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total eclipse of the art

Post #579 • July 13, 2005, 10:58 AM • 52 Comments

Via an alert reader: The Daily Show covers an exhibition at the Broward Art Guild called Controversy. (No direct link is possible: look for a video entitled Total Eclipse of the Art.) It may take several minutes to download and Safari users might want to load it with Firefox, but it was totally hilarious.

Same alert reader points out that NPR's Diane Rhem will be discussing the recently mentioned Hiroshige show at 11AM EST, in, like, one minute.

Update: Try this link. Loads okay in Safari.




July 13, 2005, 12:45 PM

This topic is silly...

Some others suggested we discuss Greenberg,
I'll be more specific, how about starting here withClement Greenbergs last essay "Modern and Postmodern"




July 13, 2005, 1:15 PM

the "controversey" stuff is stupid.

It was his last essay on Modernism, George, not necessarily his last essay. I will be happy to discuss it but I have to go to the dentist.



July 13, 2005, 1:30 PM


" ...definition of Modernism: that it consists in the continuing endeavor to stem the decline of aesthetic standards threatened by the relative democratization of culture under industrialism; that the overriding and innermost logic of Modernism is to maintain the levels of the past in the face of an opposition that hadn't been present in the past."

So far this failed.
Second, the relative democratization of culture under industrialism was just the start. In the information age the democratization of the culture appears to be complete, not relative or marginal.

"..What singles Modernism out and gives it its place and identity more than anything else is its response to a heightened sense of threats to aesthetic value: threats from the social and material ambience, from the temper of the times, all conveyed through the demands of a new and open cultural market, middlebrow demands."

Well, if true this is a serious obstacle. The market place is the great arbitrator and the "patron of the arts" What is middlebrow taste?



July 13, 2005, 1:32 PM

Heh, that video is hilarious from end to end. Besides the obvious silliness, I loved how Alfred Philips at one point isn't quite sure whether his interviewer is for real or not, and suppresses the beginnings laugh. What was the deal with that sculpture that wasn't allowed to be filmed? What a riot.



July 13, 2005, 1:42 PM

Buzzi was the best part - she was being the Serious Art Person in front of Ed Helms, who, like all the DS reporters, washes people like that down with orange juice. I love how he follows her camera-right with his hand up.



July 13, 2005, 1:53 PM

What is middlebrow taste?

It is the taste exercised by the vast majority of "enlightened" (read educated) people. It is the best they can do because the cultivation the highbrows exercise cannot, apparently, be taught. It must be acquired for one's self, and it is at the same time easy and difficult to achieve.

This is of course elitist as it can be, and the middlebrows hate that. So they gang up and defend themselves, as one would expect, by attacking both the lowbrows and the highbrows. And they are successful in their defense/attack because majority rules and they are the vast majority of those who hold positions in the art establishement. They are so successful that they define "highbrow taste" as the middlebrow taste they are stuck with. Just as in politics, the ones who define the area to be argued about usually get control, so these wannbe highbrows have defined the area to be argued as the difference between their taste and that of a truck driver. Of course they win that one.

But they have lost the war. They are like hummingbirds feeding on saccrharin water set out by some cruel bird hater.



July 13, 2005, 2:31 PM

Middlebrow taste believes what it reads in the art magazines and the NY Times.



July 13, 2005, 2:50 PM

George, I think I understand you saying (#4) that Modernism has failed (in Greenberg's words) "to maintain levels of the past in the face of an opposition that hadn't been present in the past." A paragraph earlier Greenberg qualified this comment.

"Artists in all times, despite some appearances to the contrary, have sought aesthetic excellence. What singles Modernism out and gives it its place and identity more than anything else is its response to a heightened sense of threats to aesthetic value..."

Despite appearances to the contrary, Modernism survives to maintain...and so on and so forth. I resemble that remark.



July 13, 2005, 2:57 PM

Also, George, you claim that the democratization of culture appears to be complete. I would rather concur with C.G. and say that it is a "relative democratization of culture."

I am a contributor to culture, and I refuse to be democratized. I won't even take part in telephone surveys.

As to the marketplace being the "great arbitrator/patron of the arts," I wonder if CG didn't mean something different than you do by 'marketplace.' He again qualified that word with 'cultural.' "Cultural marketplace" is very close in definition to "middlebrow taste" I would guess.



July 13, 2005, 3:00 PM

And...I think you might have meant 'arbiter' not 'arbitrator.'

And I meant catfish's middlebrow definition as relating to 'cultural marketplace.'



July 13, 2005, 3:17 PM

I don't have cable, so I'll have to d/l the Daily Show segment. I'm terribly excited.

The discussion of the Hiroshige show was totally lackluster. Ah, well...



July 13, 2005, 4:08 PM

this is not on topic.
franklin, what do you think about this as a topic (movable museum):



July 13, 2005, 4:37 PM

When I said "modernism has failed" I was implying the "continuing endeavor to stem the decline of aesthetic standards" was failing. If it wasn't we wouldn't be arguing over Duchamp et al. The problem as I see it is not so much that Greenberg is incorrect in his perceptions but that his followers have failed to carry the spirit of his critical thought forward. Someone show me where "modernism" is leading the parade here, it just isn't happening.

Middlebrow taste is a problematic part of his argument. At what point does middlebrow taste become highbrow taste? Is there a line to define, or is this a gradual event?

Further, I would suggest that no critical position can rely solely on a perceptual aesthetic. I do not believe one can ignore "art as a form of philosophy"

I'll stand on my observation on the marketplace as the final arbitrator (the two words have essentially identical meanings) That isn't the issue. CG said "all conveyed through the demands of a new and open cultural market, middlebrow demands" He is referring to the marketplace, the galleries, the auction houses and any other venue where value is determined by money. It is my observation that in the long run, the marketplace is almost always right.

My remark about the democratization of culture appearing to be complete does not mean that every one has to participate. I am implying that for the first time in history, the average person, Mr. and Mrs. Middlebrow, now have the technological tools which allows them to participate in this culture

The real issue here is determining what questions need to be asked in order to carry forward the self critical dialogue? Just playing ping pong with middlebrow taste definitions won't do. What is wrong? In the past I have discussed Neo Rauch, primarily because I felt he was attempting to bring something back to painting. This was met by resistance by his detractors here. Ok, what we end up knowing is your taste is different than my taste but the real issue, the self critical dialogue remains undetermined.

This process has to be reflexive, self correcting. If one thinks art is going down the wrong path then one needs to understand how this is occurring and adjust appropriately. The process moves forward in search of the new, not for newness sake but in order to give free reign to ones self-expression.



July 13, 2005, 4:41 PM

Mek, I'm not to stringent about staying on topic, so float it and see if it takes. I'm busy with a grant application right now so I can't jump in just yet.



July 13, 2005, 5:21 PM

True, George, the endeavour has not come to completion. It is a continuing endeavour. Modernism has undoubtedly been in decline if it is a majority shareholder's percentage of the cultural marketplace that is at stake.

I am not Greenberg's follower. I agree with his written thought, and I carry that thought forward in the studio. The "critical position" is in so many words. Words. The words do not stand in for the artworks - poor reproductions. Neither does decent art stand in for the philosophy, never as a simple illustration of some profound thought.

And that's just your first paragraph.



July 13, 2005, 5:24 PM

"...the marketplace is almost always right..."

Might makes right, I suppose you're trying to say.



July 13, 2005, 5:36 PM

My answer to George's second last paragraph (#14), has been posted on yesterday's "CIA..." post, comment #43.

But I completely agree with: "this process has to be reflexive, self correcting." I just don't think plotting a reactive path to an inherently flawed argument is going to help me be reflexive, and it definitely won't correct itself, and it may even rein in self-expression.



July 13, 2005, 5:46 PM

George, highbrow art is seldom seen to be "leading the parade". When it does it is brief, because it is quickly degenerated by followers and attacked by those it has displaced or who can't hack it. Later, if we are lucky, some enlightened people make sure it is valued highly and put in musuems, and so forth, and some others use it to inspire and inform their own art, keeping things going. Cubism is an excellent example of this process.

The dialogue Greenberg is talking about is an art dialogue, artists making better art. This is being done, but great art is not made in the spotlight, as he liked to say. We have our own word dialogue right here, which is a good thing. We are being "reflexive and self-correcting". We may not settle anything but it is fun. And I don't see anyone else taking on the establishment.

Art is not a form of philosophy. There is no point in saying that it is. Art and philosophy are two different things, designated by two different words, which have different effects, probably use different parts of the brain, I'd say. One can have any esthetic one wishes, an esthetic which says the more red there is the better the painting, but visual art is visual. That's where the kick comes from. As Catfish so well put it: ""Understanding" is an abysmally dry state, compared to the rush of standing before great art." The question of why we attach such importance to art, what does it have or tell us that is so vital to us, is a philosophical question, as are many others, but that does not mean that art is philosophy.

Middlebrow and highbrow cannot be continuous. You either get it or you don't.



July 13, 2005, 5:48 PM

Ahab, Yes, the idea of self-correction is an ongoing process. The term "Modernism" is now a part of history and probably not very useful when describing what must be done now.

"Might makes right" is not exactly what I meant in regards to the marketplace.

Free markets are susceptible to irrational pricing. My comment was primarily targeted at the auction markets where prices can become irrational temporarily but over time tend to revert to the mean, where the mean is the "true value" as prercieved by the players. This is a very strong phenomena with considerable research behind it. In fact, at one point in the months after 911, the CIA opened a website for trading "terrorism futures". I actually saw it but the hue and cry from the public was so great it was shut down by the end of the day. The idea behind it was that the "price" would be an indicator of the probility of an "event". This was taken by the CIA quite seriously and the website was fully functioning and setup to handle real funded accounts
Another example would be the "futures" traded on the election outcomes, these also have a good track record of predicting the final results. So, in the end but not necessarily tomorrow, the pricing mechanism of the auction markets will decide what the culture considers "good"



July 13, 2005, 6:06 PM

George, you are right, the market is the only real judge we have, as screwy as it gets sometimes, and as "wrong" as it is about recent art.

I liked that CIA idea - it showed that someone was really using some imagination - but PC frenzy killed it real fast.

If you understand what Greenberg means by modernism (and I used to argue with him about it, especially about the mode of existence of "Modernism" as such) you will see that it is indeed up to date, perhaps always will be, because it consists of artist making better art against big odds.



July 13, 2005, 6:09 PM

The dialogue Greenberg is talking about is an art dialogue, artists making better art.
Well yes, the artist questions the what he finds problematic in order to make better art, and as a form of self-expression. These distinctions are arbitrary.

This is being done, but great art is not made in the spotlight, as he liked to say. We have our own word dialogue right here, which is a good thing. We are being "reflexive and self-correcting".

Regarding the geniuses working "out of the spotlight", for the most part, I don't believe it. I seriously doubt that there are a lot of "undiscovered" artists out there making "great work"



July 13, 2005, 6:09 PM

The dialogue Greenberg is talking about is an art dialogue, artists making better art.
Well yes, the artist questions the what he finds problematic in order to make better art, and as a form of self-expression. These distinctions are arbitrary.

This is being done, but great art is not made in the spotlight, as he liked to say. We have our own word dialogue right here, which is a good thing. We are being "reflexive and self-correcting".

Regarding the geniuses working "out of the spotlight", for the most part, I don't believe it. I seriously doubt that there are a lot of "undiscovered" artists out there making "great work"



July 13, 2005, 6:21 PM

George, These distinctions ar arbritrary? I don't get it. This questioning and reworking is the essence of art making. Nothing is more important. Or are you saying something else?

That McCourt is making steel sculpture up in the middle of Canada which dances circles around our "Great Modern Master" Richard Serra. I am pleased that he supplied me with a perfect example.



July 13, 2005, 6:38 PM

Franklin, Sorry for the double post, something wierd happened on this end.

Op, No, what I'm saying is that the examples given by Greenberg, while true in fact, represent arbitrary choices. This is ok, I like vivid clear color better then muddy drab color but I don't think one is better than another for making great art. There are always a lot of directions one can take with the intent of making better art.

Although I like McCourt's sculptures, I disagree with your assessment of them . I wouldn't say he is undiscovered or unknown, but maybe I'm wrong.



July 13, 2005, 6:47 PM

I am still lost, George. My only point was that Greenberg said that the dialogue was between artists and their art and others art - I may not even be entirely accurate. But what arbitrary choices are you referring to?

I didnt know about McCourt until a week ago. Did you? I never said that "great art is not made in the spotlight" meant that the artist had to live in a deserted opal mine in cerntal Australia. I meant that it is not made in the spotlight. I would even include someone as relatively well known as Olitski in that appraisal. Look at the auction prices you are using as your guide and you will see what I mean.



July 13, 2005, 6:51 PM

Many of McCourt's figural works feature halo-like forms. And Edmonton does have more than it's share of sun-breaking-thru-the-clouds moments. Could it be he is not the Genius Himself, but the prophet in the wilderness pointing the way? I know your hair is matted and your welding jacket looks like the rotted hide of a wild beast McCourt, but did you ever eat a locust?



July 13, 2005, 6:55 PM

There are plenty of really great all-but-unknown artists alive today. I claim one of them as a mentor. (Not McCourt) You can e-mail me if you need to know.



July 13, 2005, 7:01 PM

Oldpro, thanks for the compliment.
Ahab, stop making fun of my matted hair.
George, one of my favorite Greenberg quotes, written back in the 60's, I think, but appropriate today, goes something like (from memory, pls forgive errors)...

What is authentically and importantly new, comes in softly as it were, surreptitiously, in the guises, seemingly, of the old, and the unattuned eye is taken aback as it isn't by art that appears in the guises of the self evidently new. No artistic rocketry, no blank looking box, no art that excavates, litters, jumps, or excretes has actaully startled unwary taste, as have some works of art that can safely be described as easel-paintings, and some works that define themselves as sculpture, and nothing else.

It's not that I read this, then I decided to believe it. I believed this to be true from my own experience, and was happy to find that, in reading Greenberg later, he agreed with me.



July 13, 2005, 7:06 PM

The spotlight is always only so big. There are too many examples of great artists who did not enjoy such spotlight to seriously " doubt that there are a lot of "undiscovered" artists out there making "great work".
(unless we're enterind a Clintonesque hair-splitting definition of 'undiscovered' or 'great art'... and if that is the case, then please supply the legalistic definition of your choice)



July 13, 2005, 7:14 PM

Good quote, Matty. I remember this too, and I don't think you can be far off, at least certainly not in the drift of the messge. It may be from his intro to "American Sculpture of the 60s" which had the same kind of tone to it.



July 13, 2005, 7:18 PM

Awesome quote, McCourt. I've just discovered the newCrit "plain writing" page. I'll be preoccupied now for a little while.



July 13, 2005, 7:43 PM

OP.....question; if Greenberg were here today, what art would he be thrilled about??
ps. be nice to Matty.



July 13, 2005, 8:20 PM

Well, he would like the new Olitskis, I'm sure. he would probably like the new work of several people he already thought highly of. Anything else is guesswork, unless you want to give me a list of names and I can take a shot. There isn't much new he would go for, but then there never was. I would bet he'd like Matty's stuff. (And I am not being nice, I just think he would).



July 13, 2005, 8:41 PM

Elizabeth and OldPro, it seems a little dicey, speculating about what a dead person would like and not like.



July 13, 2005, 8:59 PM

It's a little dicey, but interesting, maybe.



July 13, 2005, 9:43 PM

OP, who are the several?? Greenberg had a built in I was just curious, thanks Oldpro.... it feels like artists are lost and looking for the 'new' NEW!!
how can I see Matty's work?? I would like to very much. E.
Olitski, I agree is a given.



July 13, 2005, 10:51 PM

Elizabeth, have you heard of the New New? It's a group of mostly Canadians, acrylic painters, championed by Kenworth Moffet.

Paste this into your browser and see for yourself.

He even provides directions to his house so you can take a look at his collection of New New work.

For a look at his theory of new newness, try:

You might like his style of writing, you might not. It is pontifical, but still full of interesting twists and turns. He was once the director of the Boston Museum of Fine Art. Clement Greenberg told me that Moffett was the first museum director he knew of who was fired because of his taste. I have no way of knowing if that was true, but Greenberg was fastidious about honesty over things like that.

In a nutshell, the New New are the only members of the "third wave of Color Field painters" who have equalled or gone beyond Olitski, Noland, and Poons. Using acrylic is essential for anyone wanting to go beyond. All this, according to Moffett, not me.

Sometimes Moffett sounds like he wants to be the New Greenberg. But that does not really make much difference. Read him and decide for yourself.



July 13, 2005, 11:05 PM

The term "Modernism" is now a part of history and probably not very useful when describing what must be done now.

I think modernism, as a term, has served well enough to label the most ambitious art of the last 150 years.. why stop using it now? Just because that best art has been pushed out of the spotlight by anti-modernism? (I write anti-modernism, as a much more appropriate term for post-modernism, which never really made sense... I write anti-modernism also because it's fun to pick fights, but that should go without saying.)

oldpro, remind me to get you to write the forward to my next glossy monograph, or at least a blurb for the back cover.



July 13, 2005, 11:34 PM

great, this is about semantics now. "MODERNISM" is the stupidest name for an art movement ever. It's like calling yourself "newness" without being tounge-in-cheek. But yes, it happened, and we have to deal with it. Art from that period (is it from the 40's to the 70's? no . . . you can't really put dates on it like that) is called modernist.

Post-modernism is not what comes chronologically after modernism, it's what conceptually comes after modernism to some people. We have no term for art of the present day, which is fine, since we don't know what today's art will be called. We can call it 'contemporary art', and hope that term doesn't stick to the actual work, somehow.



July 13, 2005, 11:47 PM

"MODERNISM" is the stupidest name for an art movement ever.

I nominate "Pre-Raphaelitism" for that honor.



July 13, 2005, 11:51 PM

I didn't intend for that "matty' to stick. McCourt, but I guess you don't mind. Sure, I'll write a blurb. Be glad to.

Alesh, Modernism as it is usually understood, dates from early/mid 19th C. On occasion I have made a case that it dates from the early Rennaissance, just for the sake of argument.

Catfish, why in the world would you direct Elizabeth to the NEWNEWs? I mean, aside from the fact that she inadvertently spelled it out. Clem had little use for them, polite as he was about it. As far as I know you don't think much of them either, do you?

Elizabeth, I can make you a list of the currently living artists Clem liked, but better yet, why not go to Terry Fenton's Greenberg site:

and see what you can find, or try to look up the Greenberg collection at the Portland (Oregon) Art Museum

If you can't find anything I can compile a list from the Gberg collection catalog in my office tomorrow.



July 14, 2005, 12:58 AM

wow and I thought I was being original (re;new new') hahahaha
guess not hahahahaha

OldPro, thanks so much...I'll look at those sites ...the list would be appreciated though if its not to much trouble.
Matty, I really like your work very much and your a fellow Canuck, EH! some of it reminds me of David Smith....especially my favorite 'A Modern Outlook, I also like The Abduction of Liberty' and Overture...I can see now why OldPro said good things about your work.......nice.
I wont call you Matty if you disapprove.
Catfish; thanks.....Im checking it all out now. I want to see what they r up to.
we artists need a new (no pun intended) name........we are lost without labels hahahahahahaha



July 14, 2005, 8:24 AM

Yes oldpro, I am not a fan of the New New. The work is often unnecessarily garish and its self conscious use of "new media" (acrylic) as significant to being the leading edge is no substitute for the real thing. But Elizabeth needs to look and read for herself. As I said, the claims for the group are Moffett's, not mine.

I too can make a case for Modernism's origin to coincide with the Rennaissance, not the impressionists. Once "man" became the "measure" of all things, modernism is one of the consequences that eventually developed. If civilization lasts another 10,000 years I'm confident massive "lumpings" will take place, so that distinctions we take for granted now may disappear. I make this point to remind those who believe it is important to jump on a new bandwagon every season that history will consume them by ignoring and eventually forgetting the up-to-dateness factor they hold so dear.

Alesh and Matty, I have long been troubled by the time-stamp inplied by "modernism" but use it because the people I talk with know what it means. Same way with "postmodern". In 1980 Robert Pincus Witten tried to leverage "postminimalism" to replace the then youngish "postmodernism". Some people appear to feel that being the one to name a movement is profound. I don't. So I agree with alesh that it is just semantics. It is hard to understand why substituting "anti-modernism" for postmodernism would improve anything. If it makes Matty happy, though, that's fine.

Franklin, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood is the oddest group I have ever encountered in art history. The strange name seems to "fit" because it doesn't fit. I'm sure there is some "context" that someone can cite to explalin how it got to be that way...

Elizabeth, as far as labels go, "New New" is not a very good one. It invites parody and seems light weight. It may be holding back the recognition those artists might otherwise receive. So (alesh and Matty), maybe naming is more than semantics.



July 14, 2005, 9:41 AM

Catfish, I think the New new is a NO no......and please dont be so serious , I was just playing about the labels stuff.......though it seems to me everybit of art 'is' labeled by someone somewhere...if it sticks or not.
(I have a playful side, that I will hold back on this blog)
I agree with the I dont understand how the anti is better then the post'...but if it makes Matty happy then fine here too.



July 14, 2005, 9:54 AM

YOU may not be serious Elizabeth, but I can assure you that the New New folks are as serious about their moniker as anybody ever was.



July 14, 2005, 10:13 AM

I am serious about creating art ........not serious about names though!



July 14, 2005, 2:06 PM


The more or less better-known pf the artist in the Greenberg collection:

Walsh (Ann & Jim)
Some very good things, painting & sculpture, by Canadians and by older European artists and a few remnants of what was probably a larger group of AE artists, including Pollock, Hofmann, Smith & Gottlieb



July 14, 2005, 2:08 PM

I hope my new handle might communicate that I'm not too serious when it comes to names either...

Unfortunately though, yes, semantics does enter into it, that's the difficulty we come up against when we want to discuss concepts using a common language... we have to agree on common terms, and common (hopefully useful, non-misleading) definitions for those terms.

(as an aside, I bet linguistics and philosophy professors must hate it when they'r teaching courses in semantics, and people say to them, "yeah, yeah, but that's just semantics, isn't it?")

I agree that one could certainly make a case for Modernism originating in the Renaissance. One reason I'm often amused by the term Formalist (which often goes along with Modernist) is how its supposed meaning (being that of 'giving predominant attention to how an artwork actually looks') could be applied to pretty much every great work of art in the preceeding centuries. But I'm happy to locate it's beginning, as others have suggested, as being roughly mid-19 century.

The problem with post-modernism is that it doesn't come chronologically or conceptually AFTER modernism, it is contemporary with it, and indeed can be seen to simply be a protest movement within, and against, modernism. Replacing 'post' with 'anti' pleases me only sofar as those suffixes have meanings, so thinking people should try to use the most appropriate one if they hope to make sense. (and since we're all thinking people here, that's why I would encourage the switch... some of us, thinking people we may be, are too much slaves to fashion to resist post-modernism, both the term, and the "movement".

op, it may be a while before I get that glossy monograph published... still waiting through my 'undiscovered' years up here near in the great white north.

Elizabeth, glad you like the work. Vive la Canada!

Fenton would make a much better "new Greenberg" than Moffett (from my experience of their writing, anyway)... in fact, i think Ed Harris should have got Terry to play Greenberg in that Pollock movie... he would have done a much better job than Hey Now Hank Kingsley, I'm sure.



July 14, 2005, 2:18 PM

As far as the MOST appropriate term for an art movement...

If you want to see minimal art, this is the movement for you!



July 14, 2005, 2:21 PM

oops, hee hee...
post and anti are prefixes, not suffixes...
ah, whatever... it's just semantics.



July 14, 2005, 3:31 PM

Matty; yes thats it exactly......."it is contemporary with it "......I think thats where the confusion kicks in ....
btw. the use of the Blue really is niceeeeeeee.
Oldpro; thanks so much........a few new names on that list ...thanks.
Matty ; shall we start a new movement and allow others to join, but they have to have a good sense of humour or they cant hehehe.....



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