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choosing cultures

Post #544 • May 23, 2005, 9:26 AM • 122 Comments

Little about the show at Miami Art Central inclines me to go see it. This work may have a lot of historical importance, but conceptually based photography doesn't do much for me. Nevertheless, two commenters have defended its worth and expressed their enjoyment of it. I know Alesh and Harlan, and they qualify as intelligent people in my book. Oldpro commented on their reactions: "It is a question of how one reacts to art, I think." That jogged something loose in my memory, from The Undressed Art by Peter Steinhart. Almost loose, anyway; I can't find it, but it says somewhere in here that MRIs reveal that different areas of the brain activate whether the viewer is looking at old master paintings or Rouault.

You may prefer one kind of art over another for the same reason that you prefer a marijuana high to a cocaine high, or Thai food to Chinese, or anagrams to crossword puzzles. Each of these pairs of stimuli provide similar but non-identical experiences and your brain chemistry responds accordingly. The various stimuli have biological bases that cultural input can influence, often to the extent of altering the biology. (For example, not many people have the same food preferences they had when they were five.)

Holed up at home with a cold this past weekend, I read Joel on Software, in which the author sets up an excellent analogy about cultural differences:

A cultural difference doesn't mean that American stomachs can't digest sushi, or that Japanese stomachs can't digest Big Macs, and it doesn't mean that there aren't lots of Americans who eat sushi or Japanese who eat burgers, but it does mean that Americans getting off the plane for the first time in Tokyo are confronted with an overwhelming feeling that this place is strange, dammit, and no amount of philosophizing about how underneath we're all the same, we all love and work and sing and die will overcome the fact that Americans and Japanese can never really get comfortable with each others' toilet arrangements.

He's discussing Eric S. Raymond's seminal book on Unix and Unix culture, which opposes Windows culture in many respects, and continues:

As is typical from someone with a deep knowledge of one culture, he knows what his culture values but doesn't quite notice the distinction between parts of his culture that are universal (killing old ladies, programs that crash: always bad) and parts of the culture that apply only when you're programming for programmers (eating raw fish, command-line arguments: depends on audience).

Back in the art world, we have no universals, at least not if we try to account for everything that we categorize as art. Herein lies our problem. Without universals, artists have to select a finite set of principles that call to them among an infinite number of choices. People with different principles are going to disagree, irreconcilably, on fundamentals. On Friday Harlan said,

I think this post would be more interesting If we began to discuss the work at that show and not whether or not the show sucked or was textbookish or boring.

But it's too late, man - you've shown up at the field with baseball gear, and I've shown up with a frisbee, and not only is the equipment incompatable, but we have fundamentally opposed ideas of what sports are all about.

Art requires that you care, a lot, about what you're doing. (I tell my students, feeling bored and making art is as bad as being a doctor and killing your patient.) You have to believe in your principles with religious strength - an imperious mindset that has little room for catholicity. I found this much in Steinhart's book, anyway:

Sculptor David Smith told [Selden] Rodman, "I'm a revolutionary and hope always to remain one. An arrogant independence to create is my only motivation. Only with other professionals do I feel any sense of equality.

Ab-Ex braggadocio? Well...

On the other hand, critic Bernard Perlin said of the abstract expressionists, "Their painting is millionaire art. Who else can afford it? Or live with it?" He added, "A real hatred of society and humanity motivates most abstractionists. Behind many of these artists is an elitism inherited from one or another of the totalitarian ideologies.", this is just people getting worked up over what they believe in. If you don't care enough to get worked up, you're probably not going to get into art very much.

Feelings become more inflamed when money enters the equation. We attach a huge amount of money to art, and to a great extent, attach our ideas of justice to money. We want money to follow goodness. When it doesn't, we question the characters of its handlers. Ditto for aesthetic goodness, even though they don't correlate either. Something deep in the human psyche knows that might doesn't make right, whether you've loaded your arsenal with gunpowder or gold. Of all available systems, I believe that free markets will most likely reflect peoples' best values, but evidence warns against presuming a perfect correlation, especially in the shorter term. With no universals, it becomes much easier sell art based on non-art concerns.

If a record company wants to sell a million CDs, it will find some cutie pie with a nice voice, big eyes, a cute butt, and some funky dance moves. He or she has to sound contemporary, even if it means that in two years he or she will sound dated. This selection process doesn't produce great art. Perhaps you think that our local museums don't stoop to such baseness; I'd invite you to look at Jac Leirner or William Cordova and decide for yourself. An artist who is slightly older than me (mid-thirties), more successful, and one hell of a lot cuter was recently complaining to me about the Miami art world's fixation on the 25-year-old man, a fixation that had become severe enough to make her consider a move out of town for the sake of her career.

Perhaps more to the point, this statement -

In this exhibition, Cordova's first solo museum exhibition, the issue of identity begins with the artist examining the stereotypes of Hispanic men in American culture. For Cordova, the media images of Hispanic men as seedy criminals are masterfully exposed as exaggerated fabrications. Furthermore, through his film, video and photographic installations, the artist pushes our buttons about our complicity in perpetuating these myths.

and this statement -

I am frequently told that my paintings are to many people like glimpses of heaven. With this in mind, my latest work, Mountain Retreat, might be thought of as the kind of heavenly vision that any enthusiast of country living would long for. In Mountain Retreat I share a vision of nature as the Peaceable Kingdom, where man fits harmoniously into a glorious natural setting, and gentle creatures - wild turkeys, deer, and ducks - live without fear.

are, in my opinion, exactly equal in weight. They are trappings that aficionados of each of these kinds of work will identify with in some way, and feel sympathetic to their respective concerns. This is all part of the business transaction, the non-art stuff. Marketing. You have to do marketing if you want to sell art (even to sell it philosophically, such as the case of the museum), but you had better not confuse one with the other.

You have to choose between cultures, and select out the best of what they have to offer. I admire many things about traditional Asian cultures. I would consider wearing a kimono. I would not consider forcing my wife to walk six paces in back of me. The same innate sense that finds the former beautiful and the latter ugly leads me to look at the art as art and ignore the trappings, however impressive, well-meant, necessary, or powerful. Ultimately they don't matter.

If you agree, you'll come around here and I'll reinforce your feelings. If you disagree, I'll tick you off a lot. Will we ever decide anything? Hardly at all. That's okay. Who's right? I am, and if you disagree with me, you're wrong. You might as well be looking at art with your nose - you're not getting it. If I didn't have this component of arrogance, I wouldn't be going around thinking that I have any contribution to make to the history of painting; I'd turn the studio back into a bedroom and spend my career writing about how interesting all this art is, let me count the ways. If I give an object my full attention and come away disliking it, you're going to have an easier time convincing me that pepperoni tastes sweet than changing my mind about it - you're arguing with my brain chemistry. I may one day change my mind about it, but that's a different story.

I'm aware that the above sounds hubristic; unfortunately, this is how taste works - imperiously. You may think you're different, and for all I know you are, but remember that nearly everyone, self included, thinks of himself as reasonable and open-minded.

It's worth noting at the same time that just about everyone feels beset. Harlan again:

I think for many people in Miami there are not many places to view this kind of work [like that at MAC] and not since MAM brought in another Walker Art Center touring show, Let's Entertain, has Miami seen anything as encompassing and engaging.

Whereas I feel that Miami has nothing but places to view this kind of work and that the art-as-entertainment impulse runs unabated through the entire scene, giving the art about as much gravity as a pool toy. We both feel the lack; that much we have in common.




May 23, 2005, 4:58 PM

Franklin wrote: If I give an object my full attention and come away disliking it, you're going to have an easier time convincing me that pepperoni tastes sweet than changing my mind about it - you're arguing with my brain chemistry

Okay, just for giggles post an image of something you hate and lets see if one us us readers can change your mind.



May 23, 2005, 4:59 PM

Franklin, I think the above is somewhat less focused than your usual, and I have a class in 5 minutes, but I'd like to say, apropo or not, that while taste is what allows you to get to art I believe very strongly that there is such a thing as good art and bad art, period. We are all the same neurologically. It is a matter of familiarity rather than taste or culture differences. Maybe we can discuss it more later.



May 23, 2005, 5:07 PM

I'll tell you what, Onesock - I'll make that tomorrow's post.

Oldpro - I agree completely that "there is such a thing as good art and bad art, period." Tastes eventually form the consensus, but only because good art inspires a similar range of responses in people. Didn't mean to imply otherwise.



May 23, 2005, 5:46 PM

I didn't mean to imply that you implied it' I didn;t read your intro that thoroughly when i wrote the comment. I just threw the "good and bad" assertion out as an arguing point. I recall that last year at this time there was a lot of hassle around this idea.



May 23, 2005, 6:55 PM

Franklin: To a large degree, I agree with you: I think that the differences between people who are interested in say, the Conceptual Art culture, and those who are more interested in the Abstract Painting culture are too huge to brook. (As is evidenced on this very site).

But I guess I still don't understand what the immense feelings of disatisfaction are: the art world has always created its own stars to prop up whatever political or economic agenda it has set for itself. what seems to bother people is that the art being made today is more concerned with things more or less outside of the art world, or taste, or aesthetics or whatever, when in the past, to an extent, the worth of art was measured in how it pushed what paint on canvas could do.

As for Cordova and Leirner, their work seems pretty standard "identity politics" and process oriented work. So what? The best work being made in a given era doesn't always receive the attention it deserves or doesn't even find its way into a gallery. Would you feel happier or more justified if institutions like Walker were showing AbEx type stuff? Or disciples of Diebenkorn?

There's always alot of talk here about bullshit, but I've yet to see someone come out and say specifically what they mean by that, or an example of how it's as pervasive in the art world as they claim. Don't get me wrong, there's as much bad work being made today as ever, but the bullshit claim seems to be directed toward theory; not specific theory, but a fuzzy sort of generalized Theory imposed on us by the Academy. I realize this last is a bit of a tangent, but still seems related to today's post (at least to me), however tenuously.

peace out



May 23, 2005, 7:42 PM

...the art world has always created its own stars to prop up whatever political or economic agenda it has set for itself. I don't think that's quite right - as far as I know, contemporaries recognized, for example, that Perugino was pretty much outpainting everybody in Umbria. Powerful people used his talents to glorify themselves, oh yes they did, but a much smaller range of activities took place under the name of art compared to today, and consequently, a widely agreed upon set of criteria was used to judge quality.

So what? Indeed. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter. But the short term impact of these non-art concerns on me as an artist and art-lover is unpleasant and difficult.

If MAC had a show of Diebenkorn disciples, and they were any good, I'd probably be overjoyed. Is that going to happen? Will MAM do it? MoCA? The last time I can remember any Bay Area Figuration coming down here was the Elmer Bischoff show about, what, 3 years ago at the Boca Museum? When was the last time we saw work from the contemporaneous Pop movement? Oh, right, there's some at MAC right now.

I specifically tried to stay away from Theory today. I think the bullshit charge goes a little farther than Theory, but if you want me to address something in particular, fire away.


Alfredo Triff

May 23, 2005, 9:00 PM

Franklin: Im a little worried with your solipsism: If I give an object my full attention and come away disliking it, you're going to have an easier time convincing me that pepperoni tastes sweet than changing my mind about it - you're arguing with my brain chemistry. My problem with your statement is, can you really give it your full attention once your brain chemistry is what it is? Obviously not, it begs the question. Besides, if every time I disagree with you, Im wrong, Im not interested in the exchange. C'mon, relax a little bit.



May 23, 2005, 9:31 PM

Franklin, FWIW, I suppose you could say I was a Diebenkorn disciple. I was his studio assistant for a few years. My work looks nothing like his and he never had a problem with it.

What is problematic about the tack of this discussion is that it will probably be repeated in a few years by the then out of favor Conceptualists (post wah wahs, whatever) as they whine about whatevers the next fodder for hype. I personally don't have a problem with work which is not in my style or genre. Every generation of artist finds their own set of heroes so it should be of no surprise we find something different from MoMo in the galleries. Moreover, the cycling through approaches and mediums seems to be more or less generational in time span. At any given moment in the history of the present, certain artists will "posses and occupy conceptual or stylistic territory". This means that the artists who follow suffer from the "oh! that looks like so-n-so" syndrome. We all hate that. As a result, the young ambitious artists start looking for fresh territories, new mediums and fallow fields of history. A classic example of this was Frank Stellas shift from AbEx (he was...) to the stripe paintings, he's on record acknowledging the move to the open field.

What's even funnier to me is that the source of the consternation PoMo, conceptual, whatever you call it, IS DEAD and just thrashing around in a spasmodic reflex. Look around painters, something new is happening right in front of your eyes as we speak.



May 23, 2005, 9:36 PM

If you disagree with him he has to think you are wrong, Alfredo. That's what disagree means.

Franklin might qualify "full attention" to include "coming back to look again". I don't always judge something fully and appropriately the first or second time, but this happened much more years ago than it does now, partly because there is so much now that is just pure dreck on the face of it.

He is certainly accurate both specifically and by implication and extension when he answered that a Diebenkorn et al show is quite unlikely here, and that the other stuff is all too ubiquitous.

I believe if you read the label on pepperoni in the supermarket you will find sweetener in it. That doesn't mean it is sweet, of course. It's just a label.


Alfredo Triff

May 23, 2005, 9:47 PM

Wrong, Oldpro, a relativist may disagree with you and still think you're right. Sorry, body, they come in all shapes. Franklin's a more absolutist position, thus my preocupation.



May 23, 2005, 9:47 PM

George, FYI you can't read too much into Stella's "shift from AbEx" because the AbEx paintings he did were basically student paintings, derived from Hofmann, de Stael and others, and he evolved the basic stripe-and-rectangle "field" pictures - which soon turned into the black stripes - a few months after he got out of college and moved to NYC. Besdies, AbEx was about the only thing an ambitious painter had at hand in the late 50s.

There will be an interesting show of Stella's 1958 paintings at the Fogg Museum in Cambridge sometime later this year or next.



May 23, 2005, 9:50 PM

C'mon, Alfredo. "Relativist" has nothing to do with it. Disagreement and agreement are mutually exclusive. It is simple semantics. Good grief!



May 23, 2005, 9:57 PM

Oldpro, what you say about Stella early "student" work is true. I do recall that he did make a remark about finding some fresh territory. Where is but a fuzzy memory now but I paid a lot of attention to such stuff (including your writing) at the time.



May 23, 2005, 10:29 PM

"If MAC had a show of Diebenkorn disciples, and they were any good, I'd probably be overjoyed. Is that going to happen?"

so your complaint is that not enough of what you like is being shown in your area? is that it? i wonder if those galleries began showing work that appealed to your sensibilites, would these complaints about Conceptually influenced practice dry up?

"a widely agreed upon set of criteria was used to judge quality."

there still is a widely agreed upon set of criteria, franklin, it's just that you don't agree with what that criteria is. the criteria has changed over time. it's absurd to think that the tools by which quality was judged in the 14th century would remain exactly the same today.

as for the bullshit thing: by posting the examples you did of cordova and leirner, you obviously feel there is something bullshitty about their practices. explain.



May 23, 2005, 11:27 PM

There is nothing wrong with complaining because art you like is not being shown, Craig.

By the way, there are no "universally accepted" or any other criteria for judging the quality of art. Art is judged intuitively. If you must have criteria you have to make it up and spell it out, and it is not likely to be taken seriously.


Harlan Erskine

May 24, 2005, 12:01 AM

What exactly is not being shown? There is a lot of art out there in Miami right now. Sure the more reputable institutions and galleries have a slight lean toward the younger artists but then again Miami is a young city. I mean think about it the Met in New York was founded in 1870. Where was Miami in 1870? we barely had streets. therefore the institutions here are still in their infancy and they need help and support. I read today in the Harold that there are over 100 new condo projects going up in downtown who the hell knows if this building boom of fashion lofts will mean more money for art institutes is anybody's guess. Let's just hope when the dust clears there is still room left for artists who don't want to be shown at condo openings and inexpensive places for them to call home.

Franklyn-I don't think I have ever been quoted twice in an article or story. I better spell check and edit myself a little more.



May 24, 2005, 12:14 AM

Old Pro: See, I think there's more to judging the value of work than just intuition. That's so New Age. Aren't we thinkers? Don't we feel something? Isn't the art object more than line, colour, form and the interplay of these things? Am i nuts? Works today are judged in a myriad of ways that have more going on than just determining if something is a pretty picture, or if Picture A is prettier than Picture B, which may well have been the case in the mid 1400s. Don't you think?

I was taught that good art must be visually interesting (note, not beautiful, neccasarily), conceptually interesting, politically interesting, speaking to the contemporary and the historical, addressing the eternal and the ephemeral. In short: Good Art Fucks Shit Up. The viewer should feel sick, dismayed, question themselves, what they're seeing, maybe decide it's all bullshit, change their minds, feel orgasmic, then nervous, who knows? I was taught that good art isn't a stick of furniture. That it's alive. Seeing good art is like having lice. There's my criteria. I don't think it's so whacky, nor do I feel ashamed for having written it. You don't have to take it seriously, but I would wager alot of people around here feel similarly.

Good Almighty God, I hope I haven't misunderstood you (yet again), and I should say that while I always hope to feel like the above description when I go to a gallery, or poetry reading, or rock show or whatever, it almost never happens. So yeah, give'r, complain away. I know I do.



May 24, 2005, 12:19 AM

oh and p.s.: i live in fucking Canada, guys. From where I live to a decent contemporary gallery requires a $500 round trip flight plus accomodation and spending cash. I wish I was in your shoes.



May 24, 2005, 12:26 AM

Art is whatever you want it to be craigfrancis. Do what ever you need to with it.



May 24, 2005, 12:40 AM

beWare: thanks for the tip dude. whatever.



May 24, 2005, 12:57 AM

Craig I love Canadians but they do get a little whacky at the end of a long 30-below winter on the windy frozen plains. I want my art to give me pleasure, not torture. "Just intuition" is fine with me. But If it is lice you want, well, OK.

Harlan, what exactly is not being shown? Well, Franklin gave you an example. We could make a list, i suppose.

And why should a "young city" get shown "young art"? That doesn't follow. These young folks in Miami spend their time passing around ideas that were old hat in NY 30 years ago. They have seen little and know less. Seems to me that showing some older art would be quite a revelation for them.


Harlan Erskine

May 24, 2005, 1:01 AM


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Harlan Erskine

May 24, 2005, 1:07 AM

you ask: "And why should a "young city" get shown "young art"? That doesn't follow. " well older more historical art is more expensive art is harder to attain and takes a longer time and a deeper pocket. how many Rockefellers are there in Miami? I think Miami has a hard time building good public parks. no less amassing a good museums institution to show "old world" art. This is why I brought up the condos and the amount of flux in Miami. In this hypercapatilist society of Miami money tells us what gets shown for the most part. If you don't like it rent a warehouse and do what the impressionists did and have your own show - after all it worked for them.



May 24, 2005, 1:16 AM

craigfrancis: what does politically interesting mean?



May 24, 2005, 1:44 AM

Harlan, years ago my friends and I used to make fun of the "Famous Artist" ads in the art magazines. We sent away for the "tests" to see if you had "talent" (you always did, of course, no matter how deliberately you screwed up the test) and made "bad" collages out of the materials they sent.

I was not referring to the creation of museums full of great art in Miami. That is not possible. I was referring to exhibitions, which are possible. Bonnie Clearwater, one of the few museum people in town who actually curates her own shows, has had several worth going to, for example, the '80s painting show a few years ago, which had a lot of bad painting and some good painting and was a good period survey at a time when the art involved was not in fashion. A survey of California Modernists, which was mentioned here, would be a good one to see.



May 24, 2005, 4:41 AM

So I ended up seeing Star Wars after all. Kicks ass, Yoda does! Okay...

Alfredo: My problem with your statement is, can you really give it your full attention once your brain chemistry is what it is? Obviously not, it begs the question.

I'm not sure how to answer this - if the experience isn't going to alter my state at all, then I'm not sure it qualifies as art. In fact, I'm not sure it qualifies as consciousness.

Besides, if every time I disagree with you, I'm wrong, I'm not interested in the exchange.

It's okay. You can decide I'm wrong when I disagree with you. In fact, that's what people do. We all end up exchanging anyway.

C'mon, relax a little bit.

I am relaxed. I have just discovered my Inner Rubell. See that? I'm not afraid either.

George: I tried to leave Pomo alone today too (like theory). You'll notice that the above is pretty much style neutral, once we get past the opening. I agree with your conclusion, though. You assisted in Diebenkorn's studio? That's awesome.

Oldpro: I would allow that qualification. If I don't know, I don't know, and I'll look again. I'll look again anyway, for the hell of it. I'll look and look. If someone gets excited in front of a work and I don't, I'll listen, if I think they're smart and have a decent eye. But I won't talk myself into anything.

Alfredo: a relativist may disagree with you and still think you're right. ... Franklin's a more absolutist position, thus my preocupation.

Waitasec, that's just not fair. Relativists don't have any greater claim on reality that absolutists. Let me make a guess here - your position is a more relativist one, and because mine is more absolutist, you think I'm wrong. Hence your preocupation. Time to go check that relativism...

Craig: i wonder if those galleries began showing work that appealed to your sensibilites, would these complaints about Conceptually influenced practice dry up?

Not completely, but I'd chill out a lot. You'll notice that this post isn't terribly chill.

there still is a widely agreed upon set of criteria, franklin, it's just that you don't agree with what that criteria is.

Okay, what is it? Really. I have no idea.

it's absurd to think that the tools by which quality was judged in the 14th century would remain exactly the same today.

But the relativism that makes so much contemporary art possible, in theory, allows for this anachronistic view of quality, especially in regards to work that delivers most of the responsibility for creating meaning to the viewer. (Actually, never mind. I agree with you. So what is the new set of criteria? Remember, it has to account for everything in production. Pluralism, and all that.)

Explain. Don't read too much into my selections here. They're examples of music-business-like marketing applied to art, and philosphical salesmanship. As for the latter, I'm not saying that the Cordova press is bullshit so much that I'm saying that it is exactly bullshit to the degree that the Kinkade quote is bullshit, and the latter seems pretty sincere. You make the call.

Harlan: When the dust clears, artists are going to be lucky if they can afford space in Hialeah. Hey, thanks for the input; don't sweat the typos. What art isn't being shown? Let's start with that Bay Area show. I have a few additional suggestions below.

the institutions here are still in their infancy and they need help and support.

You generate that support by playing ball with everyone. Kathleen and I went back and forth about local artist representation in the museums and didn't prove anything; privately, she sent me a list that I haven't yet parsed that tried to break it down, but it didn't give a great first impression of diversity. She did a hell of a job recalling the collected artists, though.

Craig: okay, those sound like they would work on a personal level, but more generally, what isn't conceptually interesting? Can art be alive but not politically interesting? I'm pretty much with Oldpro here that you judge intuitively, and furthermore, that rush you get from conceptually compelling work is yet another feeling that tickles your brain chemistry. By the way, if I never, ever saw a contemporary gallery, I would miss seeing one. Even if I didn't like the work in it, I would miss the diversity.

Harlan, OP: I was referring to exhibitions, which are possible. The Ann Chu show I reviewed pleasantly surprised me, but it was the first one to do so in a long while. In the absence of having a Met/MoMA type arrangement where I could go around getting a fix of whatever I needed, I want massive diversity. January, Chinese scholar rocks. February, Marcel Dzama. March, Parmagianino drawings. April: local art starlet du jour. May: loads o' conceptual crap. June: loads of non-conceptual crap. July - bronze welder from somewhere we're not thinking about, like Kansas. You know - mix it up.



May 24, 2005, 4:58 AM

I'm a dabbler by nature. The gulf between AbEx and conceptualists? For me, minimal. There are ideas, there are feelings, and there are other things going on in our consciousness we don't have words for. All these things are part of our psyches. The role of art is to convey some of these things onto another person. Standing in front of a Helen Frankenthaller painting hits a nerve center in my brain. The realization that the wall of photographs I'm looking at are re-photographed Robert Frank pictures hits the same exact center.

Y'all will not agree. Fine. But I get to feel the same hubris. To me you are like the cowboy hat wearing guy who likes country but hates rock and roll. Or someone who hates yellow.

The stong principles you talk about are important when one is making art. There is absolutly no reason to apply the same principles to looking at art. To do so is to deny yourself feelings that you're entitled to. Like listening to the Beatles. Or the Asian Dub Foundation. Or the Kleptones.

Oh, and about the "statements." Yes, they have nothing to do with the art. Except when they do. Some artist statements/curator statements/gallery press releases are marketing. Some are useful descriptions that can help us understand things about the work that we would eventually realize on our own, given enough decades of looking. In this case they can aid in appreciation. And some are essential to appreciation, such as the knowledge that Sherie Levine's photos are actually photos of Robert Frank's photos. The fact is essential to the work. I can't really picture someone saying that this is bad art, unless they were just trying to avoid saying that it's not art at all. The latter I might treat sympathetically, if not agree with. I like my line between art and not-art porous. That's all for right now.



May 24, 2005, 5:27 AM

reading the comments:

the problem is that for most of art history painting accounted for maybe 50% of art output. today, it accounts for maybe 10 - 25% depending on what you're counting (the larger figure includes art fairs and amateur stuff (and yes i aM just making these numbers up for the sake of argument)).

The dissatisfaction you feel with how little painting gets shown would probably be shared with anyone who had a "similarly" narrow preference relative to modern artwork. Say, someone who appreciated digital photomontage. On top of that, remember that you guys hate lots and lots of contemporary painters.



May 24, 2005, 5:49 AM

Franklin -

just people getting worked up over what they believe in.

I don't see the difference between Perlin's quote and your "refutation." It sounded like you merely reworded his statement in slightly different language (and quite nicely at that). You'll also have to explain to me how you can say there are no universals with one breath, but say claims to right and wrong are valid in another.

Relativists don't have any greater claim on reality that absolutists.

Or rephrased, "agnostics don't have any greater claim on reality than spiritualists." It's not the agnostics making the claims in the first place.

I don't know whether you're right or wrong, and I don't think you can tell anyway -- to me the only absolute issue is life or death, and even that topic has its ragged edges -- but more importantly I don't really care. Put Bouguereau next to Twombly and Beuys next to Durer and watch me enjoy them all. Oldpro is fond of saying "it either works or it doesn't." (A politician might say "it depends on what the meaning of 'works' is.")

I say an artwork can "work" to varying degrees in one of many ways. Why limit your enjoyment? While some debate who's "right," and whether they're permitted by their ideological strictures to enjoy a certain work, others could have built a website, painted a canvas, or had a laugh.

If you're into programming, read up on fuzzy logic. It applies mathematical rigor to the idea that a logical assertion can be partially true. Self-monitoring electronic devices, adaptable automatic transmissions and "smart" appliances are built around it.

P.S. The idea that one operating system "opposes" another is anethema to me. "Differs from," or "evaluates differently," okay, but "opposes" is to me another imposition of "totalitarian ideology," no matter how euphemistically phrased.

P.P.S. I don't understand how a person assembling a collection is imperial, except inasmuch as a crowd of impotents may carp jealously that they were not party to a private transaction they had no business in. [Rubell buys!! Artworld dies!!] I wonder if whether the critics are in fact the imperialists [totalitarian and ideological to boot], not the collector. Between the pea-blemished mattress and the princess, I'd say it's the latter with the problem in need of correction, not the former.



May 24, 2005, 6:08 AM

it's still cold, and there's a full moon tonight. why do i live in this frozen waste?



May 24, 2005, 6:19 AM

Brain chemistry, hmm, more like nurture-nature maybe. We live in a cultural moment and therefore must be influenced by our cultural surroundings. A young, ambitious artist, might easily gravitate towards the style of the moment just because it is there. Or, he/she might gravitate towards some previously canonized style from the past. There is no difference in these choices, the decisions are made by forming an alignment with an existing definition of what art is or what it is becoming.

So, we find our young, ambitious artist trying to figure out just what is art anyway? Surprisingly, this question is at the root of many of the "theoretical writings" which are so reviled here. Of course this is a thankless task since there may be no precise answer. I suspect that there is more than one correct definition of art, that they all can exist simultaneously together or as a multiplicity of isolated examples. So the problem of the theorist is that an examination into the aspects of any definition of art must be pluralistic and allow for all competing approaches. Unfortunately, human nature frequently has difficulty assimilating a complex system and tries to make it palatable and packageable by simplifying it. Alas, this creates a problem of incompleteness by exclusion which is essentially the problem argued here.

Moreover, the question of "quality" falls into the same trap as the question "what is art". We believe we know it when we see it, yet I wonder if this judgement is not just as culturally influenced as the questions surrounding an acceptable definition of what is art. I suppose the safe out is to just grasp hard on the reins of any suitable definition, kick it in the flanks, and hope we dont get bucked off.

I went out to California to visit my 90 year old mother for mothers day. She is the quintessential "little old lady from Pasadena" Its my home town and when I was a "kid artist" I spent many a day at the old Pasadena Art Museum. I saw my first Magrittes, Cornells, Duchamp (him too), Stella, Olitski, Warhol, Noland, Kaprow and Turell in thefunky old Chinese archetctural style building.

Alas, they overexpanded in the 60s art bubble and were eventually bought by Norman Simon (now the Norman Simon Museum). Im bringing this up to make a point, while I was there NSM was the only place I went to look at art. Its a museum with modest collection but sufficient enough to provide a personal reference point for an art experience. If you can't be at the museum you love, love the one your with.

After looking around the Met last week Im convinced, that in spite of the recent death of both history and art, everything we do will ultimately be grist history's mill which, over time, grinds exceedingly fine. Oldpros right



May 24, 2005, 6:34 AM

Franklin, you discovered your inner Rubell? Are you going to consult an exorcist?

Alesh, strong principles for looking are fine as long as the strong principle is that you are going to just look. If you have to know that this photographer is taking photographs of that photographer's photographs to appreciate someone's photographs you lose me.

Also, painting is about 98% of art being made today. You are reading too many art magazines. Go out into the great heartland.

Also, speaking for myself, I don't hate anything categorically and I don't hate anything specifically until i see enough of it to be able to hate it.

Hovig, you don't limit your enjoyment. Lots of things can be enjoyed. You limit what you are willing to say is really good art.

Craig, there's a full moon up there? Canada's not my territory. I better go out and see what ours looks like.



May 24, 2005, 7:07 AM

painting is about 98% of art being made today

Puh-leeze. If you want to play that game, notebook doodles are 98% of art being made today. Snapshot photographs are 98% of art being made today. Unselfconscious performance pieces are 98% of art being made today.



May 24, 2005, 8:01 AM

oldpro, ive been reading you talk about this good art and this great art and this bad art, i think its great you have such strong convictions. i would also think you posting some visual examples would be great. there are standards everywhere we look, lets SEE what the standards are here. shall we?



May 24, 2005, 2:14 PM

No, Alesh, if you include all that it would be 99%. I may exaggerate, but my point was that your figure was exaggerated the other way. The great majority of visual art, art presented as such, is painting. This has nothing to do with what's good, of course.

Message, a standard is a measure of comparison, a rule of test on which a judgement can be made. "Criterion" is more or less synonymous. These measures, to be useful, must be specific and articulable. They do not exist (or are trivial) for art because art is judged intuitively. This is what we do with art, but it always gets people upset to hear it, for some reason.

Asking me (or anyone) to post visual examples, at any lenghth, is asking too much, not because it is impossible but because it is too time-consuming. Besides, Franklin, just did it, with the Leonardo and the David Park, and things are brought up here, like the California painters, which we talk about all the time.



May 24, 2005, 2:31 PM

Good art? Let's try Convergence (1952) or Blue Poles or how about Les Damoiselles d'Avignon (1907) or Woman I (1950-52) All from

One mans cheese is just another hair on a dogs ass to someone else.



May 24, 2005, 3:16 PM

Alesh: To me you are like the cowboy hat wearing guy who likes country but hates rock and roll. I see a lot of people like that in the art world. From my perspective, they're the ones talking about "older art" as if it were expired milk, but there you go.

Hovig: I don't see the difference between Perlin's quote and your "refutation."

None whatsoever, at least structurally. I hope I'm actually right, of course.

You'll also have to explain to me how you can say there are no universals with one breath, but say claims to right and wrong are valid in another.

Despite the complicatedness of the world, you have to come down on the side of good, as best as you can suss out what that is. Good operates platform-independently, as it were.

It's not the agnostics making the claims in the first place.

I only got into relativism and absolutism to play ball with Alfredo because he thinks in terms like that. Discerning good in art or morality requires that you frequently switch yardsticks, but it also requires that you have yardsticks and use yardsticks. That requires both flexibility and the ability to make a decision, which I think is relativism and absolutism operating together if you want to couch it those terms.

In fact, what I'm trying to get across here is that a lot of what passes for open-mindedness in the art world is in fact just another piety. A lot of what passes for scholarship or explication is just another kind of marketing. And the two combined, piety and marketing, doesn't get great art in front of you as often as it could. Enjoyable, maybe, but not great.

I don't understand how a person assembling a collection is imperial...

No no... "taste works imperiously." Not the same thing.

George: Brain chemistry, hmm, more like nurture-nature maybe.

Same thing. See above.

Craig - where on earth in Canada are you?



May 24, 2005, 4:08 PM

this is a wonderful talk. for me, as i may have intimated already, art isn't just about pleasure, it's also about pain. good art should be like a blow to the head. this definition works for me, but it doesn't mean what i like meets anyone else's criteria, which is fine. and while it may seem from what i've said previously that i adore contemporary art to the exclusion of older art, it's just not true: one of my favourites is Manet.

I'm in Newfoundland. Even when spring arrives in Toronto it's still weeks before it gets here. it's a desolate rock in the North Atlantic, God help me.



May 24, 2005, 4:28 PM

Craig, I went out and looked at the moon and my moon was full too. Could it be that your moon is the same as mine, despite that we live so far apart? Or should we leave room for cultural relativism and competing approaches, as George advises?

George, you should have explained that the site you mentioned - - is run by a guy who really hates modern art, and the pictures you posted are examples. He really likes the 19th C Salon painters and has a page of Nazi and Soviet art which I think he feels he shouldn't like but seems ambivalent about. Interesting site. Everyone should take a look.

However, implying, as you do, that this merely demonstrates the relativity of taste, goes a little overboard. Tell me, why are you (and just about everyone else, it seems) so in love with the idea of relativity of taste, and relativity of just about everything? Is it just fashion, or what?



May 24, 2005, 5:18 PM

Oldpro, it is interesting that two people on nearly opposite sides of the planet can agree they are viewing the same object, it’s a link between people. I’ve been watching "No Room for Failure" on the History Channel just now. I just sat there like a dope, in tears, watching the tape of the first moon landing at Tranquility base in 1969…

It was intended as a "gotcha" but the goodart guy does have good scans of art he hates. I bring up the idea of relativity because of the cultures inability to clearly define absolutes. Taste always suffers from the danger of slipping into the intellectual fashion of the moment. I just wanted to note that what we so vociferously defend is as just as easily damned by someone else. We like to assume we are correct. The theorist likes to assume he is correct. If we look at these opinions from a historical distance it becomes evident that, while fashion may reign over fleeting moments, their flaws become apparent. Over time, history acquires and defines a collective taste which sifts through the fleeting fashions of the moment. We are too close for absolutes and in this respect I can only trust my intuition which is what I believe you do as well.


Harlan Erskine

May 24, 2005, 6:07 PM

I was reading everyone's comments and I was reminded of a quote that might be interesting to bring up.

"When I was 1 year old, I would get goose pimples when I would hear a beautiful song," Bjork says, "My mum talks about that. And I noticed with my son, when he was 1 year old, he got goose pimples on his arm when he would hear beautiful sentences. He's really good with words and ideology and logic. He's a bit of a professor; he likes encyclopedias. And I find that fascinating, because I always used to think that literature was just a cold way to explain music. But then I realize, no, it can be the prime, the first, and for my son, music comes second, if not third. And some people are that way with their eyes: just get goose pimply when they see something pretty. But I'm like that with sounds and noises."



May 24, 2005, 6:09 PM

Franklin - Thanks. I still don't understand "taste works imperiously," or how the Rubells collection pertains.

a lot of what passes for open-mindedness in the art world is in fact just another piety

Agreed. Ideology is the same no matter which absolute generates it, and iconoclasm is just another ideology. (Which is why I sympathized with the Perlin quote. I take abstract art to be either iconoclastic or subliminal, and in the former case, certainly during its earlier stages [eg Malevich], I thought "totalitarian ideologies" was apt).

You're also justified to say many people who consider themselves "relativists" (or "multiculturalists") are really just expressing enmity toward "society." (Which is why I understood Perlin's point about a "real hatred of society and humanity," even if perhaps he goes too far in its application.)

If Thomas Kinkade didn't ultimately evoke something in the human psyche, his work wouldn't sell, no matter what "marketing" (ie ex post facto justification) he attached to it. If we're to be honest with relativism, we must admit that somewhere on some scale Kinkade is hitting something, we must be honest about why we do or don't like it, and confident in our ability to discern and choose art we like without self-generated fear, without simply slashing his canvases upon sight.



May 24, 2005, 6:10 PM

But if my intuition tells me something then that's it for me. it becomes absolute. I think Franklin has been saying something similar. All this "everyone is right" stuff is just soft-headed. Someone is right. Someone is wrong. I get a kick out of the goodart guy but if he thinks Picasso is a lousy painter he is full of shit. Just because we cant prove anything doesn't change this, and i will defend what I think until someone convinces me different.


Harlan Erskine

May 24, 2005, 6:11 PM

Well, I get goose pimples when I see a great Gursky image I get them when I hear about Bansky doing guerilla installations at MoMa, the Met the Brooklyn Museum Natural Hirstory and now The British Museum. But I don't seem to get them from art that doesn't have a dialogue and for me a lot of painting doesn't do it for me. Sure there are a lot of photographs that I don't care for either but on the whole I'm more interested in conceptual work like Maurizio Cattelan and photography and less interested in the standard oil portrait.



May 24, 2005, 6:17 PM

Harlan, for what it's worth, I can get "goose-pimply" from seeing, hearing or reading something extraordinary, but, by definition, such things are few and far between. I suppose that's part of the reason for the goose pimples, that I know how special such experience is.



May 24, 2005, 6:18 PM

Hovig, Perlin was an exacting realist, not a bad painter at all, who was showing a lot at the same time the AE painters were. I think the money comments must have been made after the AE painters had their success and everyone was imitating them, not before, because they certainly were not getting rich in the 40s or even early 50s.

Kinkade may be evoking something in the human psyche but that is neither here nor there. There was an artist named Keane a while back who painted pix of pathetic waifs witrh big eyes and he sold like Kinkade. The reason people liked the paintings was because big eyes are like baby eyes and us mammals love babies. It had nothing to do with art.


Harlan Erskine

May 24, 2005, 6:19 PM

Sorry but Thomas Kinkade looks like a crap hallmark® card to me. no thanks.



May 24, 2005, 6:31 PM

Harlan, I agree with you about Kinkade but the stuff that gives you goose pimples is a huge yawn for me. This is about as pure a difference of taste as we get on the blog. There isn't much either of us can say or do about it. C'est la vie.



May 24, 2005, 6:50 PM

thanks for that long winded response , oldpro> franklin posts pictures people discuse californian painters, i asked you not them for examples. thanks george for taking the time. i hope it wasnt asking too much.



May 24, 2005, 6:51 PM

Bansky's agitprop acts are funny but trival jokes of the "rember that guy that did that" class. Remember when Tony Shafrazi spray painted Guenerica?
On the other hand, I liked the Gursky I saw at MOMA, it's photography.



May 24, 2005, 6:57 PM

Anyone who can make a 12-ft C-print deserves our admiration, for sure, but Gursky's images just leave me stone cold, as does most photography, as art, that is.



May 24, 2005, 7:15 PM

You go ahead and admire away, Oldpro (#51), but if something doesn't do much for me, the bigger it is the more it irks me (see also Hirst's "Virgin Mother"). It's essentially adding insult to injury.



May 24, 2005, 7:28 PM

Or injury to insult.



May 24, 2005, 7:42 PM

I think there is a difference in the way individuals view art.
Slipping out of this century, we might look at two artists like Ingres and Delacroix and more Delacroix here

We might make associations between artists We would discover that there are definitely different sensibilities at work regardless of the historical period. It should be no surprise that we find such differences now. In this respect we find some artists today with a more conceptual approach, even in the area of painting. At the same time we will also find the more emotional or expressive sensibilities as well, in all media. To some extent, you pays your money and you take your choice. I like Delacroix, Ingres looks to me like he painted with his left thumb up his ass.



May 24, 2005, 7:59 PM

George, you can't paint pale blue silk taffeta like that with your thumb up your ass.



May 24, 2005, 8:17 PM

oldpro: But if my intuition tells me something then that's it for me. it becomes absolute . . . All this "everyone is right" stuff is just soft-headed.

That seems like a near-contradiction.

Let's say your intuition tells you a piece is bad, and someone else's intuition tells them it's good. Acording to the second part of the statement, only one of you can be right, which, presumably, you would believe is you. You therefore believe the other person is wrong.

But since the judgement is based on intuition, there is nothing to discuss. You go through life having disagreements with people that you have no way to reconcile. You think less of people who disagree with you.

This is no way to live.



May 24, 2005, 8:32 PM

Artists like Kinkade and Keane may manipluate human psychology consciously to make their work appealing. That's something that happens on the creation end. But on the appreciation end, I wonder whether why their work is applealing is really so different from why Olitski appeals to Oldpro.

George~ I disagree with you almost completely about the status of Banksy's action.

a note about gursky is that he's been using a digital printing process for many, many years. So there's not too much techincal achievement on that end. The art is in the often extrordinary subject matter, vantage points, framing, and a lot of technical skill on the shooting end, and digital manipulation.



May 24, 2005, 8:32 PM

Oldpro, yeh I know, I saw the painting again last week and I like the satin too. I still don't care for his work all that much, it's too tight for my taste



May 24, 2005, 8:51 PM

Apropos of Franklin's juxtaposition of Thomas Kincade and William Cordova in the original post above, here's a blog entry by Michael Bierut called "On (Design) Bullshit," an essay about how designers (in this case the architects of the Getty Center), with a nod to Harry G. Frankfurt's definition, use b/s not to lie about the state of the world, but to obfuscate the ideas in their head, misrepresenting them slightly in order to persuade a client; or in other words, to convince the client through peripherally applicable but ultimately irrelevant language that a subjective decision can be justified by objective means. Don't miss the story about the "Empire" font at the end.



May 24, 2005, 8:59 PM

alesh~ My remarks on Banksy are limited to the museum hoaxes, just funny not much else. It's early in his career, so who knows what may come. I just have the feeling it's a bit like Daniel Buren's work, of interest now. but doubtfull it will occupy more than a footnote in history.

I suspect that much of the conceptual movement has run it's course. After 911, I went past a D'Agostinos supermarket, the green plywood front was plastered with 40 feet of 8-1/2 by 11 xerox pictures. All of lost family members. What really matters to the audience? Should we care?



May 24, 2005, 9:29 PM

The question is not so much whether one is right or wrong, but rather making a choice--an informed, personal, honest choice--and knowing why one makes it, regardless of what other people say or promote. The idea of having to go with the flow or fashion, of needing some sort of permission or approval from "experts," of being afraid to to seem "out of it" is simply not respectable to me. Someone who's not prepared to make up his own mind about art and stand his ground should really pursue something else--like politics or public relations.



May 24, 2005, 11:05 PM

Alesh,"You go through life having disagreements with people that you have no way to reconcile".

Well, yes. When it comes to judgement about art thats how it is, as for example in my reaction above to Harlan's goose-pimple pictures. it may be "no way to live", but we have to live with it anyway.

And in the final analysis, although "good" is the sole purpose in art, "what is good" is by its nature not an answerable question because art is assumed through intuition and aimed at pleasure. Whether this "good" can be established to exist apart from simple experience is another question.



May 25, 2005, 2:31 AM

jack: oh whatever, man. yeah, go ahead and make your decision and stand by it for the rest of your life for all i care, but i think what you should realize, and hopefully someday will, is that it isn't as black and white as you would have us believe. choosing a side and sticking to it no matter what is rather george bush of you dude. personally, i couldn't give a shit either about what right and wrong, or what 's good or bad is when it comes to other people's opinions about art. but at least i'm open to things that are happening in the art world without my mind already made up. i've made a decision about what i think is good, but it's a decision that's always able to change. after all, i'm not a fucking robot.

old pro: stop fooling yourself. your "intuition" about art is a cultural bias. you like what you like for reasons that are entirley more real than just a feeling that tells you one piece is better than another.that's not to say that i don't believe in intuition, but to claim your choice of some art over others is based on intuition alone is a crock.



May 25, 2005, 2:43 AM

Craig, all Jack has made up his mind about is that a work of art has to do something for him or he is not interested. I think he is open to just about anything until that happens.

And tell me, what is a "cultural bias"? And if we don't conprehend art intuitively, how do we comprehend it? Can you give me a yardstick to judge it by?



May 25, 2005, 2:52 AM

...stop fooling yourself. your "intuition" about art is a cultural bias.

I find it fascinating that people can discuss what's going on in other peoples' minds better than the owners of the minds themselves. That's a pretty amazing epistomological assumption you got there.



May 25, 2005, 2:54 AM

Sorry, epistemological.



May 25, 2005, 3:00 AM

dudes: intuition is a gut feeling, am i wrong? inexplicable. a hunch. you just have this feeling you're right about something? is that inaccurate?

what i'm saying is that old pro doesn't live in a vacuum. a cultural bias is an education, whether in an academy or not. he likes the art he does not because there's someone from the spirit world telling him what's good, but because he likes what he likes. that isn't intuition, it's cultural.



May 25, 2005, 3:05 AM

And, Craig, what is more "real' than a feeling?

I think you are digging yourself another hole you can't climb out of.



May 25, 2005, 3:12 AM

OP: are you telling me there is no other explanation for you liking a work beyond a feeling you get in your tummy?



May 25, 2005, 3:13 AM

I do like what I like, Craig, but when you say it is "cultural" rather than "intuitional", what does that mean? if it is cultural, why don't I like what the "culture" likes? If the "culture" likes Kinkade, or Cattelan, and what I like is "cultural", why don't I like Kinkade or Cattelan? Why do I like Olitski? Where am I going wrong?

And if I am not getting what I like from "intuition" how do I get it? From checking a list? I'm confused here.

We need some explanation.



May 25, 2005, 3:17 AM

I do not think the literal translation of "gut feeling" is "feeling one gets on one's tummy", Craig, but yes, what I like is what gives me a certain feeling. Nothing else. How do you judge what you like? With a "Things I Like" handbook?



May 25, 2005, 3:23 AM

Craig~ Let me spin the bias differently. Im assuming you are a young artist, everything is new and interesting. The "kid artists," as Oldpro calls them, are full of spit and vinegar but as time goes by their numbers dwindle as they succumb to other temptations and take up other pursuits. Being an artist isnt quite a career choice you can make as if you are aspiring to become a captain of industry, its a calling with no guarantees of comfort or success. The will to continue onward, in spite of all the obstacles, must come from a deep personal commitment for surely your resolve will be tested. Most drop out, change course, or do something else...

(With all due respect...) Oldpro has been around awhile and he has been remarkably consistent in his call for "quality" in painting over the years. Now some of his positions, which may seem biased to others, come from perceptions and experiences which were hard won in the trenches, in the actual pursuit of an ideal. His intuition, even though may elude linguistic description, has been forged in the pursuit of his practice over several years. It is our right to disagree, see things differently, like something else or even find the work boring but what you will learn to appreciate over time is the devotion to practice. By practice here, I mean painting, but you could substitute anything else.

I happen to like you skepticism, I just wanted to spin it a little.



May 25, 2005, 3:40 AM

Craig, even though my comment (61) was prompted by Alesh (56), you appear to have taken personal offense, or at least you sound defensive. I find that interesting, if ultimately irrelevant. This sort of thing has happened before with you, and I don't care to repeat my entire response at the time, but I'll make a few comments, for the sake of clarification.

When I state my position or opinion, it doesn't mean anyone has to like it or buy into it; it just means it's my view and that I stand by it regardless of whether or not it's popular or accepted. You seem to have a serious problem with that concept (and please, leave Bush out of this), but that's your issue, not mine.

If I weren't "open to things that are happening in the art world," why would I bother to keep up with that, read about it, seek it out, go out of my way to see it? To waste my time and/or be miserable? To wallow in frustration? I'm open all right, and avidly seeking (as opposed to "making the scene" or posturing), but I look, think and judge for myself, and I make absolutely no apology for that. A robot, I might add, acts according to programming imposed upon it from outside. I won't; that's all.



May 25, 2005, 4:03 AM

That Design Bullshit link from Hovig up in #59 is a must-read.

I second what George says about Craig - he's one of the more enjoyable skeptics we get around here. Have pity, Jack - he's freezing his ass off while we have to put the AC on in the car.

George, it's definitely a religious calling, isn't it. This art stuff is pretty much all I care to spend my time on. That and a few simple pleasures and I'm a happy boy.



May 25, 2005, 4:25 AM

Franklin~ No doubt we all make these choices when we are young for different reasons, to get rich, to be famous, to get laid, whatever. As time goes by, the illusions of our naivete are illuminated by the harsh light of reality and we chose to continue on or not. If you can find a way to continue in a persuit you love, count yourself lucky for you are.



May 25, 2005, 12:47 PM




May 25, 2005, 2:03 PM

"Say to yourself, I am going to work in order to see myself and free myself.
While working, and in the work, I must be on the alert to see myself. When I see myself in the work, I will know that that is the work I am supposed to do.
I will not have much time for other people's problems.
I will have to be by myself almost all the time, and it will be a quiet life."

Agnes Martin



May 25, 2005, 2:18 PM

She did it, too. She spent about the last twenty years of her life in a retirement community in New Mexico, spending all of her time painting and rereading Agatha Christie novels. She was on to something, there.



May 25, 2005, 5:59 PM

Thomas Kink everybody else.



May 25, 2005, 6:53 PM

No no no no no no no no. by cultural bias i just mean that OP's tastes are learned and not simply innate. i guess my problem was just with the word intuition itself. Old Pro, i don't think you're going wrong anywhere per se, just that i think your opinion (like all of ours) is more complicated than just having a feeling about something. that is to say, it's cultural to a degree, not just inborn.

jack: i'm sorry if i sounded defensive. while you say it doesn't matter if one's right or wrong, it's the making of the decision that's important, i would say that it's dangerous to make a rule and stick by it no matter what. but, i mean, i already know you're gonna do what yer gonna do whatever i say, but i still feel i should declare my difference from you, even if we just end up repeating ourselves for eternity. or something.

anyway, the sun is actually shining today. it's 14 degrees celsius. what's that, like, sixty degrees in the US?i'm going outside.



May 25, 2005, 7:18 PM

Craig, I am not making any claims to learned vs. innate - this is an interesting subject and could occupy many blogs (as it has in the past, if i remember correctly).

All I am saying is that my reaction, as if happens, as it takes place, is simple, direct and intuitive, jusy like the taste of a wine or a laugh at a joke. The complexity is subsumed in the history of the reaction, perhaps, just as it may be in the history of the work of art, but is not observable in the reaction itself.



May 25, 2005, 7:49 PM

Franklin (#65): The notion that people have special access to the workings of their minds has pretty much been disproven by modern psychology. It's an illusion. Some part of your brain decides you like something. Your consciousness then cooks up probable reasons for why you like it. But you can be quite wrong about the reasons.

So yes, we can speculate about where Oldpro's "intuition" and preferences come from.


Harlan Erskine

May 25, 2005, 7:54 PM

oldpro uses "the great power of the force" to determine the validly of the art.



May 25, 2005, 8:12 PM

I think that by "cultural" we mean not the culture of the United States, but something more particular. Maybe the culture of the AbEx in-crowd of 1950's new york. Actually the sum total of that, plus artbooks, plus everything else you've run across in life.

The point is that your brain does a lot of processing before it spits out a judgement. The word "intuition" i think is more an acknowledgement that this processing is hidden from self-observation, rather then a denial of its existence.

Hey franklin~ I'm on a friend's mac, and I see the question marks (mostly in George's posts) again, this time in little diamond symbols. wtf?

Are you posting from an AS400 or something, George?



May 25, 2005, 8:44 PM

Harlan, I don;t know what you mean by "the great power of the force".

Alesh, one's brain is processing all the time. The response to a work of art may be complex, or represent a lot of complexity, or whatever, but, in my opinion, it must be more or less instantaneous. You don't like a work because you have facts about it any more than you enjoy a meal by reading the menu.

"Culture" means everything you have experienced. Believe me, it is enormous, way more than your brains and your egos like to think it is. I may have learned this and that from the "AbEx crowd of the 50s" but it does not directly affect my judgement of a work of art. It is just another thing that went into the grinder.

The more you process the better off you are. One of the problems of the current crop of art kids is that their memory banks are low on deposits.



May 25, 2005, 8:54 PM

Alesh~ I see what you're talking about. Its the ' character that's getting lost in the ISO character coding. FWIW, this is written out of explorer but most of the time I use an older version of Netscape. The wierd thing is that it doesn't occur in all the comments. Mustbesomethininthecomputertwilitezone.



May 25, 2005, 8:57 PM

Craig, maybe we should just agree to disagree and leave it at that, but I think you may be misreading my position. The "rule" I insist on sticking to no matter what is simply to be adamantly true to myself. That may be very un-PC, but it's honest, and I'm comfortable with it. I can't see approaching art any other way, but others may do whatever suits them.

As Oldpro suggested, any given piece of art either works for me or it doesnt. If it doesn't, I'm not interested, no matter what anybody claims for it. I'm not saying other people can't like it, just that I won't buy it because they do. It's not about them; it's about me and the art. Very simple.



May 25, 2005, 9:02 PM

The notion that people have special access to the workings of their minds has pretty much been disproven by modern psychology. It's an illusion.

Somehow, you seem to be saying, this qualifies the peanut gallery to speculate on what's going on your head better than yourself. Let me tell you, I'll admit to being arrogant, but I would never assume to tell someone what's going on in their own minds contrary to their own experience.

The question marks have to do with character representations, input via the form, that aren't getting translated. Safari seems to be able to deal with them, but they show up elsewhere. I have to write some kind of cleaner for comment form and I'll put that on my rather prodigious to-do list.



May 25, 2005, 9:37 PM


You don't like a work because you have facts about it [...].

Don't think I agree.

Your eye can be redirected to something you may have missed the first time. This is not intended to be a trivial observation on the basis of a technicality. It shows that conscious analysis can sometimes aid subconscious analysis. If it can happen at all, even supposedly only under trivial circumstances, then it can happen any time.

If you can change your view of a work over long periods of time, because you've received pertinent education, experience or training in the interval between viewings, then there's every reason to believe you can change your view of a work because of a wall text, a friend's whisper, or a conceptual revelation.



May 25, 2005, 9:53 PM

Two vultures are checking into their Airline flight.
The attendant asks "How many bags to check in?"
They reply " No bags to check in, just CARRY-ON..."

Even with a good command of the English language,
the joke may fall flat - but it certainly doesn't go
anywhere if I must explain what carrion is....

It is an imperfect analogy, but something
to think about...

Like how many surrealists it takes to
screw in a light bulb....



May 25, 2005, 10:01 PM

I think we could safely say that knowledge and intuition can inform each other - George's repeated exposure to financial markets and his impressive command thereof would serve as a fine example - but that a reaction to art becomes no less intuitive for being thusly informed. On the other hand, I've seen plenty of people who have impressive knowledge of art but seem to have few intuitions for it, and this looks like a deal killer, although they can be pretty successful in the so-called art world anyway.




May 25, 2005, 10:03 PM

Hovig, looking again is good. If facts help you look again, that is also good. That has happened to me and probably to everyone. But you get the paainting because you look again, not because the facts made you do it.

FRC, exactly. That is precisely the kind of joke that you tell and if someone gets it they laugh (maybe) and if they don't get it and you explain it they realize they didn't even know the word and you end up with a resentful, disgruntled friend.

Welcome to the art world.



May 25, 2005, 10:19 PM

Nope; the question mark in diamond symbol I was getting was in safari on a spankin new iBook.

Can "the peanut gallery to speculate on what's going on your head better than yourself"? Of course not "better," as a rule. As a rule you have the best insight into what's going on in your head. BUT you can be completely certain of why you believe something, and be completely wrong. That is to say, your insight into your head can seem more, er, insightful, then it actually should.

For one example, when people are asked to give their reasoning for making a decision, they ususally give more of a "reconstruction." That is to say, their mind guesses why they made the decision. This is transparent to the person, and they will believe that was their actual reason.

So the peanut gallery does not have superior knowledge, but it has a legitimate right to question a person's stated reasons for liking (or not liking) something. Or the lack of those reasons.



May 25, 2005, 11:50 PM can be completely certain of why you believe something, and be completely wrong.

But someone else can also be completely certain of why you believe something, and be completely wrong. Since neither side can prove anything, they tend to goad each other into admitting some internal process, making for a conversation that doesn't have so much as a skinny little chance of going anywhere. If you want to ask if such and such is happening in someone's head, or speculate on the contents of your own head, that's a different story.

You can see those characters in the source code, and honestly, I don't know WTF that is. I'll work on it after Go See Art gets off of its back.



May 26, 2005, 12:56 AM

Regarding intuition...
Frequently I'll meet another investor who will tell me his intuition is that the market will go up (or down, whatever) because of event A. Now assuming event A is a "good" event and even with poor understanding of the market, the player would "intuit" the market should rise. Sometime it does and sometimes it doesn't. Intuition is the ability to draw a conclusion or feel like you know something without drawing on the relevant facts.

What makes intuition "work" is the ability to correlate over time "the intuition" with "the result" As in my example above it is quite possible to intuit something which turns out to be false. Usually what happens in a case like this, is the individual will just ignore the incorrect result. They just pay attention to the occasions when "the intuition" correlates with the truth.

In my opinion, just like a skilled athelete, good intuition is the result of training. There is a mental state, in sports it's described as "the flow state" where the athelete is able to orchestrate all the required moves and timing without conscious thought If the athelete thinks about it, it physically just won't work because ofthe time it takes to make the decisions along with the time it takes for the nerve signals to travel to the muscles.

By experience, I know this can occur in the studio, it doesn't get any better than that.



May 26, 2005, 1:12 AM

George, the intuition of the market person is predictive. The intuition of the person looking at art is not. One can be tested by specific results; the other can only be tested by someone else's esthetic intuition.

You don't have to evoke the athlete to see function without conscious thought. We all act without conscious thought all the time, every day, all day. We co in an out - conscious, deliberate, verbal, nonverbal, involuntasry - Just watch yourself for 10 or 15 minutes and you will see what I mean.


that guy

May 26, 2005, 1:33 AM

George, good call on the flow states. You got to be detached enough not to let your thoughts mess up what the body needs to create. Its a great feeling when it works. But it takes a while to recognize it when its working for you. Sorry if this sounds confusing. Digital Photographers call this flow clicking.



May 26, 2005, 1:39 AM

Oldpro~ I disagree on both counts. Yes, in the case of the market, the intuition appears predictive. In fact, the intuition is the act of positing a truth from which the prediction is made. We expect the result to correlate with the intuitive expectation, if it doesn't we tend to disregard the intuitivce event. I would suggest that if the result cannot be tested then it's not possible to gauge it intuitivly. When you say it can only be tested by someone else's esthetic intuition you are implying that we have two people who agree they like something esthetically but they can't explain why. How few people does it take to validate this event?

Regarding the flow state, this is not the same as simple subconscious action. It generally is the result of concentrated traing where the individual perfects the various subtasks of an event/action. The flow state occurs when the separate tasks are integrated into s single directed act. You can be quite conscious that it is occurring but without directing the events. In my opinion it is a very special state and not easily acheived.



May 26, 2005, 2:37 AM

George, you can test anything any way you want to. A test does not have to have a definitive result. When you predict you commit to specifiable results. Then that is the test, and the intuition stands or falls on it. When you test your art judgemt by someone else's intuition the test is not conclusive (unless you have decided that it is). Usually you merely agree, or disagree, or look again.

I know the "flow" is special. I didn't say it wasn't. All I am saying is that we all go through every day doing things that have varying degrees of explicit awareness. Most of our decisions are simple guesses based on our evaluation of immediate circumstances. Very little of what we do is based on an explicit, worked-out program. The "flow" athlete is simpy a very highly trained and specialized instance of this.



May 26, 2005, 3:00 AM

The thing about the flow state that is interesting, lies exactly in the fact it occurs as a result of a highly trained and specialized instance. In the groove.

I'm afraid that one sense of intuition may include fantasy if only the intuiter (zatawurd?) can realize it. If we, as a culture, cannot collectivly come to some aesthetic conclusion which can be used as a gauge of our intuition, what value does it have?



May 26, 2005, 3:11 AM

What value does intuition have? Do you really need an answer to that?



May 26, 2005, 5:31 AM

Good show, George!

What you're saying is that intuition is reasoning that has been repeated so often it is automated and made unconscious. When a person begins to learn to play the drums, every little beat and nuance takes concentration. As these basic building blocks are commited to "muscle memory," and the brain is freed up to think of higher order thinking, such as "in 4 more bars I need to take it to the bridge."

I have a better example, though. One psychological model of EMOTION states that it is like an expidited, prioritized substitute for reasoning. I step into a road, turn, and see a bus barreling down on me. I feel fear, which causes me to to jump from the road. Is the fear the primal thing? No - it is a fast reasoning process, based on lots of cultural emotion. Someone who grew up outside of society with cars would feel no fear, and would get run down (just like animals who grow up away from humans are easy prey for hunters).

SIMILARLY, when Oldpro looks at a piece of art, the reasoned process of deciding whether it's and damned good takes palce subconsciously... it's hardwired into what he calls his "intuition." He is, after all, an old pro. A young wippersnapper can't judge art by intuition, and neither did oldpro when he was young - because the intuition is based on the reasoning.



May 26, 2005, 6:30 AM

Well, OK, guys. We are shuffling words at this point. There's a talent for seeing art, just like any other talent. Some people have it - whippersnappers included - and others don't.

Like any talent it can be nourished and developed and it needs work to keep up. I don't think we get anywhere saying it is "actually" reasoning or whatever. This is for pshychologists to figure out.

The only point I was trying to make when Craig started this whole thing (and then dropped out, which seems to be his custom) was that you don't like art because orf a checklist of preferred characteristics, you make an intuitive judtgement..

1.a. The act or faculty of knowing or sensing without the use of rational processes; immediate cognition. b. Knowledge gained by the use of this faculty; a perceptive insight.
2. A sense of something not evident or deducible; an impression.

I don't think it has to get any more complicated than that, not for our purposes, anyway.



May 26, 2005, 4:12 PM

Old Pro: Sorry I dropped out of the discussion, but I feel I stated as well as I could what I thought of the whole intuition thing. It seems George and Alesh are much more articulate about this than I am anyway, but I do feel a discussion of this kind could go on forever without any progress being made whatsoever.




May 26, 2005, 4:30 PM

I completely disagree with the characterization of intuition as practiced reason. Please see this post.



May 26, 2005, 5:04 PM

Here's another clash of absolutes. Neither oldpro's nor alesh's positions are absolutely correct, though both of them are correct as far as they go.

Oldpro is right that reaction to art is often instantaneous, whether learned or innate, but frankly, most art isn't blazingly brilliant neon-light holy-cow-this-is-amazing stuff. Most art you have to live with and think about. Plenty of art needs to be revealed to you over time. Some art is confusing, some is simply subtle.

Oldpro, have you ever needed to talk out loud to yourself while "thinking" about something? Why does a thought need to go from your brain to your mouth, then to your ear and back to your brain, in order to make sense? You need to actually "hear yourself think" sometimes in order to actually do the "thinking." Sometimes the human animal does strange things during cognition, like using external cues.

Speaking of the human animal, Alesh is also right that years of training can be encapsulated in a moment of action, but this is the exception, not the rule. If anything, humans need to be trained to suppress their inner instincts, e.g., learning etiquette, avoiding crimes of passion, arguing ideology with others, becoming a stuntman, etc. Maybe the human needs to be trained to move their legs to get out of the way of a bus, but the fear and confusing one feels when being approached by one is surely built in.

And art can take advantage of what's inside the animal. Oldpro cited the example of art with big eyes. There are psychologists who believe the idea of skinny alien creatures with big buggy eyes is based on the "importance" a baby places on the eyes when recognizing a person. If we need a trivial case to prove the rule, well, we all know what the "oldest profession" is, and I don't think anyone in the world needs to be trained to respond to that type of stimulus.

Let's consider the margins, the vast majority of art that can't be decided with a snap judgment. Maybe one day you cognitively notice yourself drawn more toward art with lots of blue in it, for example, and you strengthen the association to blue in your mind, and you "teach yourself" to respond to blue. So five years from now, your reaction to a blue painting will be instantaneous, but it was only because of thoughtful consideration today that tomorrow was possible. Sometimes you start to notice yourself drawn toward art with lots of babies with big eyes in them, and you train yourself away.

Assuming not everyone knows everything about art, or at least not as much as they will tomorrow, there is always room for a conscious thought to influence our view of a work, and there is always room for primitive animalism. Assuming not everyone is born a lifeless lump, there's always room for an innate thought to influence our view as well.

In my opinion, Cy Twombly takes perfect advantage of this bug in the human animal. His works are primitive to the extreme, but their contexts are entirely intellectual. He unleashes chaos on a canvas and calls it Lepanto, a name with text-book assocation. He scrawls insanity on a work, but does it in the form of a chalkboard that you'd see in a school of education. Your primitive mind looks at the work esthetically and gets charged, but then your educated mind makes conceptual associations, and between its two halves your brain goes into apoplexy. (That is, if Twombly's art works for you, of course. I realize his art is love/hate among audiences.) Which is why it took me years to come to terms with it, and more time to learn why it had its effect.



May 26, 2005, 5:59 PM

Hovig, I don't disagree with you, but I would say it differently.

First, there is no contradicton implied by judging art intuitively & quickly and treating art in various ways over time. Both are common and appropriate. My contention is not that one must avoid all other relationships with art but that art comes across, when it does come across, quickly and intuitively. When I was learning about art and honing my art-making and art-looking skills there were dozens of instances where I rejected work and then "got" it later. This is obviously part of the art experience. All I am saying is that the "gertting" itself, the experience as such, is intuitive and quick.

Second, I really do not think that there is "art" that takes time, or works outside of this procedure, only that we as art lovers sometimes work outside of the procedure, as I explained above. We each have our own set of reactions and our own way to get to the great art of our culture. There will always be art that operates outside of our ability to see it. I, for example, have never cared for either Delacroix or El Greco, both of whom are considered great artists and have all the characteristics one expects from great artists. So I keep looking. I don't deny my quick and intuitive reactions, but I keep looking. If I am missing out, too bad for me. But under no circumstances will I deny my intuitive appraisal of a picture because it is supposed to be "great art".



May 26, 2005, 6:54 PM

Oldpro - You're saying a straw can break a camel's back. You're right, but only if you're an experienced art-lover who knows famous figures and teaches at a university. Most of us shlubs haven't reached that level just yet.

What I know is that It takes a certain weight to break a camel's back. You might walk into a museum with a ton of bricks, and be handed a straw, but I might walk into a museum with a straw, and be handed a ton of bricks. You have a professional resume' that's head and shoulder above anyone else here. You're the one with the ton of bricks already on your camel's back. But you're the exception.

While most of us are still trying to assemble our straws into a decent howda, you've already got the bloody Maharaja Edition with the leather seats and the DVD player. Give you a straw and you're golden. Next! We're still piling up the lumber.



May 26, 2005, 7:24 PM

Geez, Hovig, I need you to write publicity for me. Maybe i could sell a couple pictues.

Experience helps, but I am not invoking it here nor is it necessary to. You look at art because you like to, because you get something out of it. It isn't a contest and it isn't a seniority game. it is supposed to be fun.

In fact, making the mistakes and the discoveries and learning how to sort things is actually the fun part. At this point I hunger for something new, something to come at me I didn't expect, someone to prove me wrong or show me a picture I overlooked or anything to get the juices moving. That's my whole quarrel with this damned contemporary art scene - despite all the straining and and extremes and the blood and guts it is just BORING. Boring esthetically, boring intellectually, boring pomo, boring deconstruction, boring academic dreck, yaarghh!



May 26, 2005, 8:32 PM

Have there been any recent artists which you thought were something other than boring? Or, at least come close? Julie Mehretu? Glenn Brown? Bill Flynn? Dunno, just asking.



May 26, 2005, 8:45 PM

Sorry if this seems counterintuitive, Hovig and Franklin, but lots of science is. Yes, being afraid of an oncoming bus is a learned emotion. Animals that are unfamiliar with cars and then are introduced to them get run over. Animals that have grown up with them are afraid of them. Period.

Lots of things that seemed like they were innate have been proven to be learned. You can sit around and think it's like that, but really it's like this. There is a built-in genetic reaction to things like big eyes, symetry, and depth perception, but these things are very few and far between. Not to mention good-art neutral.

Oldpro is saying he makes snap judgements. He's always made snap judgements. In his youth, they were often wrong, and now they're usually right. There is a certain amount of self-delusion to this, no?

If you spent your early years rejecting lots of work, and then sometimes coming to accept it after looking again, or learning something new. That's pretty much what I mean by intuition being the sum of reasoning that came before.



May 26, 2005, 8:45 PM

I didn't mean to imply that intuition is reasoning. Intuition is a perception without a priori reasoning. What I would suggest is that some aspects of intuition are based in prior experience. Some are not.

Last night I had dinner with another painter. We were talking about "the medium being the message", how people are substituting pixels for paint and assuming they understand something about the painting. I remarked about how I had just spent some time trying analyzing how big a "thumbnail" image had to be and what information it could convey. It seemed odd that "the thumbnail" should be important but I recollect the times I looked at my paintings in a mirror in order to get some distance on them. Well, as you can imagine we went around and around on the topic when he said, "Yeh, but it isn't going to fall off the wall and crush you"

In this media world we often tend to substitute an intermediary representation for the actual physical object and think we know it. This distancing, substituting pixels for paint, removes one of the primary experiences one can have with an artwork which Alesh, Oldpro and Hovig have all been alluding to. It is the non-cultural part of intuition, the primal response. I'm talking about a basic reptilian reaction, the fight or flight stuff. These types of responses have a cultural (in an environmental sense) component but is very deeply rooted in our subconscious.

In the sense of it actually happening, the idea that the painting would fall off the wall and crush you, is silly. The experience of an aggressive physical presence isn't so silly and exactly what I was alluding to previously when I described the war between Jasper Johns' "White Flag" and the DeKooning. The DeKooning was so physically aggressive, like a wolf with it's hair standing up. Very basic, primal stuff, no thought or reasoning allowed. So oldpro?



May 26, 2005, 8:51 PM

The DeKooning was so physically aggressive, like a wolf with it's hair standing up. Very basic, primal stuff, no thought or reasoning allowed.

It's perceived as aggressive because of a whole bunch of culturally learned stuff you're carrying around with you and perciving as innate.

Information is lost when a painting gets digitized, that's why it's less powerful. The higher the resolution of the image, the more of the original effect is preserved. I love the idea that nothing can replace the experience of standing in front of a really amazing painting, but if you imagine superhigh resolution virutal reality goggles and equipment, I think you'll realize that it's all just information in the end.



May 26, 2005, 9:01 PM

Hovig: thanks. It always fun to look. Mehretu I have seen quite a bit of and I find it slick and dull. Brown and Flynn are new to me. Brown, from the one pic, looks pretty awful, John Currin after a bad accident, with a heavy load of trendy "content" laid on. Flynn looks very thin and lightweight and "formalist" to boot. Is he hot right now? I never can figure this market out.

Alesh, I don't think you are thinking here. The bus is learned. Fear is not. It is not a "learned emotion", it is learning how to employ the emotion. There are way more "built-in, genetic reactions" than our ego-ridden selves like to admit to.

Also, if I made quick, intuitive ("snap judgement" is an implicit put-down) judgements when I was young and learned to make better quick, intuitive judgements later on, how is this in any way "self delusional"? I learned by looking. Isn't that what everyone does?

Yes, George, the Dekooning would certainly make the Johns slink off into the corner. But what's your point?



May 26, 2005, 9:11 PM

Alesh~ It's perceived as aggressive because.... Nope, this assumes you're paying attention to what you can capture with pixels, the look. What I am referring to is the actual physical presence the texture of the stuff that makes the image. It was like furrows in a plowed field, with chaff and old planks with bare rusty nails. After working construction for twenty years, I know how not to get cut.



May 26, 2005, 9:18 PM

Oldpro~ I was just using the DeKooning as an example. My point is that I think there is an area of experience, which I loosly define as "primal" where we can have an instinctive response which is not biased by assimilated culture.



May 26, 2005, 9:27 PM

Alesh~ Regarding digital imaging. This is another one of those areas I have a lot of experience in. In the 90's I worked for Cactus (now part of 3M) developing image processing software for large format digital imaging (like billboards). So when you say "I think you'll realize that it's all just information in the end" it's a nonsequiter. Remembering McLuhan, the medium is the message, pixels are phosphorescent light not paint, no higher degree of resolution will provide the same experience.



May 26, 2005, 9:46 PM

George I think just about everything we do is "primal". it is like the engine in the car. Everything else is auxilliary. But it is something for the psychologists and anthropologists to work out, not us.



May 26, 2005, 9:51 PM




May 26, 2005, 9:52 PM

hmm, maybe this will fix it



May 26, 2005, 10:00 PM

I'll get it, George. No worries.

Alesh: Lots of things that seemed like they were innate have been proven to be learned.

A huge amount, if not most learning takes place at an intuitive, non-conscious level. I say this as someone with ten years in education. The dichotomy isn't between intuitive and learned, but between intuitive and reasoned.



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