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Post #928 • December 29, 2006, 4:20 PM • 71 Comments

Dreary? Oh, that won't do. For the record, those Renoir pastels are extraordinary. And this: "He can't afford to buy great works by top-tier artists, so he looks for lesser and cheaper works by famous artists and good works by lesser artists. ... He's not a connoisseur, he's a bargain hunter who sometimes gets lucky." I listened to Mr. Black speak about his collection at the press preview, and the man clearly knows what he's looking at. With all due respect to Mr. Johnson, this rather sounds like he's criticising the upper limit of Black's considerable wealth, and it would surprise me if a better group of work from these periods, particularly later Impressionism, could be assembled over the course of the last two decades, even given more money.

AJ links to this worthy James Panero article on symbolism.

I visited the National Palace Museum when it was still under renovation, and even with a third of it open, packed shoulder to shoulder with visitors, it was amazing. Now it's restored.

Rodin's Cambodian dancers show in Cambodia.

Rachel Cooke interviews Robert Hughes and ends up face-down in a pile of candy. (AJ)

I become concerned when my opinion intersects with that of Holland Cotter, but, well, yeah: "In an age of universal competence and a democracy of art-schooled polish, criticism could have cast a cold eye on the field, but it took a pass on ethical issues and stuck to product placement instead." You'll remember my saying that it is "ceding of the field to journalism and apologetics." If anyone thinks criticism is in a good state, it is time to pipe up now. (Please note that I cringe at some of the rest of the Cotter piece, notably, "Boilerplate shows ... went to the expense of assembling scads of sexy pictures, then not only failed to tell us anything fresh, but also reinforced every art-historical cliché we cherish.34 Ah, there's no cliché in art like the cliché of challenging cherished clichés.) See also this essay by David Thompson (via AJ), which concludes: "Academia has always had its fashions, but the pervasiveness of this particular fashion is troubling insofar as it has explicitly marginalised expectations of accuracy and truth in favour of ostentatious political conformity." I think these are the two tines of the fork in the damned soul of art criticism, and it's worth regarding how they reinforce each other despite their ostensible opposite positioning.

Parties that were calling for a cultural boycott of Israel during its battle with Hezbollah earlier this year might enjoy knowing, or not, that Aliza Olmert, wife of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud, is an artist whose politics were described by the Associated Press last weekend as "dovish."

Department of Skills: Super Bad.

Update: Who is Tony Goldman, and why is he following me? (Brett)




December 29, 2006, 5:52 PM

I agree with you about that Johnson review. He sneers at it and then goes on to list a half dozen paintings which have not been in circulation and which I, for one, would really like to see, particularly the Matisse (which you reproduced here) the Leger, which looks very strong, and the 1908 Braque, which was not reproduced. (He seems not to realize that Braque was influencing Picasso then as much as the other way around). He knocks the "gaudy" Signac (which you also reproduced here) which indicates to me that he is a "taste" critic - one who reacts to colors (for example) by association rather than how well they work in a painting. And so what if the other pix are less than great? Whaddya want, Jeff Koons?

The James Brown Clip was terrific. Gave me chills.


Bunny Smedley

December 29, 2006, 7:01 PM

I love Robert Hughes even more now.



December 29, 2006, 7:39 PM

The essay by David Thompson hits the mark.

Bunny, gee you're up late, Happy New Year.

And so what if the other pix are less than great?
Yup, comparison's are always nice. Sometimes lesser works are easier to study, you can find the weak spots and think it out from there. With a real humdinger (no relation to Humvee) you're just left with the awe of the experience, the "how the heck did he so that?"

Munch was a lazy painter for the most part. I saw the show at MOMA and wasn't as impressed as I wanted to be. The prints are definitely better.

And, finally, you now see that "postmodernism" is really dead. Embarrassed by it's intellectual failures, the old proponents now call it Poststructualism. This attempt at re-branding is running into difficulties in the capitalist marketplace but will linger in the world of academia where it is just preaching to the already converted. It has no market value, doesn't understand postwar capitalism or the importance of a consumer society.

My New Year’s resolution: I’m going to agree with everybody here.



December 29, 2006, 8:47 PM

Love him when he tears things up, Bunny, but be skeptical about his eye. Like so many smart critics he spots the garbage but is blind to the good stuff.

Don't do that, George. Who am I going to fight with?



December 29, 2006, 9:14 PM

You're right of course but can't we all just get along: :-0

Happy New Year



December 29, 2006, 9:36 PM

To wrap the year up here’s an interesting painting by Guido that I have been looking at recently.
It was painted in the 40’s but there should be no stigma attached. It’s not surrealism, but close.


Bunny Smedley

December 30, 2006, 3:21 AM

Opie, the thing I've long loved about Robert Hughes isn't so much his judgements about individual artists or works, or even that luscious prose, but rather the whole tone of his writing: combative, occasionally downright grumpy, well-read, passionate, personal, colourful and pleasingly uninhibited about getting things wrong occasionally in the interests of saying something interesting. Some critics seem to want to shut down arguments. Hughes seems to want to start arguments, sustain arguments and to enjoy arguments. Or to put it another way, reading his work, he comes across less like a university lecturer who's going to mark my essay "B plus" than like an old friend who'd go round an exhibition with me and then dissect it rather uproariously, with plenty of outrageous overstatements and flourishing rhetoric, over a bottle or two of red wine. But unlike that hapless cand-scoffing Guardian journalist, I have no intention of letting my undoubtedly rather romanticised vision of Hughes collide with real life ...

Anyway, happy new year to all of you, too. Let's hope the one ahead is better than the last one.



December 30, 2006, 8:25 AM

Yes, I'm with you 100% on that, Bunny. There should be more like him. Even one or two would enliven this idiot business of ours immeasurably.



December 30, 2006, 1:19 PM

Johnson sounds like he has an ax to grind, and criticizing Black because he can't spend millions on a single piece like the hedge fund idiot who bougt the pickled shark is quite out of line. His take on the Signac, previously shown and highly admired here, is enough to make me question everything he says. Finally, I would kill for a show like this in Miami. This guy needs a reality check, or maybe he should stop trying so hard to sound like Robert Hughes.


Marc Country

December 30, 2006, 2:39 PM

Crikey indeed! How does a person like Rachel (seriously... are there any other ways to spell it?) Cooke get employed as a journalist at ANY paper in the world, let alone the Guardian? Yeesh! She's should consider herself lucky to have been patronised so patiently by Mr. Hughes (who, I suspect, would not object to someone refering to him as "Mr. Hughes"). Does she ever stop to consider how many countless interviews with fawning, and not so fawning, so called "art writers" this poor guy has had to stomach with a smile?



December 30, 2006, 3:39 PM

I agree with Jack who suggests that Johnson has an ax to grind.

It's a bump and grind piece by a johnson. What can you say, other than it reads more like a gallery review, than an attempt to assess the work in a more scholarly fashion. I would have preferred it if he had discussed the various artists and the specific works in a historical context rather than to voicing a taste opinion akin to one of an art appraiser, this one should fetch $300k that one might make $1.2M. But then maybe he was just putting his mouth where the money was, or wasn't.



December 30, 2006, 7:05 PM

I agree also with Jack
"Johnson sounds like he has an ax to grind"
the article had undertones of a personal attack

I have meet Scott Black and I know he has been collecting for years , has good knowledge of art and has given or loaned many of the works to the Boston Museum.
so what if he only spends Hundreds of thousands for art and not millions. I 'm Impressed

He bought an early Frank Stella square painting for his Sister as a gift

he owned a gallery in Miami with his sister Barbara in the 80's



December 30, 2006, 7:20 PM

Johnson may have an axe to grind but it really sounds just like standard issue bad art writing to me. A critic for a major newspaper ought to deal with the art rather than the circumstances surrounding it, except perhaps if those circumstances are already part of the story.

This guy is obviously getting a lot more for his money than some of those ill-advised hedge fund billionaires and their ilk. Anyone with a limited bufget and a good eye and willingness to share his art with the public ought to be praised, not criticised.

I guess if something is obvious enough we really can all agree, right George?



December 30, 2006, 7:23 PM

The Thompson essay is excellent, even though practically everything it says is, or should be, self-evident and should not even need to be spelled out. Unfortunately, for a variety of dubious reasons, many people persist in refusing to see. That wouldn't be so bad if they didn't also connive to keep others from seeing or to coerce them into pretending they don't. It's astounding how cretinous human beings can be.



December 30, 2006, 9:01 PM

The points in the article by Thompson may or should be, self evident and not need to be spelled out. In my opinion, what was more important was that he did spell it out and called it bollocks. Things do not change until they change, and that cannot occur until someone says the ‘emperor has no clothes’ out loud and in print. It is not as if everyone has been going along with the bollocks, I think that a good part of the artist community knows when it’s bollocks but for the most part they aren’t writers. I suspect that there is an awareness within the critical community that something has gone awry, I read a comment somewhere that they were ‘laying low’ because ‘criticism was in a crisis.’


Marc Country

December 30, 2006, 11:05 PM

Yes, much of the Thomson essay is self-evident, but he does miss the mark a wee bit...

In its political aspect, postmodernism is almost entirely a left-wing phenomenon...

The political right's Colbert-esque "Truthiness", and the religious right's "Intelligent Design", are examples of postmodern "thinking", through and through... granted, of course, they learned these obfuscatory techniques from the left, but let no one doubt, there are those on the right that have become Masters of Bollocks, too.



December 31, 2006, 7:46 AM

Most political and religious language is spin, regardless of who is foisting it, so I hesitate to link rightist BS to pomo except lightly. You can however thank the postrstructuralists every time a creationist says that he wants schools to "teach the controversy" about evolution. There is no controversy, and if you challenge them, you can actually get them to pull the victim card despite their membership in a majority group.

It's worth noting, though, that contemporary political expressions in art, where you see them, nearly always lean left. I can't think of any counterexamples (and don't long to see any). Pomo's base in Marxism jibed well with artists' tending to prefer liberality.

It has occurred to me that being an exercise in the creation of meaninglessness, you could use the techniques of pomo against its perpetrators. But it would be a sorry effort. Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas, that's what I say. I prefer clarity, facts, and reason, and feel better at the end of the day when I adhere to them.



December 31, 2006, 9:21 AM

Good morning Franklin, you’re up early, so I hope you’re feeling better.

I think the term ‘left’ is primarily being used as a reference to viewpoints derived from Marxist economics and less in the left-right political sense of common conversation. I don’t disagree with Marc’s comments on the religious right but I don’t think they are part of the poststructulist dogma.

I would agree with Franklin, it’s better to not "Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas…", that piling obfuscation upon obfuscation serves no practical purpose. If we can assume that ‘bollocks’ indicates the beginning of a divide in the area of art criticism then the question is how to proceed from this point.


Marc Country

December 31, 2006, 11:28 AM

It's worth noting, though, that contemporary political expressions in art, where you see them, nearly always lean left.

Of course, "where you see them" is typically in the admittedly left-leaning art world institutions, like Art Basel, etc... but, if you went into the mega-church lobbies (or if middle American conservatives could organize an art fair), you'd likely have no trouble finding artists expresing a jingoistic sentiment.

... piling obfuscation upon obfuscation serves no practical purpose.

Well, it could certainly serve a satirical purpose, and satire does have some practical applications...



December 31, 2006, 12:02 PM

Much as Schjeldahl irritates me he is a pretty sharp observer of the scene, and this, from the link you put up a few days ago, sums up the way fashion change works:

"One day, perhaps soon, someone in a convivial group of money guys at a bar will say, “I just got back from [name of art fair]. It was fantastic!” Another will drawl, “You still into that?” In the ensuing embarrassed silence, the bubble won’t burst; it will vanish."



December 31, 2006, 1:27 PM

According to the review of the Kramer book linked above, Kramer says of Alex Katz: "one thinks of Monet at Giverny."

Oops. Houston, we have a problem.



December 31, 2006, 3:26 PM

Music of the Hemispheres from today's NY Times.

“Listen to this,” Daniel Levitin said. “What is it?” He hit a button on his computer keyboard and out came a half-second clip of music. It was just two notes blasted on a raspy electric guitar, but I could immediately identify it: the opening lick to the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar.”

Then he played another, even shorter snippet: a single chord struck once on piano. Again I could instantly figure out what it was: the first note in Elton John’s live version of “Benny and the Jets.”

Dr. Levitin beamed. “You hear only one note, and you already know who it is,” he said. “So what I want to know is: How we do this? Why are we so good at recognizing music?” ...



December 31, 2006, 10:32 PM

Note to Franklin:

Not to worry. Goldman isn't following you. He's only following the money.


David Thompson

January 3, 2007, 10:50 AM


I thought I’d post a word of appreciation for your interest in my Eye magazine piece, Art Bollocks Revisited. I very much agree with George and others that many of the points made in the piece are, or should be, self-evident. Brian Ashbee’s 1999 article, to which I refer, was widely read and should have made the point quite clearly. But the apparent imperviousness to ridicule and refutation remains – an imperviousness which is itself, I think, a postmodern phenomenon, and not accidentally so.

David Thompson



January 3, 2007, 11:04 AM

Re #25, that imperviousness is essentially necessary for the parties in question. It's actually indispensable, given the exceedingly flimsy nature of the business, and it may add a certain veneer of "daring," "progressiveness" and/or "avant-gardism" that will always impress or win over certain people. It's a crock, but crocks can be amazingly successful, at least for a time.


David Thompson

January 3, 2007, 11:35 AM


I agree that the invulnerability to ridicule and correction is essential, and for the reasons you suggest, though its persistence is nonetheless striking in a ‘through-the-looking-glass’ way. Many postmodern thinkers, including those mentioned in the piece, have assembled a politicised pseudo-intellectual justification for not being troubled by incoherence, self-refutation or, in some cases, by reality in general. In isolation, this might be little more than an amusing curio, albeit one that’s quite bonkers.

But the prevalence of this phenomenon in academia and supposedly serious journals is more worrying, especially given the not insignificant pressures to conform to it, or at least to pretend it isn’t quite as bonkers as it is. It seems to me that a great deal of postmodern flummery hinges on a sense of inadequacy and fear – a fear of being left out, or of not being published, or of not gaining a certain kind of status, or of simply appearing stupid and ‘not getting it’. (Yes, ironies abound.)



January 3, 2007, 12:50 PM

If one operates from a position of such inadequacy that it amounts to fraud, it may be that taking an aggressively offensive or "I don't give a shit" posture is the most effective defense. It is, of course, beyond deplorable that ostensibly reputable people and/or entities would stoop so low, but the degree of contamination, not to say corruption, is so extensive that it becomes its own justification (in a purely pragmatic or self-seeking way).

However, despite the fact that the existence of this rot can be explained and even understood, it cannot be justified, let alone respected, and there's the rub.


David Thompson

January 3, 2007, 1:36 PM

I sometimes wonder if many of those who persist with pomo gibberish haven’t simply painted themselves into a corner. Once such a preposterous edifice has been erected, and so much staked upon it, it’s difficult to disassemble with one’s pride and credibility intact. Especially if that edifice has been identified with as a badge of academic status, personal cleverness and political righteousness.

Not that this in any way excuses the propagation of this crap. Denouncing the tools of rational thought no doubt suited those who wished to assert that Aboriginal drumming is equivalent to Bach, or that gender difference is entirely a social construction, or that Marxism is still a really good idea. But teaching students how to ‘think’ in such an absurdly dysfunctional way – largely to flatter a dubious political posture – seems an act of extraordinary hubris, not to mention vandalism.



January 3, 2007, 2:16 PM

Hubris without any question, and it is indeed extraordinary, but not so much vandalism as willful perversity, without any consideration for the inevitable harmful consequences. I quite agree that there is an element, certainly by now, of desperate clinging to ill-gotten gains (not to mention an attempt to salvage some semblance of self-respect and reputation). It's all very shabby, even sordid, but it did fit the bill (once) of being new, different and "transgressive." For all too many people, that's apparently enough to offset a multitude of sins, no matter how grave.


David Thompson

January 3, 2007, 2:48 PM

Well, offsetting a multitude of sins is where the far left politics comes in. A necessary means to a noble end, and all that. I think it was Herbert Marcuse, a one-time idol of the left, who claimed that the “dissolution of orderly perception” would liberate the proletariat from their “false consciousness” – which I suppose means a general (and otherwise inexplicable) preference for capitalism over Marxism.

Foucault et al made similar noises regarding the necessity of doing violence to thought – and, sometimes, to property and people. If only they could chip away at rationality and a preference for what actually works, capitalism would apparently fall and the Glorious Revolution would arrive. Whether we call it perversity or vandalism, the nihilism of pomo posturing is certainly no accident.

Incidentally, this is a pretty classy blog. No sawdust on the floor and the upholstery looks intact. I may drop by again.



January 3, 2007, 2:56 PM

Mr Thompson: After that exchange, which I just now read, I hope you do more than just drop in once in a while.

I look forward to read the items on your website, later, when my daily duties are done.



January 3, 2007, 2:58 PM

One of the problems which I believe occurs is the blind acceptance of the postulates put fort by ‘authority figures’ which are assumed to be correct without question. For example, in science, it was widely believed that heavier objects fell faster than lighter objects. This thought persisted for hundreds of years until Galelio decided to ‘truth test’ the theory by experiment and found that, in fact, both objects fell at the same rate.

I have read a bit of Karl Marx and think he was fairly cogent in the observations he made. His point of view was engendered by examining the transition between an agrarian society and the newly emerging industrial society. Within this context, his assumptions make a certain degree of sense. However, as the industrial society became the norm and began to evolve as a result of the technological and information revolution, his class distinctions begin to blur. One must then question if the later lines of thought drawn from his conclusions or observations are in fact true or whether the just extend an outdated proposition.

In the critical dialogue it is fashionable to imply that certain areas of the culture, consumerism for instance, represent a negative development in society. If one considers the actual importance of consumerism I think one would find that it is essential to the structure of a modern economic system. While certainly one might find fault with its implementations, the testable fact is that without the consumer sector, without consumerism, world economies in their current manifestations, would collapse.

It would seem to me that, in academia, a productive approach might be to start by deciphering the proposals contained in the ‘edifice’, as Mr. Thompson describes it. By deciphering, I do not necessarily mean the elimination of the necessary technical jargon, but a translation into more clearly stated propositions which then can be evaluated for their actual truth content. Additionally, it would require questioning of previous assumptions and conclusions, those which may have had some apparent veracity in previous socio-economic periods, to see if they still are effective arguments today.

Just because a line of inquiry may produce a novel viewpoint does not imply that it is true or sufficient. One should question whether it should necessarily be the primary or overriding consideration when valuing an artwork within the current socio-economic context. It would seem to me that there is a degree of folly involved in deprecating the ‘visual’ when trying to evaluate the visual arts. While other approaches may provide additional points of intellectual (or academic) contact with artworks, it should be apparent that if the works under investigation fail visually, they are incomplete. In other words, if an artwork fails visually, it can be superseded by another artwork addressing the same issues, but which succeeds visually. Such an artwork should naturally be placed higher in the hierarchy of artworks which are considered significant.



January 3, 2007, 3:08 PM

Well, OK, George, but nothing short of a full dose of the Napalm of intense ridicule will rid us of this academic scourge.



January 3, 2007, 3:37 PM

Well, if 'intense napalm' means the refutation of spurious arguments, I agree.

I think if one views the issue as a real world problem, the first step is to accept the validity of questioning the past arguments. If the approach taken is one of ridicule, it may have the effect of initiating this line of inquiry.

In the academic context I suspect it would be more effective if the academics can make clearly stated arguments for a different or contrary position. The current problem is that much of what passes for criticism remains unchallenged. It is not subjected to a form of validity or truth testing in the real world. It might sound good, erudite, or intimidating, but if these propositions cannot be shown to have real world validity they should be brought into question. If the Marxist arguments leave something to be desired, then it would appear than an investigation into the affects of the Capitalist arguments might be in order. How does the marketplace affect or distort our critical perceptions of art? Etc.


David Thompson

January 3, 2007, 3:44 PM


Thanks very much. I will.


I think one of the ironies of postmodernism in its political aspect is that a fixation with status and authority is often the result, along with a kind of mental and political lockstep. I once expressed my less than high regard for Derrida, immediately provoking indignant protestation and charges of “ignorance”. Despite my repeated requests, none of those getting upset bothered to explain exactly what it was I’d overlooked or misunderstood. They just voiced their anger at my blasphemy. I had "transgressed" - but not in a way they approved of. And, apparently, not in a way that could be refuted in clear and meaningful terms.

If there are no objective standards by which to judge one thing as better than another, and if there are merely “competing narratives” to suit every prejudice, then autonomous thought becomes rather difficult to cultivate. And all too often the result is a kind of idolatry, along with a sniffy and rather personalised intolerance of criticism.



January 3, 2007, 4:48 PM


I’m not an academic so I’m less directly familiar with the problem. I think part of the difficulty you are describing is probably a natural occurrence at a critical inflection point in the course of critical thought. If someone suggests that the emperor has no clothes, and everyone else is conditioned to believe he has clothes, then there will naturally be a protest against the observation. If at some later point, another observer makes a similar observation then the seeds of a revolution are sown by questioning previously held assumptions.

I gave up reading most poststructuralist (pomo) writing for the obvious reasons, it was difficult to comprehend, to translate into simpler language upon which I could make a personal truth based evaluation. It is not that I couldn’t make the translation but that I personally felt the effort required proved was a waste of my time.

I read a lot on science, in particular physics and recently on neurobiology. Both fields use specialized language to describe their research but this language can be symbolically tokenized without losing the thread of thought. What I mean by tokenized is that I can take a bit of scientific jargon that I don’t fully understand, encapsulate it, and mentally assign it an identity token or value without destroying the flow argument. This happens, then ‘this weird thing’ happens, which results in this happening. Even though I might not know what ‘this weird thing’ actually implies, (typically the derivation of some equation or experimental result) the flow of the argument remains intact. In the world of science, theories are subjected to debate and testing for validity. In the social sciences this seems to be less the case, theoretical propositions can become accepted as true because they ‘sound right’ (or ‘left’ as the case may be)



January 3, 2007, 4:55 PM

typos in #37

"... the effort required proved to be a waste of my time."

"... without destroying the flow of the argument."


David Thompson

January 3, 2007, 5:21 PM


“In the social sciences this seems to be less the case, theoretical propositions can become accepted as true because they ‘sound right’ (or ‘left’ as the case may be).”

Again, this is no accident where pomo theorists are involved. Several pomo ‘thinkers’ have stressed “attractiveness” over accuracy and evidence. In any other context, I think we’d call that propaganda, or lies.

Andrew Ross, an editor of Social Text (and the author of several terrible books), once said: “There are no laws in nature. There are only laws in society. Laws are things that men and women make, and that they can change…” Setting aside the idea that there are no natural, physical, laws that are consistent and comprehensible, another, more immediate, issue remains. If there are no truths, only “narratives”, then attempts to fathom reality become rather pointless, or "unsophisticated". (This is explicitly argued by many advocates of pomo, whose interests are presumably not served by reality or efforts to understand it.)

But if Ross’ claim is so, then why bother with evidence and coherent argument, let alone attempts to make one’s theories match the available evidence? If everything is a “social construct” or an artefact of language, then how exactly is social change to be brought about? How are people to be persuaded, if not by reason and evidence? If the basic tools of argument and rational thought are deconstructed and disdained, what tools remain? Violence? Dishonesty? Collective denial? And on what moral basis should one even bother to try?

Ross is perhaps best known for his tendentious and inaccurate attacks on the scientific method and “Western ways of knowing”. But the scientific method and its various obligations and restraints are one of our best practical lessons in intellectual humility. As the mathematician Ian Stewart pointed out: “Science is the best defence against believing whatever we want to.” And a willingness to defer to evidence and coherent argument is the antithesis of prejudice and fundamentalism. Both of which may be things that Ross and his peers actually like, at least of a certain approved kind, but which they’re not prepared to admit liking.



January 3, 2007, 5:41 PM

David, there are no "objective standards" by which to judge art. It is the nature of art to be judged intuitively.

I know what you mean, of course. The difference between the kind of mentality generally represented on this blog and most of the other stuff is that we (I am presuming here) are confinced through this intuitive experience that there is a such a thing as great art, that it has great value and that it can be comprehended. And we think reason and logic and common sense have a place in any discussion.

The general "soft-pomo" attitude, what you see in the art world and on most blogs, tends to see art as fairly mutable top to bottom, what's "good" now will be out tomorrow, and such like. They will accept "great art" in the past, when it is old enough to be no longer dangerous, but anything current is essentially a fashion parade. This attitude facilitates commerce and all kinds of other acceptances and is cozy all around. That's why it is so popular.

You can argue with what we think of as reason and logic and common sense until you are blue in the face but they think reason and logic and common sense themselves are passe, so what can you do? They know better than to try to argue something on your terms, so you get that "sniffy" attitude and accusations of ignorance and various other personal shortcomings. I think the only way to kill it is to keep strafing it with ridicule. Sooner or later it will wither and die.

But what will take its place?


David Thompson

January 3, 2007, 5:49 PM


It’s getting late here and I’m too tired to put together a fitting reply, but I’ll poke my head in tomorrow. In the meantime, could someone remind me of the code to embed links in comments? ‘Night all.



January 3, 2007, 6:00 PM

David, thanks for the compliments on the blog. You are always welcome here. Hope this catches you before you hit the hay.

I think it's useful to remember that objects or ideas we call 'pomo' are fairly late manifestations thereof. I doubt there's one artist in 500 who could link his work back directly to a main figure of pomo/decon thinking, whereas at the time, I heard once that Peter Halley never left the house without a book by Baudrillard. Really, we've inherited a repertoire of postmodernist mannerisms that challenge certainty, standards, traditions, judgment, quality, or whatever else looks like a limiting consideration, and I say that knowing that pomo consisted mostly of mannerisms in the first place. The total effect is what David aptly describes as marginilization of the truth. Pomo's original aims, to right perceived wrongs of western/male/straight/capitalist hegemony, are now at most the objects of lip service. Instead, mannerist pomo (is that the name of the period we're in?) is a set of talking points for supposed advanced qualities in art that isn't trying to be good in any meaningful sense. This is where Holland Cotter's apt characterization of 'product placement' comes in. Good taste interferes with the viscous flow of cash, and there is no more cash in the art world than ever.



January 3, 2007, 6:02 PM

Oh, and links go into comments via the standard 'a' tag.



January 3, 2007, 6:03 PM

'now more cash', not 'no more cash'



January 3, 2007, 6:08 PM

Viscous? More like a waterfall, like Niagara, a tsunami, a flood.



January 3, 2007, 7:00 PM

To paraphrase, money potentially corrupts, and the prospect of huge amounts of money tends to corrupt absolutely.


David Thompson

January 4, 2007, 2:24 AM

Just testing. By the way, Opie, thanks for the emailed link; I’ll peruse later.


David Thompson

January 4, 2007, 2:55 AM


“David, there are no ‘objective standards’ by which to judge art. It is the nature of art to be judged intuitively.”

Well, intuitive judgment plays a huge part, obviously. But there are some objective standards that come into play – basic competence and the ability to articulate the chosen medium, for instance. I love comics, but I can’t abide badly drawn comics. Ditto films that are badly written, poorly paced or incompetently acted. I realise that competence isn’t always very fashionable, and in some (politicised, theoretical) quarters it’s deemed naïve or politically unsound, but my point remains.

“But what will take its place?”

Hard to say; something better, one hopes. I sometimes wonder if the anhedonic quality of much ‘issues-based’ art will simply reduce interest to the point where very few people give a shit and we all settle for advertising. (I’m not being entirely fatuous here; I suspect many conceptual artists actually want to get into advertising, but aren’t quite good enough. Which, I suppose, relates to Franklin’s post above.)



January 4, 2007, 8:08 AM

David, I'm a comics fan too, and sometimes write about them.

I sometimes wonder if the anhedonic quality of much ‘issues-based’ art will simply reduce interest to the point where very few people give a shit and we all settle for advertising.

Personally, I'm holding out for the possibility that the art market will expand enough that we start getting übercollecters who specialize in areas of contemporary art on the basis of taste rather than name. I mean, not every single hedge fund manager aspires to own Hirst, right?



January 4, 2007, 8:09 AM

I think what you mean here is "self-evident" or "compelling" or "unarguable" rather than "objective", David. An objective judgement rests on specifiable principles. If you fall back on terms like "basic competence", " ability" , " badly drawn" , "badly written"," poorly paced" or "incompetently acted" you will almost certainly have me on your side but your assertions are still no more subject to specifiable principles than "that is good art" is, unless we agree on terms beforehand between ourselves. This seems like splitting hairs but it is important to esthetics.

As for "what will take its place", I hope you are right. The "anhedonic" (good word; I'd never seen it) quality of much current bad art is a huge strike against it as far as we are concerned but it almost seems a virtue to the hard-nosed pomos. Sensual pleasure only clouds "issues", after all.


David Thompson

January 4, 2007, 8:40 AM


Glad to see I’m not alone in that particular vice.


Well, I’m not entirely sure how one might comfortably distinguish “objective” from “inarguable” in this particular context. Though I do take your point about the fuzziness of certain criteria, which may well be unconscious much of the time. For instance, I suspect art is often judged in relation to one’s own abilities, or some estimation thereof. By which I mean, I don’t think too many people like or buy art that they feel they could have produced themselves, or improved upon. I realise estimations of one’s own artistic ability can be a tad fuzzy, but it seems a fairly workable criterion. (I could, for instance, demonstrate how much worse my painting is than another person’s. Not that I want to labour the point, and not that I’d volunteer on a regular basis.)

I suppose I mean the element of desire is rather important. One doesn’t generally feel desire (as such) for one’s own output. This is a common problem with conceptual or ‘issues-based’ art, which, as I said, is often anhedonic. There’s rarely something to actually desire in quite the same way, or in any way at all. Would anyone wish to imitate or possess Michelle Hines’Peristaltic Action, which involved eating lots of high-fibre food and squatting on the floor of a high school bowling alley to produce a turd measuring 26 feet. It’s a physical feat, to be sure, and a rather extreme example, but much the same applies to many other ‘issues-based’ works.



January 4, 2007, 10:33 AM

The difference between "inarguable" and "objective" is that objective judgement rests on specific criteria, whereas "inarguable" means no more than thoroughly convincing. We do not use criteria when judging art, outside of "it will fit over the couch" and "I need some red in the room" or "I love pictures of puppies with big eyes" and the like. In fact, it can be argued that judging without criteria is a defining condition for art. The mental equipment we use for comprehending art is not "criteria", no matter how you characterize it. Again, I know this is splitting semantic hairs, but it is necessary for clarity.

"Desire" is an interesting factor. I don't think I have every come across a previously unseen (by me) wonderful picture wihout wanting to steal it. The pomo collector will evince desie too ("what I want next is a really great jeff Koons") but I suspect that is a different species of emotional involvement.

I never heard of that Hines piece. Good grief! The straining (so to speak) for novelty! The alimentary canal is, as I remember, only about 30 feet long, so that would be quite a feat, indeed. Will she ingest the appropriate fiber to make the turd continuous? And what administrator would consent to have the school bowling alley shat on at such length? What school has a bowling alley, for that matter? Aarghh!



January 4, 2007, 10:44 AM

Never mind. I looked at the link you provided. Yes, it was continuous, and as is soberly stated, she "documented the extrusion". You gotta love it.

The comments from viewers are typically juvenile, of the "yeah, go girl, go!" variety, and typically only shy away from committing the faux pas of "censorship" by saying "this is idiotic and disgusting and should not be in public view". My favorite was "Hey, how do we know she didn;t have some kind of shit-colored rope hidden under her shirt?"


David Thompson

January 4, 2007, 11:06 AM

See? She’s “raising issues”. I feel elevated already.



January 4, 2007, 11:27 AM

Geez, if she wants to raise something she ought to try this stunt in a garden somewhere.


David Thompson

January 4, 2007, 2:03 PM

Incidentally, the word ‘desire’ doesn’t quite capture what I meant earlier. Maybe I should have added the importance of being captivated by art and given pleasure – and of wanting to experience it again. I realise such things are sometimes avoided on ideological grounds, or for fear of seeming sentimental, unsophisticated, or a heathen sensualist.



January 4, 2007, 2:27 PM

I think some people also have a greater aptitude for appreciating art, or appreciating beauty. They are more receptive and sensitive to it, and thus respond more intensely and seek it more avidly. It is a matter of sensibility and, I suppose, neurologic wiring. This is partly why some people have a much better eye than others, although experience and visual education (especially self-motivated education) are also involved.



January 4, 2007, 2:57 PM

Yay heathen sensualism!

I definitely think that the talent for looking at art is far more common than talent for making it, but is similarly distributed unequally.



January 4, 2007, 3:34 PM

I knew exactly what you mean, David, although my subsequent remarks may have made it seem otherwise. What you say immediately above is 100% on target.

I think looking at art is a talent, Jack. Hearing music, "getting" literature, all talent, I think. You never can guess who has it and who doesn't. Like athletic ability, It is certainly sharpened by use; I have confirmed this by experience many times.

Example: some 30 years ago there was a governor of NJ named Cahill, a tough Irish politician, former FBI man, son of an immigrant butcher, affable, complete extrovert. The last person on earth who you might assume had an eye. I took him around the house of a friend who had a huge art collection, all kinds of things, and this guy just floored me with one sharp to-the-point comment after another. He knew nothing about art but he could truly see it. (He liked my paintings too, so what can I say?)

A different example. The biography channel had successive bio sketches of Jimmie Hendrix and Janis Joplin recently. I tuned in because there was nothing much else on, because I like this type of music and because I wanted to see if I still could not stand their music even though I "should" like it. Well, once again, it just sounded awful, - unmusical, grating - especially Joplin, and I realized that both of them were essentially acting out blues music without the ability to actually sing it. I know some people disagree violently with me, but for me anyone who likes their music - the music, not the theatrics, which are something else - cannot hear blues.



January 4, 2007, 4:00 PM

Opie sez: Well, once again, it just sounded awful, - unmusical, grating - especially Joplin, and I realized that both of them were essentially acting out blues music without the ability to actually sing it.

Hear, hear. Will all those who don't like the sound of Hendrix and Jopiln please raise their hand?

RAISE here.

And by the way, opie, you affirmed the objectivity of taste when you asserted cannot hear blues.



January 4, 2007, 4:04 PM

By "objective judgment" I mean "is based on the real properties of objects" or something like that.

The real properties of Hendrix and Joplin are exactly as opie describes them. That's why his judgment of them is objective. It not only has an object, but it has it targeted accurately.



January 4, 2007, 4:11 PM

First of all, it's Jimi Hendrix, and secondly, I think his music needs to be judged as rock, not blues. I freely admit to not hearing the blues that well except as it appears in jazz (namely, most of it drives me up the wall with the exception of Robert Johnson), but Hendrix did some fascinating stuff. I'd point unfamiliar listeners to the American Indian basis behind "I Don't Live Today," the guitar-as-vocals in "Still Raining, Still Dreaming," and the total devastation of "Voodoo Child."



January 4, 2007, 6:21 PM

I will listen to those pieces Franklin and see. what I think.

Whatever you call it, he is better than Joplin. But nothing they played on the program did anything for me except make me want to turn it off.



January 4, 2007, 6:51 PM

OK, "Voodoo Child" recorded at Woodstock, found on Youtube (it's a blues, by the way). Yes," total devastation", for sure, lots pyrotechnics, not much music. Mostly just super-ampilified self-indulgence. No doubt about his guitar skills, as far as I can tell, but I couldn't listen much past 2/3 of the way through. I can see that he could easily whip up a crowd of stoned hippies into a frenzy, for sure.

What he was playing seemed very much derived from Howlin' Wolf, in particular "Smokestack Lightnin'", the underlying measured "chant" rhythms, and so forth. But Wolf (Chester Burnett) was a jumping genius.

"I don't Live" (Recorded in Albert Hall; Youtube) was just pure noise. I couldn't even determine a chord sctructure. Again, he was swaying, open-mouthed, ecstatic, the guitar screeching. Quite a show, but literally no music at all, just clanging and howling guitar sounds.

I couldn't find "Still drreaming".

We better stick to art, I guess.



January 4, 2007, 7:02 PM

No, you can't hear the structure in those clips. "I Don't Live Today" starts off with this "datdat DADADAT datdat DA" motif that finally does melt into an assault of apacolyptic noise, and the video starts after that intro. "Voodoo Child" has a call-and-response thing going on in the guitar line and that's not coming through either. It's also likely that Jimi's as high as shit.



January 4, 2007, 7:05 PM

The videos do show one interesting point, though - you can see him playing left-handed on a right-handed Strat that's been fipped over and strung in reverse.



January 4, 2007, 7:46 PM

Yes, I knew he had that odd arrangement with his guitar. He certainly could stroke it.

And an unfortunate arrangement with substance consumption. He was in his 20s when he died.



January 4, 2007, 9:23 PM

The "big moment" for Hendrix was when he did the national anthem at Woodstock. Quite OK, maybe his moment of greatness, even, and certainly an essay in how to manipulate feedback in a guitar that was originally intended to "solve" the feedback problem that emerged when a hollow body jazz guitar was amplified too much.

It does not matter, though, whether you judge his music as blues or rock or innovation with the guitar - judge it first as sound. Usually it is as bad as it is innovative.

BTW, a lot of lefties use a right handed guitar in the way that he did. You get a lot more to choose from that way.



January 4, 2007, 9:31 PM

hendrix no good, unlistenable? no way. no time to dig out the exact songs, but he is better than good. joplin not so much.



January 4, 2007, 9:37 PM

hendrix national anthem, pretty weak if you ask me.


David Thompson

January 5, 2007, 3:03 AM

"datdat DADADAT datdat DA"

Hm. Let me get this straight. It goes Da-Da-Da…? Aha.



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