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The roundup of the turkey

Post #911 • November 22, 2006, 8:36 AM • 95 Comments

Thanksgiving preparations, submission of a few choice items for the this weekend's show at Dorsch, and more work on the project I can't tell you about preempted yesterday's post, and imminent festivities seem to be taking needed press contacts out of their various offices. Let's call it a week and get suitably overfed.

The Getty collaborates with Orthodox monks in the Sinai for an icons show.

Whiteboard stop motion.

Chris Ware does collectable covers for the New Yorker this week. (Kottke) Elsewhere in the New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl wets himself over Kiki Smith. "In a way, Smith creates nothing but tours de force: one-of-a-kind coups of an indefinite style that has no consistent middle range." In a way, I'm a chocolate cupcake. A poor, poor moment for Schjeldahl. [Update: Recanted. See below.]

Modern Kicks springs back into action. Onward, stalwart blogger.

Edward Winkelman, sweetly, full of feeling, and with his heart in the right place, gets it totally wrong. It's not communication, it's infection, as Tolstoy put it, and the aesthetic comes first.

"We don't teach long division; it stifles their creativity." Does this sound familiar? It does to me: "I have never had an advanced painting student." And this: "Clearly basic drawing and the skills associated with it have been radically reduced."

Department of Skills: Anthony Gatto totally shreds. (Reddit)

The tees are en route and will be ready in time for Art Basel/Miami Beach. Order yours today.

Comment

1.

Jack

November 22, 2006, 9:29 AM

Note to Schjeldahl:

Get some diapers and deal with it.

2.

opie

November 22, 2006, 10:07 AM

Shjeldahl's arch cutsiness and hip-ocracy drives me nuts but I always thought "wetting oneself" spoke of either extreme fear or extreme gushing adulation. I suppose you mean the latter, but after all he did call her a "minor artist", and doesn't seem to admire much about her except her personal likeability.

3.

edward_

November 22, 2006, 10:54 AM

Wow.

Who knew that among his other great achievements, Tolstoy managed to even consider aesthetics (or infection, for that matter) without communication tools...what a genius.

Having said that, have you got a link to Tolstoy's argument?

e_

4.

George

November 22, 2006, 11:03 AM

Franklin, you have it all wrong, he might be awaxing poetic but there's no fluids involved.
I tend to agree with opie. In an artworld dominated by money-politics, Schjeldahl's protecting his access flank, his review is essentially a slam.

5.

JL

November 22, 2006, 11:09 AM

he did call her a "minor artist", and doesn't seem to admire much about her except her personal likeability.

That was my impression, too. There's a lot of compliments thrown about, but most of it is about her, while many of the descriptions of her work have an air of faint praise, or undercut themselves ("not quite plenary work," for instance.) I got the impression that he certainly likes her and doesn't want to offend her or her admirers (or step too far out of current conventions), even likes the work--but isn't really sold on it. Not the gutsiest review, as a result, but not exactly the rave it might be taken to be, either.

Onward, stalwart blogger.

Eh, I have not yet begun to crap out. Actually moving this weekend, with the chaos and loss of internet access that brings. Don't know when it will end.

6.

Jack

November 22, 2006, 7:48 PM

I just read the Schjeldahl piece on Smith. It manages to combine condescension and flattery, which I expect would go over well in certain circles, but strikes me as a pointless (not to say disreputable) exercise. If an artist doesn't do much for me as such, no amount of personal "quirkiness" or "charm" is really relevant. No matter how much I might like someone as a person, if the work isn't much good, it's not much good. What the hell difference does it make how many stars the woman has tattooed on her body? Who is this guy writing for?

Sorry. I know who he's writing for. He's just doing his job.

7.

Franklin

November 22, 2006, 8:08 PM

Okay, I've reread the Schjeldahl piece and I'll cop to misunderstanding his level of appreciation. I guess I'll cop to having a "knack for bitterness" too. JL sums it up.

e_, I don't have a link, but I refer you to If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland, where she discusses it at length. I recommend it as one of the best books about art ever written. Tolstoy wrote a book called What is Art?

8.

opie

November 23, 2006, 2:29 PM

I see what you mean about Winkleman, very sweet & sincere & all wrong, turning art into some sort of telegraph wire to transmit "ideas".

Someone should gently inform him that art doesn't run errands and couldn't care less about whether we are having a nice day.

9.

artist since '45

November 23, 2006, 3:16 PM

yes, opie, we know...art serves only art.
Your version of what art is rules.

and 95 % of art since 1945 is irrelevant.
yes yes...we know. pomo shmomo...

don't you ever get bored of yourself?


don't choke on that turkey, turkey.

10.

opie

November 23, 2006, 10:35 PM

Not true, '45. Art is for people, 95% of all art is not much good, and some very good art has been made since 1945. I don't know about "relevance".

11.

Marc Country

November 23, 2006, 11:45 PM

Dammit, Opie! Get in that box!
Grr... rrr... must... shove you... into my limited... worldview... errgh!

12.

George

November 24, 2006, 10:45 AM

The problem is how one defines that pesky 5%. What is 'good' is subject to debate and how 'good' is defined or perceived, seems to change over time. If, for example, people use Ed's point of view, they might have a different collection of 5% objects. It is quite possible that he is correct and that his take will represent 'taste' for the next 100 years. Of course this might not be the case, but then maybe it might. Time will tell.

13.

Marc Country

November 24, 2006, 11:05 AM

"Then, using a pictorial key mounted on the telescope, the observer can translate the lawyer’s messages and, perhaps, divine something about personality or his soul. Or at least whether the deli forgot to put mustard on his pastrami sandwich again."

I'll stick with my 5%, thanks.

14.

opie

November 24, 2006, 11:53 AM

As Marc says, George, I will stick with my 5%. It is defined by my eye. The eye is the only place where "good" can be establshed.

Once the eye establishes "good", people talk and write about art and a consensus about what is good is established. This will change over time, but as time goes by the older part of the consensus changes very little, and then mostly in the form of reviving a few reputations by taking a second look.

The consensus seems to square itself with the eye in time. Temporal fashions fade and something else more permanent comes forward. I have very little argument with it if I go back 100 years but I have major differences with its judgement today. It is very possible, as I am convinced, that in years to come Warhol will be seen by the consensus as little more than second-rate, fashionable art, but the possiblility that Henri Martin will be seen as a better artist than Monet seems inconceiveable.

it is not a "problem", it is a process.

15.

craigfrancis

November 24, 2006, 12:31 PM

I think 45's comment wasn't so much forcing OP into a more narrow world-view (I thought you guys were FOR a narrow world-view, but whatever), but rather an expression of boredom with the status quo.

Anyway, Ross King's new book entitled (I think) "Judgement of Paris" deals with the Impressionists' rise in the 19th century and is applicable to this conversation in terms of how what's "good" changes over the course of just a generation or two. Check it out. I mean, if you want.

16.

craigfrancis

November 24, 2006, 1:07 PM

Oh. And I know I know we've had this same seemingly futile conversation a million times already, but after reading Winkelman's descriptions of the work, and the reaction to it here, it finally dawned on me what ya'll have been stating so often and so clearly over and over again without my getting it at all. I think.

I look at art to feel less alone in the world. Any piece that achieves this is, for me, successful, whether it's done aesthetically, conceptually or whatever. For me, something that looks ugly can still be good in that it has an aesthetic, emotional or intellectual resonance that lasts long after I've seen the work, and upon repeated viewing.

Opie, for example, judges a work's success purely on "visual pleasure", a term that consistently tripped me up because I can still take pleasure in art that is decidedly unpleasant.

Anyway, this is neither here nor there, really. I'm just saying.

17.

opie

November 24, 2006, 1:40 PM

One of my grad students is reading that book, Craig, and really loves it and is insisting I ready it. I believe I will. Sounds good.

The relationship between what is "pleasant" and "beautiful" and "ugly" and "unpleasant" and "good art" gets into your head when you look at art and creates confusion. I think anyone who looks art hard enough has often had the problem of reconciling an apparent tastelessness or offensiveness in a work with the simultaneous feeling that there is something of artistic value there too. I was thrown for a loop the first time I saw Olitski's garishly colored, marbleized "orb" paintings about 5 years ago but they quickly grabbed me and wouldn't let go.

Greenberg said "All profoundly original art looks ugly at first". Of course the art mob caught on to this years ago and started making "bad" art on purpose, effectively paraphrasing Greenbergs statement to "All profoundly ugly art looks original at first".

18.

Bunny Smedley

November 24, 2006, 1:53 PM

Craigfrancis, I can think of lots of objects to which I might feel very attached for non-aesthetic reasons - say, a portrait of someone I admire, or a street-scene that reminds me of a place where I've been happy, or a drawing by someone I love, or a work commemorating a tragedy that matters to me, or an old icon, or a fragment of a statue from some ancient civilisation that's haunted my dreams.

But I wouldn't necessarily make claims for any of the above as 'art' unless they really seemed to engage me aesthetically - unless they worked for me in visual terms, above and beyond any other considerations. Indeed, there's a whole big category of items I would accept as art, even as great art, that I don't actually like, because although it works aesthetically the extrinsic associations are too negative for me. But then, I have never been one of those people who think just because something is art, it's in some way better than things that aren't art.

For me, anyway, calling something 'art' mostly helps by providing a conventional framework in which its qualities can be discussed - although as this site frequently proves, most of us seem to define the boundaries of that framework in slightly, occasionally catastrophically different ways.

Well, that's my two cents' worth, anyway.

19.

Edward_

November 24, 2006, 1:57 PM

I see what you mean about Winkleman, very sweet & sincere & all wrong, turning art into some sort of telegraph wire to transmit "ideas".

Someone should gently inform him that art doesn't run errands and couldn't care less about whether we are having a nice day.


OK, I'll bite..but in two steps. First, why is my assertion that communication is where most art succeeds or fails for me wrong?

Secondly, where did I assert that art should run errands or that it was to be personified in any way at all?

20.

opie

November 24, 2006, 3:10 PM

Edward: You told a story (very clearly and succinctly, by the way) about a video of someone with blood all over them chopping up a valentine, and how "2 burley men" (good ol' boys who don't usually care for art, I assume) came in and looked at it and finally came up with the supposition that it was "about a broken heart". You expressed joy, presumably because you felt that they had "gotten it", had understood the piece, which no one else had understood, despite that it was named "heartbreaker".

This is a pure example of symbolic communication, on a very rudimentary level, at least, and I can understand your gratification under the circumstances. But it really has nothing to do with art as such. This piece seems not to have been meant to be art (except nominally, of course) but an illustration of an idea. There is nothing wrong with that, but there is something wrong with the idea that the communication of an idea constitutes, in itself, a work of art.

There may have been something about the video or how it portrayed the action that made it art, but that is not in evidence. The idea, the thing the burly men understood, it nothing but an idea. It could have been transmitted in a dozen different ways, some perhaps more effective than this piece.

By "running errands" I meant "used to convey ideas or otherwise go to work for some other purpose". Art is more than, or other than, words, sentiment, ideas, purposes, or practical ends. Good or great art can and has depicted things suggestive of ideas throughout history; There are tens of thousands of crucifixions, for example. They all "about" the same thing. Very few make it as good art. It is apparent that why those few are better as art is the "why" that we spend so much time wrangling about, and has very little to do with ideas as such.

21.

Edward_

November 24, 2006, 6:09 PM

There may have been something about the video or how it portrayed the action that made it art, but that is not in evidence.

Not true. I linked to a pdf file with more information about the piece created when it was exhibted at Real Art Ways in Hartford. Anyone questioning whether I meant my brief description to stand in as a statement for the "art"iness of the piece need do nothing more than read that pdf for more information.

You expressed joy, presumably because you felt that they had "gotten it", had understood the piece, which no one else had understood, despite that it was named "heartbreaker".

Not understood in the sense that they exhausted the piece, no, but yes, I experienced joy that it reached them on some level. After days of folks shouting "That ain't art" through the window, it was nice to have confirmation that I wasn't so far off in one of my general measures for "visual art"...that it be accessible, at least in part, on a very basic level.

In other words, you projected a good deal onto my anecdote that would have been unnecessary had you decided to read the PDF file, IMO.

I don't disagree with your statement that "Art is more than, or other than, words, sentiment, ideas, purposes, or practical ends." (although I'd take out "practical" as I can't consider anything designed as "practical" to be "art"), but I either don't understand or don't agree that :

"It is apparent that why those few are better as art is the "why" that we spend so much time wrangling about, and has very little to do with ideas as such."

In general I disagree that what makes something "art" versus "not art" or "good art" versus "bad art" is so nebulous it's beyond discussion. Moreover I wholeheartedly disagree that what makes art good or bad is not related to the ideas behind it.

22.

Franklin

November 24, 2006, 6:31 PM

If the ideas and the quality of the art related causally, then all those crucifixions would be good. They relate thematically, because with no Christian story the art wouldn't exist, but their relation ends there. Quality relates causally to form, but not in any kind of predictable manner.

23.

Marc Country

November 24, 2006, 6:52 PM

I am continually overwhelmed by both Bunny and Opie's intelligence and patience... I sure admire you guys.

24.

opie

November 24, 2006, 7:07 PM

In regard to #21:

I could only go by what you said in your blog. Whether there was a PDF file with more information is beside the point. I might look at the PDF or at the actual piece and say "yes, that is good art", but my response was directed to your story and your statement - "yes, it's about having a broken heart" - and the clear representation of the piece as art. This means that in your opinion the art is the idea or the illustration of the idea.

Certainly something designed to be practical can be art. This seems to be so obvious as to go without saying, so I will say nothing further, but I will be happy to discuss it if you want to.

I did not say that what makes something good art is "beyond discussion", I merely implied that it was difficult. If you can say what good art is, if you can put it into words or a formula, please get in touch so we can patent it.

I did not say that the quality of a work of art is "not related to the ideas behind it". That would be preposterous on the face of it. What I did say was "... there is something wrong with the idea that the communication of an idea constitutes, in itself, a work of art."

Sorry for all the hair-splitting, but art is complex stuff and it is in the interests of those who love it to think and write clearly about it. Otherwise we get sucked into the quicksand of obfuscation that the art business lives on, at our expense.

25.

opie

November 24, 2006, 7:11 PM

Thanks Marc.

This from Bunny:

"For me, anyway, calling something 'art' mostly helps by providing a conventional framework in which its qualities can be discussed - although as this site frequently proves, most of us seem to define the boundaries of that framework in slightly, occasionally catastrophically different ways."

Is certainly worth a hell of a lot more than the 2 cents by which she so modestly values it.

26.

Edward_

November 24, 2006, 7:45 PM

I could only go by what you said in your blog. Whether there was a PDF file with more information is beside the point.

Hmmm....

I'm at a loss for how a link to a file introduced as "see this PDF file for more info" could be beside the point as to whether or not there was evidence available clarifying if "something about the video or how it portrayed the action that made it art"?

I think it's exactly to the point, but perhaps that's just me.

Anyone who thought the piece might be limited to the layer the gentleman appreciated it on could click through and learn more, if so inclined. You concluded that there was no additional evidence on which to think elsewise, but I'll just repeat that the link contradicts you there.

but my response was directed to your story and your statement - "yes, it's about having a broken heart" - and the clear representation of the piece as art. This means that in your opinion the art is the idea or the illustration of the idea.

I'm sorry if that statement suggested that there was only one layer to the work. I'm sorry if you felt I should have said to those men, "Well, it's about that on one level, but actually it's more about rejecting society's expectations of how women are supposed to feel about romance" --all of which was in the press release, that I was fairly sure these men wouldn't take time to read. I'm sorry that you seemed to miss that connecting with them at all was a triumph in this context, the point of the post, and worthy of noting, but certainly not the only opinions on the blog about art or its appreciation. But mostly, I'm sorry if including any of this explanation would have saved you from the burden of mocking me (which you're doing, so...), but in the context of the post, where I stated plainly "whether [art] works or fails for me personally often has a great deal to do with how well it works as communication," I didn't think anyone would have read that vignette as representing a totality of my opinion of the work in question. My mistake.

27.

opie

November 24, 2006, 8:21 PM

Edward, I was NOT mocking you. I had no such intention, nor can I see how what I wrote could be seen that way.

Let me explain again. The PDF may very well not be "beside the point" as a tool for estimating the video. As I said, I might see the PDF or the actual piece and think it was great. As I also said I was directing my attention toward what you said, which, as I tried very hard to explain, I took exception to.

Thank God you did not say to those burly fellows "Well, it's about that on one level, but actually it's more about rejecting society's expectations of how women are supposed to feel about romance". Is that supposed to make the piece "more art"? Because it is not "just about" heartbreak ("just" heartbreak? Aarghh!) but on a "deeper level" or "another layer" (what is this, a cake?) about some excruciating gender-based cliche that manages only to exclude the direct and real feeling they got from it? I don't think they would have left with smiles!

Of course I get your point about connecting to them, and I think I made it clear that I understood your pleasure at that. That's just fine. I only took exception to the equation of art and idea. I never said, nor would I ever say, that communication of some kind is not essential to art. I only think that when talking about it we have to be careful to be accurate about it.

Blogs are made for the exchange of opinion. This is not personal. I am very sorry if it seems so.

28.

ahab

November 25, 2006, 1:33 AM

MC gets it exactly right, once again.

I too think that the e_w post in question is mixed up. I refuse to succumb to the ignoble idea that my job as an artist is to impart knowledge (or even an experience) unto a viewer. Maybe there will be a viewer, maybe not; and if there is one, maybe something will be received by that person but maybe not; and if something is perchance received by the viewer maybe it will be good but maybe not; and, on the bynow longshot chance that something good is received I'm sure I didn't communicate it. But I guess I could pretend I orchestrated it all.

"Communication" must be the wrong word for what happens in front of a work of art, or just the wrong concept altogether.

29.

craigfrancis

November 25, 2006, 3:02 AM

What I find most interesting about Bunny's comment is her mention of extrensic associations being too negative for her. To what, precisely, does this refer? If a work's aesthetic value is the core of its worth as art, aren't (as we've heard numerous times here) its extrensic associations rendered irrelevant?

Bunny, aren't you contradicting yourself?

30.

opie

November 25, 2006, 7:31 AM

Whether or not a work art seen esthetically is communication is a fine semantic point, Ahab. You make something. A viewer sees what you make. The viewer "receives something good" (your words), perhaps. This is not communication in the classic sense of imparting information, but it follows the path of and shares characteristics of what we call communication. Some sort of transfer has been made. Any well-worked out esthetic theory would heve to deal with a lot of these semantic niceties.

Good point, Craig. There is plenty of stuff people call great art which I don't like, but I cannot think of anything I personally think is great art which I don't like. They would seem to go together. Maybe she can give us an example.

31.

franciscraig

November 25, 2006, 7:54 AM

Do you have examples of art things that we could comment on and evaluate as a group? Or are you and other bloggers negative only? I'm curious because I know what Franklin, Opie, George etc. do but not you. Could you comment here please as I am a student and want to understand some more things about art, critism and quality. Are you more smarter than the blogmaster ? Please tell us that you are not contradicting yourself.

32.

opie

November 25, 2006, 9:39 AM

If you are asking Bunny these questions she posts her URL, above

33.

Bunny Smedley

November 25, 2006, 9:40 AM

Examples?

For starters, I've got a big problem with anything painted by Jacques-Louis David because his politics strike me as downright evil - although I acknowledge his genius when it comes to creating compositions, and even rather admire his use of colour and his willingness to flatten out space. I just wish his paintings had been painted by someone else, in the cause of something else. I admire them but I don't like them.

I've seen almost nothing by Diego Rivera in real life but suspect I would have similar problems with his work.

On a less political note, a lot of Impressionist painting has been 'ruined' for me, at least for the moment, by its chocolate-box connotations and the blockbuster crowds of irritating, silly people it alway seems to draw when it's shown in London.

I once had a bad visit to a Dan Flavin exhibition accompanied by someone who used to be a good friend - bad in the sense that we weren't getting on well, and that got in the way of the art - and now I can't look at Flavin's work without unhappiness and regret, even though I used to very much like it.

Does that clarify what I was trying to say? What I don't want to do is to get into a debate either about my politics etc, or conversely, about the quality of the art in the examples. The Flavin show, for instance, could really just as well have been a show of work by Titian or Poussin or Pollock - the sense of contamination was that bad. Yet the work hasn't changed - just the layers of association through which I now view it.

Of course it can work the other way too, and indeed I could list a dozen deeply mediocre paintings I love deeply, because I've been happy in front of them, or because they somehow 'spoke' to me. And yet I wouldn't try to defend them as impressive works of art, because - well, because the visual quality just isn't there.

This doesn't seem either a particularly complex point or a very original one, which makes me a bit worried about how badly I must be explaining it!

34.

Bunny Smedley

November 25, 2006, 9:45 AM

By the way, if that comment of Franciscraig at 31 is addressed to me -

Are you more smarter than the blogmaster ? Please tell us that you are not contradicting yourself.

- then no, I am by no means 'more smarter' than the blogmaster, and yes, possibly I am contradicting myself, although obviously that isn't my intention. Doubtless if I am, someone here will be kind enough to point this out to me.

35.

craigfrancis

November 25, 2006, 10:42 AM

Just want to say that franciscraig is not me.

Whoever you are, please change your handle to lessen confusion please.

Thanks Bunny for your response to my original question.

36.

Franklin

November 25, 2006, 10:53 AM

I can remember a eureka moment in which I realized that I didn't like Edward Hopper, but he's good. Now I like his work. Liking and appreciation seem to be separate in antipathy but one in sympathy.

37.

opie

November 25, 2006, 11:09 AM

Intresting reaction, Bunny. I can't remember how I felt while looking at anyone's paintings. The only exception I can remember was when years ago, as a young artist, a mere kid in paint-spattered jeans, I tried to buy a Morandi painting at a Madison Ave gallery. I asked the very snippy clerk how much it was and he sniffed and said "three". I took a long consultation with my wife and we decided to get it so I went to the clerk and said "I can manage a hundred now and a hundred for the next two months" at which point the staff and patrons started sniggering and giggling. "Three THOUSAND" he huffed as he walked away. Talk about embarrassing!

But I still love Morandi.

38.

Bottle

November 25, 2006, 12:59 PM

heard that one before, opie.

39.

opie

November 25, 2006, 2:15 PM

I'm flattered that you remember, Bottle.

40.

XYguy

November 25, 2006, 6:39 PM

Charlie Rose on PBS had an interesting week of discussions about the art. If anybody missed, you can watch it from his website www.charlierose.com Robert Hughes, the art critic has mentioned at the end of the interview, that only two words describe a quality of art for him. The words are: intensity and being comprehensive in communication with the viewer. I agree completely with him. In my case, it was the original reason I have shifted my interests from emphasis on the abstraction to emphasis on the figurative oil painting. The same week, Charlie Rose presented two artists: Mr. Brice Marden, who retrospective is currently at MoMA and interview with Lucian Freud’s art dealer. Mr. Marden is a nice guy and I congratulate him that his work is on the display in MoMA. But if I think about both artists (B. Marden and L. Freud), for me, Mr. Marden’s work come across cold and devoid of human factor, In regard of comprehensibility, it is there within the language of abstraction but it is mechanical. As a viewer or art collector which painting work would “get to my nervous system” (quote from Robert Hughes interview). On instinctive level, even if I don’t know much about the visual art, Lucian Freud appeals to my humanity. He has achieved level of intensity and comprehensibility in his work, where AbEx never will (no matter how many million $ is worth it, in the auction house). The human perception of environment is complicated thinking process, so by definition it is complex process. Splashes of colors or lines and squares on the canvasses, even if comprehensive (B. Marden), against the complexity of human figure (L. Freud), will not evoke intense response in most of the viewers, because lines, splashes, squares are lacking complexity of human figure. You can argue that AbEx can be visually complex, too. Well, AbEx is not “getting to my nervous system” anymore, so something is missing here. I used to enjoy AbEx in the past when I “discover it” but now, I see its limitations and obvious predictability.
This is my 2 cents on painter’s eye.
***
Note: On Charlie Rose website are few glitches at the beginning of interview then it runs smoothly.

41.

pereiradasilva

November 25, 2006, 7:21 PM

Art should communicate with the viewer, not ossify in state museums and galleries. Art should be about wonder, spirituality, humanity and life, not introverted examination of art itself. Interminable dissection and examination destroys as it explains.

Art is in the display of the object and not the creation of the object. Whether we like it or not the gallery or museum are intrinsic to the value (financial or critical) of the art object. The artist seeks the exhibition and the attention. They may not seek the associated celebrity status, they may not seek the extremes of financial reward that can be generated through engineered publicity but they do seek the exhibition of their work.
If these arenas are important, then they are important for a reason, and the only common reason is that it puts the notion of the creator of the work, as an artist, in the public domain.

42.

jordan

November 25, 2006, 7:24 PM

"It is almost a century since Wassily Kandinsky wrote On the Spiritual in Art. Why reconsider it now? Not simply because of historical reasons--not simply because it is time to take a fresh look at a text that had profound influence on twentieth century art--but because art faces the same problem now that it did then: how to generate and articulate what Kandinsky called “the all-important spark of inner life,” or, as he also called it, of “inner necessity.”(1) It is the core of “spiritual experience.” The problem is even greater today than it was in Kandinsky’s day: what he meant by the spiritual was self-evident to his audience. Today it is not. Its meaning was anchored in religious tradition. Today there is no religious tradition to sustain it. Thus, in describing how he came to the idea of the spiritual in art--realized that “the sensations of colors on the palette” could be “spiritual experiences,” as Kandinsky said--he described how he felt as though he was taking a “‘stroll’ within [a] picture,” that he was “surrounded on all sides by painting,”(2) whenever he entered a church." Kuspit

This is perhapes why you may see some limitations XYguy. The spiritual post-war revival has been undermined by "sensation", leaving little room for an artist's inward looking creative practice. This is speculation of course.
I hope that the link above works.

43.

jordan

November 25, 2006, 7:33 PM

I should have capitalized "Sensation" as it refers to an exhibition in 2000 where Chris Ofilli (sp?) made a painting of the Virgin Mary. I'm also refering to the practice of looking outside oneself AT instead of inward views projected outward such as the Suprematists did - Malevich for example.

44.

opie

November 25, 2006, 8:18 PM

XY & Pereira sound like the same person.

45.

Franklin

November 26, 2006, 12:14 AM

Art shouldn't strive to communicate. It should simply exist in an excellent manner. With that accomplished, whatever transaction happens between the artist and the viewer will take care of itself, and will do so in a meaningful and lasting way.

Opie is correct that some sense of communication might apply, but another poor converse springs up around it - good art communicates something, so something that communicates is good art. This is false, and I think it's the basis of EW's misunderstanding. Yes, the burly guys got the message, and it's nice that they could intuit their way to the subject of the art. They have a better felt sense about art than the people jeering through the window. A little celebration is in order. But it speaks better of them than the piece itself, which still seems pretty silly.

EW rightly discards practical objects from the category of art, but communication in the sense that he's describing it is nearly a practical concern - the object has a function to transmit a certain message, and it can fail or succeed at that function. That's not the essence of art, which exists for itself, and at most has the function of satisfying the parts of us that want these things to exist.

46.

nobody

November 26, 2006, 2:18 AM

(its just a shame) nobody is listening.

they are all either agreeing with you or thinking something else.

47.

George

November 26, 2006, 3:44 AM

This discussion is the dog chashing it's tail again. We're in the information age now,
Communication is what it is all about

The old abstraction vs figuration debate is a worn idea, it's time is past. Art is an abstraction, a semiotic system, artists can use what they wish, to what ends they wish. Some won't get it, some will, and it does seem to make a difference how well one communicates. The gist of the arguments seem to lean towards 'communicating' in a particular way, my beret or the highway. Nothing like a house built on hindsight

48.

digit

November 26, 2006, 7:51 AM

I have watched Charlie Rose show mentioned above in #40. In our times, the art has become so "diversified" that a lot of us are scratching our heads and ask the question "is it art or not?" In this case, any elimination process of bad art would be helpful for art onlooker like me. That's why I liked the idea of intensity and comprehensibility in the artistic expression, too. In my humble opinion, it is a very valid point and the helpful idea for the wider art audience, which includes me, to differentiate what is good or what is a weed in current art scene. Frequently, I am at loss in this cacophony art-talk arguments what we supposed to value as a great art. The words in art circles become so cheap, now, that I don't trust anybody in his/her recommendations of "new great exhibition" in local gallery.

In post #45. "The art shouldn't strive to communicate. It should simply exists in excellent manner"
I have problem with this statement. The "excellent manner" means probably the criteria of good art in this context. As I understand concept of the art, it is a medium of communication like any other media books, films, music etc between producer of the message (an artist) and the receipient of it (a viewer). If we cann't agree on this we are no longer talking about the art and the general audience wouldn't recognize artist's message as an art. That's why I disagree with the statement in #45. THE ARTIST AND HIS ART DOESN'T EXIST WITHOUT THE AUDIENCE. The most important skill the artist can have, it is the ability to communicate with the public through the art (read: technical skills and intensity/comprehensibilty per Mr Hughes). This is a gift, some people can do it, some people will never reach such level of skills even with the best available education. It is not the case of maybe or "some sense of communication might apply" If someone claim to be a pro, it is no way around this. The artist either communicate with the audience or his art is a garbled speech or at best boring and regurgitated ideas of other gifted artists.

#47 The post #40 explains what led him to quit painting abstractions which is different from debate abstraction vs figurative paintings. Posting lnks to Wikipedia like this it is in a bad taste. Anybody can check for themselves what communication means.

49.

opie

November 26, 2006, 8:50 AM

As for art, Digit, trust your eye, not opinion.

As for what is written about art, trust what makes sense.

50.

Franklin

November 26, 2006, 9:58 AM

As I understand concept of the art, it is a medium of communication like any other media books, films, music etc between producer of the message (an artist) and the receipient of it (a viewer).

It is a medium, but not a medium of communication. Books use language, which makes them a different class of objects. Films usually do, and music often does. Visual art can use language, and can communicate graphically, but it doesn't have to. It can refrain from doing these things and still succeed as art. Therefore its essential function must be something besides communication.

In this case, any elimination process of bad art would be helpful for art onlooker like me.

It's a vexing problem. Something about the world of art piques your interest, so you poke around a little. You find people venerating a huge range of objects, some of which are lovely, and some of which are ridiculous. It would be nice to have some rules of thumb to sort it all out. Hughes's is not bad as such things go. But it's better to get out there and see what objects you enjoy putting yourself in front of. Those are the good ones. Here's a rule of thumb from me: Seek out beauty and delight.

51.

Franklin

November 26, 2006, 10:34 AM

XY, we are human figures, so we respond to pictures of them in a particularly intense way. Marden can still be sublime in my opinion.

Pereiradasilva, whether art ossifies has more to do with the art than the place it's being shown. And if display trumps creation, then any object could be made to succeed as art by canny display. This is clearly not the case.

52.

Marc Country

November 26, 2006, 12:20 PM

THE ARTIST AND HIS ART DOESN'T EXIST WITHOUT THE AUDIENCE.

If you believe this, you've never been to Edmonton...

53.

Jack

November 26, 2006, 5:10 PM

In the sense that great art, when it is appreciated as such, communicates its greatness, then yes, communication is always involved. It certainly doesn't have to be literal or even something that can be articulated well by the recipient. I knew Verdi was a great opera composer the first time I heard his work, at which time I was rather ignorant and had no particular idea what the actual or exact message or subject matter was. I vividly remember hearing a great performance of an obscure Baroque aria by Vivaldi, sung as an isolated recital piece, which was incredibly moving even though I didn't understand the words. Great beauty does not necessarily need to explain itself, or be explained; it just is.

54.

XYguy

November 26, 2006, 7:03 PM

Post #42. I’d agree with Kandinsky’s assumption of “inner necessity to generate and articulate all-important sparks of inner life” in the art. If I understood correctly, Mr. Kuspit believes that artistic sparks are coming from the artist’s spirituality or religious convictions. This made Kandinsky’s art and his generation somewhat better than contemporary art which is completely devoid of spirituality. To some extend it might be true with the contemporary artists and artists in the past but it is speculative statement as you said. Picasso was not religious person he was a communist and I doubt if the spirituality was his thing, either. But when we look at his work the energy, the inner sparks existed through his whole artistic life. So obviously the artistic energy can come from other sources. In my opinion this creative energy comes from the richness of emotional life of the individual and this quality can not be assign to any specific generation of artists, race, sex etc. It depends strictly on individual case. It is difficult to define “a rich emotional life” but I see it as emotional response to not only the big events in our lives like death of family member, being happy in a new relationship, a fear of unknown etc but also our response to tiny cues from the surroundings like maybe the yellow leaves moving with the wind or the way my cat position herself to sleep. Any input big or small counts because it enriches person’s emotional life and in turn push the artist to complex creative process. With so many variances contributing to person’s abstract thinking it seems the choices for the artists are unlimited but yet the limitations of the contemporary art are so obvious. I believe that regionalism and making art on very personal level it is only way to go for and to get out from contemporary quagmire we are now. Also, forget about the hot new trends this is what’d kill every artist – to speak in not own voice.
I am writing from Starbucks in Southern California (post #44), this is my only internet access I have. It is noisy here and I can’t concentrate any more. Good day.

55.

opie

November 26, 2006, 7:31 PM

I guess as far as the artist is concerned, "rich emotional life" is as good as any description, but, as Jack said, when it comes to great art, it just "is". It won't ask us to get it or like it because it simply doesn't care.

56.

catfish

November 26, 2006, 8:54 PM

XYguy said I believe that regionalism and making art on very personal level it is only way to go for and to get out from contemporary quagmire we are now.

Hey XY, I feel your pain, so to speak. But "regionalism" usually means less than the best. Surely that is not what you mean?

57.

Hovig

November 27, 2006, 9:55 AM

It is a medium, but not a medium of communication. Books use language, which makes them a different class of objects. Films usually do, and music often does. Visual art can use language, and can communicate graphically, but it doesn't have to. It can refrain from doing these things and still succeed as art. Therefore its essential function must be something besides communication.

If visual art can use language, I don't see why it can't use it well, and take advantage of it as a means of creating quality. Commenters in this thread are performing the equivalent of insisting that an opera must be perfectly enjoyable even when it's played on the radio in a foreign language, without regard to plot, characters, libretto, costumes, scenery or direction. I don't have a problem with that criterion, since of course such operas can be enjoyed under a much wider set of circumstances -- like on a lazy Saturday afternoon sitting by the radio in front of the computer in a home hundreds of miles from the opera house -- but I wonder if it's a bit too limiting to insist that an opera must always succeed on that level, and and I wonder if it's anything but arbitrary to insist on it.

58.

opie

November 27, 2006, 10:23 AM

Hovig: are you objecting to something in the statement? You seem to be taking issue with something the statement does not state.

59.

Franklin

November 27, 2006, 10:26 AM

I don't see why it can't use it well, and take advantage of it as a means of creating quality.

A book that doesn't communicate anything would not meet with approval in the literary community. That would qualify as a failed work. Art can use language, but it doesn't have to, and it can succeed without doing so. The opera analogy isn't bad. If the formal component of opera is the sound coming out of the singers' bodies, then we would expect that to achieve a certain quality before we were willing to talk about the libretto and the costume. (In fact, opera aficionados, I'm led to understand, are absolutely brutal in that respect. Pavoratti had to stop playing to Italian houses earlier than his official retirement because the Italians were all but booing him off the stage for microtonal errors.) That's my position on art - it has to succeed formally on some level before I'm willing to consider other aspects with any sympathy.

60.

Marc Country

November 27, 2006, 11:08 AM

Everything observable in the universe 'communicates' something to its observer.
Does this is some way make 'communication' the 'point' of existence, what everything is 'about'?

61.

opie

November 27, 2006, 11:42 AM

The word is finally out:
communication is what it's about!
but there's a black hole
in the universe soul
whose secrets never come out

62.

Jack

November 27, 2006, 12:58 PM

My position on a restaurant is that, although many different elements can contribute to and enhance the dining experience, the bottom line is always the quality of the food. My bottom line with opera is the quality of the singing. My bottom line with visual art is the visual quality of the work. IF the bottom line is good enough, I'll be more than delighted to consider and revel in other aspects, but first things first. This is not a law incumbent on all to abide by, but it's definitely MY law.

63.

craigfrancis

November 27, 2006, 3:20 PM

I agree with Jack (Wait, who said that?). I judge art by its visual quality as well. It's how one defines quality that is constantly at issue, and is the cause of so much debate in the art world. The debate and differances of opinion about art are one of its secondary pleasures. Thus, my continuing patronage of this blog (amongst others), my continual looking at art, and my reading about it.

64.

Franklin

November 27, 2006, 4:38 PM

It's how one defines quality that is constantly at issue

Do you define it for food? For music? Or do you just experience it, and enjoy it? Quality is not up for definition for art either. Thank you for your patronage.

65.

Elizabeth

November 27, 2006, 6:34 PM

Of course quality matters in food and music.....bad food can actually KILL you and at the very least just make you very very sick. Havent you heard music that was so bad you wanted to scream whilst covering your ears for protection. You might want to throw up also from that experience.

I have to say that at least bad art cant KILL you...could make you heave, but not KILL:):):)

Marc...I think you win the award for humour ..the 'golden paintbrush'...for your postings over these last few days.

66.

Jack

November 27, 2006, 7:03 PM

I doubt it matters to anyone, but for the sake of precision, I should have said my bottom line for an opera as such is the quality of the composer, and my bottom line for operatic performance is the quality of the singing. Many other things can have a significant effect, for better or for worse, and ideally all relevant variables would be on the same (high) level, but that is rarely the case, hence the bottom line. I don't expect to get absolutely everything I might want, but I demand the basics.

67.

craigfrancis

November 27, 2006, 9:41 PM

Franklin: We're not talking about food or music. We're talking about visual art. But I'll play along:

There are some who would say that The Pixies music is crap when compared to say Dvorak, since the point of music is to be aurally pleasurable. Now, I don't know about you, but feedback and distorted electric guitar do not ordinarily fit within my parameters of what is pleasurable, whereas a full orchestra usually does. Of course, others would disagree.

My point is that if you truly believe that art should be experienced and enjoyed, you can't then very well start applying rules to that experience. Shouldn't you just be experiencing it?

68.

Franklin

November 27, 2006, 10:20 PM

Whoever said I applied rules?

69.

George

November 28, 2006, 12:06 AM

For Jack

OT, but interesting
12 Year Old Prodigy Compared To Mozart (via Digg)

70.

XYguy

November 28, 2006, 1:33 AM

I am aware of the fact that this blog fully support a good quality art. What I have hard time to reconcile with it is a common practice here but not only here to be fair. On the one hand, major participants refuse to acknowledge any existing quantifiers for excellence in the art, but on the next thread the same people post criticism of the specific art example and what is good or what is bad about it. It has to be a common denominator for the concept of art since we discuss it, we disagree on it or support each other views on it i.e. particular painting. To do that, we have to use common or own criteria. How can you recognize that something is an art, otherwise? Therefore agreeing that artistic criteria do not exist leads only to contradictory argument “I will use my criteria of art to evaluate specific art object but at the same I am refusing to confirm that any criteria exists” A lot of people involved in art need your help Franklin, Opie, Jack because the selection process is fair, here, as I see it. The problem starts with the specifics and those art oriented specifics are very important to a lot of people. The specifics which I may learn here and spread word somewhere else. So PoMo crowd will getting smaller and smaller and at the end only bunch of the psychos become ecstatic about the cow’s severed heads or marinated sharks. To eliminate PoMo mindset “whatever you do is OK just don’t forget to attach the word Art to your piece” is difficult and intellectually challenging task. I don’t know many places anybody can go “to seek delight” without being immediately washed in numbing art talk of the PoMo heritage. To fight this doubtful heritage, which at its core is the only bunch of generalities about artistic process leading to laughable outcomes. We need to deal with the specifics and small details in the explanation what is a great art about but this imply criteria. And sorry, “applying no rules” position is one of “the greatest achievements” of PoMo school.

71.

Marc Country

November 28, 2006, 1:45 AM

Excellent verse, Opie... you're a tough act to follow, but, well, here goes...

"All art must comminicate,
That's what makes art really great."
While black holes emit information
(by Stephen Hawking's estimation),
they hardly illuminate.

72.

opie

November 28, 2006, 7:57 AM

Black holes don't shed any light
on an art that functions by sight
they exist in the brain
of those who explain
art but can't get it right

73.

Franklin

November 28, 2006, 8:12 AM

XY, you bring up a difficult and important point, and the problem lies in the wide gap between art and the language we use to describe it. I have high standards, but I can't tell you what they are. It seems terribly unfair, especially to the "whatever you do is OK" crowd. If you have a good eye and operate off of your taste, you know in your gut that this is the true way, even without being able to justify it. If you operate off of theory, the whole approach is offensive.

You're absolutely right in saying We need to deal with the specifics and small details in the explanation what is a great art about but this imply criteria. The answer is that they imply criteria, but I refuse to assert any because whatever criteria I choose, I can find counterexamples that succeed and exemplars that fail. It's astute to notice that the “applying no rules” position is one of “the greatest achievements” of PoMo school. But my no-rules position and their no-rules position are not the same position. Mine says that quality in art, and lack thereof, can take an infinite number of forms. Theirs says that quality is an arbitrary aspect of art. Mine says that quality is real to the core; theirs says that quality is a product of contexts and definitions and is empty at the core.

The tragedy is that their position is much easier to prove logically. If I have standards, I must have rules, right? And if I won't put define my rules, then my standards are arbitrary, yes? No. It doesn't work like that on the ground. When Pollock throws paint, it's lovely; when Sam Francis does it, it's disappointing. When the Pixies go on one of their angry tuneless wails, it's wonderful, but when Nirvana does it, it sucks. Those are the kind of specifics we have to talk about. None of it can be proven like one proves a math theorem, but if we're really using taste, such a proof is neither desirable or possible. Instead we have a responsibility to describe the art object accurately, and make judgments according to observable traits about it. For us, that's truth.

74.

opie

November 28, 2006, 9:35 AM

I look forward to the day when this whole matter of "criteria" can be put to rest by codifying how art works in a way everyone can understand.

Reference to criteria for making value judgements is only a very small part of our daily activity. All criteria rest on prior value decisions, most of which eventually revert back to basic questions like "will this keep us alive". The need for specific criteria are relatively rare - I use this nut because it fits that b0lt - and usually confined to narrow solutions. If we go to the supermarket we buy lettuce because it "tastes good" or because "its healthy" or because "my mother bought lettuce" or just because we always have. Each of us has a well-developed set of "what's good" and "what's bad" in our heads by which we live and which we occasionally modify when circumstance forces us to. We do not walk around pondering criteria but carry a general awareness of what provides us with what satisfies us in our life.

When we come up against art we have a special situation because art is the only circumstance we have evolved which is, by design, a judgement of value which deliberately excludes criteria. This is a large part of the social value of art, and perhaps the defining condition for it. Because we make such a big deal of art - in huge vaults we call museums, worth millions, on top of the prestige heap, and all that - we agonize over "criteria". In academia they call it "esthetics". In everyday life we write on blogs about it. No one seems capable of figuring it out in a way that can be commonly accepted.

Until that happens the best way to proceed is to take art as a kind of specialized entertainment. Enjoy it, and leave criteria where criteria belong. Please understand that I am saying this only as procedural advice, as the best way to go about it. There is such a thing as good and bad art, but to get to it we must rely on intuition and experience and understand that value can be comprehended without measurement.

75.

ahab

November 28, 2006, 10:11 AM

Seventy, seventy-three and seventy-four have got the bull by the horns and in a nutshell.

Keep on practising that poetry y'all.

76.

opie

November 28, 2006, 11:13 AM

I can see that you are no connoisseur of profound verse, Ahab.

77.

Jack

November 28, 2006, 1:00 PM

OP, you can hardly expect someone from Edmonton to be as refined as we are in Miami. Our level of refinement is probably off the scale (as in, not detectable).

But seriously, I don't know how, or if, this issue can be resolved to general satisfaction. Which brings me to a perennial point: Art is a matter of personal interaction with the work, and every individual has to put in the time and effort to look and judge for himself. Too many people pay far too much attention to external "authorities" and forget that it's not about what others say or think; it's ultimately about you and the work, period. Everyone has to grapple the thing to the ground, so to speak, and do what it takes to get a good personal handle on it. Trying to swallow what every supposed authority claims is a recipe for confusion, critical paralysis and inability to deal with the work personally, which is completely counterproductive.

78.

craigfrancis

November 28, 2006, 3:08 PM

I agree with Opie and Jack (Again???). However, Franklin, I don't think Nirvana suck. Oh well.

79.

opie

November 28, 2006, 7:40 PM

It's Ok to agree with us, Craig. We belong to a very exclusive club.

Actually, "exclusive" is the wrong word. We welcome members. Problem is, hardly anyone wants to join. Oh, well.

80.

catfish

November 28, 2006, 8:01 PM

hardly anyone wants to join

So true, opie, so true.

81.

George

November 28, 2006, 8:09 PM

It appears that if one works for MOMA they don't expcect that you will be a heavy drinker I guess they must have a good janitorial staff.

82.

Jack

November 28, 2006, 8:45 PM

Yes, OP, but who wants to join a club that everybody can simply attach to, like that more-or-less parasitic fish that attaches to whales?

I suppose it's an easy-enough proposition--you don't actually do much work or figure much out on your own; you just stick to the biggest bandwagon and coast. Where it goes, you automatically follow.

I'll stick with exclusive.

83.

opie

November 28, 2006, 8:53 PM

If their janitorial staff is so good, George, why don't they haul out that piece of crap behind the stairs.

84.

Jack

November 28, 2006, 9:15 PM

What is that? Fifties wallpaper a la Warhol? Well, I'm beside myself with admiration for the curatorial acumen on display here. I mean, it's not Matthew Barney or anything, but everyone is not Vogue material. Oh yeah, I'm impressed. If MOMA tries a little harder, it will soon be within shouting distance of Miami's own major collectors.

85.

ahab

November 28, 2006, 9:35 PM

Connoisseur of profound verse, no. Connoisseur of trying verse, yes.

86.

George

November 28, 2006, 9:58 PM

re #81

Maybe the wallpaper will turn out to be a homeopathetic remedy for the curatorial staff.

What might have been fun or entertaining, dare I say daring, in a five minute gallery visit will wear thin over prolonged exposure.

87.

Jack

November 28, 2006, 10:23 PM

George, this tripe was born thin. Who's the, uh, artist?

88.

George

November 28, 2006, 10:36 PM

J.

You had it right. It's Warhol

The photo was from an article in todays NY Times on the new wing at MOMA.

89.

Marc Country

November 28, 2006, 10:41 PM

Robert Hughes interviewed by Canadian Art Magazine:

"... the promotional nature of the discourse of the artworld today. I think it tends to be a feeling that the job of the critic is to...uh... is to stand around with the vaseline and the aphrodisiac."

and:

"I dont think that... (I hate even to mention its name)... I don't think that "The Impossibility of Death in the mind of Someone Living" AKA 'The Shark', uh, you know, it's certainly engaged with a large audience, but not as a work of art; more, as a sort of sensational object."

90.

Jack

November 28, 2006, 11:12 PM

This is hardly news, of course, but yes, there are indeed people at MOMA (not some wannabe provincial version, but the MOMA) who would not only inflict this garish, dated dreck on the public, but also expect to be praised for it. These are people who are ostensibly at the apex of their field, not frankly half-baked would-be curators at some third-rate Wynwood gallery that will last all of 5 months.

And I'm supposed to respect their judgment and admire the organization that employs them?

91.

Marc Country

November 28, 2006, 11:36 PM

I resisted clicking the link until now... I had a feeling, feom the clues gien, that it was gonna be the cows... I'd seen this majestic wallpaper 'art' years back in Bilbao, along with a bunch of fancy motorcycles... In hindsight, I should have stuck to looking at the museum from the outside.

92.

opie

November 29, 2006, 12:12 AM

Is there anyone else out there besides us formalist fogies who can bring themselves to admit that having something liike that in our major museum of modern art is just plain embarrassing?

C'mon folks! It cannot be that long before people look back and snigger and say "what the hell were they thinking of?"

93.

XYguy

November 29, 2006, 12:41 AM

The attempt is clear here, they want the audience to hum, I mean, to moo under their noses while enjoying exhibition. I don’t see anything outrageous in that, some of us have to be more open minded…
Thanks for posting link to R. Hughes interview.

94.

Jack

November 29, 2006, 10:58 AM

The Warhol wallpaper is not outrageous; it's just a trivial, silly business. Its expiration date is long past. It might make some people "moo," but art that encourages bovine behavior is hardly commendable.

95.

Marc Country

November 29, 2006, 11:15 AM

I didn't know sheep could moo...

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