Post #1159 • April 17, 2008, 12:59 PM • 4 Comments
David, you're right, I'm arguing for beauty. I'm a modernist, and as such I'm primarily concerned with quality and self-criticism. It's important to understand that modernists, including Bannard, don't long for a widespread formalist revival. We long for good art to look at. What George mischaracterizes as a rehash of a musty battle between formalism and conceptualism is really the contemporary impulse of self-criticism running up against the art of its time. This impulse is ancient, not to mention style-agnostic, and it forms a core part of human functioning. It is also something that certain apologists for the state of the contemporary art world wish would go away. (One might as well argue against consciousness.)
An interesting thing happens when you apply self-criticism to conceptualism - it starts returning null values, to borrow from computer science. If one went looking for the culture's highest concentrations of visual richness, one would find them in our art. If one went looking for the culture's highest concentrations of conceptual richness, one would find them in our writing. I observe low upward limits on conceptual success in art, and a poor understanding among people sympathetic to conceptualism about what might constitute success. But when it comes to visual success in art, the sky's the limit, and our ability to detect visual success seems innate if extant to varying degrees in people.
Quality is not just hard to define, it's impossible to define except in circular terms. This doesn't mean that it has no substantial or objective existence, but that it falls into a class of perceived generalized phenomena with similar cirucular definitions. One can nevertheless perceive it. George has said before that the people most interested in quality were the least likely to achieve it, and he's scaling back here with "It’s hard to define and it’s even harder to achieve when you are trying." Either way, this is a another taunt from someone who wishes that the issue of quality would go away. Sometimes trying hard works. Sometimes trying hard does not work. One thing was illustrated by the "lessness" theme of WhiBi - quality scares people right up a tree. It's crazy to me that we'll throw massive institutional support behind a workaround for quality, as if it were a bug instead of a feature. But we will, and it's hardly the nuttiest thing we do in the art world.