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Freebies

Post #1080 • October 30, 2007, 11:40 AM • 173 Comments

Probably very few people make art for purely formal reasons. I even get that sense from Ad Reinhardt, who seemed to work with an idea of formal purity rather than formal purity itself, and a parochial idea at that. Certainly anyone using recognizable form has poetic associations with those images or there would be no reason to put them in. Art has long been inspired by stories and histories, to the enormous pleasure of people who enjoy it.

The problem is only trying to use those non-formal impulses to make the art function well. Without the idea, you might never make the thing. But once made, it is good or not based on form, and the idea becomes a side issue. Interpretation may yield intellectual riches but this is not worth doing on an object that lacks visual ones, unless, of course, you believe that art is primarily an intellectual and not a visual activity.

Writers typically process the world as narratives and ideas. What we have in the institutionalized art world is essentially a triumph of the writers. Something like Doris Salcedo's Shibboleth - the crack - plays to a writer's strengths: interpretation, philosophizing, mental associations, meanings, communication. But actually seeing the thing is not a literary activity. Good art doesn't function because of these literary properties, but alongside them.

The sad irony is that visual art handles literary and philosophical ideas in such a vague manner that if you base the success of art on them, it cannot fail. The mind can find order and meaning in anything, by association if nothing else. You cannot disprove Salcedo's claim that the work represents racial hatred, not because of its powerful and clear representation of racial hatred, but because of its lack of specificity as a symbol. Rather, it has enough specificity to evoke associations but not so much specificity as to warrant some more than others. Salcedo's verbalized intentions become required reading in this case because the piece on its own could suggest anything with a division or two sides. Again, the writer triumphs, although here, it is the artist herself. (I've already suggested that visual art that tries to accomplish literary functions bears comparison to other literary works. Would anyone like to put Doris Salcedo up against Alex Haley?)

Efforts that can't fail can't succeed either, not in any meaningful way. In an art world in which formal success is more or less off the table and conceptual success can't be established, few markers are available to distinguish a work from surrounding examples of visual and philosophical insipidness. One of the stronger markers is audacity. So it becomes necessary to extend the crack through the entire floor of Turbine Hall, cover the skull with a fortune of diamonds, dedicate the whole fair booth to a machine that drags around an empty pack of cigarettes on a length of monofilament, to cover the wall with surreal, silhouetted racial and gender stereotypes madly coupling, to print the photograph eighteen feet wide, to present ever more obvious examples of non-art as art. The old saw used to say that if you couldn't make it good, make it big and red. Now it might as well say that if you can't make it good, make it audacious and expensive. Of course, this encourages the hypercommercialization of the art world and its subsidiary projects: artists "commenting" on the art market, art writers commenting on the art market, and art writers commenting on art writers commenting on the art market.

Economists observe that when you remove competitive mechanisms, competitors find unrestricted parameters and start competing based on them instead. In Taiwan, all gas pumps are full serve, and you get an armful of gifts with every topped-off tank. This isn't because the Taiwanese are especially civilized, but because the price of gas is regulated by the state, so gas station owners compete with better service and freebies. Something similar happens with audacity in the art world. If formal considerations are regarded as inconsequential and conceptual ones don't lend themselves to valuation, audacity is a good freebie because it carries some visceral excitement. It is about as hard to make something audacious as it is to make it expensive, and in some cases the two are the same problem.

But audacity correlates to quality as much as anything else does - not at all - so writers are needed to retrofit things that look like quality onto them. This is a somewhat separate problem, because writers are needed to prop up bad art in general. Audacious objects, however, supply things that look like quality in larger quantitites, so the accompanying retrofitting goes on more widely and with greater lengths of philosophical baling wire. And not just among self-identified art writers, but also de facto art writers like curators and even artists to the extent that their work depends on explication. The following properties may look like quality, but are not: scale, implications, salaciousness, challenges, newness, associations, assertions, narratives, communications, non-art-ness, meanings, complexity, layers. Good art may have these things. Bad art too. They are not the goodness itself. They are freebies. Freebies are fun and may add value to the experience. But just as you wouldn't accept an armful of freebies and a tankful of corn syrup, you ought to insist on quality with traits, not traits alone. That quality is ineffable, personal, and felt makes it hard to write about, but not less real or less important. The goodness itself can only be detected through sight and feeling.

Writing has a place in this, to use the power of language to describe those perceptions. All mediums have a negative innate tendency. Pastels want to be chalky. Watercolors want to be pale. Oils want to turn to mud. Clay wants to turn into a lump. Marble wants to shatter. Making these mediums do what you want them to do instead takes great skill. Writing's negative innate tendency is to mistake ideas for reality. To describe reality, the world underneath the ideas about it, even to say something completely true, takes great skill. No art writer succeeds at doing so all the time, but not enough are trying, and too many actual and de facto art writers are settling for something innate to writing but not innate to art.

Comment

1.

opie

October 30, 2007, 12:17 PM

VERY good post. Total plain good sense, well put. Let's see what kind of reaction it gets.

I don't know what my buried reasons are for making art, but I do the best I can with the form part.

2.

Hans

October 30, 2007, 1:59 PM

Really one of the best posts I read in 2007, thank you Franklin !

3.

catfish

October 30, 2007, 2:07 PM

Writing's negative innate tendency is to mistake ideas for reality.

Brilliant.

4.

Arthur

October 30, 2007, 2:43 PM

Agreed, a thoughtful, nuanced post. Of course, I don't quite agree, so more on that soon.

5.

Jack

October 30, 2007, 2:48 PM

Excellent post, Franklin, too good to have a typo. It's "ineffable."

6.

g

October 30, 2007, 3:24 PM

well, this kinda sez, If you don't do it right, it won't work.

I want some pictorial examples

7.

opie

October 30, 2007, 4:26 PM

"I want some pictorial examples"

Go to Google and type in ART, g.

8.

ec

October 30, 2007, 4:42 PM

Lucid. I will refer to this again. Thank you.

9.

g

October 30, 2007, 5:50 PM

screw you, that was a legitimate request to focus the discussion.

10.

Franklin

October 30, 2007, 6:01 PM

If so, G, it needs to be more specific, because I don't understand your request. Assume community please.

Thanks all for the props.

11.

Fred

October 30, 2007, 6:54 PM

I guess I think you could strengthen your point by not ending the paper quite so fast. I would take another thousand words or so after or just before "No art writer succeeds at doing so all the time, but not enough are trying, and too many actual and de facto art writers are settling for something innate to writing but not innate to art." What writing is trying? Examples. What writing could try harder? Identify the settling trend you mention specifically in a text or two. I also think the idea of innate to the art object goodness requires more philosophical argumentation to really fly if that's what you want it to do. But the essay reads well.

12.

Fred

October 30, 2007, 7:01 PM

On topic of the last point quality and trait are pretty much synonymous by definition.

13.

Marc Country

October 30, 2007, 8:25 PM

Props, Franklin.

My freebies are philosophically enlightening, or religiously offensive, depending on your viewpoint.
Either are good.

14.

Surf Advisory

October 31, 2007, 5:06 AM

I think that trying to equate Doris Salcedo to Alex Haley is a bizarre analogy--why not a writer who actually addresses the shibboleth incident which occurred at the border of The Dominican Republic and Haiti in 1937? It seems like you pulled Haley out as an example somewhat randomly. Honestly, my first thought was that you couldn't think of any other works of contemporary fiction which address racism other than Roots (which is not even so contemporary--and which has some measure of controversy associated with it)--if so, I wonder whether or not you are capable of making the evaluation of art vs literature on this point as you seem to be encouraging. I think anyone who has read about the Massacre (there are at least several works of fiction which are set during and address the incident) would not need as much writing as you claim Salcedo's work requires to understand it--personal experience fills in a lot of the blanks, and your essay doesn't account for the richness of individual viewpoints. Perhaps purely formal visual art is an art devoid of lived referent?

15.

Fred

October 31, 2007, 5:48 AM

From The Tate website:

"The word ‘shibboleth’ refers back to an incident in the Bible, which describes how the Ephraimites, attempting to flee across the river Jordan, were stopped by their enemies, the Gileadites. As their dialect did not include a ‘sh’ sound, those who could not say the word ‘shibboleth’ were captured and executed. A shibboleth is therefore a token of power: the power to judge, reject and kill. What might it mean to refer to such violence in a museum of modern art?"

16.

Fred

October 31, 2007, 5:57 AM

And more pertaining to the term shibboleth...

17.

catfish

October 31, 2007, 5:59 AM

Surf: "formalism" is more a way of looking at art than a way of making it. "Radical formalism" looks at art as set off from life as lived, without reference to "knowledge" of the context in which the art was made. Art, no matter how "pure", is never devoid of reference to life.

The Venus of Willendorf, for instance, must be looked at rather formalistically, since we know almost nothing about the context of the time in which it was made. We can't even accurately date it, unless you think +/- 10,000 years is accurate. Who made it, what he or she was thinking about, what thier culture was like, etc. is so remote from us that it can't influence our "take" on the piecee. It is a natural for using a formalist approach because there is hardly any other that makes sense. Of course, that does not stop the interpreters and day dreaming philosophers from hanging their baggage on it right and left, in which case it becomes like a piece of fly paper, attracting and catching foolish insects in the here and now, though there is little liklihood that it was created for that purpose. We are not really sure it was created for enjoyment, as far as that goes. One widely held speculation is that it was a tool for indcing pregnancy. But when we do enjoy the way it looks, formalism is a good approach if for no other reason than we just don't know crap about the life of the times in which it was produced or why it was made or by whom.

18.

ahab

October 31, 2007, 6:33 AM

I think anyone who has read about the Massacre (there are at least several works of fiction which are set during and address the incident) would not need as much writing as you claim Salcedo's work requires to understand it

Odd, and um, Surf Advisory, are you aware how Fred's links point out your own use of an historical incident as a shibboleth for sorting those people who've read about it from those who don't read?

19.

opie

October 31, 2007, 6:44 AM

Catfish, I am always on the lookout for words and terms which are far enough in the past that old farts like us don't realize that younger generations have no idea what they are. fly paper, for example. Or, in most areas, what a housefly is.

Other than that, excellent analogy!

20.

Fred

October 31, 2007, 6:54 AM

Salcedo gives a succinct account of the crack - no footnotes.

21.

Fred

October 31, 2007, 7:10 AM

I think a strictly formalist approach is ok but ultimately inadequate to understanding an ancient historical object.

22.

Fred

October 31, 2007, 7:21 AM

With the Salcedo bit Franklin wades into extremely interesting territory. Does Manet's Olympia fail because of its allusion to literature?

23.

Fred

October 31, 2007, 7:25 AM

"You cannot disprove Salcedo's claim that the work represents racial hatred, not because of its powerful and clear representation of racial hatred, but because of its lack of specificity as a symbol."

Everyone knows if you step on a crack you brak your mom's back. Cracks, faults are universally understood as no good.

24.

catfish

October 31, 2007, 7:25 AM

Fred, you are on the right track, but did not quite go far enough. "A strictly formalist approach" to an ancient historical object is certainly inadequate for understanding it. Moreover, it is totally useless for understanding it.

25.

Fred

October 31, 2007, 7:30 AM

Enjoying something formally is not the same as looking at evidence empirically.

26.

Fred

October 31, 2007, 7:31 AM

Formalism is aesthetic not historical enquiry.

27.

Franklin

October 31, 2007, 7:38 AM

It seems like you pulled Haley out as an example somewhat randomly.

Haley is widely known. If I cite Shan Sa's The Girl Who Played Go, a story of an affair between a Chinese girl and Japanese soldier during the Rape of Nanjing, nobody's going to know what I'm talking about. Is your critique of my point that I haven't read the same books as you?

Here's Surf, emphasis mine: I think anyone who has read about the Massacre (there are at least several works of fiction which are set during and address the incident) would not need as much writing as you claim Salcedo's work requires to understand it--personal experience fills in a lot of the blanks, and your essay doesn't account for the richness of individual viewpoints.

Here's Fred, emphasis mine: I think a strictly formalist approach is ok but ultimately inadequate to understanding an ancient historical object.

Here's Fred again, emphasis mine: Cracks, faults are universally understood as no good.

Understanding a work of art has nothing to do with perceiving its quality. People so commonly conflate the two that it merits its own post. Understanding art is like having a lot of pockets for freebies like meanings and associations. This may add value, it may not, and it is not the goodness of the art itself in any case. I also hear an implication that I would like the work more if I understood it more, which conflates two different activities regarding art.

28.

Fred

October 31, 2007, 8:00 AM

"Understanding a work of art has nothing to do with perceiving its quality."

No one here is conflating comprehension with perception. That's a straw man. Franklin, I would ask you why we need "powerful clear representations" and "specificity as symbols" that you mention early in your essay if not to walk away with an understanding of them?

29.

craigfrancis

October 31, 2007, 8:06 AM

Art’s only function is to be art. Whether it functions well is a matter for each individual viewer. For me, Shibboleth is compelling enough visually to make me want to probe deeper into the metaphor. This is where the artist’s intent comes into play. If the writing or rationale or whatever behind a piece makes sense to the viewer, and makes the artwork a more compelling object, swell. In this particular case, I would say the various references the work makes succeed in making the piece more beautiful. But it isn’t all about the writing, our first experience of the art is visual. Your essay, Franklin, seems to be less an attack on writing (here you are writing about art, after all), than an attack on metaphor.

If it is true, as you say, that art based solely on philosophical ideas or writing or what have you cannot fail, then there would be zero discernment of quality art in the world. This is demonstrably not the case. There are a million bad conceptual artists out there for every bad flower painter. Yet not all of these bad conceptual artists are showing at the Tate. That is because the good artists succeed in making a visually compelling metaphor for the ideas that run alongside their work. But the visual impact is still the primary entry point into the art experience. Everything else comes later.

As some readers here have pointed out, the term Shibboleth is a very specific reference, available to anyone with enough curiosity to look it up. You claim that art’s best function is to serve as “a repository for visual quality”, yet you’re intent on codifying how this can be achieved: the art must not be too audacious, must not be too big, must be devoid of “newness”, etc., etc. Can we not ascertain a work’s quality based on its own terms? Are we to disregard some artworks because they make too much of a show of themselves? This may work for you, and that’s fine, but this essay is a far cry from the damning of Shibboleth that you may want it to be.

30.

Marc Country

October 31, 2007, 8:20 AM

I also think a strictly formalist approach is ok, but ultimately inadequate to making a ham sandwich. Take that, Franklin!

31.

g

October 31, 2007, 8:25 AM

re 29, hey Craig, howya doing?been awhile.

metaphore is good

32.

Fred

October 31, 2007, 8:25 AM

Was that a wise crack? I didn't really understand it.

33.

Fred

October 31, 2007, 8:27 AM

Now that's conflating perception with understanding.

34.

craigfrancis

October 31, 2007, 8:30 AM

I like the formal qualities of a well made ham sandwich. As long as it isn't too audacious.

35.

Fred

October 31, 2007, 8:37 AM

Aufhebung! Es gibt ein Schinkensandwich in meiner Tasche.

36.

Franklin

October 31, 2007, 8:38 AM

I would ask you why we need "powerful clear representations" and "specificity as symbols" that you mention early in your essay if not to walk away with an understanding of them?

We don't.

If the writing or rationale or whatever behind a piece makes sense to the viewer, and makes the artwork a more compelling object, swell.

I agree. The freebies may add value. I say as much above.

Your essay, Franklin, seems to be less an attack on writing (here you are writing about art, after all), than an attack on metaphor.

It's an attack on the misuses of writing, the mistaking of literary values for artistic ones. "Metaphor" is a literary term, but to the extent that it overlaps with "symbol," I can't and wouldn't attack it. Symbols abound in good art if not all good art.

If it is true, as you say, that art based solely on philosophical ideas or writing or what have you cannot fail, then there would be zero discernment of quality art in the world.

Heh.

Yet not all of these bad conceptual artists are showing at the Tate. That is because the good artists succeed in making a visually compelling metaphor for the ideas that run alongside their work. But the visual impact is still the primary entry point into the art experience.

Visually compelling by virtue of audacity, not quality. Again, audacity carries with it a certain amount of visceral excitement. It's a big crack in Turbine Hall. How cool is that? But that's as far as it goes.

You claim that art’s best function is to serve as “a repository for visual quality”, yet you’re intent on codifying how this can be achieved: the art must not be too audacious, must not be too big, must be devoid of “newness”, etc., etc.

This is an egregious misreading of what I wrote. I said that audacity, large scale, newness, etc. have no correlation to quality. Good art may have these things. Bad art too.

37.

Fred

October 31, 2007, 8:41 AM

audacity, large scale, newness are all qualities or distinguishing features or traits.

38.

Fred

October 31, 2007, 8:49 AM

"Symbols abound in good art if not all good art"

But we don't need them? We don't need evocative representations or specifically connotative symbols?

39.

wwc

October 31, 2007, 8:59 AM

I'm late to this discussion, but I want to add my props for this piece Franklin. Your point about the literary values overshadowing artistic ones in contemporary criticism is a bullseye. I heard an interview with an artist who said that while he was in graduate school he was encouraged to spend more time in the library than the studio. I think attention to formal values is some sort of secret weapon we have, so maybe its good if the larger art world ignores it - their work will eventually sink out of sight.

40.

Arthur

October 31, 2007, 9:02 AM

Franklin,

You've made a strong case here for the primacy of the visual in art and the dangers of marginalizing it. I'm inclined to agree. What you haven't argued here (nor anywhere else on this site, in my limited experience) is that artistic quality is solely a matter of visual quality and that these "freebies" have absolutely no bearing on the value of art as such. You admit they can have value but you deny that this is artistic value. This sounds arbitrary to me. And of course, repeated assertions don't carry a lot of weight by themselves. I guess I would like to know if there is a solid argument to back up this claim (apologies if there is one nearby and I have overlooked it). Otherwise, it is simply an article of faith.

In other words, fine post, but it doesn't address the central issue that I have been bringing up.

41.

Arthur

October 31, 2007, 9:03 AM

Sorry for the double post.

42.

Arthur

October 31, 2007, 9:04 AM

And the italics.

43.

Franklin

October 31, 2007, 9:05 AM

Hang on. Cleaning up after Arthur... ;)

44.

Franklin

October 31, 2007, 9:08 AM

And we're back. No sweat, Arthur.

45.

Franklin

October 31, 2007, 9:23 AM

You admit they can have value but you deny that this is artistic value. This sounds arbitrary to me.

I understand what you're saying but that's not quite what I meant. The freebies may be legitimately enjoyable and may add value to the experience of goodness in front of the art. Even literary pleasures are real pleasures. My criticism is not that these freebies aren't artistic, but that they are not the same experience as perceiving art's goodness. They are, at best, ancillary pleasures. I think we might agree on this and I just haven't stated it clearly enough.

46.

Arthur

October 31, 2007, 9:49 AM

I think I've been trying to come up with a generic "Artblog.net" viewpoint to criticize. Perhaps I shouldn't do this. At the very least, I should explain myself better if I do.

My criticism is not that these freebies aren't artistic, but that they are not the same experience as perceiving art's goodness. They are, at best, ancillary pleasures.

I agree that they are ancillary--from a broad historical and pan-cultural perspective, if not in every single individual encounter. Based on personal experience though, I'm not tempted to draw a sharp line between visual goodness and all the other stuff (symbolism, metaphor, etc.). A work is effective if all its aspects work holistically. (This isn't to say that they can't be analyzed in the abstract, say as the dreaded levels.) So if there is an argument showing such a line, it better be a really good one.

Also, I would add that the other stuff can be judged, if perhaps not neatly quantified. There is a huge difference, for example, between the vague, empty symbolism of a piece like Salcedo's and that of one like Olympia, in which the associations add to the work's value. Why not call this part of the art's goodness? Many people would.

47.

opie

October 31, 2007, 10:26 AM

These things can get tortured to death, Arthur. When Franklin says "ancillary" he means just that - subsidiary to the main purpose - not "from a broad historical and pan-cultural perspective" but just ancillary. The actual experience of looking at art comprehends whatever the viewer wants it to comprehend.

48.

Fred

October 31, 2007, 10:52 AM

"The actual experience of looking at art comprehends whatever the viewer wants it to comprehend."

That's arbitrary.

49.

g

October 31, 2007, 10:52 AM

subsidiary to the main purpose

50.

Fred

October 31, 2007, 10:53 AM

Does the experience of looking at art comprehend? Or does the viewer?

51.

opie

October 31, 2007, 11:26 AM

Fred, "That's arbitrary"? How?

And yes, the viewer has the experience which comprehends, or the viewer comprehends, or the experience comprehends, or whatever. Good grief!

52.

Arthur

October 31, 2007, 11:33 AM

"When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."

53.

Fred

October 31, 2007, 11:35 AM

Whatever = arbitrary as in determined by chance, whim or impulse.

54.

opie

October 31, 2007, 11:37 AM

C'mon, guys. Get in gear or drop out.

55.

Franklin

October 31, 2007, 11:38 AM

I'm not tempted to draw a sharp line between visual goodness and all the other stuff (symbolism, metaphor, etc.). A work is effective if all its aspects work holistically.

Here's where I start to hear the English language creak under the strain of things it was hardly meant to bear.

Those aspects "work" because they work as form. Can something fail symbolically? I could imagine an artist intending a symbol to mean something it doesn't, but those are failed intentions, not failed symbols. The old example of the myriad paintings of crucifixions comes up, some great, some forgettable. Do any of them fail symbolically?

Also, I would add that the other stuff can be judged, if perhaps not neatly quantified. ... Why not call this part of the art's goodness?

Sure, you can judge literary things as literary, philosophical things as philosophical, and so on. That was my point above about comparing Salcedo to Haley. I wish people would be more aggressive about this, in fact. When novelists use symbolism or make political points, a thorough critic will examine whether these devices are believable, well conceived, rendered well, and fitting to the narrative.

Effective delivery is a formal problem. The ideas don't have any shape on their own. One can observe, though, that exquisite execution is its own reward in art, something quite a bit less true for narrative mediums.

56.

g

October 31, 2007, 11:43 AM

putting all the little bits together with a soulless determination to get it right.

and the viewer, knows what you did, feels this emptiness, an unfocused cataract on the soul.

‘tis, these little ancillary bits, that reveal the humanness of the maker.

these ancillary bits are what makes the Willendorf Venus more than a lump of clay that has lost its meaning.

Fall’s late this year, but the sun still’s low and the light colder, as it should be on unexpected leaves.

this light is a memory I can make visible in a painting only through the memory of its feeling.

nothing else

nothing else, making art is a whole body process, the eyes are part of the brain and we see what we think.

wanting to prove, we see one way or the other, it is nonsense, a crack in the fabric of experience.

I never, never, look at a painting and think, is it good form? thank god I still have my soul.

consequently, I respectfully disagree.

57.

Fred

October 31, 2007, 11:55 AM

Re: C'mon, guys. Get in gear or drop out.

Opie, what does arbitrary mean? What does whatever mean? They mean the same thing by the book just like quality and trait do.

58.

opie

October 31, 2007, 12:01 PM

You need to supply a CD of 50 violins in crescendo to go with that one, G.

Or was it more humor? I can't tell.

I never look at a painting and say "that's good form" either. My God, if someone did that I would immediately hold up the sign of the cross lest all feeling disappear, along with my soul.

59.

opie

October 31, 2007, 12:02 PM

Fred, SO WHAT?

Geez!!

60.

Franklin

October 31, 2007, 12:03 PM

I never, never, look at a painting and think, is it good form? thank god I still have my soul.

The notion that they're mutually exclusive is nonsense, of course.

Fred, the scattershot one-sentence comments are hard to answer. Yes, certain dictionary uses of "trait" and "quality" overlap but obviously that's not how I'm using them here.

61.

g

October 31, 2007, 12:05 PM

Or was it more humor?

I can't tell.


That sums it up here.

62.

opie

October 31, 2007, 12:14 PM

Yes, as Franklin says, cute little oblique comments are not much fun. if you disagree, then disagree.

63.

Fred

October 31, 2007, 12:15 PM

On the one hand your essay addresses art criticism but it approaches an aesthetic treatise. Which is where I get hung up. Because then we get into very technical language. And that needs to be explained better. Could you, Franklin, go into details about your use of the word quality - are we to understand by your usage that quality means good?

64.

McFawn

October 31, 2007, 12:28 PM

"In my opinion, what grips us so powerfully can only be the artist’s intention, in so far as he has succeeded in expressing it in his work and getting us to understand it. I realize that this cannot be merely a matter of intellectual comprehension; what he aims at is to awaken the same emotional attitude, the same mental constellation as that which in him produced the impetus to create. But why should the artist’s intention not be capable of being communicated in words, like any other fact of mental life?”
--Freud


So, what should an art writer be writing about? Since "interpretation" (of theme, point, etc) is too literary-minded, and talk of intention (as Freud says here) is probably too speculative, what should an art-critic do?

Analyze and dissect the paitings with no goal other than to catalogue it completely (like the "close readings" of literature's New Critics)? Or should our response be more like reader-response, where the writer evalutes and tries to explain his/her gut reaction?

An example of a critic or piece of criticism that avoids talking about art in literary terms would be welcome...I can picture what you're criticising, but I wonder what you would approve of.

65.

opie

October 31, 2007, 12:41 PM

The job oif the critic is to see what's good and write about it clearly.

66.

craigfrancis

October 31, 2007, 12:43 PM

Franklin said: "Visually compelling by virtue of audacity, not quality. Again, audacity brings with it a certain amount of visceral excitement. It’s a big crack in Turbine Hall. How cool is that? But that’s as far as it goes."

So you admit to visceral excitement. Is this not the same as the intuitive gut feeling or pleasure that arises when confronted with good art? How much further does it need to go? I'm sure you won't have any trouble rationalizing this point, but your definition of quality still hasn’t gone beyond this tautology: good work is work that is good. You may argue that the writing around this particular piece is propping up its perceived formal failings, but I disagree. I think this piece is compelling and beautiful outside of any associative meanings the writing may suggest. It's a big crack in Turbine Hall. How cool is that?

Your essay does not seem like the dispassionate, objective inquiry you have purported in the past to seek in the art world, but rather a rationalization for a system of belief. That’s what we all seem to be doing in regards to art, so whatever, but I don’t think you can hold art work to a particular standard in which the parameters are based on a tautology.

67.

opie

October 31, 2007, 12:57 PM

There is no "definition of good art", Craig. Do we have to go over this again for the umpteenth time? Franklin is not "defining quality", nor is he trying to, not do I believe he ever will try to.

And how can you say " Is this (visceral excitement) not the same as the intuitive gut feeling or pleasure that arises when confronted with good art? Visceral excitement can be had watching a football game, for crying out loud.

I wish people would reflect on what they are writing before they write it.

68.

craigfrancis

October 31, 2007, 1:05 PM

I'm not talking about football. I'm talking about this piece. And yes, we should go over it for the umpteenth time, if the crux of one's arguement relies on it.

Chill out pappy.

69.

Arthur

October 31, 2007, 1:10 PM

When novelists use symbolism or make political points, a thorough critic will examine whether these devices are believable, well conceived, rendered well, and fitting to the narrative.

So the efficacy of symbolism can be judged in literature, but not in art. How can this be so?


Effective delivery is a formal problem. The ideas don't have any shape on their own. One can observe, though, that exquisite execution is its own reward in art, something quite a bit less true for narrative mediums.

The difference between literature and visual art is one of degree and not kind. Words are better suited than images to carry overt meanings. But images are better suited than (non-vocal) music, I think.

70.

opie

October 31, 2007, 1:21 PM

You've been around this blog for a while, kiddo. Go find it yourself. Or maybe Franklin can provide reference points where something has been well hashed out and settled, for those who can't remember, or cannot think it out for themselves.

"The difference between literature and visual art is one of degree and not kind."

I give up.

71.

Fred

October 31, 2007, 3:00 PM

Opie, there's no reason nor is there anything to give up. There's no golden egg. If the state of art and criticism was all settled there'd be nothing to talk about. But maybe that's not so -people are taking the time to think about what Franklin wrote and ask questions, people who may not share your view or mode of argumentation but nevertheless are interested. In terms of a discussion, now would be the worst time to give up.

72.

Arthur

October 31, 2007, 3:19 PM

Franklin,

Here's where I start to hear the English language creak under the strain of things it was hardly meant to bear.

Really, this a pretty grandiose assertion. What I said may or may not have been clear, factual, or well considered. But to say that I'm straining English is pretty extreme. I think I'm a pretty good writer and I'm trying hard to articulate things that a lot of people here apparently don't want to hear. Unfortunately, I feel compelled to do this in my own words. I would appreciate it if you and others would be willing to meet me halfway. Thanks.

73.

craigfrancis

October 31, 2007, 3:22 PM

Franklin said: "Exquisite execution is its own reward in art..."

Sol Lewitt said: "Banal ideas cannot be rescued by beautiful execution."

I'm inclined of course to agree with Lewitt, and am made only too aware of the giant fissure (or crack) between the ways you and I experience art. Oh well, back to the football game.

And hi G.

74.

Franklin

October 31, 2007, 3:33 PM

Okay, I hopped in the car and used my coupon to buy the new Iron and Wine CD, and here I am 13 comments later. Let me see if I can get caught up here:

Arthur: But to say that I'm straining English is pretty extreme. I think I'm a pretty good writer and I'm trying hard to articulate things that a lot of people here apparently don't want to hear. I think you're a good writer too and that's not what I meant at all regarding the straining of English. I mean that the language is ill equipped to describe what's going on when we look at art. You're using it as well as can be expected of anyone.

Craigfrancis: Sol Lewitt said: "Banal ideas cannot be rescued by beautiful execution." Lewitt was right about that. They can't be rescued by poor execution either.

75.

Franklin

October 31, 2007, 3:52 PM

Arthur: So the efficacy of symbolism can be judged in literature, but not in art.

I didn't say that.

The difference between literature and visual art is one of degree and not kind.

It's mostly kind with some degree thrown in at the edge cases.

Craigfrancis: So you admit to visceral excitement. Is this not the same as the intuitive gut feeling or pleasure that arises when confronted with good art?

Not really. The pleasure of surprise, audacity, and other things related to surprise wear off after repeated exposure, and as Opie points out, it is hardly specific to art.

I'm sure you won't have any trouble rationalizing this point...

I explain, you rationalize, he bullshits.

...but your definition of quality still hasn’t gone beyond this tautology: good work is work that is good.

Goodness and quality can only be defined tautologically.

Your essay does not seem like the dispassionate, objective inquiry you have purported in the past to seek in the art world...

I have never, ever purported in the past to seek dispassionate or objective inquiry.

...but rather a rationalization for a system of belief. ... I don’t think you can hold art work to a particular standard in which the parameters are based on a tautology.

I'm just trying to call it like I see it. As far as I can tell, no standards are possible, no parameters are possible, and there is nothing to rely on except the intuitive, felt apprehension of quality.

76.

Franklin

October 31, 2007, 4:09 PM

McFawn: An example of a critic or piece of criticism that avoids talking about art in literary terms would be welcome. I'm rather fond of this.

Fred: Could you, Franklin, go into details about your use of the word quality - are we to understand by your usage that quality means good? Yep.

G: That sums it up here. You're one of the few commenters I know who thinks that his verbal and intellectual shortcomings are other peoples' fault.

77.

g

October 31, 2007, 4:13 PM

When novelists use symbolism or make political points, a thorough critic will examine whether these devices are believable, well conceived, rendered well, and fitting to the narrative. [55][69]

So the efficacy of symbolism can be judged in literature, but not in art. How can this be so?[69]

Now some academics would like us to believe that painting has nothing to do with symbolic language, I disagree.

One has to consider what one means when one uses the term ‘narrative’ and trying to apply it to both the written language and to a symbolic medium like painting.

When considering the term ‘narrative’ and how it is applied in the two cases mentioned above, the first thing we must note is that these two mediums have different modes of acquisition.

The written language, interpreted through a linear sequential process of decoding symbols (glyphs, letters, words, sentences…) In other words, we read one word after another and the language has a very complex set of learned rules which allow us to interpret its meaning, even when something read sequentially refers back to an earlier part of the sentence.

With a painted language, the use of symbols in painting, the decoding process is non-sequential, approaching random access but still somewhat directable by manipulating the scan of the viewer.
If the symbolic information is decoded in a non-sequential manner, it may not be acquired in the same order by different viewers, or the same viewer at different times. This implies that the term ‘narrative’ cannot have the same precise interpretation in these two different cases.

Regardless of the form of presentation, a literary narrative will tell a story more or less specifically, producing a concrete predictable outcome. Allow for stylistic attempts to thwart this, for they also become predictable. Written language has a complex structure used to order how it is used to convey information (a grammar).

A pictorial, symbolic, ‘narrative’ unfolds in a different manner entirely. First, the entire ‘narrative’ image is visible and available for low level acquisition, we see the whole picture but we do not really see all the details. Depending on how we scan a painting (or other pictorial image) we acquire the symbolic elements in semi-random fashion, and as a result, begin to form the structure of the narrative, but more randomly than with written language.

At a unit level, pictorial symbolic elements are more specific than words. Consider a picture of a ‘house’ and the word "house."

The picture can be anything, a child’s drawing or a cut in a magazine, in either case it will be a specific type of house.

The word "house" is more abstract, we can make it more precise by extending it with the language, "doll house," or "house of ill repute."

In both cases, the associative relationship between the words, in the case of writing, or the relationship between symbolic images, in the case of painting, which has the ability to generate more complex set of meanings, interpretations and therefore a more complex experience for the reader or viewer.

How symbolic information is presented and conveyed to the viewer can create a narrative. With pictorial symbolic mediums this occurs differently, the ‘narrative’ is less precisely defined by a structural grammar, more precisely defined by sensation, but neither of these aspects are indispensable, both are required.

78.

Marc Country

October 31, 2007, 4:22 PM

GONG

79.

opie

October 31, 2007, 4:23 PM

In other words, G, words and pictures are different kinds of symbols, and either can create a narrative.

Thanks.

80.

Franklin

October 31, 2007, 4:25 PM

...both are required.

Required by what?

81.

opie

October 31, 2007, 4:26 PM

we are ringing the same bell again Marc, but yours was a minute sooner, much more succinct and infinitely more expressive.

82.

g

October 31, 2007, 4:26 PM

MC-FO

Opie, no

There is a considerable difference in what the concept of narrative even means between the two.

83.

opie

October 31, 2007, 4:31 PM

Also, G, it seems to me that most academics think painting is nothing BUT symbolic language.

84.

opie

October 31, 2007, 4:33 PM

So Sol Lewitt said banal ideas cannot be rescued by execution?

He should know.

85.

g

October 31, 2007, 4:51 PM

I guess you know more about academics than I, my point here is that art, the visual arts as we know them today, must address both aspects being discussed here, the symbolic or conceptual as well as the perceptual. These two things are joined in the brain and therefore must be considered together. A criticism which takes an anti-pomo stance, that ignores the conceptual in favor of the perceptual, is just as bad as what we had, just another tyranny.

86.

g

October 31, 2007, 4:53 PM

re 84,

that's a cheep shot, look in a mirror.

87.

craigfrancis

October 31, 2007, 4:59 PM

"I'm just trying to call it like I see it. As far as I can tell, no standards are possible, no parameters are possible, and there is nothing to rely on except the intuitive, felt apprehension of quality."

The apprehension of quality is therefore subjective? Thanks.

88.

Franklin

October 31, 2007, 5:05 PM

...my point here is that art, the visual arts as we know them today, must address both aspects being discussed here, the symbolic or conceptual as well as the perceptual.

As far as I know, art need not do any damn thing or another.

that's a cheep shot, look in a mirror.

No, he's right. I've now seen Lewitts at the Nelson Atkins and the Williams College museum and they're as dry as can be. As for looking in a mirror, that's what you're doing, right?

The apprehension of quality is therefore subjective?

Not exactly.

89.

g

October 31, 2007, 5:11 PM

Craig,

'Quality' in an artblog.net sense, doesn't matter for sh*t.

What matters is if you can sell what you make (or marry rich, teach, whatever) so you can keep on working. You trust that in doing the best you can, you're going to get it right.

Anyone who tells you differently is lying.

90.

opie

October 31, 2007, 5:22 PM

Please, G, try to justify your assertions. Do it briefly, but do it. Saying "quality", in any sense, is shit, is just silly, and you know it.

91.

opie

October 31, 2007, 5:23 PM

Craig, we dealt very thoroughly with "subjective" a week or two ago. It makes good reading.

92.

g

October 31, 2007, 5:42 PM

[90]

Duh, Every artist finds out for themselves what ‘quality’ is, what they expect from their own work in order to be satisfied that it’s ‘good’. I do not know ANY ARTIST who is trying to make ‘bad’ work (without deliberately trying to make some point). I assume that every artist is doing the BEST THEY CAN with whatever skills they posses.

Their efforts may be flawed, they may not make great work, and we, the righteous observer may say that what they did is shit. It really doesn’t matter, they did something with a righteous intent, even if it fails is the world of revered objects.

93.

Franklin

October 31, 2007, 5:44 PM

'Quality' in an artblog.net sense, doesn't matter for sh*t. What matters is if you can sell what you make (or marry rich, teach, whatever) so you can keep on working. You trust that in doing the best you can, you're going to get it right.

In that case, Romero Britto is living the epitome of the artist's life.

It's not like I have a copyright on the sense of quality as goodness, by the way. There's thing thing called the dictionary.

94.

g

October 31, 2007, 5:52 PM

[93]

Re Brillo, you're right, see comment number 92.
I believe he is doing the best he can, and we the righteous put up our noses at it. Still, if he's happy, good for him, we get a little time, make the best of it.

95.

Franklin

October 31, 2007, 5:59 PM

I do not know ANY ARTIST who is trying to make ‘bad’ work (without deliberately trying to make some point).

No, what happens is that they become confused, often with academic assistance, about what quality is. Then they make bad work.

It really doesn’t matter, they did something with a righteous intent, even if it fails is the world of revered objects.

I agree with this up to a point. I never tell anyone to stop making art, no matter how lame they are. I tell them to make more. If they're bad enough they stop on their own. And actually, people with the self-critical impulse worry about quality quite a lot. Nothing correlates to quality, but self-criticism comes pretty close. Regardless of what form it takes, you see other examples of what you want to make out there and if they're better than yours, it hits you in a particularly painful way. Without that, well, there's nothing wrong with having a hobby.

As for Britto doing the best he can, I doubt that rather seriously.

96.

g

October 31, 2007, 6:50 PM

Britto’s ball ‘n chain may be the marketplace. There is always something to divert one away from the path of self realization, doing the best you actually possibly can. For some this may be the marketplace, for others ego, or the need to always be right, or to do it the right way.

The best art is transparent to the vision of the artist, it reveals whatever spirit the artist possessed. The artwork is only an interface, something we can look at, or think about, that the artist looked at or thought about, the same thing, at another time, in another place. This is true of all art.

97.

Jack

October 31, 2007, 6:50 PM

Oh, dear. This is all very interesting, and conceivably of some use, but it does show signs of going nowhere in particular. In any case, this caught my attention:

no standards are possible, no parameters are possible

On the contrary. I can hardly imagine someone serious about art (as opposed to the art scene) operating without them. The question, I suppose, is what these standards or parameters should be, which could no doubt generate interminable debate or mental masturbation, but I choose to cut to the chase.

It's beautifully simple; at least I've made it so. My standards and parameters are chosen by me based on my judgment and taste, on what I find true and sensible--informed, of course, by my knowledge of art history and my personal experience of and with art.

I am utterly unconcerned with what may or may not be fashionable, "relevant," "correct" or "with-it." In fact, I rather like being "out of it," literally and figuratively. There is freedom in that, and a kind of power--or empowerment. I admit no authority but my own, or that which I have found worthy of respect. I credit no one and nothing unless I feel it is deserved.

Arrogant? Makes no difference. I'm not looking for approval, certainly not that of the in-crowd, and I'm most definitely not asking for permission. This is my game and my business, as it must be, and I play by my rules. It may not be very "progressive," but I highly recommend it. It happens to work.

98.

g

October 31, 2007, 6:56 PM

[97] So? you want a friggin medal for it, or what?

99.

Jack

October 31, 2007, 7:00 PM

No, but if I did, I assure you I'd have no interest in one coming from you.

100.

g

October 31, 2007, 7:03 PM

Well Jack,

You can be charming when talking about Goya but you sure know how to kill the conversation at a cocktail party, that's unfortunate, something worth working on.

101.

Arthur

October 31, 2007, 7:04 PM

I mean that the language is ill equipped to describe what's going on when we look at art. You're using it as well as can be expected of anyone.

Try telling that to Opie.

102.

Arthur

October 31, 2007, 7:13 PM

Arthur: So the efficacy of symbolism can be judged in literature, but not in art.

I didn't say that.


True. Sorry, it gets confusing wading through all these comments.

103.

opie

October 31, 2007, 7:23 PM

Our language is certainly ill-equipped to talk about art, Arthur. That's why we have to be as careful as possible doing so.

104.

Jack

October 31, 2007, 7:24 PM

I defer to your undoubtedly superior cocktail party skills, g, but you and the rest may obviously keep going round and round as long as you like, regardless of what I may think or say about it. Surely you're not that diffident.

105.

Marc Country

October 31, 2007, 7:29 PM

"Round and round", indeed, like a snake trying to suck its own cock.

106.

Marc Country

October 31, 2007, 7:30 PM

(that was a simile).

107.

Jack

October 31, 2007, 7:40 PM

I know, Marc. Snakes are so pervy.

108.

Franklin

October 31, 2007, 7:46 PM

My standards and parameters are chosen by me based on my judgment and taste, on what I find true and sensible--informed, of course, by my knowledge of art history and my personal experience of and with art.

Okay, clarification. There are not parameters like the parameters for good medical care or competent human resources. There are not standards like there are standards for food safety. There are parameters and standards that you form by exercising your taste and educating yourself about the material. But they form organically and in a quirky way that resists any kind of codification.

109.

Arthur

October 31, 2007, 7:50 PM

Opie,

Well, I still stand by most of what I've said. And I resent your glib dismissal of it.

110.

Jack

October 31, 2007, 8:09 PM

Quite so, Franklin. There must, of course, be standards, but I insist on doing my own coding, and so should everyone else. The fact so many people evidently don't, but rather adopt or accept codes made by others, as if terrified of being "caught out," is one of the reasons I can't relate well to many art scenesters.

Who cares what this curator, that "major" collector, those theorists, these art mags (let alone art dealers) believe or claim or promote, if you don't buy it? What the hell difference do they make? It's got little or nothing to do with them; it's not about them; it's not for them--it's supposed to be for you. You and the art. That's it. Like I said, real simple.

And yes, I know you know all this. I only wish everybody did, or rather, acted accordingly.

111.

ahab

October 31, 2007, 8:15 PM

66: visceral excitement. Is this not the same as the intuitive gut feeling or pleasure that arises when confronted with good art? How much further does it need to go?

It needs to go and go and go. And the best art never dries out. Unlike that ditch in the floor made to look like a crack.

In fact, that's one sure test for a great artwork's true quality or goodness - experiential staying power.

112.

opie

November 1, 2007, 5:54 AM

I think my responses to you have been quite responsive, Arthur. The first part of #70 was aimed at Craig, who was being a wiseass. The second part, which might be characterized as "glib", was in response to a statement which I found preproterous, so what could I say?

113.

HEILMANN

November 1, 2007, 11:49 AM

While you guys are busy blathering about art some are busy making it!

114.

Arthur

November 1, 2007, 12:27 PM

I posted on my own site some brief comments that may be of interest.

115.

Marc Country

November 1, 2007, 7:59 PM

From Arthur's Blog...

116.

Kobe

November 3, 2007, 6:46 PM

Good post. The focus should always be on the activity, not the commentary on the activity. Listening to an enthusiastic commentator on a very boring game doesn't make the game any more exciting.

117.

Whalehead King

November 4, 2007, 12:54 PM

This is my first visit, but it addresses many of the concerns that have toggled through my mind over the years. I gave up visual art to focus on writing, but find myself drawn back to the visual field. I started as a landscape painter, ventured into pop sensibility for awhile and then stopped making pictures. I don't have much truck with contemporary art, considering most of it a game, but I likewise admit to 'museaum cruising,' taking in a lot of similar work and rarely stopping even when something catches my eye.

I admit a fondness for Canaletto, of which I am not entirely proud, but neither I am entirely ashamed.

I think of Hogarth when I consider the above essay. He was certainly a sensationist painter and a literary one who relied on written backstory to imbue his work with more meaning than it would have out of context. Despite that, Hogarth's pictures delight and sadden alternatively. I can take a Hogarth out of context and enjoy it. I cannot always do that with contemporary art, and I do not think it is a matter of it being a museum piece in a context different from what it was orginally intended. I feel this way about much surrealist work, less so Dada. Almost nothing produced today for museums and galleries makes me stop. Anselm Kiefer, sometimes in person, never in reproduction, but his work is often to didactic after too much exposure.

I may be true that we are all born with one song to sing, but if we try to polish our technique and perfect that one theme through formal means, even when it means breaking the rules, we will come at least close to succeeding at least once. I do not see that in much of the art world. I see bombast and the intent to shock, the easy jibe and flaccid effort. If I go in expecting to be shocked, the jig is up. There is no insightful thrill of the newly discovered or of a tale told well if I have to read the notes on the wall. It is a cerbral amusement park ride.

Thank you for providing this essay and this forum.
W.K.

118.

opie

November 4, 2007, 1:26 PM

" There is no insightful thrill of the newly discovered or of a tale told well if I have to read the notes on the wall."

Well put, WK. Labels will often kill whatever is there quite handily. But they are besiode the point for one who picks and chooses carefully.

There is no need to be "ashamed" of any honest liking, certainly not Canaletto. Keep on looking.

119.

Jack

November 4, 2007, 3:08 PM

I sometimes wonder what the pugnacious and absolutely no-nonsense Hogarth would make of today's art scene. I suppose his best-known subject matter could be considered sensationalistic, but he was, after all, a satirist, and he was never pretentious, nor did he ever deal in bullshit.

120.

storto

November 5, 2007, 5:46 AM

I need some pectoral examples.

121.

Marc Country

November 5, 2007, 7:11 AM

Pick up the movie, "300", Sorto...

122.

opie

November 5, 2007, 7:14 AM

We have some real boobs making comments here sometimes, Storto.

123.

Marc Country

November 5, 2007, 10:00 AM

oops, sorry Storto, and all... I sometimes forget this is one o' them high-class arty blogs... How's this for a pectoral example...

124.

Eric

November 5, 2007, 12:32 PM

"What we have in the institutionalized art world is essentially a triumph of the writers."

In what cultural sphere are words absent; music, dance, theater, film? Should we banish essays, reviews, journalism in general, biography and autobiography, books, blogs, etc., from existence so that we can enjoy all mediums other than writing (I assume you have nothing against the spoken word) in a pure and unblemished way?

The accusation that the visual arts have been perverted by or displaced by the written word is an absurd generalization. Just look at the opposite scenario I describe above. No one, including hacks and artists, writes a solitary thing about art, music, theater, film, that would be determined by the entire art loving public to be essential and completely true because these terms are subjective. If you are trying to distinguish between those writers who "describe reality, the world underneath the ideas about it" or those who "say something completely true" from those who do not do these things then this dichotomy you set up is false. To trot out an old truism, who will decide what is completely true or what is reality? Are physical objects more real than written words that appear in whatever format?

Also, the distinction between "quality" (I guess you mean a "peculiar or essential character" or "degree of excellence") and "freebies" ("something given without charge") is odd. Who decides what is essential about an art work? I guess it would be the people who contemplate the art works they have seen. How will they contemplate the art they have seen without ideas? As soon as we learn to walk and talk ideas come into play in our mental lives. Are you trying to say that the only valid, or truthful experiences you have with visual art, are the fleeting moments you spend looking directly at in (what you call "reality" I suppose)? And don’t ideas come into play while you are viewing art? Do the problems set in only when writers decide to form their thoughts about the art they have seen using words? Are thoughts about visual art, which often happen while we are looking at it, false, impure?

If you truly consider writings about art to be a form of eczema that props up the bad art beneath it, wouldn't the experience of seeing the art in person be enough to help you determine whether or not the art is quality art or a fraudulent freebie? How could words damage or cheapen the experience of seeing art in person, live (something you consider to be a pure experience) when anything that occurs right after the viewing experience is inherently false in your world view?

I can understand if you intended to rail against pompous press releases and pretentious essays, but your criticisms seemed to go beyond that.

125.

opie

November 5, 2007, 1:14 PM

Eric, discussions are facilitated by taking specific issue with an assertion by another contributor. If you disagree with something Franklin has said, think out an opposing position and state it succinctly and clearly. You have contributed something that amounts to a rant full of question marks, making inappropriate comparisons, calling a question a truism, stated flatly that an art writer cannot say something objectively true, asking rhetorical questions, stating that contemplation cannot take place without ideas, having something propping up something while resting on it, and so forth. Franklin wrote a well thought-out essay. It deserves well thought-out disagreement.

126.

Franklin

November 5, 2007, 2:23 PM

Thank you, Opie.

Just to let people know what's going on, since it has been quiet around here lately, tonight I'm posting a new The Moon Fell On Me, tomorrow Supergirl reviews the new Bond #9 perfume, Wednesday and Thursday Artblog.net covers its trip to Culver City, and Friday the usual roundup. Talk at you soon.

127.

ekim scram

November 5, 2007, 3:04 PM

Opie and Eric,
I see your point Opie, very much a rant and somewhat unclear, probably due to passion.
I think Eric has brought up a very important question. That being; who decides what is essential for a work of art? , and if I could complete the question, to be considered art?
Opie, is it counter productive to move on from a critique of Franklins essay? Maybe it is in your formal sense of the blogosphere. But I think Franklins essay, and Eric’s point come together in this question.
The answer is apparently anyone who wishes to write about the artwork in a fashion that is received with acclaim. I am not going to waste any time here.
Franklin, Some excellent points concerning what the hell is going on out there. Bigger is better and the more provocative the more important. These are freebies and limited. It is a shame that those who write about art find it easier to wax poetic about work that is anything but sublime or subtle. Even important, in a sense, rather than a scale.
This brings us back to the question, “Who decides what is essential for a work of art to be considered art?”
We need criteria and we need to discuss it and that is what Franklin was doing! Great Job!

128.

opie

November 5, 2007, 4:11 PM

It really is not all that urgent or complex, Ekim. Art is there for all of us, and each of us can take it anyway we want to. The profession itself tends to define what qualifies as art, and this changes over time. It is pretty much just like any other entertainment medium.

There are no criteria for art, what should be art or what is good art, nor can there be.

I am not sure what you are getting at with your question about "moving on".

Also, please forgive me, but I cannot excuse carelessness and lack of clarity because they are caused by "passion". Passion and its ilk (try religious fervor, for one) are trotted out all over the place these days as excuses for various kinds of deficiencies and excess. It won't wash.

129.

You do Ekim !

November 5, 2007, 4:12 PM

There is no criteria silly!

130.

Eric

November 5, 2007, 4:16 PM

Gosh sorry if I totally disagree with you Opie. I hearby disagree with Franklin's noble defender opie. And I do think that my generous use of quotes from the original essay by Franklin made it very clear what I disagreed with. Let me state my perspective very clearly now and hopefully you won't accuse me of ranting. I think a well tread concept like, "you believe that art is primarily an intellectual and not a visual activity." is completely false. Scientists who study visual intelligence make statements like this in 2005:

"The way you carve the world visually should affect how you carve it verbally. After all, for quick and clear communication you want units of discourse that match units of meaning used by you and your hearer. The way we carve up the world verbally is not arbitrary; it depends in part on how we carve it up visually. And the way we carve up the world visually is not arbitrary; it depends in part on fundamental principles of mathematics, such as transversality."

In other words scientists who study visual intelligence don't think there is a clear distinction between how we construct the world verbally and how we construct it visually. I felt that Franklin's essay, which I enjoyed reading very much, makes an age old distinction between ideas, verbal constructions, and visual intelligence, and I disagree with that. Is that better? I hope so.

131.

Franklin

November 5, 2007, 4:29 PM

Who decides what is essential for a work of art to be considered art?

That's a wholly different question than the topic addressed above, albeit a worthwhile one.

In other words scientists who study visual intelligence don't think there is a clear distinction between how we construct the world verbally and how we construct it visually.

We don't construct the world. The world constructs us, and then we get to look at it and change a few of the details. I'll refer you to the post linked above at #88. There don't need to be clear distinctions between all verbal and visual processes for my points above to stand. The triumph of the writers wasn't between competing perceptual processes, but between competing artistic values.

132.

opie

November 5, 2007, 4:56 PM

Sure, Eric, I agree with what your scientists say. It is only common sense that visual and verbal act in concert; we construct our language to correspond with what our senses tell us, of course. We see what we see, and we talk about it. We see art and then we talk about it.

Franklin said nothing to contradict this. He seems to be simply saying that art is something that reaches us and has its effect visually, and that the talk that proceeds from this interaction may have little to do with and possibly interfere with the visual experience. I see nothing there that contradicts the scientists.

The scientists are certainly not saying, as you do , that there is no "distinction between ideas, verbal constructions, and visual intelligence". Of course there is. We wouldn't have different words and phrases for these things if they were. Because these things tend to "carve up the world" the same way does not mean they are the same thing. They aren.t, obviously.

133.

Eric

November 5, 2007, 5:47 PM

I am not sure what to make of "the world constructs us." We create the three dimensional world we live in using the two dimensional imagery on our retinas. That is what I was saying. I did not intend to be philosophical, I just made a comment about biological reality. (opie's comment "your scientists..." was quite funny. They aren't my scientists I promise.)

I still do not agree with you that the construction of sentences, thoughts, ideas, can spoil the act of constructing the three dimensional world. Yes brain mappimg can point out what parts of the brain neural netowrks are very complicated. Is the moment when we have our eyes open in front of a work of visual art the moment when we are seeing it in its most pure sense? That would make the truthiness of the visual art experience very very short lived. I used to wax poetic as a youth about the silent realm of visual art and how words and any utterances somehow spoiled the experience. I don't think it that simple now.

Also, do purely visual experiences exist for adults? Do you carefully guard your mind when you are looking at visual art and make sure no words pollute the experience. I was really trying to say that seeing and uttering are not isolated experiences. I was not saying, as opie implies, that seeing and speaking/writing are the same exact experience.

134.

Marc Country

November 5, 2007, 6:27 PM

I'm pretty sure the world was around before we started "constructing" it with our retinas...

135.

ekim skram

November 5, 2007, 6:27 PM

If the artist say's it is art then it is art. Right? I say no. That is to inclusive. That simply allow's some blow-hard to wax on about crap, in a can. That is silly. A cultural statement? Edgy? Profound? Possibly. Creative commentary sure, good art NO.
A criteria would allow us a discussion of art. What it is and what it means, as opposed to a discussion about weather or not visual art is polluted by verbal descriptions of it.

136.

Franklin

November 5, 2007, 6:28 PM

We create the three dimensional world we live in using the two dimensional imagery on our retinas.

...using apparatus dictated by genetic arrangements so widely shared by creatures on this planet that ours resembles even that of trout. Even so, the process is quite a bit more complicated than that, as described by Jeff Hawkins in On Intelligence.

I was really trying to say that seeing and uttering are not isolated experiences.

And this doesn't contradict anything I said above.

137.

Franklin

November 5, 2007, 6:32 PM

A criteria would allow us a discussion of art.

No criteria are possible.

What it is and what it means, as opposed to a discussion about weather or not visual art is polluted by verbal descriptions of it.

Sigh...

138.

ekim skram

November 5, 2007, 6:53 PM

passive agressive...
sigh.

139.

1

November 5, 2007, 6:57 PM

is it also the story that goes along with the painting or just the actual painting? the actual painting is what matters. the story is just a story, but not painting as art. story telling may be another art form, but it is not painting.

you can make up your own story for the painting, use the one that is glued on the wall next to the painting. or, your friend can give his story of the painting, but this does not contibute to the art of painting. ART OF PAINTING. it is just a story.

140.

ekim skram

November 5, 2007, 6:58 PM

Criteria are certain. Each of us have them. Whithout criteria we would be dependent on accident, and rely on the imperical process in art making. The suggestion is a discussion of our personal criteria. For better understanding. Better art making.

141.

Franklin

November 5, 2007, 6:58 PM

Let's be clear, Ekim - if you want to talk about something else, talk about something else, but I'm not going to do it for you.

Unrelated, but I wanto to say how happy I am to have been a part of this.

142.

Franklin

November 5, 2007, 7:18 PM

...story telling may be another art form, but it is not painting.

Yep. Paintings can tell stories, of course, through the careful manipulation of form. But telling a story well and making a beautiful painting are parallel activities that don't correlate to one another in any manner. Whereas telling a story well and crafting good prose are highly overlapping activities.

143.

ekim skram

November 5, 2007, 7:20 PM

I think it is what you are talking about and I do not expect you to comment unless you have something to say about it. If you do great. If it is positive great. If it gets your panties in a lump, so be it. The only part of my original comment that was directed to you specifically was "Good Job".

144.

Franklin

November 5, 2007, 7:21 PM

I misunderstood you then. My apologies.

145.

Eric

November 5, 2007, 7:40 PM

I've read "On Intelligence" and it was quite good. The quote I included above was taken from "Visual Intelligence: how we create what we see" by Donald D. Hoffman, and it provides a much more in-depth analysis of the visual intelligence. I recommend it.

Now back to your essay. When I read it I thought that you were saying that ideas, or intellect, follow the experience of viewing visual art and often ruin said experience. I disagreed with that.

I know that artist's statements are easy targets. Usually the prose (if it even qualifies as that) can be bloated and portentous. I totally disagree with the statement "Salcedo's verbalized intentions become required reading..." Why is that? Is it a necessity that I know what the artist had in mind when I am looking at the work? No not really. Is it interesting to know what inspired the making of the work of visual art? Sure it is. Should I mock the artist if the two seperate things don't quite match up in my mind? Why bother.

Also, why are ideas such a bad thing? I am sure all visual artists have ideas pinging around their minds while they are in the process of making art. It is impossible to completely shut down the inner voice and almost all of my favorite visual artists loved literature. My point is that ideas play a part in the making of the work of visual art and they obviously play a part in the experiencing of it.

If Franklin simply meant to say that bad writing can damage the experience of seeing visual art for some people than I would not disagree, but that is not how I read the essay. It is online so I guess it is open to interpretation.

Let me clarify my stand regarding "I construct reality. No. No. Reality constructs you." I was specifically commenting on how human brains and organs work. I was not saying that we came before reality (I am not a lunatic creationist) and that we CREATE REALITY!

I also see a very close connection between Franklin's notion of "audacity" and the concept of the spectacle, which was first coined by Guy Debord. So although I definitely think it is worthwhile for Franklin to rename the concept of the spectacle, we should be clear that this notion has been around for quite sometime.

Pursuing the notion of their being an essence, or something essential in terms of the work of visual art is a deadend in terms of blog dialogues. Artists can think about these things because it might help them make better art or feel better about their flagging or non-existent careers. But will there ever be a general consensus regarding this alleged essence? No.

I promise this will be my last comment. I have to go back to making art not thinking about it. But wait...

146.

anonymous

November 5, 2007, 7:49 PM

"Now back to your essay. When I read it I thought that you were saying that ideas, or intellect, follow the experience of viewing visual art and often ruin said experience."

That's your summation of the point of Franklin's essay? Any particular sentences he wrote that you could pick out which give you this impression? I think maybe you've just misread the darn thing, so perhaps you don't really disagree with what he wrote at all.

147.

opie

November 5, 2007, 8:52 PM

Eric, we could get closer to articulating the "general essence" if we stopped creating massive clunkers of abstract thought and referred back to direct experience. When dealing with matters of communicating feeling It is a peculiar trait of our species to escape from experience into verbal thickets that shut out the sun. it is understndable, in a way: the sun burns, and it exposes.

We all know what art is. We have all experienced it in some way and apparently most of us are engaged in making it. We can all refer directly to what we feel and do, and most of us are doing the same thing. It is really quite simple and direct and easy to articulate. But when it comes to writing about it we suddenly start sounding like 19th Century ecclesiastical encyclopedias.

No doubt about it. When it comes to art, words and "ideas" are the square pegs in the round hole.

148.

ekim skram

November 5, 2007, 9:47 PM

The essay clearly states that art cannot succeed if it is vague when expressing ideas and or concepts. It further states that art(artist) then fall back on audacity to achieve a valid status. So true.
The essay then list the following properties "that look like quality": scale, implications, salaciousness, challenges, newness, associations, assertions, narratives, communications, non-art-ness, meanings, complexity, layers. Then Franklin your logic hits a speed bump.
Quite appropriately you stated Good and Bad art may have these properties so one must insist on quality and these properties (or others). But when you suggest that "quality" must be insisted on and is at the same time ineffable, I am left wondering how this indescribeable, unspeakable "quality" can be insited upon without a set of properties or criteria to express or describe it.

Ps. nice opie. the sun does so expose us.

149.

ekim skram

November 5, 2007, 9:53 PM

Franklin, I should say Doris did let the work down when she described what it "represented". It could have been a contender, full of promise and imprecise meaning.

150.

const.

November 6, 2007, 12:38 AM

[Link redacted. - F.]

151.

Franklin

November 6, 2007, 12:42 AM

Is it a necessity that I know what the artist had in mind when I am looking at the work?

Is it possible to gather that the artist meant the piece to address racial hatred without her guidance?

It is online so I guess it is open to interpretation.

I'll defend anything I actually wrote.

...wondering how this indescribeable, unspeakable "quality" can be insited upon without a set of properties or criteria to express or describe it.

Goodness can only be defined tautologically. That leaves traits, which for all instances correlate to examples of both good and bad art.

It could have been a contender, full of promise and imprecise meaning.

Even left vague I doubt this would work all that well, but at least it wouldn't have been preachy.

152.

Eric

November 6, 2007, 7:03 AM

Thanks for the intelligent rebuttals (opie and Franklin). The piece is more nuanced than I thought. I reread it this morning and that is a testament to the strength of the essay. I very rarely read blog entries more than once. Rereading the piece, I was reminded of why I prefer to write essays about specific works of art rather than go on about wider issues. Your complaints about appropiation art ("to present ever more obvious examples of non-art as art"), Kara Walker's art ("to cover the wall with surreal, silhouetted racial and gender stereotypes madly coupling"), and Damien Hirst's "For The Love of God," ("cover the skull with a fortune of diamonds"), still seems a bit bitter and scattershot but the point you are trying to make is clear. Is their the possibility of a new criteria for what makes quality art? Can there ever be a general criteria again?

"To describe reality, the world underneath the ideas about it, even to say something completely true, takes great skill. No art writer succeeds at doing so all the time, but not enough are trying, and too many actual and de facto art writers are settling for something innate to writing but not innate to art." (I still find this paragraph vague and judgemental. Can you give examples of each type of writer? This would help ground these accusations.)

Your essay was intelligent and parts of it were convincing. I guess my interpretation was like one of those press releases you complain about, off target. Often it feels futile to complain about the lack of quality art that doesn't rely on "audacity" to make waves but no one should feel afraid to complain about the way things are every now and then.

I plan on revisitng seminal art writers that I read as an undergraduate on my blog so that I can work out how many things were discussed back then that still get play to this very day.

153.

opie

November 6, 2007, 8:14 AM

Ekim: you write "I am left wondering how this indescribeable, unspeakable 'quality' can be insisted upon without a set of properties or criteria to express or describe it".

All art, including art that is good, has "a set of properties". The quality of the art is not derived from a catalog or description of these properties but from the perception ond judgement of them under the limited circumstances of apprehending the object as art rather than as something else. The prescription for apprending art excludes any judgement of goodness for any purpose other than experience derived through intuition so there can be no criteria other than judgement based in the experience. This is the defining characteristic of art.

Once again, if you reflect on your own experience making and looking at art you will see this this is a relatively simple and straightforward experience which can be simply expressed in words. What cannot be expressed in words is a reason (or criteria) for the judgement.

I see no bitterness in any of Franklin's remarks. Tinged with some anger & frustration, perhaps, but otherwise pretty much purely reflective.

154.

ekim skram

November 6, 2007, 8:24 AM

Now let's stop chewin'our tail professor.
You can interpret anything you wish.
I am all for it. But in the case of an artists commenting on their own work, unless you believe they are attempting to mislead, additional interpretation of the work is pompous, pretentious and amounts to a narcissist’s mental masturbation. Let me drive this point home. If an act of nature or God had made this crack would it be open for interpretation beyond what it is? Sure you could extrapolate from the crack various geological probabilities but to interperate meaning? Useless.
I am agreeing with your essay, do you not see that? Doris' interpretation was preechy. Her interpretation did get in the way of the visual potential. We agree.

Goodness can only be defined tautologically. That leaves traits, which for all instances correlate to examples of both good and bad art.
I see your point. (Although I believe you are more inclined to tautological explanation because it allows you to be right LOL). But I think it is possible to comprehend quality as opposed to Goodness, in terms distinct from the terms opposite, non-quality.
A work of art has a level of quality that is the sum of elements the viewer accepts as indicative of quality. Some of these elements are commonly understood and accepted. Some are, agreed, subjective. I expect that a work of art may be accepted by some set of viewers as either good or bad art. It is this area of commonly understood elements that we should focus some attention or else we are to be condemned to discuss artist talking about writers, writing about what artist wrote about art.
Sure we can continually divide this pie. The Tautological reference is not without merit. But research demands definition. We are intelligent enough not to take ourselves to seriously, so this should allow us to put down the weapons of one-upmanship, and find some common ground, no matter how treacherous, regarding defining what is or is not quality and or what are those elements that make it so

155.

Franklin

November 6, 2007, 8:32 AM

The Tautological reference is not without merit. But research demands definition.

Okay. Define goodness.

156.

opie

November 6, 2007, 8:35 AM

Eric: Again, there is no criteria for goodness in art. Art excludes criteria by definition. If you have criteria then the art object is not an art object becasue you are making it into another kind of object, an object for which there are criteria for goodness.

This has come up in recent blogs. I gave the example of a small bronze sculpture being used as a peper weight. You can specify the properties of a good vs a bad paper weight. Under those circumstances the object is a peprweight. If you treat it as art it functions as art. You cannot specify the properies necessary for good art, but you can evaluate them in order to make a judgement.

The actual physical characteristics are unchanged, of course. What has changed is the purpose of the object.

This is an extremely elementary principle but for some reason a very difficult one for people to grasp. We seem to have a need to hang on to given definitions rather then recognize changing circumstances. I guess it gives us a sense of stability.

157.

Eric

November 6, 2007, 8:36 AM

Ekim I am afraid that people who make figural art and people who make abstract art and people who make conceptual art and people who make video art and people who make computer art may all disagree about what has quality and what does not. One of the main reasons for this is because artists who work with one medium or within one genre know a lot about that particular medium and that particular genre but more often than not don't give a rat's ass about different mediums and different genres, or if they do bother to learn about them they often have transparent prejudices towards them. If everybody made paintings or drawings of the human figure consensus regarding what is and what is not quality would be easier to achieve.

158.

opie

November 6, 2007, 8:39 AM

Ekim, I honestly can't make head or tail of #154. Can you make a clear, singular point or two of opposition?

159.

opie

November 6, 2007, 8:42 AM

Eric #157 yes, absolutely. And that is a very strong argument for strong conventions in art-making. Lower quality is too great a price to pay for variety.

160.

Eric

November 6, 2007, 8:47 AM

Believe me opie, even though I take pride in the fact that I write about all different kinds of art made by living artists, I seek out the old stuff in the museums when I simply want to enjoy myself and have an enriching experience.

161.

opie

November 6, 2007, 9:07 AM

"I simply want to enjoy myself and have an enriching experience."

That's the whole deal, right there.

162.

Marc Country

November 6, 2007, 9:24 AM

Here's a kind of counter-argument that's actually intelligible... from "The Subjectivity of Wine" (via Reddit):

What these experiments neatly demonstrate is that the taste of a wine, like the taste of everything, is not merely the sum of our inputs, and cannot be solved in a bottom-up fashion. It cannot be deduced by beginning with our simplest sensations and extrapolating upwards. When we taste a wine, we aren't simply tasting the wine. This is because what we experience is not what we sense. Rather, experience is what happens when our senses are interpreted by our subjective brain, which brings to the moment its entire library of personal memories and idiosyncratic desires. As the philosopher Donald Davidson argued, it is ultimately impossible to distinguish between a subjective contribution to knowledge that comes from our selves (what he calls our "scheme") and an objective contribution that comes from the outside world ("the content"). Instead, in Davidson's influential epistemology, the "organizing system and something waiting to be organized" are hopelessly interdependent. Without our subjectivity we could never decipher our sensations, and without our sensations we would have nothing to be subjective about. In other words, we shouldn't be surprised that different people like different bottles of cheap wine.

of course, that probably bumps us back to Franklin's post on Panjectivity...

163.

Marc Country

November 6, 2007, 9:26 AM

Then again, perhaps it just means that some self-proclaimed "wine experts", like many self-proclaimed "art experts", are in fact, full of shit.

164.

ekim skram

November 6, 2007, 9:55 AM

155.
I clearly agreed that your interchanging of the terms goodness and quality supported your argument. The term goodness is more elusive. The goodness of a work of art is an entirely different animal than whether or not a work of art is good. I believe quality is distinct from non-quality and that distinction is were an attempt should be made to define what properties support a quality work of art.
I am no fascist attempting to order the present and future constructs of fellow creatives. I am simply attempting to get to a solution as temporal as it may be, for the problem stated in the above essay, mainly that lack of quality.

157. Agreed, Eric, consensus is difficult. But common ground exists within our individual sense of aesthetics. Yes we will end up using difficult terms like truth, mystery, and goodness. But we may come to a consensus on some properties that thread in all “Good” works of art. Possibly some that we recognize in “Great” works of art.

159. I believe strong conventions is what Franklins essay and I are proposing?

Enriching through better understanding as opposed to variety.

Franklin, again “good” work. Just explain how one can demand quality if that quality is ineffable? This is the crux of the problem.
We seem to agree that we need to cull the crap or slow the flow, I think your essay leads the way in requesting an allegiance to quality. So I ask what is quality.

165.

Franklin

November 6, 2007, 10:01 AM

The goodness of a work of art is an entirely different animal than whether or not a work of art is good.

Okay, so what's the difference?

166.

ekim skram

November 6, 2007, 10:09 AM

marc country, your posts like opie, eric and franklins have been enjoyable and enriching. Like theirs, your insults too have been rich. If you could take a less direct shot, I promise to try to follow. I find your post to be pertinent and the wine analogy well placed. Though some like different bottles of “cheap” wine, this has not precluded the development of criteria for “good” wine.

167.

ekim skram

November 6, 2007, 10:12 AM

165.
franklin does that mean that you believe there is no difference?

168.

ekim skram

November 6, 2007, 10:33 AM

franklin,
In the simplest sense, in terms of a quality, good and goodness are the same. I may have misrepresented your selection of this word as a cunning attempt to press your point regarding quality being ineffable.
The two words work in distinctly different realms when we discuss the characteristics of something such as a work of art. A work of art can have the term good applied to it. Good Art. But I think it is weak minded to suggest a work of art is goodness. Goodness Art. I don’t know maybe you have just coined a new genre.
This has been fun. Send me something scathing to read in between fits of work.

169.

Marc Country

November 6, 2007, 10:47 AM

Reading betwen the lines seems to be prefered, by some, to reading the lines themselves. This can be interesting, and fun, but it just never quite amounts to meaningful communication between the writer and the reader.

Not an "insult", just an observation...

170.

opie

November 6, 2007, 10:50 AM

Marc 162 This seems accurate to me. It is realistic. Also, in wine, like art, there are the good writers and the bad ones. (I used to collect the stuff in my more prosperous days)

Ekim, "ineffable" means not expressable in words. It obviously does not exclude experience. In fact, I think the word is usually associated with experience, often religious experience. "Quality", a word I am not confortable with when talking about art, refers, simply put, to art that gives us an ineffable, pleasurable esthetic experience.

171.

Eric

November 6, 2007, 10:55 AM

To Marc, etc.

I agree that my misinterpretations of Franklin's original text were worthless. I won't make the same mistake again.

172.

ekim skram

November 6, 2007, 11:19 AM

marc, keep munching that tail meat.
It is easy to find a problem, and for some easy to obfuscate.
As for definitions, thank you opie, clarity, thank you all.
Solutions are for the few. "Good" job franklin
156. opie, how is it that we cannot specify the properties necessary for good art but we can evaluate them to make a judgment?
170. opie, I accept that you cannot express your pleasurable esthetic experience.

173.

opie

November 6, 2007, 11:20 AM

Don't be so hard on yourself, Eric. You said a lot of good things. If you were off-base that created an opportunity for discussion. No problem.

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