Previous: Modernism (102)

Next: Notable in comics (8)

Why the art world is a disaster

Post #1027 • July 4, 2007, 8:25 AM • 41 Comments

Roger Kimball:

You will not be able to see “Wrestle.” By the time you read this, the exhibition will have closed. But do not pine. You haven’t missed anything. Have I become jaded? Too many close encounters with Gilbert and George, Matthew Barney, and all the other exotic fauna that populate the galleries and art museums these days? Perhaps. In any event, I thought my friends overstated the awfulness of the exhibition. Don’t get me wrong: it was plenty awful. Body parts, “explicit” images, and naughty language galore. The exhibition certainly merited the warning to parents at the entrance. But it wasn’t worse than dozens of other exhibitions I’ve seen, you’ve seen, we’ve all seen.




July 4, 2007, 11:13 AM

In the previous thread, Hovig said: "I used to call Franklin's (and Jack's) view of art 'eschatological.' I thought they were taking sides in preparation for Armageddon. I don't see art that way ..."

When you are on the side occupied by an overwhelming majority, it doesn't seem like a "side". But it is.

On the other hand, there is no Armageddon. It is only art that is at stake, and the world can do well without art

If I had to choose between electricity or art, I'd take electricity, as would just about everyone else.


My Favorite Line

July 4, 2007, 11:15 AM

"......the only thing exhibitions like “Wrestle,” or institutions like the Hessel Museum, challenge is the viewer’s patience."


Abba Zabba

July 4, 2007, 11:19 AM

But what if......
the only way to generate electricity was to burn all the great works of art history? New works, old works, significant and insignificant works?



July 4, 2007, 11:23 AM

Kendall's rhetroic once again proves the power of the informal fallacies.

His point about the institutionalization of Dada is well taken though. Yet he never quite explains why the art world is a disaster, even that part of it he described. I'd boil it down to this: the artists that populate it are not good enough.



July 4, 2007, 11:46 AM

(Answering Hovig #92 at the last thread.)

First of all, bad art, not postmodernism, is the core problem. Bad art has been made in every mode, including the modernist one. There are examples of postmodernist art, or work that we could characterize that way, that are entirely decent. (I like later Guston quite a bit.) But postmodernism has enabled bad art in an unprecedented manner, providing the intellectual framework so that bad art can be afforded the highest levels of critical and commercial success. Wide adoption of this framework makes life difficult for anyone who doesn't buy into postmodernist tenets, such as it has them.

Intellectualism is a fine quality. Intellectual activity and the detection of visual quality, however, are separate phenomena, and again, postmodernism has provided the framework so that the two can be conflated. You may enjoy a certain amount of conceptual frisson in a work of art, but its quality does not reside in how smart it is. Smart art can be boring and ugly, just like smart people can be boring and ugly. I would question, as well, whether any conceptual issue has been better explored by a piece of art than a piece of writing on the same topic.

That glorifying-the-low angle is interesting to me. I think postmodernism's contribution to the appreciation of low culture has been helpful. There's a lot of enjoyable stuff down there. My observation, though, is that it becomes less enjoyable when people try to elevate it into high art. No, just let it be illustration or tattoos or vegetable carving or what have you. Except in the hands of a talent like Guston, things like that become pathetic in a high-art context.

If postmodernism or any strand thereof consistently produced great work, I'd be its biggest fan. It doesn't, and I think that's a feature, not a bug.



July 4, 2007, 12:18 PM

Hovig, the reason I rail against Postmoderism really goes back to the sort of thing I was saying in the last post (and I thank you for your kind words) that I feel that art is, as Kimball says, something "ennobling", and I hate to see it fouled up. It is quasi-religious, in a way, and definitely elitist, and it certainly gets overheated, but it rests on strong belief and involvement so I don't feel any need to slack off. Besides, I enjoy the debate.

As Catfish says, there are other things that are more important: Clem used to say "Life iis more important than art"; Catfish says electricity is. I see no reason not to enjoy anything, as Franklin implies, but if it won't stand up as art than it ain't art.


Marc Country

July 4, 2007, 8:27 PM

In the previous thread, Hovig said: "the only pomo artist I'd be willing to defend in a discussion might be Samuel Beckett"

But, isn't Beckett a Modernist?



July 4, 2007, 10:03 PM

Right, Marc. Same thing occurred to me.



July 5, 2007, 6:44 AM

Home Depot vs Shell Lumber. Brands Mart vs Radio Shack. Sports Authority vs Foot Locker.
This is Postmodernism. Costco is Post-Post Modernism...


philip guston

July 5, 2007, 9:45 AM

"There is something ridiculous and miserly in the myth we inherit from abstract art: that painting is autonomous, pure and for itself, and therefore we habitually analyse its ingredients and define its limits.
But painting is "impure". It is the adjustment of "impurities" which forces paintings continuity. We are image-makers and image-ridden."


JAM Whistler

July 5, 2007, 10:26 AM

"WHY should not I call my works "symphonies," "arrangements," "harmonies," and "nocturnes "? I know that many good people think my nomenclature funny and myself "eccentric." Yes, "eccentric" is the adjective they find for me.
The vast majority of English folk cannot and will not consider a picture as a picture, apart from any story which it may be supposed to tell.
My picture of a "Harmony in Grey and Gold" is an illustration of my meaning--a snow scene with a single black figure and a lighted tavern. I care nothing for the past, present, or future of the black figure, placed there because the black was wanted at that spot. All that I know is that my combination of grey and gold is the basis of the picture. Now this is precisely what my friends cannot grasp.
They say, "Why not call it 'Trotty Veck,' and sell it for a round harmony of golden guineas ? "--naively acknowledging that, without baptism, there is no . . . . market!
But even commercially this stocking of your shop with the goods of another would he indecent--custom alone has made it dignified. Not even the popularity of Dickens should be invoked to lend an adventitious aid to art of another kind from his. I should hold it a vulgar and meretricious trick to excite people about Trotty Veck when, if they really could care for pictorial art at all, they would know that the picture should have its own merit, and not depend upon dramatic, or legendary, or local interest.
As music is the poetry of sound, so is painting the poetry of sight, and the subject-matter has nothing to do with harmony of sound or of colour.
The great musicians knew this. Beethoven and the rest wrote music--simply music; symphony in this key, concerto or sonata in that.
On F or G they constructed celestial harmonies--as harmonies--as combinations, evolved from the chords of F or G and their minor correlatives.
This is pure music as distinguished from airs--commonplace and vulgar in themselves, but interesting from their associations, as, for instance, "Yankee Doodle," or "Partant pour la Syrie."
Art should be independent of all clap-trap--should stand alone, and appeal to the artistic sense of eye or ear, without confounding this with emotions entirely foreign to it, as devotion, pity, love, patriotism, and the like. All these have no kind of concern with it; and that is why I insist on calling my works " arrangements" and "harmonies."
Take the picture of my mother, exhibited at the Royal Academy as an "Arrangement in Grey and Black." Now that is what it is. To me it is interesting as a picture of my mother; but what can or ought the public to care about the identity of the portrait ?
The imitator is a poor kind of creature. If the man who paints only the tree, or flower, or other surface he sees before him were an artist, the king of artists would be the photographer. It is for the artist to do something beyond this: in portrait painting to put on canvas something more than the face the model wears for that one day; to paint the man, in short, as well as his features; in arrangement of colours to treat a flower as his key, not as his model.
This is now understood indifferently well--at least by dressmakers. In every costume you see attention is paid to the key-note of colour which runs through the composition, as the chant of the Anabaptists through the Prophete, or the Huguenots' hymn in the opera of that name."



July 5, 2007, 10:32 AM

I'm all about religious conviction. It's openness to debate: that's the important part.
When a Krazy Kat horizon situates piles of shoes in a vast and interminable space thickly wrought in luscious licks of oil paint, familiar emblems of our lives coincide on pre-cognitive, visual levels. This is the power of painting and material. It is imagery of the low, brought high, in a space of visual contemplation brought through the material of paint.
Surrealism frequently suggests a space for mental contemplation using symbols itemized by the brain but not always realized in the material: though it can be argued there is good drawing in Surrealist work. In the best examples such as Dali's melting clock painting that is delicately and attentively painted, one accepts a suspension of space and so-called reality on a visual level. When the pictorial field is not charged throughout, images separate and one is ejected from the experience of the painting.
Pomo adopts the strategy of seducing and ejecting at the same time. Most bloggers here simply experience the ejection.



July 5, 2007, 10:32 AM

Well said Phil.


Clement Greenberg

July 5, 2007, 10:37 AM

"I don't get into "becauses." When you come into a studio you see a number of works. My habit is to go to the one I like most. If you start to say "because" you get into art jargon."



July 5, 2007, 10:42 AM

More than that, EC, I experience the fact that Dali was not a good painter, not good technically, not when compared to artist who were technically good painters, like Vermeer, or Ingres, or Monet, or Picasso. The landscape parts of that watch picture are pretty awful. Limp watches are fun, but in themselves they are a one-liner.



July 5, 2007, 12:55 PM

Thanks everyone.

I defined Beckett as a postmodernist because I was following Opie's definition of postmodernism as an art that chases the 'low.' That's what I thought Beckett did. Another is that I thought Beckett meant the same thing to literature that dada and conceptual art did to art. I'd also put two other favorite authors, Robert Coover and Thomas Bernhard, in the same category. Those three authors were very challenging to me, and are of course very much different from typical literature, and extremely enjoyable once I "got" them. I thought they were what you would call postmodern. That's all I know about 20th c literary theory. Someone can correct me if I'm clueless....

Elitism is only human. People think it limits society, but it can be said to advance it. There will always be a group of people who specialize in the enjoyment of any given pursuit more intently and intensely than the populace at large. This type of advancement often drives human experience to new places. Elitism is related to that other hot topic: bubbles. Bubbles are bad in many ways, especially in the short term, but can be very good in the long term. Society can benefit from all that frothy action at the top.

But getting back to Beckett, and one reason I thought he would have been considered postmodernist, is encapsulated in my understanding of Waiting for Godot. I associate Godot not specifically with God, but with anything that represents a meaning any "higher" than the filth and fiber of human existence. One waits for higher meaning at one's peril. (And -- if you'll let me interpret Becket without a license, and put some unkind words into his mouth -- possibly at your foolishness). My reading of Beckett is that he would reject a higher pursuit in art too. I'd bow to anyone with more expertise on this, but that's what I see.

Franklin's comment deserves a separate reply. Thinking....



July 5, 2007, 2:06 PM

Not sure what you are referring to Hovig - I would never define postmodernism as "chasing the low".

The "high/low" thing has been with us for at least a couple hundred years: the use of common subject matter by the Impressionists, Picasso's use of elements that were basically trash and dozens of other examples, going back to Shakespeare, if you will. Beckett actually put his characters in trash cans, of course.

None of this impeded the flow of "high art"; it as been pretty conclusively demonstrated that art of the highest quality can be made from common elements (oil paint itself is a "low" element, for that matter) because what makes art good is not what the artist uses but what the artist does with whatever he's got.

The problem with Postmodernsim is not the "low" character of the content but that the artists are not doing enough to make it visually interesting.



July 5, 2007, 5:35 PM

OK. I got it.



July 5, 2007, 6:15 PM

OK Marc you have shamed me into commenting on BP.

There are many built in problems associated with the kind of painting we see in the BP awards and with their presentation on the internet.

To begin with, Nolameme mentions that one of the paintings picture is "too dark". Well, they are all too dark, because they got too dark in the process. If you download these pictures and put them through auto levels most of them immediately look more like themselves (there are some tonal combinations that get totally thrown off in auto levels - yellow Rothkos will turn purple - but one has to just be able to spot it)

Then there is the general mental set of people who choose to paint this way in the 21st C. Up until the mid-19th C. Painting relatively tight realist portraits was what a painter did. As a result all the best painters painted relatively tight portraits. As a further consequence some of them are among our masterpieces.

I don't think painting this way attracts the most talented and ambitious artists any more. This can be seen not only in the general level of quality of the pictures but also in the way many of them choose to paint them. There is a real strain of obsessiveness running through these pictures, not only the "every-little-wrinkle" I mentioned before but the overdramatization with raking light, the intense expressions, the need to find "interesting subjects" - old people with "lived in" faces in particular, rather than ordinary people painted in interesting ways - the compulsion to disguise the paint, the feeling that there is a dulling cast, or film over the painting and that the picture has been worked to death, the use of color to indicate or draw attention rather than just be good color, and much else. These things do not provide mediocre pictures but the personalities that gravitate in this direction often do.

There is loose painting and tight painting here, mostly the latter. The tight paintings tend to suceed more, ironically, because it is easier to do. Not less work, just easier. As I mentioned before, the middling qualitiy drives me to admire the meticulous realism more than the actual esthetic quality of these paintings. What I miss are paintings that show real virtuosity, the ability to just get in there and slam the paint around and come out with something absolutely convincing. A couple try but miss, Like Benford and Ball. One, Hardy, comes close, and it looks like one of the best pictures, much as I dislike the saturated "goldiness" of the color. I agree with 1 (one's) choices, with the strong exception of the Todd painting, and I could find another 8 or 10 I like as well. I don't go along with Nolameme so much except for Hardy, and I bet Pohlschmidt has painted better pictures - he seems to have a good touch.

Anyone who has done much realist painting knows the irony of detail, that it is easier to put over tiny meticulous detail than it is to paint a convincing wall, and look good doing it. People admire detail. Look at the walls, and the backgrounds, and the flat surfaces, and notice how often they go flat and lose conviction. That's because the artist is not that good a painter. And then go look at, say, Picasso's portrait of Gertrude Stein, and see the dancing livliness of that wall above her, all in earth color. He didn't know what kind of face to put on this scary lady, but he could do a wall in his sleep.



July 6, 2007, 8:39 AM

Very interesting review in today's Times. Smith's discussion of Bannard's work in terms of camps. Recalls Catfish's comments about sides at the start of this thread.



July 6, 2007, 8:45 AM

BTW Opie, your comments about BP are quite wonderful reading, it's great to see you get down and talk painting.
Is anyone aware of the "Outwin Boochever Portrait Exhibition," National Portrait Gallery, Wash. 2006? Similar idea.



July 6, 2007, 8:45 AM

Found it.



July 6, 2007, 9:14 AM

Thanks EC. We should "talk painting" with more regularity. Marc introduced this exhibit to try to get something going and I cold-shouldered it and then felt guilty about it, and then when I got into it it was fun to examine, of course.

The Bannard review took a while to get there. The show opened 2 months ago. I guess by "camps" you mean "taking sides". Your observation is accurate. Discussing things in political terms often serves as a substutute for simply evaluating the art.



July 6, 2007, 10:11 AM

Roberta Smith says: "These betwixt-and-between works — the best on view — suggest a kind of Minimalist Color Field style that would have been anathema to both teams."

Seems like Smith wants to write in terms of Armageddon. The fact is that Bannard was welcome in the Minimalist group, having been the one who suggested "notches" to Frank Stella, along with thick stretchers that increased the dimensionality of the relationship between the picture and the wall.

Likewise, Clement Greenberg was involved with the Minimalists, having curated "Post Painterly Abstraction", which included Darby Bannard, Frank Stella, Gene Davis, Ellsworth Kelly, Alexander Liberman, Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, and others. The exhibit opened in 1964, a year before "Mr. Bannard took a more painterly approach, one more in line with the theories of Clement Greenberg", according to Smith. Are we to think that Greenberg rejected the work in "Post Painterly Abstraction" a year later because of conflicts with his unspecified "theories"?

This is how come you have to be careful reading notables such as Smith. The drama she conjures up just does not square with the facts. There was and continues to be a strong conflict between Pop and both MInimalism and Color Field. But the latter two are more or less friendly with each other. Greenberg recognized artists from both "teams", as Smith likes to call them.

I grant that the review is at least as harmless as it is unenlightening. And in the world of "reputations", ink is better than no ink. So I'm glad it surfaced.



July 6, 2007, 10:59 AM

Right, Catfish. Greenberg couldn't care less whether a painting was maximal or minimal or realistic or abstract or red or green. He only had to like it.



July 6, 2007, 11:45 AM

Re: # 15
Ingres and Vermeer really knew how to add a subjective effect to their tracings - you can see how they held their breath, bit their tongues, and clenched their teeth in the paintings. Dali's on the other hand are supreme as posters - cold, aloof and clinical.
Picasso's have a combined architectural (objective) and sexually visceral (subjective) assertiveness. Monet could have turned mere shit into fields of visual abundance.



July 6, 2007, 12:27 PM

I remember soft yellow paint in the receding hills of Dali. Beyond that I'll have to see it again, but I'm not making a special trip.
Ingres--he did hold his breath, he is supreme, supreme! Vermeer also, though I love Ingre's intensity so much more. I wouldnt' class Dali with those painters but do think the melting clock is one of his best paintings. Could be the small scale of the work, and the more abundant paint than usual on it. I remember the cool, green face of the clock and little licks of paint in the back, ocean I imagine (this from memory) and the yellow of the sand as being for Dali, satisfying.
There's something of the Stella quote what you see is what you see that conjures the philosophy of this blog.



July 6, 2007, 1:31 PM

I hate to be a wet blanket EC - you seem to enjoy painting so much who am I to spoil it. I guess I am just a serial critic. Can't help myself.

We don't have much philosophy here, except for Franklin's guidelines, which I think are a model for any serious blog, and the general no-nonsense tone.



July 6, 2007, 2:37 PM


A photograph is a bad Modernist painting, and a Modernist painting is a bad poem. None of these items suffer in quality from this comparison. You've established Modernist and literary standards for postmodern art, but we're left with no idiomatically postmodern ones.

Intellectualism is a medium in postmodernism. You acknowledge as much, even if you use "conflate" unflatteringly. So intellectualism must be taken into account in quality. Otherwise we're rating postmodern expressions as modernist objects, which I think is beside the point.

To extend your wonderful metaphor, I'll accept boring and ugly things into my museum -- smart or otherwise -- if I find them profound (a word I'm going to leave undefined for the moment, but which I offer in opposition to "high" or "great"). Their ugliness may even accentuate their profundity. Why discriminate among the Muses?

But this whole debate may be moot. Opie just said what I was thinking:

Discussing things in political terms often serves as a substutute for simply evaluating the art.

If postmodernism is taking food out of peoples' mouths, then let's discuss as much. Humans are capable of pursuing quality in any field, and are good at rewarding sophistication. But if we're really debating postmodernism's prevalence rather than its expressions, let's not use quality as a proxy for politics.

P.S. I never really thought of Guston as postmodern. I can see why you say so, given his attempts at ideology, but I've always found his imagery more sentimental than intellectual, and his body of work more formal than conceptual in any event.



July 6, 2007, 7:04 PM

Hovig, that is a deft argument. Plus, I agree that Guston is not a postmodernist but a formalist.
Opie, I didn't mean much by the Stella, his quote reminds me of the general idea about assessing art not the factors around it. No intention to say more than that.
Though Hovig's last point makes that approach problematic in regard to postmodern work.



July 6, 2007, 8:12 PM

A photograph is a bad Modernist painting, and a Modernist painting is a bad poem.

Sorry, I reject this. It's like saying an apple is a bad orange. We can get to your point anyway, that the evaluative mechanism has to fit the problem set, so if intellectualism is a component of a postmodern work, we're theoretically obliged to address that component in an appropriate way.

This leads to a problem, though, if a work is primarily conceptual in orientation. How do you evaluate an idea? It may be interesting, it may be correct, but can it be good without being interesting or correct? I don't think so. Whereas form can be good without being interesting or correct. Morandi could use a wad of half-dried beige paint to depict a bottle with dust on it, mess up the symmetry, the highlight, and the perspective, and still create good form.

So it comes up not infrequently that we have an object whose poor form is excused by its conceptual component. At this point, I no longer feel like I'm having an art experience, but a philosophical one, via a medium that doesn't handle philosophy one-tenth as well as language. But you're still on board, so let's continue. Next we'll notice that the bar for interesting and correct are astonishingly low. "As usual with Gober, the installation is a broken allegory that both elicits and resists our interpretation; that materially nothing is quite as it seems adds to our anxious curiosity." This is goobledygook. It can't be correct (broken allegory?) and "materially nothing is quite as it seems" is the kind of ideation you produce when you're 17 and stoned.

But let say Gober is just failing to be interesting or correct, and although his case is typical, we should instead imagine an object that is conceptually interesting while formally poor. Why should anyone prefer this to an object that is equally conceptually interesting and not formally poor? Take it from there, Hovig - I gotta go cook dinner.



July 6, 2007, 9:14 PM

Yeah, but don't eat any of them bad oranges.



July 7, 2007, 4:31 PM

Hey y'all,
I have no job, no wife and no money - anyone got some commissions or something ?



July 7, 2007, 7:13 PM

Can anyone recommend a good web site to learn painting techniques?



July 7, 2007, 7:35 PM

Does anyone know of some web techniques so that I can learn to paint ?


david rohn

July 8, 2007, 9:26 AM

was the topic the art world or 'postmodernism'-I always hear Miami s magnate -turned-collectors using that term.I think you started off decrying obscenity in art
I think the most significant (and obscene) current art event is the diamond and platinum scull by Damien Hirst. The greatest work of bling ever made. Used to be if you wanted to declare status you d buy some clothes with the (expensive). designer s advertising on it .What s great about Hirst s piece is that unlike what art was originally: an object that has cultural, aesthetic, non material value, his scull has value only because of it s materials(well maybe tha fact that it s also made by a blue chip bankable artist)
So we ve come full circle-instead of wasting asethetiic values on the art investors give them what they are really looking for -real monetary value. When the $100 million modernist paintings start to look like tulip bulbs Hirst s scull can be melted down and sold off like the French crown jewels after their revolution.
The Hirst scull does bring to mind Faberge' eggs and marie Antoinettes fabled excessive diamond necklaces-all of which heralded the end of an era of disgustingly disproportionate distribution of wealth and obscene displays of meaningless wealth.
Hirst may have made tens of millions thru his association with the Saatchi's but most of us will have to suffer thru the absolute discrediting of modern and contemporary art struggling thru our day jobs. There s no escaping the Perception (if not fact) that the Bush billiionaires , hedge fund players, and publicity mongers have hijacked contemporary art . Art will survive of course because it is a necessity although I suspect these money people will lose the interest of the greater public who will flee to the internet for their search for aesthetic expression.
So people who like to see art that is expensive can visit the Hirst scull.
Maybe Hirst should follow this with a series of smaller (say childrens sculls paved with diamonds-that would be a more democratic way to let smaller investors parrticipate and similar to the way most of these artists market their work: by creating 25-50 versions of the same painting and calling it an exhibition when in fact it is a sale.
Maybe brokerage firms and Investment banks should be given a piece of the action-they re good at marketing too.



July 8, 2007, 10:49 AM

You have a point about the collectors hijacking the market. I follow the auctions and there is no real rhyme or reason, just "collector favorites". Why they buy what they buy is hard to fathom - lots of it is worthless by any measure except money. It is a trophy market almost exclusively, especially with very recent art.

The Hirst skull is interesting because I get the idea that it is not going over. At some point even those ill-advised lemming collectors will get some inkling that they are getting seriously reamed up the wazoo. They will certainly know that they can recover only a fraction of the asking price of the thing by selling the diamonds.

Of course someone had to buy that $20 million pill-board, so who really knows what the limits of delusion are.


I'll tell you why....

July 8, 2007, 8:15 PM

The art world is such a disaster.....



metaphorically speaking

July 8, 2007, 8:20 PM

Mr. Rohn:

Was it a diamond encrusted scull?.... "A long oar used at the stern of a boat and moved from side to side to propel the boat forward."

or Skull?

A scull would perhaps be more interesting...metaphorically speaking.



July 10, 2007, 1:20 AM

Hirst is a rip off artist :) why ? you ask.....because Victoria Secret (they make the best bras) did a diamond encrusted bra and then a shoe designer decided his shoes would cost even more with a few sparklers added Hirst, I imagine is rolling on the floor laughing at the boobs :) who are loving and buying his 'art' ....and I doubt very much they would get very much with the diamonds popped as they are probably low grade.



July 10, 2007, 7:29 PM

You want to see a rip off go here




Other Projects


Design and content ©2003-2022 Franklin Einspruch except where otherwise noted