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Lookers and readers

Post #1245 • October 15, 2008, 9:58 AM • 48 Comments

Since it was the main focus of my artistic efforts circa 2007-2008, source art from The Moon Fell On Me figured prominently into my recent show at Common Sense. But there were also works done in the studio for the sake of doing them. I'd say the mix was about half and half, leaning a bit towards the comic.

Some people liked what they saw based on what they saw. Other people responded to what they saw well enough, but really came around after I explained to them that the works were then digitized and then turned into a webcomic, particularly if they had the opportunity to see the comic that the art went into. (I had my laptop in the gallery exactly for that purpose.) After watching these two kinds of repsonses several times each, I began to wonder if it would be fair to classify art viewers as either lookers or readers. (I assume, too, that there were plenty of people who didn't take to my work in any manner at all. That's entirely fair, of course, but they don't figure in here.)

In Madison, WI a few weeks later, Supergirl and I were walking through the installation by Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art when I saw another visitor, a man in his twenties, sheepishly approach the guard and ask, "Um, so... what is this about?" I didn't overhear the explanation. I didn't think the work was all that obtuse, really - it was a message on behalf of friendship, charm, and world citizenship, or something in that neighborhood. But it was clear that he wanted the meaning, the official answer to the rebus, in order to satisfy himself that he had gotten the art, as people say. He was a reader.

I'm a big fan of reading. Otherwise I wouldn't have gotten involved in comics. But reading isn't looking. Reading isn't necessary to art - it's necessary to meaning. Art needs no meaning. It needs only its material self. The effort that goes into making something look good and making it read well are different efforts. And the latter efforts, in art, are aimed at the readers, not the lookers.

Is reading inferior to looking? The modernist has to conclude as much, so long as the question is confined to visual art. Reading is an attempt to introduce artificial certainty into the process of aesthetic judgment, which is perceived, intuited and felt. You don't read beauty. If because of inability or indoctrination, you don't see it where it's available, reading is a poor substitute. Art that supplies a message instead of visual quality, by design, is an appeal to this poor substitution.

I have a new response to shows thusly aimed: This one is for the readers. Noted as such, one can relieve oneself from the self-flagellation to which further consideration would amount. Face the Nation? That's a show for the readers. Richard Prince at the Walker? Meh, readers.

Which brings me to the Jenny Holzer installation at MassMoCA. In Holzer, the readers have their Michelangelo. In one of the museum's cavernous halls, which has been darkened and dotted with giant bean-bag chairs suitable for prolonged viewing (or napping, which might be just as well), she has projected animated writings that roll slowly across the floor, up the walls, and backwards up the ceiling in a manner that (I think unintentionally) recalls the opening sequences of the Star Wars movies. Because two projectors are pointing at each other from opposite ends of the room, the texts collide in an indecipherable jumble in many places - which are the best parts of the piece, really - but the reader can glean passages by concentrating on the less busy areas of the room. Some of the prose is terse and evocative: "Lions and lice do not waver in their course." Some is as flat as old soda: "Meanwhile, people perished, animals died, houses burned." It turns out that not all the text is hers. Some of it has been excerpted from poems by Wislawa Szymborska. And to my reading ear, not enough of it.

Not incidentally, there's a class of creative people who deal in a medium far more conducive to reading than visual art ever will be. We call them writers. Writers, and the people who appreciate their work, are not engaged in a large-scale, institutionalized effort to include more things and more kinds of things into the category of writing. So writing is spilling into the porous boundaries of art, whose aficionados are engaged in a large-scale, institutionalized effort to include more things and more kinds of things into the category of art. The result is an enervated category, and an enervated kind of appreciation to go with it.




October 15, 2008, 1:23 PM

This is a good, clear spin on the problem.


Chris Rywalt

October 15, 2008, 6:10 PM

I just read Greenberg's Homemade Esthetics and he pretty much makes the same distinction you do -- big shock there! -- but without making clear the looker/reader split. Of course, his point, his purpose in noting what he does, is to say that the art world, at some point, started settling for less, settling for the certainty of reading in place of the courage of looking. Because looking takes more honesty, more being true to oneself -- or anyway it does if you do it right.



October 15, 2008, 11:07 PM

Lookers get art. Readers turn away from it.



October 16, 2008, 12:13 PM

I'm a reader and I look at art,and I get it. When I don't ,I find it more interesting than when I do.too much emphasis is placed on getting it,rather than allowing the work to produce questions in your,the reader's and looker's,mind.
maybe the distinctions should not be quite so black and white and didactic...



October 16, 2008, 12:14 PM

The problem has to do with the fact that seeing art, or getting it visually, requires a certain aptitude which different people have to widely varying degrees (just like an aptitude for, say, playing chess, dancing, or cooking). It is entirely possible for someone to be extremely intelligent, even brilliant in a certain field, and still have a very poor eye. It simply happens. It's not a sin or a fault in the sense of deserving blame; it is what it is.

Unfortunately, all too often, for various reasons, people go into denial about it and/or try to compensate with things like the reading approach you describe, instead of facing reality and focusing on some pursuit more suited to their particular strengths or abilities. Way too many such people are far too heavily involved in the current art world, with quite predictable results.

Art is there for everyone; it should be equally available to all, but it is not equally suited to all. Life is not "fair," and wishing it were won't make it so.


Chris Rywalt

October 16, 2008, 12:23 PM

Sophie: What Greenberg said, and what I thought (and wrote) before reading Greenberg, and what Franklin and Opie are trying to get at here, too, is simply this: The pleasure of "getting it" is fantastic. For people who get it, it's much better than any intellectual pleasure, the way that an orgasm is more enjoyable than imagining an orgasm.

That's why some people put so much emphasis on the visual over the intellectual: Because it feels really good. It's a lot more enjoyable than having something formulate questions in your mind. I want art that makes me feel something through my eyes, not art that makes me go "Hmm" and rub my chin.

A parallel: Friends of mine, very smart TV fans, really love the TV show "The Office." They think it's very funny. But when I watched it, I didn't laugh. I thought, "That's amusing." I found "The Office" intellectually funny. But what I want from comedy is for it to make me laugh. (I'm not saying the show is or is not funny, by the way. Just reporting my reaction.)

What you're saying, Sophie, is we shouldn't pay so much attention to comedies that make us laugh; we should put more emphasis on comedies that make us think "That's amusing." Franklin and Greenberg and Opie and I, well, we want to laugh our asses off.



October 16, 2008, 12:28 PM

Well said, Chris.


Chris Rywalt

October 16, 2008, 12:38 PM

Thank you, John.


Chris Rywalt

October 16, 2008, 1:00 PM

Coincidence: Roger Ebert writes on his blog today something Greenberg might have agreed with:

As the critic Robert Warshow wrote, "A man goes to the movies. The critic must be honest enough to admit that he is that man." In other words, whatever you saw, whatever you felt, whatever you did, you must say so. For example, two things that cannot be convincingly faked are laughter and orgasms. If a movie made you laugh, as a critic you have to be honest and report that. Maybe not so much with orgasms.



October 16, 2008, 1:25 PM

Sophie, with all due respect, if you find it more interesting to not get it and have the work produce "questions" instead then you are really, really not getting it, not getting art at all.

Furthermore, you are letting yourself get suckered into one of the standard dumb mythologies of our time, that "questions" are better than "answers". That's crap.

Listen to Chris.



October 16, 2008, 4:54 PM

Now for something short and concise...

Not that it wasn't problematic up to now, but this word 'art' as it is used by OP, Franklin, Chris, John, Jack et al, points to art that should be distinguished from other stuff that isn't concerned with the aesthetic, or gulp, beauty or pleasure. 'Aesthetic' isn't any better is, but it isn't. Like Bannard says, art (the aesthetic) is just too weird, but I think he points to a specific type with specific weirdness. Readable 'art' is a relatively new phenomenon and I don't like that contemporary artist reader/writers think they're in same game (not league, but game) as those VISUAL artists whose work drove the whole thing up until the late fifties. Why is visual fundamentals even taught anymore?!

The divide between reading art and looking art has become so big that talking about getting 'art' seems a bit futile unless this distinction is held out front of the discussion. How is it that readable stuff retains status as art? Because it finds its way into the museum? Most of the time in a museum nowadays I feel like I'm at the mall. Once we diverge so far away from the aesthetic, I find a comparative discussion kinda moot. Apples and oranges. We lookers argue and rankle at the readers, but really its like we're on two different planets. I care and you don't.

Some stuff gets made by lookers to look good. It gets made out a set of tendencies we all share more or less. It gets made based on the experience of other stuff that looks good. Its content has to do with how it looks. It can be hard to see, and nearly impossible to talk about really (Readers refuse to let this one go). Looking takes time and patience and heart. Matisse had his heart on the end of his brush all day long. And especially today, it takes a whole lot of the honesty and self-criticism that Chris mentions. In the end, I think the intitial cues come from nature. But nature shows none of the ego that is so salient in most contemporary practice. Nature just is.

Readable stuff might nod towards looking good, usually as part of an ironic readable content, but it isn't willing to let the aesthetic be enough. Why? Why does ego step in and ask 'but is it smart/ironic/obtuse/slick enough to really get me into the party?' And to defend this kind of activity a whole lot of immature and suspect horseshit is pinned on the lookers and the looked. Readers seem to need some other kind of complexity to satisfy them. I don't see this need as part of a need for an aesthetic experience. I think otherwise would-be lookers are so messed up by all the reading they think they're supposed to be doing, that they miss the good stuff right under their noses. Conjure a demand, and you've conjured a market.

I like stuff that looks good. I like looking. It gives me everything I need from art. It's the one aspect of experiencing good art that makes easy sense. There is no 'getting it'. The act of looking just is. But the more I look, the more I get back. It's like exercise. Once you're fit, you just feel better all around. It's an amazing thing that I am humble enough to just let be and not start fumbling around bullshitting trying to explain. I think if more people found their way to valuing looking we'd be better off. The key, as Chris says, is honesty. Greenberg just said that some stuff gave more from looking than others, and if given a choice, he'd rather look than read. And the record shows that he looked more than anything else. It was good enough to just look. 'nuff said.

This has mostly all been said much better elswhere by including right here in F's post. I just needed to get it off my chest. Thanks for your patience.



October 16, 2008, 7:50 PM

Franklin, that Holzer business at MassMOCA sounds like a really bad joke. I suppose there's an audience for it, as there is for almost anything, so somebody's bound to show it, but I find it disturbing anybody would actually take this stuff seriously (as art). I mean, who does she think she's kidding with this stuff? Assuming, of course, she's actually heard of humor. Please.



October 16, 2008, 8:27 PM

I guess Franklin that your observation of how people responded to your net-comix before and after is actually how I have come to self-observe the way art gets made, or is registered in the 'oh-group'. The 'oh-group’ is a small group in the brain that labels things--for the good or the bad of it.

Free Observation, Penetrating Scrutiny, Mathematical Intuition, Algebraic Agility, and knowing naught about it, i n the end, after all, is the magic. It's an expression. We don't need to see a knife for it to be a knife. The brain when it does get a response from the visual track or some other sensory track instantly reads the data. Instantly it is a knife. For more detailed explanation we need to use other strategies including 'looking to differentiate' one from another knife. We need to discriminate using look and read stratagem.
We read visual things. The visual is a language. We can read it in any direction by the body. This is a visual language. There is a dictionary of visual language--it's called history, and this rather hefty thing is in private collections museums all over the world. Dictionaries develop and expand, and some entries fall out of use.
Looking can mean anything from a disinterested look to a concerted effort 'to look' with many, many in-betweens.
Though, looking acknowledges [and I'm not sure how, unless the process of looking is allowed to wear a few, well, at least a few other caps--a mind, a visual intellect, an intellect, an emotion, I don't now, a few more attributes] malaise.

Trained at looking/reading the in-betweens, please apply.

That's my response. It's for J.T. as well, who gave your post a plug.

BTW – due to an over-aching desire for clarity, the above may come across as making absolutely zero sense. This is the cost.



October 16, 2008, 10:55 PM

Dude, the big simple way to look at it is that very few people ever "got" art, but back in the old days everyone could see when a picture evoked a real scene and there was a tendency to take the conoisseur's word for what was best. A lot of the art was mediocre but the skill level was obvious and necessary and tended to keep real garbage out.

When the Modernists started making odd-looking art which emphasized innovation there was more and more room for garbage because there were still very few people who "got" it and bit by bit, as art because more prestigious and expensive, and more "far out", the authority of the connoisseur was diminished, leaving the field to ambitious charlatans and amateurs for whom the idea of a limiting "goodness" was a restriction - it got in the way.

We have come to an extreme now, where art is a billion dollar business involving millions of people worldwide, most of whom are pressured to "like" art but don't have a clue. These people have always needed explanation; now the art itself does the explaining. This satisfies a great and uirgent need. It is almost a wonder it took so long coming.

Clearly the only thing the lookers can do is recognize they are outnumbered and retreat to common ground. This blog is one of the safe havens.



October 17, 2008, 9:55 AM

Yes, the charlatans and opportunists have taken over, since there are evidently more than enough idiots to sucker and fleece. It's almost the perfect crime.


Chris Rywalt

October 17, 2008, 11:37 AM

It's unfortunate to call them idiots, although lord knows I've done it enough. But it's not idiocy, really. No one likes to be told they just don't get it. No one likes to be excluded, especially on grounds they can't help. It's natural to want to belong. You can't necessarily call people stupid when they're merely ignorant; or, worse, ignorant of their ignorance. Not enough people are left who knew the art world before Pop invaded. There are precious few to let people know they're missing out. And if you don't know what you're missing, how can you be faulted for missing it?

I'm actually, thanks to the comments on this blog, starting to feel bad for the people who settle for porn when they could be having sex, who settle for explanations of the mechanics of humor when they could be laughing. They don't need our derision, they need to be fucked.



October 17, 2008, 12:00 PM

It is not even porn, Chris. It is explanations of porn.


Chris Rywalt

October 17, 2008, 1:00 PM

"Insert tab A into slot B."



October 17, 2008, 1:15 PM

Chris, I didn't know the art world, or art for that matter, before Pop came on the scene. That's no excuse. Don't call the idiots that name if you don't want to, but I assume you acknowledge they're at best weak, shallow and/or insecure (and I'm not even talking about the downright cynically opportunistic, the deliberate poseurs, or the knowingly fraudulent, among other choice specimens). Bullshit is bullshit, and it doesn't take a genius or a saint to figure it out. I did it, and so can they, if they really mean business (and I don't mean the kind of business Gagosian and the auction houses do).


Chris Rywalt

October 17, 2008, 1:32 PM

I've met people floating around the art world and many of them aren't so much idiots -- although, like I said, I call them that a lot -- as ignorant idealists. They really believe, sincerely, in the received wisdom of the avant-garde. That is, they've been handed a very out of date guidebook to the world of art and they're navigating with it. And there really aren't enough of the old landmarks left to tell for sure how lost they really are.

Yeah, one can see through the bullshit. But it takes someone very strong to admit to it. Think of the story of the Emperor's New Clothes, which is frequently cited when discussing the contemporary art world. To me the key to the story is not that the Emperor walked around naked, although a lot of people seem to think that's the main thing. To me the key to the story -- the true message of it -- is that only a small child, who didn't know he was supposed to suck up to the Emperor, was willing to admit the guy was naked. It takes a lot of courage -- or naivete -- and Greenberg wrote this -- to say out loud, in public, hey, this stuff is no good.

It's even harder if it's made by someone you know and like. Because telling people what you really think of their art is a great way to alienate people. Who wants to deliberately say, you know, I think you should stop painting and maybe look into street sweeping? No one. That's not nice. So you nod and think of nice things to say.

After a while there's no one left who remembers when stuff was really good. And the process is aided and abetted by dealers and collectors who, after all, want a product. And the main thing, the important thing, about a product is that it's consistent. Which means we can't rely on taste -- too erratic, too unpredictable. We need something we can guarantee.

Sheep aren't sheep because they're stupid. They're sheep because they've been bred that way.



October 17, 2008, 1:43 PM

Chris, what am I, an alien from planet Greenberg? What are the other "regulars" here, mutants? Were we all bred in some secret laboratory in the bowels of the Louvre? Uh, no.

You can play good cop if you want to, but the idiots, or whatever you choose to call them, fully deserve to get busted. This is not quantum physics, after all.


Chris Rywalt

October 17, 2008, 2:13 PM

We are mutants. You don't think so?



October 17, 2008, 6:40 PM

Chris, as I said, this is really not that hard or complicated, assuming we're talking about people who are seriously into art as such, as opposed to using art for ulterior motives. Those who are using art that way are either fraudulent or deluded or just plain foolish-weak-insecure.

This is not like Christians in ancient Rome or Jews in Nazi Germany. People are perfectly free to accept or reject whatever art they wish, exactly the way I do, without any significant danger or negative repercussions (at least those who are not dependent on the art establishment). Why is this so difficult, when it shouldn't be an issue at all? Why are all these rich people paying huge sums to the likes of Damien Hirst for utter crap he didn't even make himself?

If you expect me to be sympathetic, I'm afraid I can't go there.



October 17, 2008, 7:44 PM

Detecting value in art is a talent. It's more common than the making of art, but it's still a talent. Lack of such talent is not in itself idiocy. The idiocy appears as the justifications for reading art pile on too thick.



October 17, 2008, 8:27 PM

Franklin, I never implied that lack of the requisite eye or aptitude to appreciate visual art as such is idiocy. As I said in #5, that is not a sin or fault that deserves blame. It's simply a reality that needs to be faced and dealt with in a reasonable manner.

If I have two left feet, that does not mean there's something "wrong" with me, but it does mean I have no business entering dance contests, cannot aspire to a career as a dancer or dance instructor, and should not foist myself as a dance partner on anyone who's a natural at dancing. I need to pursue something that suits me and really works for me. It's called common sense. Lack of common sense is what I consider idiotic.



October 17, 2008, 8:56 PM

Thanks for plugging the gallery, Jack.



October 17, 2008, 9:33 PM

Oh, don't mention it, MC.

Actually, there are problems with my argument in #25:

1. Common sense is evidently not that common.

2. Lots of people can't or won't face reality if they find it sufficiently unflattering.

3. The art system-establishment, including presumed or ostensible experts/authorities (let alone those out to sell stuff) is persistently and insistently teaching, encouraging and tempting people to be idiots.

4. There are all sorts of secondary gain to be had, however spurious or disreputable, from being fashionably idiotic.

5. Lots of people leave a great deal to be desired as humans, let alone art connoisseurs.

Maybe I really am a mutant.


Chris Rywalt

October 17, 2008, 10:01 PM

See? You are a mutant!

No, more seriously. There are lots of actual idiots around. Of course. But some number of the art people I meet aren't idiots, they're just...misguided. Lacking taste, lacking even the ability to detect lack of taste. They're enthusiastic, but since they can't tell what they should be enthusiastic about, they end up being enthusiastic about pretty much everything.

I mean, I can fault someone who's out to rip people off. Of course. Thieves and liars, charlatans, horse buggerers, whatever. Bad people. Certainly to be faulted.

But there are others who are just there to have fun. They want everyone to have a good time. Art is fun! You go to openings and lots of people are interesting (or anyway interesting-looking) and there's cleavage and legs and tattoos and plenty of free alcohol (and whatever else might get passed around) and it's just, you know, what it is.

It's not art, and it's not usually in the vicinity of art, but it's the art world. They're not serious and they're not interested in being serious, and maybe that's okay. I'd rather it wasn't confused with art, though.



October 18, 2008, 9:46 AM

Yes, Chris, that's what it's come to: art as a means to other ends for people who aren't into art per se, but rather for what and where it can get them. Yes, in some cases, there is genuine delusion involved, like people who claim to be Napoleon because they really believe they're Napoleon. One can't really blame them for that, I guess, but it's still bullshit. And then, in many other cases, it's much more a fashion-image-status thing. Or, of course, especially when it comes to those who are very much part of the art world, it's a matter of ambition and/or self-protection.

The basic problem, I think, is that just as everyone cannot respond to music in a way that produces good dancing, everyone cannot respond to art in a way that produces good art appreciation. This is inherently "unfair" or "elitist," which means a lot of people simply cannot accept it or deal with it sensibly, so we wind up with rich idiots as supposed art connoisseurs, much to the delight of Gagosian and cohorts. The idiots, naturally, are always duly praised for their "good eye" by those doing the selling or accepting the donations.

It's a racket, just like the traditional fashion industry, but it works. Only mutants like me think it makes no sense at all.



October 19, 2008, 9:22 PM

I started reading Homemade Esthetics again. The first three pages made me feel sorry as usual for foisting my thoughts on I am not so well equipped to carry on at length here.

I just don't understand why an audience for art asks for so little. And why they won't own up to the mediocrity of all the bullshit that they can only be pretending is getting them off.



October 19, 2008, 9:31 PM

You are right dude. All they ask for is art they can understand. Most cases, that is all they get, too.

I lay some of the blame (causality, to be precise) on the mass education system we adopted after WWII. "Education" = "understanding". Cultivation, which is what you are talking about when you talk about "getting off", can't be taught, per se, though it can be inspired by setting students in front of the real mccoys. Yet not many institutions have access to the real suff. But what is most curious is that those that do have access, have gone for the undertanding bit too.



October 19, 2008, 10:12 PM

"I just don't understand why an audience for art asks for so little. And why they won't own up to the mediocrity of all the bullshit that they can only be pretending is getting them off."

They ask for so little because, in many cases, little is all they know, not to mention that they've been sold a bill of goods to the effect that little is all they need and all they should want. To some extent, they're victims of a debased, corrupt system that benefits from their ignorance, but then again, nobody's forced them into victimhood. They've been all too willing, even eager, to be had.

As to owning up to the fact that their emperors are not only naked but exceedingly unsightly, well, what do you expect? That would mean owning up to their own stupidity, or at least gullibility and foolishness, and people don't do that too readily. Besides, they can always get plenty of "validation" from those in whose interest it surely is to provide it. There's also the fear of seeming out-of-it, uncool, or (the horror!) antiquated or conservative, which could entail exclusion or marginalization from the "right" crowd, the "right" social functions, etc.

As for what John says about cultivation, it's not just a matter of exposure to the real McCoys. That's obviously part of it, but it's not sufficient by itself. There has to be an innate receptivity, an innate aptitude for visual appreciation, otherwise exposure merely allows for a superficial familiarity or acquaintance, which can result in a veneer of cultivation, but not cultivation proper. In other words, cultivation is not simply seeing the right things; that's just the fuel. The motor has to be in place beforehand, and all motors are not created equal. Same goes for drivers.



October 20, 2008, 12:47 AM

This arguement alwaya runs a predictable course here..emperors clothes,gullible collectors.socialite artists.pomo this&thats.
Clem G'berg yadayada..

You sound like john mccain repeating his latest one liner about not being g.w. Bush.
Get out of the house and go eat a maple bar..



October 20, 2008, 1:59 AM

Ms. Clean: Thanks for the intelligent comment. "Crying while eating" is equally thoughtfull.



October 20, 2008, 9:21 AM

I see you erased my post from last nite. Good to see you can't handle a little lighthearted crit of the regular groanings that occur here daily.

Still,I insist, go eat a maple bar.



October 20, 2008, 9:23 AM



October 20, 2008, 10:11 AM

Geez Ms. Clean, i'd go out and get a maple bar, (one a day as they say) but i'm too busy rubbing sticks together trying to keep my igloo warm. I think a moose chewed the runners off my sled anyway and I just heard a report over the radio...the mounties (you know like in Bullwinkle) well they said there have been reports of ignorant and easily agitated Americans trolling through the vast wilderness out my front door so I'll probably wait a while.

Jeezus...what's a f*ckin' maple bar anyway?

Ms. Clean, you've only affirmed my 'argument' and your clones don't have a clue what we're talking about or why we care about it. Yadayada.



October 20, 2008, 10:27 AM

I see you erased my post from last nite.



Tony Gosling

October 20, 2008, 11:01 AM

I think it is necessary both to look and to read. Looking on it's own gives you a view. Reading on it's own gives you a view. But putting the two together is most powerful way to understand a painting. For example looking at a great work like the Sistine Chapel ceiling can tell you a lot, but is only when you understand the history and background that you get the most from the art work.



October 20, 2008, 11:01 AM

Franklin, don't bother with gnats.



October 20, 2008, 11:08 AM

Tony, the problem with reading isn't reading. Nobody says you shouldn't do that. The problem comes when it's done without looking, or when looking isn't worth doing in the first place, in which case one's much better off reading written work which doesn't pretend to be visual art.


Chris Rywalt

October 20, 2008, 11:17 AM

Tony, what we're trying to say here is that the best you can get from a work of art is something you can't get by reading. Yes, reading about art can be interesting, and you can learn things. But -- to bring the metaphor up again -- it's like reading about humor. You might find it interesting to read about the theory of jokes, why they work, what the structure of a good joke entails. But all that doesn't make you laugh. And the main point of jokes is to make you laugh. The analysis may be worthwhile, it may be intriguing, it may be worth your time, it may expand your intellectual appreciation of humor. But it's all still beside the main point.

And, bottom line, if a joke doesn't make you laugh, it ain't funny.

To get back to art, there are a lot of things parading around as art which aren't very funny. They're jokes that don't make you laugh. So what's the point?

In fact the more I think about it the more I think the comparison to laughter (or to orgasms) is apt. And, more importantly, everyone can relate. The trouble is -- and this addresses what Jack and Dude are talking about here -- the trouble is, lots of people are convinced that, not only isn't it necessary to laugh at a joke, but that jokes aren't really about being funny anyhow. That's the real problem. The audience for art has seen so little art that gives them that feeling we don't even have a name for that they probably don't even know what they're missing. They don't even know that they're missing something.

Most of the people who comment here positively have had that experience, and that's why they think the way they do. Unfortunately that's perceived as elitism or snobbery or just general obnoxiousness by those who don't know what we're talking about; they assume we're fooling ourselves, that we've convinced ourselves of something that doesn't exist. That we're the emperor's courtiers, and we're so bound on sucking up to the emperor that we don't even realize we're praising a fiction.

Sadly, there's no way to give someone a laugh; all we can do is keep telling them jokes and hope they get it eventually.



October 20, 2008, 12:04 PM

Tony, that reminds me (in an oblique way) of Alfred Barr (I think it was him) saying that Ben Shahn was better than Pollock because with Shahn you got abstraction AND subject matter.



October 20, 2008, 12:09 PM

Right, OP. You know, like the best dessert in the world is inferior to a full meal at Taco Bell or McDonald's because it's not as "balanced."



October 20, 2008, 12:14 PM

Ms Clean, if you want predictable, try reading 4 or 5 years of this blog for the criticisms of it.

They are as uniform as can be, and all have the same general tone and content: an accusation of "predictibility", a snotty attitude, a dig at Greenberg and a wiseass non sequitur or two.

What we DO NOT get is intelligent argument against our standpoint. Once in a while we get some good opposition - I think of Flatboy a year or so back, and George, who is sort of a grinch but at least is provocative enough to get us going.

But not much else beside the drive-by shooters like yourself.


Chris Rywalt

October 20, 2008, 1:12 PM

I think it's funny that someone calling themselves Ms. Clean would show up at this point since I just got to the part in Art Czar where someone disparagingly says Clement Greenberg thought of himself as Mr. Clean. And, hey, the remark includes its own bald joke! How much Clembashing can one squeeze into a single sentence? Maybe we should hold a contest!



October 20, 2008, 4:51 PM

one thing that kills me surrounding this lookers and readers debate is how often there is a contradiction between what the artists actually say about their work and how the reading public has such a different take.

so often you hear these crazy stories from critics, museum directors and dealers on how this picture was out to save the world, contemplate death, explain sibling rivalry, reinvent black and on and on and yet the painter has been quoted as saying that he was just trying to paint the best possible picture he could.

it is all such a charade of wild bloviation. just laughable.

the problem is that now many artists have just hooked their schtick to the carts of these story tellers .



October 20, 2008, 5:28 PM

While it might (repeat, might) be interesting and perhaps useful to know what the artist and/or other people think about a given work, the ultimate authority should always be the individual viewer. This is not about other people, not even the artist. It's about the work and the viewer (in my case, ME). Other people's views may or may not be considered, let alone accepted, depending on MY decision based on MY criteria. Why this is evidently so difficult or problematic for so many is very strange--assuming, of course, they're not full of it.



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