Previous: Hughes Day (13)

Next: Roundup (30)

Rosenquist at MAM

Post #759 • March 23, 2006, 1:04 PM • 116 Comments

I applaud MAM sometimes devoting the New Works space to artists who are not themselves new. I think MAM's exhibition of art-world notables, pointing out their longtime Florida residence, is an act of justifiable pride of place. I think it's good to put on little shows of current work by established artists. But I have to tell you - the Rosenquist show down at MAM right now is a stinker. My jaw dropped open, it was so bad. This show made me want to take back the mixed review I wrote about the Rauschenberg show in the same space last year. In fact, and I can hardly believe I'm saying this, in some ways I prefer the Damien Hirsts I saw at the Norton last month.

Rosenquist used to be able to create hefty visual assaults with his collisions of saturated pop imagery, but his painting manner has degraded from polished workmanship to shaky routine. Interesting bits of Rosenquists force you to take in two or three images at once by rendering them as if they were shredded into thin strips and alternated. These paintings tend to arrange the elements next to each other instead, and they have all the combined depth of a rebus. The Rauschenbergs lacked punch, but these almost lack a pulse, and they inspire only troubling musings about the possible effects of old age on talent.

James Rosenquist: The Meteor Hits Picasso's Bed, 1996-99, oil on canvas with burnt wood collage, 100 x 93.5 inches. Courtesy the artist and Acquavella Gallery, New York. Photo Credit: Peter Foe. Image © James Rosenquist.

James Rosenquist: Brazil, 2004, oil on Canvas, 93 x 288-3/8 inches. Courtesy the artist and Acquavella Gallery, New York. Photo Credit: Peter Foe. Image © James Rosenquist.

James Rosenquist: The Stars and Stripes at the Speed of Light, 1999, oil on canvas, 60 x 42 inches. Bobbi and Stephen Berkman Collection. Photo Credit: Peter Foe. Image © James Rosenquist.

Comment

1.

Jack

March 23, 2006, 1:58 PM

Did anybody say Peter Max? How about Las Olas Blvd. (Ft. Lauderdale) gallery material? How about...oh forget it. It's just plain embarrassing.

But of course, the public is being served, given Rosenquist's Florida connection and all. Were there stickers all over the place saying "Your Bond Issue #8 dollars at work"? Well, I suppose it's in character.

2.

oldpro

March 23, 2006, 2:40 PM

These do look bad. he was never much of a painter - I think the only one of the Pop Artists with any real talent was (is) Jim Dine - but at least in the 60s they were sharper, clearer and richer. These are cold and brittle, like dry ice.

3.

Jack

March 23, 2006, 3:05 PM

Ah, but look at all the nifty bright colors, OP, and all that jumbled up, I mean juxtaposed, visual clutter, I mean elements. And it's all so, mechanical, I mean vibrant...and stuff. If I were doing the advertising for this show, my spiel would be:

If you like Britto, you'll love Rosenquist--and he's legit, too; all official sources say so. You can look it up.

4.

Franklin

March 23, 2006, 3:11 PM

Tonight: Four.mation, featuring Luis Angulo, Jeremy Brochue, Magaly Wilensky, and Eve Justamante, four talented students hailing from MIU. The show is going to be at the Estefano Art Center at 5020 Biscayne Boulevard, 7 - 10. See you there.

5.

Jack

March 23, 2006, 5:10 PM

Well, Franklin, Rosenquist vs. Hirst...frantic synthetic slickness vs. ponderous cynical pseudoprofundity...is it just me, or should we be talking about something else?

6.

Jack

March 23, 2006, 5:44 PM

OK, trying to make lemonade out of lemons...what do you get if you cross Rosenquist with Hirst? Um, how about...Fabian Marcaccio (another MAM fave, natch). But feel free to come up with other possibilities.

7.

oldpro

March 23, 2006, 5:54 PM

Cross Rosenquist with Hirst?

How about "Shit squirter, son"

8.

RL

March 23, 2006, 6:25 PM

Rosenquist created some impressive great works 60's - early 80s .
and during that time became a heavy in the art world and a darling of new POP imagery
but in the late 80's he lost most of his edge for me
and from the looks of these painting he still lack something he had earlier in his carreer
I think this happens of many artist

Does anyone remember his work "Star Theif" a 1980 work of Rosenquists
I think the work twas a commision for the Miami Airport but was rejected
due to the title and subject. to bad I liked the work

Here is a link to some info on the work
http://www.guggenheim.org/artscurriculum/lessons/rosenquist_L4.php

9.

George

March 23, 2006, 6:42 PM

I've liked some of Rosenquist's earlier work but think he took a wrong turn in the 70's when the paintings became overly complex exercises. There is an odd streak of AbEx gestural movement rendered with images put through a blender.

"The Stars and Stripes at the Speed of Light" is an example of what I mean. If you look at how the picture is put together, it's really a bunch of gestural movements, outlined and filled in with a rendered image. It's pat, as if it was designed out and then executed, even if it wasn't, it looks like it.

I would have to question his compositional motives. While there is a composition of sorts , a relationship between parts, his intent is unclear, is he looking for a harmonious relationship or trying to fragment the space in a cubist manner. From the Picasso reference in "The Meteor Hits Picasso's Bed", I might suspect it is the latter. There is also a warping of the planes, especially evident in the blue and white star field which looks like it was computer generated. The general structural idea is an open one but I think when an image is attached to the gesture or the warped plane the picture becomes confusing.

I have been looking very closely at Picasso (1904-14 so far), all of Picasso including the drawings. In his good cubist paintings, even though the picture space is highly fragmented, if you look hard the paintings have a clear space that holds together in an understandable way. I think Picasso understood the difficulty of his project and relied on strong drawing and the spare use of color to do this. I might associate this painting more closely with the early cubist landscape paintings where he used a shallow space and broke it up geometrically. Rosenquist reduced the drawing to a scissors cut (or PS mask) which does not function visually the same as a line and the edge contrast of the cut becomes a jumble.

Then I thought, maybe it's going after Pollock. I could see how dematerializing the image might work but this painting would have to be just a small piece of a bigger field, so it's not that. I'm left with nothing to admire but his technical ability to render stuff and that doesn't work for me.

Finally, I am not convinced by his use of imagery. In his later work the imagery seems gratitutous, picked to fit with his established Pop lineage but now appearing arbitrary, unemotional, disconnected, decorative, in short not particularly relevant to the task at hand or carrying a poetic message that is more than a Madison avenue shine.

I think Rosenquist is a better artist than some here give him credit for but these are just great failed paintings. What I love about great failed paintings is that for some young artist they might become fodder for the future.

10.

Jack

March 23, 2006, 8:19 PM

"Great failed paintings," George? Well, I agree with half of that statement.

The top one is a pitiful mess, as OP would probably say; the middle one looks like it was phoned in to assistants to execute, and the bottom one looks plastic, cold and yes, computer-generated.

If you tell me that Guernica is a great failed painting, OK; I can accept that. I don't see greatness in these three paintings at all.

11.

Wray, William

March 24, 2006, 4:10 AM

No sir, I don't like it, thanks for saving me money on plane tickets.

12.

Franklin

March 24, 2006, 9:55 AM

It's an honor to have you in the house, Mr. Wray.

13.

Feneon

March 24, 2006, 12:07 PM

Perhaps these paintings are failures in light of the best work that Jimbo has done, but before dismissing him outright, empathize a little. I would suggest that all artists have some less than great works to their credit (go look in your own storage racks), works that cost you effort and time, even phone-in-to-the -assistant time, but that don't succeed to standards suggested by previous work. But you may never know it until you show it. Especially if you are distracted by a major retrospective. This can have a distortion effect that must be proportionate to many things, age, fame, scale of the show, response to the show, etc.
What I know of JR suggests he is in an atmosphere of fame, and yes, accomplishment that most artists have no ability to imagine accurately, including myself.
I think his mistake was trying this work out at MAM, or perhaps at all, but it is certainly
not a mistake to have done it. (bad, good, or otherwise) What do you want as a viewer,
pot boilers?

14.

Jack

March 24, 2006, 12:42 PM

The last sentence of #13 may be an unfortunate rhetorical question, but it could also be taken as an insult. It should be quite clear to anyone reasonably familiar with this blog that no one here is calling for "potboilers." What is wanted and sought, always, is good art.

I am not impressed by Rosenquist's fame, or anybody else's, unless I feel it is justified by the quality of the work. Bad work is bad work no matter who did it. There is bad Picasso, and his name on it does not change that fact. A Florida connection should not matter if the work in question is not good enough; otherwise, let's have a Dan Marino retrospective. "Celebrity" certainly should not be sufficient; I'd much rather see better work by unknowns, and such work exists. Let those whose job it is to bring the best work to the public do their job.

15.

Marc Country

March 24, 2006, 1:09 PM

It seems like Feneon's concern is that by dismissing the work as art, JR is being dismissed as a person. I don't think this is the case though. Sure, we can all be understanding as to the various reasons why this crummy work may have been made, just as we understand that not everything we ourselves do is pure genius either. Of course, we should all have empathy for JR, just as JR should empathize with us (and, if JR empathizes with us, he'll recognize the complaints about his work as justified).

Dan Marino paintings would sell like hotcakes... lookout, Hernan.



Mmmm.. hotcakes.

16.

Feneon

March 24, 2006, 1:58 PM

#14

No offense was meant . I wonder that you prefer to find insult rather than entertain the question being posed in the rest of the comment. ?
The first reason the show is there is JR's rep. Was he brave or stupid to exhibit work that ran against what he might have been expected to show. That is: work defined as "good Rosenquists" ? I remember a reaction to the cartoon derived work of Guston that was pretty vitriolic since they were "bad Gustons"

17.

Jack

March 24, 2006, 2:30 PM

If someone asks me if I want potboilers, the question clearly implies that I may want them, otherwise there is no need to ask that question, and said implication is insulting, especially when any familiarity with this blog would provide the definitive answer: NO.

Franklin's post, and the discussion in response to it, is chiefly about this particular show, not Rosenquist's career, and certainly not about his decision-making process as to what and where he shows. A far more relevant and important issue is what an institution like MAM chooses to show and why, or why not. If being a "name" with a Florida connection is good enough regardless of the quality of the work, I reject that approach. I want good work, period. If the work is not good, I'm not interested, period. Furthermore, I resent the lost opportunity to have had better work shown in its place by a public institution which is supposed to serve the public with the best work available, not work with the highest celebrity quotient.

18.

feneon

March 24, 2006, 3:16 PM

#17
I guess I hit a nerve, with "potboilers", sort of like having to be roomates with Wally Cox or maybe the grey flannel dwarf? Frightening. I am aware of some of what transpires on this blog.
Is there any doubt that MAM, made a decision based on JR's celebrity? Next, should they show more artists that are "good", but unknown? And who, but them, has the difficult job of deciding for their visitors what will agreeably pass for "good".
Alone in the studio, one gets to decide what is good for one's audience. This being so, was JR just willfully offending the audience?

19.

George

March 24, 2006, 3:28 PM

#18 feneon, You're wasting your breath, Jack dosen't like anything new.

20.

oldpro

March 24, 2006, 3:54 PM

George, that is an unfortunate characterization. You should know better. And it isn't true anyway.

Feneon, I don't think anyone here is talking about Rosenquist, (or "jimbo", did you call him?) on a personal basis but just saying the paintings are not much good. The idea that artists should be permitted to make mistakes does not make the paintings better nor does it justify the exhibit.

I throw out at least a third of everything I paint, if not more, and years ago bought back and destroyed paintings I hade sent to Germany because I decided they were second rate. I may have been wrong, but this is the kind of thing you do when you really care about the quality of your work.

21.

Jack

March 24, 2006, 4:00 PM

The apparent references in the first sentence of #18 escape me, but I doubt it matters. If MAM, or any museum, decides to show mediocre or bad work because it's by some celebrity, it's a bad decision. The quality of the work should always be the definitive criterion, so yes, if there's better work by someone less famous (fame being what it is), I'd rather see that instead. The MAM staff has to decide what to show, but that's my point: they need to make better decisions. As for Rosenquist's choices, motivations or intentions, those are entirely his business and not my concern. Again, this is not about his thinking process; I don't care about that especially, only about the quality of his work.

And George, unless you mean new in a strictly chronological sense, as in the latest stuff he's made, do you honestly think this is truly new? Oh, and thanks for willfully misrepresenting my position, which is never about new vs. old, but about good vs. not, regardless of when it was made, or by whom.

22.

redneck railroad

March 25, 2006, 8:51 AM

. Maybe we can set fire to them together , Opie. And Jack can watch and complain about while you and i hug and kiss and rejoice over the good deed weve done for not insulting our appreciative audience's art sensibilities....

What a load of crap about buying back your work to destroy it. It's like censoring history. Don't you think that the only accurate, honest, way to determine the substance and evolution of a life's work is to take it all into consideration? If you only allow "the best " to survivive then you've become some kind of quasi-nazi-darwinian artist...

Well, good for you.History will judge you accordingly.

23.

redneck railroad

March 25, 2006, 8:56 AM

and to you Jack:

An artist's thinking process is the root of everything. The backbone to the work, the string that holds it all together. Without the failures there would be nothing to measure "good " with.

I feel sorry for you , man.
You really miss out on much of what makes art a fascinating and rich motive for living on this planet.

24.

olfpro

March 25, 2006, 9:28 AM

Gosh, Redneck, you brought the discussion to "nazi" pretty quickly! What's that "law" or :rule" you evoked before, Franklin?

And "Without the failures there would be nothing to measure "good " with"? In other words, if an artist painted nothing but masterpieces we would be all confused about the work? Think about these things before you write them..

Yes, I guess I am "some kind of quasi-nazi-darwinian artist", and I take pleasure in adding this new epithet to my collection. I will pass on the hugging and kissing, however.

I have little interest, in this respect, of being "accurate and honest". When you send art out into the world your heart and soul goes with it. It has to be the very best you can do. I try to be sure that it is, but sometimes, especially back then, time pressures robbed me of the time to reflect on the work. I thought it was good when I sent it out but changed my mond. I had to actually buy some of it back. I still think I am right, and, frankly, I think I was exhibiting a considerable amount of "honesty" by doing so.

By the way, you might be interested to know that I just gave a graduate student about a dozen large beautifully stretched linen canvas 30-year-old paintings which I couldn't bear to throw out because of the materials, even though the paintings sucked. All I asked was that he paint them over right away.

25.

catfish

March 25, 2006, 10:05 AM

Destruction is part of creation, if one accepts broad generalizations. When oldpro commented about the role destruction plays in his life's work (#20 and #24) he was simply joining the many many artists who do exactly the same thing. It is especially notewrothy, however, that his process of culling back includes such generosity that he provided some good surfaces to a younger artist. Bravo!

26.

Jack

March 25, 2006, 10:24 AM

Don't cry for me, Redneck Railroad, even if you're not from Argentina. You haven't been following this thread closely enough, especially the comments from Feneon that I responded to--or maybe you just don't get me, which of course you don't have to, and I don't feel like explaining myself to you just now. Happy driving.

27.

Feneon

March 25, 2006, 10:39 AM

#24 olfpro

When you say "When you send art out into the world your heart and soul goes with it. It has to be the very best you can do." I have to wonder which version of yourself you mean? The younger version was hopefully doing this at the time of the production of the work later re-aquired. So did the older version go through some form of self-repudiation,
and essentially double cross the younger version? Wasn't it De Chirico who decided his early work was all at sea? Good thing he didn't buy it all back. I'm not sure you should have given away that dozen either. What if the work should turn out to be vitally useful for some future permutation of painting culture? And in your self-editing are you doing a follow up to see if the work you gave away is really being recycled? Might show up on Las Olas Blvd with a new name, are go to auction at some point thirty years from now. This has to have happened to others in the past.
I think paintings might be thought of as children, raised and sent out into the world. They must take care of themselves, or they won't survive. So make them as well as possible, and let them go. The only way to correct a mistake is to not do it again.?

28.

Franklin

March 25, 2006, 11:26 AM

I decided a while ago that people were allowed to like my work for any reason, including incidental matching of the furniture. It's out there, somebody liked it enough to buy it, and I figure that I'll be judged by my best work moreso than my worst. I wouldn't try to kill the old stuff.

Fairfield Porter used to have exhibitions of his work that included pieces he thought were less successful than the others. Something about that has its own kind of integrity, or at least honesty.

29.

Franklin

March 25, 2006, 11:29 AM

Oh, and OP, you're thinking of Godwin's Law. Lay off, people.

30.

oldpro

March 25, 2006, 11:39 AM

Actually, Feneon, the recall of the work I mentioned happened within a year of when I sent it out. If it had happened much later I never would have been able to get most of it back. In fact, several of the paintings are in museums and one was recently in a travelling group show, so examples are still out there. So, no, it was not a de Chirico type repudiation, and most people whose eye I trust agree that the pictures were not great.

If the "vitally useful for some future permutation of painting culture" that would perversely please me, of course, but I would be critical of the culture that would make that judgement.

I freely admist that there are two sides to this. I make a habit of asking new students to show me the work that they like least because it was often merely the work that got away from their preconceptions. And I am not doing it because I am worried about a "reputation" thing; my lesser work has always been admired more than my better work anyway, with some exceptions. It is really just personal, as Jay Gatsby said.

31.

George

March 25, 2006, 12:13 PM

#21 J. I wasn't referring to Rosenquist in particular, I meant "new" in more of an historical sense and without aspersion, for the life of me I can't fathom what you like"

#24 In other words, if an artist painted nothing but masterpieces we would be all confused about the work?

This is a curious statement, I am assuming "we" is the artist. As an argument it assumes something which is probably not true to infer a point of argument. I assume every artist "culls" the work from time to time (Picasso was an exception) probably more for the reason they have no place to store it more than anything else (not saying this is the only reason)

Artists are an egotistical lot, they might approach this problem in a couple of ways. They can "cull" their work severely, leaving only "good paintings" as evidence of self. Or, they can archive everything with the idea "everything I do is a masterpiece, one way or the other" Either path is just a manifestation of the ego.

Suppose we had a grand art inquisition and the inquisitors, made up of learned men and women with an eye, put the torch to "all that was not good" What would we be left with? What course would this set for the future? When tastes change, would someone new call for another "grand art inquisition" to burn "all that was not good"? Of course not.

I would argue that the perception of "what is good" is a judgement somewhat based upon taste. That the perception is also statistically distributed, with the acknowledged masterpieces at the peak of the statistical mountain. Never the less there are good or great artworks inhabiting both slopes leading to the peak and that word you choked upon a sentence ago, "taste", shifts the "perceived range of good art" left and right on the bell curve (a la Janson) In other words, I am saying that our judgement of "goodness" is in part a function of our taste. At its best our taste is shaped by intense looking or working over time, at its worst it is just fashion. Over time fashion fades and taste or judgement becomes refined by exclusion but even these judgements are subject to, what I will call affinity, a psychological preference for one type of work or another.

The idea that an artist "makes the best work they can", gives it life and sets it loose in the world is accurate. Individually, we fret and worry over the work in the studio, fight with it, fight to create something and then, when it's finished, it has to exist in the world on its own. We, as artists, cannot predict its fate, we never see the work as "just a viewer", for we cannot, we raised it, know its personal history, the scars of the fight and it is impossible for us to be truly detached and see it fresh, for the first time. For the viewer, the work is seen in context, a context of the moment but also potentially in the context of other works by the same artist, its family so to speak.

In the case of Rosenquist, I think he is a very important artist. My previous comment on the jpegs of the paintings at MAM was nothing more than a studio critique. I would never suggest that the particular works not be shown, they are a continuation of his history of creation and, as such, provide visible evidence of his creative process for better or worse over time. For me, at this point in time, I found them somewhat problematic but this is primarily a judgement based upon my own interests and questioning of my own work

32.

oldpro

March 25, 2006, 12:21 PM

All perceptions of what is good are based on taste, George, There is nothing else to base it on. That is the nature of art.

My comment in #24 was in reaction to Redneck's previous comment, as indicated.

33.

George

March 25, 2006, 12:25 PM

#32 All perceptions of what is good are based on taste

Yes, it's a slippery slope.

34.

George

March 25, 2006, 12:29 PM

As I said before, I've been looking closely at Picasso. I am grateful that I can see all the works, good and bad, because I am as interested in the creative path as the final results. A history of the work provides a way of understanding and understanding can refine ones taste.

35.

Feneon

March 25, 2006, 12:32 PM

Oldpro, ah true, personal.
The (art) public service function of MAM is being justly applied if looked at from this viewpoint. JR's paintings, good, bad or mediocre, and whether you like him personally or not, effectively present another reference point - at least educationally - in the understanding of painting. JR as example. This would not happen if his other work was unknown. Since it is, we of the great unwashed get to benefit from his elevation as well as his decline. As observers, voyeurs perhaps, we can watch from a safe distance while he bears the weight of the spotlight...

36.

Jack

March 25, 2006, 12:35 PM

Well, George, our tastes are indubitably very different, and the Rosenquists above, which appear to have reproduced pretty well, are a prime example of that. The Picasso meteor piece, in particular, strikes me as schlock. You said it was a great failed painting. There's obviously a very serious discrepancy. Maybe we just shouldn't bother.

37.

oldpro

March 25, 2006, 2:11 PM

Feneon, you seem to be talking about art education or art history, which is perfectly worthwhile and interesting, but I think the main subject was the art itself, on which people have given their opinion here, mostly negative. If you look at the pictures as pictures, as art, it really doesn't matter who painted them or what Rosenquist has done in the past. You either like them and get something out of them or you don't.

38.

oldpro

March 25, 2006, 2:15 PM

George, as is so often the case, I don't know what you mean by "it is a slippery slope", but if my interpretation is correct I strongly disagree.

Taste, individual judgement, the intuitive, unaffected grasp of art - these are the anchors, the procedures that stabilize and rectify. Comparing taste to a slippery slope is just plain wrong.

I know, you will now tell me that's not what you said, or not what you meant.

39.

George

March 25, 2006, 3:05 PM

re: #38 Comparing taste to a slippery slope is just plain wrong.


For me, taste seems somewhat subject to a viewpoint in located in time. As an idea or opinion, taste is subject to change depending on a number of factors. Fashion affects taste by placing emphasis on a particular viewpoint, for better or worse. History affects taste, I suspect that cubist paintings would have been reviled in the mid 1800's. Just what we expect from "art" at any given point in time affects taste.

All this variance does not mean our taste will necessarily arrive at a different conclusion about the quality of a particular work but it can mean that our judgements, our taste, may evolve to include works which we our taste once dismissed. Frankly, from my own experience, most of the time nobody agrees, tastes are all slightly different and as a result, judgements of quality are almost always subject to disagreement.

40.

oldpro

March 25, 2006, 3:55 PM

I did not say taste was perfect, George. I just said it was all we have.

If we leave taste behind we blow with the wind.

41.

ahab

March 25, 2006, 4:08 PM

oldpro, there've been a couple of recent comments in other threads likening aesthetics to morality. Might one say that taste is like conscience? Or not unlike it?

42.

George

March 25, 2006, 4:29 PM

#40 Oldpro, I agree taste is all we have. By slippery slope I was just inferring that in almost all cases tastes seem to move around. We do the best we can.

#41 Ahab, I wouldn't try to make "taste" anything more than what it is, our ability to notice, appreciate and then make a judgement about an artwork. The difficulty seems to lie in the "our ability" part of the definition of the word. It doesn't seem worth an extended argument as I think we know what we mean even if we disagree with how something tastes.

Taste presents an issue for the artist in that new work, an advanced art like Cubism for example, may initially present an unfamiliar bad taste. The artist can choose to pursue the project, developing the new taste as he/she works or discard the project for something more familiar (tasteful) and try to cook something new. The analogy with food seems appropriate as a structure or comparison.

43.

George

March 25, 2006, 4:30 PM

oops

44.

oldpro

March 25, 2006, 4:39 PM

Ahab, you can draw a broad comparison but it is not exact up close. Conscience can be said to be the inner point of reference for moral judgements. It does not "exist", like a rule book, but we have a name for it. We dont have a name for a point of reference for art. "Taste" is not quite equivalent, in my judgement, because it connotes action forward rather than referring back.

But, given all that, sure, I think it works.

45.

catfish

March 25, 2006, 4:41 PM

Ahab (almost entered ahab as my name instead of the one to whom this message is addressed): For reasons I have never understood, indeed many artists and art lovers believe they find morality and aesthetics to be similar if not intimately co-mingled. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is as if few can accept the simple pleasure afforded by good art on its own terms. Curiously, aesthetics are ultimate and morality is not, but yes, in life, a moral imperative trumps an aesthetic one, in the very very rare instances when the two conflict.

46.

Franklin

March 25, 2006, 5:00 PM

Morality may be absolute as well, if rendered simply enough. There's an old Zen story in which someone goes to the master and asks for the essence of the teaching. He says, "Avoid evil, practice good." The man replied, "A child of six knows that." The master said, "A child of six knows it, but a man of eighty can't put it into practice."

I see huge commonalities between morality and aesthetics, but they operate independently of one another. If you take the pursuit of quality and apply it to your behavior, you find yourself asking art-type questions about it: did this work? was it appropriate to the scenario? did I do something good last time that didn't work this time? am I perceiving the situation with true eyes? But I see no evidence that talent for one correlates to talent for the other.

47.

catfish

March 25, 2006, 5:17 PM

Franklin, morality is a means to an end. Generally most pople say the end is happiness, though working out questions about how a theif is happy when he steals successfully and such gets tricky. How to describe and resolve questions like that are the business of ethics.

Art is a satisfaction complete in itself and aesthetics describes how that happens.The "art-type" questions you cite seem like studio questions, not aesthetic ones, because they relate to making art, not enjoying it

Regardless, I reverberate with your statement that talent for studio does not correlate with "talent" for doing the right thing.

.

48.

oldpro

March 25, 2006, 5:33 PM

I believe that Ahab was asking, and I know I was answering, with the assumption that art and morality are related, if at all, only by similarities in the dynamics of use.

49.

ahab

March 25, 2006, 6:28 PM

Right, oldpro. I wasn't intending to intimate that they were the same thing; but I regularly recognize some surprising similarities, and in more than just usage. I don't think I really utilize either art or god, not so profoundly as I experience them in their unique intricacies, at least.

Your comment, catfish, that morality is a means to an end seems to be a tinted one. I know people who would, with the same frankness, avow that moral action is satisfaction complete in itself while art is merely the means to an end.

Art is not my God, and God is not my Art. If that's clear enough without really saying anything.

As far as what can be said to be what other thing... that's the kind of conversation that coffee and blogging are best at facilitating.

50.

catfish

March 25, 2006, 6:42 PM

ahab, a moral action is satisfying when it leads to happiness; the aesthetic is an intrinsically satisfying experience, not an action. Art is the object of aesthetic experience; taste is the intermediary, not art. I think I am making more distinctions than you are, ahab, and perhaps using my words more percisely.

In the end, whatever is is. Jabbering about it is secondary. But I still observe a lot of art-types getting strangely teary-eyed over how "moral" their experience of and with art supposedly is. And it bothers me. Count me as a Jack Jr. in this respoect.

51.

Marc Country

March 25, 2006, 7:55 PM

Well, I go along with the obviousness of aesthetics and morality being completely different things and, as Clem would say, "Life as lived" is always more important than art. However, I think it's probably fair to say that both senses originate in our higher brain functions, and both share many similarities:

Morality is particular to human beings.
Aesthectic experience is particular to human beings.

Moral decision are for the most part ineffable.
Aesthetic decision are for the most part ineffable.

Morality, speaking broadly, deals with our intuition, through conscience, of Goodness and Badness.
Aesthetic experience, speaking broadly, deals with our intuition, through taste, of Goodness and Badness.

Morality is an end to itself, the evaluation of 'goodness' for its own sake*.
Aesthetic experience is an end to itself, the evaluation of 'goodness' for its own sake.

Concience is intuitive.
Taste is intuitive.

One's conscience can be educated and broadened through experience
One's taste can be educated and broadened through experience

A person's moral sense is unique to them.
A person's aesthetic sense is unique to them.

A general moral consensus can be or is formed between different individuals
A general aethetic consensus can be or is formed between different individuals

*"Murder is wrong", becuase you get thrown in jail, is not a moral decision, it is a logical decision.... "Murder is wrong" because murder is wrong, is an intuitive moral judgment serving no end other than itself.

52.

ahab

March 25, 2006, 8:06 PM

No tear-stained beard here, catfish. I know only enough not to trust the words too fully, but not so much as to always see what how they may have betrayed me.

#49: I don't utilize either art or god was supposed to gently rebuff the implications of #48: ...art and morality are related, if at all, by similarities in the dynamics of use. I probably should have just deleted the Art is not...God is not quip.

The thread could still be interesting if the comments pursued the distinctions between morality and art instead of the simliarities.

53.

ahab

March 25, 2006, 8:08 PM

Or Marc Country could jump in with a list of alleged similarities any second now.

54.

oldpro

March 25, 2006, 8:12 PM

I certainly will not start this, Marc, but I am wondering what over words could be substituted for "taste" and "conscience" above.

I think I go along, more or less, with everything but "general esthetic consensus". One important thing about esthetic reaction is that it always depends on the presence of the object. That's the object itself, not a memory of the object. Strictly speaking, you cannot say "the Mona Lisa is a good painting". You have to say "last itime I saw it the Mona Lisa was a good painting and I assume I would still think so if I saw it again." Whereas you can say, within fairly narrow limits, I suppose, "murder is bad".

Of course this may be qualified by the fact that most of us look at a lot of paintings but don't murder that often.

How's that for twisted logic?

55.

George

March 25, 2006, 8:33 PM

An aesthetic experience just is a good-bad taste decision switch?

56.

catfish

March 25, 2006, 8:38 PM

Ok ahab my friend, I'll pursue one more distinction by quibbling with our friend Marc Country.

"Murder is wrong" because murder is wrong, is an intuitive moral judgment serving no end other than itself. said he.

The intutive moral judgment Marc refers to serves life as lived, towards the end of human happiness, not itself. Saying it serves itself is merely word smithing. Even though ethics does not deal in certitudes, avoiding murder is a means to happiness; that's pretty clear to me.

While many would not like living a life without art, the experience of art ends in the experience and does not affect lived life, except to give up its intrinsic pleasure. But that pleasure stands lower than lived life, if a conflict bewteen the two exists.

An example of a conflict: Fluxus once proposed a "performance" that would include the homicide of a person who wished to commit suicide, and who would sign a contract to that effect, asking that this take place as part of the "performance". For the sake of this brief discussion, and especially to keep Jack calm, let us suppose this "performance" would indeed yield the pleasure that is distinctive to art for at least one person in attendance. (I'm not sure myself it would.)

Human happiness trumps aesthetic pleasure in this case, including the happiness of the performers. It so happened that the German authorities informed the artists that if they went through with this performance, contract or no contract, they would be indicted for murder. Perhaps it was merely a "logical decision" that promted the group to abandon its plan. But I hope it was more, that the governmental authorites awakened the moral sensibility of these people, and they realized their proposal would lead to their own extreme unhappiness, which I believe it would have, and they would have experienced considerable remorse and guilt for what they did, if they had done it. Governments are at their best when they protect us from our own impulses that would lead to our unhappiness, such as in this extreme case.

I can't believe the participants in such a "performance" would have been anything but devastated had they carried it through.

57.

catfish

March 25, 2006, 8:46 PM

And ahab, I know you are not a teary-eyed advocate of art as the "purity" that will justify the ways of god to man. (With all due respect to John Milton and Paradise Lost.)

58.

George

March 25, 2006, 9:00 PM

Taste: (webster)
[a] The ability to notice, appreciate, and judge what is beautiful, approproiate or harmonious, or what is excellent in art etc.
[b] A specific prefrerence; partiality; predilection.

The definition seems clear, no need for murder or a laundry list.

Problematic points are confusing [b] with [a] and agreement on what is beautiful etc

59.

ahab

March 25, 2006, 10:23 PM

One word that links conscience to taste is judgment. Though each has a similar landscape, the fields of moral judgment and aesthetic judgment do not overlap (as the Fluxus example makes clear) and where the former is meditated, the latter is experiential - not interchangeably. They may not even share a border in the sense that where one ends the other does begin - the DMZ between the two is a significant void.

I wonder if the noman's land that keeps each distinct from the other might not actually be more than a mere metaphorical commonality, though not mentioned in Country Marc's list of similarities. Maybe each creative act of a life lived is either moral or aesthetic. Even before it is a good or bad act, it is judged to be a moral one or an aesthetic one, with no room to sit on the fence. Are there other realms of humanity that might have some equivalency to morality or aesthetics?

I see oldpro's twisted-logic ante, and am probably upping it. I'm not trying to pin these things down but they're fun to mess around with (or make a mess of).

60.

catfish

March 25, 2006, 10:31 PM

Nietsche tried to unite aesthetic judgment with moral judgment. Though it had a certain appeal on account of its elegance, it didn't work out very well.

61.

catfish

March 25, 2006, 10:44 PM

Well ahab, sometimes moral judgment and aesthetic judgment intersect. For example, there are many beautiful pictures of the crucifiction, yet if you were Mary or one of Christ's good friends, such a picture (had it been painted) would probably not tickle your aesthetic twanger. That's because certain depictions of immorality break down aesthetic distance. (That's also why I doubted anyone would really get off on the Fluxus homicide/suicide if it had taken place.)

On the other hand, Manet has been said to have gotten off aesthetically on the change in his wife's lip color as she lay dying. That suggests Manet was somewhat monstrous, but nonetheless it is clear he was able to achieve distance from the sad event and let his twanger get twanged.

Some of deSade's writings are so morrally reprehensible that I can't get off on them, no matter how objectively well-written they seem, even in translation.

There are cases where moral judgment trumps aesthetic judgment. That doesn't mean we should have a new Inquisiton. Though inquisitions are a feature of a culture in decline, and may be unavoidable in the future.

62.

oldpro

March 25, 2006, 11:21 PM

It was Monet, Catfish.

Just about everything we do is a matter of judgement, even when it does not register as such. Some reactions are not willed judgement, however, like recoiling from pain, laughing at a joke, being frightened.

Our reaction to art, in the pure (best) sense is unwilled. Taste usually determines how we react, but often enough a reaction to art does not reach taste, as when we identify art as "good" without intuiting the goodness.

Moral judgements are often willed, whether or not they are inevitable or predetermined. I don't think moral matters and esthetic matters are that hard to keep distinct, even if they happen to overlap, as in the examples given by Catfish. The idea of deriving esthetic pleasure from watching a murder is not only ghoulish but probably impossible under most circumstances; the emotional stress would preclude it. Unless you are a ghoul, I suppose.

63.

catfish

March 26, 2006, 12:00 AM

Thanks for the correction about Monet, oldpro.

64.

George

March 26, 2006, 12:35 AM

It seems to me all this meandering is just that, meandering in search of a reason, a rational for judgement.

It is about the aesthetic experience and the degree to which this experience, this emotional response, is elevated in the presence of the artwork we offer to profess a judgement. This aesthetic response is palpable and real, even if we cannot find words to either describe it or transfer this awareness to some other art object. The word "taste" in this context is fairly broad, the bitter sweet, sour, salty of aesthetic sensation are less precisely defined than the taste of a Mango. Maybe you don't like Mangos, you still have taste, you might learn to like Mangos or not. It seems like the same is true for art

65.

ahab

March 26, 2006, 2:00 AM

A rationale for judgment? You judge every second, every split second, whether one thing is better than another - whether to take a half step to the left or to skip it altogether. Who needs a reason? Any meandering justification for discernment that you detect here is simply an attempt to bring these stupid words into some kind of accurate alignment with what's being met in real life.

Taste is unassailable, George. It tells you whether the thing you're looking at is something you are familiar with, whether you like it, and whether it mightn't be better than it is. Once you're familiar with the best that can be had, your new and improved taste cannot be subordinated. It can be temporarily sidestepped or recontextualized or misrepresented as shifty when it is really just maturing, or made to seem an indicator of ulterior motives. But the taste you have, and everyone has some whether aware of it or not, is an intractable, unruly, and stubborn detector of the best and worst experiences in life. It's a smart program that's always running, though sometimes deep in the background.

I care to talk about it, and to know it - not dismiss it by definition. I care to have other people consider their own taste a little more carefully, not less.

66.

George

March 26, 2006, 2:07 AM

Come on, Ahab, taste is an opinion and assailable.

67.

George

March 26, 2006, 2:11 AM

but I don't disagree with your assessment on how it is acquired.

68.

oldpro

March 26, 2006, 7:14 AM

Ahab, your first paragraph of #65 above is very good. Very few art writers ever note the infinite smallness of non-reasoned judgement and how it utterly guides our life, and how, in turn, it relates to esthetic judgement. And the suceeding paragraph, re "taste is unassailable", is just as much on track.

George, please understand that Ahab refers to taste as we did in the discussion earlier (my #38 & #40 and what followed) as a human capacity, which he tentatively compared to conscience. When he uses the word "unassailable" he means indispensable as a working reference point, not a fixed, specifiable standard. He got this one pretty much dead center, as far as I am concerned.

69.

Franklin

March 26, 2006, 8:52 AM

Moral judgments are often willed but the pang of conscience that drives them is not. Again, I think people have talent for the moral life similarly to the way that people have talent for making art, and that pang exists to different degrees in people. An acute response to moral situations is the basis for that talent. To fear a lie like he fears fire, as Tolstoy put it.

I would like to know what happens when taste, aptly described by Greenberg as "ungovernable," becomes educated. I didn't like abstract art when I first saw it. I started to like it upon repeated exposure. In fact, I remember an A-ha moment in the New Orleans museum of art regarding one of the so-called landscapes of DeKooning. What changes? I look for analogies in the world of food, but even there I'm not sure how it happens.

70.

oldpro

March 26, 2006, 10:25 AM

When you say "what happens" do you mean in a psychological or physiological sense? I think anyone who is seruious about art can recall the experience of acclimatizing to better art.

I had a natural attraction to art as a young kid of 10 or 11, but only to certain things - they were pretty good things, but my taste had not done enough tasting. When I was in college in the mid-50s our mentor got us to go look at Rothko we came back ridiculing them, "nothing but stupid big yellow squares" we told him. He just smiled and said go look again. Within a month I was painting mini-Rothkos. And I recall how slow I was to understand how very good Hofmann was.

One problem with this process is that it is known but wildly misunderstood. That's why the eyeless collectors drone on about how art must be "disturbing", as if that made it good. Good art, when new, is often disturbing, but it does not work the other way around.

71.

catfish

March 26, 2006, 11:17 AM

I would like to know what happens when taste, aptly described by Greenberg as "ungovernable," becomes educated.

"Educated" is a misleading word. It applies to the intellect. Taste is refined, becomes more cultivated, through experience, not education. In fact, education is what drives oldpro's "eyeless collectors" to rant on about "disturbing" art.

Myself, I am no longer sure "good art, when new, is often disturbing". Applying R. N. Elliott's guideline of alternation suggests that the next (current?) phase of art will manifest itself differently than the last, which was avant-gardist and admittedly disturbing.

So the great entity ART might be making its way this very day with hardly a peep. Unless, of course, you count the mainstream's discomfort with art that builds on tradition. That may be the new form of "disturbance".

72.

George

March 26, 2006, 11:31 AM

I meant unassailable more like what Franklin is referring to in comment #69. As you interpret Ahab, ok, I'll go along with that.

But, the question of "acclimatizing", of learning to extend our taste is the crux of the problem. Your example for Rothko in the 50's is interesting. At the time the review in Art News said "another ho hum show", honest, I skimmed every issue in the library and that comment stuck with me. But your teacher, said go back and look again, everyone did and voila! I can accept this with the following caveat, you were young and impressionable, willing to look again.

Where the problem lies is when the viewer looses the ability to become impressionable, to go back look again , they "know what they like", or "know what is good". These are opinions which become fixed and get in the way of experience. I am not speaking about a characteristic of "taste" or "goodness" here but the very human problem of resistance to a particular form of art even when it is indeed good. We all know people who dislike the work of certain artists yet at the same time others will vigorously argue that the same artists are of high quality, who is right?

73.

oldpro

March 26, 2006, 11:31 AM

I was onto the idea that good art is underground now, as always, but that it will manifest itself completely diffrently is a somewhat different and interesting idera.

74.

oldpro

March 26, 2006, 11:41 AM

Once again George (we have been over this before) "right" is a kind of illusion. if you lose the ability to recognize when something is good you lose something for yourself. You lose out, you miss something. You are not "wrong", strictkly speaking. This is something to be on guard against, certainly, but it is not "wrong", just self-limiting.

It is my feeling that most people who say they "like" bad art are second-guessing art, trying to figure out what is good, taking stabs at it, or lining up with the crowd. The art is not really getting to them. I truly believe that a lot of people in that crowd have never really had a real art experience. Art is just a counter, an identifiable associative thing, like a designer shirt. That's why they talk in terms of fashion and get so defensive when you tell them they like crap.

75.

Feneon

March 26, 2006, 11:56 AM

Rhetorically, confusion mounts for the "uninitiated" when they hear " he/she is a good artist". This is like a variety of advertisement for the morality of the artist, because the adjective "good" will likely not be qualified with the distinction "as an artist". Plus, the line between what is "art" in an artist's life, and what is just ordinary existence is sometimes fogged over. "As in Mallory's Arthurian legend, chivalry rewards the practitioner with victory, with "God on the side of the virtuous". The good guys win, so be on the side of the good. But this is foolishness in the real world. Cynical or not, one can easily see that some good artists are morally reprehensible, and some bad ones may do the right thing in most other spheres.
As to taste, whether it is above criticism or not, it depends on cultural context, and cultural utility. Rothko is truly just "big yellow squares" to the bushmen of Botswana, or the culturally under educated of our own context.
An acid test for truly universal art would be to guage response levels among the most ignorant, as opposed to the most educated. Or better yet, among both groups at once.
This might provide some insight into what art pieces have to contend with if they survive the culture from which they eminate.

Referring to #37
Oldpro, lest I go without putting forth anything more than jive, I think the "Brazil" painting looks pretty worthy, with the first image a side trip, and the last one pushing an extreme in a device that is characteristic of the later work.

76.

George

March 26, 2006, 12:08 PM

Oldpro, I respectfully disagree. If you imagine the realm of "goodness" as a map, an individual may not be able to comprehend the goodness of all the works in the map, their personal taste limits them to specific territories. In total, the summation of all these perceptions, these tastes, overlap all the areas of the map and define its extent. It is not exactly a consensus, more of a summation of opinions over time. Some things on the periphery of the map are nothing more than the fashion of the moment and eventually fall away. Others become included into the body over time. How much time is a question.

One characteristic of modern art, art since say Manet, is that much of it challenges the boundaries of acceptable taste of the time. This is where this battle is being fought between those who truly believe a particular work is good art and those who would dismiss it as fashion. It is a war of biases. It is what we have here.

77.

oldpro

March 26, 2006, 12:10 PM

The word "good" has cross-over power, as you describe, Feneon, but i don't think it is a real problem for esthetics.

I don't think "universal art" is anything more than a concept. Showing art to the culturally uninitiated would have to begin with an explanation of what art is in the first place. Terms like "good" and "universal" are sometimes necessary when talking about art but are really just substitutes for "If you work on it this will give you a kind pf pleasure nothing else can and will put across something of the human spirit to boot".

No art can survive outside of "culture", but any art can be seen as art by a somewhat diffrerent culture if that culture tries to. We are all wired the same.

The painting you refer to is very large and I can't see it well but I cannot take to it. It is cold as ice and the color is bad.

78.

George

March 26, 2006, 12:14 PM

Re #75: While I agree with the "acid test" in concept it would have stumbled on Analytic Cubism, which I believe 99% of the viewing audience still does not understand and only "like it" because it is in a museum.

On the other side I would use Van Gogh, or maybe better Basquiat. Basquiat is one of the greatest painters of the late twentieth century and manages to cross that line.

79.

oldpro

March 26, 2006, 12:32 PM

Sorry, George, I don't imagine the "realm of goodness" as a map or anything else. And what is considered "good art" is hardly a "war of biases". My "personal taste" operates around the edges of my art-liking but not at the center. I agree with most of the hills and valleys of the art of the past, art that has been settled out as better or worse. So do you, and our lists would hardly diverge.

You like numbers and statistics. How much of all the art ever made is in museums and accepted by just about all of us as "good art"? 1/10 of 1 percent? C'mon!

80.

Feneon

March 26, 2006, 12:43 PM

#77

Oldpro, if you mean there are no universals to be had with art, I can't agree. Perhaps a different culture, and a different utility. By your definition here rendered as "If you work on it this will give you a kind pf pleasure nothing else can and will put across something of the human spirit to boot", are you excluding most of the work done before fifteen century (in the West ) that had a particular craft function, i.e, to produce religious iconography, or in fact the religious iconography of pre-Columbian America, or India, etc.?
yes, the Bushman will bring his own baggage, (a cokebottle?), but it could be suggested that if it needs a guidebook, it might be less useful, less durable than if it did not.

George, put anything in the right package in this culture and it will be validated for attention at least. I do wonder if Picasso and Braque, like Malevich may have been looking for some ideom that would work universally, on a sensory level which arrives before baggage and culture.? Certainly they were getting points for being provacative.

81.

George

March 26, 2006, 12:46 PM

re#79: I'm not talking statistics OldPro.

It's more like having postcards (as tokens) of the art laid out on the floor in a pile and they get shuffled around according to taste. Some artworks we can agree on (goodness), some not and we rearrange the pile. For example, I think Rosenquist is a good artist and that over time this will be the case. Whether or not the works at MAM are his best is not the issue.

82.

oldpro

March 26, 2006, 1:31 PM

Feneon, I would rather not use the word "universals". It is a word that has been overworked and is not comfortable with exactness and particulars, and those are the things I like to work with.

I am not excluding anything from esthetic attention, nor would I; I don't know where you got that idea.

We all need a guidebook. It is called acculturation. Art is not art without it.

George, as I said before, there is 99% agreement on what is "good art", even you and I. I don't know why you stubbornly resist this. It is in evidence, obvious evidence. We disagree about Rosenquist, but he is contemporary, where most disagreement takes place - the tip of the iceberg.

83.

George

March 26, 2006, 2:04 PM

re#82 99%.... We disagree about Rosenquist, but he is contemporary, where most disagreement takes place - the tip of the iceberg.

it's also the area that is most interesting

84.

catfish

March 26, 2006, 2:18 PM

In #73 old pro said about good art "that it will manifest itself completely diffrently is a somewhat different and interesting idera".

Yes, when everybody was looking for comfortable "stews and gravies" the impressionists dished up "the shock of the new". Now that everyone is looking for the shock of the new, that is what they will NOT get. Even Clem did not see this. He insisted to the very end there was a "true avant-garde" somewhere that would carry on the shock thing, only with art that was superior to that of the "avant-gardists" who glutted the system after 1965.

An Olitski goes down as smoothly as a McDonald's milk shake and that's what the mainstream holds against him, along with his age. Emerging art fools the maximum number of art experts for the longest possible duration of time. That's the only principle that endures through the changing conditions of the contemporaneous cultural terrain.

85.

oldpro

March 26, 2006, 2:33 PM

I think it was your "idera" Catfish, and of course I meant to write "idea".

I've got to do something about those typos. In my own way I am a "drive by shooter" too, but the gun keeps jamming.

86.

Feneon

March 26, 2006, 2:42 PM

#82

Ok, amended, I will attempt to be as exact and particular as yourself.


As to acculturation:
Are you suggesting that there is somewhere you can go through a predictable and sequential process and learn to be an Artist, who makes "good" Real Art?
I'm not sure this is true, be it grad school, Boho underground, or the Party-time art Follies, or any combo. Maybe all that plus the SHK (school of hard knocks).??
Or is it accummulated from years of seeing and considering? Doesn't this exclude almost everybody?

I had to look for another image of "Brazil" on line, his color is jacked up to operatic levels, but hey, and the panorama of the changes in imagery seem to flow beautifully. Visual stream of consciousness as usual. Flips back and forth from narration to formal issues pretty well. Making an image on this scale can be very exhilerating. Like Michaelangelo his colors probably will fade with time. Sorry you can't appreciate him, if it is true you cannot.

87.

catfish

March 26, 2006, 2:45 PM

Don't fret the typos oldpro.

Even though art experts debate about exactly what is the best new art, they have amazing, nearly universal agreement that: 1), it will be disturbing; and 2), it will be done by younger artists. I believe they are looking in all the wrong places, and looking for all the wrong things, and that what Clem called "the malice of art" is still at work, making fools of them.

88.

oldpro

March 26, 2006, 3:00 PM

I think we were discussing appreciating art, Feneon, not becoming an artist. There is, of course, no "predictable process". "Years of seeing and looking", or something like it, is part of what it takes to appreciate art, yes. It also takes an eye. That excludes a lot of people, for example it excludes people who don't care about art, and it excludes a lot of the people who run around with opinions about art. Particle physics excludes me, but it does not exclude my son, who has made it his business to know about it. Art is a specialty. It is not for everyone. Why should it be? It is already way too popular, in my opinion.

It is certainly true that I "can't" appreciate Rosenquist. I said it, and I meant it.

89.

Jack

March 26, 2006, 5:07 PM

Re #83:

Dear George, how very like you. As always, you're resolutely correct. You're a credit to the zeitgeist, or something.

90.

Jack

March 26, 2006, 6:25 PM

Well, since there's free admission on Sunday, I went to MAM today. Wouldn't want to miss out or anything. The visit, however, got off to a bad start even before I entered the building. The county parking garage next to the museum has jacked up its price from $3 to $5. Instead of balking and telling the attendant to give her superiors the finger for me, I paid up. So I go in, fuming, to see work that doesn't interest me. Sometimes, even I am amazed at the brilliance of my reasoning.

I will say, in my defense, that I had nothing better to do except dreary utilitarian chores. I need servants. When I become ACWW (Art Czar of the Western World, for those not up to date), I will have minions everywhere. Minions on top of minions. I don't care if people say I'm ominionated. When I went to the Rosa de la Cruz mansion-museum, there was a veritable squad of uniformed maids. Every time I turned around, there was another one. I was SO impressed. By the maids. They looked so servile, too. I'll show Rosa, though. She and Carlos will really have to hustle to match my establishment.

So, MAM. The Vik Muniz show is titled Reflex. No, I'm not to make a crack about a gag reflex. I'm way above that sort of thing. Besides, the show was rather handsome, in its way, like a sleek, upscale interior design store. Everything was slick, glossy, very professional. I would have used a different title, though. Like Trick Pony. But hey, whatever sells, I mean, works.

There was no shortage of interesting and/or striking images, even if they were derived from images created by others (you know, Monet, Gauguin, Piranesi, famous photographs, and so forth), rendered in oh-so-clever ways like syrup, caviar eggs, pasta and little plastic toys. Just darling, really. And such big photos, too, in many cases. That'll show those dour, snotty Germans.

Still, nothing could quite match the text on the wall at the entry to the exhibition:

Muniz has often been pigeonholed as a photographer, but his constant experimentation with materials and techniques reveals him also to be a consummate draftsman, painter, sculptor, conceptualist, conjurer, critic and historian.

I mean, what more could one ask for? Is this a paragon for the ages, or what? There's nothing to do but alert the media and drag everyone into this show, kicking and screaming if need be, for their own good.

Poor Rosenquist. After the Muniz experience, anything else was bound to be anticlimactic. And it was: a bunch of paintings, too large and far too loud to be crammed into such a small space. They reproduce well, though. Too well. The photos Franklin posted look sharper, crisper and cleaner than the real thing--more professional, if nothing else. The stuff is pretty awful. Bad color, amped up to migraine level. Clunky, crude drawing (look at the lower left hand in Brazil; van Dyck would have had a stroke). Frantic, careening elements recalling something put through a shredder or a blender to no good effect. Loud, as I said, yet ultimately pointless and boring, certainly annoying.

This is absolutely, positively glorified Las Olas-Ft. Lauderdale commercial gallery material, based on my one and only trip there some years back (the experience was so ghastly I never returned). Don't talk to me about status, reputation, CV, upcoming retrospective or supposed importance. We're talking about this show and what's in it. It's not pretty, as they say.

91.

George

March 26, 2006, 8:39 PM

Spent a chilly March afternoon wandering through the 4th and 5th floors at MOMA (modern stuff) and took on the crowds at the Munch exhibition too. Munch's prints are often better than his paintings but the show is huge and a nice treat since I had not seen this munch of his work before.

#84 Emerging art fools the maximum number of art experts for the longest possible duration of time. Cat has a point, the current state of painting feels like the old academy. It has a certain point of view and a boring foundation. The big difference between now and then is that there is an active marketplace and a lot of galleries, the commercialization of art tends to distort what is produced. However anything which apparently "fools the experts" for 40-50 years probably is better than some might suspect.

#83. Jack, thank you, yes I am an artist, the disputed territory is my backyard

92.

Jack

March 26, 2006, 9:39 PM

P.S. to #90:

Peter Boswell curated the Muniz show, and Lori Mertes curated the Rosenquist. Even though the Muniz show is much bigger (the whole second floor), its catalog is the usual modest affair with a couple of B&W photos. The Rosenquist catalog, however, is a relatively de luxe production (12 pages), with every piece in the show reproduced in full color, a color photo of the artist--the works. I can't recall any MAM catalog this nice in some time, if ever.

In her catalog essay, Mertes calls the two most recent works, Brazil and The Xenophobic Movie Director (both 2004) "stunning examples of Rosenquist's signature style of painting on a massive scale." I was stunned, all right. Massively. But not quite the way she means.

93.

Marc Country

March 26, 2006, 10:23 PM

Quibbles and bits:

The fluxus example raised by catfish is interesting. It deals with three main issues, to my understanding.
1. Suicide
2. Assisted suicide
3. The 'aestheticisation' of these acts.
While there are undoubtedly many philosophical/ethic systems which would disagree, II'm not sure if I would consider the first two to be inherently immoral, but the last, I definitely would.

Of course, some people have always been able to find pleasure in other's pain, be it audiences for witch-burnings or other public executions, stonings, etc, to professional murders, soldiers, etc to the Marquis de Sade and the dentist in "little shop of Horrors". I doubt that you can really say that the fluxus 'artists' would have been horrified if they had carried out the act, any more than these other sadists are horrified by theiro own actions. Ghouls abound.

(The bit about Mary & co. not being tickled by crucifixion paintings reminds me of a comedy bit, discussing the grim absurdity of the crucifix as a Christian symbol, relating it to supporters of JFK wearing little rifle pins on their lapels... I can't remember the comic's name, and I know I'm not doing the humor of the bit justice).

I also think it's interesting to consider Monet "somewhat monstrous", as it seems to equate death itself with the moral 'bad'... is someone 'montrous' if they don't cry at funerals? What if you believe in re-incarnation? IS death such a big deal then? Why not marvel at the changing colours of skin?

Questions on the assailability of taste become clear when you consider it in relation to food: I can say olives are good, as can many people... but if you don't like olives, you are not "wrong" any more than olive-lovers are wrong. Taste is ungovernable, but it can also change.

#84
Even Clem did not see this. He insisted to the very end there was a "true avant-garde" somewhere that would carry on the shock thing, only with art that was superior to that of the "avant-gardists" who glutted the system after 1965.

I can't question what catfish writes that Clem said, but a quote of his (from the '60's I think) that sticks with me (and I'm sure I've quoted here before) is "What is authentically and importantly new... comes in softly as it were, surreptitiously- in the guises, seemingly, of the old... No artistic rocketry, no blank-looking box, no art that excavates, litters, jumps or excretes has actually startled unwary taste... as have some works of art that can be safely described as easel-paintings and some other works that define themselves as sculpture and nothing else". And, in Thierry de Duve's "Clement Greenberg Between the Lines", there is published the transcript of a debate, from March 30, 1987, in which Clem says "I'll say that the best new art is sneaky. It is. It tends to be easel painting or, in sculpture, it tends to be abstract sculpture, let's say, in the David Smith line and so forth. And it doesn't look all that new, in this classified, spectacular way."

94.

George

March 26, 2006, 11:06 PM

Re #93: "I'll say that the best new art is sneaky. It is. It tends to be easel painting or, in sculpture, it tends to be abstract sculpture, let's say, in the David Smith line and so forth. And it doesn't look all that new, in this classified, spectacular way."

For the most part this is not true. It is not sneaky, it is just not that common because most new art is just searching for a way to brand itself in the new marketplace. The best new art challenges taste, challenges the expected, reconfigures approaches and renews the given medium regardless of what it is.

95.

oldpro

March 26, 2006, 11:23 PM

Damn, George. I was just reconfiguring approaches this afternoon. How did you know?

96.

George

March 26, 2006, 11:25 PM

I didn't, but you are an artist it makes sense you might try this.

97.

Franklin

March 26, 2006, 11:39 PM

#70: I think anyone who is seruious about art can recall the experience of acclimatizing to better art.

Sure. But what's going on physiologically or psychologically that causes something to affect your taste pleasurably after doing so unpleasurably? That's mysterious.

98.

Marc Country

March 27, 2006, 12:11 AM

Re: #94
It's silly for George to say that Greenberg's statement "is not true"... all he is really saying is that he disagrees with Greenberg's taste... CG likes easel painting and sculpture in the Smith tradition best, George doesn't. That's all... Both are acurate statements about Clem's, and George's, differing tastes....there's no arguing taste though. (I believe this has been covered already).

99.

Marc Country

March 27, 2006, 12:17 AM

Franklin, perhaps its the range of feeling that broadens... when I was younger, I thought MC Escher was brilliant, and in a way, I still feel like that... but I don't think it's the height of art, because my experience has given me more options to judge against. I suppose I wasn't really thinking about 'art' as such back in my Escher days, which is part of it too...

100.

George

March 27, 2006, 12:22 AM

re #98 said first "What is authentically and importantly new... comes in softly as it were, surreptitiously- in the guises, seemingly, of the old... No artistic rocketry, no blank-looking box, no art that excavates, litters, jumps or excretes has actually startled unwary taste... as have some works of art that can be safely described as easel-paintings and some other works that define themselves as sculpture and nothing else".

I didn't want to requote the whole darn paragraph, I quoted the end and I disagree. I am not disagreeing with his taste as you state, I am disagreeing on the notion of what can be "new" and that it comes in softly. Basquiat is a good example, he came on the scene I guess right about the start of the eighties and was a big overnight sucess.

Whatever, it doesn't matter no one is paying attention anymore.

101.

Marc Country

March 27, 2006, 12:35 AM

Just because you're not paying attention George, doesn't mean nobody is.

The quote doesn't talk about what is "new"... its about what is "authentically and importantly new"... This clearly means something different to you than it does to greenberg, and that difference is dictated by the difference in taste between you and he. CG might say you were wrong, because in his opinion he might not think Basquiat was authentically or importantly new, as opposed to just chronologically new.

In #94 you make a similar mistake, blurring the distinction between "most new art" and "The best new art"... clearly there is a difference, as most new art is not the best.

102.

Marc Country

March 27, 2006, 12:44 AM

Part of that quote about the "authentically and importantly new (which I skipped over with elipses) contratsed this kind of art with "art that appears in the guises of the self-evidently new"...

103.

George

March 27, 2006, 1:54 AM

marc, when I say the "best new art" that's what I mean, the best, it's a subset of "most new art" and new art in general. I am not blurring boundaries here, I know what is happening. In painting it's a money driven fashion academy and much of the work in the galleries is not very convincing, even to me.

Just because you're not paying attention George, doesn't mean nobody is.
I didn't mean just me, Greengberg is history and arguably a great reference source for academics but he's gone and can't speak about the curent moment anymore.

If he had championed Basquiat, I would have been impressed. I have no doubts about the quality and power of Basquiat best work, he has a place in history. (I am using "best" here as a qualifier. Like any young artist he made some dogs as well, but his best work is really very good, better than anyone since Pollock and DeKooning)

104.

oldpro

March 27, 2006, 9:03 AM

George, when I said I was "reconfiguring approaches" I actually meant I was laying sod over an old path to my front door.

Burying Greenberg in history deprives one of several things. One is reading some of the best art writing every written. The other is turning away from the most prominent example of clear. direct experience with new art ever put into print. We can all learn from this, now, then and for time to come. And it is ferociously anti-academic. Why do you think the academic mentality hates it so much?

Franklin, I am not sure "art-learning" can be accurately termed as "mysterious" because it is internal and experienced by anyone who has paid serious attention to art. It has not been methodically examined because the kind of people who do that sort of thing have never been much interested in art processes.

I am sure it is quite similar to most of the growing-up we do, a matter of ingesting and learning. When I laughed at the Rothkos I was rejecting something that did not look like what I expected art to look like. But somehow they got to me and grew. This is how good art establishes itself, and it is something these nouveau collectors should make an effort to experience.

105.

George

March 27, 2006, 11:42 AM

re #104 Oldpro, i am I allowed to say "you old sod"? :-)

Re: CG, I think he was important for his time and yes his writings on art have value. I just have a suspicion of criticism and tend not to read it very much. I would rather trust my own eye and direct experience. I am interested in history, the histories of artists lives are interesting especially in the current era where we can now easily view the works (via web) which parallel the story. Among other things, what I find fascinating is the course of development over a period of time. In cases where there is sufficient information available on the web (van Gogh, Picasso) the changes over time can be linked with the artists life, location and influences. The sequence of false starts, unresolved works, often just drawings groping for a resolution, adding up and leading to a good painting or a total breakthrough in the work itself.

106.

Marc Country

March 27, 2006, 10:56 PM

George, you're clearly missing what Greenberg's writing has to offer, so I'll conclude by simply saying "your loss". You can, and will of course, disagree.


Regardless, I didn't post the above quotes to find out whether or not George agreed with Clem's take on "the best new art", but rather to contrast those published comments (from the 60's and 80's) with the suggestion by catfish that Greenberg figured the next great art was going to spring from the 'avant-gardist' tradition.
I suppose it's posible that CG saw the 'sneaky' easel painting and abstract sculpture as being the height of art being produced, but still thought it would be outdone by an undiscovered breed of 'shock' art... but it somehow seems unlikely, to me.

107.

George

March 27, 2006, 11:43 PM

shock?

108.

ahab

March 28, 2006, 12:22 AM

That shock link (that doesn't seem very shocking): Karin Davie should keep painting, but could handle doing a little less thinking about it, or at least less thinking aloud. Her assumptions about her painterly place as the nexus of hi mod, op, pop, and pomo art are all in her head.

Why don't reporters find someone with an eye and no conflict of interest to comment on paintings, if they can't do so themselves?

109.

catfish

March 28, 2006, 12:43 AM

Marck, Clem talked like the writing you cite, many times. Yet he never gave up on "the true avant-garde".

110.

George

March 28, 2006, 1:17 AM

RE #108-9

The thinking about it, is ultimately irrelevant, it may be her thinking but in the end it's her eye making the paintings. They are fairly good. It seems that it doesn't matter what talk you talk, it's just a confidence crutch, the paintings come from the subconscious.

111.

old pro

March 28, 2006, 8:51 AM

It is always painful to find an artist who seems to want to do real painting and talks about Greenberg in a non venomous way painting bad pictures and misunderstanding Greenberg.

This is not how real painting is going to sneak back. I wouldn't be surprised if it sneaks back in the guise of plain realism. I think that would please Clem.

112.

George

March 28, 2006, 9:57 AM

re#111: OP, Karin Davie's paintings are better that you're suggesting. I saw the Mary Boone and they looked ok. They have a nice light to them. That said I didn't care for them but it's just my taste.

The artworld is so big these days I'm not sure the sneaky word applies anymore. There are a huge number of painters working and showing today, maybe 10 times as many as CG's era. I've looked, and just about every conceivable angle is being explored, of course a large percentage of the efforts are less than thrilling. No doubt there are artists working in the underground by choice (me) but the options for exposure are there.

Re: I wouldn't be surprised if it sneaks back in the guise of plain realism. I wouldn't argue with this idea, for the most part the distinctions between realism and abstraction are blurring, at least in attitude it seems difficult to make a case for one over the other based just on this criteria.

113.

Franklin

March 28, 2006, 10:07 AM

That first image at the link looks promising. The other ones that go back and forth, a little less so. She can paint. I think the interviewer may have misunderstoond CG more than the artist.

114.

George

March 28, 2006, 10:22 AM

re#113 I think the interviewer may have misunderstoond CG more than the artist.

Maybe so. My point is that an artist might find some impetus for their work in any dialog. Davies is using the current language, it doesn't make the paintings any better or worse. If she spoke Greenbergese, it wouldn't change the paintings any. I think students latch on to the "talk" with a belief it "validates" their efforts. To the extent it gives them confidence to work it's good but it cannot make the paintings any better, that's about seeing and responding, not thinking about it. In the end one form of "talk" morphs into another "talk"

I will agree that "studio talk", a kind of formal analysis, why something works in a painting or not, is useful and commonplace.

115.

oldpro

March 28, 2006, 10:28 AM

"Options for exposure" George? It isn't a matter of numbers. I know at least a dozen excellent painters who simply cannot get shown because they do not have the right "look", or put their stuff forth without sufficient disingenuous BS. Jules Olitski went for 3 years in the 90s without a dealer, and not by choice. No, I think sneaky is still operative.

Davie's pictures might be better than I think because I browsed for them on the web only and have not seen them in person. They also may be worse. But I have seen so much else similar that I think my take may be fairly secure. You can't really overcome bad color.

116.

George

March 28, 2006, 10:52 AM

re#115. I'll agree that it isn't a matter of numbers. The competition is fierce and for younger artists, it is a matter of networking and politics, who you know.

Subscribe

@franklin_e

franklin.e

Offers

Other Projects

Legal

Design and content ©2003-2017 Franklin Einspruch except where otherwise noted