising for people involved in the art. It was fresh point of view and in academic circles tenure instructors could write paper about something different from analyzining Picasso bunch. I guess it was feeling of new frontiers and self rewarding ego trips combined with trying to be on the edge. Any way the point is that inborn human perceptions and responses didn't change before or after of Jacques Derrida published ideas and this is where art should aim at, art viewers natural inclinations. Of course a lot of people may disagree with the last statement but it is fine with me.



April 7, 2005, 10:47 PM

Yes they may, Muh, but I'm not one of them.



April 7, 2005, 11:01 PM


i totally agree with most of what's being said. i recently had a solo show here in canada (where i'm writing from) and a curator friend said about my work that it was interesting to come into a gallery and not be able to pin down exactly which theory i was drawing from while the work was being made. it was refreshing for him.

i thought: what the hell? when did the theory start coming before that first impulse to make art. (or look at art for that matter). i was baffled. i tend to make work with one ear to theory and one ear to what my head and heart tell me (to mangle the language),but the comment made me realize the sorry state of things for academics and curators and some artists. even in canada.

post graduate studies have developed into a kind of cottage industry over the last few years. if that makes any sense. the art academics seemingly are only interested in the propogation of more art academics. no wonder art has become so irrelevant to people. look who's running the show.

as further proof (not that it's needed), check out the writing for this show at a gallery in vancouver. it's as if the writer is making fun of academic art writing. it's hilarious.



April 7, 2005, 11:05 PM

oh it's for the yechel gagnon show.



April 8, 2005, 12:35 AM

Yes, Oldpro, the academics are by no means the only guilty parties in this scenario, and they may not even be the most guilty. I mean, if they were simply ignored, dismissed or ridiculed whenever such reactions were deserved, there wouldn't be a problem. They would not go on issuing elaborate, obscurantist claptrap if it got them nowhere. Those who tolerate such claptrap, let alone approve it (even if insincerely) are at least as guilty, probably more so.



April 8, 2005, 1:28 AM

Jack, you know I jokingly call you a masochist sometimes because you desperately go all over the place trying to find good art and find nothing but garbage.

So you probably don't have enough masochistic impulse left in you to go to that "grunt" site Craig recommended above, but for anyone who wants to either gag on some unimaginable silliness or get silly over an imaginative gag (I really don't know which it is either, Craig) go take a look. The text under VAG(anal) is especially good.

Someone should assemble an Honor Roll of this stuff.



April 8, 2005, 3:28 AM

Make fun all you want, but now I can
rationalize the dichotomy of the
scrap wood in the foyer & not having time to
build the shed we need.....;)



April 8, 2005, 4:08 AM

Chris Ware did a hilarious take on the art world that involved a plank against the wall that looked a lot like that...

Does anybody know about that Peter Drucker reference about the university as we know it being gone in 30 years?



April 8, 2005, 6:40 AM

Is this it?



April 10, 2005, 5:04 PM

Sometimes the garbage comes with nice pictures, Lee Siegel comes up with 8 pages of drivel at Slate s



April 10, 2005, 6:27 PM

Excellent example, George. These definitely belong in the Bullshit Scrapbook



April 10, 2005, 6:47 PM

Not exactly what I thought.

Friday I happened to see the Cy Twombly exhibition at the Whitney. In my opinion it was an absolute knockout. I don't understand how you can dismiss the work so easily.



April 10, 2005, 7:39 PM

I was talking about the commentary, not the pictures.

Isn't this what you were referring to?



April 10, 2005, 8:36 PM

Oldpro, yes, I misunderstood you, sorryaboutdat

The works have a way of making it appear as childs play. In some ways they could be, but they are not. Unfortunately this leaves some of the writers (using the term loosely) stuck, for nothing to say. So ok, bitch.

I went to the Whitney originally to see the Tim Hawkinson sculptures. I had seen a show of his pieces at Ace Gallery a while back and thought they were terrific. The pieces at the Whitney were funny and incredibly creative. It was nice stuff, a good experience.

Then we walked down, one flight of stairs, to see the Twomblys which originally I didn't know were there. I was stunned and would suggest its worth the trip to NYC to see the exhibition.

Friday is freebie night, so we had just come from MOMA because I missed seeing the UBS Art Collection. Well, it's a nice group of works which look like they were purchased by using ArtForum as a menu in an art world Chinese restaurant. The were a few exceptions, there was a very nice Brice Marden and a painting by Terry Winters but overall it was much easier to just walk by and ignore something on the 6th floor. I was waiting for a friend, so I spent most of the time looking at an old favorite "She Wolf"

As an aside, at MOMA there were lots of people really looking at the Pollocks (that is always good to see if one is a painter) Anyhow, Pollock presented "One" over 50 years ago to a startled audience, I vividly remember seeing the article on him in Life magazine as a young boy. It appears that Lee Siegel is stumbling over one of the classic "gotchas"

Whatever, For those who didn't like the "bring me to tears" test, I have another one.. Any show that makes me want to get right home to paint get's high marks. Chalk one up for Twombly



April 10, 2005, 9:23 PM

I saw a roomful Twombly at Gagosian a couple of years ago and thought he had really fallen off. Twombly can be sublime, though. He's an artist with fetching mannerisms that sometimes work nicely and sometimes read as empty gestures.



April 11, 2005, 2:56 AM

That's OK George - I have a problem being clear sometimes.

Twombly has never been one of my "100%" painters but I thought the ones the guy was blabbing about were pretty good. Twombly's manner is scrawling, of course, but the pictures are art at a fairly high level, usually.

"using ArtForum as a menu in an art world Chinese restaurant" is good. The collector's obsession to buy what is "in" - which is pure fashion victimization - has never been stronger, I would say never in the history of the business. It is not just a Chinese restaurant it is the only restaurant they go to and the only menu they read.

The tears test and the gotta paint test are both excellent guides, in my experience.



April 11, 2005, 4:05 AM

Well, I went into the Twombly exhibition with a similar feeling, not my favorite but when he's on he's darn good. So, I was a bit suprised at how much I liked the works especially the later ones like Proteus and Liri. Over the last couple of weeks I've seen a lot of shows. Last week, about midway through MOMA I realized I had been looking very closely at how the paint was actually applied, Picasso, Picabia, Pollock... Anyway, the Twombley surfaces rang a nice note with me.



April 11, 2005, 6:47 AM

"I realized I had been looking very closely at how the paint was actually applied"

I don't know, George. You are starting to sound like a real artist.

It's dangerous. Watch out.



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