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Post #1083 • November 8, 2007, 1:32 PM • 61 Comments
From the Freebies thread:
To trot out an old truism, who will decide what is completely true or what is reality?
Who decides what is essential about an art work?
From the Degrees thread:
Who determines an artist to be good? Money? Mary Boone? Gagosian? You? And who decides if an artists work is conceptual or otherwise?
I guess what it all boils down to for me is this: who will decide how to label what elements of a work of visual art are pseudo literary or philosophical... and which parts are concerned solely with visual form or significant form?
...isn't the process of deciding what is "visually weak" (as opie puts it), especially contemporary work that hasn't entered the history books or permanent collections (and actually gets shown instead of stored away) done on a completely individual basis?
Opie provided the short answer: you decide. Simplicity itself. And yet I've answered this question again and again over the years the same way. Why does this trip people up?
I have never understood the anxiety people experience over taking charge of their own tastes. If nothing else, it seems that they could look at the rest of their lives and figure out that their art experience might work the same way. Who decides what food tastes good? Who decides what music sounds good? You do. You probably don't even think about your autonomy regarding those decisions - you assume it. People get tired of Jack's comments on this blog, but I'm not one of them. Jack provides the blisteringly simple and consummately true observation, over and over again, that he answers honestly to his own tastes and nothing else. If everyone did this, the art world would be a better place. And until everyone does, Jack is welcome to keep reminding everyone how taste works.
My hypothesis about this asserts that insisting on your taste is an insult to what I call the Cult of the Open Mind. There's a fallacy in the art world that was likely created when people finally realized that the Impressionists were right after all - that progressive art challenges previously held taste. It takes Greenberg's observation that all great art looks ugly at first and perverts it to conclude that all art that looks ugly at first is great. The Cult of the Open Mind makes this fallacy sacred, by believing that analysis and interpretation are more important than aesthetic judgment and that differences between newer art and older art are inherently valuable even if unattractive. If newness is the cult's God, Satan is the notion of universal artistic value, the declaration of things as good in more than a personal, individual sense. Universal artistic value insults multiculturalism, postmodernism, and egalitarianism, and therefore can be seen by someone so inclined to support autocracy, homogeneity, and elitism.
Taste, real taste, varies from person to person. But all tastes refine in the same way, causing you to like more and more kinds of work and fewer and fewer examples within those kinds. Refinement of taste brings on a diversification of type and a winnowing of numbers. If your taste isn't doing this, it's likely involved with something besides quality, because quality doesn't have any traits. You can identify adherents in the Cult of the Open Mind because they totally fail to comprehend this. In 1981, Walter Darby Bannard wrote a brilliant essay entitled The Seminar that recorded the following exchange:
A slight girl with a pleasant flaky expression asked: "Doesn't it get kind of boring, just Iiking that little teeny bit of real good art you're talking about?"
A few smiles flashed around the table.
"Just the opposite. You are choosy when you're interested, and when you are interested you run everything past your taste. That way you find all kinds of things to enjoy. But you never confuse the 'teeny bit' of absolute best with all the lesser stuff, as the art public habitually does."
Real adherents won't stop there, though. They'll go on to accuse you of authoritarianism, narrowmindedness, and belief in universal artistic value, which, as stated previously, is the Devil.
Taste can foul up in three ways: it can be bad, it can be wrong, and it can be borrowed.
Bad taste sees value where there is none. Given a choice between watching a ballerina dance in a ballet or the Laker Girls do a routine during a time out, I'll go with the latter. My taste, in this instance, is no good. I understand intellectually that ballet is better, but my tastes have no patience for ballet. I'd rather watch the Laker Girls shake it. I don't pretend to excuse this, but neither do I try to form arguments to the effect that ballet is somehow inferior artistically to whatever you call what the Laker Girls are doing, based on the fact that the latter is newer and more relevant to the culture at large. I live with my taste being bad and presume that exposure to and study of really good ballet would change my feelings about it, if I ever elect to spend my time that way.
Wrong taste doesn't see value where there is some. Clement Greenberg, who probably had the best eye of anyone in the last century, underestimated Morandi, Fairfield Porter, and a great number of worthy artists. His taste was wrong about them. The distinction between wrong taste and bad taste is worth making because they operate somewhat differently. People who liked academic art for academic reasons and disliked Impressionist art for academic reasons had both bad taste and wrong taste. They saw value in Alma Tadema that wasn't there and didn't see value in Monet that was there. It would be possible, in theory, to see value in both that wasn't there, or not see value in both that was there. Or get either right. If your taste operates independently of traits, you could say, for instance, that Bouguereau is better than Alma-Tadema and late Monet is better than early Monet. This is how refined taste manifests.
Borrowed taste can't form judgments and so borrows the judgments of other people. If I went to the ballet with someone who knew a lot about it, with the intention of trying to figure out what the big deal is, I would probably ask him his opinion about what worked and what didn't. The next time I saw a ballet, I would think about those parameters. This is fine as an entry point but it is crucial that the refinement of taste not stop there. Paul Giamatti's character in "Sideways" made a stink about not drinking Merlot. A writer friend in Miami told me that not long after the movie came out, she went out on a date with a guy who made a stink about not drinking Merlot. This is borrowed taste. Merlots, of course, can be delicious.
Given the three ways that taste can foul up, the Cult of the Open Mind would prefer to risk borrowed taste to bad taste, and bad taste to wrong taste. Cultists dread one thing above all others: that they'll make the same mistake made by the people who clung to Alma-Tadema and rejected the Impressionists, and so found themselves on the wrong side of history and therefore in the wrong at their moment. Since everyone has instances of bad taste and even someone as gifted as Greenberg had instances of wrong taste, borrowed taste seems like the smallest risk, because it has the advantage of being shared, perhaps by a great number of people. Duchamp frequently comes up in defense of any conceptual work because there is a lot of analysis of his ouevre, thereafter applied to subsequent artists, that can be borrowed as taste. Certain ideas in contemporary art writing ("challenges commonly-held notions," anyone?) became clichés because of frequent borrowing. There is safety in numbers, and if nothing else, they will all go down together.
Real taste would prefer to be wrong than bad, and bad rather than borrowed. Opie and I can't agree on Andrew Wyeth. I think he's great, he thinks he's stiff and uninspired. Either my taste for Wyeth is bad or Opie's is wrong. We would both very much like to be right, but we can live with fouling up our estimation of him because that's the risk you take when you're genuinely using your judgment. If it came out that I liked Wyeth or he didn't like Wyeth because somebody talked us into it, that would be shameful. We call that sort of thing "looking with your ears" and it's tantamount to liking the latest size 2, silicone-injected pop star just because she has a new single out and all the clubs are playing it. In other words, a disaster of taste, an utter failure of taste. Borrowed taste is the biggest risk of the three and we scrutinize ourselves to make sure that we're not using it. Jack, I'm sure, will agree.
So to answer the above questions, you do, but note that the questions aren't very substantial in the first place. There is no one else to make these decisions for us except ourselves. We can turn our authority over to someone else, but then the tastes we have are not ours.
November 8, 2007, 4:03 PM
Yeah, you're cookin', fer sure.
I will check it out thoroughly later.
November 8, 2007, 4:16 PM
I came to understand what you were writing about in this entry before I read it, while I was riding my bike earlier this evening (I smiled when it hit me). It was good to hear the message again in this essay. Thank you for honoring me with my very first quotation in another blog. No one reads my blog. Of course in the end I look like an insubstantial, superficial, blithering idiot but thanks for not using my name right under the quotes. Any Sherlock Moron With A Computer can figure out it is me.
Enough about me. It feels good to be free from influences, opinion makers, academics, journalists, other artists, tastemakers in general. I will chant YOUR ME MINE (It feels good to say it) whenever I am making something and I get self conscious.
November 8, 2007, 5:10 PM
[I worked too hard on this to entertain further cutesy non-sequiturs in the comments. Anyone up for a real conversation is welcome as always. - F.]
November 8, 2007, 5:29 PM
That was exactly the response I expected. There was a lot of genuine sentiment in there (3) and in fact Franklin's latest entry has helped me to finally give up on art writing and to focus on making stuff again. Art writing is a real dead end when it ends up taking away from the small amount of time one has to actually create drawings, paintings, sculptures (and all the rest). Whether you agree or not there is truly something condescending and prickish about your manner, your writing.
And Wyeth does suck although I could easily imagine myself masturba-ing to one of the Helga paintings. My talented aunt also did a really convincing and emotional copy of "Christina's World" which I used to stare at when I was a little kid visiting her family's house in Syosset.
I am also completely confused about who is who around here. Is Storto Franklin. Is Franklin Storto?
November 8, 2007, 5:34 PM
Eric, the modification of Sorto's comment was not directed at you. I took what you said seriously and am considering a response. Sorto said something useless, so I deleted it, signaled by the brackets and the "-F." at the end. You're new around here so you wouldn't know the convention.
November 8, 2007, 5:34 PM
One more utterance about this post. Franklin you have an excellent writing style. You are very smart. I would be surprised if you never taught a college course. You would make a great lecturer if your writing style carried over to your speaking style. One never knows. I would like to confess though that I can't remember a lot of what I read, if not all of it, very soon after I turn the computer off. My memory is going though. Maybe it is the subject matter, maybe it is the heady realm of pragmatic aesthetics we enter around here. You have a new fan that's for sure.
November 8, 2007, 5:43 PM
"Pragmatic Aesthetics" has a nice ring to it...
November 8, 2007, 5:49 PM
Art writing is a real dead end when it ends up taking away from the small amount of time one has to actually create drawings, paintings, sculptures (and all the rest).
I continually struggle with this.
You have a new fan that's for sure.
Thanks, I appreciate it.
"Pragmatic Aesthetics" has a nice ring to it...
The book will need an editor, Marc. You volunteering?
November 8, 2007, 5:58 PM
Nicely put Franklin. Very nicely put.
Myself, I'm not especially excited by the difference between bad and wrong taste - they are both on the negative side. But make the distinction if you like.
What puzzles me most, though, is that you would say liking really good cheerlearders put on their moves, specifically the Laker Girls (I think this is the group you mean, not the LakerS Girls), more than a generic ballerina dance a generic ballet is taste that is "no good". The Laker Girls are damn good dancers. A generic ballerina is hardly assured of being as good. Further, there is nothing intrinsic to ballet that guarantees it is better than the moves involved in cheerleading. Or that it is exclusive to cheerleading. Just as many great composers have borrowed heavily from folk music, so might a great choreographer borrow heavily from cheerleader moves. It is all just "stuff" that is out there ripe for the picking by those with sufficient talent and inspiration to grab it.
What turns me on most, on the other hand, is your analysis of borrowed taste. My answer to the several questions about who decides what is good is that someone will - and it might as well be me.
And second most turn on is that the question is not "very substantial in the first place." That won't stop anyone from fretting over it, though. It is an academic question and academics fight more firecely the less there is at stake.
November 8, 2007, 6:15 PM
This is the most hilarious, schizophrenic group of frustrated creatives I have ever been privileged to...observe for lack of a better word.
F. I would say parts of it are good but my sincerity doesn't seem to be at the appropriate level. Anyway, on my way in here I tripped over somebody who was genuflecting. I am sorry to who ever it was. Opie?
November 8, 2007, 6:20 PM
Hard to diagree with anything in the post.
It might be a little extreme to characterize Greenberg re various artists & you or I re Wyeth as "wrong". Greenberg appreciated Morandi (Hopper was another one) he just didnt think of them as highty as I thought he should. And if you & I had had a chance to go around the Wyeth show at the Whitney some years ago together I think we would be surprised at what happened when we discussed particulars.
I agree about ballet but I am not about to characterize liking to see good-looking scantily-clad women dancing as "bad taste". The ballet instruction thing might not work; I had a girlfriend years ago who did her best to no effect.
You are on target with "borrowed taste", which is not really even taste but just abject conformity to that mysterious force that dictates what is latest and greatest . I can remember as a kid succumbing to this sort of thing until I realized what I was doing.
I don't get the part about Merlot. It is a grape variety, and a constituent of some very good wines and a lot of mediocre wines. Is there some kind of snob factor in liking or not liking it?
November 8, 2007, 6:29 PM
Laker Girls is fixed.
Ballet has more options than cheerleading so the former should allow for better art. The same is true of dance in general compared to juggling, or the old marble vs. motorcycles example. Sure, great cheerleading is better than mediocre ballet, but is it better than great ballet? The comparison is a little artificial but I think my taste is still lacking in that arena.
In the movie, the issue was definitely snob factor, and my friend's date was trying to emulate it to no effect.
November 8, 2007, 6:38 PM
But it is not a matter of what's better but of what you like. Isn't that the whole point?
I understood the point of the Merlot example. I was just couldn't figure out whether liking Merlot was supposed to be good or bad, and why. Where is the snob factor with Merlot?
November 8, 2007, 6:58 PM
Franklin 13. That's useful.
November 8, 2007, 7:10 PM
ekim: You may add my genuflection to that of opie's if you are keeping count.
November 8, 2007, 8:01 PM
More genuflection. Huzzah, huzzah. Another bullseye, especially where you put the power squarely on the viewer, but for real, not in the BS way so much contemporary work says it does.
November 8, 2007, 8:07 PM
But it is not a matter of what's better but of what you like. Isn't that the whole point?
Yes and no. I think you have to look at the possibility that your taste is bad as part of the self-critical mechanism. The point is that bad taste that genuinely belongs to you is better than good taste that came from someone else.
The snob factor regarding Merlot is refusing to drink it because it's too common or something like that.
Ooh! Genuflection and huzzahs! Thanks all.
November 8, 2007, 8:16 PM
Actually, that's not right. The point is that if you have to risk getting something wrong, you're better off risking wrong taste or bad taste than borrowed taste. The outcome may be genuinely liking something that isn't so good, but at least you won't be selling out your judgment.
November 8, 2007, 8:53 PM
Yes, well, Taste onlty counts when you are looking for art, and if it finds art then it is good and if it doesn't find it it is bad. Looking at dancing girls is not a matter of taste at all. It's just another kind of enjoyment. Nothing to do with ballet. Apples & oranges.
That Merlot thing is stupid. Merlot is at least a minor constituent in some of greatest wines in the world. I have noticed that those Hollywood people often have no idea what to be snobbish about. They think "taste" is Mercedeses & Rolexes & Dom Perignon.
November 8, 2007, 8:55 PM
No no - it was a running gag in the movie. The character who didn't drink Merlot was a nervous nellie and a bit of git who had trouble enjoying life. Rent it - it was decent enough.
November 8, 2007, 8:58 PM
In otherwords, taste is a mechanism to get at the best, (not only in art - I miswrote there).
Finding the sexiest dancing girls would be good taste in an exercise aimed at dancing girl appreciation. I suppose.
Can dopplegangers genuflect?
November 8, 2007, 9:09 PM
I will rent it.
We just went to Netflix in desperation over bad TV, so I got the IMDB list of top 250 movies, movies all the critics like, and even after picking carefully 3 out of 4 are absolutely dreadful. I mean dreadful!
Try watching SNATCH (my wife called it "pure malevolence") or the utterly pretentious and incomprehensible THE PRESTIGE and you will see what I mean. Both on the top 250 of all time.
Really, I think movie critics are just as deluded and taken in by apompous artiness as art critics are.
November 8, 2007, 10:09 PM
When fear and/or guilt (also subject to being bad or borrowed) drive taste, the result is as skewed as when they motivate voting or dating options.
Another very very good essay. Very good.
Um, I'm experiencing some comment posting difficulties. I clicked 'POST' but got no satisfaction.
Um, nevermind, I forgot to type my 'NAME'. Heh.
November 9, 2007, 2:02 AM
Who decides ? Someone who cares, and has no agenda besides love.
November 9, 2007, 5:33 AM
Ballet? Laker Girls? Perfume? Merlot? Netflix? is this ArtForum Talk Back?
November 9, 2007, 6:58 AM
Why didn't some of the Picasso paintings at Sotheby's auction sell?
November 9, 2007, 7:56 AM
Because the profit margin for speculators is in the up and comers market. The collectors are using their money to create or collect more money in this volatile stock and commodities market. Also the value of the dollar is really getting in the way of American collectors trying to purchase foreign owned works of art.
November 9, 2007, 7:58 AM
The book will need an editor, Marc. You volunteering?
If the book needs an amateur volunteer editor, then I'm your man.
I always thought that the difference between watching ballerinas, and watching Laker Girls, was that you aren't supposed to necessarily want to fuck the ballerinas... Franklin's "intuitions" about cheerleaders, ahem, points to something else, as it were...
November 9, 2007, 8:01 AM
To ekim skram,
So is money the final decision?
November 9, 2007, 8:07 AM
Only a postulation on your question why this particular sale did not go well. Yes, money it what it is all about.
November 9, 2007, 8:10 AM
Marc: The dance department once asked me to sit in on a rehersal for a ballet production they were doing, and to offer criticism. I said two things: 1), weightlessness has its place but so does gravity, and they were ignoring gravity, a problem that plauges most ballet except maybe Russian ballet; and 2), the choreography was not "wet enough". The second was my polite way of saying the audience ought to be encouraged, at least a little, to think about fucking the dancers of their prefered sex.
November 9, 2007, 8:13 AM
Opie, here's a movie recommendation just for you, care of the NYT: No Country for Old Men
"For formalists — those moviegoers sent into raptures by tight editing, nimble camera work and faultless sound design — it’s pure heaven."
November 9, 2007, 8:17 AM
To ekim skram,
So what does this mean to the value of any Picasso painting?
November 9, 2007, 8:22 AM
Catfish, did they take your advice?
November 9, 2007, 8:33 AM
Maybe that's why I prefer seeing modern dance, to ballet... the increased gravity and humidity...
November 9, 2007, 8:42 AM
It means that Picasso's collected for mere aesthetics have not lost any value.
But the overwhelming concern in the financials of the art world is in the potential value any work can create or at least like advertising any value that can be attributed to the work. That is why their are those "who" make determinations and put their ass on the line doing it. I would suspect each of them are willing to proclaim this as good or bad, at least in terms of value.
November 9, 2007, 8:58 AM
To ekim skram,
Regarding the state of the economy, was this really a good time to dump the Picasso paintings? What is the real message here, if any? And as artists should we be concerned?
November 9, 2007, 9:27 AM
I don't think so. And I suspect the works were offered by a Japanese collector who is also reeling in the wake of Japan's economy. The art market is broadening and a lot of sales are happening. This was just an attempt to float a zeppelin in the hopes that some collector with big bucks was looking for a Picasso to finish out their own personal aesthetic. It went down in flames.
The art market is hot in middle, real hot. People are looking for culture and art is accessible. Too accessible some might argue. What is better than a house that increases in value? Decorations that do!
November 9, 2007, 9:43 AM
To ekim skram,
"What is better than a house that increases in value? Decorations that do!"
Interesting, property value inside and out. That makes good sense. So, certain artworks are no longer valid to stand on their own, and can only sell as a package?
November 9, 2007, 10:04 AM
Storto, Validity is the point of discussion, consensus and often disagreements. The tangible aspect of value does seem to validate some art for some people; at least it gives support to some arguments regarding validity. Whether or not they can stand alone is for the esoteric among us to argue. If they are to stand alone without value they better be "Good" and we should be able to recognize it and fearlessly attempt to describe it.
November 9, 2007, 10:28 AM
Marc, Increased gravity???
November 9, 2007, 10:44 AM
"...ignoring gravity, a problem that plagues most ballet..."
... is not a problem plaguing the examples of modern dance
I have seen. Does that answer your 'question'?
November 9, 2007, 10:56 AM
Thanks, Marc, but I have had enough of gratuitous gore, along with digital explosions, car chases, characters that show up in a scene for no given reason, macho attitudinizing, guns the size of mororcycles, "creative" camerawork,staccato editing, bewildering flashbackforward and back again and all the rest of the artzy BS the movies are into. I want to be entertained, period.
November 9, 2007, 10:58 AM
... but, but, you have to like it Opie... You're a "formalist", aren't ya?
November 9, 2007, 11:34 AM
Well, yes, but sometimes I want those dancing girls.
November 9, 2007, 11:39 AM
Formalism in art is the representation of the formal aspects of a subject devoid of its content, i.e., the artist uses natural shapes to achieve a pleasing composition without reference to the deeper significance of the objects represented. Formalism is the basis of much decorative art and is characteristic of those periods in art where over preoccupation with form has drained the artist of any emotional response. There might appear to be some confusion between Formalism and Abstraction in art, but where the abstract artist attempts to express the essential formal quality of his/her subject, the formal artist is merely concerned with the superficial arrangement of shapes.
November 9, 2007, 11:42 AM
You're launching a shibboleth, Storto, to see who'll ascribe to which arbitrary category?
November 9, 2007, 12:03 PM
Storto, these things have been discussed and rediscussed on this blog with a far higher degree of sophistication that you are displaying here. All you are doing is articulating a simple, commonplace perception of an overused and misunderstood word which often comes up in art criticism. In other words, it is taking up space for no good purpose.
Try tackling some of Franklin's assertions in the last few posts if you want to add something. Think before you write.
November 9, 2007, 12:05 PM
That wasn't a launch, ahab, it was a plop.
What is a 'natural shape', as opposed to an 'unnatural' one, anyway?
"There might appear to be some confusion between Formalism and Abstraction in art, but where the abstract artist is merely concerned with the superficial arrangement of shapes, the formal artist attempts to express the essential formal quality of his/her subject", says about as much, with about as much accuracy.
November 9, 2007, 12:09 PM
November 9, 2007, 12:31 PM
The arrangement of shapes turns out to be a highly compensating and challenging activity.
November 9, 2007, 12:58 PM
Franklin (#35): Yes they did take my advice. The result was hotter, wetter, and when dancers "bumped" each other they made full contact, no faking it, and in some cases, a dancer would push another down on the floor..
November 9, 2007, 1:02 PM
F. I will take that as a defense of the Storto.
Speaking of accuracy marc, increased gravity? I can understand you were referencing your other comment but that doesn’t mean it made sense. I made sense of it. But it didn’t make sense. Remember Franklin said (don't quote me) "our brains are electrical appendages something , something the crust of the earth." I am sure that fits somehow.
November 9, 2007, 2:41 PM
"Formalism is the basis of much decorative art and is characteristic of those periods in art where over preoccupation with form has drained the artist of any emotional response."
Calling formalists cold and calculating decorators who are incapable of empathy "is characteristic of those periods in art where over preoccupation with [news items] has drained the artist of any [actual] response."
I'm an actualist, by the way, always striving to make the most of my powers of perception and facility.
November 9, 2007, 6:31 PM
I'm not sure why you bother to point it out, ekim, but if you mean to say that what I wrote makes sense figuratively, as opposed to literally, then you're right. Well done.
November 10, 2007, 7:36 AM
marc, I am only trying to reflect that which surrounds me at any one time. You understand "pointing out the obvious"
November 10, 2007, 8:25 AM
I miss George...
November 12, 2007, 11:15 AM
A discerning eye
Franklin Sirmans makes his vision for art into a feast for the Menil audience:
'Modern and contemporary art knows no geography, begins around 1910 and has no end. How does a curator discern the good or even great art from the not so good and not great? Part of it, Sirmans says, "is trusting your own subjective eye; part of it is knowing that the work has certain things you associate with quality."
And quality in an object, he adds, "is where an artist has a lot to say about himself, but a lot more to say about everyone else."'
November 12, 2007, 12:26 PM
YEAH BUT... sorry, he really sounds like Mr. standard-issue curator to me. look at the terminology in the article:
"radical new ideas"
"multidimensional, multimedia and transgenerational"
All standard, giddy, pat-on-the-back things you say these days. Snore.
And then a show on Bruce Nauman and Robert Ryman? Wow! That goes out on a limb!
The board was worried about his age? Because he is 37? When I saw that I thought: too old or too young?
Racing into the future with the Menil collection.
November 12, 2007, 2:03 PM
"Artists should be really aware of their own artistic interests and the precedents that surround their work," he says. "It bothers me at times, when I talk to younger artists who don't know others who are doing work similar to theirs.
"Being an artist really takes a lot of chutzpah, and you have to really, really, really want it," he says. "I mean, are you (as an artist) ready to not eat more than a can of Goya (beans) for a week in order to have enough money to get materials? It's tough, and it takes ego, especially today when you have to be willing to put yourself out there."
November 8, 2007, 3:55 PM
You're in the zone, Franklin...