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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.




May 6, 2008, 2:39 PM

I think, there is not a thing such as art on itself, it would be boring. I think our interpretation of the concept makes the "art value" and our view changes over time of course. You can only see what you know. I was astonished, what cosmos had Vincent van Gogh, after I saw a catalog of his works (from the museum in Amsterdam) after 10 years again. Art developed, my standpoints changed, I high value different qualities in van Gogh today, I even did not have a glimpse of a while ago. Best regards, Hans



May 6, 2008, 3:08 PM

Franklin, I suppose that, at least theoretically, almost anything can be used to good effect, but do try to avoid George-an ruminations. Surely there are far better starting points for discussion. Let the EW crowd have him. We did our time.



May 6, 2008, 3:17 PM

And by the way, it's not so much nihilism as making faux virtue out of deficiency. If you can't produce the real goods, why not promote and glorify their absence as "advanced," "new and different," "challenging," "controversial," "provocative" (of thought, presumably), etc., etc.? This is all excruciatingly tiresome, certainly by now. It's not even remotely transgressive; it's merely boring, stale BS. Basta.



May 6, 2008, 4:34 PM

The thing about Ed Ruscha is that he wants to make things that look good. I know that from conversations with him many years ago when he was a "young artist" and I know it from looking at what he has done.

The pictures he did when he was wrestling with whether to follow ab ex (they were pedestrian) bear out the wisdom of his decision to take a different path - but taking that different path was for the sake of getting better, not the mental gymnastics that came along with pop, et. al.



May 6, 2008, 4:46 PM

Most of those artists didn't clear plates, they threw up on them.

All painting or art of any kind has a "conceptual component". It is a painting. That's a concept. It is a painting of an apple. That's a concept. And so forth.

The problem with concepts is not that they are there but that they are articulations of fact, not attributes of quality.

Using the word "transgressive" for "Fountain" is to buy into its overwhelmingly exaggerated reputation as a work of art. It is not interesting as a work of art. Duchamp made it to poke the establishment in the eye. He made a point of telling us this over and over again.

But the art establishment is a resilient, if masochistic, organism. Kick it and it says "do it again". It has absorbed every destructive, anti-art impulse of the 20th century, put them on the auction block and sold them for millions. It has come to the point where there are fools out there soberly averring that the damn pisspot is the most "important" (watch out for that word) work of the 20th C and Duchamp the most important artist.

Art can only take so much. One day these idiots just might succeed in killing it. Maybe they already have.



May 6, 2008, 5:07 PM

What I don't buy into is the idea of transgression as an inherent good. That's just ridiculous.



May 6, 2008, 5:34 PM

I notice you are spending a lot of time over at EWs, where they have an admirable quantity, if not quality, of comment, mostly taking on good ol' George and his lamentable obsession with "datedness", because no one else there seems to be able to.

Too bad. It's getting to be awfully difficult to work up a rousing argument around these parts. A good number of those commenting over there would have a rather difficult time here. I guess that's why they are over there. God bless 'em.



May 6, 2008, 6:07 PM

I like Greenberg's description of this process as needing to go 'far-out'. It has a great old school ring to it, and it also takes the calculated achievements of the art down a notch or two right off the top. 'Transgression' sounds too legit for what many of these artists have actually achieved. If we stick to tallying 'facts' about the sheerly visual, a lot of it doesn't add up to much at all. If its main value is to help me see what quality and real effort is not, I'm not sure why I should want to give it my time in any serious way. The extremes of the antics of today's far-outers, and those of yesteryear differ considerably. The frame up of spectacle has grown that much more sophisticated. Ironically, most of this art has kept on getting ever more homogenous, just like Greenberg said about it way back then, under a veneer of originality. It asks me to place value in newness right off the top, and this, its only real 'transgression', is so calculated it just leaves me feeling cold and manipulated by its nihilism - which is really just narcissism anyway.



May 6, 2008, 6:24 PM

It's not even real nihilism. It's expedience. It's doing what can be managed (such as it is) and blowing it all out of proportion, tarting it up with all manner of ultimately extraneous notions to disguise (or distract from) lack of actual talent.

As a related ploy, it's also dismissing, downplaying or even demonizing what can't be managed as "anachronistic," "decorative," "formalist" (the horror!) and so forth. All very convenient, pseudoradical, and, sadly, eminently suitable for consumption by the amazingly plentiful rich idiots.



May 6, 2008, 6:30 PM

Re #6, it's no more ridiculous than the notion of "new" or "different" as inherently good. AIDS was both new and different once, if you get my drift. It all depends on how good (or not) the new and different is. It's always a quality issue, ultimately. The rest is just glorified marketing.



May 6, 2008, 6:32 PM

I certainly never made a point of dining at McCrapyourdrawer's to resuscitate things when fave restaurants started to taste a bit bland. (I'm vegetarian by now and loving it, thank god). I made a point of looking for new sources of clean quality nourishment. Hard as they are to find.



May 6, 2008, 7:44 PM

Re #7, methinks an obsession with "datedness" bespeaks serious fear of being taken for dated one's self. It fits.

No doubt Goya could have been tarred as "dated" in Manet's time, or Greek art deemed "anachronistic" in Michelangelo's, or Claude's landscapes dismissed as "coldly academic" in Turner's. The world has never lacked for fools, even if they seem far more empowered these days. The point is that the people who know the real deal when they see it, and/or have real talent, are the ones who really matter. Fools are always with us, but they are always fools, or perhaps worse: knowing charlatans.



May 6, 2008, 7:52 PM

Roy, in #8, asks why should he want to give it (the far-out) his time in any serious way.

The answer, of course, is he should not. The card being played by most of this stuff IS that it takes a lot of time to "get". Not because it is difficult, though it is, but because it is mental, and twisted mental at that. Explaining it takes a lot of time, getting the explantations even more.

Successful visual art is gettable in an instant. No need to travel a labyrinth of explanation. Only the stuff that falls short needs an explanation, and the far-out falls plenty short, so it provides plenty of explanation.

And Roy is right about the sophistication. The place where I took my MFA sent me a blurb today asking for money so they could "bring in" a "landscape-oriented installation artist" and said I would not get any more "newsletters" like this one unless I sent in at least $50. I wrote a check to the grocery store instead, hoping they will keep their promise not to send any more blurbs.

However sophisticated they might be art-system wise, they are not sophisticated fund raisers.



May 6, 2008, 8:03 PM

The "difficulty" of most of the art out there is not that it is hard to "get" but that it is so easy to get that you have a difficult time wondering why matters to "get it" at all. I know this sounds glib but I have noticed a lot of people struggling with this very problem.

Catfish is right, but incomplete. To be sure, only the stuff that falls short needs an explanation. Good art needs no explanations, but explanations are supplied anyway - for viewers who fall short.



May 7, 2008, 12:26 AM

Transgressive art is no longer possible, no matter what press releases say, and there is only novelty now.



May 7, 2008, 6:25 AM

Opie: It's getting to be awfully difficult to work up a rousing argument around these parts. A good number of those commenting over there would have a rather difficult time here. I guess that's why they are over there.

I don't pretend to know why people generally participate or don't participate here, but I suspect you're right. I have been waiting for five years for the arrival of the person who can speak for nonvisual art with the clarity and insight that you (and several others here) speak for visual art, really making a case for it, and this person has not troubled himself to appear. Not just here, but anywhere. I'm pretty sure at this point that he doesn't exist. I generally aggravate people over at EW but I have some sympathizers as well. I say a lot of things on that blog that people withhold because they wouldn't mind having EW as a gallery one day, or get into the project of one of his associates, and for better or worse - likely worse, as far as my career is concerned - I don't have that ability to kowtow.

'Transgression' sounds too legit for what many of these artists have actually achieved.

Amen Roy.

The "difficulty" of most of the art out there is not that it is hard to "get" but that it is so easy to get that you have a difficult time wondering why matters to "get it" at all.

I noted somewhere that middlebrows think of themselves as highbrows and compare themselves to lowbrows who they think are middlebrows. (In comparison, real highbrows just enjoy their taste.) This "getting" of ostensibly difficult art distinguishes them from the lowbrows. Real lowbrows certainly have the capacity to understand this stuff, but can't be made to care about it, to their credit.



May 7, 2008, 7:16 AM

"I have been waiting for five years for the arrival of the person who can speak for nonvisual art with the clarity and insight"

We had a real vociferous bunch a few years ago, as you will remember, and it was fun arguing with them. Unfortunately "clarity and insight" were not among their virtues, and they eventually slunk away with their tails between their legs.


Oriane Stender

May 7, 2008, 7:31 AM

FYI on why there are not a lot of commenters here:

I enjoy Franklin's writing but have found the atmosphere in the comments section to be not so conducive to people with viewpoints that differ from the general consensus. That's why I haven't participated lately and don't plan to in the future. Indicative of this closemindedness are the regular swipes at Ed's blog, often by people who admit that they don't even read it. Ed encourages healthy debate, discourages gratuitous insults and often gets really interesting discussions going, reflecting a wide variety of viewpoints (including Franklin's). That's why I frequent his blog even if I sometimes disagree with his points. I try to state my disagreement respectfully, not out of any notion of sucking up because of his potential to help my career, but as a basic courtesy to the host, someone who is giving us a valuable forum for the exchange of ideas and information.



May 7, 2008, 7:45 AM

"Ed encourages healthy debate"

Really? Is that why he came here at one point to tell the awful, beastly regulars not to bother commenting on a thread at his blog started by Pretty Lady regarding the Whitney Biennial, or her alternative to it? How very odd.

By the way, Franklin, surely you have an auto-response to "closed-mindedness," don't you? If not, you should.



May 7, 2008, 8:00 AM

FYI on why there are not a lot of commenters here: Opie already answered this one, but a "wide variety of viewpoints" is always welcome. A "healthy debate", after all, usually contains both correct, and incorrect, views...



May 7, 2008, 8:07 AM


1. You refer to a "general consensus". Do you mean the general consensus in general or the general consensus here? We certainly do not represent any kind of "general" general consensus. Anything but!

2. My swipes are not directly at Ed's blog (which I have read) but at some of the commentators there and their lack of coherent argument and thought and the overall tolerance for that laxity.

3. We do not tolerate gratuitous insults and we are not disrespectful, which you imply that we are. Read the guidelines, which Franklin enforces.

4. My experience with the world of blogging is that "Closeminded" is surrogate word for "too difficult to cope with" and "Openminded" is a surrogate word for "we are nice, don't argue too forcefully and are tolerant when others say something stupid". We offer a tougher venue for discussion. You are free to make your choice.



May 7, 2008, 8:16 AM

Although many artists today are not very visually sensitive, they are generally a personally, and interpersonally, sensitive bunch. They do not handle perceived slights (like disagreement, criticism, etc.) well at all. But, since invariably they perceive these as personal slights, that is exactly how they tend to respond.

In my town, and on my blog, we have a reputation as shit-disturbers within the otherwise smiling art community, for our criticism of funding structures, building plans, curatorial misdirection, etc.... I hear, through the grapevine, artists in the community talk about us as being "mean"... others take our criticisms as some kind of backhanded "badge of honor", as if our disdain could be exchanged for a kind of pomo street-cred... but, one ting we do not get from the other side is argument, because they simply haven't those kind of legs to stand on... instead, we get the odd commenter (always anonymous) who tries to yank our cranks.

I realize that this is just a microcosm of the larger art world, and it is indeed the same old samo all round...



May 7, 2008, 8:31 AM

Guys, I'm just giving you some feedback on why I'm not so comfortable here. I don't intend to answer each of your points, because it's just a general feeling. It sometimes feels like you're a club that is suspicious of, and occasionally hostile to, outsiders . But I will say to Jack that yes, Ed has his off-days, or occasional emotional reactions, as does anyone. I found his reaction to PL to be unusual in that he seemed to be taking her criticism of the Whitney Bi very personally, as if he had curated it himself, which I didn't understand, but in the long run, I find him to be openminded and fair. I didn't make any objections in that case because I am one of the artists who PL put in "her biennial)" so I didn't feel it was appropriate for me to get involved in that particular argument; it seemed like it might look like I was objecting to his reaction for other reasons. In any case, I'm not here to defend Ed (he doesn't need it) but just to let you know how it sometimes feels here as an outsider. My last experience here made me feel like a woman in what had formerly been a male-only private club, one in which the members had not quite accepted that subtle gender discrimination (or more specifically, what is known in sexual harassment law as "creating a hostile environment") is no longer appropriate. Ironically, the one person who most offended me (and the only one who didn't apologize) was someone I know in the real world, so I can't hold the blog completely responsible, but an environment in which that can happen is one that I don't choose to be a part of. I'm not writing to complain or criticize or argue about it, but just to let you know why this particular commenter doesn't comment anymore. Do with that info what you will.



May 7, 2008, 10:03 AM

"Ironically, the one person who most offended me (and the only one who didn't apologize) was someone I know in the real world... an environment in which that can happen is one that I don't choose to be a part of."

Ironic, to say the least...



May 7, 2008, 10:13 AM

Re #21, especially point 4: Yes.

Re #22: Absolutely, positively Yes.

Re #24: To each his/her own, obviously. We are all free to choose and act accordingly, which is as it should be. However, speaking for myself, my response to you or anyone else who comes here has nothing to do with gender. If I'm "hostile," it's very much equal-opportunity hostility.



May 7, 2008, 10:15 AM

The last part of #25 was actually Re #23, not #24.


Chris Rywalt

May 7, 2008, 10:57 AM

Getting back to something like the original post....

Reading Rosenberg on Duchamp resurrected Duchamp in a way for me. Because when I originally heard about his work my initial impression was that he was basically mocking the art world. He was saying, look, idiots will consider anything art if it has the right signature on it. Over the years, though, I came to think that Duchamp actually believed his hype -- believed that any object was, in fact, art, if only an artist said so.

Reading one of Rosenberg's essays on Duchamp, though, turned me back around: I'm back to believing Duchamp intended his urinal as high satire. And the fact that he made such detailed plans for their recreation -- that he inveigled actual craftsmen in the de novo creation of a "readymade" -- so that they could be ensconced in a museum; I think all the contradictions in that tickled him pink.

In other words, I'm back to thinking that Duchamp was the tailor who sewed the emperor's new clothes and the emperor hasn't gotten the joke yet. Of course the emperor and all his subjects have purposely designed the system such that no one can admit to the joke -- Rosenberg wrote (almost forty years before I did in almost exactly the same words) that the key to the story of the emperor's new clothes is that only a young child, ignorant of the rules, could point out the obvious.

In the modern case, the art world has cast its mindset -- like any cult would -- such that they can hear the cries of the young child, but can't actually listen to them. They might as well be in a foreign language.

The argument for Conceptualism, Franklin, is inherent in this acceptance of Duchamp and his Dadaism. Once you can accept Fountain as a serious work of art, you throw out sincerity, honesty, passion, and the sublime, leaving only irony, detachment, satire, and puns. The only way, then, to shoehorn these values back into art is to work around the gallery-collector-museum complex. Sadly, like all good capitalist machines, this complex is capable of absorbing absolutely anything -- including its own negation -- turning it into product and selling it back to you. So you have artists like Robert Smithson going out into the middle of nowhere to create Earthworks in an attempt to create art that simply cannot be commodified; and then of course coming back and selling photos, drawings, and other ephemera. Conceptualism was another way of trying an end run around the art world that failed and is now a commodity like anything else.



May 7, 2008, 10:58 AM

"All painting or art of any kind has a "conceptual component". It is a painting. That's a concept. It is a painting of an apple. That's a concept. And so forth."

So, is 'conceptual art' made out of bigger, or more important concepts? No, of course not. What sets it apart from visual art is not that it is 'conceptual' per se, but that it is MERELY conceptual.

With a little honesty, we wouldn't talk about Merely Conceptual art as belonging to the visual arts in any meaningful way, and we would certainly not exclude artists who work with words (who are called 'writers') from the group of people we call "conceptual artists".

If I want a work that examines the nature of language, meaning, definitions, etc. I'll take the conceptual art of Merriam Webster over Joseph Kosuth, any day.



May 7, 2008, 11:10 AM

An alternate take on the pisspot...



May 7, 2008, 11:27 AM

"I'm back to believing Duchamp intended his urinal as high satire."

I think you mean "low satire", Chris... we are talking about a urinal, here, after all. You've got to admit, Duchamp ain't exactly Oscar Wilde...

"And the fact that he made such detailed plans for their recreation..."

I just read, somewhere on the interweb recently, that the newer 'fountains' were simply purchased and signed, not 'designed'. I can't remember the precise article, but I believe it was a multimedia 'slideshow'... did anyone else catch this on a recent art news page?...

Ultimately Duchamp's urinal WAS intended as a joke, one that shows us his basic conservatism, and his inability to accept the best art happening around him, along with is inability to 'get' cubism (as evidenced in his "Nude Descending a Staircase".

Duchamp saw the art around him, and his conservative sensibilities were offended by it. He thought it all looked like a joke, so he was going to play at their game, and put in his own, very obvious, joke, since that was the only way he could see to "outdo" what he thought Picasso et al were doing.

"Duchamp actually believed his hype -- believed that any object was, in fact, art, if only an artist said so... Once you can accept Fountain as a serious work of art..."

It is true that bad art is a kind of art, so Duchamp would be correct that all art takes to be made is to be identified. But calling something "serious", or "important", etc. is not the same as calling it "good"... just ask Merriam Webster...

Chris, I'm afraid that, since you and I disagree from time to time here, considering our inherent sexism, one of us must be a woman...



May 7, 2008, 11:36 AM

MC it is interesting that the auction guy Brown quotes is (and is realistically) interested not whether there are fakes out there or in detecting the fakes but only whether the public thinks there are undetected fakes out there.

However the proper action for him to have taken is not to expose the faker but to keep it quiet. That way the public don't know nothing.



May 7, 2008, 2:13 PM

Let me float a test balloon and see if it flies.

Conceptual art is a direct result of Modernism. Art since cave-painting has been made of form, narrative and motive (just like literature has style, plot and theme). Modernism deleted narrative from the picture, focusing only on form, and formalism further declared that art was its own motive (thus introducing the idea of self-criticism).

Art History wasn't going to take this affront lying down. Humans have made narrative art for thousands of years. Why let those elements die without a fight? Duchamp jumped into the fray, saying, "If you're going to delete narrative from art, and make art its own motive, then I'm going to delete form from art, and make everything else its motive."

Duchamp was either right or wrong, sincere or insincere. Doesn't matter. He experimented with the foundations of art just as modernists/ formalists did, with the same attributes as they. Formalism and conceptualism are two sides of the same coin. If art contained full helpings of form, narrative and motive in the oldest days, then who's to say which of those elements are the important ones, and in which proportions? If someone has the phone number of the Emperor then let them call and ask.


Chris Rywalt

May 7, 2008, 2:21 PM

You make it sound as if Dada, Duchamp, and Conceptualism spring from the same place as non-Euclidean geometry. "What happens if we define parallel lines differently? What if we define the shortest distance between two points as something other than a straight line?"

It's an interesting observation.



May 7, 2008, 2:29 PM

Hovig, I just floated the following graph over at Ed's:

The central observation of modernism is that quality has no qualities - that goodness has no traits. This is what necessitates self-criticism. The central postmodernist misconception is that qualities have quality - that traits have goodness. This countermands self-criticism. Any conclusion from the former can be ported to the latter and turned into a mistake.

So yes, you can start with the notion that no particular form is important to art, which is true, and conclude that not having any particular form is good, which is false. Sure, it follows naturally from modernist premises to postmodernist ones. I'm sure one or two of them even succeed somewhere.



May 7, 2008, 2:42 PM

GOD it is tiresome talking about Duchamp. He did what he did to poke the modernists in the eye. He SAID that's what he did. He is celebrated now ONLY because he rationalizes a certain attitude toward making art. PLEASE, everyone, srop making him some kind of holy progenitor! It just doesn'tt square with the facts.

Hovig, you ask "...who's to say which of those elements are the important ones, and in which proportions?" Well, you do, and I do, and whoever wants to does. It makes no difference. You look at it and it is good or bad or inbetween and that's it.

What's irritating are the tens of thousands of tenth-rate artists and critics and art dorks (and bloggers) who think that hanging any old thing on the wall and mumbling about gender and identity and all the rest of that pathetic half-baked apologetica amounts to something. Concepts are not art. Narrative is not art. Paint is not art. Ideas are not art. They are all materials. Someone takes it all and puts it together and calls it art and we look at it and like it or not. It is just that simple, really!



May 7, 2008, 3:16 PM

Franklin - I'll meditate on your first graf, which is interesting. But I'll turn aside your second.

I didn't intend to start by saying "no particular form is good," but rather, that once you start unraveling the three(?) strands of art that have been so tightly braided for so many millenia, it's not so clear that (a) getting rid of one strand is better than getting rid of any other, or that (b) getting rid of any of them whatsoever produces a better or more artistic result than keeping the old formula intact.



May 7, 2008, 3:21 PM

Well, there's no formula. There's only quality as evidenced by two art objects that succeed to different degrees, and thus we know it to manifest and not manifest in different examples. That's basically all we have to go on.



May 7, 2008, 3:24 PM

Opie - Sorry you're tired. Go ahead and lie down for a few minutes. I'll be here. But I don't want to find myself debating words over ideas, so I'll rephrase myself using terms that I hope cause less stress.

My first point was: Modernism got rid of storylines. Formalism said that art's only motivation is itself. Conceptualism asserted that if you can get rid of some stuff, then you should be able get rid of other stuff instead.

My other point was: If you can get rid of something, it's obvious that it was there to begin with. But what follows is that it may have been there for a reason, and also, that getting rid of it might be detrimental. Art has had a tightly-integrated combined definition for many millennia. It can't be so clear-cut -- it shouldn't be so clear-cut -- that one type of tinkering is better or more artistic than another.

I don't buy it when you say, "whoever wants to" can decide the important elements, because you follow it up with, "it is good or bad or inbetween." You're giving with one hand by saying anyone can decide what's important, but you're taking with the other by making them abide by your definition of "good." (When I read your comments I always substitute specialized meanings for the words "art," "good," and "eye" anyway).

As long as someone has a narrow definition of good, and as long as everything they believe flows inexorably from that definition, it easily follows that they will take a dim view of any type of tinkering that doesn't account from the start for that view of goodness.



May 7, 2008, 3:41 PM

Hovig, you don't define quality, you detect it. So what you're saying above is consistent with itself but not consistent with how art works. You're free to tinker with whatever interests you of course. But some kinds of tinkering result in better art and some don't. Content doesn't matter less because some formalists said so, but because it seems to have little bearing on how good the art comes out.


Chris Rywalt

May 7, 2008, 3:41 PM

Placing "goodness" as the ultimate criterion for art doesn't necessarily mean that the definition of "goodness" must be narrow. I often find that -- let's call them artistic liberals, these people who like Conceptualism and performance art and all that, keeping in mind that this is a deliberately tongue-in-cheek term -- I often find that artistic liberals argue as if demanding quality, or goodness, automatically means you're a hidebound formalist or bourgeois numbskull. In fact, it's possible to demand goodness in art without claiming a precise definition of goodness, without being narrow-minded.

For my part I believe goodness can be found in any kind of art. My problem with Conceptual Art and Performance Art and Video Art is that for all I've seen of it, it all sucks. I'm not saying it must suck. But I'm saying we should avoid such art because it sucks so often. Why waste time on it? Just because this time it might be okay? Might as well watch MTV for a week because they might, at any time, actually play a music video.


Chris Rywalt

May 7, 2008, 3:49 PM

I think the parallel with non-Euclidean geometry is apt here. Euclidean geometry is based on a series of postulates. The brilliance of non-Euclidean geometry lay in realizing that one could change these postulates and get an entirely different geometry which is consistent and useful.

So, John, you make three postulates of Art. Art has Form, Narrative, and Motive. That's Euclidean Art. Modern Art says Art doesn't need Narrative -- it changes the Second Postulate of Art -- and the results are art of quality.

Postmodern Art says Art doesn't need Form -- it changes the First Postulate of Art. Are the results art of quality?

Franklin's quality detector says no. Mine too. The results may be thought-provoking, or interesting, or intriguing; pretty or ugly; stupid or profound. But they don't partake of visual quality.

So we're saying you've got a branch of non-Euclidean Art which isn't useful. The mathematics collapses and doesn't return a worthwhile value. Time to move on.



May 7, 2008, 4:34 PM

Hovig, I have no definition of what is good. never have. Never will. Where did that come from?

Of course every person decides what is good. How else? A committee

I did not say anything about "important". Who cares about important?

Please respond to WHAT HAS ACTUALLY BEEN SAID. That way we can have a discussion without tiresome corrections and revisions.

Thank you.



May 7, 2008, 5:33 PM

Chris, that was really good.


Chris Rywalt

May 7, 2008, 5:43 PM

I highly recommend reading Rosenberg followed by Harlan Ellison. My brain's on fire.



May 7, 2008, 6:17 PM

I've read a lot of art history, art criticism, philosophy, and history, and I still like what I like regardless of anything I have read or anything I have heard people say about something. I can't put it into words. I am drawn to things that I love and those are the things that have quality in my mind. I really don't give a shit what other people say, writers, speakers, whatever. Life is way too short to be unsure of oneself in this regard. You love something and it becomes important to you because you remember it and think about it or YOU DON'T.



May 7, 2008, 6:27 PM

Sorry if that sounded macho and dismissive. I am really fried because my oldest son has been getting up an hour earlier than he normally does. Goodnight and good luck.



May 7, 2008, 8:23 PM

Scenes from the unfolding zeitgeist, cont....



May 8, 2008, 6:33 AM

Franklin #39 - as has been said to me a zillion times you can be absolutely sweetly reasonable and right and it makes no impression, no difference.

You are kicking Jello with these people. They harbor intractable, deeply buried weirdnesses that have nothing to do with art but come puffing up into the art realm like steam from a semi-dormant volcano.

When did any of them last say "wow, you have a point there. I'll have to think about that and let you know"? In 4 years blogging I think I have seen it less than a half-dozen times. It is easier to go where the going is easy. Birds of a feather.


Chris Rywalt

May 8, 2008, 6:45 AM

I like the metaphor of gases puffing up into the art world, but somehow the volcano doesn't fit -- I'm seeing something more organic.


Chris Rywalt

May 8, 2008, 6:49 AM

My psychiatrist was telling me about his days working in an open psych ward. He told me he learned that if you wanted to diagnosis a new patient, all you had to do was tell them you had something else to work on and please wait in the common room. Then watch them. Given three hours or so with the four hundred patients in the common room, the new patient will find and join the group with the same disorder they have.



May 8, 2008, 6:55 AM

I know, Chris. The volcano conveys too much of an impression of power. It is more like a rotten egg with a cracked shell.

The psychiatrist anecdote is excellent. I'm going to save it.



May 8, 2008, 6:56 AM

By the way, you should ask him if that applies to what psychiatrist one chooses also.



May 8, 2008, 7:05 AM

Hovig (38), if you have a problem with the second paragraph of 35, it's not because it's contradictory or inconsistent.

Also, you appear to be equating clear, definite and/or firm with "narrow," which is a common enough practice, but that hardly makes it convincing.

You're welcome to bask in what you may consider "broad-mindedness," "inclusiveness" or "openness," but try to sound a bit less condescending. Considering that OP's art-related credentials are much more impressive than yours or mine, the patronizing snideness of your first paragraph is rather out of line.



May 8, 2008, 7:31 AM

Y'all go easy on my man Hovig. We have a lot of good conversations off-blog and if not for his technical expertise, there would be no Hov actually does see the point of the other side pretty well.

I respectfully suggest that there may be a contradiction between the sentiments behind "It's getting to be awfully difficult to work up a rousing argument around these parts" from #7 and "You are kicking Jello with these people" from #48.



May 8, 2008, 7:37 AM

#42 opie "who cares about important?"

do you think "gel" was an important new development to your picture making?

was olitski important to your art?

if these are too personal see them on more general terms?

were cubism, staining, spraying, persective, painterly, etc. important to art? and or the early works that exhibited these to great effect?



May 8, 2008, 7:52 AM

I did not mean to imply that there is no such thing as "important", only that "important" is not equivalent to "good", as was implied. That does not mean that something cannot be both good and important, of course, merely that they re not coterminous.

Cubism, in the hands of Picasso and Braque, was obviously both. Good because, well, it just was, and "important" because it had great influence and provided a structural basis for non-objective art.

Duchamp's you-know-what is no good as art but has been made very "important" for other reasons.



May 8, 2008, 8:01 AM

I sympathize with your sentiments, Franklin, but, I'm sorry, the guy was snide, as Jack pointed out, misunderstood what I said, gave me motives, put words in my mouth and will not respond when I point these things out.

"Kicking Jello" is mild, if anything.

Also, I can't figure out what you mean by "contradiction". It doesn't seem like a contradiction.



May 8, 2008, 8:12 AM

Well, these folks with whom we kick the jello are the very people we've had the rousing arguments with.



May 8, 2008, 8:17 AM

I know. Let's get kickin'!



May 8, 2008, 8:24 AM

Was Oriane refering to Chris without saying his name? What did Chris write that offended her so much? Didn't Franklin and Chris meet up with her and prettylady in the real world? I have to admit that I feel more inspired to go back to writing negative reviews again after hanging out here for a while. I guess the fact that it takes me just as long to write a negative review as it does to write a positive review made me decide to lay off of them. I thought to myself, what was the point of it all? But I guess they do have a value, an important place in the discourse.



May 8, 2008, 8:47 AM

Out of line is out of line, Franklin, whether it's Hovig or the Pope. Also, I'm afraid I don't do Henry Kissinger.

"It's getting to be awfully difficult to work up a rousing argument around these parts" relates mainly to what Marc alluded to in #22 and OP alluded to in #21. The fact that "You are kicking Jello with these people" may be an associated element, but not a contradictory one.



May 8, 2008, 9:14 AM

"Art since cave-painting has been made of form, narrative and motive" is not a balloon, it's a lead zeppelin. Narrative didn't exist in, say, decorative abstraction of the middle east (not to mention plenty of Modernists don't discard narrative), and motive is always dependent on speculation or hearsay, and is open to error (and not to mention, is effectively irrelevant to the viewer).

The statement "Conceptual art is a direct result of Modernism" fares better, but not quite in the way Hovig intends. Modernism essentially consisted in artists focusing on the defining characteristics of their art. Naturally, when one sees "Fountain" as identifying the defining characteristic of (any) art as mere definition itself; a merely semantic, 'conceptual' proposition, it therefore followed tat artists would focus on the semantics of art, as if that were the medium in itself.

In this way, we can see that Conceptual art didn't just "come from" Modernism, but is indeed Modernist itself. And, as we all know from experience, some Modernist works are better than others...



May 8, 2008, 9:24 AM

I had myself nearly typed out the first paragraphs of #'s 56 and 62 just an hour earlier this morning, opie and MC. But I didn't have time to edit it before I had to leave the house so I x-ed it instead. Thanks for spelling it out so clearly.



May 8, 2008, 9:47 AM

Whenever a Modernist, Braque, Picasso, Schwitters,et. al. incorporated real objects into their work, newspaper/magazine clippings, chair caning, wallpaper, spoon, etc., they were always incorporated into a larger composition. Found objects became a part of a larger composition in Modernist work. They were never presented as is. Duchamp did that first no? Duchamp's pisspot allegedly knocked down the wall between art and life. Visual art allegedly no longer required an activity called image making. So is the found object the death of image making?



May 8, 2008, 10:07 AM

Eric, at the risk of irritating OP further, Duchamp's urinal was explicitly intended as a JOKE or gesture, not as art. What it has "become" or been made out to be after the fact is a different kettle of fish (and a very smelly one at that).

If people will invest an empty Coke bottle dropped from a flying plane with divine attributes (as in the film The Gods Must Be Crazy), that doesn't change the fact that it's just a damn Coke bottle regardless of what outlandish claims may be made for it or what significance or import may be given to it.



May 8, 2008, 10:14 AM

"knocked down the wall between art and life"

Ah, yes. This is one of our favorit current conceits. No longer the nasty, limiting, intimidating, snobby elitist idea that art is something special. No. It's REAL. It's LIFE! It's YOU and ME and whatever the &%$#@ we choose to call art.


I don't have any wall. Art and I are pretty cozy with each other. In fact it is part of my life. That even includes really good art.

I don't think any real art lover has a wall. For them it's on the wall, not behind it. The only wall is the wall between art and the people who can't see, don't get it and should be doing something else.

No, Eric. Found objects are just fine. In fact, one might actually find an object that amounts to good art.

The problem is not the objects. The problem is the people.



May 8, 2008, 10:58 AM

Chris - I'm really enjoying your comments, but I'm still digesting them.

Franklin - Don't worry, I'm not affected by the sentiments above. But thanks for the good words.

I don't quite agree however when you say, "you don't define quality, you detect it." I technically agree with what you wrote, but I don't think my broader point suffers. You still need something inside you as a reference.

Radar detectors have little radar generators inside them. (Which is why cheap ones "leak"). Mom used to always say, "What's so common about common sense?" You still need an internal reference for goodness in order to detect it, whether you call it a definition, a prototype, or something else.

I was going to continue down this line and discuss the way that two different people will have two different references, and that consensus is nothing more than a congregation of such references, and perhaps even that expert opinion is valued because experience hones one's reference like nothing else can, but I'll leave it there.

Opie - I read the word "important" in two of your comments above, so I might still be mistaken, but I believe "important" is part of, excuse me, "WHAT HAS ACTUALLY BEEN SAID." I'm not any good at rhetoric, and I don't know how to respond to a point like "the problem is the people," so I'll leave it at that.



May 8, 2008, 11:49 AM

I don't mind calling it an "internal reference," but I think its nature is sensory and biological and therefore not something I would call a "definition." So it does contradict at least this: You're giving with one hand by saying anyone can decide what's important, but you're taking with the other by making them abide by your definition of "good."

You have to decide for yourself what looks good to you as art in the same way that you have to decide for yourself what tastes good to you as food, not like the way you have to decide what career to go into. Cultivation of taste allows for finer and finer distinctions based on close attention to internal responses. You have a choice about whether to cultivate, but not about what the cultivation reveals to you.



May 8, 2008, 12:26 PM

But Franklin, none of this has ever stopped you from going headlong into a crowd of people who see "goodness" differently from you, and saying, "OK, it's art, but it's not good art." That's what I meant by giving then taking.

The way you phrase it -- or at least the way I have always read it -- it sounds like you're calling upon some universal definition of goodness bigger than you and me. Am I wrong to read it that way? I don't think I'm alone in this reading, since your comments about goodness always seem to be the ones that reward you with the strongest blowback.

Also, I tried to stave off any potential discussion of "sensory and biological" by saying "experience hones one's reference like nothing else can." I was trying to say that one's internal reference can be shaped, and I would now add that it's not only by experience, but also by education and other factors. The fact that it's malleable and/or unfixed -- to a certain extent, of course -- suggests to me that it's not just some solid lodestone of factory-installed Goodness Neurons, installed somewhere behind our pineal gland.

I know it sound corny, but I believe humans are like salt or sugar shakers. We're born with a certain potential shape, but how we actually attain it depends on how we get filled. In other words, a person has pre-built predispositions and limits, but learning how to actually sit in a studio and draw a human figure accurately will adjust one's sense of good like nothing else can.



May 8, 2008, 12:48 PM

The fact that art is "good, bad or in between" is (or should be) self-evident and is not subject to effective refutation, certainly not as far as I'm concerned.

The fact that "whoever wants to" can (and should) decide these things personally is also pretty obvious.

I don't see a contradiction between the two facts. Yes, the decisions made by different people will vary and may even be opposite, but nobody said everyone decides equally well or has the same resources to do so. It's simply that everyone is equally entitled to make a personal determination.



May 8, 2008, 1:00 PM

If I went into a crowd of colorblind people and said that a fire hydrant nearby was red, they could honestly, according to their experiences, disagree with me. They would also be wrong. Taste is the ability to detect quality, and quality exists in the arrangement of form. It's not universally defined any more than the various virtues of alcoholic beverages (which is why the descriptive writings of oenophiles sound like such BS to us non-experts, and by us I mean me), and nevertheless nearly every people on earth develops vinticulture, brewing, or the fermentation of spirits as an artful discipline. Our common biological inheritence allows us to experience the world in highly regular ways.

Figure drawing is a great example of making finer and finer distinctions of taste. You start figure drawing with an embarassingly generalized idea about what the figure looks like. After several years you become capable of seeing all kinds of things, such as the qualities of various media, when something looks proportional, where to find the plane break at the distal tendon of biceps right before it inserts onto the radius. Nothing has changed - you've refined an innate ability to observe distinctions. And this accounts for the people who train their hearts out on the figure and learn to produce expert, accurate, skillful, and artistically inert figure drawings, because they ran up against the upper limits of their tastes. It is very difficult to get people in this position even to see the problem. (Typically, the only option for them is to try a new medium or copy a master, but they're as likely to transfer their leaden touch as improve.)



May 8, 2008, 1:17 PM

Observations like these start to zero in on aspects of the nature of art, in this case the necessity for narrow skill and fine-tuned observation within enabling structure, whatever that structure may be. It is the same for any species of human excellence.

It is the kind of thing the Jello World cannot and will not understand.



May 8, 2008, 1:24 PM

OK, Franklin, I think we reached a conclusion: "quality exists in the arrangement of form." Thanks for this clear statement. I believe I'm actually using the word correctly when I say this statement explicitly defines quality as a formal good, and nothing else.

If I were transcribing your words I would preface every occasion of "quality" or "goodness" with the word "formal," so as to distinguish it from any other types of quality or goodness that might exist. That's what I was trying to say above when I talked about the definition of "good" as I see it used here.

Jack -- The $64.00 question is this: If someone told you that a work of Andy Warhol was "good," -- or Bruce Nauman or someone like that -- would you accept their view as possibly valid, in the spirit of Opie's request that people should more often say "wow, you have a point there. I'll have to think about that and let you know," or would you say that they are one of the colorblind to whom you would apply the opinion that "nobody said everyone decides equally well or has the same resources to do so."

MC -- I only noticed your comment just now. I'm trying to distinguish modernism from formalism. Sorry you don't like my Euclidean recipe for cave art, but I'm going to stick to it for now. On the other hand, if you agree that conceptualism is a child of modernism, then I think you're doing the same thing Franklin is: saying works of no formal quality are works of no quality. I don't have a problem with this, I just want to make sure my dictionary is up to date.

Opie - If I'm one of the Jello World denizens, then I should say I do understand it -- you might actually be surprised at some of the life drawings I've done in my own limited class work -- but I happen to think there's more in art than what's being described. Maybe there's no polite way to say this, but I don't mean it as an insult to say I think that what's being described is just one subset of art.



May 8, 2008, 1:45 PM

Hovig, having an internal mechanism for determining goodness in art is not a definition. this is an obvious distinction.

In fact there is such a thing as "good art". It may be "bigger than all of us" in the Jungian sense that it depends on our neurological similarity to one another, but so far the mechanism or the nature and value of the experience and creation of it have not been handled very well by science. However it is my guess that in fact it is precisely some lodestone of goodness neurons, but that is not an opinion (or even the nature of the expression of such an opinion) I want to defend.

The varieties of what we call "taste" do not mean that the goodness of art is relative, only that we have various ways of getting at it.


Chris Rywalt

May 8, 2008, 1:56 PM

Eric, I don't really want to go into it, but the whole situation with Oriane's taking of offense is a bit complex. But just to clear things up: Franklin did meet Oriane once (that I know of) and I've met her in person more than once. I even drove her home from Pretty Lady's the night we first met.



May 8, 2008, 1:59 PM

From what I can tell, art is equipped to deal with form, narrative, and ideas. The pure play of ideas is philosophy. The pure play of narrative is literature. The pure play of form is art. That tells us something right there.

We can talk about narrative quality. There's an aesthetic grab when you read a good story or good writing. Through depiction, art can convey narrative, and sometimes even display an intriguing narrative, an implication-rich frozen moment. But to develop narrative to its maximum achievements you need language.

I don't know if we can talk about the quality of ideas. Good ideas contribute to knowledge and are worth noting - they are true and interesting, in other words. They can produce a certain kind of intellectual frisson, which is what makes philosophy so much fun, but I would call such an idea interesting rather than high-quality. That would just be strange. Art can convey ideas. We call such art illustration, and we sometimes mean that matter-of-factly and sometimes pejoratively. Either way we're usually talking about it as a subservient object - to a story, to a text, to installation instructions. Probably only comics escapes this, which is why we have a separate term for it.

We can talk about visual quality all day long, though, and this sensory response is what makes art so much fun. I just finished some now. I think I'll post it.



May 8, 2008, 2:05 PM

Hovig, "this statement explicitly defines quality as a formal good, and nothing else" is an impossible constriuction. How can you arrive at such a conclusion? Saying that art quality arises from form (what the hell else??) does not mean it is a "formal good", if there can even be such a thing. It simply is an indication of the source.

And I never inferred anything about your abilities as an artist. I reacted only to what you were saying.

It is presumptuous for me to say this, but I do believe that if you really examine your attitude toward art - that form as the "container" of art quality is just "one subset" of art (I think this is what you said - correct me if I am wrong) that you are falling prey to the common romantic notion that art must remain a vague mystery in order to retain its character and effectiveness. This is not a practical attitude, it is a religious one.

By the way, I do not believe that people should "more often" say "wow, you have a point". I merely suggested that it would be a good idea provided that other person HAD a point, rather than just hurling imprecations and slinking away, (which was the common practice here years ago, t least). I do not believe that saying that Warhol is a good artist constitutes having a point that one must react positively to, and it would be inane to do so, for Jack, anyway. I strongly suspect he would take the latter course expressed in your comment.



May 8, 2008, 2:19 PM

Hovig, Jack's got your issue in hand in #70. How is it that one can be auto-critical and still permit everyone else the same self-governance when it *might* lead to conflict? I see the potential for conflict between diversely expressed experiences as an opportunity to stress-test opinions.

At my discretion and for my edification, of course.

The only thing commentors can reasonably be convicted of is dictating that people exercise their own taste. As Jack keeps saying, "Look for yourowndamnselves!"



May 8, 2008, 3:06 PM


Your candor is more than welcome. I'm deeply sorry for the almost abusive length of this comment but I just couldn't cut it back any further.

I didn't intend to say that form is a container for art. I tried to say that form is the way narrative is visually expressed, and that narrative is in furtherance of a motive. I drew a direct parallel to literature:

LIT = style + plot + theme
ART = form + narrative + motive

Chris called this approach Euclidean, and I admit it's a cartoonish simplification -- maybe it's just some toy blocks I'm trying to play with -- but based on these toy blocks, I concluded that formalism is the subset of art that decrees art as its own motive, without narrative. (Which in my view makes it an ideology, about which more in a moment).

It might be over-confident to say so, but I am not "falling prey" to anything. I have been an independent observer of art for some number of decades, and am gravitating toward what I like. I am an autodidact in that regard, tho I have had a few classes in the formal production of art (painting, drawing, printmaking, etc). I have never in my life had an art history class nor been exposed to a postmodernist discourse in an academic setting. I am discovering more every day about what I like. Some of it is formal, and some of it is conceptual.

It is perhaps even more presumptuous of me to say this, but I happen to believe that I am the least religious of the respondents here. I might even be an anarchist (or libertarian) when it comes to art. I hold to absolutely no ideology if I can help it. What works works. But in my case, certain art "works" and is "good" to me even if it's not a collection of forms. This is not to say I don't appreciate formal art. My allusion to classwork was not to say I'm a good formal artist -- I'm not -- but to say that I've done the homework and enjoyed it.

It is my understanding that formalism posits a path of artistic perfection, where self-criticism leads to ever-improving output, leading only upward. This has always struck me as religious. I might not be commenter #4, but I don't think it's too self-congratulatory to say I was here before you, so you may not recall that in the early days of this blog I used to call this view "eschatological."

If I have any personal motives to drive my view of art away from the formalist one, it is because I am myself an analyst, and I have always enjoyed creative output which excited my analytical abilities. I have always read literature which did this, and gravitated toward art which did as well. I am absolutely fascinated with the power that objects, symbols and concepts have over these primitive constructions we call human bodies. In my view it is equally interesting to study that subject as it is to study the assemblage of forms.

In my allusions to cave paintings, I am positing that cave paintings were made of "form + narrative + motive," and that for the 10,000 years preceding Manet, this formula was the definition of Art. When one tries to change the formula, it's absolutely fair to say: "Hey, wait, what if the "narrative + motive" parts are in fact the things that made art good for the first 10,000 years?"

So that's my bottom-line question: What if art has been considered good for 10,000 years because of concept, rather than despite it?

P.S. I think Franklin is trying to have it this way:

form = art
narrative = literature
motive = philosophy

I think the upshot of this is that a work of conceptual art devoid of form is a work of popular philosophy. I understand why the view would exist, but I don't think it works in practice, because there is a continuum, on which these extremes are just waypoints; and because art is by its nature brief and personal, as opposed to a treatise that must be read over hours or days.

There is no other way at the current moment to express a burst of narrative or a burst of philosophy than to put it in a small spot in a museum; and again, the separation between a work of pure form and a work of pure concept is more gradual than a bright dividing line would allow.



May 8, 2008, 3:42 PM

I don't have any huge problems with that as long as we agree that:

1. Intellectual success is not artistic success.

2. A combination of artistic and intellectual success does not make for better art than the same artistic success by itself.

What do you think?



May 8, 2008, 3:43 PM

Hovig, you've been around long enough to know the answer to that $64.00 question. OP certainly does, as he notes in 77.

And by the way, I do think Warhol was "good" and had a definite talent, only not in the way officially upheld by current orthodoxy, to which I obviously don't subscribe.



May 8, 2008, 4:25 PM


It is long, for sure. Shorter is better,

I don't know exactly what you mean by "motive", but there is a problem with the use of the word "narrative". A narrative is a story or an account. Narratives are in words. They can be accompanied by pictures, but usually pictures that accompany narratives are called illustrations. Most visual art (excluding movies and other obvious exceptions) is not narrative in any way. I can't accept discussing visual art as narrative unless you show that it is or use a word that better describes the kind of art you refer to.

As for narrative arising from form, of course it does, wherever it appears.

I didn't imply that you were religious. I stated that what I took to be your attitude toward art had a religious character.

"Formalism" has never been adequately defined. It came to mean, as a friend put it: "anything Clement Greenberg likes". It is seen pejoratively as an attitude that regards "only form", as opposed to other characteristics. I do not want to be in the position of defending an undefined or poorly defined abstraction. My attitude is simply that I observe whatever I can observe in an art object and decide if it is any good. I don't know if that is "formalist" or not, and I really don't care.

You say your bottom-line question is what if art has been considered good for 10,000 years because of concept, rather than despite it? This question does not seem to be answerable. Art is not good "because of" concept, or form or anything but what some one did to something to make art. Art is the result of human activity, not a verbal generality.

You mention that "a work of conceptual art devoid of form is a work of popular philosophy" I cannot conceive of a work devoid of form, so I don't know what to make of this. Do you mean a work that is just expressed words as a concept?

I'm sorry to be so nit-picky but the grounding of terms is really essential when talking about anything as specific as art.



May 8, 2008, 5:11 PM

To amplify what opie's already said...

"...I admit it's a cartoonish simplification -- maybe it's just some toy blocks I'm trying to play with -- but based on these toy blocks, I concluded..."

Ask a cartoon question, ...

"But in my case, certain art "works" and is "good" to me even if it's not a collection of forms."

It would be good to cite a specific successful work here, one that is "not a collection of forms".

"self-criticism leads to ever-improving output, leading only upward. This has always struck me as religious."

Really? On the contrary, to me, it sounds like it could be a Richard Dawkins quote on the scientific method...

""form + narrative + motive," and that for the 10,000 years preceding Manet, this formula was the definition of Art."

Again, here it would be good to point to a single painting by Manet that discards "narrative" in the way you use the word...

"art is by its nature brief and personal"

I think, upon reflection, you'd see that the opposite is true: Art is eternal and universal... ars longa, vita brevis, as the old wops used to say.



May 8, 2008, 5:57 PM

Hovig, it would appear that your notion of "formal" or "formalism" is too narrow, and/or that you confine it to, or identify it with, a certain time period or movement or school. It's worth noting that the ostensible "god of formalism," Greenberg, is known to have loved figurative, narrative art, and to have expressed regret that the best art of his time was not of that kind.

Art, regardless of narrative content (however interesting), and certainly regardless of motive or intent (however admirable), is good, bad or in between based on how it was made or realized or created, obviously by the artist, as OP rightly notes. If you want to label that "formal qualities" as a convenient shorthand, fine. All art from Lascaux to Manet was based on and depended on "form," even if it also employed other elements.

The point is that the proof of the pudding is in how well it was made or put together or executed. If the pudding doesn't satisfy me once it goes in my mouth, I don't care what message the cook may have wanted to convey by it or what result the cook was after. It's either good pudding or it's not.



May 8, 2008, 6:01 PM

I use "formalist" to mean "primarily concerned with form." Everybody okay with that?



May 8, 2008, 7:15 PM

Re 86, no, I'm not OK with that. I don't especially care for the "formalist" label, which is bound to be misunderstood or distorted, deliberately or otherwise, and is too reductive and simplistic. Again, even the supposed formalist god, Greenberg, most definitely appreciated and valued non-formal qualities, assuming the art in question was good as such.

The issue is not form per se but the successful employment or deployment thereof, which may or may not be tied to certain content/narrative, and may be prompted by any number or sorts of motives or intentions. Still, the work must work visually in order to succeed as visual art.

Nobody serious about art would, in a right mind, deny that non-formal qualities or elements can both contribute to and significantly enhance a given work. Nobody is saying non-formal elements are worthless or useless or pointless or objectionable. It all depends on how they're employed in an individual, specific work, and on whether the work succeeds as visual art. If it does not succeed that way, everything else is moot, assuming we're talking about art (as opposed to politics, philosophy, transgression, posturing, storytelling, etc.).



May 8, 2008, 7:24 PM

Of course, Franklin, that's the only thing "formalism" could mean, which is precisely why Greenberg, Jack, myself, and others find the term to general to be of much use, other than as a coded slur... nobody discounts Michelangelo's formalism, or Vermeer's, or...

Jack, for a non-artist, you have an excellent understanding of art (which is not to say that most artists have the same). Have you considered writing art criticism professionally?



May 8, 2008, 8:08 PM

Marc, I'll tell you a little story, which may or may not be germane (never mind interesting). Some years ago, I wrote a couple of letters to the editor of a fairly scholarly opera publication (not one of those glossy things with lots of photos of sopranos who may not sing like much but obviously work out and watch their diets). Anyway, the letters were published, and the editor evidently liked them enough to ask me to write a review of an operatic recital CD by a famous coloratura soprano. I worked like hell and did so, and it was published.

Some time later, the editor wrote again to explain that he had liked my review, but that it had been an uphill battle to get it past other members of the editorial board or publication staff because they objected to the fact that I was an amateur, had no name or standing, and was thus unfit (more or less) to compete with those who did. He apologized for being unable, for political reasons, to employ me further (not that this involved money, of course).

That was the extent of my career as a "professional" critic. My approach to opera is similar, in principle, to my approach to visual art. It is not calculated to be ingratiating, fashionable, PC or "nice and friendly-like." In any event, I can't really commit to doing that sort of work except sporadically or at my convenience, which is not going to fly with most editors, if any.

But thanks. See what you get for an innocent compliment?



May 8, 2008, 9:24 PM

Too bad Jack. As I've often said, I wish you were the critic at the Herald. With a guaranteed lifetime contract. Wouldn't that be fun!

MC used "coded slur" to characterize the word "formalism" and I think that hits it. The fact that it carries negative value on its back renders its use as a critical term very limited, even among those who know better.



May 8, 2008, 10:26 PM

I was recently introduced by a local senior painter to a art-historian author as a "formalist sculptor". When I snorted in objection to the label, I was asked what label I'd choose for myself and I floundered for an answer. Until, as is my lifelong curse, I found my retort half a day later and too late. "I am an actualist."

So I tried this afternoon to compose a comment that described my dissatisfaction with 'formalism' but pretty much immediately deleted it, and now I find that where I'd flailed and failed Jack and MC have easily pinned it's donkey tail into place.

Very good, boys. Very true and good.



May 9, 2008, 6:57 AM

Yes, Ahab, "formalist sculptor" is likely to be meant, or be taken as, something like "eccentric uncle" (wink, wink) at best. It's too much of a code word by now, certainly in the current environment. It usually denotes at least some degree of condescension, as in, "He still hasn't caught up with the times, poor thing," or "He doesn't quite get it, even if he means well."



May 9, 2008, 7:36 AM

Thanks everyone for the helpful and constructive comments. I've read and appreciated them all.


Could you give me some breathing room? You're jousting with someone who is just trying to use the words and ideas he's heard here, on these pages, to work out his own thoughts. "Manet" is, in my understanding, "the bloke what started Modernism, so sez Clem." In that sense I'm using Manet as a symbol to represent the moment that form per se started to become primary in art. Use another one.

I only wondered whether "formalism" is religious inasmuch as it posits that art has an endgame. (I could also say I wonder whether "formalism" has a priori rules, thus making it ideological, but I'll get slapped if I go there, so NM). Your allusion to the scientific method is apt, but if art is science then ... excuse me ... it's not art. (If you're not careful someone might start using the word cr*ft soon).

When I say art is brief and personal, I'm talking about its delivery system. You see it before you all at once, as opposed to a book or other narrative device which takes time. If you say you can look at a painting for hours, I'll say you can read the same poem 40 times, or see the same movie twice. It doesn't change the fact that art delivers itself more concisely than literature or the other categories Franklin holds for non-formal art.

Opie / Jack,

"Formalism" is not a slur to me. Respond only to what was actually written, right? It's only my shorthand for the tradition of art from Pollock to Olitski (and beyond), where the canvas tells only the story of itself. I hope we don't need to establish a lexicon here, but maybe it would help.

I thought my comparisons to literature made clear what I meant by narrative and motive. I'll use plot and theme if you want, or story and point. Those words are already well-worn and understood.

The Massacre of the Innocents contains a narrative (plot). It tells a story. A person can read the story by looking at the painting. It also contains a motive (theme, concept, point). It's telling a specific Bible story. There can be no doubt that these types of paintings were produced because the story was important. I mean ... can there?

The same is going to be true of MC's examples, Michelangelo and Vermeer. Vermeer's scenes are less narrative and thematic than Michelangelo's -- the stories and themes dictated by his wealthy and powerful patrons -- but they are still little vignettes of daily life. He could have said "look at the poor peasants," like Rembrandt often did, but he decided to say, "look at the happy middle-class people." Every scene has a story and a point. Call them what you want.

Some stories have even stronger points of view (concepts, themes, motives). Napoleon's guys made different paintings than Wellington's. Their forms and narratives may have been similar, but their motives were different. They put the haloes on different people. Jacques-Louis David was as political as they come. My goodness, if he were born today I have no doubt he'd be a conceptual artist.

At some point in history, someone said let's stop telling stories explicitly, and let's just push paint around. At some point in history, someone said let's not even try to make a point. Let's put M. David in a box, and lock the damn thing. Let's make art, and the pushing around of forms, their own point.

At which point my question: What if plot, story, narrative, concept, theme, motive, etc, are as important to judging the "goodness" of art as form? What if "good form" is just one type of goodness? What if "art" requires plot, story, narrative, theme, motive as part of its very definition?



May 9, 2008, 7:41 AM

What if "art" requires plot, story, narrative, theme, motive as part of its very definition?

Then abstract work wouldn't qualify as art. You don't think that, do you?



May 9, 2008, 8:01 AM

Hello, jello...



May 9, 2008, 8:11 AM

Ahab and the rest: I'm afraid "actualist" won't do.

I have no doubt that a good "tag" or "brand" would be helpful. Clem once proposed the term "pre-postmodernist" but that did not work. "New modernist" is a little better than "new new", but not by much, and seems to pander to the obsession with newness.

How about "radical modernism" and by that is meant modernism stripped of any reference to its past (disassociates from modernism's claim to critique itself), stripped of any association with claims of necessity for one medium over another (disassociates from the new new), stripped of purity and reductionism (disassociates from one of Clem's later articles on modernism). There is just one key positive value: what you see when you look at it is all that you get. If you see subject matter, then that's as much a part of the art as the "form" you see if there is no subject matter. Each work is to be looked at as if you found it in someone's garage.

This is an extreme position, but extremes are the birthplace of good branding. Anyone who likes is encouraged to manipulate this "position". Maybe we can come up with something.



May 9, 2008, 9:31 AM

Hovig: As I have tried to point out "Formalism" is not a thing. It is a word used loosely in art talk which has no specific meaning. As far as I can tell its usual import is the "coded slur" mentioned by MC, pointing to Greenberg. Even when used in a friendly way it tends to mean art that is "only form" or an approach to art that considers "only form", which is mischeviously misleading.

However you work it over "formalism" is a term which has limited use because it is vague. Trying to determine whether "it" is "religious" is futile because there is no "it" there. I recommend either redefining fomalism precisely for use in this discussion only or eliminating it altogether.

You say visual art is immediate and literature and movies are delivered over time. Yes; exactly. A narrative must be delivered over time. That is part of what a narrative is. If we continue to misuse the word "narrative" for pictures we are speaking imprecisely and we will get into trouble. If you call a clear illustration of a Bible story like the The Massacre of the Innocents "bible narrative" then we fairly quickly start hanging up some wigs and a bra and calling it "feminist narrative". You are free to make anything you like of a pictures but pictures are not narratives, themes, stories or anything like that. They are illustrations, or they are pictures of something we can recognize, or references to an idea, etc. (Of course a series of pictures, like heiroglyphs, comice, movie cels etc can be a narrative but those are not single pictures).

You then ask "what if plot, story, narrative, concept, theme, motive, etc, are as important to judging the "goodness" of art as form?" Answer: (Franklin already has answered this) they ARE form. The only difference is that they are referential form and the reference is therefore part of the content.

Catfish: I like "new modernist". It certainly has the faults you indicate, but it is clear and concise and sounds fresh, it pushes the "old" into the past, which people like to do, and it is a good hook, a thing the wafflers can get aboard with. Don't forget, this is branding; Profundity and meaingfulness and all that stuff are verboten. If we have to pander this is a fairly harmless way to do it.


Chris Rywalt

May 9, 2008, 9:38 AM

I was thinking of starting a Second Secession, after the Vienna Secession.

But then I was thinking secessions are stupid. Once upon a time they could get you noticed, but not these days -- these days everyone is seceding from something or revolting against something else.

I was also thinking of renaming my blog "The Reluctant Modernist."



May 9, 2008, 9:56 AM

Catfish: I like "new modernist".

Ok, now that we've named it, we need the ever-important critics (especially the ones who write about the absurdity of the current scene) to deliver the new branding to the art consumers, in their quest towards finding Ne-Mo...



May 9, 2008, 10:24 AM

I suggest "noba" (no bullshit allowed). The Nobas. That sounds pretty good.



May 9, 2008, 10:31 AM

MC the problem with "nemo" is it means "nobody" in Latin.

Maybe "newmo", as opposed to "pomo". The "new" is a nice contrast to "post".

"nobas" can be the critics.



May 9, 2008, 10:38 AM

Ok, then I've got it: More Modern-ism

Or, Mo-Mo, fo sho...



May 9, 2008, 10:39 AM

I think we might be heading towards a t-shirt coinage of ahab's, though... I think his was "Most-Modernist" though, as in "Most Modernists make Nontemporary Art"...



May 9, 2008, 10:45 AM

Historically, the movement doesn't have the privilege of naming itself. It has to wait to be labeled by some irritated outsider with a particularly catchy insult. This is how we got "Impressionist," "cubist," and "fauve." On this basis I nominate "formalist."



May 9, 2008, 10:49 AM

Opie -- Good comment. I can live with "illustrations and references." I think my question survives. Maybe illustration and reference cannot be so easily dispensed with, like a work of "forms qua forms" would try to do. (Maybe formalism should be called FQF. Which would of course make formalists FQFs).

Franklin -- I know you realize that I believe very deeply in abstract art. But I'm still curious why, if Lascaux contained form, illustration and reference, that it's unfair to elevate form above the other two. Or for that matter, why I shouldn't dispense with abstract art as decoration or wallpaper.

I wouldn't do that, and I won't do that. I'm saying that if we are being self-critical and trying to falsify our own assumptions, then this is the type of argument that might be made by someone believing in the primacy of illustration and reference in art. Another argument could be that abstract art encodes symbols too primitive to recognize, and so one can ever actually get rid of references, ever. Which is something I might stand behind.

MC suggests artists are scientists. (Which is like saying matter is anti-matter, but okay, we'll let that go). Maybe you're all perfecting some kind of Great Formula. I dunno. I think artists are just making the interesting "immediate" stuff of its time: formal, conceptual or otherwise. Opie may even have allowed me to define art as any immediate experience. I don't know if I really buy that, but I think I like it more than "a collection of forms whose quality is determined solely by the non-referential nature of those forms."

Chris -- I got a kick out of your descriptions of Euclidean and non-Euclidean art. From one programmer to another!!! I just want to make it clear that I'm only trying to explain the world I see around me, I'm not trying to prescribe anything. If my model doesn't explain human behavior then I'll adjust it happily.



May 9, 2008, 10:51 AM

(Franklin - the word "unfair" above should have read "fair," as in, "why, if Lascaux contained form, illustration and reference, it's fair to elevate form above the other two.")



May 9, 2008, 10:56 AM

Hovig, "form" has always been primary to anyone approaching or evaluating a work of art as such. Even when religious content was predominant, for instance, all nativities or annunciations or crucifixions were not considered equally good as art, even if the content was the same. "Form" made the difference.

Any set of beliefs, opinions, ideas or principles can be taken to be an ideology.

If you think "formalism" started with Pollock, your concept of that term is definitely too narrow. Piero della Francesca, Claude and Poussin, to name a few, were all highly "formal" artists, in the true or full sense of that term.

David was the epitome of Neo-classicism. His work was eminently academic (which is not necessarily a pejorative term). Political, certainly. Conceptual artist? I don't think so. His talents clearly lay elsewhere.

As for whether art requires plot, story, narrative, theme, motive as part of its very definition, the answer is quite obviously No. I'm surprised you'd even ask.



May 9, 2008, 11:03 AM

Well, how about a classical reference to name the movement?

Pomona. Acronym for POMO: Never Again.

Pomona, of course, was the goddess of fruitfulness, so it has very appropriate connotations also.



May 9, 2008, 11:21 AM

"MC suggests artists are scientists. (Which is like saying matter is anti-matter, but okay, we'll let that go)."

Funny, I don't recall suggesting anything of the sort (and, how is it that you figure scientists are the antithesis of artists? Is a murderer the opposite of a policeman, or a doctor, in your mysterious system of occupational calculus, I wonder...)

I do, however, recall responding to your statement that self criticism is a hallmark of a religious attitude, by saying that, on the contrary, it sounds like a scientific attitude to me. How you got "artists are scientists" from this, well, I won't speculate...

Instead, I'll offer this:
Bertrand Russell on Science and Art...



May 9, 2008, 11:47 AM

Hovig, I think you are stuck on the idea that your terms actually designate real things with substance. Art is seen whole and evaluated whole. "Elevating" some abstract notion of an element of the whole is not possible when evaluating a work as art and therefore has no bearing on the evaluation. What you call the parts is another kind of activity, and I don't even think that is possible, not in any clear way.

It's like discussing potatoes as valuable for the caloric content; no, they are valuable for some vitamin; no, they are valuable because they taste good, and while you are arguing about all this somebody eats them because they are food.



May 9, 2008, 11:53 AM

I'm still curious why, if Lascaux contained form, illustration and reference, that it's [fair] to elevate form above the other two.

It's not so much a matter of elevating form, but trying to figure out how good art works in the way it does. A documentary film maker once said to me that there is no such thing as a boring subject, only boring presentations. Figurative artists need some kind of content to get the ball rolling and there's nothing wrong with that. But there are more and less successful presentations. Presentation is a problem of the arrangement and handling of form.

Or for that matter, why I shouldn't dispense with abstract art as decoration or wallpaper.

Figurative art can be used as decoration as well, even wallpaper, so abstraction itself is not the right marker for decoration.

Another argument could be that abstract art encodes symbols too primitive to recognize, and so one can [n]ever actually get rid of references, ever. Which is something I might stand behind.

You also can't achieve perfect flatness in a picture worth looking at. Purity is not necessarily enabling in art, and it need not be, because the art is more important than the goals the art aspires to. Picasso once said that he wasn't interested in what he was looking for, but what he found. That sounds about right.



May 9, 2008, 12:14 PM

How about Reformalism?



May 9, 2008, 12:18 PM

Didn't the futurists name themselves? What about neoplasticism? The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood?

Seize the day. We don't need some wonky writer to name us.



May 9, 2008, 12:20 PM

And the inner circle of luminaries could all have jackets with 'Potatoe Eater' embroidered on the back.



May 9, 2008, 12:22 PM

Scratch that, let's not mess around, it should really be black wooden clogs with 'Potatoe Eater' emblazoned on them.



May 9, 2008, 12:22 PM

Impressionism, Cubism, and Fauvism all produced better art than Futurism, Neoplasticism, and the PRB. Does correlation equal causation here?



May 9, 2008, 12:24 PM

Why am i spelling potatoe with an 'e'? Everyone knows it's not the same as tomatoe.



May 9, 2008, 12:26 PM

Franklin, not sure wht you mean. Correlation v. causation...



May 9, 2008, 12:35 PM

I don't see how it matters who bestows the brand. What matters is whether or not it is something that can catch on.

A crazy manifesto might help.

Mondrian was a great artist. That's been settle, I think. On the other hand, the PRBs did sort of suck, and that's been settled too..



May 9, 2008, 1:12 PM

Jack -- I thought David's Marat was a political painting, which gives it some kind of intent beyond its classicism. (Indeed, it might be said that his classicism was a political choice as well).

Also, I thought Pollock was the first artist who used form to the exclusion of everything else (references, symbols, illustrations, etc). I like the statement that "form made the difference." It doesn't work all the way on me, but it's a good statement.

MC -- Retracted.

Opie -- I'm really just trying to figure out why those assembled here call one kind of art "good" and not others. I'm doing it this way because I figure it's more sober and interesting to approach the question from a human-perception angle, and to be methodical about it, than to take the common "No! Duchamp! No! Greenberg!" approach.

I'm also trying to get beyond truisms and unqualified sentiments which supposedly don't admit of examination. I mean, c'mon, my masters degree is in AI, for Pete's sake. What else did you want? I'm not going to take statements like "good means good" and "who can say what good is?" Where's the fun in that? I do it here because there's an analytical group, even if it takes two or three volleys before people stop making the acidic one-liners.

But I'm going to ask one last question before I leave off. I hope it's not too annoying to make one more request before Happy Hour.

When David painted Marat, or when the Pope commissioned the Ceiling, they had a point in mind. A motive, a concept, a theme, a something. They very much wanted the viewer to walk away with a specific thought: Marat is a great martyr! God is great and so is the Church! In the case of purely formal work, I think the only motive is to make a set of forms that work in the absense of illustration or reference. I called this intent "motive" above. If there's a better word then I'll buy it.



May 9, 2008, 1:56 PM

"I'm really just trying to figure out why those assembled here call one kind of art "good"..."

What kind of art is that, exactly, that we all together, as individual eyes and brains, are all painted as liking (beyond "the good kind")?

Abstraction? I'm sure all of us would be quick to point to abstraction we don't like...

'The Stuff Greenberg Liked'? I'm sure all of us would be quick to point to items in Greenberg's collection that leave us cold...

Although one may categorize things as such, You don't experience art as a kind, you have to deal with each individual, specific case on its own.


opie wan potatoe

May 9, 2008, 2:50 PM

Hovig, yes the pope and all the rest had motives up the wazoo, although he might have been thinking of the greater glory of himself as much as God. Who knows?

Maybe the Pope did want the viewer to walk away with one specific thought.If he wanted people to glorify God and they saw the ceiling and glorified God because of the ceiling then for the Pope that was probably good art.

Art can certainly be used for advertising, and a thousand other things. Good is whatever you want to think is good. If it looks good over the couch, then it's good, if that's what you think good is, and so on. Hitler thought statuary of idealized Aryan heroes was good art. So for him that was good art.

So, then it's all relative, right? wrong. "Good" is relative, but good art is good art when it IS art, when it is taken as art and not something else.

Now how can that make sense? You just said good was relative!

Yes, as in the examples above, But the problem is that the Pope and the couch person and Hitler did not want art, they wanted an object to do a job: to glorify god, to look good over the couch, to embody a physical and social ideal. They wanted a thing called art, but they did not want it to do an art job, so what they really wanted was that other thing and "art" happened to do it for them.

Good art has a certain kind of intrinsic power which causes us to value it extremely highly. What that "power" is is not something I want to try to put into words, but the evidence is overwhelming that we value art highly and that over time we choose it very carefully and there is a thing called "the consensus" that tells us we are in pretty fair agreement about what is good art. The reason we go on and on about "taste" and all that is not because there is no such thing as good art but because we have problems getting to it.

It's like guessing the number of beans in a jar. We all take different guesses but the number of beans in the jar stays the same, it is a definite number and it is likely that a person who is experienced gussing the number of beans in a jar will do a better job than the others.

And what if some clunky painter did that ceiling for the Pope? What if all the subject matter and God and man and all the characters were the same? Wouldn't your "narrative" be the same? Of course it would. But no one would care.


Chris Rywalt

May 9, 2008, 3:20 PM

Forget Reformalists. I suggest we call ourselves (for, in my hubris, I include myself in this group) Beaners.


luke eyerocker

May 9, 2008, 3:20 PM

I think your last paragraph summarizes the jist of this thing very well, op wan. There is no arguing with it. The implications are pretty big.

I am always grateful when the big guns around here can cast these issues in direct human terms, making it sound like common sense bolstered by the plain facts of experience. It is what it is. Don't fight it.

Be quiet and eat your potatoes.



May 9, 2008, 3:32 PM

Hovig, who ever said that art should, let alone must, be purely formal? That's ridiculous. One reason "formalism" has a bad name is precisly because of such gross distortion of what formalism is getting at.

You seem to be fixated on a similarly distorted, narrow notion of what that term is actually about. Either that, or you don't comprehend what most of us here mean by it.

OP's comment (#122) is rather good and may help clarify things (or us) for you. It's critical that you understand that we expect and demand visual art to succed visually as art in order to be taken seriously as such. The fact it may succeed or function as something else, at least for some, is beside (or missing) the point.

As for David, I already agreed that he was politically motivated. I was trying to point out that, given his particular strengths as an artist, which were eminently suited to a classical, academic style, he would hardly gravitate toward what we now call conceptual art. Political is one thing; conceptual art is another.



May 9, 2008, 7:43 PM


All right, in comment 125:

Paragraph 1, line 3 should read "precisely"

Paragraph 3, line 3 should read "succeed"


Note to Franklin: I don't care what it takes, but if it's feasible, incorporate a spellchecker into the comments.



May 9, 2008, 7:46 PM

By the way, I realize I may need some therapy, but after I make a typo I just feel so cheap...and dirty.



May 9, 2008, 8:24 PM

Jack, the ideal therapy for you is to download Apple's Safari for Windows. It spell checks every word type into the comment form. No need for Franklin to do it (and it would be a huge task).

misspeled - Safari just flagged this and offered the correct spelling.

There is no charge for Safari.



May 9, 2008, 8:26 PM

(Like all spell checkers, the one in Safari did not flag the grammatical error in the second sentence above, since "type" is a valid English word, though used wrongly.



May 9, 2008, 8:27 PM

Nor does it check for unclosed parentheses.



May 9, 2008, 9:06 PM

I don't think we need to correct typos and such if the meaning is clear.

Feel better, Jack.

Hovig, don't abandon us.. We haven't had anyone to hassle with in ages.



May 10, 2008, 7:13 AM

I dare not be mistaken for a Neomodernist.



May 10, 2008, 7:25 AM

Which is not to say that I hold with anti-neomodernism.



May 10, 2008, 8:55 AM

re 132

Thanks ahab. Now i need a therapist.



May 10, 2008, 10:55 AM

Really, Ahab, that was uncalled for. As if there weren't enough rubbish out there already. Sheesh.



May 10, 2008, 12:18 PM

Just wanted to be sure our terms were clear.



May 10, 2008, 12:25 PM

I was thinking about "hard modern," in the sense of "hard bop."



May 10, 2008, 1:06 PM

That was a good thread, Ahab (136). I miss Flatboy.



May 10, 2008, 1:12 PM

"Hard" calls to mind "difficult". It's not bland and obvious enough. I really think "New Modernism" is pretty good.

I just had a long phone conversation with a friend who is putting together a show which could easily be called "new Modernism" (although it won't be) and we were going on about how much really good art there is out there, most of it not being shown, of course.

I think if art world taste ever turns away from what it currently favors and starts seeing some of this good stuff a term like "New Modernism" would be very handy. It is super "easy" and has a real "fresh start" sound to it, and we need a phrase that says or implies "new" so all the Jelloheads can think they are onto something.



May 10, 2008, 2:23 PM

To suit George, the Jell-O king, the movement would have to be called something like "Absoultely, Positively NOT Dated Modernism." But then again, screw George and his sort.



May 10, 2008, 5:41 PM

Ok, I've got it.

Modernism 2.0

... ooh, I'm tingling! It must be working...



May 11, 2008, 8:32 AM

I agree with opie that "new-modernism" is the best brand name to attach to what we are doing.

As Flatboy said in 2005, "neo" means a continuation and that can be construed as being too attached to the past and hence "dated". (Even though "neo" is accurate enough.) We don't want to be dated because we are politicians attempting to capture votes, especially youth votes.

"New", on the other hand, tends to release the mind from associations with the past - just the pander that the present seems to require. It also seems like a viable replacement for "post-modernism" (post means leaving something behind, which pomo certainly did), while making a distinction that is easily grasped. Art people are getting tired of post-modernism and can't seem to find anything that can satisfy their thirst for change. They may want real change too, which modernism, gussied up with the many directions it has taken since it was banished from center stage, could provide.

Modernism is old enough that it no longer inspires the desire to annihilate, at least not amongst the youth. After a recent show of mine, a young hip guy came up to me and showed me how he had photographed one of my pictures with his cell phone and made it into the phone's background. He likes "pretty" stuff that narrates no message. He played no role in "killing" modernism and hence has no vested interest in keeping it dead. The Roberta Smith generation that killed modernism has entered middle-age and is no longer the hip revolutionary group it used to be. The truly young sees them as parents who impose rules, and we know what youth is compelled to do to its parents. "New-modernism" seems like an ideal bullet to aim at their "anything goes" minds. It is the genius of youth to find that one thing their parents will not allow, just as Adam and Eve found the one tree they were not permitted to feed on. Amongst those in control of the art system, anything goes except modernism. That adds value to modernism as a vehicle for getting even with the rule-making parents of the current art scene. Modernism is their achilles heel.

Thus, new-modernism may be the most powerful way for the artistically young to cause pain in their parents, those who, for all their apparent broadmindedness, have nonetheless maintained the narrowness that infects most who have become long in the tooth.

Those of us who have maintained our association with modernism despite the constant storm of opposition are now the grandparents. Everybody loves a grandparent. And we might be seen as heroic in our steadfastness as well, just as certain figure painters were seen after everyone realized that abstraction had taken over too much and was mostly in weaker hands.



May 11, 2008, 8:47 AM

Excellent, Catfish. Better said than I could have, for sure.

Now the job is to somehow tag the appropriate young artists with the term. How this can be done for artists no one is showing is beyond me.

Maybe Eric can start it; I understand he writes for Artcritical. He could hype the "new movement in art".



May 11, 2008, 10:40 AM

Catfish, this may be quibbling, but I have a feeling the Roberta Smith generation is further along than middle age (though I certainly don't know the woman).

Your argument sounds plausible. This is where some strategically placed critics could come in handy, though it would obviously help to have curatorial and gallery support. The problem is that the currently dominant dreck remains too profitable, and since quality is not a real issue, plentiful supply of the stuff is assured.

In other words, there are very strong vested interests in maintaining the status quo. All too many of the in-crowd are not primarily in it for the right reasons, as we understand them, but rather for ulterior motives which have little or nothing to do with art as such. Art is just a convenient tool which has proved mighty useful to them. They have no incentive to somehow "see the light," but rather the opposite. Besides, they're so invested in the dreck (and I don't mean just financially), that they'd never willingly come clean, so to speak.

So yes, only those young enough to have no anti-Modernist ax to grind, not to mention no Greenberg phobia, are realistically reachable. However, many of them are quite content to partake of the current "scene" for social and fashion reasons, as well as PC ones (no matter how cynical, hollow and insincere the politics), so that they have, in fact, been co-opted/corrupted.

It's an uphill battle, for sure.



May 11, 2008, 10:40 AM

I don't think the term must necessarily be limited to young artists. Just like the "new realism" that came along in the 80s included Pearlstein, new-modernism can include those who have persevered, as well as those who have just taken it up. That's what I meant when I said "gussied up with the many directions it has taken since it was banished from center stage".

That said, what we need is the youth vote, that is, we need young artists to take up the values of modernism and infuse them with their own enthusiasms.

Your friend who is putting together that show - persuade him or her to call it new-modernism, assuming the term fits. Include some artists who are not "being shown" and also legitimately fall under the term. That could be a start.

Admittedly, this is a fragile process. But fragility is a characteristic of every important emerging group. Interestingly, the exceptions to this observation would be the groups that emerged under Castilli, Boone, and Janis. There was never a doubt with that stuff, which may say something about its nature.



May 11, 2008, 10:54 AM

Jack, for a long time now the best art has started in the fringe. Those who have been co-opted, no matter what their age, are not in the fringe; they are mainstream. They are not important to whatever good can emerge. They are attached to a band wagon that "emerged" long ago.

As I said above, I'm not sure the Castilli, Janis, Boone groups ever really emerged. They were brought out as fully vetted, established art, much like the fashion industry manages its new lines each year. Especially the art that has been brought out in the past 20 years has been presented as sure to go up in value, despite whatever outrageous price tag it has upon introduction. There is never any suggestion that it might collapse. It may look ridiculous, but it never looks fragile.



May 11, 2008, 11:07 AM

On last comment about the status-quo. There is always a status-quo and there is alway a heavy interest in maintaining it. But it is always overcome ... by someone, somewhere, by some means.

The choice is between complaining about the status-quo (which is certainly noble), or to both complain and do something about it (which is even more noble).



May 11, 2008, 11:11 AM

So Eric, what do you think of all this?



May 11, 2008, 11:37 AM

I'm no Eric, but I'm finding this latest twist of this thread quite crafty and diabolical. It is even better because it is way at the end of a long thread where no one but the artblog lifers will tread. It feels cabal-like and I like it. Like Masons or something... Maybe Jack can give us an opera reference from The Magic Flute.



May 11, 2008, 12:32 PM

Okay, I have a confession to make. For about four months I have been kicking around ideas for a project that will advocate the work I like to people who would show it, buy it, or write about it. I have fleshed out about 75% of the details and bought a domain name. Implementation has to wait until after I get Go See Art developed to viability, which is going to take some time and a ton of effort. Also, I have to decide where I'm going to live. Lastly, I can't do this at the expense of my own art career, so I have to build that a bit; I can't advocate my own work and that of others' in the same project or it won't look credible.

Without going into too many details, once I go through all that I'll have at my disposal some interesting tools for generating influence. Also, four months ago I had a teaching job, so the timetable has picked up quite a bit.



May 11, 2008, 1:03 PM

Would anybody be willing to start dropping some names? I'd like to know who some of the artists are, especially younger more unknown ones, that people have in mind. I ask for the sake of discussion and also for sake of my own practice. I'm happy to talk about a Canadian contingency...

As for credibility Franklin, I'm not sure exactly what you got cookin', but I don't see it as an issue, as long as the work is good. There have been many ringleaders that walked AND talked.



May 11, 2008, 1:16 PM

Yes, WWC, Franklin is already getting into it, with his mysterious, vaguely disclosed project - "The Einspruch Code" perhaps. Before you know it we will all be weraring leather aprons and shaking hands in odd ways. Of course I doubt that any of the "lifers" are exactly joiner types.

The "list" (there have to be lists, of course) might need to be compiled rather carefully so none of the contenders get left out. I have some candidates here in Miami, for sure, and know of a lot more. Maybe we can all send our nominations to Franklin, as he is already up to something, and, Leo that he is, should be the boss.



May 11, 2008, 1:22 PM

PS Franklin I own a website with an appropriate name which you are welcome to have if you need it.



May 11, 2008, 2:06 PM

Roy - There would be no harm in e-mailing me some names as long as people understand that this is not going to get started all that soon. I'm not going to disclose my current picks because it's just too early.



May 11, 2008, 3:19 PM

Sorry I have been flitting in and out of this thread since it began. We have been busy with the kids, especially today, Mother's day. I started to type a comment several times and had to stop and shut off the computer because someone was calling out "Daddy!" I don't know if any of you know John Goodrich. He writes for the New York Sun and artcritical, just like me, and he is a member of the painter's group called Zeuxis. They all paint in a high modernist style and when they exhibit their work together they focus on still-lifes. Many of them are very capable and string painters. I would be able to review an exhibition of the new-Modernists' work and I would also be able to do a studio visit, which is an in-depth Q&A type interview or an interview worked into an essay format. I would very much like to see images of all of your work, opie, catfish, mc, etc. So please post some URLs if this stuff is available online already. I have done studio visits with painters who live in Brooklyn but mostly exhibit in Canada, and I have done studio visits with artists who are just beginning their career. I interviewed the sculptor Karlis Rekevics for artcritical just as he was finishing up a stint at the Triangle Workshop, and two years later he was on the cover of Sculpture Magazine. I have relatively complete freedom at artcritical. I edit there as well. So not having gallery representation wouldn't be a major problem per se, but the artist should already have a promising body of work and maybe a few noteworthy workshops under their belt. I can laso do a studio visit with artists who have had long careers in relative obscurity. For now I am getting paid very little for reviews at artcritical, $50 a piece (ha ha), so if I had to travel a great distance to do a studio visit or review it might be a problem. I like visual art when it is visual, when it is about images. Duh. In my mind this belief does not exclude concept heavy work, if the work is built on strong images. Work that focuses entirely on words, such as the text based art of Kosuth and Weiner, is less interesting to me; unless the artist formats and presents the text in such a way that it has a strong visual presence. So I don't think I would have much luck getting a manifesto published at artcritical because my boss would obviously question my motivation. So as an art critic, I can write about an artist's body of work in the form of a studio visit, or review a show but that is about it. As an artist, a new-Modernist one, I can write about whatever the fuck I want.



May 11, 2008, 3:35 PM

terry teachout seems like someone who would be interested and could help the cause. franklin along with a few other regulars here atleast have some sort of relationship with him already.

some time last year i encouraged him to look into some of the more experienced memebers from this potentially new modernism regime. not much came of it in terms of renewed exposure as far as i know, but he did buy artwork by some of the old members. the old timers i am referring to are artists greeberg liked.

one of the main writers, unsure of his name at the moment martin?, from the modern painters magazine seems to go for the same sort of art as well.



May 11, 2008, 3:49 PM

new Modernism

New Modernism

new modernism

Not sure if this is worth tinkering with but Eric your text just got me thinking.

I kinda like the first version. Little emphasis on new. Big emphasis on Modernism, especially its High, Greenbergian roots. It also adds a slight visual-cognitive hook. But i'm also pretty partial to new modernism. Nice and egalitarian see.

I also still really like 'hard modern', Franklin. Maybe it could function as a useful descriptor. some kind of an analogy for what this Modernism is qualitatively. It sounds nice and heavy at first too. More hook...



May 11, 2008, 3:54 PM

Eric - good that you are interested. I don't think manifestos are the right way to go, A good, big show at a good gallery tagged with "new modernism" would be best, but who knows how to arrange such a thing.

Also there probably needs to be a division of some sorts between old farts like myself who are unjustifiably neglected (whine whine) but do show and younger painters who are simply painting strong visual stuff that doesn't invoke "concept" as support. I think the younger generation should be the one put forward. In the end it will be the strength of the painting that puts the idea over.

Terry is Mr. Allsports culturally but he leans to theater and music and literature more than visual art. He would certainly be interested, however. He seems to be interested in everything.

There's a critic for the observer who would be sympathetic - I forget his name - and the people at New Criterion, although they favor a number of artists I find rather dull.We have to be careful not to look conservative and "anti" but push the "new" angle.



May 11, 2008, 3:57 PM

Modern Painters? You mean that egregiously misnamed magazine that covers everything imaginable (read: trendy), including painting (to which it devotes only a minority of its pages)?

Sorry, sore topic. I was stupid enough to subscribe to it once, and was very disappointed. I hardly see it as a reliable ally, but I suppose almost anything's possible, at least in theory.



May 11, 2008, 4:12 PM

Eric Gelber? David Cohen? Franklin Einspruch? At least we have one of our problems solved.



May 11, 2008, 4:15 PM

I remember Flatboy saying that modernism was swallowed by a black hole in 1960.

So I'd say that a new-modernist is anyone who added something to that tradition since 1960, no matter what their age or how long they have been adding to it.

However, if there are no good young artists to form a majority core, then nothing will come of it. But I am loathe to limit it to just painting. I think I could make a case that Laurie Anderson, for instance, was a new-modernist. Not assuming, of course, that she would like it.



May 11, 2008, 4:15 PM

Roy I think the "new" has to be pushed. People love something new. Modernism, in a way, is not the strong part , but it serves the purpose of designating the "subject" of the phrase.

The name has to say "you thought modernism was all over? No, it is being done by lots of very talented young artists and it's the freshest thing on the scene".

Young, fresh, new - all that kind of thing. As Catfish implied, we have to make the concept stuff look mainstream, tired and stuffy without saying so. It's about time!



May 11, 2008, 4:24 PM

Re #156, I hope you don't mean Martin Gayford. Based on his 2005 Modern Painters cover story on Hirst, I consider him quite dubious. At the time, I had this to say on the blog about it:

I read the MP cover piece on him [Hirst], an interview by Martin Gayford (who comes dangerously close to sounding like a sycophant--it's all very golly-gee-whiz). The work in question is a series of paintings now at Gagosian in NYC. They are mostly copies of found media images (it would seem that creating his own images is too much work for Damien, who probably needs to save his energy for coming up with fatuous drivel to dish out to fatuous interviewers). He blithely admits that "all the hard work" was done by a team of assistants; he merely supervised and applied the finishing touches.



May 11, 2008, 5:06 PM

capable and strong painters not capable and string painters. Thread has been used in so many contemporary paintings that I did not want to confuse things.



May 11, 2008, 5:57 PM

I could make a case that Laurie Anderson... was a new-modernist

Really? Dare I dare you?



May 11, 2008, 6:26 PM

Painting, schmainting.. let's not forget, visual art started with sculpture...



May 11, 2008, 7:18 PM

Laurie Anderson was making art for art's sake, and using any means that could work. She was successful, when she was at her best, in a quite pure manner. There was spectacle, for sure. But spectacle is a neutral. As I said, I'm loathe to limit this to painting.



May 11, 2008, 8:26 PM

Well, I guess I'm not familiar with her ouvre. I've read that her training was in sculpture - I wonder if she was a capable string sculptor.



May 11, 2008, 8:37 PM

Catfish there's all kinds of opportunity for limiting and unlimiting. The important thing is to put forth some kind of convincing core in some kind of convincing manner and build from there.



May 11, 2008, 9:05 PM

"Modernism essentially consisted in artists focusing on the defining characteristics of their art"

A little vague, isn't this?



May 11, 2008, 9:11 PM

Try this: Laurie Anderson

Language is a virus

Originally she was a classical violin player.



May 12, 2008, 5:35 AM

I really don't have the time to explicate this idea but let me throw it out there. If you really examined all of the formal inventions that came out of early twentieth and late nineteenth century modernism, as it played out in Europe, America, and everywhere else, you would be able to compile a very long list. Equating modernism with flatness, or a self-critical spirit, or a focus on materials is fine, and to a certain extent accurate. But a lot gets left out if you don't consider the plethora of formal inventions that came out of modernism and still have a large presence in the world of art, sculpture, painting, drawing, filmmaking, etc. It is really quite silly to make any statements about the death and banishment of modernism, especially when you consider its ongoing and quite considerable impact on contemporary culture.



May 12, 2008, 6:48 AM

Well I dreamed there was an island
That rose up from the sea.
And everybody on the island
Was somebody from TV.
And there was a beautiful view
But nobody could see.
Cause everybody on the island
Was saying: Look at me! Look at me!
Look at me! Look at me!



May 12, 2008, 7:09 AM

Laurie Anderson is interesting Catfish. The first part of the first video was beautifully worked out but the spell snaps as soon as she moves into social crit.

But the main problem as far as any workable "New Modernism" conspiracy goes is FOCUS. There has to be a viable takeover plan, and it can't include everything.

Eric of course Modernism's influence is huge. Modernism is responsible for Postmodernism, which is just a degenerate form of Modernism. The problem here is that good work is being neglected because it is primarily visual and this is called "Modernist". "Modernism" is in the phrase because it therefore seems to be the best branding word.



May 12, 2008, 7:26 AM

catfish was nice enough to share some images of his excellent work with me. This work should be widely seen. It is smart and beautiful.

I remember getting into arguments with a young and untenured philosophy professor at SUNY Purchase when I was an undergraduate. We used to argue back and forth about whether or not post modernism actually existed. In other words, we argued about wherther or not there really was a difference between post-modernism and modernism. Needless to say, no one won.



May 12, 2008, 7:28 AM

We just need Martin Gayford to call Lucien Freud a "New Modernist" in time for his coronation as "Most Expensive Living Artist"...



May 12, 2008, 7:30 AM

Don't worry, simpleposie, we can see you...



May 12, 2008, 7:32 AM

and I you



May 12, 2008, 7:34 AM

Yes I agree opie, Anderson's stuff goes south when the moralizing steps in (as does J's poem in #173). But she is aural and sometimes visual, not "conceptual". It brings the dada aspect of modernism back from the edge of the abyss and makes something of it, though she could use dada's neutrality towards good and evil. "Judge not and be not judged" is one of the best moral principles I've ever heard, and it works damn well for morality's role in art too.

It is very hard for me to see postmodernism as a degenerate form of modernism. It is one of the outcomes of dropping modernism from the official art scene and allowing academics to fill the void. I'm not even sure it is degenerate. Perhaps it is simply beside the point of art. Like a poorly designed chair in a good gallery. That's not a bad way to "paint" it, in fact.

The essence of the takeover plan must be to feature VERY GOOD ART as its core, with perhaps some rather good art around the edges. That indeed is not at all inclusive. It must be sharp and wedge-like, to break through the border of the status quo somewhere.

I think the "somewhere" that is weakest is where the yearning for pleasure still exists, and even laments that there is so little of it provided. Drive the wedge of prettiness in there, and the monolith may spill some of its guts rather easily ...



May 12, 2008, 7:38 AM

J's poem #173?
Not Laurie Anderson from Language is a Virus?



May 12, 2008, 7:50 AM

I would be happy to do a studio visit with catfish or opie if it is feasible. I don't know where your studios are located. I live in upstate New York, and if any of the regulars are located anywhere near where I live, please send me images of your stuff and an address. Young or old, it doesn't matter. It will only be a hard sell for me if the artist has never shown their work, has never participated in a workshop, and does not have a fairly large body of work. Obviously I would want to see the work first as well. I would much rather do a studio visit with someone whose name is not ubiquitous in art circles and who takes the whole creative process seriously.



May 12, 2008, 7:55 AM

Catfish writes "It is very hard for me to see postmodernism as a degenerate form of modernism. It is one of the outcomes of dropping modernism from the official art scene and allowing academics to fill the void. I'm not even sure it is degenerate."

This would be an interesting discussion because it would necessitate defining these things better, determining what the actual elemental constituents are. Certainly the effect of postmodernism is to reduce visual art to academics, but it needed permission from Modernism to do that.

If you mean that justifying "prettiness" would drive a wedge, yes, that has occurred to me. We should keep it in mind. The idea is almost "Postmodernist".

Anyway, I have to do grading & can't get into it right now, unfortunately.



May 12, 2008, 7:56 AM

What is your email, Eric?



May 12, 2008, 7:58 AM

You are absolutely right J. You were quoting Anderson.

Early Bob Dylan is the only recent poet I can think of who got by with moralizing without damaging his poetry. Moralizing finally got even him, though, as he aged.

Ever read any "miracle and morality" plays from the middle ages? They remind me very much of the simplistic approach art of our time takes toward moral issues. The poetry you quote is perhaps a little more complex than that, but it leaves the clear impression about who is wearing the dunce cap. What's wrong with placing a dunce cap on some character? I can't really say - it just hardly ever works.



May 12, 2008, 8:02 AM

White Lily



May 12, 2008, 8:05 AM,

p.s. I got the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen last week and have been doing a drawing a day with it. I love it!. And it was only $12. The ink flow is great, consistent, and the brush is short but flexible.



May 12, 2008, 8:10 AM

Opie sez that postmodernism "needed permission from Modernism to do that" (reduce art to academics). All I saw pomo academics rode the coattails of "rebellion" and "shock". Modernism jumped its own ship, so to speak, to keep up with the latest, remodeling itself to suit academic regalia. At the core of it was modernism no longer understood itself, and mistook its effects for its cause and nourished its periphery while ignoring its core. A fatal error that made it easy for the art system to place it into the dumpster. Whether modernism was really hauled out with the trash is the question here. Did it die or did it go underground? If underground, did it develop or just preserve what was left?



May 12, 2008, 8:13 AM

Opie also sez Modernism is responsible for Post Modernism.



May 12, 2008, 8:23 AM

"Did it die or did it go underground? If underground, did it develop or just preserve what was left?"

Yup. That's the crux. I think it went underground and needs to erupt.



May 12, 2008, 8:26 AM

Po-Mo as a degenerate form of Mo:

For the visual, what makes art art is what you see.
For the non-visual, what makes art art is what you call it.

Modernism takes the medium of art for the subject.

For a modern artist, the medium could be paint, etc... but for a postmodern artist (ie. a non-visual visual artist) the medium is language or semantics. Both focus on the medium as paramount, they just differ on what the true medium is...



May 12, 2008, 8:45 AM

MC I was also thinking of Modernism's shedding of conventions, such as subject matter and deep space.

Postmodernism shed or modified the convention of visual interest and value - one thing being better than another as a precondition.



May 12, 2008, 8:45 AM

If someone here has an in with Terry Teachout I would get him to write about the new-Modernist movement rather than me. He is a far better writer than I am.


J@simpleposie, quoting Laurie Anderson again

May 12, 2008, 8:51 AM

Hansel and Gretel are alive and well And they're living in Berlin She is a cocktail waitress He had a part in a Fassbinder film And they sit around at night now drinking schnapps and gin And she says: Hansel, you're really bringing me down And he says: Gretel, you can really be a bitch He says: I've wasted my life on our stupid legend When my one and only love was the wicked witch. She said: What is history? And he said: History is an angel being blown backwards into the future He said: History is a pile of debris And the angel wants to go back and fix things To repair the things that have been broken But there is a storm blowing from Paradise And the storm keeps blowing the angel backwards into the future And this storm, this storm is called Progress



May 12, 2008, 9:06 AM

Simpleposie, Laurie or no Laurie, that is pretty sophmoric.



May 12, 2008, 9:07 AM




May 12, 2008, 9:08 AM

jack after some very quick searching i think the guy i was trying to remember was matthew collins, not martin whoever. he has talked up folks that greenberg has championed, including the 2nd and 3rd generation.

david mirvish gives you another very strong jew with probably the leading collection in the world to bridge the old modernism to the new. morris louis had a show here in atlanta last year and atleast one pic was from his collection.

eric you would flip over his collection. hofmann, olitski, noland, etc. stacked a mile high. he has a few thing by opie as well.



May 12, 2008, 9:48 AM

David Mirvish also has a great bookstore, here in Toronto



May 12, 2008, 11:06 AM

JP, Aesopian tales, which are basically behavior modification lessons for children, always teeter on the edge of juvenality. To work as stories they should do two things, one, not spell out the moral (which Aesop did spell out, of course) and, two, keep the "meaning" of the story behind the wall of specificity. The minute you bring in abstractions like "history" and "progress" the whole tone is changed. It is literally sophomoric, like a college kid in a writing class.

Must of current art (and politics, and literature, and so forth)is like this, of course, but that does not make it any better.


Chris Rywalt

May 12, 2008, 11:16 AM

This thread's gone through several permutations, so here I am picking up on a couple of random tentacles:

Eric, glad to hear you're enjoying the Pentel. On Saturday I did a very nice drawing of our model using my Kuretake; my host had chosen a long pose -- the same pose for the entire day! -- so I decided to spend some time on a drawing, starting in pencil and then inking over that and erasing the sketch underneath. The result was quite nice. Unfortunately for me, the models have been getting better and better at figuring out which drawing I've done is the best of the session and taking it when I offer them their choice. So I don't have a copy to scan and show anyone online.

Speaking of showing, Eric, I'd love to have you come down for a studio visit, except I'm already promised to come to you to see your studio. Once it's ready, anyway. You can, of course, see my work online.



May 12, 2008, 11:32 AM

Chris, even though I thanked you on your blog, I just want to thank you again for the CDRom. The great thing about working with a brush pen is that you are actually doing a painting with one color and one brush when you are using it. My hand movements are different from how they would be if I was using an ink pen. They are supposed to come out with replacement brushes in this country if the demand is high enough.

I can do a studio visit with any artist if it is possible for me to get to the studio. artcritical has a decent sized readership and it includes readers on the other side of the swamp as well.


Chris Rywalt

May 12, 2008, 11:50 AM

I've been thinking I'd like brush pens with different colors. Maybe I'll fill an empty cartridge with some P.H. Martin's and buy a second pen just for that color, see how that goes.



May 12, 2008, 12:46 PM

Well OP,

This particular Laurie Anderson song is based on a Walter Benjamin description of Paul Klee's 1920 or so watercolour painting Angelus Novus.



May 12, 2008, 3:41 PM

re #196:

"another very strong jew with probably the leading collection"???

How bout some Eye-talians. Got any of them? Tell me that was a typo.

-another jew with a very strong attitude



May 12, 2008, 4:08 PM

J@s and opie's little exchange pretty succinctly outlines the difference between postmodernist and modernist approaches. Given the Anderson quote, J@s is interested in all the peripheral things it is allegedly about, while opie considers it for what it actually is in his direct experience of it.



May 12, 2008, 4:20 PM

oriane, no typo.

franklin started it and i just continued on. the comment seemed perfectly fine to me. jews often like to refer to their jewishness anyways. am i wrong?

my stock is 3/8 roman catholic italian and 1/8 jew too. so you nailed me.

i don't know if franklin was just trying to be funny or serious, but obviously many jews are very involved in the arts. regardless, no harm intended.



May 12, 2008, 4:29 PM

I was being funny. See #160.

This may be the longest thread in the blog's history that hasn't devolved into name-calling. My typical observation is that the chance of a thread going into the commode is x/100 where x is the number of comments. We have defied that. Good work, folks!



May 12, 2008, 4:34 PM

Yeah, I guess it's one of those things that you can do with your own group, like blacks calling each other n---er, without causing offense.



May 12, 2008, 4:39 PM

Let's just say I've resisted temptation. So far. I'm trying to live up to Ahab's civility. But of course, he's Canadian. I'm told that helps. Except when hockey is involved.



May 12, 2008, 4:52 PM

Oriane, when there is a stong element of trust & humor going on there may be a tendency to banter with these terms. It is a great relief when this is possible. Being a total 100% WASP I get left out but my older son, who had a circle of friends with the ethnic makeup of a Hollywood WW2 army battalion, was at ease about it.

Yes, this must be a modern record. We haven't even come close to the "other N word".



May 12, 2008, 5:01 PM


I rest my case.



May 12, 2008, 5:28 PM

Lest I be misunderstood, J@s, Klee is a wonderful artist, but in my humble opinion Walter Benjamin is a windbag on a par with Joseph Campbell and Arthur C. Danto. Sophomorocism (wow, what a word!) is clearly not confined to sophomores.



May 12, 2008, 5:49 PM

Good to rest OP.

Re #204:

Ahab,I would ask you to consider your words. You assume that because I told OP what the song was based on factually (something distinct, I think, from whatever it is ALLEGEDLY ABOUT, or whatever it means)that I have no direct experience of it. With all due respect you are on the wrong track.

compare Anderson's song to Benjamin's life during wartime description of Klee's painting ":

"A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress."

OP clearly, given these words were written in the late thirties, 'sophomoricism' (as you call it) is not confined to pomo either.



May 12, 2008, 6:06 PM

I wanted to ask if y'all had ever heard of Laurie Fendrich, but I see that Franklin had a post on an essay of hers back in they day...
I just read her "Confessions of an Abstract Painter", and she definitely sounds like a New Modernist to me...



May 12, 2008, 7:51 PM

J, you go girl. Sometimes these boys need a good talking to.



May 12, 2008, 8:00 PM

Another excellent example, J@s. Where I have modernistly read the comments for what was actually written, you have postmodernistly read into the comments things that you presume I assume.



May 12, 2008, 8:10 PM

Let's see Ahob,

What did you really really write?

"J@s {approach} is interested in all the peripheral things it is allegedly about, while opie considers it for what it actually is in his direct experience of it."

In what peripheral things the song is allegedly about IS my approach interested?



May 12, 2008, 8:15 PM

J@s, we may be talking at cross purposes; I'm not sure what point you are making above. "Sophomorocism" goes way back, of course.

O, you seem determined to inject a feminist standpoint here, but I am not sure one is needed. We are equal opportunity abusers.

Yes, MC, Laurie Fendrich is definitely a person of outspoken reasonableness in this matter.



May 12, 2008, 9:48 PM


The trouble is that you're missing out on Ahab's crystal clear delineation of newmo vs. pomo!




May 13, 2008, 4:19 AM

Been there. Done that. Phhh.



May 13, 2008, 5:32 AM

Opie, re:

"J@s, we may be talking at cross purposes; I'm not sure what point you are making above. "Sophomorocism" goes way back, of course."

I wouldn't put Campbell or Danto in anywhere near the same boat as Benjamin, so, no we don't agree on that point. If you can read the Benjamin essay (link above) and still call it sophomoric, then power to you, but I disagree.

I DO agree with you, however, that what you're calling sophomoric is historical - and you can find it in the Modern period.



May 13, 2008, 6:13 AM

Sure, people made all kinds of insane crap in the name of modern art. People made terrible things during the Renaissance as well. Failure plagues all efforts, not just art. Why does this matter?

I'm working on a What Modernism Means Now post that started as an overlong thought here.



May 13, 2008, 6:29 AM

It could matter to an argument favouring Modernism cant.



May 13, 2008, 6:33 AM

I have rread enough of Benjamin to know better than to read more, JS. The inflated fantasy he wields on what is a fairly straightforward graphic German-expressionist watercolor figure is typical of the kind of grandiose, distorted take on art that literary people habitually do. it is a nice picture but it bears no relationship to Benjamin's account of it.

This is a matter of opinion, of course. If you are a Benjamin admirer, as so many are, so be it.



May 13, 2008, 6:35 AM

Is that what you see here? Cant? I don't favor a cant - I have been arguing for clear, honest expression in art writing for ten years. I favor a working method.



May 13, 2008, 6:39 AM

Yes, I do see cant.



May 13, 2008, 6:41 AM

And is that because you don't understand it, or because you don't agree with it?



May 13, 2008, 6:45 AM

Well I'm sure that will be worth reading...



May 13, 2008, 6:47 AM

I'll do my best, Klem.



May 13, 2008, 7:00 AM

Well, it's not the deepest thing I've ever tried to understand, no.



May 13, 2008, 7:03 AM

And the arguments, though argumentative often lack two sides.



May 13, 2008, 7:17 AM

That's good, because I prefer truth to depth. But that means you're characterizing this talk as cant because you don't agree with it, so you're attacking motives and language because you don't like the content.

I've been waiting for five years for someone who can articulate a case for the shortcomings of modernism and the strengths of postmodernism with the finesse, clarity, and good humor that Opie does the converse. (Amusingly, the writer who came closest was Catfish.) If you feel like my argument lacks another side, it's up to you to supply that side, if you can.



May 13, 2008, 7:21 AM

"But that means you're characterizing this talk as cant because you don't agree with it, so you're attacking motives and language because you don't like the content."

Now THAT is easier to say than to prove based on my responses to your question. Matters not.



May 13, 2008, 7:28 AM

Easy to say, and easy to prove. We agree that you understand the argument and you find it faulty; you say so yourself. So rather than constructing a counterargument, you characterize the language as cant, with its connotations of insincerity and hypocrisy. It matters because this is a classic strategy of postmodernism.

Again, form a counterargument, if you can.



May 13, 2008, 7:36 AM

And the arguments, though argumentative often lack two sides.

Besides those of us at the front, there are still commentors willing to provide the underbelly and the backside. That's three, by my count.



May 13, 2008, 7:40 AM

Sorry, Franklin. That was uncalled for. I know we were going for 300 comments before resorting to namecalling, but there's only a couple hours left before comments close.



May 13, 2008, 7:46 AM

I have been called a backside more than once.



May 13, 2008, 8:09 AM

I roll on the Northside, suckaz...



May 13, 2008, 8:18 AM

Speaking of Kant, now there's someone who reveled in "clear" and "truthful" language! I'm not saying that there isn't a lot of artspeak that could use more style & writerly craft. But that doesn't mean that writing about these issues should be simplified and accessible to the LCD!



May 13, 2008, 8:26 AM

Do I need to point out that the literary priorities for 18th C. German were a little different than 21st C. English? Or that "clear" doesn't mean "lowest common denominator"? Apparently I do.



May 13, 2008, 8:34 AM

"Clem" - Artspeak is an academic LCD par excellence. It's got style and craft in spades!



May 13, 2008, 8:39 AM

I don't think the LCD is a problem here, that is, I don't think any kind of "dumbing down" has to be done to make what we are saying easy to understand or more accessible.

Most of what we say here is non-esoteric (except for a familiarity with artworld goings-on & politics) and non-jargonized. I hope whtever I say is very clear and I certainly welcome any demonstration to the contrary.

But what Franklin is pointing out is classic. I don't know that "cant" has ever been invoked (Kant has) but we regularly get "close-minded" and "narrow" and all the rest. These accusations are virtually never backed up with evidence.

It is interesting, once again, that if we were dealing with scientific or legal or mathematical matters here there might well be disagreement but the disagreement would be based on the interpretation and consequences of facts, not emotional expressions of frustration. On a high plane of discourse these would clearly humiliating, and the participants would be painfully aware of it.



May 13, 2008, 8:41 AM

I'm just saying that writing about art and aesthetics has always been, and will continue to be, a highly nuanced and theoretical activity. It certainly isn't, and doesn't have to be for everyone, but targeting academic or literary writing as if it were somehow opposed or harmful to artistic appreciation or practice is wrongheaded.

And I'd be interested in hearing what "literary priorities" you think are needed for today.



May 13, 2008, 8:47 AM

Myself, I'm only versed in art priorities. Emphasis on visual.



May 13, 2008, 8:47 AM

And I'd be interested in hearing what "literary priorities" you think are needed for today.


Criticism provides a way to get more pleasure out of art, like chewing gets flavor out of food. Whether it ends up influencing anyone's collection decisions or the direction of the market, or meeting any other metric of importance, doesn't matter. Accuracy of observation, honesty, clarity, judgment, and taste matter above all. Perpetrators of criticism might as well write well, too, while they're at it.

Perhaps it sounds trifling, but getting the pleasures right, refining them, developing variations on them, and chronicling the work involved constitute some of the highest work of civilization. People take art too seriously in ways it doesn't justify and not seriously enough in ways that it does. It has little impact on the world or our understanding of it; one might as well expect such things of fine dining. But when done well it offers a thrill unlike anything else, one that sets in suddenly and then releases slowly, entering the eyes and delighting the visual component of our being that recognizes shapes and symbols.



May 13, 2008, 9:10 AM

"Accuracy of observation, honesty, clarity, judgment, and taste matter above all. Perpetrators of criticism might as well write well, too, while they're at it"

I think the trouble is that these "qualities" you speak of are vague and only find their more concrete definition in a given community. And this isn't about relativism (anymore than it would be proposing a universal discourse on art), but realizing that there are different needs at play here. It's interesting that you denote pleasure as an overall kind of aim, because that actually seems to indicate how individualized our perceptions and experiences with language and art are.



May 13, 2008, 9:22 AM

Those terms are as specific enough to get some work done.

Responses to art and language are individualized in the sense that we perceive things and experience pleasure as individuals, but they're universal to the extent that humans share a lot of physical and mental structure with one another. Pleasure is uniform in its generalities and specific in its details.



May 13, 2008, 9:42 AM

Maybe you need to go back to Kant and re-read what he meant when he wrote about a community of senses. He emphasized how the social (and thus particular) aspect of judgment distinguished itself from the universal character of reason. The results are, importantly, communities.

To backtrack, even your contention that we have different needs for discourse today works against any universality of either clarity or pleasure.

Just because some of you here aren't moved by more academic or theoretical writing (to say nothing of your apparent disdain for a lot of contemporary art practice) doesn't mean that other's aren't. These communities are vibrant in an unto themselves, and many make the same claims of judgment, self-criticism, and rigor that you do.



May 13, 2008, 10:11 AM

He emphasized how the social (and thus particular) aspect of judgment distinguished itself from the universal character of reason. The results are, importantly, communities.

I think he makes a fair observation.

To backtrack, even your contention that we have different needs for discourse today works against any universality of either clarity or pleasure.

No it doesn't. Again, universal in general, individual in the specifics. Communities haven't stopped forming, have they?

Just because some of you here aren't moved by more academic or theoretical writing (to say nothing of your apparent disdain for a lot of contemporary art practice) doesn't mean that other's aren't.

I'm not moved by a lot of academic or theoretical writing about art because it's nonsensical and poorly written. If you have a particular example in mind, I don't mind discussing it. I care not at all about contemporary art "practice" (ecch!) except when it results in something worthwhile as art. (In which case I don't care if the artist used a Ouija board, Baudrillard, and a handful of peyote to make it happen.)

These communities are vibrant in an unto themselves, and many make the same claims of judgment, self-criticism, and rigor that you do.

Communities can as easily form around poor objects and poor thinking as good objects and good thinking; in fact, it might be easier to form a community around the former. Such people will enjoy their poor taste as much as I enjoy my good taste. There will be no consequences except that they will miss out on the best art the world has to offer.



May 13, 2008, 10:12 AM

Yes, Clem. Give us a couple examples and we will tell you where the "disdain" comes from. Whether or not these communities are "vibrant" is beside the point.

The notion that every reaction and feeling and judgement and all the rest is "highly individualized" has been squashed by neurologists ages ago. And blithely saying that "clarity" is "non-specific" is just a glib dismissal. We all know what 'clarity" is, expecially when it comes to critical writing.

As for "literary" I was referring to how literary people tend to make up great narrtives about pictures rather than just enjoy what's there for what it is; their story-telling gene get in the way of their visual genes.

Looks like there is a discussion brewing but unfortunately I have to go so something for the next few hrs.



May 13, 2008, 10:47 AM

If you've just agreed to the notion that different communities possess strikingly different concepts of clarity and judgment, then naming these qualities as requisite does very little to define or identify them. Saying that you enjoy the best art in the world is pretty insular given that these claims are understandably made by most distinct communities.

As I mentioned earlier, what this discussion needs to continue meaningfully is an elaboration of your position on what good writing about art entails. And to note, I'm not all that interested in a Greenbergian claim of simply being able to see it : )



May 13, 2008, 10:52 AM

Or arguments about strict biological determinism neither! : )



May 13, 2008, 11:09 AM

If you've just agreed to the notion that different communities possess strikingly different concepts of clarity and judgment, then naming these qualities as requisite does very little to define or identify them.

This sentence is a mess. People don't have "concepts of clarity." Languages by nature make it possible to produce clear or obfuscated syntax. Just because I agreed with one point of Kant's doesn't mean I think he writes clearly. Neither do people have "concepts of judgment" when we're talking about art. If they're actually using judgment, they have a reaction of some kind. I didn't "name[e] these qualities as requisite" - some communities get together to watch TV and drink beer. And I wasn't trying to define or identify them.

Saying that you enjoy the best art in the world is pretty insular given that these claims are understandably made by most distinct communities.

I make that claim based on my own observations and judgment. Communities don't claim this except as aggregates of individuals doing exactly this. I know of a lot of circles of art worlders who are far more insular and would never make such a claim, because postmodernism forbids it.

As I mentioned earlier, what this discussion needs to continue meaningfully is an elaboration of your position on what good writing about art entails. And to note, I'm not all that interested in a Greenbergian claim of simply being able to see it : ) Or arguments about strict biological determinism neither! : )

Good writing adds to knowledge. Well-written writing makes you want to keep reading. That's all there is to it.



May 13, 2008, 11:36 AM

Franklin sez: "I've been waiting for five years for someone who can articulate a case for the shortcomings of modernism and the strengths of postmodernism with the finesse, clarity, and good humor that Opie does the converse. (Amusingly, the writer who came closest was Catfish.)"

Well Franklin, I've pretty much been an orthodox modernist around here - ortho-mo for short. Flatboy was much better at rattling the modernist cage than I, though he seems to have disappeared. He, for instance, made a pretty thorough case for the formal qualities of Duchamp's urinal, not to mention digging up some questionable praise for dubious artists in one of Clem's anthologies. In that respect, I don't feel worthy of carrying Flatboy's jock strap, to paraphrase Larry Holmes.



May 13, 2008, 12:52 PM

I miss Flatboy. I had it out with him on that business about Greenberg's dubious picks and we were bobbing and weaving all over the place. It was fun.

Clem, I think you are a victim of the catagorical generalization epidemic.

Most people know what "clarity" and judgement" are, and that is what "concept of" means, I assume. That doesn't mean everyone writes clearly or that they have good judgement.

My writing students have a hard time writing clearly but that's because they have never been taught how to write. This doesn't mean that they cannot tell clear writng when they see it.

"Communities" is one of those unlocatable abstractions, unless you are talking about a community with great focus and discipline when it comes to art and writing, which is a very rare thing, if it exists at all. You just can't posit some grand notion of "communities" to demonstrate a point. It doesn't work.

Saying that we are 99.99 percent neurologically similar is not "biological determinism", it is is a simple fact. That's another stab at disqualification by means of a loaded abstraction.

I'm sorry, but "being able to see it" is basic. Please do not try to establish that a failure to "define" or "elaborate" what is "good" in art or writing is either a failure on the part of those who use these terms or a demonstration that these things don't exist. That doesn't work either.

We have been over and over these points of discussion in the 5 years that this blog has been going, and I hesitate to belabor them any more, but I will if you want to.



May 13, 2008, 12:55 PM

Are you still going to champion Laurie Anderson's work for the quote unquote New Modernism, Catfish?



May 13, 2008, 1:27 PM

"Champion" is perhaps too large a word, but yes, Anderson has contributed something to "art for art's sake", and she did it after 1960. What I noticed about her is she went after being good and getting better, and doing it in a disciplined way, that is, she had a method, one that she worked at, one that she soemwhat innovated as she worked it out. Her moralizing I could do without. Woody Guthrie and the young Bob Dylan could moralize with impunity. The rest of us, including Pete Seeger even, have to be careful. I can't say why.



May 13, 2008, 1:28 PM

Franklin it may be that you favour a working method toward clear honest expression, but you might be too quick in dismissing things people say as non arguments and classic post modern strategy. Too increase your hold man, it helps to relax your grip



May 13, 2008, 1:28 PM

I'm glad Catfish



May 13, 2008, 1:40 PM

Just to leap back for a moment. 'Cant' is, literally, an angle, or attitude. There is a correct cant when setting up your ski boots, for example, and you risk a broken ankle when skiing with the wrong cant. Though 'cant' is commonly used pejoratively to describe a particular opinion (like 'slant'), I think it is actually an appropriate word to use.



May 13, 2008, 1:42 PM

"People don't have "concepts of clarity."

Oh sure they don't that's why there's near universal agreement on what writing is clear and what writing is "obfuscated". Because you haven't learned a particular language-game doesn't mean that it doesn't operate according to a set of rules that might be clear to its own participants. Some people read Adorno or Lyotard in their sleep, for others it takes getting accustomed to. Much like learning their mother-tongue isn't seemless, or taking up a technical manual for your broken down car for that matter.

"Neither do people have "concepts of judgment" when we're talking about art. If they're actually using judgment, they have a reaction of some kind"

No concepts of judgment, hey? So Greenberg's "seeing" isn't a particular aesthetic theory? And "a reaction of some kind" continues your vague assertions. What kind of a reaction denotes the "correct" judgment, how is this distinguished from incorrect judgment?

You've got to have thought through what makes for taste before you can begin to assume you have it.



May 13, 2008, 1:44 PM

you might be too quick in dismissing things people say as non arguments and classic post modern strategy

On the other hand, I may be just quick enough. Form a counterargument, if you can.



May 13, 2008, 1:56 PM

To what?





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