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A Voice Crying in the Wilderness

Post #966 • March 5, 2007, 11:06 AM • 21 Comments

A paper delivered at the recent CAA conference by Brian Curtis, to what I am told was a response so enthusiastic it upset the moderator.




March 5, 2007, 11:18 AM

I believe the moderator told him "You were much too persuasive", or words to that effect.



March 5, 2007, 11:49 AM

McLuhan stated: we drive into the future using only our rear view mirrors.
A Mowhawk is a respectful member of a Native North American First Peoples' Tribe previously known as the Kanien 'kehake or the people of the flint - not a trendy hairdo or "display of a captive lone peacock".



March 5, 2007, 12:22 PM

And I always thought a MOWHAWK was a clipper for birds.



March 5, 2007, 1:19 PM


McLuhan stated: we drive into the future using only our rear view mirrors.

McLuhan said a lot of things which on first look feel true but in my opinion are fuzzy truths at best.

Man's ability to predict, to visualize a future, may utilize knowledge from the past but it can be such general knowledge it is not necessarily visible in the rear view mirror. Rather it is an extrapolation of how we exist in the world. We have an awareness of the consequences of gravity, an understanding of the simple physics in the world, if we drive the car off a cliff, we can predict it will hurt, even if we have never done or seen this before.

In a similar vein, his fameous quote "the medium is the message".
The medium is the medium, the message is what was delivered, conflating the two confuses the issue.



March 5, 2007, 5:24 PM

The key element is the people with the money, since the system is ultimately money-driven. As long as there are enough moneyed idiots and/or strike-a-posers to keep the game/party going, the voice of reason can be ignored or dismissed. That's not to say it should be silent or in any way cowed, but it can't change much simply by virtue of being right. It's not about right, just like it's not about quality or even about art per se. Art is just a suitable tool or means, despite the industrial-strength BS being shamelessly thrown around ad nauseam.



March 5, 2007, 5:27 PM

I can't remember if I posted this before, if I did, nevermind...

Railing Opinion: A Call to Art Critics vis the Brooklyn Rail.

In the December/January issue, the Brooklyn Rail published “A Call to Art Critics” by Irving Sandler in the open column Railing Opinion. The questions posed by Sandler in his essay touched a nerve among many of our readers, who responded with emails and letters. The editors of ARTSEEN decided to publish four of the letters that seemed to most directly respond to Sandler’s questions. We decided to also reprint the original column in its entirety. The letters have been edited only for grammar, not for content, and are otherwise complete. [emphasis mine]


Rene Barge

March 5, 2007, 6:18 PM

Thanks for posting,
Excellent paper!
As a first year teacher, I have had the oppurtunity of experiencing the commodification of descent!
Often times I recall R. Hughes' Culture of Complaint.
Best Wishes,



March 5, 2007, 8:00 PM

George, I'm not concerned with the "medium/message" issue but rather the notion that looking forward involves looking back.
The virtual world has created a bunch of Zombies in the physical world. I experience this daily. In fact, I'm taking a break from a MFA figure drawing class right now - working on seeing with a sensitive hand.


Rene Barge

March 5, 2007, 9:59 PM

McLuhan was interested in "human perceptual apparatus," the ways in which our sense and their "technological extensions" shape and are shaped by their environment. In essays he often contrasts the different worlds proper to sight and hearing. I recall essays in which he writes about seismographic delicacies of the past while probing the present and its possibilities.
I feel that McLuhan was often fuzzy. He argued that Western man today think's with only one part of the brain and starves the rest of it; looking into the rear view mirror he may have found sensus communis, the Latin definition of a healthy man, meaning that all the senses, such as seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touch ought to translate equally into each other.



March 5, 2007, 11:58 PM

This seems like a relevant topic, it’s surprising there have been fewer comments.

Jack said: As long as there are enough moneyed idiots and/or strike-a-posers to keep the game/party going, the voice of reason can be ignored or dismissed.

Suppose this changed. The art market is displaying signs of what Alan Greenspan calls irrational exuberance. This kind of market behavior inevitably ends badly. Without going into a lot of boring economic reasons, odds are that the party is nearly over and by the end of the decade, the art market will have to establish a more normal balance between the buyers and the sellers.

I have read a number of articles recently which all talk around the current problems, in criticism, art education and the effects of a hyper active marketplace. The difficulty I have with nearly all of these articles is that no one seems to have a viable idea for the future.

So what do the readers of this blog think about this? Or does it even matter?



March 6, 2007, 12:40 AM

How about the art buyer actually getting it, that the painting they're buying is the result
of somebody's hard work, from which breakfast is made possible in the morning.

and oh! those moneyed idiots and strike a posers spoken of !
well if not, we'd all be back in the jungle bartering for coconuts and dates,
won't that be nice



March 6, 2007, 12:49 AM

George, if art was about skill then so few would have anything to write about, sell, and/or have jobs in either academia or in the commercial gallery arena; let alone Museums. Art today is about creative people, not art. Our program was once called visual and entertainment arts. One could say perhapes if things where otherwise, then there would be about an eighth of the artists than there are now.



March 6, 2007, 1:39 AM

Oh, hey! It's like a plot synopsis of my last semester's graduate seminar "topics in blah blah blah"* course! B. Curtis is on my committee, by the way, so you can imagine that it makes for an interesting dialectic at my reviews. ;)

What with Brian's paper on, his mention of Franklin, and my comment, I think the world just got a little smaller. Really, I think I felt it shrink just now.

*Note: not the actual course title.

[Note to BC: like the gratuitous use of "dialectic"? :) ]



March 6, 2007, 11:52 AM

"Suppose it changed."

That would be very nice, George, but don't underestimate the degree or extent of the idiocy, shallowness, delusion, and fetish for image and status among those with deep (or deep enough) pockets. In addition to that, there's the pervasive, elaborate, shamelessly self-serving and ruthlessly self-perpetuating art world system (the one in power, I mean), which is very much calculated to separate the fools and SAPS (strike-a-posers) from their money. I hate to say it, but it's a damn good system.



March 6, 2007, 12:42 PM

From a purely psychological perspective, the froth in the current art market exists because the players lack the fear that they could be wrong. The art market behaves like any other auction market.

Like the stock market, when prices are going up, the buyers forget that they can also go down, they see prices rising, month after month and this conditions them to believe prices will rise next month as well. They take "advice' from the experts who will tell them without blinking an eye Enron is a good company worth buying at 90, so they buy.

Obviously the art market is structured differently but the psychological factors which influence the buyers behave in the exact same way. When prices are rising, the buyers are afraid of "missing out on a good deal" and they ante up. Now, all this works fine as long as the market is appreciating in price. However, if there is a decline in the economy, a sure bet at some point, it will put a degree of financial pressure on at least part of the collecting community. Either out of need, or for purely personal reasons, they may decide they want to sell some of the artworks from their collection.

The art market only appears to be liquid (i.e. it’s easy to make a transaction), but since artworks are unique for the most part, there may be demand for one particular unique work by an artist, and much less demand for the others. This means that pricing cannot be applied in a monolithic way, it has been in the current hot market, but this is only possible because the demand is currently high.

When a market becomes soft, the smart players will "low ball" their bids, they are aware that there is more supply than the market can handle. This helps to precipitate a decline in prices because some of the sellers must sell, and some have just have decided to cash out and are willing to take the current bid because they feel today’s price is better than the one they will be offered tomorrow. Prices fall.

I have a theory that changes in art movements, or whatever is replacing them, changes in taste, fashion, philosophies etc, tend to occur in periods of financial stress, in recessions. My reasoning is that when the art market is strong, there is a tendency to not rock the boat and artworks tend to cluster in a lump around what appears to be successful. Because the prices of the best known artists in a buoyant period inflate, there is a tendency for the marketers to "fill in" the lower price range with, potentially more marginal, second and third generation work because it is marketable as a style (fashion philosophy etc) In a market contraction, this type of work becomes more difficult to sell. The high end may maintain itself even though prices soften, the super rich are less affected by financial market downturns.

When artists see that there is no market or interest in the previous "hot" style, they feel more free to look around, to experiment and innovate, often in areas which become a new direction for the future.



March 6, 2007, 1:22 PM




March 6, 2007, 1:24 PM

Actually, I had meant to post this one....



March 6, 2007, 2:02 PM

It appears to me that the current art world is, or certainly can be, a kind of mood-enhancing drug, albeit an expensive one. There are evidently only too many people susceptible to its lure, just as there are people who will go for any Prozac-like thing that comes along to "feel better." It doesn't matter that it's not a reality-based situation, as long as the illusion is sufficiently convincing. In many cases, of course, it's not a matter of illusion, but rather of profit, financial or otherwise. Still, a significant number get hooked because they really buy the bill of goods as presented or advertised, and the whole system is geared toward continually reinforcing or "validating" the desired illusions, or delusions.



March 6, 2007, 2:57 PM

IMO, That's the reason people acquire things in general



March 6, 2007, 3:16 PM

I had a funny thought along those lines.

I have a friend, a drinking buddy, who is from Monte Carlo. We were talking one night at my local bar and he said something along the lines of, the really rich lose their ability to desire because they can afford to buy anything they can think of. They do not experience the mental desire thet comes with the delay, the dreaming about it, saving up, etc that is familiar to most of us. It is an interesting thought, the waiting list might fullfill a psychological need.



March 6, 2007, 4:04 PM

You missed my point, George, probably deliberately, but the point stands.



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