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All you need is bodily fluids and an insane desire for attention

Post #1163 • April 23, 2008, 10:01 AM • 33 Comments

Iowahawk delivers the coup de grace. Via Carnal Reason via David Thompson. I forbid any discussion of the work in question. Instead I'd like to hear proposals regarding how to reach out to the obviously extant segment of people who are interested in art for the right reasons, or would be given the opportunity.



David Thompson

April 23, 2008, 11:16 AM

I’m not sufficiently familiar with the internal workings of art education to offer much of use; but my impression is that the art world – by which I mean, academics, many curators and perhaps a majority of arts writers – are very much an obstacle. Having invested in this loaded theoretical nonsense, with all its political connotations and affected radicalism, they’re quite keen to regurgitate it, or make a point of displaying their familiarity with it. It’s not just a ridiculous academic fashion; in many cases it’s part of that person’s self-image and political identity. It’s part of their worldview. And, given the nature of the theoretical posturing and its disregard for evidence and internal coherence, it’s remarkably resistant to criticism and mockery. That’s why it’s still with us.


Chris Rywalt

April 23, 2008, 11:37 AM

Franklin, have you been living under a rock? The work in question is a hoax. Or a satire itself -- which makes Iowahawk's satire a satire of a satire, which is to say Iowahawk's a straight man in this comedy. I don't know if the artist intended it as a satire on how stupid performance art is -- what I've read makes it sound as if she intended it as a serious commentary on abortion, and not as a hilarious commentary on the fact that performance art's reputation has sunk so pathetically low that everyone believed the hoax without question. Either way, I think it's awesome.


Chris Rywalt

April 23, 2008, 11:46 AM

As far as reaching the people who are interested in art for the right reasons, I'm not sure. If I was, I'd be out there doing it! I heard that Mark Kostabi started his career dragging his paintings out to rummage sales and flea markets in New Jersey. Pretty Lady sold drawings on the street in New York. I sometimes think it'd be a good idea to take a page from the book of those Asians with stands all around the Met, only instead of selling crappy prints or mass-produced-by-hand frivolities, sell real live actual art. But since it's New York City, I'm sure the licensing process is onerous, expensive, and wildly time-consuming.

I myself sold drawings on eBay. I sold a couple hundred, and the people I met (I delivered drawings by hand when the buyer was close enough) seemed like good representatives of the segment you're talking about. But I sold my drawings very cheaply -- US$10 each -- and no one's going to support themselves that way. I got a few commissions out of it, too, but again, they were very low-priced ($200 or so).

Obviously trying to "compete" in the current system is impossible. First, remember that humans treat ideological territory the way other animals treat physical territory and will fight to the death to protect it. So the entrenched powers -- critics (ha!), academics, curators, and so forth -- can't be fought on that level. Second, the market is swamped with people trying to get themselves noticed -- Websites, artists on Saatchi Online, independent galleries, "hip" neighborhoods, posters, postcards, billboards, ads in magazines, and so on. Everyone thinks they're going to be the ones to turn into the Salon des Refusés. Guess what? They're all wrong.

No, the revolution requires revolutionary thinking in the truest sense. I don't know if I'm capable of it. Lord knows my neurons are always working on it, though.


Chris Rywalt

April 23, 2008, 4:19 PM

I'm watching What Not to Wear on TV -- not my idea, my daughter's got it on -- and it occurs to me that what we need is a reality show where we give the participants culture. You know, convince people who think they're rubes that good taste in art and the ability to buy and collect it are within their grasp. (WNtW, in case you don't know, takes ugly people who don't know how to dress and teaches them to dress well and, uh, appear less ugly. It's totally changed how I look at people's clothes. It's an aggressive meme.)

So we could take people who want to learn about the art world and show them they can trust their instincts and buy good stuff, if only they try. Also, we'd have to give them money to spend on their first few purchases, because it's a reality show and that's how they work.

All we need are some sponsors. And a producer, but that should be easy to rustle up.


Marc Country

April 23, 2008, 5:43 PM

Exhibitions like>this one should help, I'd think.

(the article linked above isn't too badly written either, save for a couple of fuck-ups near the end...)


Marc Country

April 23, 2008, 5:44 PM

Speaking of fuck-ups, that was supposed to be a link...



April 23, 2008, 6:26 PM

Re #1, I tend to agree. It appears that, in certain cases, there is a kind of folie fixe which is so entrenched in the sufferers' psyche that they simply will not (and perhaps cannot) shake it off, because doing so is perceived as too much of a diminution or defeat. Of course, in many cases, perhaps a majority, the problem is much more a matter of opportunism and expediency, not unlike the world of politics.


David Thompson

April 24, 2008, 12:36 AM

This may be relevant.



April 24, 2008, 6:07 AM

Franklin I keep getting this message (Precondition Failed
The precondition on the request for the URL /comment.php evaluated to false.) when I try to post a comment to this thread. Can you tell me what I need to change.



April 24, 2008, 6:11 AM

You're trying to use the word "echo" in your comment. I'm sorry - this is a longstanding bug.



April 24, 2008, 6:22 AM

"but my impression is that the art world – by which I mean, academics, many curators and perhaps a majority of arts writers – are very much an obstacle."

I wouldn't leave artists out of that formulation because they can be obstacles as well. It is now fashionable or at least politically correct to dismiss obscure academic jargon. Even Roberta Smith and Jerry Saltz have made snide comments about the October crowd (Kruass, Buchloh, et. al.). Mocking the obscurantist crowd is a good thing no doubt, but art will continue to be packaged using academic code words because it has been historically determined that that is what gives art works market/historical value. Being taken seriously can only be done through language games, more specifically, the language used in graduate programs and in professional journals. So in that sense, the language used to describe art works has become integral to its market value. They are inseparable. If artists learned to control the means of production and avoid the feedback loops/ech- chambers of the commercial galleries and graduate art programs, and if they learn to promote themselves on the Internet for the sake of sharing their work with strangers and focus solely on the work instead of the packaging of the work, more worthwhile and meaningful art will be made; at least I hope this would be true.


David Thompson

April 24, 2008, 7:22 AM


“Being taken seriously can only be done through language games, more specifically, the language used in graduate programs and in professional journals. So in that sense, the language used to describe art works has become integral to its market value.”

In which case, I’d suggest the entire system needs rebooting. A purge, perhaps. Yes, I like the sound of that.

But aside from the influence of ideological educators and marketing pseudery, it seems to me that the theoretical verbiage and politicising of art, or pseudo-art, is due to insecurity. As art’s functions have in large part been taken over by other areas of culture, it’s not so clear what art is for. I mean art as a stand-alone thing, aloof from commercial work, and of supposedly elevating value and social import. This may help explain why artists who sideline aesthetics as passé or ideologically unsound have to justify attention with something else entirely. Hence the fixation with “social issues” – generally of an anhedonic kind - and opaque, preposterous theory. It’s an attempt to justify an exercise, the value of which is now in doubt.


Chris Rywalt

April 24, 2008, 7:54 AM

I don't think the value of art is in doubt, so much as the very existence of art is in doubt. Not the existence of art in general -- as a class of objects -- but the existence of art in particular, as in "Is this object art?"

I've been reading Rosenberg's Art on the Edge and one thing that interests me is where he notes that the modern age -- he was writing in the early 1970s and it's still true -- the modern age is one where every past age is being excavated and poured out. Past artistic styles weren't conscious choices; they were determined by the culture into which an artist was born. For the past hundred years or so -- maybe closer to two hundred (let's start with Manet, and why not?) -- the entirety of art history has been available to artists to choose from. So contemporary artistic style is a choice. Where in the past one could determine art from not-art simply by examining the style, now one has to determine it entirely on a piece by piece basis.

So to me the question isn't "Is art valuable?" -- people still find enough value to go to museums and galleries -- but more "What qualifies as art?" Is Thomas Kinkade's work art? Norman Rockwell's? Are movies art? How about piles of construction debris in the Whitney?

Words are deployed to make a case for this or that to qualify as art. Which is appropriate in a sense: As Franklin points out, philosophy is best served by words. Of course, visual art isn't. Which puts us in the bizarre position of trying to convince people, using only words, of something that can only be experienced directly.


David Thompson

April 24, 2008, 8:09 AM


“For the past hundred years or so… the entirety of art history has been available to artists to choose from.”

That reminds me of something I wrote for Eye magazine a few years ago.

“The conceptual artist, to his credit, is rarely less than well read and culturally informed. He is, therefore, painfully aware of what has already been done and by whom. He’s also aware of how interpretations can change with mainstream assimilation and the benefit of hindsight. Consequently, the artist is wary of being earnest, or of showing overt sentiment - just in case such unambiguous commitment should seem naïve or cheesily melodramatic at some point in the future. He is, at best, ‘playful’.

In addition, he’s fearful of inadvertently repeating what has been done before, which would be wasteful of his talents and, more to the point, uncool. As history accumulates, the space left to him diminishes. Inevitably, he arrives at a uniquely postmodern nightmare: With all of popular culture and art history at his fingers, the conceptual artist is, with awful irony, confined by self-regard and rendered impotent through knowledge. And, finally, what is left? A joke, sneerily told, laughing at itself.”


Pretty Lady

April 24, 2008, 9:13 AM

Echo! Echo! Echo!



April 24, 2008, 9:14 AM

Specifically, "echo" followed by a space.



April 24, 2008, 9:37 AM

I agree with the "drift" of what you say, David, but not on all of your observations.

I have found conceptual artists are often ill-informed, particularly if the art is a decade or more in the past, and by what they assume is unworthy to look at. And the urge to be original is finely balanced by an urge (or the inevitability of) being not TOO original.

When I was on one of the Endowment selection panels panels years ago we often had very similar or occasionally identical submissions from artists who could not have known each other, in one case 3 completely identical videos, each with the same title. We all breath the same esthetic "air".

By "space left" I assume you mean the space left to be original. This space does diminish, I suppose, but it is a space created by the intrinsic self-defeating nature of conceptual work and exists much less critically for artists working in traditional mediums where the imperative rests not on how "new" but how "good".



April 24, 2008, 9:40 AM

Franklin, that is a very curious bug--no doubt perpetrated by Narcissus, to assuage his guilt...but wait, Narcissus would never feel guilt...too busy looking at himself...still, some Greek or other must be behind it.

the artist is wary of being earnest, or of showing overt sentiment - just in case such unambiguous commitment should seem naïve or cheesily melodramatic at some point in the future. He is, at best, ‘playful’.

David, you must know Bert Rodriguez well. If not, you've described him as if you did. He works the "playful" angle big time--so hard, in fact, that it's impossible to buy it as such. Trouble is, if you don't buy it, the work is like Cleveland: there's no there there. Well, maybe some trendy fumes, but you know how vapors dissipate.



April 24, 2008, 9:47 AM

I think it was Oakland that had no there there.

Catching that bug took years.



April 24, 2008, 9:48 AM

Nailed it, David. And Eric, you're onto something there.



April 24, 2008, 9:57 AM

It was indeed Oakland, but I expect Gertrude Stein would have felt similarly about Cleveland.



April 24, 2008, 10:06 AM

Maybe I am trying to get at this notion of the ossification of art. Art history and art theory become eczema that cover the work. Once a work of art is associated with what is considered to be a historically important concept (appropriation, flatness, the unconscious, etc.) it can't be seen in any other context, and all the art that follows has to fit into one of these convenient and reductive pigeonholes that the historians and theorists and critics have been bandying about for years. That is why critics and art teachers have to use comparisons so often. There are certain conceptual grooves that have been carved and it is impossible to disrupt or dismantle them. That is why so much art writing is so tiresome.


David Thompson

April 24, 2008, 10:12 AM


“When I was on one of the Endowment selection panels years ago we often had very similar or occasionally identical submissions from artists who could not have known each other…”

Well, I wasn’t suggesting that the artists I had in mind actually achieved originality. Conformity and tedium are more typical results. Much of the failure and uniformity is due to a very narrow and tendentious starting point – having discarded most of what makes art engaging - and the claustrophobic nature of the theoretical posturing that goes with it. There’s very little ground to work with, so to speak, and most of that is barren.

Also, the obligatory language is practically robotic and largely meaningless, and thus boring. One theory-clotted press release or gallery note reads much like any other. “Spaces,” “discourses,” “dialogical strategies”. Such-and-such “interrogates” something or other, or does such-and-such and its opposite. It “hovers between” this and that. It “both embraces and rejects” something and something else.

Paradox and vagueness are, of course, essential. Because it’s horseshit and flummery.



April 24, 2008, 12:06 PM

Although we often focus on the failings of the art critics, the language they use and the cliché and poorly constructed positions and concepts they recycle over and over again, I would say that there is an unhealthy nexus between this critical discourse and the historical packaging of art rendered by the academicians. As art history gets written, as the academics neatly tie things up in the ever shrinking present, the critics act as a buffer, stealing from art history books, codifying them, and helping to produce them all at the same time.



April 24, 2008, 12:52 PM

Jack, I think Cleveland has been cleaned up a lot since it was really bad 30 years ago. I am sensitive to regional characterization because I (and my family since forever) come from NJ and no one ever sees anything but the oil cracking towers along the turnpike.

Eric, the underlying problem with criticism is that there isn't any, or very little. Critics started fearing to be "the one who laughed at Pollock" a generation ago and that spread like a virus, like when a group of people try to cross the street in traffic and seem to rather stick together than heed the truck bearing down on them, or like birds, or fish in a school, turning all at once. Going against the tide now means ostracism, no prestige, no publishing. They are simply afraid.

Furthermore, they have very little to criticise, because it is all pretty much the same, and in a sense criticizing any one of them symbolically means criticizing them all. That's why you get a piece like that Roberta Smith number on the Color Field show where the only thing she could find to criticize was a critic who really criticized.

David, yes, horseshit and flummery. The struggle to be original toxifies conformity, but the struggle to be better disragards it, or even takes advantage of it, to build workable conventions. Originality is very overrated.



April 24, 2008, 12:59 PM

As I said above, having to come up with the real goods is difficult, and everybody definitely cannot do it, no matter how hard they may try. Art is not egalitarian or democratic; that's why it's been supplanted by so-called art which bypasses the inherent difficulty and "unfairness" with verborrhea, "issues," "relevance" and what have you--anything but taking the bull by the horns and wrestling it to the ground. That, it's been ever-so-conveniently determined, is not required, meaning it's basically for chumps. Ask Mr. Koons.



April 24, 2008, 1:00 PM

That 3rd ¶ doesn't sound right.

In the middle I should have said "...It gets to be a habit. That's why you get a piece like..."


David Thompson

April 24, 2008, 1:42 PM

It’s worth noting that the quasi-egalitarian “theories” of many artists, educators and critics are at odds with the nature of artistic talent, which is by definition unequally distributed. Politicised theory is fairly easy to disseminate among mediocrities. Talent isn’t. This may not be entirely incidental.



April 24, 2008, 2:47 PM

No, David, it's not at all incidental.

What I still can't quite fathom is why the people with the money, who could do as they damn well pleased without regard for anyone or anything, are so easily and consistently co-opted, manipulated and basically had. I can come up with various reasons for that, but none of them makes real sense, accurate though they may be. In other words, why are the rich (or rich enough) idiots so idiotic, when they clearly don't have to be?



April 24, 2008, 4:00 PM

Money is like power, Jack. Some know how to get it; few know how to use it.



April 24, 2008, 5:38 PM

The hardness of art.


Marc Country

April 24, 2008, 8:33 PM

A whiff of the changing cultural zeitgeist...



April 24, 2008, 9:46 PM

The Hardness of Art.



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