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Post #572 • July 5, 2005, 12:04 PM • 29 Comments

Ken Johnson for the New York Times: How a Japanese Master Enlightened the West.

Now an exhibition at the Phillips Collection here illustrates the influence of Japanese prints on early European and American Modernists. "East Meets West: Hiroshige at the Phillips Collection" interweaves the print series that made Hiroshige famous - "The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido" - with paintings from the museum's collection by famous artists like Cézanne, Whistler and Braque, as well as by artists of less sturdy repute like Augustus Tack, Ernest Lawson and Maurice Prendergast.

It is not a great show as a whole because many of the European and American paintings are of indifferent quality, especially seen next to Hiroshige's work. But it is, nevertheless, an instructive and illuminating one.

Johnson doesn't realize how lucky he is to refer to anything in the Phillips Collection as "indifferent." Is there a Bonnard within Miami city limits at the moment?

Here's a nice observation:

In a sense East and West met as they were going in opposite directions: the East toward greater naturalism and the West toward greater abstraction.

This got me thinking - artists have been borrowing cross-culturally since the Greeks, at least, but until contemporary times regions have developed recognizable styles. That doesn't happen in the age of pluralism; a work of art could hail from Chicago or Shanghai with equal likelihood if it adopted contemporary methods without pulling from the artist's culture. Artists typically want to hook up with the movement with the most cultural wind in its sails. (That wind doesn't necesssarily correspond to aesthetic power - I'm talking about historical energy.) Right now, that wind belongs to a subset of contemporary art promoted by a handful of magazines printed in America and Europe, and its influence spreads worldwide.

But nature hates monoculture. Monoculture creates horrendous environmental problems because the envrionment would prefer to create mutants on a regular basis. Those mutants, if they don't die, find places in the landscape to reproduce, and result in a regional species. I'm wondering, what would a contemporary regionalism look like?




July 5, 2005, 12:35 PM

Very interesting post, Franklin. I had the same immediate reaction as you did about the "indifferent quality" statement. Those folks in DC live high on the art hog, and that kind of off-hand estimation rings hollow to those who wanderer in a cultural desert.

Furthermore, not only do we not see art of even this "indifferent" quality, we cannot expect to see exhibiitons with the didactic interest of "East meets West", quality or no quality. It is not a new idea, but we sure as hell won't see anything like it.

Your point about how the attitude and practice of international pluralism in art has completely destroyed actual pluralism is well taken, has been true for a generation and is another of those doctoral-dissertation-level subjects.

Let's hope your assumptions about nature vs monoculture are correct. Anything new and different would be such a breath of fresh air! Of course most young artists seem to know little or nothing about the art of the past, and are doomed to think they are on the so-called cutting edge even as they churn out the sameold sameold.



July 5, 2005, 12:40 PM

a "B" movie?



July 5, 2005, 4:13 PM

regionalism is outdated to the point of misunderstanding; contemporary regionalistic art would further compliment the irrelevant acts of abstract painting, modernist large-scale sculpture, and art as entertainment. it contributes nothing to the big picture, unless historically (super) informed and honest to its need to be regionally based.



July 5, 2005, 4:52 PM

Well, that [3] wasn't what I had in mind when I said a "B" movie, more like film noir. What you say is focusing on the most basic stylistic views and not quite how an effective "regional" locus could effectively occur. Typically, a regional style is focused on a group of artists, maybe but not necessarily centered on one, which develop a theoretical, formal and emotional critical mass which fosters rapid development of the work. The LA "Finish Fetish" group of minimal artists in the60. The Chicago school. More recently the Williamsberg group and the Leipzig School have made successful, if not always well received contributions. In particular the Germans have been very successful at this, both with the Leipzig school but also, earlier on, with the German n eo-expressionists. About this point I can hear Oldpro seething, but the fact is these groups have successfully carved themselves a piece of territory in both the marketplace and current history.

The model I am envisioning is not about making sale s, getting into a gallery, getting press etc, the process for these are the same everywhere and entails a lot of ass kissing. The American model, where "artists" are grabbed and promoted right out of grad school.

Now that we are wired in the 21st centur y I suspect what Franklin referred to as "regionalism" might also be formed in a distributed manner with artists at more widely spaced physical locations. The increase in granularity would conceptually be organized like the neurons and synapses of the bra in. This model might be able to foster continuing critical and formal development, after art school and before extensive exposure. At this point I think now the younger artists are gnashing their teeth. The truth is, you are in Podunk, not NYC so move your ass to a major art center and swim with the sharks. Or, look for an edge in a distributed world.ˇ



July 5, 2005, 5:14 PM

Re: #3: Outdated? You might consider that the first style that art history books refer to as "international" was the Gothic. I think instead there's a cycle - an innovation (real or apparent) happens locally, the innovation becomes widely accepted, and then a new innovation has to be made locally again to keep things interesting. I don't think regionalism would favor abstraction, modernist sculpture, art as entertainment, or anything else in particular unless someone had an especially viable take on one of those things. Maybe it's time to bring back the Gothic - who knows? We live in Gothic times in many respects. I think I feel another post coming on.

George: you make some good points as always. Here's another related idea: that we're entering a period of massive regionalism, that the Liepzig painters, the Royal Art Lodge, the SuperFlat group that collected around Takashi Murakami, and the like represent the future. And yes, the internet might allow groups of artists to form around sensibilities moreso than geography. Does that still make moving to a major art center necessary?



July 5, 2005, 6:04 PM

Does that still make moving to a major art center necessary?
You miss the point. For those who "want" the glamour train, but are stuck in Podunk bitching about how the "NY artists get all the glam", then shut up and move to the big city and give it a shot.

Actually I don't think we are entering a period of massive regionalism, What you are alluding to is the way it always has been, it is just that there are a lot more artists around now.

I think this whole idea can go astray if it becomes reactionary, overly conservative or locked in time. One of the problems here, and elsewhere, is while we are all vehement critics of this or that style of work or artist, we don't offer an alternative. It is all about offering alternatives. The success of the "regional styles", these "schools" lies in their ability to offer an alternative. If we don't like these alternatives, then it is up to us to offer another path.

This sounds easy, but it is not. It requires hard work and really tough self criticism from the group. Most aren't up to it



July 5, 2005, 6:24 PM

Doingmore's statement that " contemporary regionalistic art would further compliment the irrelevant acts of abstract painting, modernist large-scale sculpture, and art as entertainment" seems unsupportable - There is no apparant connection - and whether it is "honest" or "contributes to the big picture" is beside the point.

The larger point here is whether any smaller group of artists can or will get together for whatever cause or reason and make art that is truly and strikingly new and good, like the Impressionists, Cubists and the Abstract Expressionists did. It may be that this model is not workable any more. That seems to be the question posed, or at least the most interesting one.



July 5, 2005, 6:31 PM

George, we can't offer an alternative. Only talented arttists working under certain conditions with other talented artists can do that. We are just takling, which is what we do on the blog.

The subject is regionalism, which presumably means a distinct art style of some merit growing away not only from the large art centers but also away from the art magazines. It doesn't seem possible to me, but I fervently hope I am wrong.



July 5, 2005, 6:33 PM

i have a lot to add here - but do not have the time right now. great dialogue. stimulating.



July 5, 2005, 6:49 PM

Hmm, I was wondering about the use of "we" when I wrote that. I meant the plural of "one", the other we. Whatever.

I completely disagree with the notion that "one" can't offer an alternative While I meant this in the sense of the dialogues that can occur here, "I don't like this but I like this", I also meant it in the sense of what one tries to do every day in the studio.



July 5, 2005, 7:07 PM

Not sure i understand, George. Of course anyone can literally "offer an alternative". Obviously i meant offering an alternative which is workable. If you meant it in another sense that was not clear. Still isn't, actually.



July 5, 2005, 7:07 PM

Only talented artists working under certain conditions with other talented artists can do that. We are just talking…

Oh, I see. Actually we are writing which is substantially different from talking. The reason I comment here is because it allows me to avoid talking to myself. Seriously, these dialogs have the potential to push boundaries and expand our thoughts. So if we are "just talking" it will go around and around and around in circles. The same old meaningless chit-chat, just to break the loneliness of the studio.

Or maybe you meant, there are no talented artists down there?



July 5, 2005, 7:55 PM

Thank you for pointing out the difference between talkling and writing, George. That is a life-altering revelation.

However, you will have to clarify what a "pushed boundry" and an "expanded thought" might be. In my lexicon thoughts and boundries are not susceptible to those particular influences.

"Just talking" was not meant to be demeaning, only to imply that there is not much we can do to "offer an alternative" to the quite intractable situation under discussion. "Just talking", or "just writing", if that suits you better, is fine with me. I like it. That's why I do it. It doesn't have to change the world. Not right away, anyway.



July 5, 2005, 8:41 PM

Well, I didn't actually point out the difference between talking and writing. When talking, the words are in practice, temporal. They may be precise , often they are not, but we allow this in the course of conversing which is subject to rapid readjustment based upon the responses of the participants. Writing is solidified, semi permanent and as a result I believe we approach it differently conceptually. As such, this written dialog, this blog, has value by clarifying our own thoughts as well as considering the thoughts of others.

When I referred to offering an alternative I had two things in mind. One, specifically was about the practice, the work and ones relationship with it in the world. The other, was targeted at the general attitude that "this sucks" (pick your own target) I think it is just fine to dislike something, the particular problem that I have here is that that is as far as it ever goes. It comes off as whining to me.

So when I speak of offering an alternative, I'm looking for an example of what does work for someone here? It seems like it is easy to target all the stuff one doesn't like. Well, there must be other youngish artists out there making interesting work that one could offer up as an "alternative" to Mr. Yuk.

In my lexicon thoughts and boundaries are not susceptible to those particular influences. This is the issue, thought is not bounded. The boundaries are illusionary, mental constructs we use for security.



July 5, 2005, 9:48 PM

...the particular problem that I have here is that that is as far as it ever goes.

George, are you speaking generally? Because I meant to make the above as neutral as I could. Sure, you know my tastes, but I tried to keep them out of this today.



July 5, 2005, 11:10 PM

Yeh, I was following a line of thought spawned by your original observations. I was speaking generally, not about what you wrote above. In general, if I am responding directly to someone else's comment, I'll note it. Most of the time, I'm trying to write generally, to anyone reading.

I made the particular remark about alternatives because I think there might be other readers who are thinking, "well if he doesn't like X, who does he like?" It seems to me like the discussions die at "I don't like X" because nothing further is added as an alternative to provide a point of reference. I happen to think the internet is having a profound influence on the culture and that the old concept of "regionalism" is changing because of the internet.

At the core of this change is the ability to exchange ideas about what art can be. In spite of what some might say, it is about issues. Quality of execution is more or less a constant, something which one can learn.



July 5, 2005, 11:22 PM

ok now i see we have some theorists and historians here. interesting. regionalism would seem to me to be in accordance with oldpro's defination: "...which presumably means a distinct art style of some merit growing away not only from the large art centers.." there is a lot of this happening in my opinion (from my experience) in other locations and it starts with several chief artists, pimps, so to speak, and a large posse of underlings and art whores. this sort of community work together and play together. they do not receive press generally until the LOCATION in which they have squatted, taken over, refurbished..etc becomes hip, a commodity, a style, and thereby a real estate destination. can we say winwood? i say this from experience. i lived in williamsburg (in a loft with another artist. was a sewing factory, aka sweatshop originally and they left a lot of great old fashioned steam presses, etc) (of which we cleaned up the entire space in an exaustive attempt to make liveable ...until after a few years it got too expensive to live there anymore). many of my friends started dumbo. lets not even go there now. literally.

lets face the sad reality here - art anymore has become about the image of the artiist, the style, the loft, the live/workspace. the uber trendoid. the art gets lost in the lifestyle. one can only hope that the altruistic notion of aspects of regionalism can apply today. that is my current quandry.

to pick up oldpro's point: "...whether any smaller group of artists can or will get together for whatever cause or reason and make art that is truly and strikingly new and good, like the Impressionists, Cubists and the Abstract Expressionists did. It may be that this model is not workable any more..." I completely agree that that model does not work today, as there is nothing original anymore. the only continuum would be the notion of Challenge, meaning challenge what has been done prior and rearrange it's components.

as per franklin's comment about an upcoming massive regionalism "..will the internet allow groups of artists to form around sensibilities moreso than geography. Does that still make moving to a major art center necessary?" i agree and disagree. there has to be a common location where artists can see if they "click" in the flesh, not just cyberchat and exchange pictures of their newest creations. however, it is interesting to see how communities have formed (graphic design ones specifically) via the internet in this exact manner. very interesting that geography is not relevant for them. i do reiterate however, that in the fine arts there is most definately a need for a physical exchange and connection. there is also an historical aspect to the region where the community is based and an ongoing need to see the work of others (both contemporary and dead) and compare and discuss. trudging all over town to see stuff is part of it all. thus, Culture. so yes of course nyc is still where it's at. here is my point - artists cannot afford to live in nyc anymore. there is not any swimming with sharks, as they have gobbled up all the fresh water sources. they are themselves a branded iconographic object of art. completely marketable and always a big draw based on their name, not their art. in real life, artists have families, kids, real jobs, spouses, and within all that is the responsiblitiy of everyday life. they have to make ends meet but still be the artist that they feel compelled to be. success is a relative term. does success mean that you support yourself entirely by the sale of your art? highly implausible.

but i digress. back to the point - to me contemporary regionalism is too broad of a term b/c what makes something contemporary anymore is open to discussion. regionalism itself has a historical context which helps define it. interesting concept as franklin initiated, and interesting banter as well. you guys sure can kick stuff around. not sure if it ends up as yesterday's trash, or perhaps recycled material?

catch up with you later.



July 6, 2005, 12:37 AM

It takes several talented artists working in proximity (it coulke be internet proximity) who really care about art itself to come up with something vital that can be shared and grow within a small community, something that has the inner strength to catch on and hold outside of the mainstream and spread its appeal and grow.

This is the only way that art can regenerate. It is not predictable in detail and it is not possible to predict that it will even happen, because the forces against it seem overwhelming. If art is not renewed by genius if goes down the tubes.



July 6, 2005, 1:02 AM

oldpro said: It takes several talented artists working in proximity ... who really care about art itself to come up with something ... that has the inner strength to catch on and hold outside of the mainstream and spread its appeal and grow.

That is not happening anywhere on earth that I know about. Last time a dearth of this type occurred for a prolonged period of time, it came to be known as the Dark Ages.

When talent is dispersed, isolated from the competition and collaboration that typifies an "art scene", either it or its effect weakens. So the relevant model becomes treading water, not going somewhere. Perhaps it is time to learn to love treading water.



July 6, 2005, 10:13 AM

George, this has been gone over before, and I don't really feel like arguing, but it's not about issues, it's about talent. Without talent, or quality, issues are irrelevant in the context of a work of art. If you don't agree, fine, but don't speak for other people who don't agree with you. And if you think talent is something that can just be picked up or learned, I'm afraid we have nothing further to discuss. Nobody, by the way, is claiming issues don't matter, rather that they only do when the quality of the work in question makes it worth bothering with in the first place, as art.



July 7, 2005, 11:56 AM

what is talent? how do any of you qualitatively justify it? i mean, come on...! this is all so jaded that old pro is relaying collaborative coherence to the impressionist and the cubists; that was too long AGO! this argument is defunct. talent has so little to do with anything mindful! who cares if you draw the world exactly the way it is? who cares if your representation is observably comparable to the real thing? who cares that it's beautiful? what are you saying? is caring about art something that should be irrelevantly self-indulgent? then it's not about art, is it? come out of the cave and look at the world outside of the abhorrating 2-d cell.. everyone needs help and being pretentiously prepotent about artmaking wont do the job!



July 7, 2005, 1:04 PM

You are ranting, doingmore. Broadly declaring that anything you don't like is outdated, or whatever, doesn't further the discussion. If you have a coherent point or argument, make it.



July 8, 2005, 12:35 AM

"What is talent" in the context of regionalism? I think that at any one time there is probably a large segment of every community, a city let's say, that has many of the necessary genetic, developmental, environmental, relational, and [add other determining factors here] already aligned to produce many people of talent in a given artistic discipline. Many, most, of these may get close to discovering their gift and due to other overwhelming pressures spin off to other more lucrative pursuits, which can very easily be "qualitatively justified." Industry is very highly valued, more quantitatively really than qualitatively, unless the latter serves the former. Many others never have a clue that art-making is an option at all, never mind that they might qualify.

Anyway, it seems to me that what is most needed to turn the genius artist recipe into something delicious is a sort of catalyst - heat maybe. Pressure maybe. A wooden spoon? I propose an artist, older, wiser, yes talented. An artist who doesn't mind apprenticing another artist, younger, brasher, and talented.

I can hear the background question: "who gets to decide who's talented?" The people who meet each other and are impressed with one another's talent, of course. I personally am impressed with someone whose art challenges me. I get to decide who I think has talent. As do you. As we all do anyway but are just scared to say. That's the real qualitative justification.

Here's the regionalism link, sometimes we get lucky and two artists meet with the other's work. And, rarer, sometimes the older artist and the apprentice live in the same city. The student acknowledges that there is something to learn, the artist thinks it is worth expending effort on the student's behalf. Of course, often the teacher and student swap hats, learning goes both ways.

Common misunderstandings here: one, just because someone has never come across this sort of relationship doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Two, the talent at issue here has nothing to do with exact representation or beauty or conspicuous self-indulgence. Three, it has nothing to do with founding a 'school' or 'ism' - those handles come afterwards, hopefully long afterwards. Four, that isn't all of the possible ways which you could say that I've misrepresented talent.

The accusations of pretentious-ness would be better directed to those who feel that a global art must prevail. Did someone mention mono-culture? Those are the ones who are not open to diverse opinion, because opinion is passe to the current art establishment where only factuous statements are relevant. Rather, they would seek to seem diverse while engaging in self-congratulatory and "hermetic dialogue" (Anthony Lane, New Yorker, on Star Wars).

Welcome to the discussion, please stay and rebutt this to keep it open.



July 8, 2005, 8:39 AM

I don't find much in #23 to rebut. I think the apprentice system is underrated. Part of the beauty of it is that you have older talents recognizing younger talents that relate to each other stylistically, and they can help each other in ways that are unavailable to the more generalized education that goes on in the schools. I was mentoring someone for a few years, someone I now consider to be a fellow painter, and he soaked up information like a sponge. Because we were outside of the school routine, he got a ton of painting done.

...the talent at issue here has nothing to do with exact representation or beauty or conspicuous self-indulgence. It could have something to do with the first two, if they were inspired realism or beauty. (Self-indulgence pretty much fails in all media.) But you're right in that mere ability at these things doesn't necessarily indicate high artisitic functioning.

Re: #21 (who cares that it's beautiful?) I actually care quite a bit that things are beautiful. Not necessarily pretty, but beautiful. Talent for creating beauty is something to treasure. I would feel bad for someone who thought otherwise - what a poor world he must live in.



July 8, 2005, 10:03 AM

Very good, Rob.

Beauty has been beat up a lot in recent times. Even when the trendoids "rediscover" beauty, as happens every so often, what they show is usually merely gutless & pretty, thus inadvertently demonstrating once again that "beauty' really doesn't matter. It will have to work its way in somehow.

By "factuous" did you mean "factitious"?



July 8, 2005, 10:07 AM

I considered responding to #21, but wound up deciding it would be unprofitable. The sentiments expressed therein suggest a mentality so alien to my own that discourse seemed pointless. I simply cannot relate to such thinking in the context of art.



July 8, 2005, 10:10 AM

Oldpro, I expect Rob meant fatuous.



July 8, 2005, 11:08 AM

I figured you'd pick up on factuous. I read an online article the other day that tried to boost some student art by describing it as "thoroughly factuous." Alas, I cannot find the source, you'll just have to believe me. I took the meaning to be 'fact-reliant'. Typo or not, 'fatuous' or 'factitious' would have suited me fine in either case.



July 8, 2005, 11:41 AM

Factuous is not in the OED. It may be some kind of academic jargon, or just a mistake, or someone figuring no one would notice. it would be a nice construction for "relying excessively on fact". Then I could think of myself as factuous, and compliment you for being so.



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