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Post #549 • May 31, 2005, 8:29 AM • 45 Comments

The LA Times ran an article entitled Critical Condition that asked the following in the subhead: "Once almighty arbiters of American taste, critics find their power at ebb tide. Is it a dark time for the arts, or the dawn of a new age?" The artblogosphere has reacted with varying degrees of concern, ranging from snoring to mild interest to begrudged assaying. (Those three posts link to much of the rest of the conversation.)

I enjoyed reading the LA Times piece, especially the bit where Dave Hickey likens himself to Wolfman Jack, but it fails to mention the obvious: the newspapers are melting, and the fortunes of their journalists will likely melt with them no matter what they're writing about.

You can hardly find decent criticism in the art magazines anymore, and I can guess why: no business on earth makes money by criticising its source of income.

While the LAT piece asks whether this is a dark time for the arts, it doesn't do much towards answering the question. I would posit that a critic of Clement Greenberg's stature will not appear again unless a development in art as compelling as postwar abstraction appears first. Regardless of your feelings about the art of that time, its makers were working on some of the great aesthetic problems of the century. Hickey describes this as "forward tilt." Nothing like that is happening right now.

But let's take the long view - while art writing as a profession has existed a relatively short time, people have been writing about art since Plato, at least. They will continue, regardless of new developments in publishing. The smart ones who write clearly in an active voice ought to do so whether or not they can sell their work - like the manner in which artists make art. That passion will come through, and readers will want more of it. If the writer can't summon sufficient clarity and passion, the world doesn't need him. If the art can't inspire clarity and passion, the world doesn't need a record of it.




May 31, 2005, 5:58 PM

All I can say is that it is a hell of a lot better and more fun to have pictures and topics posted and get on the blog and look at linked sites and argue and comment and hash things out than to sit in complete one-way frustration reading the Herald art critic.



May 31, 2005, 7:10 PM

Oldpro, I suggest you take my approach and write off the Herald completely. I wouldn't think of wasting my time on its arts coverage as it now stands and is likely to remain. Of course, the local print alternatives are hardly stellar, although the Spanish Herald, relatively speaking, is fairly decent (but of course you'd have to know Spanish).



May 31, 2005, 7:19 PM

"You can hardly find decent criticism in the art magazines anymore, and I can guess why: no business on earth makes money by criticising its source of income."

Yes indeed. Art mags are really glorified sales catalogs for those who need to be told what they're supposed to like and, more to the point, what they should buy. The idea is to drum up business (as in, "Isn't this wonderful?"), not burst any bubbles, raise troublesome doubts, or even remotely suggest that way, WAY too much money is being charged (and obtained) for stuff that is highly dubious at best.



May 31, 2005, 7:52 PM

From todays New York Times A blog project here at All the critics should participate.



May 31, 2005, 8:35 PM

George, you do scome up with some crazy stuff. So many ways to feel guilty!

I think my confession would havce to be the sadistic pleasure I derived from blowing away a particularly obnoxious commentor here sometime last year.



June 1, 2005, 12:29 AM

I agree with your last paragraph/statement Franklin. Although I am addicted to checking up on things through this blog, the artworld definately can't use my writing (or should I say typing). However if could just handwrite on the screen - I may summon up more "sufficient clarity".
We seem to here a lot about the 'dark side' lately - are Damian Hirst's (shop tech) paintings dark?



June 1, 2005, 12:39 AM

Damien who? Sorry, never heard of him.



June 1, 2005, 3:10 AM

Of course you've heard of him, Franklin. He's the most successful person in the world in the very competitive (and immensely lucrative) field of touching up other people's paintings--aided and abetted, of course, by that paragon of a dealer, Larry Gagosian (not to mention a slew of idiots with far, FAR more money than artistic sense).



June 1, 2005, 3:21 AM

Dear Jack,

This may be off topic but I want to thank you for the great Olitski catalog that arrived today via Franklin. I like it a lot. And thanks to Franklin for sending it along.



June 1, 2005, 4:55 AM

You're welcome, Flatboy. I figured the catalog could be of considerably more use to a painter than to me. I hope that will prove to be the case.



June 1, 2005, 9:42 PM

Well, the latest New Times just hit the stands and includes a piece by Alfredo Triff on the Miami artists group show at the Rubell place. Those who saw the show (especially) should read it and measure it against their own views of it and/or expectations from art journalism. Discuss.



June 2, 2005, 12:02 AM

I read it. This is so going to be tomorrow's post. Tomorrow we can link to it.


jon lovtiz

June 2, 2005, 12:49 AM

art criticism needs to be turned on its feather-capped head.

the reason why it's dying is not due to the absence of a new stylistic boom for all to jock and discourse over, it's simply the boring fact that most art critics are thesaurus-happy and tend to look like casanova poets (i'm thinking of one ponytailed local critic in particular). let the kids take the reigns.

it's the same thing that's happening with music journalism. information has changed and become more populist but older critics still feel like they need to meet (and type) secretively next to the river at midnite by candlelight. tired.

it's not that art criticism will become mainstream, it's just that information (and thus all former dichotomies and consortiums of cultural priviness) is becoming mainstream. art critics just aren't in on what's happening and no one wants to listen to someone who need the breastfeeding of current trends, certainly not ones involving the quickening stream of cultural processing (since they proclaim to be distinguished critics and journalists, whatever that means these days).

once art critics realize that the potential size of their audience is limitless and hip, and that it is the critic who defines the size, not the snobbish boundaries of "the art world," well, that will be the point when a few certain critics stand out and become great. step away from the dung. mona lisa mobile.

but don't fret. there will always be little faux speakeasys for the critics who just don't understand and are simply old men and women who didn't get the e-notice. where they can comfort each other with their superior (and puzzled) intellects and reminisicing. i remember when those were called blogs.

who didn't draw when they were a kid? who still does and appreciates the tell-tale sketches of all?



June 2, 2005, 1:19 AM

Jon, I am anything but a PC jockey but drop the "ageism", if you will. I am an old fart who does not go along with the critics (who are usually not exactly geriatric anyway), and being a kid sure as hell doesn't give one any kind of leg up when it coles to making sense about art. Experience can be useful, you know.

What is making the blogosphere powerful is nothing less than the massive unleashing of opinion. A lot of it will be garbage, but so what. People will sort it out. I have been commenting here for about a year and I have seen any number of comments reflecting the fact that people are surprised and often heartened to actually see a group of articulate people making intelligent comments which say that the highly touted expensive mainstream art we see praised everywhere pretty much sucks, and that the writing used to praise it sucks too.

This does not mean we are right, it means that we are able to say it at all. And everyone else can say whatever they want, one way or the other. It is not a one-way street any more. Nothing clears a path faster than the great bullshitdozer of free & open discussion. I think it is wonderful.



June 2, 2005, 1:45 AM

Through the magic of blogs, the kids could take the reins tomorrow. Here's why they won't:

1. Not enough of them can craft a sentence.

2. Too many of them think that a writer who uses words they don't know are pedantic. For the record, I don't write with a thesaurus nearby. My vocabulary actually is that big, and so is that of your ponytailed friend.

3. Too many of them think that a writer who doesn't like the art of their young friends is old. I once walked into one of our more talked-up local spaces and introduced myself, and the denizens, having read my work before, couldn't believe I was so young. That's stupid.

4. Like many contemporary artists, too many of them value expressiveness over clarity. (mona lisa mobile?)

In a boxing ring, the stronger, faster guys with better technique tend to win. In a written forum, ditto. I have noticed, with genuine dismay, that defenders of work I don't like often come around here and get their heads smacked in by guys who are better at constructing arguments and negotiating disagreements. After blogging for three years or so, the Anti-Franklin should have shown up by now. Why hasn't he?



June 2, 2005, 2:55 AM

Art criticism needs to be critical. Critical theory needs to continue evolving.
I don't believe art criticism is dying but I agree that a good part of the problem lies in its secret language opaqueness. While the blogosphere may be a temporary phenomena, I agree with Oldpro, it can change the dynamic of critical thought, by creating a public debate in a more timely fashion.

One thing to note, the cultural processing of information lies almost exclusivly in the hands of the artists. The critical community functions primarily as a reactive observer.
Also, I wouldn't get to exctied over the thought of the potential size of the audience, true it's hip but it's size is still limited.



June 2, 2005, 3:07 AM

Well, Ok Franklin, I was restraining myself. You are right. They can't write and they don't know nothin'.

I don't think the blog phenomenon is temporary, George, except insofar as it evolves into something bigger & better even. It is a monster unleashed.



June 2, 2005, 3:22 AM

oh, but i think the anti-franklin has arrived indeed. that was my point actually.

a nice, erudite vocab is nothing to diss, i agree. but it's the way the vocab is used that matters.

as if older critics aren't as defensive of their artistic peers as "the kids."

blogs are a nice advance in communication, i agree. but if you want to speak from a large outlet, it is there (and intact) and if not, has room to exist, and there are plenty of listeners - they are more akin to passerby b/c of habit not purpose.

one more point to tack on: art critics who wish to be respected and heard clearly by public and inner circles should seek respectable, and moreover, provocative and moving publications. they need coconuts just like the great artists.

how one can judge the aesthetic beauty of art and not practice, embrace and comprehend the aesthetic beauty of writing and the presentation of criticism (by way of design) is for the birds. Street was an ugly publication that certain critics defended until death (i.e. the BIG fold). New Times is turning into another sterile Herald (and rumors of their circling aquisition of Village Voice Media attest to such goals)- it's a formulaic paper nationwide that pretends to stick it to the man.

How, exactly, can one discuss art and the passion of life within such dismal newsprint?? And do it so lazily? If Miami wants to sustain itself as an arts center (please, let's not roll with that one ;), it will need critics who speak with a local and genuine and lively voice - and a publication(s) that doesn't look the same as its mid-west bretheren. Please.

So let it all fall, I agree. But I don't see any current critics with the dedication and determination to choose the lesser-roamed path and shove it to the big boys who are ruining art criticsm by making it mundane, and thereby, a contradiction - a swelling boil being treated like a fly to an elephant (and hence, no one gives a damn, people just want to go on living).

Blogs are fine. But they are no solution, unless larger gameplans are being layed within.


red baron

June 2, 2005, 3:37 AM

this site is like a bunch of cackling puppet birds out of Terry Gilliam film



June 2, 2005, 5:06 AM

What's your point, Jon?

Red, Snoopy's looking for you.



June 2, 2005, 6:25 AM

They can't write and they don't know nothin'.

They know something - a third of it is wrong and another third of it is scrambled, but they know something. But they can't write. That's what does them in. I may have found a protege of sorts - about a decade younger than me, and she can get her head around a sentence. She can even coin phrases convincingly - not an easy thing to do. Alas, we seem to have similar tastes. No help for the Basboys.

oh, but i think the anti-franklin has arrived indeed. that was my point actually.

The Anti-Franklin is not going to feel content to hang around here making cryptic comments on my blog. The Anti-Franklin is going to start his own blog. So if he has arrived, tell him to get his ass in gear.



June 2, 2005, 7:36 AM

Franklin worte about the anti-Franklin: "So if he has arrived, tell him to get his ass in gear." Here, here.



June 2, 2005, 8:38 AM

sorry but the Anti-Franklin (wait, did I actually type that??) wouldn't be a blog. no hard feelings. if you can't see jon's point, what's the point?



June 2, 2005, 8:39 AM

Alas, we seem to have similar tastes.

no shit.



June 2, 2005, 2:11 PM

no hard feelings.

None taken. I'll embrace the next good publishing development just like I embraced blogging. So if not a blog, he should get his ass in gear on those "larger gameplans." Whatever it is, do it, do it.

no shit.

It was hardly a given and I would still work with her even if we disagreed completely. But come to think of it, the ability to chop good prose is a formal issue - Stanley Fish recently wrote about that. I wonder if formal sensitivities transfer from one medium to another. But I digress.

f you can't see jon's point, what's the point?

Go on, Alyssa, produce this great writing. Don't just tell Oldpro that he's clueless - convince him that he's mistaken. See if you can change his mind.



June 2, 2005, 2:17 PM

Maybe you can clarify what Jon said, Alyssa. It would be more interesting than taking little pot shots. I'm pretty good at comprehending things, and I don't get it, if there is anything to get.

Did you mean "hear, hear" flatboy?



June 2, 2005, 3:09 PM

Yes OldPro, I meant "hear, hear" (I think). Someday I'll learn to write better.



June 2, 2005, 3:44 PM

You do OK. Write more.



June 2, 2005, 4:13 PM

Thanks for the Fish piece, Franklin. I missed it. it is interesting how absorbed the students get when given a "formal", non-content problem. And I continue to insist students don't know nuthin'. I give a little pop quiz at the begiinning of my writing class. In one semester, for example, 4 out of15 graduate students knew the year WW2 ended. They are not only greviously uneducated, they don't even watch the History Channel.

Your speculation that "formal sensitivities transfer from one medium to another" is true, of course, as I am sure we both believe. It is no accident that an articulate intelligence tends to dismiss the superficial stuff and dig deeper for intellectual satisfaction, and, by the same token that the defenders of the mainstream dreck infecting the art world have a hard time supporting their taste, if that's what it is. I know this is horribly "elitist", but what can I say.


J.T. Kirkland

June 2, 2005, 4:36 PM

Oldpro -

Perhaps a more telling statistic would be how many grad students knew what WW2 was about. Who fought and why? Isn't that the point anyways? I could make a guess as to what year it ended but what's the point. It would take about 10 seconds to conduct a quick Google search for the answer if I ever needed it.

As for watching the History Channel... let's just say personally I don't spend my time watching MTV in place of the History Channel, but there are certainly much more interesting and entertaining things to watch, in my opinion. Of course, my Dad, who is 67, watches the History Channel religiously. Maybe I will too... in 40 years.



June 2, 2005, 5:04 PM

OK, JT, fine, you added yet another dumb little ageist remark to the steaming pile. Happy now?

I think Professor Fish might call you a "content victim". I give the pop quiz with multiple choice to see what they know, not as a 20th C History final exam, or to see how good they are at Googling. Isn't that obvious? And if you don't know facts, you don't know history.

And, furthermore, I have a sneaking suspicion that if you have no idea when the war ended you will not do that great on the "what was is all about" question either. Think about what you write before you write it, man!



June 2, 2005, 5:05 PM

Stan Fish might enjoy computer science. There's a whole sub-category devoted to [computer] language rules and parsing. In AI there's of course the study of [human] natural language processing.

I'm curious to know what's meant by "anti-Franklin." What would they believe, espouse, propound...? Are we talking about a defender of post-modernist thought [whatever that means]? A defender of a particular art, artist, style or movement? An enemy of certain other beliefs?



June 2, 2005, 5:14 PM

By Anti-Franklin I meant another Miamian who writes passionately and clearly about art, but someone with a totally different set of preferences, and who self-publishes. I want this person to appear. That's why I give Kathleen such a hard time about starting a blog.


J.T. Kirkland

June 2, 2005, 5:32 PM

Thanks Oldpro, you made my point for me much better than I could. Love it!

Who here knows the date of Michelangelo's death? No googling, please! Anyone? If you don't, then Oldpro says you know nothing about art history ("And if you don't know facts, you don't know history."). I wonder how many PhD's in Art History know the answer. [the answer, by the way, is February 18, 1564]

"I give the pop quiz with multiple choice to see what they know, not as a 20th C History final exam, or to see how good they are at Googling. Isn't that obvious?" - I enjoy it so much when Oldpro (gasp!) misses the point. Of course it probably wasn't clear enough, or so he'll say. Ah well...

Franklin states above that no one tries to change Oldpro's mind. 1) Who could? I haven't seen it happen in a year of reading this site. 2) Why bother? 3) This isn't to say that Oldpro is always right.

Last thing to think about: his handle is Oldpro but he gets fired up when people drop ageism on him. Why not just go by "pro" if that's all that matters?

PS - I got the date of the end of WW2 correct. And though admittedly it was an educated guess, you might be surprised to learn of my scores in History in college. I did quite well thank you.

(Sorry for going OT Franklin. About once a month I get sick of reading Oldpro's crap and have to comment. I'll fade back into the bushes a defeated man : ) See ya again in a month!)


curiosity seeker

June 2, 2005, 5:57 PM

what happened to the GOSEEART site?



June 2, 2005, 5:57 PM

Modesty is not one of Franklin's strong points.



June 2, 2005, 6:11 PM

JT, you have used that cheery "you made my point for me, oldpro" a few times before, but I advise against it. it says nothing and just sounds like whistling in the dark. Same goes for just telling me I "missed the point".

WW2 is just a bit more recent and more common knowledge than Michaelangelo, and I certainly would not hire a PhD in art history who did not know when he died. Not an apposite example, JT!

You have a wonderful way of walking into propellors. You say it is my fault that people invoke ageism because I use the alias "oldpro"? Can you extend that logic just a wee bit? Do you perceive that if you do, you imply that every mistreated minority becomes open to the charge that they are guilty for their mistreatment because they do not conceal their condition well enough?

I would give anything to have my "mind changed". It would give me no end of pleasure. What is it exactly that you want to change? If I am writing "crap", as you so delicately put it, please de-crap me. I'm all for it!

Anyway, I'm pleased to know you did well in college.


J.T. Kirkland

June 2, 2005, 6:37 PM

Oldpro -

I have been defeated. Thank you for showing some mercy!

As I bring my other foot into the bushes, I will leave you with one more question:

You say above: "I give a little pop quiz at the begiinning of my writing class. In one semester, for example, 4 out of15 graduate students knew the year WW2 ended. They are not only greviously uneducated..."

And then: "I certainly would not hire a PhD in art history who did not know when he died."

By extension (undoubtedly faulty extension), would you not hire a writer who doesn't know when WW2 ended? And how recent of historical facts must I know to know history. Not knowing WW2 end date means I don't know history. What about WW1? Civil War? American Revolution? Etc. Where is that line drawn by "a bit more recent and more common knowledge?"

And because I can't resist, yes Oldpro... choosing the handle "Oldpro" is just like being a minority. Exactly the same. No difference at all. No way Jose!



June 2, 2005, 6:38 PM

Curiosity Seeker - It'll happen. The host just launched a new copy of PHP5 with all of the XML disabled, which really harshed my mellow, so I'm repointing the nameservers to a new one. With any luck, it'll be running this weekend. I also have this darned day job...

Mies - I agree. I'm not too arrogant to admit it, though, so I like to think there's hope.



June 2, 2005, 7:03 PM

OldPro: Add me to your list of grad students who don't know when WW2 ended. When did it end?

JTK: I do know what WW2 was about....two governments against all the rest, everyone killing everyone they could in the process. But I don't see how you can attach such significance to choosing an alias. What if OldPro is 30 something imagining how he will be when he is 60? It still gets down to what he writes, not his alias, not his real life circumstances.

Mies and Franklin: Gee whiz, why get into Franklin's "modesty"? I disagree with both of you--he/you seem(s) quite modest--but what's the point of discussing that? It does not matter.

Jack: Thanks again for the catalog. Besides being interesting it itself, it reminded me to check out this blog more often. It is a good one.



June 2, 2005, 7:17 PM

JT i think an educated person has a picture in mind of history and knows at least the big dates, Norman Conquest, American Revolution, Civil War and such and i would hope a lot of others, like what year Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs.

WW2 is important for my AE seminar (sorry, it is that and not the writing class where I give the pop quiz) because I need to know how much remedial history I have to go over before they get some idea of what happened in the 20th C. so that, in turn, they can understand what happened to art in the 20th C.

Of course choosing the name "oldpro" opens me up to slights. This does not justify making them.



June 2, 2005, 7:19 PM

Flatboy: 1945. You're forgiven. Write more comments.



June 2, 2005, 7:40 PM

Franklin, I think everyone's time would be better spent if we moved on to the promised topic for today.



June 2, 2005, 8:37 PM

Comin' right up.



June 2, 2005, 8:59 PM

Just wanted to give everyone a heads up about a great article by K. Lee Sohn in the latest issue of the Biscayne Boulevard Times about the Miami artists exhibit at the Rubell Collection. If you can't find a copy go to It is in the "Culture Void" column.



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