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Post #1105 • December 31, 2007, 8:50 AM • 60 Comments

Let's say, hypothetically, that I was an aspiring artist with my sights on acclaim in the New York art world. Let's say also that I possessed, well, we'll call it the pliability to adjust the kind of work I'm doing and the persona attached to it (knowing how important the latter is to the success of the former) for maximum returns. Then I read Holland Cotter's year-end wrap from the Sunday Times a couple of weekends ago. How do I respond?

With Wall Street shaky but art prices sky-high, even the art world's professional boosters started sounding moral about art and money in 2007, as if opportunistically positioning themselves for a fall. Too late. By now everyone knows that art is business, the art world a public relations machine. The sheer bulk of hyped product made the past season look not eclectic and textured but sleek and flat.

What did give it texture and color in memory were the intangibles: individual acts, gestures or encounters.

Selling is bad. Check. And it sounds like I'd better switch to performance.

TWO PERFORMANCES In "Babel," presented this fall for Performa 07, the New York performance-art biennial, Dave McKenzie stuffed a microphone into his mouth, emphatically signed the words "I'm talking to you. I am doing this for us" to each member of a tense audience, then repeatedly crashed to the floor with seizures, as if something were exploding inside him. Other Performa events were elaborate and tightly scripted: performance art institutionalized. This one was the real, raw, unpredictable, up-close thing.

I was right! But obviously I had better not plan anything too elaborate. Rude audience interaction and a two-item script is the way to go.

The artist Paul Chan brought the Classical Theater of Harlem's production of "Waiting for Godot" to two Katrina-wrecked neighborhoods in New Orleans. He taught in the city's schools, ran student workshops, raised money, talked to everybody, went everywhere and turned the city into a theater.

Performance good. Double check. Borrowing others' work is good. Check.

THREE INSTALLATIONS At a fancy Upper East Side gallery usually reserved for de Koonings and Twomblys, David Hammons and his wife, Chie, displayed a half-dozen full-length fur coats on salesroom clothing stands. Seen from the front, the furs had a vintage elegance; seen from the behind, they were ruins: shaved, torched, torn, sutured and paint-smeared. The price of slaughtered fashion? Not for sale.

Painting bad, sculpture made from non-art materials good. Check. Selling bad. Double check.

Terence Koh's solo show in the Whitney Museum of American Art's lobby gallery had just one element: an electric light so bright that you couldn't look at it and yet couldn't escape its glare. Like a person's life, it turned on; gave off its energy intensely, randomly, wastefully; and then turned off. Brilliant.

Borrowing others' work, in this case from Douglas Gordon and Martin Creed, is not just good, but brilliant. Double check with gold stars.

Mark Wallinger's monumental "State Britain" filled the main hall of Tate Britain with an ensemble of more than 600 banners, photographs and hand-painted placards protesting the war in Iraq. The piece was powerful and conscientiously unoriginal. It was in fact a precise replica of another ensemble, amassed earlier by the political activist Brian Haw across from the Houses of Parliament and destroyed by the police. Mr. Wallinger's reconstruction - a grand "yes" directed at Mr. Haw's great "no" - won him the Turner Prize this year. Mr. Haw, who continues to protest in Parliament Square but with many fewer placards, should get one too.

Originality is obviously a big no-no. Between Chan and Wallinger, I'm thinking I should throw in something anti-authoritarian too.

A TALK During the heady spring weekend that "Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution" opened in Los Angeles, the artists Suzanne Lacy and Leslie Labowitz spoke informally at a gallery. In the 1970s the two collaborated on germinal public performances protesting violence against women; at the gallery that night they spoke of past and present as a continuum, and what it meant still to be artist-activists in the world today. Their audience was small; their message was epical. Most of the listeners were students, and they listened, avidly, as if they had already learned an important lesson: Don't miss history.

Duh. Where else are you going to get your material from?

TWO MUSEUMS At the reopened Detroit Institute of the Arts, drawings by Michelangelo and paintings by Jacob Lawrence sit side by side. With this and other similar gestures, a great and venerable American institution, in a great and distressed American city, gives the 21st century a rough draft of a new kind of "people's museum." How will it work? Will it work? Questions for another year.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art opened its new Greek and Roman Galleries, a showcase for the sculptural tradition on which most of premodern Western art is built. In a special exhibition gallery nearby a show called "Eternal Ancestors: The Art of the Central African Reliquary" represents a different classical tradition. A single carved wood Fang figure, once called the Black Venus in the West, is to my mind the single most beautiful sculpture in the Met these days.

I get the message: art by black people is as good as or better than art by white people. Hm. I don't think I can pass. I guess I could try pulling a Ward Churchill.

ONE BIG SHOW Some people hated Documenta 12, the exhibition of contemporary art and sculpture in Kassel, Germany. I had problems, but no contemporary show in 2007 has stayed more vivid in my mind. I keep returning to my first impressions: the excitement of seeing, one after another, artists young and old from Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia, some of whom I did not know, most of whom I never imagined together. The stimulation of watching canons crumble, reputations restored or freshly made, and all mediums mixed.

My first sight, walking through a gallery, was Trisha Brown's beautiful 1970 "Floor of the Forest" being performed to the Grateful Dead song "Uncle John's Band." The young dancers made great scooping, embracing motions with their arms. Then they did a little twisting motion with their hands, like hitchhikers thumbing a ride, and they repeated that gesture again and again.

Note to self: attend Documenta, do performance with two-item script.

Okay, I got it: here's my performance, entitled Wack!, in which I hold a placard with an anti-authoritarian message, having siezures while the lights in the room turn on and off. It's not for sale. May I have my acclaim now, please?




December 31, 2007, 9:44 AM


I like "concientious unoriginality", and feel for the brainwashed students.



December 31, 2007, 9:57 AM

Sorry, Franklin. Way too commonplace and predictable. No shock value. No transgressiveness to speak of (unless you're Laura Bush). No body fluids or gender issues or race issues. Nothing really "disturbing" or "uncomfortable" (unless you're Laura Bush). No homoeroticism. No diamonds or pickled animals. No glossy balloon sculptures. No lard or vaseline. No huge manipulated photo. Nothing "challenging" (unless you're Laura Bush). I think you should try becoming a character actor, or failing that, a porn star.



December 31, 2007, 9:57 AM

"This one was the real, raw, unpredictable, up-close thing." is good also.

Oh, the life and vitality of the avant-garde!



December 31, 2007, 9:59 AM


If Holland Cotter's job depended on me, he'd never work again. Of course, neither would LOTS of people.



December 31, 2007, 11:11 AM

Typing with one hand. My son is asleep on my right shoulder. Overall they all suck. Roberta gets the most respect from art world folk but she rarely surprises. Johnson is okay once in a blue moon but now that he has a few adjunct professor jobs his writing will probably become consistently dull. I really dislike the rest of them. I can't make it through an entire article written by any of them. Is it the editors' fault? The idea content in their reviews is so weak and derivative it is depressing. Their work is the very opposite of inspiring, for writers and visual artists alike.



December 31, 2007, 11:19 AM

Jack, you got competition!



December 31, 2007, 11:25 AM

Eric, it is a combination of fear and stupidity and carelessness. If they criticize or stray from the crowd they will not be kept on, none of them are smart or knowledgeable enough to handle, say, book reviews, and there is no pressure at all to do better. If a really good critic came along he or she would likely not get published, and, if published, would be called names and hooted down. It is a losing proposition.



December 31, 2007, 12:49 PM


Fear-They would never endanger their relationships with advertisers so yes there is an element of fear involved. Why else would they stick all of their repressed disgust towards the art they have to pretend to like during the rest of the year in a cowardly and qualified and forgettable paragraph in the end of the year articles? They might also be scared of offending people they have subconsciously or consciously developed bonds with within the art world.

Stupidity-It depends on who you are comparing them to. They do come across as fairly stupid when compared to their compatriots in the Book Reviews section of the paper. That is why I subscribe to Book Forum, New York Review of Books, and Science Fiction Studies, rather than to any art magazine. Art writing in general is lame and one could argue that the overall quality of journalism has considerably sunk since the heyday of newspapers way back when.

Carelessness-This could be blamed on editors as well as writers. Writers almost never have a final say about what goes to print. Certainly the writers display ample proof of carelessness with regards to historical knowledge and knowledge of aesthetics.

I brought up the editors because having had my stuff published in a NY daily for a few months I know firsthand how editors can butcher your work. They do this for a number of reasons: they don't like the way you said something, they don't like what you said, the word count is too high (advertising space comes first obviously). So I do sympathize with the writers in this regard.



December 31, 2007, 3:46 PM

There is no pressure at all to do better


Yes, people with the requisite qualities for first-rate art criticism are few and far between (and always have been, I suppose), so there's a supply problem which can't be helped. However, if first-rate art criticism was actively sought, actively encouraged, actively appreciated and properly compensated, first-rate art critics would be considerably more likely to materialize.

What we have is mostly poseurs, opportunists and/or cynics who either don't know or don't care, as long as they can achieve and retain good standing with the art establishment (which consists mostly of poseurs, opportunists and/or cynics, in a most convenient and comfortable complementarity).



December 31, 2007, 6:40 PM

"people with the requisite qualities for first-rate art criticism are few and far between (and always have been, I suppose)"

This might be true but if you think about it, art criticism is at the very bottom of the prestige hierarchy. Clem, arguably the best American critic of the twentieth century, died poor (of course he refused to sell his modest art collection which was worth quite a lot). I think more talented writers who had good eyes would write art criticism if it wasn't in such a sorry state now and if the intellectual community at large gave it more respect. Just read James Elkins' book "What Happened to Art Criticism" to understand what academia thinks about the genre of art criticism.



December 31, 2007, 9:36 PM

Eric, the real "bottom line" problem with most art critics and writers is that they don't know good from bad. They simply cannot tell the difference.

Sometimes they get it right when they don't like something, but, after all, in that case the odds are with them



December 31, 2007, 10:11 PM

Eric, I think we're both saying more or less the same thing. Part of it is an intrinsic supply problem and part of it is a lack of a sufficiently supportive, appreciative and remunerative environment. Actually, not just a lack of said environment, but the presence of its opposite, which is much more discouraging and offputting, and deliberately so.

The current art system is not simply negligent or oblivious but downright hostile, and the classic example is its persistent animosity towards Greenberg, who's dead and buried but still a major bogeyman. In other words, the system is bound and determined to prevent anyone like Greenberg from getting anywhere again, ever. It's almost as if the man had been a serial child killer or something, but in reality it's simply self-interest and protecting the bottom line--which is obviously not the greater glory of art as such.



January 1, 2008, 12:49 AM

Franklin: you nailed it for the most part. Your "new writing" reflects the same "flexibiliy" that the studio practice of Robert Morris manifested in the last part of the 20th century. It is both with it and fluid. Your only mistake was that you forgot that artists are still consigned to speak in tongues, and you write with too much fluency. Ditch the writing if you want to "make it". Above all, ditch the sense of humor. Whack! does not look like the entire fate of civilized ethics rides on its acceptance.



January 1, 2008, 8:35 AM

"And conceptual art demonstrated that there need not even be a palpable visual object for something to be a work of visual art. That meant that you could no longer teach the meaning of art by example. It meant that as far as appearances were concerned anything could be a work of art, and it meant that if you were going to find out what art was, you had to turn from sense perceptions to thought. You had, in brief to turn to philosophy." (Arthur Danto, "After the End of Art" written in 1997)

Greenberg wrote about visual experiences, what he saw and what it meant. Critics will never write like that again. So no one will ever be the same kind of art critic that Greenberg was. You could argue about this and say that this is because critics are more concerned with philosophical issues and not visual experience as such or you could say that Greenberg was a unique individual with a unique vision that can never be replicated in any way. If you look at current art world heroes like Rob Storr and Dave Hickey, they are both well ensconced in academia and international curatorial structures. Greenberg was a self taught genius and was not a careerist or academic. Saltz, an ex-trucker, is a decent self taught art critic but he ain't no genius. However, he is loved throughout the art world and has achieved a limited kind of fame within the confines of the art world. He describes visual phenomena in his reviews but he does not come up with original or exciting ideas that are inspired purely by visual phenomena. Greenberg did. He was also a much better writer.

If we are decrying the overall lack of art critics who are great writers and focus on visual phenomena instead of predominantly text based idea content, we will forever be disappointed. Surely the kind of art criticism we long for can exist online because money isn't an issue in the blogging realm. Wilkin is great no doubt (although she isn't very generous in person) and she is quite prolific. I don't think that you can hope for anything better than her writing at this point historically. I also like David Cohen's writing which appears in the New York Sun (a conservative rag) but I work closely with him so I might be biased. Feel free to critique him I don't care.

This post is rambling. I agree with Jack's statements. Franklin's original post is funny and emphasizes how the NYT is truly the emperor with no clothes.



January 1, 2008, 8:49 AM

Danto is an overblown windbag who needs a course in logic 101. I would not quote him even to deride him. How do people like this get such reputations?

Saltz at this point seems utterly confused about even what to take as amounting to art - that discussion about women in MoMA we had here demonstrated that pretty clearly. Cohen has no eye. Wilkin is the only one who can see and who writes clearly and sensibly. It is a ship of fools. And it won't get any better until the art public wises up and starts saying "Hey, this stuff is crap".



January 1, 2008, 9:25 AM

I talked with David Cohen about writing something for ArtCritical but I ended up leaving Boston and never followed up with him. I'm sorry about that - I ought to drop him a note.

I think it's important to remember that CG was as good as he was because postwar abstraction was as good as it was. You don't reach the heights of criticism from a defensive position, and at this point great art is largely in a defensive position. I have some more thoughts on this, but we're about to go for a New Year's drive down the PCH from Malibu to OC. Talk at you soon.



January 1, 2008, 9:34 AM


Happy New Year, OP, and everyone.

Ultimately, the public, especially the public holding the money, has the real control, even if it doesn't always appear to realize that. Unfortunately, the public is hardly likely to exercise its power optimally. It rarely does, and frequently does the opposite. Therefore, that's not the answer, even though it should be.

The system is very far gone and quite corrupted, but there's so much money to keep it that way that it has no incentive to reform. The supply of rich idiots seems inexhaustible. The crap is just too fashionable, and fashion, sadly, always sells.

As for the "critics," well, they're simply too incapable to merit one's time or attention. All too often, they're not even wrong, just pitifully useless. This may not be such a bad thing. It leaves one little choice but to do the job for one's self, which is as it should be, really. The only other choices are to be sheep or opportunists, but those types will always be with us.



January 1, 2008, 9:34 AM


I think you can end this sentence, " won't get any better until the art public wises up and starts saying "Hey, this stuff is crap". at " won't get any better..."

Franklin I would like to read an essay by you on a specific exhibition. Can you point me to one? This would help clarify in my mind where you stand with regards to critical practice. Reading a review or essay about a specific exhibition would make things clearer to me as compared to reading a blog entry about various issues that interest you. Thanks.

I don't disagree with your criticism of Cohen but I don't think he is a pure stylist with no eye. I also don't agree with you about Danto. As The Nation art critic his stuff is pedantic and dull (when it appears which is quite infrequently) but I think some of his books are really interesting. So I guess I would agree with you that he has no eye but he does have a good brain. You should check out his book on Nietzsche.

I have read so many hastily assembled press releases and reviews by Wilkin at this point that my opinion of her writing is a bit more qualified than yours opie (and Franklin I guess), but her lengthy essays on Morandi, Cezanne, and Davis are really great. A writer as prolific as she is is bound to come up with some mediocre or unoriginal stuff once in a while but her talents and insights are unarguably present most of the time. Back story: I was giving a gallery talk with her on the sculptor Karlis Rekevics. She was connected to the artist in a personal way but I am not sure how (This bothered me a little bit. I have never written about an artist that I had any personal connection with.) She mispronounced my name when she introduced me (I know Gelber is hard to pronounce where I live in upstate New York but you would think...) but I was thrilled to be speaking with her at the Wooster Arts Space.



January 1, 2008, 9:52 AM

Eric, as I'm sure you agree, if Danto (or anyone) has no eye, that's an automatic disqualification, certainly when it comes to art. I don't care what Danto's IQ or intellect may be; it simply cannot compensate for the sine qua non. Generally speaking, it is quite possible to be brilliant in one area yet utterly unfit and inept in another. Danto has no business at all as an art "authority." As far as I'm concerned, he might as well be Donald Trump.



January 1, 2008, 11:17 AM

I went through some of my old reading notebooks which are filled with quotes from books I have read in the past. I came across several Danto quotes but I realized that it was silly to try and change your mind about him. I do not wish to dismiss all of his writings on art. Now here is a big question for everyone. The phrase 'has a good eye' is used around here a lot. Maybe you defined this concept in earlier blog entries. Danto can obviously describe art works that he is discussing accurately. What exactly is his 'eye' lacking? Is it the way he describes the physical object? Is it dry and unpoetic? What is missing? Can you give me two quotes from two separate art critics who exemplify a good eye and a bad eye? That would really clear things up for me. Then maybe our discussion can get more specific.

Also, I would never say you are all wrong about Danto because you are all serious thinkers who do not form off-the-cuff opinions. I am enjoying this discussion.


Marc Country

January 1, 2008, 11:27 AM

"... if you were going to find out what art was, you had to turn from sense perceptions to thought. You had, in brief to turn to philosophy." (Arthur Danto, "After the End of Art" written in 1997)

Danto should read Schopenhauer...

"Philosophy, just as much as art and poetry, must have its source in perceptual comprehension of the world".

Instead, Danto opposes "sense perceptions" with what he calls 'philosophy', but what would be more accurately called "nonsense perceptions"...

Yes OP, Logic 101 could do him a great service...



January 1, 2008, 12:46 PM

A good eye is one that knows good art from bad art.

it seems to have little to do with writing as such, although Greenberg had the best eye of all and wrote beautifully. On the other hand I know some folks who have excellent eyes and probably would never even try to write criticism.

Danto is no philosopher either. Sorry; as far as I am concerned he is a blight. Marc is absolutely on target.

For an appraisal of a writer with a good eye, with some samples, permit me to direct you to:

The Unconditional Aesthete (1987)
Arts, September 1987, pp. 59 - 61.



January 1, 2008, 1:37 PM

Eric, all I really need to know about Danto is that he had a ludicrous "epiphany" over Warhol's Brillo boxes. That does it for me. No further questions. Game over. Quite over.



January 1, 2008, 3:00 PM

Yes, Jack; the 1964 "epiphany" was basically that ordinary things were being exhibited as art, a process which had been evolving for more than for a century and an observation about as profound as noticing that grass grows, one that would be, or had been, made in passing by any number of art writers who took it for a simple, if moderately interesting, fact.

But Danto went ga-ga about it and eventually, in 1981, after digesting this earth-shaking conclusion for 17 years, wrote a book cntitled "The Transfiguration of the Commonplace" and everyone in the art business said "whoa - now there's some deep stuff!" and made him a professor of an endowed chair at Columbia and an esteemed critic and something of a culture hero for our dim-thinking, postmodernist times at the some time that they were bitterly reviling our greatest art writer: Clement Greenberg.

Is it any wonder that those in other disciplines look at us as a bunch of simpletons?



January 1, 2008, 3:03 PM

Danto, along with many others, was somebody who wrote about art that I read years ago when I was an undergraduate, and while I was getting my M.L.S. degree. I read many other art critics, artists, and historian/academics during the same time frame. Going through the quotes and listening to your opinions about him have helped me to realize how irrelevant he is. He scooped up what was in the air, what was known and obvious to one and all in the art world, and sprinkled some philosophical gobbledegook on top. A film professor I had, and who I really admired Tom Gunning, thought highly of Danto's Nietzsche book. That is why I said what I said. I never read it myself. I read all of Danto's collections of Nation reviews (not the few he published within the past five years) but I could not make it through any of his philosophy books.

I did make it all the way through Hegel's "Lectures on Art" so I am no light-weight. Okay I will admit that I basically forgot it all as soon as I finished it but at least I finished it. Schopenhauer was near and dear to my heart. I was so afraid of appearing politically incorrect (because I thought it would hurt my chances with the ladies) as an undergraduate that I tore the chapter titled "On Women" from my copy of Schopenhauer's “Essays and Aphorisms”, which I carried around for ages. My all time favorite quote comes from it.

"You would think you were amongst a noble and distinguished company, but the real guests are compulsion, pain, and boredom."

The first part of the "The World as Will and Idea" is brilliant. I read it years ago during a summer stay in Ithaca. It was the best thing that happened to me while I was there.



January 1, 2008, 3:22 PM

Not a light-weight for sure, Eric, but something of a masochist. My similar reign of intellectual self-torture occurred so long ago I have almost mercifully forgotten it. I have long since succumbed tio the infinitely greater profundities of simple pleasure.



January 1, 2008, 4:16 PM

Eric, there are people out there who, based on what and how much they've read, could (and do) pass for very heavyweight indeed. They can (and do) drop any number of names and references, like so much confetti, but if they have no eye, and thus no substantial taste, they are still unfit to be art critics or theorists or "authorities." They are largely glorified pedants, something like Beckmesser in Wagner's Meistersinger.



January 1, 2008, 4:56 PM

Jack I hope you don't mean me but you might.

opie it is funny that you say that because my senior project was called "A Modern Ascetic" and I was endlessly ribbed by my chums because of it.



January 1, 2008, 5:06 PM

Besides Bannard and Greenberg and Wilkin what other critics do we like around here?

Jack art critics who drop names usually do so to prove that they have a grasp of art history. They try to connect the artist they are writing about to other artists or art movements. This is supposed to add depth to their writing. It isn't very convincing. Jack I am interested in knowing if you are an artist or art scribe or art collector.

I never drop names in my reviews and I try to avoid shallow historicism (the only kind found in art criticism). I bring up peoples' names here because I think it is relevant to my blog entry. I guess indirect attacks are okay around here. Calling someone a name dropper is like calling them an asshole in my book.



January 1, 2008, 5:13 PM

Eric referring to individuals because there is a reason to is not "dropping names" - I suppose that goes without saying but it seemed that you were inferring it.

There are others who can write well about art but they are little known. There is Terry Fenton up in Canada, for example, who is also a terrific landscape painter. Jim Walsh, a NY painter, writes well but seldom. I think there are more, and there would be a lot more if the occupation commanded any respect.



January 1, 2008, 5:13 PM

Thank you for not calling me a name dropper directly.

(Adorno, Horkheimer, Derida, Schelling, Marx, Freud, Lacan)



January 1, 2008, 5:16 PM

Also the people who review the big auctions on the web and in magazines like Art at Auction are good because they are clear and specific and dealing with value.

Stewart Waltzer has a good eye and shows up on Artnet once in a while writing on the auctions with some very funny acidulous comments.



January 1, 2008, 5:18 PM

Franklin I would like to read an essay by you on a specific exhibition. Can you point me to one?

My collected published works are here.



January 1, 2008, 6:10 PM

No, Eric, I was not referring to you in #27. As OP noted in #30, making appropriate references, allusions, analogies, comparisons, citations and the like is not the same as name-dropping. Dropping names in the pejorative sense is often an attempt to divert attention from or compensate for the lack of a real eye or real visual aptitude. People without the latter--no matter how intelligent, well-read, educated, philosophical, literary or what have you--are still fatally handicapped when it comes to dealing with visual art.



January 1, 2008, 6:22 PM

And Eric, in answer to your question, I am not an artist or an art writer (unless you count what I write here on Artblog). I suppose that, strictly speaking, I qualify as a collector, but certainly not a major collector. Basically, I am someone who is seriously interested in art and who insists on dealing with it on my own terms and according to my own standards.



January 1, 2008, 6:53 PM

Thank you for the treasure trove of reading recommendations. Thank you for the link Franklin. Wow you have written a lot. I will look into all of it with enthusiasm. My reviews can be found at artcritical. I respect the bloggers here and I would love to know what you think about my stuff. Please send private comments if you would be so kind to I am currently working on a review of the Freud etching show currently hanging at the MoMA. I am writing it for the first issue of a publication put out by an Australian art philanthropy group. Talk about off the beaten path. I have a roomy word count to work with and they won't freakin' delete all idea content like the newspapers do.

I was amazed by the show and felt that the complete dismissals of the show (I include the poorly written (because it was back-handedly negative) review of it by Roberta Smith with the negative reviews as well as the deeply flawed and unfairly qualified 'positive' reviews by all the rest of them, and Naves’ absurdly negative review that was filled with every Lucien Freud cliché that has appeared in prior reviews of his paintings (going on about his coldness, blah blah blah).



January 1, 2008, 6:55 PM

Sorry I forgot to include one parenthesis in the second paragraph.



January 1, 2008, 6:57 PM

That second paragraph is a fragment. Really sorry. I need to sketch and sleep right now.



January 1, 2008, 7:07 PM

Franklin, you have typos on the page you linked to:

The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 26, 2000
headline of section: Art Schools Teach Too Much 'Gimmickry,' Wtih Not Enough Real Education

and further down you spell Miami Maimi



January 1, 2008, 7:37 PM

I mean Miami is spelled wrong



January 1, 2008, 7:42 PM

To grossly simplify the problem, the contemporary art museums are unaccountable and the art critics are too accountable, when it ought to be the other way around.

Something radical and disproportionate happens to an artist once he becomes associated with a museum exhibition or collection - the market value of his work is affected. The more major the museum, the greater the effect. Demand is stoked by fiat from above. To whom do the museums answer? No one whatsoever. We've decided for some reason that it's the government's job to appoint unaccountable mandarins to make far-reaching decisions about what art is important and what art is not. Sometimes the musuems do answer to various boards, including, in one case I know about (the Miami Art Museum), special collection committees. These are staffed by people who are themselves art collectors and whose interests can't avoid affecting the process. I don't have a problem with this per se but I don't see why I should be subsidizing their already considerable influence on the market.

As for the critics, there is only one profession I have ever heard of which earns its money by insulting its clients, and it involves manacles, leather outfits, and riding crops. The art magazines can't afford to bring in a position like mine, which invalidates large swaths of what gets put forth as art. They need people who will play nice with contemporary presuppositions about art's infinite variablity and relative valuation. Those presuppositions are largely museum-generated and museum-maintained. To the extent that art can be passed off as an intellectual activity rather than an aesthetic one, more and more art can be put forward as important, and the museum's job becomes easier and more self-justifying. As it happens, this plays to the writer's strengths - narrative, conflict, dialogue, and the like. Aesthetic quality, which just exists, does not.

Eric pointed out above that book criticism is much stronger and more interesting than art criticism. I've wondered about this, and I think the reason is that contemporary books don't have museums. The most important decisions about book publishing are made by private entities that will take a bath if they choose poorly. The most important decisions about art exhibition are made by people who stand to lose nothing if they choose poorly. (There is also much more consensus about what constitutes literature than what constitutes art, so you can have a more vigorous discussion about it. This is a related problem, but not one I can go into here.)

One solution would be to stop funding contemporary art museums with public moneys, which could happen under a Ron Paul presidency, which I support. Another solution, however, is already in the works: the newspapers are dying, the magazines are not well, and we're moving to an individual-author model that will favor meritocracy to a much greater degree than the print media can support. Publishing myself takes almost no resources except my time and tech-savvy, which is not enormous. Supporting a whole magazine or newspaper is becoming financially ridiculous. The Boston Globe was purchased by the Times in the '90s for $11 million and was recently estimated to be worth about half that. All I need is a steady income from another source, and I'm a happy blogger. That means I'm proportionately less beholden to advertisers, and can say what I please. I can't quit my day job (and as it happens, I don't want to), but one day I'll be able to. From those little ads on the side there, I'm making about half of what I used to make as a regular critic for one of the Miami entertainment weeklies, and the difference is signficantly narrowed by the fact that the revenue stream is steadier.

There are subgenres that have no support of the larger art market that do extremely well for themselves (Western art, wildlife art, vintage illustration, classical realism, and so on). They have their own magazines, their own network of galleries, their own writers, and their own audiences. I don't know why modernism couldn't do the same thing.

Here's a link to Eric's work at Artcritical. Look forward to looking it over. Good luck with that Freud review. Freud attracts invective at a rate that practically guarantees that he's on the right path. The Charlie Finch review of that show was astonishingly stupid, which makes me suspect, all things being equal, that the art is genius itself.

Fred, thank you. I'll get on it.



January 1, 2008, 8:41 PM

Freud attracts invective at a rate that practically guarantees that he's on the right path.

That's not exactly a self-evident statement, Franklin. Nor is the one that follows it.



January 1, 2008, 8:48 PM

Well, true, they're not causal. They just happen to correlate here. (I'm also exaggerating for the sake of humor.)



January 1, 2008, 8:53 PM

I agree with your major and minor points Franklin. Thank you for including the hyperlink. If anybody decides to delve into the archives (I don't expect any of you to) you will discover that I gave Dzubas short shrift (I get him wrong) in a short review of a show that admittedly did include weak works by him, and I am a little too overly enthusiastic about a few POMO artists. I confess to being a diehard modernist and it should be obvious to discerning readers. Franklin I hope along with you that a major power shift does take place (It will if current trends continue) and long live subgenres!



January 1, 2008, 9:13 PM

About this art writing question: Many of us seek a writer of Greenberg's power as if such a writer could and maybe would straighten things out in the art business. But what worked between Greenberg and the abstract expressionists and the very small art world of that day does not necessarily apply to our time. We are in the midst of the greatest art glut in the history of the world. The art scene that goes with it has balooned to a size that also defies anything ever known before. Its momentum is unlikely to change until it collapses, which it probably will, but not a time anyone can accurately predict.

For most of the history of urban art, writers have not been that important. Clem's interaction with the scene and his positive effect seems more like an exception than a rule, almost a singular exception to me, but those with a greater knowledge of art history may not agree.

Hoping for a writer of his caliber is OK in itself. But it seems like a waste of time to fret too much about it. It probably ain't gonna happen, so we will never know if it would make a difference. Danto should have written about the end of art writing, not the end of art.



January 1, 2008, 10:15 PM

I agree, Cafish, but Danto does better than that. He participates in and exemplifies the end of art writing.

When I was straining to provide Eric with good art writers I obviously should have mentioned Franklin. A lot of what he has done here is miles above what's out there, both critically and philosophically. And he starts things going which in some cases, like the 1069 post, get farther into an esthetic problem than I have ever experienced.

Probably the main reason literary criticism has not fallen to the depths art criticism has is that like music criticism (or food criticism, for that matter) there is a craft involved and if you display ignorance and say stupid unsupportable things you will be ridiculed. When art cirtics do this they are generally taken more seriously than the good critics are.

I look forward to read your crits Eric.



January 2, 2008, 5:12 AM

I don't expect any of you to read and or like my reviews. I appreciate that Franklin included the link. Yes it does appear that art writing is dead now. I came to this conclusion while I was writing art criticism for a NY daily newspaper. Franklin's blog is far more interesting than reviews I skim in the dailies or glossies. Franklin's blog is also better than just about every art blog out there. A few others might be on par with it but none surpass it.



January 2, 2008, 5:46 AM

I first noticed Franklin when he handed Winkleman his ass. My studio practice is more disciplined than my ideas and I'd barely dare to comment here. Nevertheless, this is my favourite art blog and I've recommended it on my site.



January 2, 2008, 7:09 AM

I also agree with Catfish (#45). If Greenberg couldn't stop the onslaught of Pop and its aftermath while he was still actively writing, he certainly couldn't do much against the current Mega-Cesspool of Mammon. The system is so big, so entrenched and moves so much money that it's like the difference between Barry Bonds baseball and Ted Williams baseball. There's practically no comparison.

By now, there's no real need to even pretend it's about anything but business, image, status and fashion. It's like the world's worst kept secret. Even those who maintain the pretense don't truly believe that anybody with half a brain believes it, unless they themselves have less than a half a brain. Basically, each of the numerous naked emperors simply refrains from saying that any fellow emperor is also naked. As in, "I don't blow your cover, flimsy though it is, and you don't blow mine."

Of course, it would still be nice to have respectable art criticism readily and consistently available, but, in a sense, the current art scene is largely beneath respectable art criticism. It's not good enough for a Greenberg to dignify it with his talent. It doesn't really deserve to be taken that seriously.



January 2, 2008, 7:42 AM

You know, Jack, I think "they" DO believe all the baloney. It is a characteristic of herd thinking to believe in the herd's beliefs. Lemmings do not entertain doubts until they are in free fall.

Their beliefs are sincere too. The reason their kind of art art has become such a big business, in their minds, is because it is so important, so enlightening, so demonstrably advanced, so good for our collective consciousness and conscience. Money is the effect of the grand accomplishment of this "mature" avant-garde, not the reason it continues with its program.

So when Eric and Franklin admire the subgenres and the little machines that support them, the same admiration can be extended to the largest subgenre ever to visit the planet - avant-garde art of the late 20th century and beyond. I'm afraid when the history of our time is written, it will say that avant-garde art and its monster support machine IS the end state of modernism. Modernism descended into a mannerism at the same time its public grew by magnitudes. Seems like something art historians might say a hundred years from now. Seems like something an alien might say today.



January 2, 2008, 7:43 AM


You said:

"Probably the main reason literary criticism has not fallen to the depths art criticism has is that like music criticism (or food criticism, for that matter) there is a craft involved and if you display ignorance and say stupid unsupportable things you will be ridiculed."

I would say that lit criticism has problems just as dire as art criticism. The good writing one sees in the Nytimes or in the New York Review of Books is not even called literary criticism--if anything, it would be called journalism about books. Literary criticism--as it exists in the university and in books--is so occupied with seeming philosophical and defending its claims that it can hardly venture to say anything of substance. Since some of the most insightful comments are “unsupportable” (at least not able to be supported in the way that philosophy supports its claims), a critic needs to risk looking stupid and ignorant to say what’s worth saying. Few literary critics want to risk their careers for this.

I liked the essay you linked to about Greenburg because it referred to his “art hunger.” What makes a great critic, in literature or art, isn’t an ability to fashion a perfectly supported and constructed argument. It isn’t being able to accurately describe what he or sees (if that is even possible). It isn’t even necessarily having an unfailingly good eye--I think most people would find Greenburg’s blunders just as eloquent and as worth reading as when he was spot on. A great critic is someone genuinely moved by art, and enough of an artist himself to recreate the sensation on the page.

I think most mediocre critics are either unable to be moved by art (and therefore lack “art hunger”), or are able to be moved by art but are unable to write about it, and therefore their writing can only discuss the beside-the-point. A critic like Greenburg was both genuinely swept up in art and able to write about it. It wasn’t that he wrote more accurately about painting (although he may have), it was that he wrote with more conviction and passion because he did not back down from his enchantment with art when he wrote. The average critic thinks logic, restraint, and rhetorical control are prerequisites for criticism. But great critics are not pulled back. They don’t exchange their art-hunger for logic--they create a logic of art-hunger.



January 2, 2008, 7:58 AM

Well, Catfish, if they do believe all the BS, they're pretty hopeless, but I suppose at least some of them may sincerely believe it, just as members of some loony cult may believe in it. Obviously, though, we're talking about dysfunctional thinking, not to say delusional. However, I'm quite certain they can't all be that dim; there has to be a sizeable contingent of opportunists and knowing poseurs who know a good racket when they see one--and have no qualms about taking advantage of it.



January 2, 2008, 8:23 AM

Nicely said, McFawn. You will notice that what I wrote was implicitly qualified: "has not fallen to the depths" does not mean it can't be pretty bad. In fact, in the Stygian reaches of cacademic writing about writing it is perhaps even worse than art writing, in part because it is usually somewhat informed.

"Journalism about books", if well written, is not a problem. It would be a great relief if most art writing was "journalism about art". At least then something plain and comprehendable might be said.

Good for you for pointing out the flip side of "unsupportable"; I like the term but I may have to qualify it from now on.

I knew Greenberg for 35 years, saw him as often as I could, went to shows and museums with him, argued with him -- as far as I am concerned the man was a joy to be with, even when he was being a contentious SOB. We actually didn't talk about art all the time; he liked to talk about people and he liked gossip. But he was possessed by art.



January 2, 2008, 8:25 AM

I agree with McFawn in #51 that literary criticism has its problems. I'll go her one better, too, and say that problems in lit criticism predated problems in art criticism. The likes of E. M. W. Tillyard and A. O. Lovejoy came to the front of literary criticism at the same time Greenberg and Rosenberg were coming to the front of art criticism. They pioneered the academicism that waited until the 70s to infect art criticism.



January 2, 2008, 8:39 AM

db please comment when you feel like it. I know the atmosphere can get rarified around here but good honest comment & opinion is really welcome and the more the merrier.



January 2, 2008, 8:43 AM

Since we are all qualifying our previous statements:

I read book reviews because they tend to include a lot of interesting information about a variety of different topics. Art writing almost never does. On rare occasions book reviews turn me on to some writer that I did not know about. Art writing almost never does this since the same artists are written about over and over again.



January 2, 2008, 9:00 AM

I've been led to understand that the problems associated with the CAA are versions of problems already extant in the MLA to a greater degree. The difference is that the NYRB has not been infiltrated with bad writing to the degree that the art glossies have. With nothing like museums in the book world, book critics are obliged to take their cues from the facts about the medium itself and not the pickled academicism of the institutions.

For the record, I don't expect to change anything by writing criticism. I write criticism because I enjoy it and I seem to be capable of doing the genre some justice. (Many thanks to those above who would reinforce that impression.) I have ideas for projects that could affect real change but I'm frankly not very motivated to spend my time that way. If someone out there with a lot of money wants to do something that would make the world a better place for art, contact me.



January 2, 2008, 9:06 AM

Me too, Eric. The NY Review is too wordy and long-winded for me but the more succinct reviews in the Times Book Review are usually interesting, at least the non-fiction reviews. I usually find fiction irritating to read anyway.



January 2, 2008, 11:05 AM

this format, the net, has worked very well with a number of the reviews/presentations franklin has provided us with on this blog. and while a digital image can never replace the real thing, it does allow for long extended forays into an artist, with numerous pics. on many of franklin's most successful presentations he would display numerous photos and provide various photos of the same subject with close-ups, super close-ups and shots from different angles. the memling presentation is one that still is fresh in my mind that was very successful. you displayed numerous high quality images and nice type to go with it. i miss the presentations you put up of that quality. i understand that it is difficult to put together presentations that are so in depth and it is nice to mix things up with some more casual fare, but those memling type pieces are what stand out as high quality use of this platform. as always your writing is usually entertaining and well done, although sometimes you don't have enough to work with.

other things that i would be interested in checking out here, would be interviews or commentary from some of the players. whether complete sperate pieces or just additions to what you type up for reviews on the shows you cover. guest commentary.

bannard and fenton were both mentioned and are still around, anyone know why they are not more active and formally involved with the critic, writing part of the art machine?



January 2, 2008, 3:47 PM

Thank you for your comments, 1. I agree that the publications are some of my stronger work, and I'm sorry to only have done one of them (for Sloan) in all of 2007. The good news is that as I get better at programming, these kinds of things become easier to do. The markup for today's Pre-Raphaelite spread, for instance, was generated from a little Python script. Expect more of them in the future.



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