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Degrees of art

Post #1081 • November 6, 2007, 12:49 PM • 127 Comments

A couple of weeks ago I did my best to get rid of the subjective world. To recap, and restate a bit more clearly, the subjective world doesn't exist. We experience a subjective world because our brains can't feel themselves function. Much goes on in them that other people never find out about, but much goes on in them that we never find out about either. We similarly experience a flat earth because we can't detect its curvature by walking around the neighborhood. But the earth is a sphere and our brains are electrically charged appendages of the living crust upon it. That electricity moves around a complicated set of pathways, but has no physical form apart from them. The content of that electricity and some supporting chemical reactions, what we usually refer to as "us," also has no form apart from them. The brain has a clever way of recording interactions between us and things that are not us, and can imagine scenarios based on those records. People who have studied the problem have an idea about how it does this, but we can't sit around and feel it going on. We can only observe the part that takes place in view of conscious awareness. If you try to imagine how much you know but aren't thinking about at the moment, you have to admit that conscious awareness must constitute a tiny fraction of total mental activity. It moves around on a material template and directs limited parts of it, but has no shape outside of it.

Today I'm going to try to get rid of conceptual art.

Individual instances of art lie somewhere on a continuum between objects that exist for the sake of form and objects that exist for the sake of an idea. Ideas cling to all human endeavors, even the purest exercises in the manipulation of shape. The notion that manipulating shapes would make for a fine afternoon, or a fine life, finds support in a lot of good writing and has a subtle, motivating idea to go with the act itself. At the other end of the spectrum, even the most concept-driven work still has some kind of a form - a photograph, a bit of text, some representation of the act. Conventionally we might call things "formal art" or "conceptual art," but we really ought to call the art "more formal" or "more conceptual."

Edward Winkleman brought a particular piece to my attention that might seem to lie off of that spectrum. In 1960, Stanley Brouwn declared that all the shoe stores in Amsterdam constituted an exhibition of his work. I'm going to do something that I have heretofore refrained from: disqualify this as art. I would put it among acts of philosophy, with art as its topic. (Anyone who finds such things beautiful ought to look at Astonish Yourself by Roger-Pol Droit. 101 art-making opportunities await! Not really.) I have found it hard to disprove that something is art. Instead I have held more defensible ground: anything presented as art is art, so let's talk about how good it is. But it cedes too much, so I'm advancing. Things that don't have any form are not art.

The pure play of concept-free forms is art. The pure play of form-free concepts is philosophy. The continuum lies between them.

This implies that things become less and less art as they move away from the formal pole. I haven't seen it asserted elsewhere that something exists as art by degrees, but it would explain a lot. For one, it would explain the difficulty of defining art, a category of seemingly infinite scope and a wide, fuzzy border. It would also suggest how philosophical effort can go so far concerning itself with certain art objects - such things have proportionately less art and more philosophy. This is not in itself a value judgment, but a description. Art is not an achievement to which things ought to aspire. Rather, creators ought to land somewhere on that continuum and work in any way that interests them, and do it well.

It ought not trouble the proponents of more conceptual art that it has less art than more formal art. The conceptual tendency undermined art as an honorific category. Dada, Fluxus, and their antecedents sought from their inceptions to include the mass-produced, the democratic, the unskilled, the cheap, and the unserious into the realm of art. This is also not a value judgment. Kurt Schwitters and Joseph Cornell could make detritus sing. But the singing is formal. The rest is detritus. Marble, by itself, has no more lofty a status as far as art goes, except for its plasticity and potential attractiveness.

We have arranged parts of the material template for our pleasure, which we experience when our awareness contacts them. This last sentence is a complicated way of describing a common phenomenon - looking at a painting, reading a line of poetry, sitting in a good chair. The two poles of the continuum represent two sorts of pleasure: the pleasure of looking, embodied by art, and the pleasure of thinking, embodied by philosophy. A given point on the continuum represents the degree to which an object relies on the pleasures of looking or thinking to function at its best.

What makes for pleasurable thinking? Dense associations, challenging intellectual propositions, an exploration of pressing issues, and the like. A more conceptual object may succeed at such things. But such success is philosophical success, not artistic success. Pleasurable looking denotes artistic success. What makes for pleasurable looking? Good form. In theory one could make an object that triumphs both formally and philosophically. In practice, no such object seems to exist. Philosophy is inherently linguistic - writing and dialogue serve it well, while shape may serve at most as something to hang writing and dialogue upon. More conceptual art succeeds when it proves able to spawn a copious amount of thinking, as well as writing and dialogue, which are the manifested activities of thinking. Form may act as a poetic condensation of an idea, and may as such have value, but it can't beat language for clarity and thorough exploration. Our great philosophers have been talkers and writers.

So what's wrong with enjoying more-conceptual art objects for their philosophical richness? Nothing at all, as long as the person doing the enjoying understands that such objects have less art than more formal works, that the enjoyment is philosophical rather than artistic in nature, and that the philosophical richness is not artistic richness. I personally like art for the art, but by all means, go nuts.




November 6, 2007, 2:20 PM

"Today I'm going to try to get rid of conceptual art."

Hoorah. It's about time to just say screw it, it isn't art.



November 6, 2007, 3:09 PM

This almost sounds like something I would have written myself. (See comment 2).

You didn't "get rid of conceptual art" so much as change its name and repackage it. I've asked on this blog in the past for a more acceptable term for it. I recognized long ago that nomenclature was the real problem. You have now suggested "acts of philosophy, with art as its topic." Fine. APWAIT. From now on I will declare myself to be a fan of apwait. I hate and despise conceptual art and I do not recognize it. I spit on it. Apwait all the way.



November 6, 2007, 3:16 PM

Very well put, Franklin (despite the odd typo or two). None of this should really need spelling out, but if it does, and if it does any good to do so, you're much to be commended.



November 6, 2007, 3:22 PM

I would suggest a small alteration to the proposed definition of conceptual art:

Acts of philosophy with art as their pretext (or, for the more diplomatically inclined, acts of philosophy with art as their conduit).



November 6, 2007, 3:35 PM

You didn't "get rid of conceptual art" so much as change its name and repackage it.

It's okay. I'm just shouting out to my peeps or whatever with that line.

I recognized long ago that nomenclature was the real problem.

The terminology is not only inadequate, it puts thoughts in the mind that don't correlate with observable reality. Fighting through this has been a major challenge.

"Apwait"? Hee!

Please e-mail me re: typos. I haven't been able to spell for crap lately. Not sure why.



November 6, 2007, 3:42 PM

To Hovig,
I dig conceptual art, especially if it has spit on it.



November 6, 2007, 3:47 PM

Penultimate paragraph, second line, first word. I suppose it's anal, but I was exposed at an impressionable age to a formidable English teacher who wasn't much on literature, but absolutely demanded proper grammar and correct spelling. I guess you could call her a formalist. To this day, I am seriously mortified by making a typo myself, and if I ever even remotely doubt how to spell something, I look it up in the dictionary. It's a compulsion.



November 6, 2007, 4:13 PM

On my computer that word is "challenging", Jack. Maybe I am missing something.



November 6, 2007, 4:38 PM

How about APINGA, Hovig.

Amateur Philosophy is not Good Art.

What we are dignifying as "philosophy" is almost never philosophy. It is usually just a homeless, poorly disguised homily.

That slider is horizontal.


that guy

November 6, 2007, 4:52 PM

Franklin, for all the public service you do on this site, it is a wonder that Congress hasn't awarded you some shiny medal. It is remarkable how clear and concise this post is. Besides the fact that its physically impossible to get rid of something that never existed in the first place you have done the next best thing: helped those who have malformed neo-cortices (those who still believe in santa/conceptual art et al, see the light. Lets just hope in fifty years this post becomes required reading in all public educational facilities. Here here to Franklin, now we can get back to seeing if anyone is making anything worth looking at! Well done.

I do kind of feel sorry for the bag holders who bought mounds no acres of detritus for the last 40 plus years but as P.T. Barnum said: "there is a sucker born every minute".



November 6, 2007, 5:03 PM

Sorry, OP; on my computer it's "associations," but Franklin got it and fixed it. As for your proposed acronym in #9, I'm not sure if you do or do not know what it means in Spanish, but it's not considered polite language, exactly. I suspect, however, that you do know, and maybe that was the point.



November 6, 2007, 5:16 PM

I don't understand why we can't just paint everything black.



November 6, 2007, 5:37 PM

I thought that's what we were trying to do here, Storto.

Actually, Jack, I would like to take credit, but until I asked my more educated 15-year-old son I did not know what it meant.

I wrote an answer to Ekim on the previous post but I didn't get under the 0ne-week deadline so I will post it below:

Ekin, you ask "how is it that we cannot specify the properties necessary for good art but we can evaluate them to make a judgment?"

Because in order to be art an entity must be judged without specific purpose. If its properties are judged according to its usefulness for a purpose it is not art, it is something else.

Look at it broadly. Something, like the paperweight, has a very specific purpose. We know that? a stone is a good paperweight and a feather isn't, and we can say why.

As things get more complex they get more difficult to evaluate, and evaluations get more varied. What is a good car? What is a good house? What is a good person?

Evaluation clearly can be easy or difficult, but one way or the other it is something we do all the time, constantly, every minute, all day long. Almost all simple evaluations are done quickly and nonverbally. With more complex evaluations we take more time and come up with reasons and then sometimes we evaluate our evaluations.

There is a species of evaluations that are immediate and take place without verbalization. They usually relate to pleasure and are gained by something we call "taste". Humor is one. Wine-tasting is another. Art is another. There are many more, of course. Explainting "why" something acquired by taste is "good" will always be awkward, but art is the one thing for which it is impossible because it is excluded by definition.

For some reason our species takes this "art" stuff very, very seriously; the evidence is all around us. This extreme interest is in itself very interesting, and I suspect that investigating this phenomenon will get us closer to what art is "all about" that a futile search for non-existent "criteria"




November 6, 2007, 5:42 PM

I would rather look at a painting of a man's cock on a dinner plate over an oil painting of an apple placed on some draped linen.



November 6, 2007, 5:48 PM

I'll take the apple, thanks. This comes up why, exactly?



November 6, 2007, 5:49 PM

Lovely image, Storto, but I think I'll go with the apple.


Marc Country

November 6, 2007, 5:49 PM

Um, waiter, I haven't even seen a menu yet...



November 6, 2007, 6:05 PM

Now, guy (#10), we mustn't be judgmental of those who are fond of detritus; I'm sure that's already been, uh, validated as an alternative lifestyle. Everything else has.

Besides, all manner of major collectors are heavily invested in the stuff, and of course they know what's what (or at least they can get people to tell them so).

If nothing else, we don't want to be accused of being authoritarian (again). "Reactionary" is OK, but "authoritarian" is just too, you know, politically charged. To paraphrase some Mafia don in The Godfather, we may be objectionable, but it's not like we're communists.



November 6, 2007, 6:09 PM

Fine then, I guess it's apples and shiny medals. Can we at least compromise and paint the apple black?



November 6, 2007, 6:12 PM

Franklin, please, what makes something come up for one person need not make it come up for another. Try to be more sensitive here. After all, artists are supposed to be cool about this sort of thing. Or so I'm told.



November 6, 2007, 6:23 PM

I was just making sure I hadn't missed anything.



November 6, 2007, 6:25 PM

Jack, your a sweetheart.



November 6, 2007, 6:32 PM

This series of essays has the makings of a chapter book.

I'm not partial to a spectral analysis of art/philosophy, but am willing to grant its usefulness for warding off confusion about overlaps between the two. I tend to think the charting of meaningful philosophical illustration is separate (though ancillary) to the charting of art that's good for looking at. Opie's "the paperweight should be judged as paperweight until it is used as a doorstop" approach is a good one, but wouldn't be sufficient excuse to lay all heavy objects on a paperweight/doorstop spectrum.



November 6, 2007, 7:19 PM

What we are dignifying as "philosophy" is almost never philosophy. It is usually just a homeless, poorly disguised homily.

Very good observation. The reason so much of it is passed off as conceptual art is it doesn't cut philosophical mustard.



November 6, 2007, 8:40 PM

Well, yes, conceptual art tends to be very pious, after a fashion. Sometimes it seems positively evangelical...after a fashion. Hence the heavy reliance on the word(s).


Marc Country

November 6, 2007, 9:55 PM

I'm with ahab. One end of Franklin's spectrum doesn't actually exist, does it? There is no such thing as art that succeeds as great philosophy, as far as I'm aware (unless you mean aesthetic philosophy, maybe). The best it can do is to refer to a idea that is understood already in a verbal form.

Jack, I think "conduit" is good, but I think it would be accurate enough to say "acts of philosophy with art as their medium", meaning, of course, visual art, to be more specific, as contrasted to the medium of 'verbal art' (oral or written ).



November 7, 2007, 1:00 AM

I've really been enjoying these essays Franklin; it seems I may find myself studying under you indefinitely.

I think you're on the right track saying that much of conceptual art relies more on philosophy than the formal aspects of creation and manipulation. I also agree with some of the others that much of what passes as philosophy in art is little more than intellectual self-pleasure much as the writing in Art Forum is. My issue lies in "artists" not being held responsible for clearly passing their idea on through their work. I'm not trying to imply that art ought to be didactic, just that when one does have an idea there should be accountability (personal, professional, etc.). I could sit here and write myself in circles and find myself continually agreeing with you, but I think some level of an idea or concept is necessary for the creation of good art. The concept can be simple or grand, but the formal qualities of the art in the end have to be the star.

Well, there I go agreeing with you again.



November 7, 2007, 7:16 AM

"Today I'm going to try to get rid of conceptual art."

I'll chime in late to agree - that's a great line. Meat for the peeps. Another great essay Franklin.



November 7, 2007, 7:21 AM

Everyone loves "ideas", Jeremy. Ideas are the good guys, the right stuff, as opposed to bad old "pleasure". Ideas are the minds nobility.

I say no. As a colleague once put it, "fun is profound".

The problem is that most ideas are just unborn verbal spermatozoa swimming around in your head, and when expressed are really just articulated urges. What ideas does a painter need? I have ideas, like "maybe that red should be blue", but they don't amount to much until they get out into the world, and even then most of them are not worth much and are discarded. The only thing that counts is the art, done, finished, materialized.



November 7, 2007, 7:43 AM

Who determines the work to be conceptual art? The artist, the dealer, the art critic or the viewer? Who cares anyway, if I like it and I've got the cash I'm going to buy it. Look all around you, America is a "conceptual art" painting.



November 7, 2007, 7:44 AM

Well, then, Storto, buy American, and good luck.



November 7, 2007, 7:59 AM

Let's face it opie, American artists have balls. The artists today are exciting, move with the times, or go grow an apple tree.



November 7, 2007, 8:02 AM

As I said above, I'll stick with the apple.



November 7, 2007, 8:07 AM

opie, your not being flexible or open. An apple a day keeps you boring that way.


Chris Rywalt

November 7, 2007, 9:17 AM

I don't know why but I often forget to come by here for a few days. So I'm late to this thread. But I want to say, publicly, Franklin, that this is fantastic in its clarity and conception. You've neatly explicated exactly what I've thought is "wrong" about conceptual art for a long time.

But you're preaching to the choir here. Hell, you're preaching to the other preachers. This is a discussion you need to have with Ed Winkleman, not with us. He's not nearly rigorous enough a debater, honestly, but he's the closest I can think of.



November 7, 2007, 9:39 AM

Sorry, Storto. To a cock on a plate I do not relate.


ekim skram

November 7, 2007, 9:47 AM

Is this a conceptual essay?
Franklin, you seem so defensive in this work. Holding stubbornly to positions you can defend but only hopelessly. I suspect the suicide pact to be made soon. Just kidding better essay, solid.

You are approaching some valuable ground. Defining the quality of art in terms of a linear continuum. (Degrees of Art) Simultaneously, fantastically, you’re interweaving or overlapping of the greater linear relationship of art to philosophy. If I understand you, visual art without concept is at one fuzzy end of the continuum proceeding toward formal art, (through literature and poetry?) and into philosophy ending at the opposite fuzzy end of the continuum, an area of form free conceptualization of thought.

I think it was well stated within this blog, that you have not rid us of conceptual art but repackaged it, you have rid us of the category of conceptual art. I think you have properly re-defined conceptual art within the context we perceive it. But what should we call it? Conceptual visual entertainment or Fuzz?



November 7, 2007, 10:02 AM

In a sense, the idea of "converting" or "elightening" people as to what is not especially difficult to figure out seems a bit extravagant, for lack of a better word. It is only too possible that their "blindness" may be not so much an infirmity as a choice, made for any number of reasons, in which case it would be presumptuous to try to "bring them around."

It is always valid and proper to take a stand and hold one's ground, as well as to refuse or reject any attempted imposition of theory, dogma or fashion from any source, but we have to realize that, sometimes, people deliberately (and more or less knowingly) choose poorly, because it happens to suit them. One is certainly not obliged to support such choices, or to refrain from calling it as one sees it, but if someone will persist in whatever folly (art-wise), I suppose s/he's entitled.

The problem, of course, comes when it's no longer a personal, private issue (which would be nobody else's business), but impinges upon others in an unwelcome manner, so that it is made to become their business whether they like it or not. This obviously affects professional artists very significantly, but it also affects the public, albeit more indirectly. In other words, I don't really care how big of an idiot and/or poseur a given "major" collector may be, but I do care when that person's influence affects the art scene or art climate in a way that I find detrimental--which happens all too often.

So, I think it's not so much a matter of "converting" but of counteracting, exposing, clarifying, and generally not rolling over and playing dead. The last thing the "unconverted" need is to feel any more secure.



November 7, 2007, 10:23 AM




November 7, 2007, 10:26 AM

Sorry opie, go make candy apples.



November 7, 2007, 10:44 AM

I think most of them are just stupid, Jack.

OK, Storto. Enough already.


ekim skram

November 7, 2007, 11:27 AM

Opie, 13,
Sure as things get more complex they become more difficult to evaluate wholly, but as you state, within a purpose more simply. We have a question then. What is the purpose of art?
I have read in your post conflicting positions regarding this. On the one hand you claim art has no purpose, by "definition"(What definition? Please elaborate), and on the other hand you suggest that the purpose of art is in giving pleasure. Your argument is your right. But it is reductive to suggest that because it is art, it is without purpose, and the properties of good or bad art then without criteria. I refer again to the fact, a similarly esoteric community, wine connoisseurs have developed a criteria. I have yet to find a bottle of conceptual wine on any Trader Joes shelves. Criteria, no matter how fluid, is the limiting force.
Your last paragraph states your position well enough. I agree investigating the phenomenon of why we take “art” stuff so seriously will get us closer to what art is “all about”. I believe understanding good or bad art in terms of criteria, as inadequate or futile it may prove to be, will inable better art and more direct communication about it.



November 7, 2007, 12:27 PM

It is important to be precise when discussing these things Ekim. I did not say art had no purpose. I said the following:

"Because in order to be art an entity must be judged without specific purpose. If its properties are judged according to its usefulness for a purpose it is not art, it is something else." That is the definition - by default, I suppose, but a defining condition, at least.

I realize that this may create confusion. Obviously art has a purpose, part of which is giving pleasure through seeing and part of which is something perhaps more "profound" which I cam not capable of articulating but which I believe is the basis for our rather extreme valuation of art. What I mean to say but did not say perhaps precisely enough, is any OTHER purpose but its own.

Wine connoisseurs are able to agree much more than art connousseurs are; I believe this is because of the narrow specialization of the product. But that is not criteria; that is agreement. If you look at it that way, then, except for contemporary art, we agree on art just as thoroughly. It is called the "consensus". The consensus is often used as criteria (Rembrandt much be good because he is in the museums) but fallaciously.



November 7, 2007, 12:57 PM

This has been picked up at Thinking About Art.


ekim skram

November 7, 2007, 1:11 PM

Thanks opie,
I think I was precise.
You did communicate your position that a work of art, that has purpose, is not art it is something else.
Thank you for clarifying that you find this may not be a definition of art but a defining condition of art. I can agree with that. Then you explore the topic further and disagree with yourself by accepting that art does have purpose.
Obviously I misunderstood what you where attempting to communicate. Please clarify further. I am willing and able to understand.
You are dancing a little bit when it comes to wine connoisseurs. Their agreement is first in the criteria of what is wine. That enables the narrow specialization. Wine is not what the Wino say’s it is.


ekim skram

November 7, 2007, 1:49 PM

I think I will entitle this conceptual work as "The Masada" or "Opus Indignatia". You will never get rid of conceptual art as long as you allow me to define it.
Yours, A-conceptual Artist.



November 7, 2007, 2:12 PM

You know, Franklin, you were grousing (legitimately) about not being included in some blog survey or other a while ago.

I think your problem is that this blog is above their heads. They just don't want to deal with it. it isn't cozy enough.

This amounts to a back-handed compliment



November 7, 2007, 2:16 PM

To ekim skram:

I dig the way you say beat it. Thank you.


Chris Rywalt

November 7, 2007, 2:23 PM

It occurs to me, reading Opie's comment, that Franklin should've been included in our Blogger Show. At this point we need to have a second show just to survey the bloggers we left out of the first one.

Which might not be a bad idea.



November 7, 2007, 2:27 PM

I wasn't really grousing, just noting it for the record. I don't seek that kind of acceptance. isn't going to work for a lot of people, nor should it.

As for the blogger show, no sweat - I know how hard it is to get these things together. If you want to include me in a future iteration, I'd be honored to show with you.


Chris Rywalt

November 7, 2007, 3:11 PM

Just for the record, also, I wasn't in charge of the Blogger Show. That was John Morris' baby. I could've recommended you, I suppose, but I probably forgot. I think he asked for recommendations and I probably said something like "Duh..." because my brain went offline for a bit. It does that.

The show was very crowded anyway, so John most likely had to leave out people he'd heard about, never mind anyone else. But since the show I've found a couple of bloggers I'd have liked to see on the wall with me.

And a second show would be cool. If John doesn't organize it -- he's making noises like this'll be his last gasp as a curator -- maybe I'll see if I can get the ball rolling on another one myself. Stephanie Lee Jackson is a good friend and she has experience with this kind of thing. Also, she's a sucker.



November 7, 2007, 3:40 PM

OP, the art establishment doesn't so much want "cozy" as it does mindless (and preferably breathless) playing along, one way or another. It's OK to yank the chain of the organ grinder's monkey a little (after all, some "maverick" posturing is always hip), just don't mess with the actual monkey. As it happens, Artblog is just not simian-friendly.


ekim skram

November 7, 2007, 3:53 PM

48. conceptually that means a lot to me.



November 7, 2007, 4:39 PM

To ekim skram,
Did everyone go bobbing for apples?


ekim skram

November 7, 2007, 4:42 PM

I suppose, or their plates are full.



November 7, 2007, 7:41 PM

I think I understand Franklin's (or his doppleganger opie's)position better now that I read today's post (not the oh look at me I got a free sample of fancy stink water post but the other one) and the Freebies post. Please let me know if I have summarized Franklin's position incorrectly.

Visual art should be primarily visual, not literary. Ideas are fine if they help the visual artist make stuff but once the work of visual art is made its core value depends entirely on what is before the eyes. Wall text, press releases, artist statements, reviews, essays, interviews with the artist, etc., do not matter, except for reasons having nothing to do with the actual works of art.

Visual art that strives to be literary moves further away from being successful visual art (which should be entirely judged by the physical manifestation, the image, the significant form, to coin Clive Bell's famous phrase) because it has more to do with literature, philosophy, political manifestos, etc.

Successful works of visual art should not depend on verbal explanation or text in order to be understood or fully appreciated. Visual art is first and foremost form of some kind or other, a visual event, and as soon as the work of art leaves the realm of unaldulterated visuality it slowly edges towards becoming literature, philosophy, etc.

What I would like to ask Franklin is this: things made by people who call themselves painters say, who unequivocally consider themselves visual artists, painters, mixed media artists, etc., who use text in their work, for example, Picasso and Braque during their analytical cubist period, Edward Ruscha, Lawrence Weiner, Manny Farber, is their use of lettering, handwriting, grammatical structures, make their work weak visual art, based on the fact that they incorporate signs from a language system into their work?


ekim skram

November 7, 2007, 8:02 PM

Eric, Good post.

“Visual art should be primarily visual, not literary. Ideas are fine if they help the visual artist make stuff but once the work of visual art is made its core value depends entirely on what is before the eyes…”
What about art as an engine or venue for disseminating concepts or ideas? What about content? Some dead 20th century muralist said, "Great art must be propaganda". Don’t quote me.
A noble goal of some in the visual arts is to convey content without didactic explanation. Easyer said, than done.



November 7, 2007, 8:30 PM

Eric, the above renders some things I said fairly accurately ("once the work of visual art is made its core value depends entirely on what is before the eyes") and others that don't ("successful works of visual art should not depend on verbal explanation or text in order to be understood or fully appreciated"). I'll address this if I think that the discussion will be met with good faith, which the opening paragraph does not evince. As for the question at the end, the incorporation of text into work has nothing whatsoever to do with the appreciation of art in a literary manner, which was an object of the critique in Freebies.



November 7, 2007, 8:36 PM

Generally speaking there is a supressed (and not so supressed) mean attitude around here and I certainly don't want to get stepped all over. That is why I opened 56 up with a humorous remark. No offense intended. I am too fucking middle aged and tired right now to act like a turd over a discussion about art.

If this is not correct:

"successful works of visual art should not depend on verbal explanation or text in order to be understood or fully appreciated"

than what would you consider a proper way of speaking about or writing about visual art (ones own or somebody elses) without relying on literary techniques or ideas to prop the work up or without transforming the whole shebang into something literary and not image or visually oriented?



November 7, 2007, 8:42 PM

"the incorporation of text into work has nothing whatsoever to do with the appreciation of art in a literary manner, which was an object of the critique in Freebies."

Are you saying then that words, grammatically structured groupings or words, and fragments of words or phrases, can be appreciated in a purely visual sense just like any other form?



November 7, 2007, 8:49 PM

59 is sloppy. Please ignore it unless you think otherwise. Also, sorry if the opening of 56 was offensive. Please respond to 60 if you have the time. Bye bye until the morning. I will continue to read your blog (seeing your art might require too long of a car trip for me) because you write well and you are smart.


ekim skram

November 7, 2007, 8:54 PM

Franklin, I think you have him buffaloed.



November 7, 2007, 8:57 PM

than what would you consider a proper way of speaking about or writing about visual art (ones own or somebody elses) without relying on literary techniques or ideas to prop the work up or without transforming the whole shebang into something literary and not image or visually oriented?

That isn't the problem with the quoted line. The problem is that appreciation and understanding are not the same thing. Understanding may very well require some kind of verbal activity. Appreciation may or may not depending on the kind of appreciation.

But to answer your question, writing about art will require ideas. What it doesn't require is making art satisfy literary values. It may be interesting to interpret the symbols or narrative in a work of art. It is fallacious to think that the symbols and narratives are the quality.

Are you saying then that words, grammatically structured groupings or words, and fragments of words or phrases, can be appreciated in a purely visual sense just like any other form?

Sure. We call it typography.

While I was writing this I saw #61 come in. Thank you, and no problem.



November 7, 2007, 9:08 PM

Franklin,63. Wow.



November 7, 2007, 9:16 PM

Eric, letters and words and messages are OK it the work is visually OK. It is all just part of the whole. Picasso and Braque played all kinds of word games in the Cubist period. These are fun and delightful and rest on great art.

This has nothing to do with work that is visually and artistically weak and entirely dependent on illustrating some vague, hackneyed idea. In fact it is an insult to philosophy and literature to call most of that stuff "literary" and "philosophical". It is mostly just stupid.



November 7, 2007, 9:31 PM

An artist should be free from using letters, words and messages without fearing that it is going to be "just stupid".
Some of our American artists use text quite effectively. And so do graffiti artists. Freedom of speech in an artists work should never be looked upon as anything less than what comes out of your mouth.



November 8, 2007, 5:29 AM

Artists are free to do what they want, Storto. If it comes out stupid it's because they are no good as artists and for no other reason.



November 8, 2007, 5:52 AM

Who determines an artist to be good? Money? Mary Boone? Gagosian? You? And who decides if an artists work is conceptual or otherwise?



November 8, 2007, 6:19 AM

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 (is that better opie?) and which parts are concerned solely with visual form or significant form? Obviously some art is easy to figure out, a light clicking on and off in a room every few minutes, a pile of cigarette butts and trash left in a corner. These alleged works of visual art are thin gruel indeed visually speaking. But if you are going to set up a sliding scale like you suggest,

"Individual instances of art lie somewhere on a continuum between objects that exist for the sake of form and objects that exist for the sake of an idea."

it might be difficult to get a general consensus among those people who give a shit simply because sliding scales are slippery. It might be very difficult to make pronouncements about paintings in this day and age where one is never sure how much irony, self consciousness, or genuine love of the medium is involved in the making process. opie points out how it is really a simply thing, you look at the work and you know if it is good or not. This is perfectly fine. Who wouldn't agree that siginificant form is significant because you are struck with it right away or hours or days later, based entirely on the experience of seeing, but 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?

Also, i didn't just mean typography because plenty of visual artists incorporate words into their works because of the ideas they convey, no only because of the way they look as abstract forms.



November 8, 2007, 6:47 AM

Franklin, opie, et. al.

I realize that I have plunged into a sticky wicket at this point. If you feel like there is nothing left but reiterations of previous points to share with me at this point please don't bother to comment. Thank you for letting me be a part of this fun investigation into terminology and ideas.


ekim skram

November 8, 2007, 7:37 AM

A sticky wicket? Stop that.
Eric, you go girl. But don't throw out the baby with the bath water. I don't think the scale is sliding. The idea here is to identify good or bad visual art within a greater continuum of art. Franklin is attempting to develop a system that some of the more frightened among us knuckle draggers could use to rate a work of art. "Degrees of art" you know more art or less art. Is his system inspired of God? Yes I did have something to do with it, but it is his first try, and we have not concluded that it should be set in stone.
Franklin is picking on conceptual art because it is so ripe to be picked on. The bottom line is his essay is an excellent impetus for the dialogue that we all want to have. "Why the hell is that or this art". And I mean good, bad, better, because of this or that. Consensus is impossible the larger the area of focus. NO Doubt. But if we don't make such efforts we cannot have a broader dialogue about art and we will be left with reading another’s opinion and moving on. Boring.
The best thing we could do is recognize the circular arguments and call them out, then move on to description of what we understand or do not understand and just as important, what revelation or better understanding is brought about by some essay or post. Let us make this a communication. A sticky wicket indeed, but that is ok as long as we can take it. Can we take it? I can.

If you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never create something original. If you never risk, you will never come up with something innovative. If you never shed your fear you never feed your potential artist.



November 8, 2007, 7:45 AM

There is little gained asking "who", Eric. The "who" is each of us. Art is there for us and it is up to us to get it or not or leave alone. Eventually a consensus evolves, but it is not proof of anything. Evidence, but not proof. It is really just a convenience.

Ekim, Franklin is not trying to develop a system to use to rate art. He is reflecting on characteristics of art he has already rated.



November 8, 2007, 7:46 AM

The conceptual folks have toyed, at times, with the idea of "bad art", often with a sense of humor. Now that "issue" has been extended into an "examination" of the "variety of subjective judgments" that lead to the label "bad", a seemingly serious endeavor. To get in, you must pass a jury that will not just look at the "badness" of your work, but also your written statement of its "intentions" and how it went bad. The statements are to exhibited right alongside the winning entries, consistent with Franklin's observations about the dominance of literature over art. Here is the announcement:

Call for Bad Artworks:

Artists are invited to submit their rejected works --those that would other wise be burned or stored in the moldy dark of a closet, never to be seen -- and a statement detailing the original intentions of the work and the nature of its "bad-ness" and what went wrong. The Bad Show hopes to examine the variety of subjective judgments that deem a work "bad."

These works and their stories will be exhibited in downtown Grand Rapids at 333 S. Division (the Avenue for the Arts) in what used to be the Heartside Grocery Store, in conjunction with an Art Hop event: "Urban Lights" December 7th.

Please e-mail images and a draft of your statement for consideration by November 16th.
Artists will be notified of our selection by November 19th.
Selected works must be received by November 26th.
Arrangements for art pickup can be made.

Please note: only works submitted by their original creator will be considered.

Email your entry for this ground breaking show to if you are really interested. If you get in, it will add a certain conceptual luster to your resume and perhaps launch your name into the consciousness of the art scene in Grand Rapids.


ekim skram

November 8, 2007, 8:52 AM

Opie, thank you for responding for franklin, to quote a bloggertista, “you must be precise…yada bla, yada, bla. So in hopes of being precise. You are incorrect. Again I must refer to the quote “you must be precise…yada bla, yada bla,” The point of the essay is not to re-rate the piece it is an attempt to describe why he has rated it so. A justification of sorts. I get that. But you may have missed it, the justification, the continuum, that supporting system of his assertion “Things that don’t have any form are not art”.

Catfish, excellent. Are we to give a didactic explanation of why it is bad, is that what you would want?



November 8, 2007, 8:56 AM

It is not my show ekim. My guess is the more arty the explanation, the more likely the chance of being accepted. How good or bad the work is may not make much difference.


ekim skram

November 8, 2007, 9:12 AM

catfish, no worries, TA



November 8, 2007, 9:21 AM

The point of the essay is not to re-rate the piece it is an attempt to describe why he has rated it so.

This is exactly wrong. Twice above I made observations and noted that they were not value judgments. According to the scale above, a work could have more art in it than another work but the latter work may still be better as art. Good and bad is an entirely separate mechanism than what I'm describing above.

As for who decides, which keeps getting asked, I think that would make for a fine next post.


ekim skram

November 8, 2007, 9:27 AM

franklin, thank you for answering for Opie.
If you say I am wrong then I am wrong. Its ok.
The first paragraph was really something. I don't know what but it was something. Possibly one of those "idea spermazoa" mentioned in the previous blog.


ekim skram

November 8, 2007, 9:32 AM

franklin, it occurred to me that this blog may just be a transparent, didactic for your work. You know a literary justification. Is there some truth in that? Huh, what do you think?



November 8, 2007, 10:20 AM

Who decides? Is that a trick question? I certainly don't have any such issue, nor do I need the matter "discussed," but by all means knock yourselves out.


ekim skram

November 8, 2007, 10:49 AM

The viewer has the final say.
Who cares.
Why is the question. How is only an exercise in understanding Why.


ekim skram

November 8, 2007, 6:19 PM

Jack, it seems we already know who, who is. But that hasn’t stopped an overstatement and the perpetual reiteration.



November 9, 2007, 3:47 AM

I'm late to the party it looks like so I'll neglect to respond to all the interesting comments, but wanted to say I think this article pretty right on as far charting the spectrum between the "more formal" & "more conceptual". The chart strikes me as a 'Greater Elements of Art' or something along those lines very worthy of use as a yardstick, as it helps to gauge when a piece gets too far from the center and falls off the edge of the art map. [We can look over the right edge of conceptualization at the vast piles of failed work with some satisfaction I think.]

Where this leaves me unsatisfied is that the subject of transcendence and meaning is not addressed. Thinking about concepts, and sensing forms, is not what constitutes the experience of art for me anyhow. Like the form of paint/sculpture/music itself is a means to sensation, so sensation is a mean to a deeper emotional and intuitive level [being 'touched']. Like speech/writing only a first step to thinking about idea, 'thinking about' is only a first step to understanding. Like how [generally imo] Design is not really Art and Politics is not really Philosophy, despite having form and being thought provoking, why? Meaning, level of meaning... Or as an allegory I can point to the start of this post, speaking of neurological process vs speaking of Existence... What I'm trying to gesture at is there is a level of experience that transcends what's been discussed here imho, and any definition I'd assert rgd what is and is not art [or at lest high art] would revolve around exactly transcendence value. I know your not trying to make actually value judgments as to good/bad, maybe that is why you've left out this dimension of meaning level

In my experience the deathblow to most conceptual work can be struck by pointing out that it's shallow. Not that it's art-less, but that it's pointless.


ekim skram

November 9, 2007, 8:05 AM

Wroth, Good post and true. The power of a work of art is in how well it engages an individual and more powerful still is work that engages populations. Transcendence may be the wrong term for some but I agree, wholly.



November 9, 2007, 10:40 AM

You need to define your terms better, Wroth.



November 9, 2007, 11:43 AM


Yes it's a vague and loaded term I suppose sorry. By 'transcendent' I mean work that addresses preeminent subject matter in human existence and can bring the full impact of that subject onto it's viewers. I'll take cover for my choice of term behind the fact that; if what that preeminent subject was could be easily put into words for me to explain, we would not need the masterpieces of visual art that have profoundly touched people over generations... To my personal taste, pieces that address what I perceive as petty subjects stand in low relation to work that attempts important meaning, and this indented meaning factors heavily into what I would personally think of as art that matters compared to art that does not, [essential, what i consider art, and what i don't]

So, [regardless of taste], the thrust of my comment was that it is worth entertaining the idea of adding another dimension to this issue. This article seems to be about how the balance of approaches between concept-giving and form-giving impact if a work should be considered art or something else. If we are going to say, "this thing is too light on form to be art", we only go part way, because we define 'art' by it's form alone. Which I don't feel is sufficient alone. Meaning of the work should have some consideration, and we should have a scale for what is 'artistic' [rgd aims] as well as for what is art [rgd result] because it is hard to come to a meaningful appraisal without thinking of both imho.


ekim skram

November 9, 2007, 1:07 PM

wroth done wrought a truth. Excellent.



November 9, 2007, 1:09 PM

Wroth, the essay only attempted to describe one axis. Obviously an accounting for every aspect of art is going to take some doing, and this may form a part of it, but is not a complete treatment.



November 9, 2007, 1:19 PM

"work that addresses preeminent subject matter in human existence and can bring the full impact of that subject onto it's viewers."

Maybe you can give an example of "preeminent subject matter" or a comparison of some kind, Wroth. Art has all kinds of subject matter, but the subject matter doesn't affect whether something is good or bad art, as far as I can tell.

We have often used the example of the crucifixion here: lots of examples, same subject matter, some good, some not.


ekim skram

November 9, 2007, 1:19 PM

Good job F. you get it. It describes something greater than its parts. It was a beginning.


ekim skram

November 9, 2007, 1:30 PM

Opie, mans interconnectedness, the mystery of our being, that which makes us interested in "this art stuff" (miss quote of opie). For those pin heads who need someone recognized as a "important figure" the following quote may help.
As Tolstoy wrote in his collected essays concerning "What is Art?
"If a man is infected by the author's condition of soul, if he feels this emotion and this union with others, then the object which has effected this is art; but if there be no such infection, if there be not this union with the author and with others who are moved by the same work - then it is not art. And not only is infection a sure sign of art, but the degree of infectiousness is also the sole measure of excellence in art.



November 9, 2007, 1:41 PM

Thank you. I am just thinking out loud here and am glad to see no one has tried to eviscerate me yet

I did not mean say I expect a fully systematic multi-volume treatise on the issue, just that I felt if you had made some reference scales which define the space we are plotting positions in, I think it would go a long way to help support the idea you put forward in this essay. Which is a strengthening in general I'd like to see, and why I spoke up


ekim skram

November 9, 2007, 1:53 PM

NO NO F. you don't need to apologize. Suddenly my 14 year old son's favorite TV show, South Park, comes to my mind.
A polo gize. if you don't get this reference you are missin out.



November 9, 2007, 2:05 PM

Well I should not have to explain what preeminent subject matter is that is a matter of how you live your life. What is the most important subject in your life, what matters most to you as a human; there you have your personal preeminent subject matter. Works that do not address this are, imo, if art at all, then low art. Though as we all have different ideas of what is most important it is hard in the objective sense to say 'so and so' is not art, unless we can be reasonable sure that no one holds that subject as all mighty. I don't have any interest in being the objective adjudicator of artfulness so a subjective position based on my own taste is fine by me... If we where going to factor in 'meaning' based judgments as I suggested we would of course seek to establish a scale in this objective sense, which is one hell of a task naturally

There is also the concept of a universally high subject matter as ekim more or less pointed out, and this as I said before I don't care to give a fair definition of. This is not philosophy class, and this issue was not the real issue I was after. But if quoting is enough I'll point to what Ansel Adams wrote, "Millions of men have lived to fight, build palaces and boundaries, shape destinies and societies; but the compelling force of all times has been the force of originality and creation profoundly affecting the roots of human spirit." it is this profoundly affecting that is the sign of the preeminent subject matter 'hitting home'

As for examples of what are not important to me; Art about politics, much in vogue of course, or art about say the effects of multinational corporations seizure of power, and other worldly matters are generally amusing and I enjoy them like a kid enjoy comic books, but they are not of enough importance in relation to other subjects for me to see them as art. Interpersonal human relationships on the level of spirit, and personal relationships of individuals to the level of spiritual existence, to name a couple thinks i feel worth talking about..

Seems I was a slowpoke writing i did not see opie's post till just now, and likely slow as i am there will be more posted as i write this. but oh well. I just make art I'm not in the habit of writing about it



November 9, 2007, 4:21 PM

Sorry, Wroth. I still don't get it. Can you just giveme one clear specific example of "preeminent subject matter"?



November 9, 2007, 5:39 PM

Speaking of cartoons is your handle a Family Guy reference?

Anyhow, I repeat that defining the subjective characteristics I use to judge the merits of a work's meaning was not the issue I am after, but whatever Frank got my main point I think. A combination of dictionary definitions for 'preeminent' 'subject-matter' might look like; "that which is made the object of thought or study" and is "superior to or notable above all others". That would seem enough to me.

Generally the central matters considered in philosophy and religion are subjects of importance that supersede general day to day issues, though I consider only the core issues of these important and the conclusions or schema arising from the consideration of the core to not be at the same level... As a concrete example, everyone is going to die at some point and the impact of this event on the individual is a matter of some concern for most people. Depending on your philosophic and cultural and personal inclinations, death itself may not be the most important issue in your awareness [if you believe in an afterlife that would supersede, if your culture valued honor above death duty would supersede, if you are in a state of denial you might not think of death much and distractions would supersede]. But in comparison to say, the political/economic system you live under or the state of the art industry, your death is generally of preeminent importance.

Now that, is the definition you can put into words. "art work that successfully addresses the subject of death" is by no means sufficient to describe the impact such work can have. [ sticking with Adams, ] Words can't replace art sometimes, or most times, or 'any-times' when form is masterfully leveraged to touch the transcendent matters of human life... “Stieglitz taught me what became my first commandment: Art is the affirmation of life” - Adams



November 10, 2007, 5:41 AM

I'm sorry, wroth. I still don't see any example of "preeminent subkect matter".

Subject matter is what is depicted. Does this mean, according to what I gather from your comment, that, for example, a depiction of death would be "preeminent subject matter"?

Also not sure what you mean by "Family Guy reference"
"Opie" used to be "Old pro", which was taken to be presumptuous by some, so I changed it to the sound of the initials OP, which also means "grandpa" in some cultures.


ekim skram

November 10, 2007, 7:32 AM

wroth, "ekim...more or less". Sometimes less is sufficient. Especially when attempting to get opie to recognize your sufficient explanation of "the near unexplainable".
opis, why do you insist on a definitive example of such an obviously esoteric concept? Yet you deny the definition of art can exist, or at least be attempted, because it is subjective? You are O P.



November 10, 2007, 7:41 AM

Ekim if you have it figured out, you explain it.

I never said art could not be defined.

Try to be more careful with your statements. Correcting what people say is a waste of time.


ekim skram

November 10, 2007, 7:51 AM

I suppose you need me to refer back to your numerous posts to help me point out to you that you have often made this assertion. Indirectly, possibly, but it was no stretch to get to the conclusion. If I am wrong. Then it can be assumed by your defense that you do think art can be defined? In the hopes of advancing the conversation, what criteria do you use to define it?



November 10, 2007, 8:03 AM

Don't bother with "numerous posts". Ekim. Go back to any post where I said art could not be defined. Just one. OK? And then have the good grace to say you will be more careful from now on.

Here's a definition: Art is anything that is presented as art. Or just go to any dictionary.

etc etc



November 10, 2007, 8:09 AM

I see no need for Opie to defend himself against distortions of what he wrote by people who insist on understanding neither him nor themselves.

Wroth, heavy subject matter doesn't supply more meaning or importance than light subject matter. That's not how profoundity works in art. One of the finest paintings in Chinese art is a still life of six persimmons, yet it packs a wallop.


ekim skram

November 10, 2007, 8:53 AM

I have exhausted any attempt at bringing this blog out of the spiral it seems to enjoy. Your argument is invalid and specus. Answer the question. Either of you.



November 10, 2007, 8:58 AM

The only spiral here is the one created by your own misreadings and carelessness, ekim. Which question of the four in your last two posts do want answered?



November 10, 2007, 9:06 AM

Trying ro have a discussion with you is a frustrating waste of time, Ekim. Either get it totgether or get off. And look up "specus" while you are at it.


ekim skram

November 10, 2007, 9:48 AM

F. nice try. You choose.
OP. look up the meaning of "ro" while you are at it.
I will never leave. NEVER.



November 10, 2007, 9:56 AM

Yes, "ro" and "totgether". I make a lot of typos. But "specus" looks like you don't have any idea how to spell the word, or know what it means.

If you are not going to leave, then be more cautious and precise. Otherwise there is little point trying to discuss anything with you


ekim skram

November 10, 2007, 10:22 AM

Right. I am not going to leeef and I refuuss to be pre cyese
I have not a dea wat it meanys



November 10, 2007, 2:14 PM

I will side step the personality conflicts that are occurring above, if you'll all permit me.

I don't mean "subject matter" in the sense of "Subject" the literal quality of an art work meaning what is depicted, I meant 'subject matter' as it's used in common speech and how you will find it defined in most dictionaries which is as a quoted in my last comment. I guess all things considered I should have assumed it would be taken in the aesthetic form when used at this location, but I did not. My own fault I suppose, though having to point out when I'm using a term in the common sense instead of the esoteric sense is not a habit.

As for my "Family Guy reference" inquiry see; , the inquiry was not meant as a backhanded insult btw just a joke in good humor

Regarding the validity of my personal judgments, not really an issue as anyone is welcome to disagree with me, I was not trying to push it, and don't feel obliged to fully explain or even defend it to anyone but myself.... Was trying to push the concept that some scale of meaning should be considered or, since I'm sure you consider it, should be referenced. I recall reading a book called Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud when I was a young man [well, was a yet younger man] a book which might be known to you [you seem like the kind to have read it], it contained a triangular graph to plot the style of a work between raw conceptualness† and two types of formal styles, I thought some device along these lines would be helpful to get your point across but clearly you'll need more then a horizontal scale. Which was why I suggest meaning be considered as a third point in defining if a piece falls into an 'Art space' triangle or outside it.

I'll also mention, if you are referring to the work of Mu Ch'i or any Zen artists for that matter, a depiction of fruit may actually be [and likely is] about the gravest matters imaginable and is actually dead inline with what I was talking about rgd 'the preeminent'. You probably realize this and where just thrown by my casual use of "subject matter" instead of 'content' / 'meaning' or whatever the safe word is to refer to what a image is about not what's in it.

† I realize this is not a word, btw



November 10, 2007, 2:28 PM

I don't watch network TV, Wroth, so I didn't know the reference.

I think I was using "subject matter" in the everyday sense, and certainly in the common sense when applied to art, not at all in any esoteric or esthetic way.

Subject matter is the substance of a thing, as distinguished from its form or style. With all due respect, it seems that you are the one using it in some esoteric way, inasmuch as it remains completely vague, at least to me.

Once again, an example would help.



November 10, 2007, 2:35 PM

I gather from reading the part you addressed to Franklin that you are, in some inchoate manner, trying to make a case for the "deepness" or seriousness or grandness of good art rather than anything to do with subject matter as such.

I can sympathise with this impulse, but in order to get at it in words youi may have to lose the concept of art being "all about" something. That is translation, not understanding or appreciation; it diminishes the importance of art rather than the other way around. Art does not conform to meaning, it goes beyond it.



November 10, 2007, 4:04 PM

McCloud's three poles were realism, abstraction, and narrative. I thought to try to do something similar between art, literature, and philosophy, but one paragraph into it, I knew I was up a creek.

I'll also mention, if you are referring to the work of Mu Ch'i or any Zen artists for that matter, a depiction of fruit may actually be [and likely is] about the gravest matters imaginable and is actually dead inline with what I was talking about rgd 'the preeminent'.

Well, yes and no. I sympathize with this quite a lot, but I think the persimmons are just persimmons and the profundity is all Mu Ch'i's feeling for them. How profoundity enters the work is not something I'm ready to talk about (frankly, I have no idea how it happens) but I'm sure it has nothing to do with subject matter and everything with feeling towards the subject matter. Just off the bat, I'd guess that a complete understanding of and sensitivity towards materials and craft somehow intersects with human feeling, causing tiny but important nuances to come out in the rendering.



November 10, 2007, 4:29 PM

You just said, "Subject matter is what is depicted" which is a use of the phrase particular to speaking of literal quality it seems to me, and now say "Subject matter is the substance of a thing" which seems more like Content or what have you and was more or less how I was using the phrase. What is depicted in a work may not be the same as what the substance of the work is, unless you have some definition of "depicted" in mind that expands past representations to the real meaning, where as generally depict just means describe and is far from sufficient to the way meaning is conveyed in artwork... To use Frank's example myself, what is depicted [directly represented/shown] in Six Persimmons is six persimmons, but [while I'm no expert on the piece and only seen it a couple times] the substance of the thing is more or less the transition of the consciousness towards purity. Though linked I would not consider the thing drawn and the meaning of the work to be 'the same' in this case, [despite some Buddhist schools of thought regarding the interconnection of all material as already enlightened which might serve as grounds to argue the persimmons literally exactly the same as of enlightenment]

The sense that I used 'subject matter' in is backed up as main stream by such definitions the following and I expect by any paper dictionary you care to consult,

Whatever the proper sense of the word I'm sorry of course that I have not been more clear and have held up the discussion as a result. What do you use a as word to define what a work is about separate from what it literally represents or it's context? [Or do you hold the belief that no such separation can occur [if so it's likely the root of us talking past each other]]

Subject matter is what is depicted. Does this mean, according to what I gather from your comment, that, for example, a depiction of death would be "preeminent subject matter"?

No, death would have to be the 'substance' of the work as you put it, what it's about, not what is formally illustrated. Could show kittens as long as it was about death, or 'meant about death' to phrase it badly .

An example of the preeminent you are still looking for? Well I expect you will find it in the Persimmons easily enough. Which would be another example of 'form [] masterfully leveraged to touch the transcendent matters of human life', that is not about fruit just as the Adams was not about the location he shot, what it is about is the most important matters facing all members of humanity. In one case Death, in the other case spirituality and the nature of consciousness. If you don't like the term 'about', then think of 'about' as 'what it touches'... Compare to low art, such as Family Guy and South Park or network TV in general, advertisements, Nascar, etc, and it might be clear why I am happy to define low art and most design as not Art based on trivialness of intent regardless of form. Though if you understand or not, or agree or not, is really none of my concern [regarding taste, I'm happy to risk 'wrong taste' and wrong categorizations. defining bad art as 'not art' is imho a matter of course, though the general practice is to accept pretty much any crap as art no matter how ugly or pointless, which might be more PC, but not of interest to me and it seems like this is catching on. we can argue over if a signed toilet in a gallery is art, but i hold that one still on the wall is surely not and therefore form alone ≠ art...]

"I can sympathise with this impulse, but in order to get at it in words you..."

Getting at it in verbal terms is not particularly appealing to me in the first place which is why I lack the vocabulary required to coherently do so. If it was at all possible to verbal the experiences art gives us with out inherently mistranslating and cheapening those experiences we likely would not have, not need, art itself. Making a case was not my goal, only raising the issue so ya' all could work it out, I did not indent to advocate anything and have been at pains to mention I'm indifferent to making the case. Since talking about art, and what art is, and degrees of art etc require verbal translation of 'un-verblizeable' you could forgive some inaccuracy on my part. As far as not talking about meaning, i can't convince of a tactful way to discuss what the experience of art is without taking it down to at lest the level of what it means to us but point me to some text on that approach and I'll check it out.

See color space schemas I have a hunch something along those lines might provide a model more suitable to your uses then McCloud's model. And yah, no one said defining a space would be easy

Rgd the matter of persimmons and profundity, as shown it is hard to discus without clearer meanings of words established, [how about posting a blog entry of a glossary exploring these problematic collections of letters], but I would accept my position is working theory. The case for a better theory has not been presented as yet


ekim skram

November 10, 2007, 5:41 PM

"If it was at all possible to verbalize the experiences art gives us with out inherently mistranslating and cheapening those experiences we likely would not have, not need, art itself."

Great job. I am sorry you had to go to such trouble to say this. Less should be sufficient. Especially since none should be trying to change minds hear. Simple offerings from personal perspectives. Hopefully relevant and inspiring further offerings.

"Since talking about art, and what art is, and degrees of art etc require verbal translation of 'un-verblizeable' you could forgive some inaccuracy on my part."

You certainly put it well. It may be difficult for some to forgive inaccuracy in cases were they do not wish to hear what you are saying.

We are in the same book. I don't know if it is the same page or not. I thought that was part of what F. was describing. A system.
I found Ayn Rand’s "What Art Is" to be interesting, problematic in terms you would understand but the book is a valiant effort. Also Tolstoy's Essay's on "What is Art". I found them fascinating and relevant to my work.



November 10, 2007, 7:34 PM

ekim skram, dude. I might observe that your input here consistently demonstrates how very excited you are to broadcast your bonnet-bee buzzing, but then I'd be guilty of ascribing motivations and impugning your ability to type anything worth reading. Your comments are rife with that same sort of innuendo regarding regular Artblog commentors. I'm not this blog's moderator, but if I may, enough already!



November 10, 2007, 7:35 PM

Wroth, there are certainly things about art that cannot be put into words. This has been discussed here on recent blogs, long and hard.

But when we are discussing art the discussion itself has to be precise and clear as far as it goes. This is particularly difficult when discussing art and that is all the more reason we have to be so careful. All I am asking is that the DISCUSSION be verbally clear and explicit.

3 of the 4 references you provide give exactly the same definition for subject matter I used above; the fourth is not different substantially but seems limited and incomplete. They are:

Bartleby: Matter under consideration in a written work or speech; a theme.

Merriam-Webster:matter presented for consideration in discussion, thought, or study matter or thought presented for consideration in some statement or discussion; that which is made the object of thought or study.

online dictionary: what a communication that is about something is about

What are you trying to do here? This seems a little disingenuous, if you don't mind me saying so.

You keep talking about "real meaning", "the way meaning is conveyed in artwork", "what a work is about", "the level of what it means to us" (see recent blog discussion about "levels").

Then you say, (correctly, in my opinion) "If it was at all possible to verbalize the experiences art gives us with out inherently mistranslating and cheapening those experiences we likely would not have, not need, art itself".

This is confusing. You are asking "what is art about" and what is the "meaning" and then you turn right around and say if we could do that we wouldn't need art. And then, just to comppound the contradiction, you come up with "the transcendent matters of human life", "spirituality", "the nature of consciousness" - grandiloquent terms which get us nowhere.

As I said, all I am looking for is clear, mutually understood terminology in the discussion. Let's just go with dictionary definitions and leave the stuff that cannot be put into words unverbalized.

The subject matter of the persimmons is persimmons. The significance or substance or whatever the work has for us is something else, something I have been trying to verbalize for years without success.

It is interesting to discuss this problem, but if we are unclear about terms we will get nowhere.



November 10, 2007, 8:44 PM

opie sez: "if we are unclear about terms we will get nowhere."

I'm afraid we will get nowhere, no matter what words we use. I am almost to the point of deleting the messages from the blog from my mailbox without looking at them.

What is needed is art that blows away the grip the wordsmiths have on "art". That's the only kind of clarity that seems like it could work. But it doesn't work either, as far as I can tell.



November 10, 2007, 9:53 PM

C'mon, Catfish. Chipping away at the mysteries with observation and common sense doesn't stop the art from happening. They are different kinds of mental activity, done at different times under different circumstances in different ways. Apples & Oranges.



November 11, 2007, 3:37 AM

We are atm discussing the discussion of art and are far removed from anything productive. If you would like to avoid the fuzziness of terms that comes with talking about actual experience / meaning / relevance etc, and would rather "go with dictionary definitions and leave the stuff that cannot be put into words [unsaid]", then we might as well say;

art: 1. the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance. []

And close down the blog. Not trying to be cute, but the more precise you demand your terms the less descriptive they actually become in regard to experience. "As I said, all I am looking for is clear, mutually understood terminology in the discussion.", and if you had that, that is all you would have. The 'grandiloquent' terms as you call them, seemed perfectly suitable to me to gesture towards my meaning, which is the only way what I mean can be addressed. [a motive using 'transcendent' for example is the sense it can also be used as "referred to, but beyond, direct apprehension; outside consciousness."]. In an issue of general debate it is important to have clear terms and fight over definitions, where all definitions are insufficient it is important to be flexible imho

I don't agree that you found a contradiction in me asking "what is meaning" and then saying "we can not talk about meaning and have it mean much". We can think about and reflect on meaning without talking about it, in fact, it is by thinking about a subject not by talking about it that we arrive at any sort of productive result. And the sloppy exchanges of ideas in verbalizations are nothing more then that, inherently imperfect expressions of thoughts. [Thoughts which are imperfect condensations of experience in this case]. So I can hold the opinion that words are insufficient, but discussion is still relevant as a starting point. The alternative view is that talking about these subjects is actually insufficient to the point of pointlessness, which is starting to look attractive.

In general language is insufficient to communicate profound experiences such as those we get from art, focusing on the terminology in what is spoken in a strict sense instead of focusing on the point of what is spoken makes language even less-sufficient. The point of talking is communication not adherence to conventions of word usage. Just as clear terms are essential to communication whenever they are possible, when clear terms are not actually possible it is essential to move past them for communication to occur.

The subject matter of the persimmons is persimmons. The significance or substance or whatever the work has for us is something else, something I have been trying to verbalize for years without success.

I would consider the significance or substance is more or less imo "that which is made the object of thought or study" ultimately is in that work hence my use of the term subject-matter, when I study that work the persimmons are just a means as form and symbol to get to the real 'object' of consideration which is the meaning of the work [Subject < subject-matter]. [I would actually say that the substance, or the real profundity, lays a level above consciousness thought so considering what the work is about is only a path to that]... though I can see how you might feel subject-matter should only refer to the first level [Subject = subject-matter] it's not a view I hold, though am willing and in fact eager to admit 'subject-matter' is an insufficient term for the 'substance' or even the 'meaning'.

What is needed is art that blows away the grip the wordsmiths have on "art". That's the only kind of clarity that seems like it could work.

Well pointed out, imho



November 11, 2007, 6:38 AM

Wroth, you say that using clear, mutually understood terminology is a barrier to experience and communication, and that making the effort to be clear and understood would be tantamount to shutting down the blog. This is so self-evidently wrong it really precludes any basis for discussion.

As an example, you want to apply "trancendent" to art, when "transcentdent" means "outside of consciousness"? Then art is outside of consciousness, right? You state this again later. This is just nonsense on the face of it, and it is what happens when we do not value clarity.

Of course the persimmons are a vehicle for something in experience greater than the simple representation of persimmons. Talking about it in clear terms does not (and perhaps cannot) specify in words what this something is, but talking about it inexactly is altogether useless and amounts to limited communication of any kind. It is this kind of "flexible" attitude which permits the verbal miasma that is art writing today.


ekim skram

November 11, 2007, 7:51 AM

ahab, I felt my comment was sedate. I did not attack or disparage anyone. I only praised wroths attempt to speak the in the predominant language of the blog. You may infer here. You can't help yourself I am sure

cat, good it is about better art making. I think some here may want to advance the notion that philosophy and literature are superior to visual art specifically in terms of communication and generally as a noble effort.

wroth, again good, this time I will give you a great. I don't know why opie would continue to field this, except he thinks the position you take is invalid more so than he thinks you are not precise enough.

This blog brings the tower of babble to mind. Relax and let it be an impetus for conversation not the boundary of the conversation.


ekim skram, denture wearer

November 11, 2007, 8:24 AM

Franklin. You have done a fine job of building this bus. You were kind enough to drive it here. In addition you respectfully, dutifully have picked up any passenger who wishes to use this bus. Thank you.
As a bus rider I would like to comment. I have picked this bus because of the route "Art". Now although I am not driving directly, I am choosing my personal destination. Some other riders may occasionally choose the same destination because of coincidence or interest in the selected destination. Other riders yet my not wish to disembark in the type of neighborhood I have selected. But as long as we are on this bus together, on the same route, you will be taken to my destination regardless, whether you get off or not is your call.
Sure I may be on the wrong bus. This bus may be to short or to long for me. But I understand that this bus has a route and it can go anywhere in that route and no one controls that but the individual passenger. Thanks franklin. Do I smell fumes?

[Some people understand nothing except displays of force. Let's be clear: This bus takes any shape I command. If we go somewhere I don't like, I snap my fingers and the route straightens, as if we never detoured. The fumes you smell are your own. Thank you for riding. - F.]


Bruce McCulloch

November 11, 2007, 8:43 AM

"I just want to say, that people should be, um, more responsible when they're taking public transportation, because, first of all, if they're going to mutter to themselves, that's one thing which I don't like, and I don't like that at all, when people just, they're alone and they mutter, but if they're going mutter to themselves, they should not be allowed, uh, to mutter bullshit, because, then children hear it, and, all of a sudden, they think dogs are cats. It's really hard to figure stuff out, so if you see a ranting guy, and he's only got, like, one shoe on, and he says he did all his acid in grade eight, and he's on acid, then, um, I don't know, maybe, maybe uh, you'll turn gay... because uh, uh...

... somethin' happened to me."



November 11, 2007, 8:50 AM

It's the fumes, Bruce...



November 11, 2007, 9:17 AM

I gotcha Bruce MCCulloch.

A student brought a persimmon as painting subject last week, and I mistook it for a tomato, which screwed with my appreciation for it as subject matter, but mattered not a whit to my apprehension of his painting.



November 11, 2007, 7:20 PM

opie (#118): True that "chipping away" (or generating a tsunami sized wall of words) doesn't prevent art - but it doesn't appear to help art any either. Nor does this particular wall of words apear to be getting anywhere, qua words. But, if you folks enjoy it ...

ekim (#121): I don't think any of the "regulars" want to "advance the notion that philosophy and literature are superior to visual art". That does not deny that some of them write a lot of comments.



November 11, 2007, 9:44 PM

Probably not, Catfish. But...who knows?





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