Nihilism as mannerism
Post #1173 • May 6, 2008, 1:57 PM • 262 Comments
I'm pulling this over from EW. George (slightly edited):
I think that quality is not the only metric for work to be influential on later artists. ... What is "influential" should not only be concerned with matters of style or formal achievements but can also with conceptual attributes as well. We may view artworks which fail to completely integrate these elements as being of lesser quality, deficient in some aspect but there is no reason why they cannot be influential. Either the later artist is an emulator, or he figures out how to extend the earlier flawed work by presenting a better solution. Moreover, one should not discount the influential effect of what might be called "anti-art." Regardless of whether or not one likes, or can even accept such endeavors, they frequently act to clear the plate, so to speak, for later developments.
I agree with this completely:
What is "influential" should not only be concerned with matters of style or formal achievements but can also with conceptual attributes as well.
The conceptual component of art is the entry point for non-art influences on art. Some of those non-art influences can be enabling on a huge scale. You can find this if you look at all the good work that took its starting point from religion, myth, story, or current events of some kind. Some of those influences can be disabling on a huge scale, as evinced by the 18th Century for painting in just about its entirety; Greenberg noted that the century produced great artists but no great schools or great followers, and I think it would be hard to dispute that.
What one might call "anti-art" is a special case. Greenberg seems to have recognized that wide swaths of abstraction had become imitative and mannered by the '60s, and he welcomed the first salvos of Pop, if not the later ones. Hughes noted smartly about Susan Rothenberg that "bad" painting turned out to be just as hard as any other kind of painting. There's Guston, who worked his way into a gripping figurative style by way of cartooning. I find myself unable to dismiss Ruscha, and I've tried. I like the plate-clearing idea. I question, though, the effectiveness of whole careers based on plate-clearing: Baldessari, Kosuth, Richard Prince, Hirst.
Fountain is worth discussing in this light. The original, presented in 1917, was transgressive. Its recreation at the behest of Sidney Janis in 1950 starts to look bogus and commercial. Other versions date from '53 to '64 in limited editions, at which point we're talking about something akin to a Dali print. And to cite it now by way of justification for alleged trasgression in current work is profoundly bogus. I want to say, Hello? My plate is clear. Call it "lessness" if you want to; this plate has nothing on it, and further efforts to clear it are wearing down the glaze. High echelons of art world culture have gotten so good at plate-clearing that they have come to regard putting something back on the plate as retrogressive. Like anything else, the impulse starts as a refreshing development and ends as the exhausted style that is getting in the way of progress.