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Considerest the beam that is in thine own eye

Post #762 • March 28, 2006, 1:26 PM • 140 Comments

Ever wonder about the source of the sex abuse scandals (what the hell, let's call it "widespread pederasty") in the Catholic church? Did it ever occur to you that it might be Botticelli's fault?

"Artists from Da Vinci to Botticelli have embedded subliminal images into their art for centuries," said [Michael A.] Calace. "In this case we found penises on crucifixes, anarchy symbols, swastikas, demonic faces and in modern works even the word 'sex' encrypted into the images. The works in question include modern artists' work currently on the covers of missalettes and hymnals that at this very moment sit in the pews of churches throughout the U.S. and on children's religious teaching aids."

That's the assertion of a new film called "The Rape of the Soul," to which Calace contributed.

"These images, unrecognized by the untrained eye, can be a ticking time-bomb to an individual who is unaware of their presence, especially someone who is already predisposed to deviant sexual behavior," said [Judith] Reisman.

Individuals like, for instance, the 237 investigated priests who worked under the Boston Archdiocese over the last forty years and in combination may have abused a thousand kids. The poor, delicate sensibilities of these clergymen, waiting for hidden imagery to come along and force them to molest children!

Yes, the rain falls on the just and unjust alike.

This is almost too stupid to note, but it's worth remembering that the puritans are always at work. Do your part to make sure that these folks are pissed off at all times. Proclaim your allegiance to pleasure, serve tea to demons, and don't take anybody's word for anything, least of all people who describe themselves as moral.

(Via Reason.)

Comment

1.

Marc Country

March 28, 2006, 1:42 PM

These images, unrecognized by the untrained eye, can be a ticking time-bomb to an individual who is unaware of their presence, especially someone who is already predisposed to deviant sexual behavior...

Ah, I see... it's the images that are "ticking time-bombs", not the child molesters. Cute logic.

2.

Jerome du Bois

March 28, 2006, 4:02 PM

Franklin,

Can you see a sequel based on Leo Steinberg's classic "The Sexuality of Christ In Renaissance Art And In Modern Oblivion"? Me neither.

Oh, and about tea with demons, may I remind you of Chaucer's advice?

"Therefore bihoveth hire a ful long spoon
That shal ete with a feend."

Take care,
Jerome du Bois

3.

oldpro

March 28, 2006, 5:21 PM

Oh, man, just like the old Sunday comics "how many animals can you find in this picture".

Don't these people have anything better to do with their lives?

4.

Franklin

March 28, 2006, 5:37 PM

After I move up north I'm going to start a metal band with JL. We're going to call it Feend. Jerome gets box seats when we play the Sun Devil Stadium.

5.

oldpro

March 28, 2006, 7:07 PM

Franklin, why do you choose to link us to idiotic statements by people who continue the useless yak about how "art is not about beauty". it is a non-issue. They wouldn't know either one if it bit them on the ass anyway.

6.

JL

March 28, 2006, 7:28 PM

Oldpro, I wrote today's post mostly as a joke, and am not really interested in reopening that debate. Nevertheless, I would like to note that the argument is that art is not necessarily about beauty. Not only is some art not beautiful, a statement one's own eyes confirm with regularity, but some art aims at ends other than beauty. Of course, a great deal of art is about beauty, just not all. And that's my last word on that.

7.

oldpro

March 28, 2006, 7:33 PM

Well, Saltz is not joking. And art is not "about" anything anyway. Unless these discussions are conducted with a modicum of educated sensitivity they are just tiresome.

8.

catfish

March 28, 2006, 7:34 PM

JL: You are absolutely right. Some art is not beautiful. It is called bad art.

9.

JL

March 28, 2006, 8:05 PM

And art is not "about" anything anyway.

I apologize for the sloppy wording. I thought I was using your formulation, but had read too quickly and didn't notice you were quoting Saltz. I'd agree that to say that art is "about" beauty is slipshod. I should have noticed that.

As for catfish's comment, it wasn't unexpected. I can only wonder if these conversations happen in the other arts. Back in my days in theater, I never recall anyone insisting there was only one legitimate variety or range of aesthetic experience, one valid way of pleasing. "All plays are tragic!" "What about The Importance of Being Earnest? "A tragedy! Or it's just no good!" Didn't happen.

10.

oldpro

March 28, 2006, 8:42 PM

It is not a matter of "legitimate", JL. Esthetic experience is esthetic experience. it is just one kind of experience. You are not referring to different kinds of esthetic experience but to different kinds of plays. Different kinds of art can induce esthetic experience, obviously.

This is why it is so difficult to discuss these things.

11.

Franklin

March 28, 2006, 9:12 PM

Saltz: "It's as empty, dogmatic, patronizing, misleading and limiting as saying art is about sincerity, wonderment or any other absolute value." I don't have any problem with that. But to say that art and beauty are not connected, that's incorrect. JL knows this already, and has tackled the topic with admirable gusto. Y'all lay off my man.

12.

JL

March 28, 2006, 9:20 PM

To borrow from the long-standing metaphor of taste, I'd say that I'd agree with you if you mean that both salty and sweet are tastes. But to the extent that I interpret the argument that "all art (or all good art) is beautiful" as something like "all food (or all good food) is sweet", then I disagree. I'm not simply talking about different types of plays, to put it another way, I'm talking about the different types of effects they produce in the viewer. Saying that art should properly only aim at beauty means narrowing the range of effects. As it happens, that narrower range is closer to my own sweet spot, but that doesn't make it universally valid.

Heck, even 200 years ago people distinguished between the beautiful and the sublime as forms of aesthetic experience. I don't think I'm going out on a limb here.

13.

George

March 28, 2006, 10:00 PM

If Picasso was anonymous he would be known as the "Master of the Furry Bush".

14.

George

March 28, 2006, 10:04 PM

One might say beauty is near the thigh of the beholder.

15.

JL

March 28, 2006, 10:37 PM

But to say that art and beauty are not connected, that's incorrect.

With that, I absolutely agree. To be frank, all I meant to do was a quick post noting with amusement the similarity between Saltz's intro and what I posted last year. I didn't mean to endorse everything he said in it, which went beyond anything I said or believe myself. I nearly made that clarification in the post, but thought it would kill the joke, so . . . and to all, a good night.

16.

George

March 28, 2006, 10:47 PM

Off Topic, but the Chinese are coming...
Pop Art

Spin Paintings

Liquid abstraction

Sothbys

17.

oldpro

March 28, 2006, 11:30 PM

I am not "with that", as you are, Franklin. because the statement does not make sense, so there is nothing to "be with". Art is not "about" anything, as your friend, to his credit, has acknowledged.

When you say "you", JL, I assume you mean me, but if that is the case you should not go on to imply that I said any of those things about art and beauty, because I didn't .

Again, this is the problem with htese discussions.

18.

oldpro

March 28, 2006, 11:32 PM

Thanks for "thigh of the beholder", George. Would "thigh of the beholden" be better? Maybe not.

19.

JL

March 29, 2006, 6:07 AM

Okay. Last time. Really.

When you say "you", JL, I assume you mean me, but if that is the case you should not go on to imply that I said any of those things about art and beauty, because I didn't .

I did mean you, oldpro. And I didn't imply anything, I was trying to understand what you did say and note where I might agree with you and where I might not. Specifically, I was referring these statements:

Esthetic experience is esthetic experience. it is just one kind of experience. You are not referring to different kinds of esthetic experience but to different kinds of plays.

Different kinds of plays which have different impact on the audience, not a single, generalized effect, just as different kinds of visual art aim at and have different kinds of effects. My point, made by an analogy to taste, was that we can differentiate between aesthetic experiences--that they feel different, have different impact upon us. True, they are all ultimately of the same kind--as my example put it, salty and sweet are both tastes--but they don't have the same effect on us.

20.

oldpro

March 29, 2006, 7:03 AM

All I ask for in any discussion is that everyone sticks specifically to what was actually said.

Salt and sweet are different. Red and blue are different. Art and theater and the rest have various "impacts" and "effects". These are recognizeable characteristics which contribute to something that "tastes" good or not good. We can differentiate these characteristic but the judgement and experience of "tasting good" is the same. Esthetic experience subsumes the contributory experiences.

21.

Franklin

March 29, 2006, 7:54 AM

That's a reasonable thing to ask for. Saltz's statement above is true exactly because art as a whole is not about anything. It might be true at Saltz's expense, but it's true anyway. The sentence is not meaningless. Reduced down, it says that art is not about any absolute value. Saltz's destination is ultimately mistaken, but that's a different matter.

Individual works of art can be about things. Michelangelo's Last Judgment in the Vatican is about a particular eschatological outcome as envisioned by Christian beliefs. That contributes interesting facts to it which reinforce its stunning success as a painting, success that it could enjoy on its own without any help from the narrative.

The discussion that JL doesn't want to reopen concerns whether something like Goya's Saturn Eating His Children can rightly be called beautiful. I think we finally agreed that the image is not beautiful, but the execution and techniqe and composition are. We experience visual pleasure as beauty, but it seems that we can do so even with a certain amount of ugliness or horror mobilized in a work of art. Certainly the Saturn is not beautiful in the same way that the Maya Desnuda is beautiful.

I'd like to hear about how people used to distinguish the beautiful from the sublime. I wouldn't know how to do that.

May I request a touch more hospitality from my regulars, please?

22.

oldpro

March 29, 2006, 8:45 AM

Art, as art, is not "about" anything. Obviously it can have subject matter and illustrate something. The sentence is not meaningless literally - it is not constructed wrong - and perhaps it would have been more polite to say "trivial" or "obvious" rather than "meaningless". As for "hospitality", I was referring to the Saltz statement, not directly to your friend JL. But if I have differences with your friends I am going to take them.

Whenever "beauty' comes up the "Saturn" seems to come with it. The obvious fact that an ugly subject can be rendered beautifully did not seem to be part of Saltz's little wheeze, and JL agrred with Saltz. I considered that criticizable, and I was further annoyed by Saltz's review of Walker. Sorry if I seemed intemperate.

23.

Feneon

March 29, 2006, 8:56 AM

Starting with the opening statement about the molestation of innocent catholics to the last few comments does open a question. Taste and beauty are subjective. No amount of authoritative rhetoric can change that. If deeds or "tastes" can be justified by whether it was good for the perpetrator, then it brings into question almost all conceivable moral or asthetic authority. Just not Authorship. Politics, consensus, culture reveals the profile of morality and taste. The ancient Carthagenians sacrificed babies. They must have thought it was the right thing to do, and the sight probably looked fine to some of them.
What's being sorted out here is who's view will align with, or inform those three topics (politic, consensus, and culture) But from what I've read here, it is subjective at it's base

24.

Franklin

March 29, 2006, 9:37 AM

Individual taste and morality are subjective but collective taste and morality are objective. Infant sacrifice has dropped off as a practice and the world is better for it. Thoreau once noted that people will leave off eating meat one day just as people leave off eating each other when they come into contact with more refined civilizations. You can find people out there who, in the name of respect for other cultures, won't come out against cannibalism, or more recently, who bristle at demands that all people ought to enjoy freedom of speech as we understand it in the west. But people who don't believe that some behaviors are better than others don't contribute to making the world a better place.

The stakes are much lower in art but the problem is similar. You can find people who say that taste is subjective, and there's no point in arguing about it. But people who don't believe that some art is better than other art don't contribute to making good art.

If taste were purely subjective it would be difficult for anyone to come into agreement about it. Consensus would never form, neither about what is good nor what is art. There are facts about art that cause different people to react in similar ways, sometimes despite wide gulfs in time and personal history. Those facts are the objective component, as are the reactions. Individual disagreements to those consensuses don't matter in the end, just as someone who doesn't like rasberries doesn't cause rasberry farming to go out of existence.

As for the molestation, the problem is not one of subjective attractions - it is one of consent. That lack of consent trumps any individual's pursuit of pleasure.

25.

Feneon

March 29, 2006, 10:40 AM

Make no mistake - I'm not defending rapers, molesters, seducers or the content of anyone elses subjectivity. My daughter always wondered as a child why I was so closely protective. Now, as an adult, and after she has taken a women's self defense course, she is aligned.

Taste is subjective, but mutable. That's why we are in discussion. Also why art can evolve and be pertinent to a new time. We are deeply aware of consensus. Our culture suggests to us that we are autonomus individuals, but watch what happens as the chemistry changes and one person encounters one other, then again one more, and so on until we are a crowd.
The collective mind is no joke. Just check out the trampled ones in Mecca, or the looks on the faces of the police at a protest march. Gangs in the ghetto, etc.

Objectivity can be the residue of contradicted subjectivity. Our new - reconfigured subjectivity.
Our memories are bio-chemically ,emotionally constituted. Facts cease to be facts when the new facts are authorized.

26.

JL

March 29, 2006, 11:25 AM

While I appreciate the urges for hospitality, I have to say that I'm not surprised that my post at MK wasn't greeted warmly. It's not well-formulated. As I said, I was merely joking around, and shouldn't have made it look like I was agreeing entirely with Saltz. As noted above, I disagree with him on the point Franklin noted, and I don't care for the overwrought style (though I'm not really in a position to criticize someone's writing.) My point wasn't meant to be "I agree" so much as "somewhere I've heard this before." I have my own criticisms of the line of thought it represents.

But I'm not going to bore you all with them. One thing I felt strongly after the discussion of the topic back then is that most philosophical talk about art misses the point (I'm not talking about any one person's work here, but the whole field.) I have a taste for it, and I can think of some ideas and insights I found interesting or useful, but in general it's not really well-suited to the topic. The nature of the field, or at least as it exists today, means that questions about definitions of art, statements about art that are universally valid, all that sort of mess, are almost inevitably what comes up. And apart from being boring, though that would be enough, the result is that what are the exceptions and minor cases end up at the center of the discussion when it would save a lot of time to simply say, "yes, there are these exceptions and side areas, but they're not the heart of the matter. Let's talk about that."

27.

George

March 29, 2006, 11:42 AM

Internal-External

#22 Art, as art, is not "about" anything. Internal.

#19 ...which have different impact on the audience... External

The "about" question is external, in the eye of the beholder. For the viewer may ascribe meaning or significance to any little squiggle or image but this perception resides in the viewer as a response to the artwork. A common non art example of this type of projected "meaning" or "aboutness" would be the oft spoken of perception of a "head" in the topography of the rocks on the Moon (or Mars?) which was seen as something "made by intelligent beings" but of course is just a lump of rock.

There is a distinct difference between what is internal to an art object and how it may be perceived externally. The image, even though it is internal to a painting, is still just paint. Its beauty lies in its visual resolution, its ability to resonate with the viewer, and this aspect is internal to the painting. What the image "means" or is "about" is not in paint but external to the painting, existing in the mind of the viewer to whatever degree the viewer is engaged by the object.

All external aspects or interpretations are subject to change over time, this is the external life of the artwork. How an artwork comes into existence, its creation, is a physical manifestation of an external event, the artists will, imagination sight, whatever it is which drives them to a resolution. It is common to use these "intentions" to describe "what something is about" but this is incorrect. Such a description is only about something which is external to the painting, in this case, the artists intentions (whatever) and while interesting, are not contained in the painting, which is, after all, just paint on a surface.

In the case of Goyas "Saturn", if the painting was ugly, using "ugly" to mean not resonant and unresolved visually, it would reduce the paintings affect on the viewer, using affect to mean the paintings ability to generate an external reaction within the viewer.

It seems to me that the problem is in distinguishing what is internal and what is internal to the painting. Oldpros quote is correct as implied to the painting internally. Everything else happens externally. The painting then becomes a vehicle or conduit which may or may not generate an external experience in the viewer

28.

George

March 29, 2006, 11:48 AM

Typos: should read:

It seems to me that the problem is in distinguishing what is internal and what is external to the painting. Oldpros quote is correct as applied to the painting internally.

29.

oldpro

March 29, 2006, 11:59 AM

Over the last couple of years we have had the subjective/objective discussion several times and we have managed to resolve it to everyone's satisfaction, or maybe just to mine, as I tend to be persistent, but I wish we could just stuff it into a few paragrapphs and trot it out when necessary.

Most of the discussion is usually a matter of settling on terms, such what does "subjective" actually mean, and clearing up the obvious thinking mistakes, such as "all taste is subjective", and I have no stomach for it at this point. I think JLs suggestion in the 2nd paragraph of #26 above that we just forget the side issues for the time being may be the best one.

30.

Marc Country

March 29, 2006, 12:10 PM

...most philosophical talk about art misses the point...it's not really well-suited to the topic.

This too seems a trivial statement:
"Most __________ talk about art misses he point", says just as much, whether you fill in the blank or not.

On the other hand, leaving aside the literal triviality of the statement, and just what that unspoken "point" might be, I find myself disagreeing with what I assume to be the intended sentiment of the statement.

How is "philosophical talk" less suited to art than other kinds of talk are?

What kind of talk is best suited to the topic (other than none at all)?

How can "philosophical talk" be so productive in delving into virtually any human eneavor, yet be judged impotent in the face of a little art?

31.

catfish

March 29, 2006, 12:13 PM

ONE MORE SHOT

Like all judgments, taste is subjective, that is, it is exercised by a subject. Can't be otherwise.

The question that haunts our time, though, is whether taste has an object as well. When I make a judgment of taste, do I make it about something "out there", or not. To answer "not" is to say there is nothing "out there" that matters. To answer yes is to say taste has an object, and the object makes a difference in the judgment taste delivers. If you answer "yes" you are accommodating the fact that taste is objective too.

And Franklin, if individual taste is purely subjective, then so is "collective taste", because it is merely a collection of subjective opinion. If you gather up a lot of stuff, the nature of the group is limited by the nature of each of its members, especially if the nature of every member is the same. You can't amass 100 oranges and have them become ... an apple!

It is experientially absurd to say nothing is out there that affects taste, that there is nothing outside the subject that matters, yet it is impossible to prove this assertion with logic and all that. You have to be smart enough to know what a thing looks like matters, even if there is little agreement about it. Indeed, little agreement that "the object" even matters.

The subjective aspect of taste trumps its objective aspect. If one cannot find pleasure in a beautiful object, then so be it, at least until that taste improves, corrects itself, and so on.

The trickiest part is when a subject reports knowing beauty, when in fact there is none "out there" in the object. We cannot prove this judgment wrong either. But it is wrong. And good taste knows it is wrong.

When all this finally gets sorted out and there is a consensus, museums stock up on the result. Just like Whitehead's God makes mistakes, so then do museums. So they deaccession occasionally, and they revise someone upward on occasion too. This shouldn't surprise anybody because the great god science follows this process too. But when science does it they call it "advancing", yet when collective taste does it, they call it proof that taste is "merely" subjective.

Get with it folks. As far back as Kant (and further) we learned that most if not all knowledge is a mix of subject and object. Don't tell me this is circular reasoning. That evades the real question. Instead, try to tell me the character of the objects that fill the best museums is of no consequence, that they could just as easily be filled with stuff from the junk yard. If you can tell me that, you will at least be consistent with the idea that taste is merely subjective.

32.

art soldier

March 29, 2006, 12:15 PM

The argument over designations of "about" or "internal" or "external" are beside the point of Saltz's text. He (and JL, #6) clearly only meant to say that art need not be deemed beautiful to be considered great art. It is a thesis that the past century of art has proven over and over again.

It's a "non-issue" (op #5) because it's obviously true -- except to those hoping to limit art's definition by pronouncing invalid those works that fail to evoke a pleasurable aesthetic experience.

Not only has art proven that it need not be beautiful, but that it can bypass a discussion of aesthetics altogether -- by, among other things, primarily existing in the realm of ideas.

33.

Marc Country

March 29, 2006, 12:25 PM

I've been reading a little Orwell, and he makes the very good point that confused or imprecise language inevitably leads to confused and imprecise thought.
Too much philosophical talk or reflection on art is certainly not the problem.
Personally, I think philosophical examination is precisely what does help us see "the point", because it helps us, for example, to see the distinctions of meaning between the various murky usages of words, like 'art', which refers to a kind of experience, an object, a professional or commercial 'field', skill itself, etc.; which, in so much 'regular' talk on the subject, get all mixed up together until nobody knows what they're really talking about anymore.

34.

Marc Country

March 29, 2006, 12:39 PM

That's an important point, ArtSoldier... "those works that fail to evoke a pleasurable aesthetic experience" are STILL works of art, despite the fact that they are failures.

This is as obvious as when I sing a song badly, I KNOW it IS MUSIC, just as I know (and everyone else does) that it's not very good.

Even bad art is art.

35.

George

March 29, 2006, 12:58 PM

Link to the ArtNet piece by Saltz on Kara Walker which I had not read until a moment ago. My remarks were not directed at what Saltz said but a general observation.

36.

JL

March 29, 2006, 12:59 PM

I try to get out and they pull back in.

Personally, I think philosophical examination is precisely what does help us see "the point"

Sure, sometimes. But the nature of logical statements is that they are universal. And trying to make universal statements about art leads to all sorts of contortions. I'm all for conceptual clarity. But the breadth required to make universally valid statements regarding all that we call art means that one spends an awful lot of time examining limit cases and likely will wind up demonstrating something trivially true. In other words, I find it more useful to speak in terms of tendencies rather than certainties.

As for other ways of talking about art, there are the usual--historically, critically, practically. Those at least are the first that come to mind.

37.

Marc Country

March 29, 2006, 1:21 PM

"I try to get out and they pull back in."
Take it as a compliment, JL.

"...make universally valid statements regarding all that we call art..."
I agree that this would be pointless... when I make a statement about art as 'art', as 'an experience', I do not mean to state anything about every art 'object', or anyone's art 'career', the "art of motorcycle maintenance", etc... I think it's important to specify which "ART" one's refering to, because they are not all interchangable. Philosophy is particularly suited to inquiry into what a thing is 'in itself', which to me does seem well suited to the subject of art experience, which occurs in the human mind, and exists for its own sake.

"As for other ways of talking about art, there are the usual--historically, critically, practically. Those at least are the first that come to mind."

Granted, there are those 'usual' ways you list, alongside the philosophical, among what are an almost infinite unlisted number of ways you could talk about art (sociologically, psychologically, politically, etc.) But are any of these particularly "better suited" for the task, or do they all just focus on pet aspects?

We're all coming to the conversation a little late, of course... David Smith already nailed it, over 50 years ago:
"To understand a work of art, it must be seen and perceived, not worded.
Words can be used to place art historically, to set it in social context, to describe the movements, to relate it to other works, to state individual preferences, and to set the scene all around it.
But the actual understanding of a work of art only comes through the process by which it was created – and that was by perception."

38.

Franklin

March 29, 2006, 1:26 PM

Catfish #31: ...if individual taste is purely subjective, then so is "collective taste", because it is merely a collection of subjective opinion. If you gather up a lot of stuff, the nature of the group is limited by the nature of each of its members, especially if the nature of every member is the same.

I liken it more to the blind men and the elephant. Each has a subjective impression of the elephant's shape. All of them together have a more complete picture. As the number of blind men increases, their collective impressions converge on a representation that matches an objective elephant pretty well. That's consensus, and why I say that collective taste is objective. "More objective" would do.

Art Soldier #32: [Saltz] (and JL, #6) clearly only meant to say that art need not be deemed beautiful to be considered great art.

Saltz, yes. JL, I don't think so. The question is "be considered great art by whom?" A lot of people have talked themselves out of art's connection to beauty. I believe that if your eye is good, you detect greatness as beauty. If you've disconnected the two, you detect greatness as being interesting. Many people with high status jobs in the art world do so, but it's a perversion of taste that they don't apply to any other creative effort except literary ones.

Words have limits. This is true for art and all other topics. It's useful to go through the exercise of using them anyway, in order to find out what we can know.

39.

George

March 29, 2006, 1:35 PM

...clearly only meant to say that art need not be deemed beautiful to be considered great art. Yes.

40.

j

March 29, 2006, 1:42 PM

ok so lets assume that all this is related to post-

so all this is about how seen art affects the viewer. safe to say

so good describes responsibility?

concensus defines what is seen, or celebrated?

so if you are any good, you will be seen by those interested, looked at by those who are there, and the effect will be unattributeable to any one thing.

sense and coherence not withstanding, good luck with the blog panel

41.

Marc Country

March 29, 2006, 1:43 PM

The question is "be considered great art by whom?" Yes.

42.

Marc Country

March 29, 2006, 1:52 PM

Sense and coherence, like beauty, is clearly in the eye of the beholder.

43.

George

March 29, 2006, 1:53 PM

By whom? By a consensus of the ages of course, what else?

44.

art soldier

March 29, 2006, 2:04 PM

#34 That's an important point, ArtSoldier... "those works that fail to evoke a pleasurable aesthetic experience" are STILL works of art, despite the fact that they are failures.

Ha, ha, very funny, but I wrote (#32):

He (and JL, #6) clearly only meant to say that art need not be deemed beautiful to be considered GREAT ART.

That is to say: assigning value to a work of art is not reliant on a judgment of beauty.

Franklin #38: I believe that if your eye is good, you detect greatness as beauty.

This is where we essentially disagree. I would argue that a "good eye" is merely one tool that can be used in judging an art work's value (i.e., add "good brain" to the list). Your assertion would invalidate the value of much of the major artistic movements of the 20th Century -- especially those which don't even engage the audience on an aesthetic level (namely, conceptual art).

The question is "be considered great art by whom?"

The answer is: you and I, or anyone involved in a value judgment of a work of art. The fact that the general consensus of the international art community (by recognizing as 'great,' numerous works of art that they would simultaneously not term as 'beautiful') happens to agree with me, and not you, is irrelevant.

45.

George

March 29, 2006, 2:20 PM

Can an artwork be beautiful and not be "great art" You betcha.

46.

that guy

March 29, 2006, 2:30 PM

Catfish for President!

47.

Franklin

March 29, 2006, 2:30 PM

Your assertion would invalidate the value of much of the major artistic movements of the 20th Century -- especially those which don't even engage the audience on an aesthetic level (namely, conceptual art).

I'm okay with that.

Can an artwork be beautiful and not be "great art" You betcha.

Sure. Can it be great and not beautiful? No. Interesting, maybe.

48.

George

March 29, 2006, 2:40 PM

#47 Can it be great and not beautiful? No. Interesting, maybe.

Then when an artwork is great, it's beautiful, but since "being beautiful" alone cannot insure greatness (by the earlier argument) it is only a quality of some great art unless you are willing to accept that greatness imparts beauty.

49.

Franklin

March 29, 2006, 2:43 PM

I said it more clearly when I said that a good eye detects greatness as beauty.

50.

George

March 29, 2006, 2:53 PM

You would then include Duchamp I assume?

51.

Franklin

March 29, 2006, 2:56 PM

Include him how?

52.

George

March 29, 2006, 3:05 PM

great art

53.

Franklin

March 29, 2006, 3:12 PM

I finally got to see the Large Glass at the PMA in February and it rather impressed me. His straight paintings, eh. The little portfolio/box things were nice, but not when put too close to Cornells.

54.

George

March 29, 2006, 3:14 PM

Cornell helped assemble the little portfolio boxes

55.

oldpro

March 29, 2006, 3:21 PM

Most of this discussion would be clarified and elevated by a good dose of definition of terms. It would also help if people would simply refer to their own experience and believe in it.

If Duchamp and the goddamn pisspot get into this that makes two old subjects that have been rerun here over and over, and I will stay off the air for the duration.

I have a seminar to teach anyway.

56.

Franklin

March 29, 2006, 3:22 PM

That makes sense. I haven't answered your question yet, though. If there are degrees of greatness, the Large Glass is scraping the bottom of great, or the top of whatever category is the next one down. The rest I saw, no.

57.

Franklin

March 29, 2006, 3:23 PM

#56 @George, of course.

58.

George

March 29, 2006, 3:47 PM

My only point in bringing up Duchamp (forget the pisspot for now) was that he ushered in another way of considering what was art. I think it is a mistake to assume he was wrong, that everything which followed, will end up being devalued or discarded. Certainly the tastes of some here are offended by his work and they will dismiss it out of hand. However there are others, including a new generation of artists and viewers who accept Duchamp as part of history, part of the norm for great art. This opinion is not going to go away, some people will like it and some will hate it, but you also might have the same polarization towards abstract art.

59.

Franklin

March 29, 2006, 4:29 PM

Duchamp's work has had an enormous impact on the course of art. The "new generation of artists and viewers who accept Duchamp as part of history" was already active by the mid-sixties. The market has duly cashed in on him. It will go away like everything goes away in the art world - becoming absorbed into history and making itself available for further exploration, without the trappings of history. Whether that subsequent work is any good or not is an open question. Lots of people believe in failed ideas.

60.

George

March 29, 2006, 5:02 PM

#59 F. It will go away like everything goes away in the art world - becoming absorbed into history and making itself available for further exploration, without the trappings of history.

I'd agree on the part about being absorbed into history. I would also suspect that any artist which has held our attention for 50 or so years has probably insured a place in history, whether or not we like the work. I also think the artists who follow, who build upon an earlier artists work can raise the perceived importance of the earlier artist. Picabia-Polke come to mind.

I guess I just think it's not very interesting to ignore what I described as the exterior world, the way they are percieved by the viewing audience and the culture.

61.

Franklin

March 29, 2006, 5:21 PM

Caravaggio fell beneath serious consideration for nearly three centuries until his reputation was rehabilitated. Six decades of fame might mean nothing.

It may be interesting to follow the exterior world, but I find it more interesting to follow the art itself. To each his own.

62.

George

March 29, 2006, 5:45 PM

Six decades of fame might mean nothing.

I wouldn't bet on it.

63.

Franklin

March 29, 2006, 5:47 PM

I wouldn't bet on the opposite.

64.

oldpro

March 29, 2006, 6:02 PM

George, it is the blurring of catagories that dirives me crazy on this blog. There is a difference between art history and art. . Duchamp is just not much of an artist. The fact that we took him so seriously for so long is art history, and a symptom of how we have gone wrong.

That's all I want to say on the subject. I am really bored with it.

65.

Marc Country

March 29, 2006, 11:23 PM

Re: #44
I'm glad to see Art Soldier exhibits a better sense of humor than of aesthetics.

The obvious questions that springs up, when people talk about the notion that "great art" doesn't have to "succeed aesthetically (ie. artistically)", is, why refer to it as art? Doesn't that just make it more complicated to talk about? If there is a conceptual work that you admire, you can probably explain pretty well why you like the concept that it illustrates... this is not something that you could do with a great work that you admire aesthetically. Doesn't the difference in types of experience seem notable?
If the effect, however "great" it may be, is not an aesthetic effect, but a different kind of effect, say, political, conceptual, philosophical, intellectual, psychological, etc., why not, for the sake of clarity, call it "great politics", "great philosophy", "great psychology"? Why should we use the word "art" to describe non-aesthetic things, when we have other words which are much more appropriate?

"'cuz everyone else is doin' it", is not a good enough answer. Not for me, at least.

66.

oldpro

March 29, 2006, 11:28 PM

Except to add, at the risk of repeating myself for the umpteenth time, that "great art" can only be the art that does it for you, because if you have not directly experienced the art you have to take its "greatness" on faith. The experience is the "proof", if you will. All discussion of the relative value of art objects takes place outside of this experience and is, or perhaps should be, primarily directed toward pointing to art that can provide this experience. The experience is everything. Subjective or objective is beside the point.

67.

oldpro

March 29, 2006, 11:30 PM

Didn't we do this "on the same wave length at the same time" thing once or twice before. Marc?

68.

Franklin

March 29, 2006, 11:33 PM

Yes, you did. It's a little scary.

69.

George

March 30, 2006, 12:11 AM

One of the great achievements in art during the twentieth century was an expansion of its aesthetic, what art could be. An expansion still includes all of the previous definitions. The modern world is not the same as it was 100 years ago, it seems fitting that art would change as well.

There is no reason why anyone should agree to one approach or the other but it seems somewhat silly to pretend the other does not exist because it has changed how people do, in fact, have an aesthetic experience. Just because someone else does not is only an indication that there are differences in taste.

70.

Marc Country

March 30, 2006, 12:45 AM

I'd say "Great minds think alike", but I'd be begging the question, "... Considered great by whom?"...

So, I'll just say, if I've gotta share a wavelength, I'm glad it's with you, oldpro... There are a lot of nuts out there.

71.

Marc Country

March 30, 2006, 12:55 AM

Glancing back to the original topic, it does seem like maybe the Catholic clergy's fixation on images of a bloody, loinclothed, bound and langorous young jew don't exactly help their particular predilection...

(I never understood why they're called 'Catholics' anyway... are they really addicted to cats? They should change their name to the Boyholic Church instead.)

72.

jordan

March 30, 2006, 5:01 AM

Try Lewis and Massengale if your into incoherent pathos.

73.

oldpro

March 30, 2006, 10:43 AM

George, with all due respect, #69 is a type specimen of why it is so difficult to discuss "think" subjects on the blog.

No aesthetic "expanded"; the phrase is essentially meaningless. "what art could be" did not change, not much anyway, but "what could be art" did. See the difference? The modern world has changed, and art has changed, but this did not change the substance of aesthetic experience, despite that more is now allowed to become a source for it. And "how people have an aesthietic experience" has not changed, just what is permissible to be considered for it. And, furthermore, "differences in taste", which have always been there, have nothing to do with the nature of aesthetic experience, they are only varied ways of getting to it.

Answering something like #69 becomes little more than an exercise in rethinking it, and this puts a damper on discussion, for me, anyway.

74.

art soldier

March 30, 2006, 11:01 AM

Franklin: In your artist statement you write:

My particular interest in painting is the response to the observed world and the translation of that response onto a surface.

This is not altogether different from what I believe to be the meaning of art: The emodiment, through form, of human truth. But if art is indeed a translated response to the observed world (or the emodiment of human truth), then is it not possible that human truth is not always beautiful; or, to use your terminology, that the observed world involves more than just beauty?

Is there not value in art's ability to enable empathic comprehension of more than just beauty, by illuminating the complexities of the human condition? Or, is beauty to be defined so vastly as to include all human experience (such as pain, suffering, or the grotesque), thus rendering its meaning overbroad and useless? Must pain and suffering be experienced as beautiful in order to qualify as great art? Or, do you deem as valueless any form of art that refuses to insist on a reductive view of humanity -- one where only beauty exists?


M.C. and O.P.: You're right, because you're right, because you're right, because ... well ... obviously, you're right.

(they respond, gleefully in unision): Yes! Thank you! But, we knew that already.

75.

oldpro

March 30, 2006, 11:28 AM

Soldier, go to a work of art of any kind that you really like, stand in front of it, and think about what happens when you look at it . That's what art is, and that's what art does. Nothing more.

76.

Marc Country

March 30, 2006, 11:38 AM

Soldier, go to a work of art of any kind... Damn, OP beat me to the post... gotta synchronize watches...

77.

Marc Country

March 30, 2006, 11:50 AM

People don't put up with all this fuzzy, bullshit thinking in the other arts, in music, theatre, literature, etc....
if it's not delivering pleasure, these folks know enough to dump it...
Unfortunately, the vanity of the "contemporary art world" allows it to become the rubbish bin for the other arts...
Bad performance? Can't sell tickets? Put it in the art gallery! People there don't care about pleasure any more ('cuz they're, like, advanced and sensitive and con-cep-tu-al and stuff).

78.

Franklin

March 30, 2006, 12:11 PM

AS, in answer to all of your questions at once, pain, suffering, and ugliness remain just that unless the artist presents them artistically. That artistry requires a particular handling, and a good eye identifies its greatness as beauty, despite the subject. Raymond Chandler once had a student who came in and started reading a horribly droning story until he cut him off. When the student protested that the work was about boredom, Chandler advised him, fine, write about boredom, but don't be boring.

79.

olddpro

March 30, 2006, 12:32 PM

But Marc, they do care about pleasure. Pleasure is a danger sign. If they get pleasure from it they think there must be something wrong with it.

80.

art soldier

March 30, 2006, 12:37 PM

#78 pain, suffering, and ugliness remain just that unless the artist presents them artistically

Of course, I agree, this is obvious. But you fail to make a connection between "artistically" and "beautifully." Your comment that "a good eye identifies its greatness as beauty" only repeats your assertion, but does not explain why you believe that artistry is required to evoke beauty.

When Chandler advises "don't be boring," it's not the equivalent of saying "create beauty." If you're arguing that art requires transendence of its subject (i.e., about boring, but don't be boring), and I would agree, then why must its transcendence always result in beauty to be of value?

I would suggest that "artistically" is the transcendence (and I'm using the word very loosely here) to truth, and that truth and beauty are not equivalent. This is what Saltz meant when he wrote that "Keats was wrong: Beauty isn't truth, or truth beauty."

81.

Marc Country

March 30, 2006, 12:43 PM

Jesus wept.

82.

oldpro

March 30, 2006, 12:45 PM

Truth is truth, and beauty is beauty. they are different words. they have different meanings. Go look them up. Geez!

83.

art soldier

March 30, 2006, 12:45 PM

#79, O.P.: If they get pleasure from it they think there must be something wrong with it.

Not true in my case, or that of Saltz. He wrote, in the same article:

"Maybe the people clamoring for beauty are just playing yin to the yang of all those blinkered academics who automatically disdain anything beautiful."

Notice that he's separating himself from those "blinkered academics" who disdain beauty. He's not arguing that great art cannot be beautiful, but that it doesn't always have to be so.

#75, O.P.: Soldier, go to a work of art of any kind that you really like, stand in front of it, and think about what happens when you look at it . That's what art is, and that's what art does. Nothing more.

This only seems to affirm my suggestion that beauty is not a prerequisite for such an experience to occur.

84.

art soldier

March 30, 2006, 12:51 PM

#82: Truth is truth, and beauty is beauty. they are different words. they have different meanings. Go look them up. Geez!

O.P., you do realize that you're agreeing with Saltz (and I), right? And that this distinction (between beauty and truth) is at the crux of his argument?

85.

Marc Country

March 30, 2006, 12:52 PM

... and wept.

86.

Franklin

March 30, 2006, 12:58 PM

When Chandler advises "don't be boring," it's not the equivalent of saying "create beauty."

Yes it is. He's talking about craftsmanship and energy as it applies to writing. Those qualities register as beauty.

But you fail to make a connection between "artistically" and "beautifully."

I wouldn't have to if we were talking about music, cooking, ice dancing, flower arrangement, or every other creative effort in the world besides visual art, and I believe that the exception is a longstanding, widespread aberration of taste.

why must its transcendence always result in beauty to be of value?

The subject isn't transcended, it's represented, well or poorly.

87.

olfpro

March 30, 2006, 1:16 PM

I don't know that I am agreeing with anyone, Soldier, but if I am, that's fine with me.

88.

oldpro

March 30, 2006, 1:35 PM

Soldier, I missed your #83.

I'm pleased that Saltz said that about "blinkered professors".

There is no specifiable prerequisite for esthetic experience. if you make "beauty", as a word, equivalent to what is necessary for esthetic experience, it is a simple tautology. That is, what is necessary for esthetic experience is necessary for esthetic experience. This is pointless, obviously.

The problem here is that we are not talking about beauty. We are thrashing about with the old modernist dictum that subject matter and rendering need not be nice looking or pleasant or beautiful, according to conventional notions of these qualities, for the art to be good art. This has been settled long since and is not an interesting subject for discussion.

89.

art soldier

March 30, 2006, 1:36 PM

#86 I wouldn't have to if we were talking about music ...

Yes, you would (and please do try, because the connection has yet to be made). The history of Modernism is the history of art, music, and literature that separated itself from the necessity of beauty. Consider Picasso, Schoenberg, and Joyce, respectively.

In debunking the assertion that "art is beauty," I lovingly refer to the oldpro-ian defense (#82):

Art is art, and beauty is beauty. they are different words. they have different meanings. Go look them up. Geez!

or, to be clearer:

Artistically is artistically, and beautifully is beautifully. they are different words. they have different meanings. Go look them up. Geez!

90.

Franklin

March 30, 2006, 2:14 PM

I didn't say that art is beauty. Modernism is such a broad term that it can't be said to have done anything specifically, but the modernist/formalist/abstract painters and sculptors to whom I gravitate certainly didn't separate with the necessity of beauty.

91.

oldpro

March 30, 2006, 2:19 PM

On the other hand, Soldier, saying that whatever becomes good art becomes beautiful, despite content, rendering and conventional notions of beauty, although still ultimately tautological, can be an interesting point to make. Sort of interesting, anyway.

92.

ahab

March 31, 2006, 12:38 AM

I read an article awhile back about how American vintners were trying to create a standardized quick reference chart for determining the quality of a bottle of wine - by defining terms and measuring chemicals and polling tasters and the like. American wine business wants some scientifically proven marker for quality, so it can bank on investments with confidence, I presume. Surely the men and women of the trade drink plenty enough wine to know when the palate says it is good; but either they don't trust their own noses or they don't trust one another to tell the truth should someone actually know the difference.

Ze French, claimed the article, hwants nohsing too do weeth soich vulgritie (not that they don't like a splash of vulgarity here and there). They would rather retain their traditional, though surprisingly non-hierarchical and somewhat arcane, system of regional tastes. There is presumably a more complicated political game amongst wine brewers, bottlers, distributors and retailers in France as result (everyone's out get the big buck), but to say it's a good oaky red wine if it tastes like a good oaky red wine does seem better suited to the nature of drinking and enjoying the stuff.

Apprehending beauty isn't so different. There's no argument to be won or lost about what is beautiful and what is not - no sliding scale with pretty on one end and sublime on the other. "Beauty" is as weak a word as "Art" but the kick in the face experience of beauty, should a person recognize it, is an undeniable event.

When I see real beauty, I stop in my tracks and stare (sometimes the kick in the face comes from my wife), and I don't dither about whether it is the real thing or not, or bicker with myself about what kind it might be, but just drink it in. Funny how the exact same thing happens when I see good art. When I taste and see that it is good, or beautiful, it just is. Words be damned.

93.

Marc Country

March 31, 2006, 3:06 AM

A few damned words from Royden Mills, sculptor:

Art embodies freedom and creativity if you bring it back to its essence. It has never been more important
to use this freedom to slow people down and remind them to contemplate life. Beauty is the bridge to this oppressed skill. Natural and artistic beauty stills us, brings us to contemplation, because we drop our willing, our desires, in view of a thing-in-itself.
A major problem I see with a lot of contemporary art is that it requires the viewer to decode its visual narrative structure, in most cases it is admittedly impossible to understand the work. It is not expressing an emotion, human experience, or idea, but is a literal/illiterate compilation of references. The moment of understanding or value to the viewer comes from reading the vague and standardized statement of the artist's intentions on adjacent wall. Does that strike anyone as a sad state of affairs? It is no wonder that art is becoming more specialized, and removed from the consciousness of the general public.

94.

oldpro

March 31, 2006, 12:56 PM

#92 & #93 are entirely suitable last words on the subject, in my humble opinion.

95.

George

March 31, 2006, 1:03 PM

Hogwash, in my humble opinion of course.

96.

art soldier

March 31, 2006, 3:37 PM

In accordance with the wisdom displayed in #95, and in contrast to the assertion in #94:

#92: It is the most unremarkably dull cliché imaginable to declare that one responds strongly to beauty. Nor does it affirm a connection between art and beauty. Saltz, in his 'idiotic' column, explains: "Saying art is about beauty is like saying 'I'm for children.' Everyone loves beauty."

#93: Poor baby! Mr. Mills finds it impossible to understand a lot of contemporary art and finds this to be a 'sad state of affairs.' His first mistake is in thinking that art works should make available some easily accessible 'understanding' or 'intepretation' -- that there is some obvious 'point' that he is supposed to 'get' (like beauty). This unuseful misguidance is admittedly often propagated by overbearing art history textbooks and heavy-handed museum wall texts. But great art requires hard work both on the part of the artist and the viewer. In the face of such a daunting task it's no wonder that many, like Mills, yearn for the obvious and easily-gained pleasures of experiencing visual beauty. If Mills finds the task of encountering complex works of contemporary art too difficult, I would suggest that he stick with dumbed-down, spoon-fed, ham-fisted entertainment -- or the universally-easy and temporarily gratifying pleasure (on the part of the viewer) of experiencing visual beauty (as I'm sure he already does and is, in fact, advocating).

Mills mistakenly views the correspondence between art and viewer as an exchange relation where a communication is imparted from one to the other. If this were true, art would be denegrated to performing a service for the viewer -- which it doesn't -- because it would lessen its power by threatening its autonomy as art. When art functions as mere visual pleasure or beauty, it becomes useful, beneficial or even utilitarian (in that it provides a service), and loses its capacity to exist outside the social structure of exchange, threatening its ability to provide critique or understanding. If art is to enable the possibilty for empathic comprehension in illumination of the so-called human condition, it cannot, as its aim, intend to limit itself by providing a communicated emotion, experience, or idea -- truth is much too complex and elusive to exist within such restrictions.

97.

oldpro

March 31, 2006, 4:58 PM

I would challenge Alexander the great to untangle the mighty knot of that final sentence, Soldier. Somebody needs to eat some prunes.

Are you an artist, Soldier? Just curious.

98.

Marc Country

March 31, 2006, 6:22 PM

Re: #96:
see #95.

99.

ahab

March 31, 2006, 7:44 PM

Art soldier, you are obviously very passionate about art; and obviously very bothered by beauty. Did eating the pretty little chips of paint as a child present an aesthetic problem when you learned as an adult that beauty was lead-based? Is it the idea of beauty you take issue with, or the term, or the real thing?

Joking aside, you want to have a spot-the-cliche contest? #92 versus #96 - it would help illustrate the cant and inequality of our social structure of exchange relations.

100.

Franklin

March 31, 2006, 7:50 PM

It is the most unremarkably dull cliché imaginable to declare that one responds strongly to beauty.

If there is one thing about which I am an expert, it is my own responses. Speak for yourself. I respond strongly to beauty.

When art functions as mere visual pleasure or beauty, it becomes useful, beneficial or even utilitarian (in that it provides a service), and loses its capacity to exist outside the social structure of exchange, threatening its ability to provide critique or understanding.

You're asking me to accept that beauty is a service but critique and understanding are not. If anything, I would suspect the reverse. Critique and understanding imply parties in an exchange. Beauty just exists.

101.

oldpro

March 31, 2006, 8:11 PM

He probably cares, Ahab, but like so many who rush to comment, he has not thought it through. Not even a little. Once again I am obliged to say that it just is not worth it to hash out these things over and over at a remedial level.

102.

George

March 31, 2006, 8:49 PM

Let's assume Art Soldier is correct in his views, I happen to agree with him. What difference does this really make to what everyone else does? Is it affecting how you make your art? I doubt it. Does it affect your confidence in your own work? It shouldn't. Nothing, absolutely nothing in his remarks exclude the views of anyone here, if anything they expand possibilities. I really cannot understand why so many people are so close minded.

103.

Franklin

March 31, 2006, 9:05 PM

AS is having trouble getting through a single comment on this thread without bayonetting a straw man or saying things that aren't true, George, so I'm not sure what you're agreeing with or what possibilities you're referring to. His views harm me not at all, nor do they interfere with my work. But it's worth taking them on because Artblog.net is where mushy thinking about art comes to die.

I'm hoping to save someone the trip through the morass that I think AS is in. But if he's enjoying it there, more power to him.

104.

ahab

March 31, 2006, 9:16 PM

George, what's to agree with? By your own precious standard of open-mindedness, art soldier fails dramatically. He made some very brazen assertions about an artist he has never met. #96 was disrespectful and dismissive, not to mention disjointed.

Until he speaks for his cause clearly, how can the conversation be expanded? Until he makes sense, what difference should it make? Other than to clarify for me that the words I chose to describe what I know aren't as far wrong as his.

105.

art soldier

March 31, 2006, 11:15 PM

Looks like I created a shitstorm that probably doesn't belong on this particular thread, but ...

#99 ahab: obviously very bothered by beauty.

Not at all, I LOVE beauty. My point was, SO DOES EVERYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD. That's why it didn't mean much when you declared it. One of my favorite painters is Ingres -- go figure.

eating the pretty little chips of paint as a child

Sounds like a personal attack -- not a very convincing form of argument, but I'm glad to know my comment had an impact.

#100 Franklin: Speak for yourself. I respond strongly to beauty.

As do I (see above); I have never once on this thread mentioned a distaste for beauty. I merely pointed out that Ahab's devotion to beauty was unremarkable because everyone feels the same way (including myself).

You're asking me to accept that beauty is a service but critique and understanding are not. If anything, I would suspect the reverse. Critique and understanding imply parties in an exchange. Beauty just exists.

The beauty of art provides a service because it results in pleasure (a completely universal pleasure, see above). Art is made to earn its "keep," so to speak, by providing the pleasure of beauty. In a tit for tat, capitalist society, every element is expected to carry its own weight. Art's existence is often justified in that it provides the pleasure of beauty (among other things, such as entertainment, or so-called "cultural enrichment,", but that's a whole 'nother topic). When art participates in this back-and-forth, it loses its ability to exist as autonomous truth. (Franklin ... smell the residue of the Frankfurt School here, I know how much you dislike it).

#101: rush to comment, he has not thought it through. Not even a little. ... remedial level.

Speaking of fallacies, I think this one is called Avoiding the Issue.

#103: trouble getting through a single comment on this thread without bayonetting a straw man or saying things that aren't true

Hmm... seems like a wild generalization here. How about one single example? I'll help you out:

When I said, "Mills mistakenly views the correspondence between art and viewer as an exchange relation where a communication is imparted from one to the other," yes, this could be considered a "straw man" argument, as I may have skipped a few steps since it seemed obvious to me (but I have not done so previously). To lay it all out: by decrying the lack of 'understanding' in contemporary art, Mills is asserting that he expects art to do so -- it is expected to provide something, namely, an understandable meaning. This is the very symptom of the exchange relation. If art is to be considered valuable, it must provide a service. It sounds like he's pissed off at contemporary art because he isn't getting his 'money's worth' -- a breakdown in the exchange. Another indicator is his complaint that art is becoming "removed from the consciousness of the general public." (the general public is made up of capitalist consumers who expect something in return for their attention to art).

Artblog.net is where mushy thinking about art comes to die.

Yikes ... this is laughable. While Franklin's is clearly the most consistently reasonable, rational voice of those clinging to an anachronistic definition of art here, mushy thinking not only persists but thrives. The "guidelines of the blog" are most frequently abused by the so-called "regulars" (the most heavily offended being "address the writing, not the writer" and "advance the conversation"; and yes, I check in from time to time.) ;-)

#104 ahab : By your own precious standard of open-mindedness, art soldier fails dramatically

No so. I like all the same canonical artists that most everyone else likes ... and more. I'm actually arguing for an appreciation of art that has beauty and/or other qualities. Again, I love beautiful art (although art that only seeks to evoke beauty is limited IMO), but I feel that non-beautiful art can be great too.

#104 ahab: #96 was disrespectful ... not to mention disjointed.

Why, because I don't agree with him?

Until he speaks for his cause clearly, how can the conversation be expanded? Until he makes sense, what difference should it make?

Just because one doesn't understand what I'm writing doesn't mean I'm not writing clearly or making sense. I don't expect these ideas to be obvious or easily accepted. All I can hope for is to insert the smallest sliver of doubt in the often pompous, dogmatic, and narrow views of art often displayed on this comment board.

106.

oldpro

April 1, 2006, 12:13 AM

Tell us how art is "autonomous truth" Soldier.

Think about what the words "art", autonomous" and "truth" mean.

Keep it short, and maybe I can show you what I mean by "remedial".

Maybe not. Let's see.

107.

Marc Country

April 1, 2006, 2:40 AM

It is impossible to defeat an ignorant man in argument.
~William G. McAdoo

108.

Franklin

April 1, 2006, 7:56 AM

Marc, #107 is a guideline violation. AS is not ignorant. Don't prove him right about my regulars. And @OP, he has thought things through, but he's thought them through in that special way that gets rewarded in the art world despite its circularity.

I merely pointed out that Ahab's devotion to beauty was unremarkable because everyone feels the same way (including myself).

Again, speak for yourself. I don't think that everyone responds strongly to beauty. Certainly not everyone responds stronly enough to beauty to go through the trouble of art school and to persist at the artist's life.

In a tit for tat, capitalist society, every element is expected to carry its own weight.

Capitalism will throw its resources behind anything available for exchange. It will do it for beauty, and it will do it for ridiculous anticapitalist overtures. The next time you see someone in one of those handsome Che t-shirts, ask him if he paid money for it.

When art participates in this back-and-forth, it loses its ability to exist as autonomous truth. (Franklin ... smell the residue of the Frankfurt School here, I know how much you dislike it)

OP is right to call you out on "autonomous truth." I already recognized the Frankfurt School influence, and I continue to find its priorities askew. I'll point out again that you're characterizing beauty as an exchange, but not critique. Among certain circles, beauty is suspect but critique is holy. But if both of them don't exist for their own sake, then neither of them do.

How about one single example?

How about four? That's pretty much all I've been responding to in regards to your statements.

While Franklin's is clearly the most consistently reasonable, rational voice of those clinging to an anachronistic definition of art here, mushy thinking not only persists but thrives.

Um, thanks. But just as your statement contra Mills wasn't disrespectful simply because you disagree with him, the thinking that goes on here isn't mushy simply because you disagree with it. Do you think that beauty is a soft, weak, suspect quality that has to be bolstered with stronger virtues like critique and anticapitalism and whatnot? This has become a widespread misunderstanding about beauty.

Gustav Mahler expressed it wonderfully: "Interesting is easy, beautiful is difficult." Yes. Those high levels of beauty, up above pretty and nice and pleasant, are damn hard to reach. You could spend your whole life trying to hit them and it would be a good life if you did it a half a dozen times.

I'm not looking to define art, so clinging to an anachronistic definition is a false characterization.

I will agree with you that your treatment here has become a bit shabby. To all: this thread has reminded me that when people are trying to persuade each other, rather than make fun of their views, the exchange is much more interesting. Be good.

109.

Marc Country

April 1, 2006, 8:10 AM

Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.
~Will Rogers

110.

oldpro

April 1, 2006, 9:06 AM

Franklin, you are too generous. I am sensitive to name-calling, having been on the receiving end so often, and I did not feel that Marc's quote was a guideline problem, or, at best a marginal one. And don't be too complimented by Soldier's kissing up to you. This is the old Jerome/Dr. B trick from yesteryear and it is just sleaze in action.

I do take very storng exception to "he has thought things through, but he's thought them through in that special way that gets rewarded in the art world despite its circularity". This "special way" - in lockstep with artworld thinking - is precisely what I mean by "not thinking things through". And it is much more than just thinking what everyone thinks, it is blurting in a huff, preposterously, without any consideration of what he is saying. I extracted the old hack "art is truth" thing just to demonstrate this to him and to the unfortunate George, who likes to grumble fruitlessly at us at the expense of his own crediblity whenever he gets the chance.

I doubt that soldier will answer. Just as well. I am here to have fun and argue with people who know what they are talking about, not just continual the remedial thinking classes I have to do all day at school.

111.

Marc Country

April 1, 2006, 10:44 AM

AS#74: M.C. and O.P.: You're right, because you're right, because you're right, because ... well ... obviously, you're right.
(they respond, gleefully in unision): Yes! Thank you! But, we knew that already.


Franklin, this isn't a violation, but #107 is? Ok...

Thanks oldpro... I thought the quote posted at #107 was one that could be agreed on by all sides (although, granted, the different sides will locate 'ignorance' differently).
I suppose if #107, which addressed nobody in particular, is a guideline violation, then #109, which tars everyone with the same brush, is even worse. My insincere apologies.

"Remedial" is the perfect word for this discussion, oldpro. I applaud the patience you show in trying to raise the level of discourse. Personally, I find the intransigent dogmatism and muddled meanings either to tiring, or to boring, or both.

AS#89:or, to be clearer:
Artistically is artistically, and beautifully is beautifully. they are different words. they have different meanings. Go look them up. Geez!

"
Congratulations! "Artistically" and "beautifully" are not synonyms.
"Artistically" and "aesthetically", on the other hand, are synonyms.

Using words without understanding their meanings makes debate futile.

112.

oldpro

April 1, 2006, 11:38 AM

I don't think Franklin was criticising the quote, Marc, only that it was so obviously directed at one person. That person certainly deserved the epithet, but it was marginal, guidelinewise.

The reason I want the discouse to be at least at a literate level is purely selfish. Since have been in Miami Ihave found all too few people that I can talk to. I don't mean "elevated discourse", necessarily, but any kind of talk that is interesting or funny or animated.

Working in a university surrounded by academics is deadly, oddly enough. They seem to be way more cautious, unimaginative, conformist and set in their ways than the general population. This blog afffords some relief because it is not ashamed to be critical and aims higher than others in may ways.

113.

Luisa

April 1, 2006, 8:20 PM

In my opinion, art must be more than beauty and novelty. The following is a quote from a book that I read a long time ago, “No More Secondhand Art” by Peter London.

…It is ironic that our very concept of art, and what is required to make it, dooms most-be artists to frustration and modest results. There are three false and killing notions about art. The first is that art is about beauty. The second is that in order to be an artist you must train your hand to be dexterous and your eye to be accurate. The third is that there are certain canons of good form that if applied, will bring about beautiful things. Each of these three precepts is true, but none is true enough. Their perversity resides in their incompleteness, not in their wrongness.

Each of these characteristics has a correlate dimension that, if given close attention, can bring about enterprises of substantial worth for both the artist and the public. The correlate of “art as beauty” is “art as meaning.” The correlate of a prepared hand and eye is a prepared heart, mind and spirit. The correlate of the formulas of good design is the absence of any formula, where imagination serves as a better guide than memory, and where courage fuels the journey from the known to the unknown.

114.

oldpro

April 1, 2006, 10:00 PM

Art is not meaning, Luisa. Meaning is verbal and conceptual.

Art might be said to be a "mirror into the soul" - as pretentious as that sounds it is one of the few "high sounding" descriptions that I have found acceptable. The problem people have with art, the problem Soldier is having, is that they want art to be all things, and on a common, if not vulgar level: art as therapy, art as meaning, art as social justice, art as "truth", art, in Soldier's words, as "empathic comprehension in illumination of the so-called human condition", whatever that may mean.

Art is us at our best, and to be that it must be none of these things.

115.

Luisa

April 2, 2006, 11:39 PM

Oldpro, I never said “art is meaning” and tedious narrative/story telling paintings are not my thing.
But I agree when Mr. London suggests “art as meaning”, like: big, deep, wide meaning.
Your last sentence is pretty close, though.

.This is another excerpt from “No More Secondhand Art”:

…In seeking the meaningful rather than the beautiful, we nurture an endeavor which lies at the deepest levels of the traditional function of art: the uniquely human quest for establishing personal meaning in a possibly meaningful universe.

The search for meaning is open-ended and exhilarating, if uncertain. Once we create imagery that honestly represents how life feels from the inside, there is a sense of personal empowerment and a new degree of private certainty as a result of having finally touched down to the original bedrock of our original self.

116.

George

April 3, 2006, 12:00 AM

Luisa,

Yes, I believe the search for meaning is the center of inquiry for advanced painting and can also result in "good painting" (as the term is used here)

117.

oldpro

April 3, 2006, 6:41 AM

No, you did not say art is meaning, Luisa. I didn't say you did.

This is grandiose talk, bordering on the sanctimonious, full of vaguely defined, positive-sounding terminology. It provides a wave of satisfied justification to art lovers. But, as for meaning, it doesn't mean much.

"Meaning" is a term best confined to verbal exchange. Art isnot meaning, it is experience, or, morre accurately, it provides experience.

118.

Luisa

April 3, 2006, 10:20 PM

Agree. Art is and provides a visual experience, Oldpro…but our difference is that you favor “meaningless” visual experiences and I prefer and search for “meaningful” visual experiences.

119.

George

April 3, 2006, 11:05 PM

Without trying to start a forest fire, I agree with Luisa. I view the issue from a slightly different perspective. I think the quest for meaning, or expression, can allow the artist a way to be in touch with the work, provide the inspiration which leads to the high aesthetic experience (as OP would define it) If this is the case, there can be no argument about "quality" and the other aspects of the work, meaning or expression etc just add to the richness of the experience. Better IMHO

120.

oldpro

April 3, 2006, 11:11 PM

Think about what the word "meaningful" means to you, Luisa. Isn't a code word for "deep", "intense", "full of feeling", "absorbing"...and so on? It's not really about "meaning", is it? It's experience. And the experience takes you to something that is not "meaningful" at all, something that can't be put into words becasuse it is beyond words.

121.

George

April 3, 2006, 11:38 PM

Come on OldPro, it's how you get to the experience, where you start on the path. Frankly I don't think where you start matters at all, history proves that. I can completely understand how just moving paint around doesn't connect for some people, they structure the start somewhere else or some other way. In the end it is about getting to the same point of high aesthetic experience. Different artists need different paths, different ways to think and talk about their work, just to be engaged or find personal inspiration.
The end will be the same, depending on the artist of course.

122.

Marc Country

April 4, 2006, 12:55 AM

Aesthetic experience, at bottom, is a common human experience; it would be nice if we could use a common language to discuss it.
"Mirror into the soul", "meaningful" are stabs at the same thing, I think.
It's not a question of 'meaningful' vs. 'meaningless', I think, so much as an experience of 'meaning' without anything specific being 'meant'.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"As I sense it, as I introspect it, the affect or pleasure of art (when it does give pleasure) consists in a "sensation" of exalted cognitiveness - exalted because it transcends cognition as such. It's as though for the time being, or for the instant, I were in command, by dint of transcendent knowing, of everything that could possibly affect my consciousness, or even my existence. I know, and yet without having anything specific to know."

123.

Luisa

April 4, 2006, 2:06 AM

Oldpro: Isn't a code word for "deep", "intense", "full of feeling", "absorbing"...and so on? It's not really about "meaning", is it?

Did you read my statement # 115?
No need to repeat myself here.

George & MC, your views are clear and I agree.

GO GATORS!

124.

oldpro

April 4, 2006, 6:40 AM

George, re #121, this is apropo of what? Did I ever say anything different?

Luisa, yes, I read #115 and I answered it. Why do you ask?

Marc, " an experience of meaning without anything specific being meant" makes no sense to me.

All I am asking for is careful usage when discussing a complex subject. I don't know way that is such a problem

125.

Marc Country

April 4, 2006, 9:29 AM

You're just being difficult, oldpro. Good.

"...an experience of meaning without anything specific being meant", makes about as much sense as "mirror into the soul" (whatever that means... how can you have a mirror into something, and what the hell is a soul, anyway?).

I suppose, in hindsight, I should have thrown a few inverted commas around, or italicised, 'meaning'...

I basically just meant it as a rewording of the line "I know, and yet without having anything specific to know.", from the quote at the bottom of #122, taken from "Intuition and the Esthetic Experience", from CG's Homemade Esthetics.

What can you say, other than it's all tough to put into clear, unambiguous words.

126.

Marc Country

April 4, 2006, 9:35 AM

'Quality' equals 'meaning', but meaning doesn't equal quality.

I know this makes no sense either, but somehow, it does (to me).

127.

Marc Country

April 4, 2006, 9:39 AM

Maybe instead of "equals", I should say, "delivers", or "expresses", or something...

128.

oldpro

April 4, 2006, 9:49 AM

I qualified my phrase as being inflated and pretentious and put it in quotes. I think that pretty much said that I was using it advisedly.

I am not trying to be difficult; I am trying to make it easy. Meaning and quality are two different things. Using "meaningful" and "meaningless", as Luisa did, is simple rhetoric, because the terms, especially in art discourse, are pure value-loaded heavy artillery. Their "meaning" is not literal, it is contained in the subtext, which delivers the message "good" and "bad". I like using words that mean what they mean, pure and simple.

Clem, when pushed, would occasionally get into 'transcendent" and such like. I used to chide him about it. This kind of speculation was not his strength, and he knew it.

129.

Marc Country

April 4, 2006, 10:06 AM

I say you're being difficult, oldpro, because you're being exacting, which tends to focus on the differences in what you, George, Luisa, and I are groping at. Yes, clear language shouldn't be too much to ask, but when it comes to putting the experience of art into words, words fall short. This, we all know... yet we keep groping. Bear with us, and forgive the occasional lapses into poetry, whether its "mirror into the soul" or "meaning" (given the choice, I think "meaning" is closer).

I'm equating "meaning" with "content", although I recognize that the potential exists that this will be confused a equating "meaning" with "subject matter", or some other, literal "point".

Art that is without quality is "meaningless", as art. Successful art has an abundance of aesthetic "meaning".

Maybe "meaning" is only a metaphor, but it's a useful one, and no less confusing than any other you could pick.

130.

oldpro

April 4, 2006, 11:13 AM

We are not in any way forced or obliged to use words outside of their specific dictionary meaning no matter how difficult the subject under discussion. In fact, the more complex the greater the need for clarity and precision, whether or not words fall short. You just have to do your best.

It is not necessary to use the word "meaning" as a substitute for "good" or "content" or anything else. It also hardly a "lapse into poetry" to misuse a word, pure and simple. And it is not a metaphor, either. 'Meaning" means "meaning", and meaning has nothing whatsoever to do with art as art. Art does not mean anything.

I am not going to over-defend "mirror into the soul" apart from once again pointing out how thoroughly I qualified it. It was clearly used with license. This is, once again, not the same thing as the simple misuse of a word.

131.

Marc Country

April 4, 2006, 12:40 PM

OK OP, have it your way... you're not difficult. You're easy like Sunday morning.

I'd like to apply for one of those 'licenses' you've got, oldpro, so I don't have to over-defend my own, "in-quotes"-qualified words from over-prosecutorial accusations of "misuse".

I hope the picture on my "poetic" licence turns out better than the one on my driver's license.

132.

oldpro

April 4, 2006, 12:55 PM

I will send you one with a smiley face on it, Marc. Or maybe Alfred E. Newman, the "what me worry" kid.

133.

Marc Country

April 4, 2006, 7:24 PM

Great, OP... make mine a MAD fold-in, so "POETIC LICENCE" turns into "PONCE", or something...

134.

oldpro

April 4, 2006, 10:10 PM

I think "poetic licenSe" will become "polite science".

Then no one has reason to be MAD.

135.

Marc Country

April 4, 2006, 11:08 PM

I didn't notice I was switching between spellings.
I guess they both work.
The holder of a poetic licenSe knows the "polite science"; whereas, with a poetic licenCe, one can "opine eclectic".

136.

oldpro

April 5, 2006, 7:50 AM

Yes, but too much eclectic opining entices police.

137.

Marc Country

April 5, 2006, 12:39 PM

If I get pulled over by the cops, I'll be sure to show them my lie sense.

138.

oldpro

April 5, 2006, 5:04 PM

You better make it an epic selection or you will get an eclipse notice.

139.

Marc Country

April 5, 2006, 8:28 PM

Nice lies, etc., OP.

140.

oldpro

April 5, 2006, 10:12 PM

Nice!

OP closes.

Tie?

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