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First thoughts on Americans in Paris

Post #819 • June 27, 2006, 4:14 PM • 62 Comments

A bit under the weather and overwhelmed by what I just saw at the MFA yesterday, I'm going to review Americans in Paris slowly, in as many installments as need be.

My first thought: If this is what really jazzes me up as an artist, why am I not trying to paint like these guys? Oldpro has described the feeling of going to see some art, and then having to go back into the studio to deal with it. I had that experience over this exhibition. When the model came to the studio this morning, I told her to sit comfortably as I put a white sheet of paper on the board, took out a pastel pencil, and just tried to get it right. To make the drawing look like her. To make the modeling and proportions convincing. To get it in a good place on the paper. Before she arrived, I had it in my head to paint her, but it occurred to me that I hadn't worked realistically in a few months, and my game might be off. Boy, was it ever. I spent an hour feeling like I had all the fine motor control of a llama. By the second hour, my skills came back online enough to save the piece from disaster, but not enough to correct the misfortunes that cropped up during its start. With all due respect to other modes, and excepting the mysterious, monumental difficulty of getting something to be good, this is the hardest problem in art.

I don't paint like these guys because I make gestural marks as easily as breathing, and there's something sensible about capitalizing on your innate abilities rather than trying to recreate your talent from scratch. But seeing Beckmann in D2P didn't send me scampering back to the studio to come up with a retaliation. Seeing Elizabeth Nourse did.

An alert reader sent me a recent feature from the New York Times, in which culture editor Sam Sifton answered questions from readers. One Michele Taylor of New York City asked:

Maybe I am just not paying attention, but it seems to me that painters in traditional styles have a .0004 percent chance of being reviewed by The Times unless they have taken the precaution of dying quite some little while ago. Since imagery smeared on surfaces with pigments and grease has been "it" for the last 35,000 years or so, why are academics, critics and arts writers so quick to dismiss it?

Sifton replied:

I can't speak for the academics and wouldn't want to. But maybe you're not paying attention. In the past decade or so we've seen the pendulum of both artistic practice and its fair handmaiden, criticism, swing back in the direction of figurative art. Art coverage in The Times reflects that, no matter how many shows filled with dead artists we review.

As just one recent example, look at Holland Cotter's fine review of "Legacies: Contemporary Artists Reflect on Slavery," at the New-York Historical Society, which we published on Tuesday. Check out Whitfield Lovell's work there. Or check out Kara Walker's. Definitions of "figurative" are plentiful. But this stuff qualifies.

Taylor wansn't asking about figurative. She was asking about traditional. Kara Walker doesn't qualify. Jerome Witkin, mentioned later, does, but the Clayton Brothers don't, and Jackie Gendel really doesn't. I get the message that traditional figuration would be a wonderful thing to get involved in, only because you don't see this level of obfuscatory apologetics unless a whole class of somebodies finds itself in the wrong. The MFA has a Kara Walker up right now, positioned so as to create inevitable disappointment upon departing the room of Himalayan sculpture and heading towards Americans in Paris. In a hundred yards, you get art made for the sake of eternity, art made for the sake of the times, and art made for the sake of both. Those Americans were on to something, and we're not done with it yet.




June 27, 2006, 5:44 PM

This Sifton person is painfully slippery. You can sense him defensively slithering all around the issue. His response, as a result, is not even remotely convincing and only makes him look shifty. The NYT just keeps looking better and better.


Marc Country

June 27, 2006, 7:18 PM

Oldpro, is this true? Do you really walk backwards into your studio after viewing a particularly good exhibition?



June 27, 2006, 7:25 PM

Hm. I think I'll stick a "go" in there.



June 27, 2006, 7:31 PM

I would like to see that drawing from that morning. Maybe it is not that bad, as you describe ? I think those artists and most mature artists care much less about making it good or making "art". They probably care more about the object and listen more to themselfs. Art often happens, when not really intended. Artists should more relax. For me works wonderful a glass or two (but not more) of Red Wine.



June 27, 2006, 11:16 PM

Yes, Marc, if it is so good I can't take my eyes off it.

Damn, that Sifton is disingenuous. The reader asks about painting and he gets his nose rubbed in PC. This does not raise my already low opinion of the paper and its culture coverage.



June 28, 2006, 9:26 AM

Sifton? Culture editor? Yeah, right. Try status quo maintenance man.



June 28, 2006, 9:43 AM

Kara Walker makes work which I admire so much I get goosebumps.

I also think that silhouette work is rather traditional, though hers is not such a traditional application or subject matter. Still, her work relies on that tradition.

Yeah, the NYT has a poor record of reviewing frescos, though they have tried to step up recently. Cave painting had a nice rally recently.

I think you should push your attempt to paint like "those guys" (what, no Cassat in that show?) as much as you can. Only because there's a trick hidden in that "easily as breathing" phrase.



June 28, 2006, 10:44 AM

Ah, KH has arrived to spread the PC cheer. Yes, there were Cassatts, a dozen of them, and masterpieces to a one. I already cited Elizabeth Nourse above. I was wondering who would show up to open the What Does Traditional Mean topic, because it's extremely important to certain parties that the 600 year history of using oil paint in a mimetic fashion finds no priveleged place of respect in the world of art, the feeling being that it has enjoyed privelege for too long.



June 28, 2006, 10:52 AM

Well, I think sex has been done to death (sometimes literally) and run into the ground, so we just need to move on, reproduce artificially, and encourage new and innovative ways of getting off, I mean getting pleasure.



June 28, 2006, 10:56 AM

Regardless of Sifton's slipperiness or not, in the original question from the reader, the phrase "painters in traditional styles" is not very precise. I'm assuming the questioner meant "in traditional western realistic (or academic) styles.

For me this raises other issues concerning the implied notion that a "realist" style should approximate "what we see", somewhat in the way that photography presumes to represent what we see. An examination of the entire history of depiction or representation in world, art reveals a broad variation in the stylistic conventions of representation and I would suggest that it does not make much sense to think that one is better than another.



June 28, 2006, 11:13 AM

I would suggest in turn that you knew what she meant, George, despite the imprecision, and so did Sifton, and so did KH. It follows then for me to wonder why it keeps needing explanation. Any of the representative modes are equally viable as art, in theory. In practice, I don't find that to be the case.



June 28, 2006, 11:28 AM

Of course, Franklin. We all knew what the reader meant - you, me, KH, George, Sifton and probably any reader - despite any linguistic imprecision. Those who will go to their death defending "openness" are ever so quick to to close up when it comes to anything with the onus of historical acceptance.

George, you say "For me this raises other issues concerning the implied notion that a 'realist' style should approximate 'what we see'". I am trying to figure out what else it could possibly mean.



June 28, 2006, 11:29 AM

I indicated that I was assuming the questioner meant "in traditional western realistic styles. Am I incorrect?



June 28, 2006, 11:57 AM

Of course not, George. That's my point.



June 28, 2006, 12:03 PM

D-i-s-i-n-g-e-n-u-o-u-s. Yep, that about covers it.



June 28, 2006, 12:04 PM

Re #12
A "realist" style should approximate "what we see". OP says, I am trying to figure out what else it could possibly mean.

What about Asian art? Egyptian art? Indian art? Mayan art? African art?

Each of these cultures have "styles" (in a western sense) which one would assume dipicted reality, the world around them, in a distinct style which is figurative or pictorial but not "realist" in the western sense. Why is one better than another? It's a rhetorical question, the're not, so to dodge the implications of the readers question, from "academic realism" to "figurative" isn't such a stretch.



June 28, 2006, 12:20 PM

re #8, OK Franklin, I see what you're getting at. ... because it's extremely important to certain parties that the 600 year history of using oil paint in a mimetic fashion finds no priveleged place of respect in the world of art, the feeling being that it has enjoyed privelege for too long...

There's always Kehinde Wiley, but I don't think that's what the reader meant. So what did she mean?



June 28, 2006, 12:54 PM

Why is one better than another?

I don't know why, George, but i've been looking at art a long time and they'e not all equal. The Greeks are more interesting than the Egyptians. The Ming Dynasty was better than the Wen. Kangra Indian miniatures are better than Mewar. They should all be equally viable, but they're not.



June 28, 2006, 12:58 PM

Hey, Franklin. I think you completely over-reacted to my comment.
I promise to append jokey faces from now on.



June 28, 2006, 1:04 PM

Re #18 They should all be equally viable, but they're not.

Well, that is my point, I'm suggesting this is a culturally contexed preference



June 28, 2006, 1:14 PM

If you're going to make me explain "traditional painting," I'm going to make you explain "culturally contexted preference." Do tell.



June 28, 2006, 1:28 PM

C'mon. George. An Egyption figure looks like a figure so it "approximates what we see". This is just semantics.

"Culturally contexted preference" means, by implication or extension, that our esthetic preferences are not based on anything neurological in our brains or on millions of years experience evolving on this planet but on temporal fashion. This, of course, is the current pomo opinion, and, as evidenced by numumerous blog discussions in the past, this is the way George sees it. The phrase "blinkered view" describes it perfectly.



June 28, 2006, 1:39 PM

Re #22, "Culturally contexted preference" means, by implication or extension, that our esthetic preferences are not based on anything neurological in our brains or on millions of years experience evolving on this planet but on temporal fashion.

Not exactly, just that basing it on anything neurological in our brains or on millions of years experience evolving on this planet alone is silly. The cultural context, the time a human lives in, provides and develops part of the so called "neurological" experience. That these factors are not stactic but constantly changing, otherwise art wouldn't change, and it does.



June 28, 2006, 1:57 PM

You are confused George. I was not talking about "neurological experience" as such but to the neurological organization that creates experience by interacting with the environment.

Our "cultural context" obviously provides experience but cannot change that organization in any measurable way. Otherwise we would be doing through clear and visible evolutionary changes by the generation.



June 28, 2006, 2:08 PM

Re #24,

I totally disagree. The "cultural context" influences our "neurowhatever" experience. Of course maybe some people can see a painting as nothing more than colored patches on a piece of cloth and have an "experience" LSD helps there. But I suspect for the rest, they "see something" first, process the image, have an emotional response then a cognitive response. There are a lot of things going on at once, to try and reduce it doen to one or the other is simplistic at best


Marc Country

June 28, 2006, 2:42 PM

The examples to which Franklin refers in #18 are clearly instances of preference which transcend a particular cultural moment or bias. A consensus has developed, over millennia, and across societal boundaries, about these things.

George, re-read your #20, and explain how it is that when YOU "try and reduce it do[w]n to one or the other" it isn't "simplistic at best"?



June 28, 2006, 2:47 PM

George, once again you have reduced me to silence. I cannot argue with a misunderstanding machine. Talk to Marc, he is braver than I am.



June 28, 2006, 3:33 PM

Re #26, I am not trying to reduce it down to one or the other.

The cultural context influences our experience of an artwork, this isn't reducing the experience down, to the contrary it suggests it is more complex than some want to admit.

I'm suggesting that one experiences art both in a subconscious psychological way (the neuralwhatzits) and in a cognitive way. In first case one just has an "experience" which is akin to an emotional reaction. With the other, one is consciously aware of the experience in a cognitive way. I don't think the two can be separated or placed into a hierarchy, it is a dualistic situation.

I originally brought up non-western art as examples of how other cultures at different points in time had conventions, styles of representation which they deemed "realistic" (for lack of a better word) The 600 year western model is just one among many, neither better nor worse, We may make quality judgements about non-western art, I assume these cultures did as well, but that is not the point I was trying to make.



June 28, 2006, 4:02 PM

Re #27 - OldPro
Don't misinterpret my characterization of painting as nothing more than colored patches on a piece of cloth I was using an absolutely literal description of the painting object, and not referring to any one painter or style. A gross generalization.



June 28, 2006, 4:06 PM

So how does that answer #18?



June 28, 2006, 4:28 PM

George, a hangnail influences our experience of an artwork. I was not talking about the experience but the estimation. So were you, before you started buildng mental mazes.

As for realism, you said " "For me this raises other issues concerning the implied notion that a 'realist' style should approximate 'what we see'". I answered that I could not understand how a realist style could do anything but approximate what we see. This is a matter of simple semantics. Please, please, let's drop it.



June 28, 2006, 4:44 PM

Re#30 (referring back to #18)


I wasn't trying to make a quality judgement per se. Certainly some artists, possibly historical eras, will be better than others.

What I was trying to suggest is that a painter in Wang dynasty (or Ming, or) was working within a cultural context which had certain conventions of representation. A great Wang artist might have extended these conventions, or developed an entirely new vision, yet I would argue that it was all being done within the "Chinese" cultural context and that the final forms of the representation were different in appearance than ones which developed in the Western world. I'm suggesting that "different" is the operative word here, not necessarily "better"

So in the current cultural context, where for the first time in history we have access to reproductions of all sorts of historical world art for inspiration, the mode of academic representation (or whatever was the slighted style) is now just one among many. I won't disagree that the NY Times might have a bias against a particular style but this situation may be the typical cultural norm of other times as well.

I have no conceptual bias against academic realism, I don't care for it but that's not the point. I believe the problem may be contextual. Academic realism is "seen" with it's historic baggage, this type of painting may engender the memory of past paintings, with a prejudice. I would like to believe that this shouldn't matter, that the current cultural context should have no stylistic prejudices, but I'm afraid that is not true.



June 28, 2006, 5:15 PM

George, I never met a "context" with a "prejudice" and neither have you. Good grief!



June 28, 2006, 5:21 PM

OP, Yeh you're right thanks for the correction, I should have said...

I would like to believe that this shouldn't matter, that viewers within the current cultural context should have no stylistic prejudices, but I'm afraid that is not true.



June 28, 2006, 5:34 PM

If you really love art, George, you have all kinds of prejudices and they affect you more or less, but you learn how to apprehend what is good nevertheless, imperfectly or not. it is a matter of joyful experience, not of splitting hairs.



June 28, 2006, 6:02 PM

Re:#35. Op

Well in the singular I agree, but I still think that in the plural, viewers are subject to prejudices which get in the way, and affect how the approach and experience the art.



June 28, 2006, 6:37 PM

The problem: Who is watching you?



June 28, 2006, 6:46 PM

Of course, George, most people can't see art at all and couldn't tell the difference if their life depended on it, but as I recall this whole discussion went back not to the question "do people have prejudices when it comes to judging art" but to responding to Franklin that his judgement that one type of art style or art-making might be intrinsically better than another was a "culturally conditioned preference".

You had no basis on which to make that conclusion because you cannot read Franklin's mind or know if he is correct or not., and therefore you must give him the benefit of the doubt. For example, I may not agree with him that the Greeks are more interesting than the Egyptians, but I have no reason to assume that his judgfement is culturally rather than esthetically based.



June 28, 2006, 7:08 PM

Sorry, your phrase was "culturally contexted preference". I guess I could help improving on it, albeit unconsciously.



June 28, 2006, 8:56 PM

#37 Op,

My response to Franklin did not have anything to do with his personal opinion.

The only judgement mention was referring to myself and it was negated.

The wording "one better than another" was specifically stated as being rhetorical, not requiring an answer but only alluding to a process of differentiation.

I was not speaking about judgement, I was speaking about the nature of the experience.

Specifically, I believe that the "aesthetic experience" is more than a "gut reaction" stimulated by some evolutionary neuronic pathway. I would suggest that it is also cognitive, that it is at least in part, based on a conscious awareness of the paintings image and the cognitive associations the viewer makes with what they are seeing, either consciously or not.

To suppose anything else suggests that the eye-brain performs no associative filtering or recognition process, and that is just not true.

My contention is that, to one degree or another, the symbolic (semiotic) "meaning" of an image, always becomes part of the viewers experience of the painting. I believe this is true even if the image is reduced down in the most minimal way. The eye-brain tries to make "sense" of the image. This is not a trivial function, at it's core I would suggest it is survival oriented, the flight or fight reaction. Any humanoid which thought a saber tooth tiger was a "cute little kitty" probably didn't get a chance to contribute much to the gene pool.

I don't think a painting needs to be "explained" but this does not imply it is without some measure of "meaning" and that the cognitive response is part of the aesthetic response.


Marc Country

June 28, 2006, 9:20 PM

Oldpro, Re: #27:

You don't give yourself enough credit.
You've clearly got bravery to spare... or is it masochism?



June 28, 2006, 9:43 PM

It is the latter, Marc. A pissing contest with someone who just chugged a six-pack.

The "eye-brain" is cognating all over the place, George. Who said it didn't? Everything that's there is there. It's all grist for the mill of esthetic judgement. The esthetic experience takes it all in and reacts, very quickly. Any other kind of reaction is another kind of reaction. Esthetic experience does not comprehend "meaning". That is, not unless you want to allow "meaning" to comprehend non-specifiable experience.

For crying out loud, just go look at a painting and refelect on how you react!!



June 28, 2006, 10:17 PM

Actually, none of this really addresses my point in #18.

I am saying that some modes have more gas in them, aesthetically, than others. This ought not be true, according to the idea that quality has no qualities, but it is anyway. George asked rhetorically, why is one style better than another? I answered non-rhetorically, I don't know, but some are. He replied with something that I can only render as "you are merely expressing preferences that are influenced by your culture."

I am replying, now, that these eyes in my head are the only eyes I have to see with. There is not some device that can check for the existence of artistic quality in absence of an observer, like a geiger counter can detect radioactivity. But it's real, existing independently, for humans to respond to. If my response is acculturated, then so was my learning to walk.



June 28, 2006, 10:33 PM

Re #264
The esthetic experience takes it all in and reacts, very quickly. Any other kind of reaction is another kind of reaction.

What kind of reaction would that be?

Does it have anything to do with the art?

Does it have anything to do with experiencing the art?

Is this aesthetic experience negated if it takes too long or requires some consideration?

If two peoples eye-brains are cognating all over the place and have different aesthetic experiences, which is right? Why aren't their experiences the same?



June 28, 2006, 11:21 PM

Art & meaning
Egyptian art is aesthetically impressive and full of meaning or gist.

Egyptian vs. Greek art:
Their culture and interests are so different from each other that it is not fair to say that one is better than the other. Yes, for 3000 years the Egyptians didn’t bother to change their art; but it all had to do again with their culture and this is emphasized in the TV documentary on PBS
“How Art Made the World”:

Here is an excerpt
…“To the ancient Egyptians, their schematic and conceptual image of the body mapped within a grid system was a divine gift that would be spoiled by any deviation from the norm.”

“…Ancient Greeks were preoccupied with philosophy and mathematics, but there was something in their culture that was the equivalent of Egypt's obsession with order and precision. The Greeks were fixated with the human body, and to them the perfect body was an athletic body. They believed their gods took human form, and in order to worship their gods properly, they filled their temples with life-size, life-like images of them.”



June 28, 2006, 11:30 PM

It may be that the figure in the picture looks like your grandmother. So you say "that looks like my grandmother". That is another kind of reaction. Or it might have too much black and black reminds you of death and you hate it. That is another kind of reaction.

More germane: you "just love" the picture, a la our much discussed Miami collecters, because it "looks like art", because it has stylistic characteristics that everyone "likes" and so you react that way too. This would be your "culturally contexted preference", I assume. That is another kind of reaction.

You can react any way you want to. You can walk away.

Lots of things may get in the way of apprehending the art esthetically. If you love art you learn how to deal with these things, learn how to distance your eye from these relationships so you can get what the work has,learn how to look and how to see. One of the characteristics of art as we know it is that it is packaged in a non-threatening way and apart from utility so that we can, in fact, apprehend it esthetically. All this is obvious enough to go without saying, I should think.

If the art takes too long to "get" then yes, that probably vitiates esthetic experience, but it does not preclude getting esthetic experience from the same art subsequently. This has happened to me many times. It is part of acculturation.

I hardly think people have different esthetic experiences. They may have different other experiences from the same picture and esthetic experiences of different intensity but esthetic experience is more or less the same. It is roughtly the same for me whether I am looking at Rembrandt or listening to Mozart, so I assume it is for others. This is reasonable to assume, accords with my experience and seems obvious. I have no idea how it could be "proved" but i don't care.

What art has for us is given by experiencing it. If something does it for me and I tell you about it and you get nothing out of it, well, too bad. One less thing in this world for you to enjoy.



June 28, 2006, 11:36 PM

Luisa: what we call art can have all kinds of meaning. Art Historians, for example, call this "iconography". Art can be used to cover a hole in the wall or prop a door open. However none of this has anything to do with esthetic apprehension.

This has been hashed over and over at infinitum here and elsewhere forever and a day. I don't see why it continues to be so difficult to understand.



June 28, 2006, 11:46 PM

If two peoples eye-brains are cognating all over the place and have different aesthetic experiences, which is right? Why aren't their experiences the same?

Their experiences aren't the same because peoples' tastes differ. People have unequal abilities to detect quality. This is only hard to see, I think, in the edge cases. We don't argue about whether Walter Keane is better than Rembrandt. We're not going to talk about whether Madonna's Confessions on a Dance floor surpasses Beethoven's Ode to Joy. The mystery becomes apparent when I like a particular Klimt and OP doesn't. I trust his eye and he doesn't think mine's worthless, so we wonder at each other, go look again, and see if we get the same kick as before. But I think we'd agree that it's better than Erte. And let's face it, anyone who prefers Erte, we disqualify them from looking at art with us, just like anyone who prefers Boone's Farm to Moet doesn't get invited to those classier parties.

Luisa, I'm sorry - you're right. It's not fair. But it's still true. The Egyptians never produced anything comparable to the Lacoön, and it's doubtful that they could have even their interest in the body equalled their interest in geometry. Egyptian sculpture is not bad by any metric, don't get me wrong. But when I go to the museum to look at stiff, stylized figurative sculpture, I head towards the Etruscan work, or Maillol. And if I want to see something with a little more juice in it, I go look at the Greeks and the Indians. Sorry. Taste is imperious.



June 29, 2006, 12:06 AM

I saw that episode, Luisa, and though I was fascinated by the thread being traced from the Venus of Willendorf to the Riace Bronzes by way of Egyptian iconography, the proposed dialectic was too simplistic by far. The best part was when the host declared how spellbound he was by those bronzes.

All the rhetoric aside, and despite attempts to understand why or how, it was the host's powerful aesthetic response that mattered the most - both to him and to his audience.



June 29, 2006, 12:13 AM

I don't see why it continues to be so difficult to understand.

Well, who besides us are standing by that? I was just railing over at KH's blog against the Cult of Openmindedness, in which criticism is heresy. Nothing yanks the chain's of the cult's leaders quite like the exercise of judgment.



June 29, 2006, 12:14 AM

Did I just make a word plural with an apostrophe-s? Bedtime.



June 29, 2006, 12:24 AM

Re#246 op

What does that mean?

When is one sufficiently acculturated? When they agree with you?

Re#248 Franklin
Egyptian sculpture is not bad by any metric, don't get me wrong. But when I go to the museum to look at stiff, stylized figurative sculpture, I head towards the Etruscan work, or Maillol.

I bet not if you were in nth dynasty Egypt. Your "taste" would be Egyptian.
Leaving personalities out of it (not referring to Franklin's taste).
What forms "taste"?
I suggest it is the cultural context.



June 29, 2006, 12:28 AM

Oopsie, left something out, it should have started with
This has happened to me many times. It is part of acculturation.



June 29, 2006, 12:50 AM

47. oldpro: Art can be used to cover a hole in the wall or prop a door open. However none of this has anything to do with esthetic apprehension.... I don't see why it continues to be so difficult to understand.

I do. But only because it's still less than ten years since it became clear to me that I wasn't satisfied with the distractions I'd been taught were the things that matter. But they are not mere diversions, they're quicksand, which allows no intimate study.

I'm watching Lawrence of Arabia - one of his friends just got sucked in.



June 29, 2006, 1:02 AM

George, you're making the same argument as the PBS show Luisa referenced. I bet if you watched that first episode you'd see how poorly "cultural context" works to explain what we artists make and what we art-looker-at-ers like.



June 29, 2006, 1:27 AM

I bet if Lawrence's friend had had a work of art on him, he could have used it to get out of the quicksand somehow, like, he could have pulled a Sarcophagus out of his pocket and used it as a raft, or maybe he could have even climbed into it. I'm not sure if the Laocoon would have helped or hindered, but if he would have had a pocketful of Persian miniatures, he'd have been sunk.

Probably his best chance would have been to have had Martin Puryear's Ladder for Booker T. Washington stashed away under his cloak. One of Kcho's installations might have been useful. Or if he'd had one of Andrea Zittel's compact living units he could have just hopped in and waited for someone to come back for him while he snacked and napped and listened to his iPod.

If this dude had a work by Zittel on him, you know he had an iPod. The video kind, natch.



June 29, 2006, 8:29 AM

Franklin, when you say in #48, "Their experiences aren't the same because peoples' tastes differ" you seem to confound the experience and the judgement of the experience. Taste is how you get to the experience, but the experience is essentially the same. Esthetic experience may differ as a matter of degree but not of character. When we differ about the Klimt it is as you say: we are both zeroing in in the same thing and we both want the same thing out of it, but what we get is somewhat different within a narrow range. We are both forced, in this instance, to be implicitly critical of the others taste - You would say I "don't get it" and I would say "you are going for something inferior for other than esthetic reasons" - but we are both on the same wave length, just tuned to a slightly different frequency.

These differences are the inevitable consequence of the basic variability of human experience, and you make a good point when you give examples of the necessary narrowness of esthetic apprehension. The problem of a discussion of this kind is that we have not developed the language and background needed to discuss it cogently. I am not sure, for example, how we would handle the retort of the Madonna fan that the experience of Madonna was just as much an esthetic experience and on the same "level" as the experience of Beethoven. This is the perpetual "de gustibus" question, and it has never been satisafactorily and clearly resolved in such away that a clear and quick answer is readily at hand.

George, What is it you don't understand about those sentences? I don't know how to explain something so simple and straightforward. (And, I have to agree with you that if you were "in nth dynasty Egypt" you would go for Egyptian art and not Etruscan or Maillol! As they say: "duh"!) "Cultural context" provides the grist for taste; taste itself is formed by individuals. We have all gone through it. That is what I meant by "acculturation". We find our way to the good stuff by picking through all that cultural detrituus you insist forms our taste. Don't you know the difference?



June 29, 2006, 9:35 AM

I bet not if you were in nth dynasty Egypt. Your "taste" would be Egyptian.

This doesn't demonstrate anything. I might have decided that sculpture wasn't for me and taken up cat embalming. I concur with OP's "Duh." What's mysterious is why the opposite happens - liking things that are outside of your acculturation. I was born at the height of Pop. It's not like we had Baroque masterpieces or Chinese handscrolls around the house, although certainly there was art. I went to grad school in the early 90's, when what was big? Peter Halley? Barbara Kruger? Mapplethorpe? Somehow my culture didn't speak to me, and I picked up on deKooning, Degas, Sengai, and other people who lived in geographically and temporally distant cultures. This is what makes me think that an important component of what we call quality resides in the object, and that it is not merely a learned response.

OP, I could go along with your differentiating the experience from judgment about the experience, because, as you say, we don't have good language to describe this. I don't really feel it to be the case, though. I think taste is the experience. That's why it works so quickly and irrefutably. Maybe rather than split the viewing experience into components, we need to split taste up into the instant response and the reflection afterwards. But that's probably the same thing, and I'm confusing myself.



June 29, 2006, 10:13 AM

Ahab, even though the show was about why artists distort or exaggerate the image of the human body, I believe that the show at one point demonstrated clearly that culture influenced the art work of the Egyptian and Greek artists.

Even though I really didn’t learn anything new, I enjoyed very much the episode. Like you, I was fascinated by the Riace bronzes and his reaction. Well, according to the NYT, Dr. Spivey “…makes for an agreeable travel companion, speaking slowly, clearly and with a merciful minimum of art jargon. He also seems to know when to get out of the camera frame and let the exquisite artwork do the talking.”



June 29, 2006, 10:17 AM

Oh no! Dead Shark Not Aging Well



June 29, 2006, 10:31 AM

Franklin your account is an excellent anecdotal refutation of George's thesis. I could render a similar and earler account of what I went through. Only the names would be different. I think thousands of others could do the same.

I don't disagree with you, nor can I clarify, this matter about sequence and simultaneity when apprehending art. Sure, taste is experience, at least in action.The only real 'facts" we have is what we can discern about ourselves while looking at art.

Luisa, I understand they have to hire a full-time person just to take care of that horrible thing. I wonder how long Mr. Cohen will be "happy" with it. I can tell you, having the money he spent for it would make me VERY happy.



June 29, 2006, 11:52 AM

I have no sympathy for Mr. Cohen. Anybody who'd pay that much for such an overblown and ultimately empty contrivance deserves none. He's as much of a joke, art-wise, as the shark. P.T. Barnum would have loved him, or at least found him hysterically funny.



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