Previous: Dina Vierny, 1919-2009 (2)

Next: Interview with an art baron (30)

Art bollocks

Post #1286 • January 30, 2009, 9:36 AM • 87 Comments

David Thompson:

Art commentary appears to be drowning in its own language. I've touched on this subject before... and have outlined a broader political context in which such language has flourished and to which it often refers. Despite several barbed critiques - most notably Brian Ashbee's 1999 Art Review article, 'A Beginner’s Guide to Art Bollocks and How to Be a Critic' - 'artspeak' remains a default idiom for 'serious' arts commentary, and those who propagate it appear beyond the reach of parody.

I commend Mr. Thompson's blog to you.

Comment

1.

Chris Rywalt

January 30, 2009, 10:13 AM

Last night I got a great compliment. I went to an opening for Denis Peterson, an artist I'd reviewed. Last night he introduced me to a few people as "an art critic and an artist," which was already compliment enough. But then he told one of the other visitors that he's found art critics usually fall into one of two categories: People who can't make art and are really angry about it; or people who are intent on writing all kinds of involved, jargony things and making interpretations of the art that the artist probably wouldn't approve of. But my reviews, he told this person, were different: I make the reader feel like they're standing there in the gallery with me and I'm saying, yeah, I can see how you might think this.

I guess I'm not juggling with art bollocks. I'm happy.

2.

David

January 30, 2009, 10:14 AM

His illustration explains Goop - still my favorite art word at the moment. Bravo PL.

3.

opie

January 30, 2009, 12:01 PM

The illustration seems vaguely pornographic to me, but that's OK.

The essay is thoughtful and makes good points clearly. I am encouraged that more people are committing this kind of opinion to print.

The dawn will come when one brave art student looks up and says "Sorry, prof, you're full of shit".

4.

Chris Rywalt

January 30, 2009, 12:23 PM

OP, it'd be great if we lived in a world where telling people they're full of shit is okay.

David Thompson writes:
Clarity invites dispute, possibly refutation, and refutation of one’s politics can, for some, be intolerable.

I have just, in the last week, encountered this personally with two people, one of whom I feel quite close to. In both cases someone proffered something, some collection of what they considered to be facts, all of which I quickly and easily refuted with a little bit of online research. I wasn't arguing against the foundation of their beliefs -- just pointing out some inconsistencies and incorrect conclusions. And both people got really, really angry with me. Two completely separate incidents.

Now I know, since they're so close together, that I'm partly responsible. Obviously my tone is off because of some mental things happening on my end. I'll take that.

But still, at bottom, what happened in both cases was someone put something out there without anyone's asking them to, and when called on it, both retreated into anger and recrimination.

All we can do, really, is try to listen when someone tells us we're full of shit. Because telling other people isn't helping.

5.

opie

January 30, 2009, 12:29 PM

Especially when it comes to facts, to things that are easily proven or disproven or are self-evident.

But people hate facts. Facts disrupt their systems of denial.

6.

eageageag

January 31, 2009, 12:21 PM

I do think that the use of worn out PoMo terminology has polluted the waters for a long time. But I think art criticism as a whole, whether it is written by a moonlighting professor, a journalist meeting a deadline, or an untethered and unedited blogger, has become a worn out format or genre. It doesn't appear that a reinvention of the mold, a la Greenberg, will ever happen again. I don't know about any of you, but I can barely make it all the way through any art review I come across. And I used to be so excited by the stuff when I was reading Rosenberg and Greenberg as an undergraduate.

7.

Chris Rywalt

January 31, 2009, 12:33 PM

I don't think it's a good idea to discount the appearance of a Greenberg or a Rosenberg (or an iceberg -- look what happened to the Titanic). Really, those two accomplished what they did by being really, really smart. Rosenberg especially. The reason later art criticism isn't up to their standards is simply that no one that smart's come along -- because, really, very few people in any field are that intelligent. (Except hard sciences -- but that's a different flavor.)

I don't think it's that some era has passed and there's no room for people like that any more; I think it's just that people like that are so rare. That we had two who overlapped so totally is pretty amazing.

8.

eageageag

January 31, 2009, 12:57 PM

Your genius theory may hold true. There is plenty to support it historically, but I think the rest of my comments still stand regarding the form as a whole. This comes from someone who has read and written the stuff for years. Art criticism doesn't engage, entertain, inform, surprise. What can I tell you. I struggle with this shit. Have you been surprised by one insight that appears in a piece of art criticism in the past several years? It feels recycled and tired.

9.

opie

January 31, 2009, 1:29 PM

eageageag, I teach a writing-about-art course for graduate students and it is quite possible for any relatively intelligent person to learn how to write passable art criticism. The main problem, aside from the universal lack of basic writing skills, is to rid them of their addiction to pomo nonsense and the confused thinking it entails.. My faculty evaluations often reflect bitterness because I have tried to supplant jargon and nonsense thinking with plain, straightforward commentary. But just as often I hear that a student feels that clouds have been lifted.

Chris, there are plenty of smart people out there but they have no incentive to write about art. The 'bergs were starting from scratch, walking into a brand new art world full of promise and possiblity. Today we are buried under a billion-doller art business, a mountain of dreck. Back then if you wrote smart people stood back and listened and reacted. Today if you write smart it is very unlikely to get published and even it if it does it drops unnoticed like a leaf in Fall.

Simply put, it has gotten to be a bore, intellectually. This of us who are committed are stuck with it. Thank goodness we at least have a sympathetic blog to vent on.

10.

Pretty Lady

January 31, 2009, 1:54 PM

Chris's art criticism isn't a bore; it's really funny. He's sometimes clueless and wrong, but he doesn't mind when people tell him he's clueless and wrong. And as time goes by, he's less clueless, if still sometimes wrong.

So I nominate Chris for the Future of Art Criticism.

11.

eageageag

January 31, 2009, 1:58 PM

I am sure Chris will love to hear that.

12.

John

January 31, 2009, 2:00 PM

I had a dream ... the dark age suddenly ceased, the art business turned around on a dime. The cause? Art dealers discovered they could sell the good stuff as easily as the bad and for more money.

13.

Franklin

January 31, 2009, 2:03 PM

Criticism, generally, is going out of the picture, replaced by quantified aggregates of opinion. As soon as someone does for art exhibitions what Amazon does for books and Rotten Tomatoes does for films, art criticism is toast.

I personally have not felt inspired to write criticism lately, partly for distinctly personal reasons, and partly because the genre is so obviously doomed.

14.

opie

January 31, 2009, 2:48 PM

Problem is, John, first they have to ba able to tell the difference. But your point is a good one.

Franklin, an Amazon for art, which would bring reasonable, market-based prices for art work, would be a real blessing.

15.

Franklin

January 31, 2009, 2:51 PM

Go See Art was headed there at one point, and I just decided I had to make art.

16.

Chris Rywalt

January 31, 2009, 2:55 PM

John, the trouble is not that they can't sell good stuff. It's that there isn't enough good stuff, and it's not produced consistently enough. And there's no shorthand way of making it so.

I just saw a video online about how they make packaged, pre-cooked bacon. (Which is ridiculously expensive: The price (about four bucks a package around here) seems reasonable until you see the per-pound cost, which is, like, $30!) They've got all these wild machines to do the trimming and people to look over the results and get any bits that missed, and they run everything through a metal detector to make sure machinery hasn't spun off and into the meat and whatnot, and it's wonderfully automated.

Of course you can't do that with art. You can't even go by brand name, really: Picasso, as OP loves to point out, cranked out some crappy sausage in his time, and I'm sure even old standbys like Monet and Matisse popped out a clinker here and there.

Greenberg and Rosenberg both observed this, and later critics I've read, like Robert Hughes, expand on it, and I've probably read a lot about it from Franklin and Darby and so forth: In order for art to become a business, it had to institute a more businesslike approach to art. And that means standardizing product and guaranteeing delivery from your suppliers.

Now, the tech pundits have been telling us that computers, and then the Internet, are going to revolutionize business. And to some degree they have -- the Long Tail and all that. But from what I've seen, really, all computers have done is make the old industrial factory production faster. All the dreams -- of customization, of targeting, of on-demand supply, of no-inventory supply -- they've all been only meagerly, marginally effective. Amazon started by not carrying any inventory, reducing overhead by not maintaining warehouses. That fell through years and years ago, and Amazon now has warehouses just like Barnes & Noble and Borders.

Franklin is hopeful that someone -- perhaps him -- will figure out a way to apply the Internet to art in such a way as to break out of the old business model. Certainly we're faced with a curious lack of imagination. And it's not just the art world and artists -- look at all the writers trying to get by now that newspapers and magazines are dying, but failing to come up with anything better than the old advertising-driven model. (Which, if you ask me, is what's killing the paper publishing system.)

So, John, what I'm saying is that you've grabbed the problem by the horns, but you don't really know what animal they're attached to.

17.

John

January 31, 2009, 2:59 PM

How my dream could happen

It takes money to make money. A huge amount must be assigned to the bailout of taste. A billion or two, anyway.

First, the largest space in the NYC gallery district is purchased, renovated, and dedicated to the project.

Like previous dark age redemptions, this one starts by reintroducing the last golden age, in this case, modernism. It will be called new modernism. The gallery director will not allow any other style of art, but will be well connected with those who run the galleries that are tied up with the old late 20th century values, and of course their clients. His attitude will be benevolent snootiness, becoming outrageously generous (but still snooty) to those who convert to new modernism.

All those working in the gallery will be slim, good looking, ... dressed casually but very expensively and up-to-date. Many will be American but others will be foreign born and speak with a noticeable accent. These will be a mix of European and Asian. All will be very knowledgeable about modernism and new modernism, have impeccable communication skills, and immensely enjoy conveying the "new understanding" of art to gallery visitors and clients.

All appliances for moving art will be museum quality built with certified green materials. Those who handle art will wear white cotton gloves. especially when presenting art for private viewing by important clients.

Smoking is not allowed anywhere on the premises. Special equipment is employed to maintain the air quality at the highest possible level. Furnishings are by the finest modern designers, built only by firms officially authorized to reproduce their work.

Catering for gallery events will be by 5 star restaurants that normally don't do catering, but will because of the outrageous fees this gallery allocates for food befitting the level of the art it deals.

Everything about the place will say simply, "this stuff is way expensive, period."

18.

John

January 31, 2009, 3:01 PM

Chris, the shortage of the good stuff is helpful, not problematic. Luxury goods fetch higher prices if they are rare.

19.

Chris Rywalt

January 31, 2009, 3:03 PM

Eric asks,
Have you been surprised by one insight that appears in a piece of art criticism in the past several years?

I don't honestly read very much real criticism. A little Saltz, a little Schjeldahl, the occasional Charlie Finch. They're don't write true criticism, though. They, like me, are more reviewers than critics.

I appreciate Pretty Lady's nomination, although if I were going to guess who'd nominate me, I'd guess her, so, you know, there's that.

Thanks for letting me know I'm often clueless and wrong, though. I was in danger of believing my own hype.

OP, you're right that the 'bergs had the benefit of an intellectual environment that no longer exists. That whole New York-Marxist-Jewish egghead milieu is, I suspect, long gone. And it was smaller and, while very tough (I imagine), more of an incubator than anything we've had since.

I walked by the Algonquin over the Xmas season. It was amazing to think of how important little physical groupings of people once were. Maybe even still are, but I don't know of any. Unless I'm already part of them and don't know it. I'll have to look for myself in the history books a hundred years from now.

20.

opie

January 31, 2009, 3:05 PM

Chris, there is a lot of good ar that is not getting shown or sold. We can start with that.

And as far as an internet way to sell art, no, it has not been done, but maybe one of those smart people will figure it out, and then we will all sit and say, "Mow, why didn't we think of that?"

21.

Chris Rywalt

January 31, 2009, 3:07 PM

The shortage of the good stuff would be acceptable if one could be sure of where it's coming from and when. If you can say that Giuseppi in Bologna can crank out 10 paintings a year that are guaranteed good, we can sell them. But Giuseppi may turn out crap. In which case, you have to sell the crap. Or he may turn out nothing. In which case, close the store!

No, the art business needs guys like Hirst or Koons, guaranteed to crank out X yards of sausage we can sell for Y dollars per pound. Instead Giuseppi in Bologna is cranking out limited edition porcelain figurines of religious scenes being sold to funeral homes and other dopes with more mantel space than taste.

22.

John

January 31, 2009, 3:09 PM

The trouble with the internet approach is that the proletariat never has saved art and never will.

23.

Chris Rywalt

January 31, 2009, 3:09 PM

Your plan, John, sounds great. The one flaw in it is the money. If someone handed me a billion dollars, heck yeah, I'd follow your plan to the letter.

24.

opie

January 31, 2009, 4:18 PM

Chris, you don't need any of that. Tha "Amazon of Art" would sell crap too, just like the current Amazon does. But it wouold sell good stuff at reasonable prices, which the art market of the moment does not do very well.

It is a matter of organizing, categorizing and pricing. Don't ask me how; that's for the next internet millionaire to figure out.

25.

Chris Rywalt

January 31, 2009, 4:42 PM

I was in Ikea last night buying pillows (they had a really great sale on genuine down pillows with cotton casings -- $10 each!). The trick at Ikea is getting to your desired item and to the registers without having to see the entire store; their design is designed to make you walk past seven miles of stuff you don't want just to buy the one thing you do. I guess that's why they sell pillows so cheaply -- some customers are bound to buy something else on their way through, the way burrs hang on animal fur.

I ended up wandering through the "art" department and caught up short at one particular item. It struck me because the image was kind of Matisse-like, kind of like something I might do. Only not as good. But the important point, to me, was this: This art was being sold! Okay, only $35. And as far as Ikea is concerned, it's not art, it's "wall decoration -- ready to hang". It's some kind of repro thing, whatever.

But I figure two things: Someone's making a profit; and someone's hanging this stuff up. Two things an artist wants.

So who is that someone? How do these things get here? Do they sell? If they don't sell, what happens to them?

Someone at Ikea undoubtedly knows the answers to these questions. I am not that someone.

26.

Chris Rywalt

January 31, 2009, 4:47 PM

Well, OP, that Amazon of art exists. It's called eBay. I've sold about 200 pieces on it over the years. My last round of sales -- after a long hiatus -- didn't go well. But my friend Steve LaRose did very well with a batch of his drawings recently.

I was thinking of putting up some larger paintings on eBay under the heading "SKIP THE PLASMA TV AND BUY ORIGINAL ART!" My idea was that people looking on eBay for plasma TVs have disposable income but might not think of buying art with it. But, hey, what's another TV? Why not spend that TV money on artwork just this once? You can always buy a new TV next year! So by putting "PLASMA TV" into the heading, my art would show up on TV searches. (I hate it when other people do that kind of thing. The computer programmer in me finds it annoying and inefficient. But it's worth noting that the programmer in me isn't a marketer.)

This idea is still kicking around. I may yet do it. I don't have any appropriate paintings at the moment, though. Consistency of product!

27.

opie

January 31, 2009, 6:03 PM

But the new idea has to be all art and straight to the consumer marketing without all the tedious stuff involved with Ebay. The setup has to be all things, the categorization, quick picturing, shipping problems all taken care of. I think it can be done.

28.

Chris Rywalt

January 31, 2009, 6:13 PM

I'm not sure about the shipping problems. The thing about eBay is it's open to anyone. That means leaving it open to people all over with all kinds of ways and preferences with shipping. Anything else means some kind of official vetting process, closing it down to some number of sellers. That means bureaucracy and overhead. What makes eBay work is the minimum of that. That was the real genius of eBay: Realizing you didn't need all that.

Now, I'm all for some amount of filtering. There's a benefit to an editor, for anything. Having someone to say, "No, your paintings suck," or "No, you can't seem to ship on time," or "No, you're ugly" or whatever. But that leads to a whole new set of problems.

Tracy Helgeson, another artist I know, and an online as well as real-world friend, fell into that when she decided to put up a blog just for selling small pieces of art. All of sudden she was flooded with people wanting to get a piece of her fame -- such as it is -- and sell their work through her. Except a lot of it wasn't very good, and she had to start turning people down. Which was not Tracy's forte -- she's an artist, not a politician or a marketroid or an editor.

But, hey, let's bounce it around. Any ideas?

29.

kyle Ward

January 31, 2009, 10:19 PM

We need to bring art and artists back afloat and here is a site that is making those efforts. currently they are running a contest for artists to win $1000. just go to www.anartistree.com

30.

Bunny Smedley

February 1, 2009, 3:54 AM

My own problem with a dedicated fine art version of eBay, or Amazon, is that I simply can't imagine buying original art - even very inexpensive original art - without having actually seen it at first hand. Online sales are fine where the main questions are about condition, price and speed of access - which works well for items such as books, but less well with items where the main selling-point is something that can't be replicated on a computer screen. But maybe that's just me.

Also, I can never get very excited over the whole 'art criticism is dead' line of argument. Obviously, writing about art isn't the same as it was in the 1940s and 50s - not least, the media, audiences, marketing setup, institutional structures, competitor forms of activity, etc, etc, etc are all different now - but then again, writing in the 1940s wasn't what it was in the 1890s, any more than writing in the 1890s was what it had been in the 1830 and 40s. In other words, I am glad that Greenberg didn't feel he couldn't write anything just because he was never going to be a Hazlitt or a Rimbaud.

Anyway, as one of those 'untethered, unedited' art bloggers, I am going to continue working within this allegedly 'worn out format' (i.e. writing within a tradition, acknowledging antecedents without trying to replicate their efforts) for the simple reason that, as I'm a pretty useless artist, language is the best means I have of responding to visual things that leave some sort of mark on my consciousness. But then, I'm not trying to change the world, or to make everyone on earth make the sort of art I like best - let alone 'reinvent the mold', whatever that means. Also, I am sure I'm 'clueless and wrong' at least as often as Chris is - probably rather more often, actually. But I'm not sure that bothers me very much. I do wish, though, that some people would realise that not everyone who writes about art does so because he or she wants to be some sort of Clement Greenberg for our times. I mean, if that happens to someone, fantastic! But it might be worth crediting present-day art writing, for all its defects, with a little more diversity than that.

31.

David

February 1, 2009, 8:15 AM

Eric says:

"Art criticism doesn't engage, entertain, inform, surprise. What can I tell you. I struggle with this shit. Have you been surprised by one insight that appears in a piece of art criticism in the past several years?"

An interesting challenge. I find myself looking forward to Schjeldahl's New Yorker pieces, and maybe he's one of the few practicing at a high level in the old format. The "bergs", (minus ice-), had their moment. Is our moment really so formless or does it just seem that way? Where are the good ideas then? Would anyone like to start a list? Here are a few that I think about regularly:

Duchamp won, Picasso lost.http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/books/croak/croak5-15-08.asp

We have never been modern. (Bruno Latour)http://www.craftculture.org/Archive/rcook1.htm
I've been looking at some of the TED conference stuff and although Latour's book is still largely impenetrable to me, the idea is powerful.

The vernacular of beauty, or Titian on his worst day had so many more options available to him than artists working today ( an innaccurate paraphrase from somewhere else in the Hickey canon). This book is from '94, but I just re-read Enter the Dragon, as I do from time to time. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1248/is_n11_v82/ai_15918901

32.

opie

February 1, 2009, 8:17 AM

Bunny, my speculation about an internet art-selling vehicle is very broad. I am positing an ideal, saying "wouldn't be good if...". What they call "vision" in academia.

The obstacles are manifold, obviously, but I have the feeling that the type of mentality that gave us the internet and its subsequent refinements could come up with something quite effective if they worked on it.

Also, as I believe I have said before, don't be so modest. Your writing on art is not only clearheaded but a pleasure to read. If the art business ever comes to its senses - and this economy might help it do so - writing well about art might go right along with it.

33.

eageageag

February 1, 2009, 10:56 AM

Well how do Bunny. I haven't read a scrap of your writing, and I am sure you haven't read mine, so I have nothing to say about it. Feel free to keep writing about art. I don't give a turd obviously. But realize that day after day another art critic who writes for a magazine or newspaper is going bye bye in this country. Regina Hackett in Seattle just got shown the door. And I can't blame her if the prospect of being able to write for zero compensation for her very own blog doesn't excite her right now. Sorry PL, but Chris doesn't appear to me as a great beacon that will light the way to a promising future. Obviously bloggers who write about art will continue onwards and upwards. How many more blogs are created each passing year? I will continue to edit and probably write for artcritical in the future, but I am commenting on the phenomena of art criticism turning into press releases and as visual art grows more and more into a backwater aspect of culture we will find ourselves exactly where poetry finds itself now, irrelevant to the general culture and a field consisting of specialists who are massaging their own backs in the privacy of a secret dark place that no one no knows or cares about. If you are of the elitist bent that is fine and dandy. Who cares. But I think there is the potential there for more people, meaning not only those who teach or sell or make or want to make art, to give a shit about the stuff. Hazlitt and Rimbaud were doing a few other things besides writing about art no? I skim Schjeldahl's stuff but that is hardly a compliment.

34.

Franklin

February 1, 2009, 11:10 AM

Anyway, as one of those 'untethered, unedited' art bloggers, I am going to continue working within this allegedly 'worn out format' (i.e. writing within a tradition, acknowledging antecedents without trying to replicate their efforts) for the simple reason that, as I'm a pretty useless artist, language is the best means I have of responding to visual things that leave some sort of mark on my consciousness.

This is the kicker for me - I can make decent art - Bunny has approved, anyway - so it seems like I should. I have long held that art writing is a subsidiary pleasure of art and ascribing greater import to it is delusional. It is a pleasure though.

35.

opie

February 1, 2009, 11:24 AM

eageageag: visual art is not really a "backwater aspect" like poetry (or contemporary "classical music") because there is a huge, very active market for it.

The problems are not backwater problems, they are pollution problems.

36.

eageageag

February 1, 2009, 11:30 AM

I certainly didn't mean to imply, "Oh darn. Why can't I be the new Greenberg?"? Let me clarify things. How many people read film, literary, and music criticism, simply because they love film, books, and music? The audience for film, literature, and music criticism is much larger than the audience for art criticism for a number of reasons. The audience for art criticism is mostly made up of people who teach or sell or make or want to make art. I am trying to get my five year old out the door and watch over my two year old, who is currently sitting on my lap while I type this, so please cut me some slack. Bunny if you think everything is hunky-dory with art criticism that is fine. The original post by Franklin mentions talks about problems with current art criticism.

37.

eageageag

February 1, 2009, 12:57 PM

"The problems are not backwater problems, they are pollution problems."

I don't agree. I certainly agree that there is a lot of shit out there but...Don't you think it is strange that such a visually obsessed country would care so little about visual art? I am not crying out for an art for the people. I just think it is very odd that the layman or woman buys and thinks about and talks about films, books, and music, but not visual art. Obviously if you are surrounded by art students all day or people who have studios and make art you are going to hear people talk about visual art. Is it possible for visual art to be a popular cultural form without being reduced to Thomas Kinkade shit?

(Hazlitt/Rimbaud...Maybe you meant Pater and Baudelaire?)

And Franklin, I agree that it is a better way to spend the rest of your time alive making art rather than writing about it. Obviously if you are an art history or art professor you need to write and talk about art for a living.

38.

opie

February 1, 2009, 12:57 PM

Perhaps I misunderstood you. You said "...as visual art grows more and more into a backwater aspect of culture". That certainly implies you are referring to visual art rather than to art criticism.

The other arts get more widely read commentary because they are more widely experienced.

39.

Franklin

February 1, 2009, 1:00 PM

From the standpoint of the audience, the price point of books, films, and music is much lower than that of art. Maybe the question should be: is there some way to make serious art that can be sold for $8-$50?

Printmaking, anyone?

40.

opie

February 1, 2009, 1:05 PM

And they are more widely experienced for mechanical reasons: Music because you can listen to it without standing in front of it, and also because it is more emotive, and literature and movies because they are verbal stories which everyone can understand as narrative.

The idea that pictures can be more than illustration is a relatively new one. It is still catching on in a general way. That's one reason that there is so much feckless effort to turn art into something that tells a story. It could be said that Postmodernism is simply a way to "translate" visual art for a broader audience.

41.

eageageag

February 1, 2009, 1:07 PM

No I was talking about the art itself being a backwater, but it might simply be due to the business model. Individual works of art are solitary things. Reproductions illustrate textbooks or catalogs but they are not bought by people because they have the same intrinsic value the original work of art does. And yes, the notion that if a less expensive and less precious commodity could be produced by good artists and sold in a setting that is as easy to use as eBay is a good one. For artists of course, they would have to be able to produce good art and ship it off at a rate that allowed them to support themselves. Do we think the static nature of most visual art, and the fact that it is not a reproducible format (in the same way the DVDs and CDs are)) plays a role in its diminished capacity to mean something to large swathes of the general public or is it historically inevitable that this will always be the case?

42.

Bunny Smedley

February 1, 2009, 1:27 PM

Where to start? Eageageag, consider your slack cut in some abundance. My silence for most of the day has been due to the resident four year old, who has been behaving rather as Ms Goldfarb Marquis would like us to behave that Mr Greenberg behaved on a bad day - make that a very bad day - and no, I don't mean the intelligence, charisma or unfailing sharp eye, either. If you're juggling two children and still have enough energy to care about art - as is clearly the case - sorry if I projected anything other than the respect you deserve.

Opie, the scheme for art sales on the web almost certainly has more going for it than I implied. For instance, Chris's Ikea story sreved to remind me that there is much more to 'art' than Cork Street, Christie's and so forth - there's the inexpensive stuff, too, which might well be worth a punt, sight unseen. Nothing wrong with that, either - the great Dutch paintings of the seventeenth century grew out of a distinctly demotic, rough-and-ready market, in which many of those handmade, original, cheap and cheerful 'wall coverings' were probably quite poor, but some were timeless masterpieces. It would be wonderful to see whether contemporary means could replicate at least aspects of that setup.

Thank you, too, Opie, for the encouraging things you've said, today and at other times, about my writing. If I ever sound offhand about that sort of thing, it's because I probably care more about praise than I should, and then over-compensate. That's enough about that, though.

On the other hand, I do want to say something about Chris's site. I look at it quite often, which might seem odd, in the sense that as he and I live in different countries, I've almost never seen any of the art he discusses. But at the same time, I find his art writing unpretentious, entertaining, perceptive (which is to say, the art scene he describes certainly resonates with what I've seen here in London) and, also, sometimes very funny. Chris, in other words, not only looks closely at art, and cares about it, but he writes well. And one of my main problems with bad art writing is this: why on earth should I care about someone's opinions about visual art if the critic in question can't even handle his own media - language - competently? Chris clears this hurdle triumphantly. So, for better or worse, I'll keep reading.

Franklin, you're fortunate to be able to make art as well as write about it - but surely making art can, in itself, be a form of art criticism? Amongst artists I know, perhaps the highest praise for a show (I mean of old, dead artists' work, as well as the other kind) is this: 'I went round it and came out again and then I just had to get back to the studio and start working, and I haven't stopped since'. And for me, the fingers-to-keyboard equivalent is unavoidable. What I am trying to stress here is the almost involuntary nature of these responses - those paintings MAKE us want to respond to them, and the only difference is the language in which we respond. Does that make any sense? And that point of that is to explain why I write about art, myself: because the art makes me do it. To crib the Envoi, written by someone else, of a doomed website for which I once wrote: readers are an accident.

Which leads us back to Eageageag. No, I don't think everything's hunky-dory on the art-critical front. Obviously, in its present form, it's quite messed up. E.g. unless I'm forgetting someone, there's only one British critic, writing in what used to be called a broadsheet newspaper, whom I still bother to read - and he's old, and not in good health. Most published art writing is either incompetent journalism, or pseudo-academic nonsense designed to scare the less-than-confident, or sometimes a hybrid. Of course I wish that something better existed. What I don't do, however - easy, this, being a full-time Tory and part-time pessimist - is imagine that art-critical writing won't, like pretty much everything else, have its ups and downs, its cyclical failures, the firestorms that spawn phoenixes. We're in a lull, obviously, but lulls are a big chunk of the human condition. We should be grateful for our Greenbergs, rather than expecting them to be laid on in every generation. The rest of the time, why not just muddle along, doing the best that each of us can?

And certainly, I didn't mean to imply that you, Eageageag, meant you wanted to be a Greenberg and were cross because that hadn't happened. All I meant was that people do write about art for different reasons. A couple of generations ago, I'd have been writing my thoughts in letters to friends, one at a time, or in a diary. Now I have a blog. You, on the other hand, 'don't give a turd obviously' as you put it, about my views. That, at least, is the sort of timeless response that warms what's left of my Tory heart.

And indeed, that is the ultimate generosity of this internet of ours: no one has to read my writing - or yours, or Franklin's, or the rest of us. This isn't just a question of art criticism. Print media is changing out of all recognition. 'Authority' is having to rescue itself from the easy allure of Wikipedia. There's more 'information' out there than any of us can stomach - but much of the 'information' is, self-evidently, either blatantly incorrect or internally contradictory. Everything's in flux (again). Most of us simply don't get our information, education or entertainment from the same place we did ten years ago. The sort of people who do optimism well would, I suspect, see this as an opportunity.

Finally, Eageageag (sorry if this looks like picking on you - it's only because you raise such interesting questions), you write this:

The audience for art criticism is mostly made up of people who teach or sell or make or want to make art.

Is that really right? What about people who want to buy art? And what about the millions of people who flock to non-selling, 'didactic' art exhibitions every year?

Also, this:

(Hazlitt/Rimbaud...Maybe you meant Pater and Baudelaire?)

Err, no. I didn't. But then, since you're obviously quite pleased with yourself about never having read anything I've written, I guess this is an unsurprising error on your part.

43.

opie

February 1, 2009, 1:49 PM

Thank you, Bunny, for the little barb the end of all that politesse.

44.

eageageag

February 1, 2009, 1:52 PM

Hazlitt/Rimbaud. Gotcha. I read all of Hazlitt's prose when I was an undergraduate. Loved it. Don't remember any of it, but I had 'borrowed' several pocket Modern Classics editions of his work from the used bookstore I worked at. They had faux goldleaf. Sweet! I used the word 'turd' because I did feel slightly under attack after reading your first missive. I will check out your writing later today and I look forward to it.

I actually think PL's prose packs a punch. Chris you should really correct the layout issues on your blog. I have read things you have written several times but I always have problems with the placement of the text, etc. Maybe it is my computer that is the problem. I just want to be clear about my motivation here. I am not here because anyone likes anything I do. I have gotten nothing but critical remarks or completely ignored when it comes to my art or writing from artblog regulars and that is fine. I am not trying to discuss these things because my ego is being massaged in any way. I just care about this shit and not many bloggers are discussing it openly.

I write about art because I love the stuff and when it moves me and when a specific work of art captures my attention I don't want to break off the connection I have with it. I wrote for artcritical for years without getting paid because articulating what I felt while looking at art seemed important to me.

45.

Bunny Smedley

February 1, 2009, 1:56 PM

If only, Opie, you realised how much it takes to make me stop being polite! If only I were marginally more pagan than I am, I'd have a little statue of Good Manners in the front hallway, and leave a few biscuits for it every day ...

You do know, though, I guess, which is why you commented on it. Please don't assume, though, that the polite bits aren't as heart-felt as the other bits. (Not that you would, but ...)

And now I think I'll go read old bound copies of 'Horizon' for at least a few hours.

46.

eageageag

February 1, 2009, 2:14 PM

opie I am not sure why you would thank Bunny for sticking it to me at the end of her very polite email, but I guess you don't like me. Sorry.

47.

eageageag

February 1, 2009, 2:18 PM

opie feel free to let loose. I don't mind defending myself. I basically stand by what I said and I think that Bunny's points about there being only one published art critic she likes to read is telling. I also agree with her other points about the up and down trends.

48.

eageageag

February 1, 2009, 2:26 PM

I know everyone loves to rip on Winkleman over here but it is ironic that a point he just made over at his own blog:

"The reach of popular music or cinema are triumphs of distribution, not artistic accomplishment or importance. Museum attendance across the US has been estimated at 600 million annually (in a nation of 350 million) and that's to go see unique objects, not products sent out to every corner of the nation at the same time. Don't assume how you feel about fine art is evidence of its importance...look at the numbers."

has convinced me that I am entirely wrong about everything I brought up in this thread. Now I can shut up and go back to work. Thanks for your time.

49.

opie

February 1, 2009, 2:32 PM

Good grief; I have started something and I didn't mean to.

I certainly do not want to disparage civility and politeness, Bunny. We have experienced little enough of it here, at times.
I think that being a contentious sort I enjoy your sharp crits more, especially when you imbed them in a meandering discourse, which I experienced when I first read your writing on those other sites.

eageageag, please, I like your comments a lot and I like taking issue with them when I can. I would have had the same reaction if she had stuck it to me. That's fun. I like to argue. My reaction really had nothing to do with you but with, see above.

Now that we have brought it up, who can we read? Bunny may be referring to Robert Hughes who I have always liked to read (I just reread his "Art and Money" prior to recommending it to a couple of stusdents) but he has the really major fault of an insufficient eye. Who is there?

50.

eageageag

February 1, 2009, 2:38 PM

Shit there are so few. Hughes is great. Fantastic writer and wit. Knows his stuff. Does this country have a Hughes? The New Yorker guy kind of bores me. His language is too precious and self consciously literary and he has no sense of humor.

51.

opie

February 1, 2009, 2:57 PM

That's Adam Gopnik. Nasty jerk. Should be shipped off to Siberia.

52.

Chris Rywalt

February 1, 2009, 2:58 PM

There's so much here to read -- and compliments for me, I hardly ever get those -- I'll need to go over it later. But this I need to get out now:

Eric sez:
Chris you should really correct the layout issues on your blog. I have read things you have written several times but I always have problems with the placement of the text, etc.

Oh, this hurts! I can't really argue with criticisms of my writing or my art or my style or any of that, but to be taken to task over my MAD HTML SKILLZ, oh, it's too much! That's the one thing I'm sure I'm pretty good at!

Send me a screen grab or something, let me know what browser and system you're using (not here on the blog, send me e-mail) and I'll try to make it right.

53.

Bunny Smedley

February 1, 2009, 3:05 PM

I'm emerging from my sadly unilateral congress with Cyril Connolly just long enough to point out that the single admirably critic to whom I referred (remember, British critic writing in British paper) is in fact Brian Sewell, at the London Evening Standard. Is he perfect? No - and his paper no longer allows him, as far as I can see, to review shows by living artists. Still, he has the sort of deep art-historical training - as well as the grasp of written English, and the robustly anti-careerist attitude - that no other British critic, writing here, can match. Sewell's worth reading, if only because he's seen a lot of art (really seen it), isn't scared of cataloguing the fakes and forgeries and generalised duds included in big-ticket shows, and because (and here I'm being opinionated rather than objective) he has a more sophisticated grasp of the relationship between moral and aesthetic judgements than anyone writing in Britain today.

As for Hughes, I enjoy his work, and could wallow all day in that luscious prose as the more self-indulgent, sybaritic sort of piglet wallows in ripe muck - but he's only in print here once in a blue moon, when he's touting a book or film, and even then, it's always the 'Guardian', which for various reasons - surprisingly few of them political, either - isn't my favourite paper.

All of which is a bit unfair. There are other critics here who are, often, much better than the usual 'type out the press release and shut up' mainstream - Tom Lubbock at the Independent is one - but it's hard to pick out any one of them as particularly stellar.

I'd love to hear other thoughts, though, about who's worth reading. At the risk of over-praising this web of ours, it's quite fun to think that accidents of domicile are no longer much of a barrier to this sort of enterprise.

54.

Franklin

February 1, 2009, 3:07 PM

Peter Schjeldahl is at the New Yorker.

55.

opie

February 1, 2009, 3:19 PM

Yes, Schjeldahl. He is just as eageageag described.

Gopnik was either there before or writes occasionally. neither are worth reading either for edification or amusement.

56.

opie

February 1, 2009, 3:20 PM

I don't know Sewell, Bunny, but I will see if I can find something online.

57.

eageageag

February 1, 2009, 4:48 PM

What do you think of Adrian Searle or David Cohen Bunny? Have you read any Adrian Stokes? There is Mario Naves at the New York Observer, but he might have disappeared. He only appeared online. He dislikes a lot of the stuff out there and is a decent writer. There is Barry Schwabsky and Arthur Danto at The Nation. There is the NYT crew, Kimmelman, Smith, Johnson, Vogel, and a few other PTers. There is Saltz at NY mag. The list is getting smaller and smaller. And these people will hold onto their jobs until they are dust.

58.

Bunny Smedley

February 1, 2009, 4:55 PM

There's some Brian Sewell writing here, but do note, as mentioned before, that he doesn't (these days) write about living artists, which means that he doesn't influence practice in any direct sense, which might disqualify him as a critic according to some definitions. And also - well, he can be mannered, and a bit theatrical, and I don't always agree with him. On the plus side, though, he really looks at shows, he has a huge fund of knowledge and experience, plus the confidence to tell modish curators their shows are rubbish.

Why, though, am I apparently apologising to him? Read him, Opie, and then read e.g. Jonathan Jones, and you'll perhaps see, in a UK context, why I am able to save a lot of time by not reading much present-day criticism.

As for Peter Schjeldahl - he once wrote a review of a Raphael exhibition that was so artfully, self-confidently witless (for what it's worth, he's even worse as an historian of popular piety than he is as an art critic) that I never could be bothered to read him much thereafter.

59.

opie

February 1, 2009, 5:16 PM

Naves is (was) good. Karen Wilkin at the New Criterion I forgot to mention; she is very good, has a good eye and writes well. Panero at the same magazine writes well & knows what to dislike, but when it comes to enthusiasms he goes for the likes of William Bailey, whose paintings are respectable but depressingly airless and inert.

Danto is beneath contempt. Why he is taken so seriously in academia is beyond me. Perhaps, however, that is merely a telling symptom.

I will check out the info, Bunny, Thanks,

60.

Chris Rywalt

February 1, 2009, 5:44 PM

Eric sez:
How many people read film, literary, and music criticism, simply because they love film, books, and music?

What's funny is I'll read reviews of movies I'll never see and music I'll never hear, but reviews of art sort of require that I have a shot at seeing the work discussed. I enjoy reading about movies, in some cases, even more than I enjoy seeing movies. Which is weird.

Franklin sez:
Is there some way to make serious art that can be sold for $8-$50?

My drawings are as serious as most art and I sold them for $10 when I sold them. So I'd say, sure! But others might disagree about how serious my drawings are.

Eric sez:
Do we think the static nature of most visual art, and the fact that it is not a reproducible format (in the same way the DVDs and CDs are)) plays a role in its diminished capacity to mean something to large swathes of the general public or is it historically inevitable that this will always be the case?

The trouble is reproducibility. There's a reason why art isn't at the level of Hollywood movies and it's the same reason Smell-O-Vision failed: Some things don't reproduce well, and that makes distributing them comemrcially difficult. Consider the magazine perfume insert: In order to get that smell out to everyone, the actual perfume needs to be disseminated. Big pain in the ass. (Although I read recently researchers are hot on the scent -- ha ha -- of the building blocks of odors so they could possibly reproduce smells the way four colors of ink reproduce images. Which would be neat!)

I think it's inevitable that this will be a problem for a long, long time. Maybe not forever.

Bunny sez:
demotic

I very rarely have to look words up, Bunny. You know how other people say "You learn something new every day"? I say I learn something new every week, maybe. Congratulations, you just enlarged my vocabulary!

Chris, in other words, not only looks closely at art, and cares about it, but he writes well.

Thank you very, very much.

Sometimes I feel like a mutual back-scratching society has evolved around Franklin. And then sometimes, I think, I like that. I'm not sure how much positive feedback I'll need to ever balance out all the negative feedback (most of which is self-generated) but I'm willing to try and find out.

By the way, a brief note for Bunny regarding Eageageag: That's Eric, and he's often cranky. That's okay, it's just who he is, online, anyway.

I like reading Peter Schjeldahl when I get the New Yorker. I don't agree with him all the time and his style isn't really interesting but he's okay. I usually learn a little something from his columns. Basically when I get the New Yorker I read it cover to cover (sometimes even the masthead and the subscription information if I get bored enough), so if he's in there, I read him.

61.

David

February 1, 2009, 6:01 PM

Bunny:

Funny, you picked the one recent Schjeldahl review that I also recalled as witless. Everyone misses now and then, though the Artblog concensus seems to be against him. Thanks for the other suggestions though. I tried to make the point that Greenberg and Rosenberg wrote at a time when there were big ideas afoot. Is it all just pluralism now? - either goop or brushstrokes? I understand that criticism is about looking with an educated eye, but does anyone think there are any big ideas out there that can be applied to contemporary art? Fairfield Porter seemed to bring a wealth of independent and hard won thought to his observations from his struggles as a painter.

62.

David

February 1, 2009, 6:08 PM

Chris:

Your prices are ridiculously low. I'd buy 10 at that price but I'd feel it was too insulting.

63.

Chris Rywalt

February 1, 2009, 6:26 PM

David sez:
I'd buy 10 at that price but I'd feel it was too insulting.

To you or to me?

64.

David

February 1, 2009, 7:26 PM

To you of course. The idea of mass sales at affordable prices is fine, but $10.00?

65.

Chris Rywalt

February 1, 2009, 8:59 PM

The paper cost plus the Conté the drawing is made out of are less than a dollar. The drawing itself takes me less than half an hour, usually less than ten minutes. Ten bucks seems fine.

David, my man, at this point I'd be willing to send you a hundred drawings for the cost of shipping. I've got a file cabinet next to me absolutely full of the damned things. I bought a five-drawer flat file cabinet for storage -- only $50 on craigslist, an absolute steal from an architect who was retiring -- and I filled it up half an hour after getting in my door with drawings I already had lying around.

I was at an opening the other night where the two artists were talking about commissions. One had been asked for a hundred paintings I think it was, for $40,000, delivery in three months. The painter was like, "That's not much of a payday, and anyway who could paint that fast?" And I was like, drool, I'd fucking maim a grandmother for that kind of opportunity.

66.

opie

February 1, 2009, 10:17 PM

Delicately put, Chris.

67.

1

February 2, 2009, 12:34 AM

i have not read everytying in this thread, so hopefully this is still relevant, although maybe not in sequence.

in regards to selling art online there are already a few viable platforms.

artnet.com consolidates many of the major and minor galleries from one site

auctions: from christies and sothebys, to rago and ebay, etc.

1stdibs.com is another site that consolidates gallery and shop owners from around the world. it started primarily as a fairly high end place to access furniture, but has gone into jewlery and watches this past year as well. they have very modest art offerings currently, but i think this could change. when franklin was searching for help here on expanding his presence i recommended that he take a look. this site is definitely a success story, but has pitfalls.

68.

David

February 2, 2009, 1:31 AM

Speaking of:

I've been on a Peter Doig kick for a while, as in I like him/ I don't like him, and why, why, why. This slight fascination is part of a new openness to art that seems strange to me, and that I consider a new right that comes with a certain age. I think Schjeldahl nails Doig in this new short piece in the New Yorker. I also like these new brief reviews and think they're a reflection of a new, minor, literary form - the blog comment.

http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/notebook/2009/02/09/090209gonb_GOAT_notebook_schjeldahl

69.

David

February 2, 2009, 9:49 AM

I wish I could edit that and take out a few "new"s. I guess "new" was on my mind. Take it as a statement of hope for spring on groundhog day

70.

Chris Rywalt

February 2, 2009, 9:51 AM

Jerry Saltz made a small stir by posting a quick note on Facebook about Marlene Dumas. Apparently he's never done a full review of her work and his comment was so dismissive it caused an amount of outrage far in excess of the size of the comment itself. So talk about your new brief art form.

His comment made me notice the Dumas show at MoMA (aided and abetted by a long wait for Van Gogh) and review it.

71.

Chris Rywalt

February 2, 2009, 10:10 AM

Doig looks like more of what Mark Staff Brandl calls Feeble Painting.

72.

opie

February 2, 2009, 11:16 AM

Chris that web site is just my type of thing. Excellent. He calls what we have been calling "wan" painting "feeble" painting, which is even better, and his discussion is appropriately nasty.

That Marlene Dumas, who just simply cannot paint, has a show atg MoMA is a symptom of the depth to which we have fallen. Saltx has redeemed himself somewhat if he criticized it.

I think Doig is better than that, Chris. Not a whole lot better, but better. He can paint; he has skills. At this point I often don't ask for more than that.

73.

Chris Rywalt

February 2, 2009, 11:44 AM

If you read my review, you'd see that I disagree: Dumas can paint, a little. She has that same nice touch that Johns has, the touch that says "This is a real painting!" to someone who doesn't know real painting.

Mostly she's pretty lousy. Pretty Lady says, however, judging by the images online, that Dumas uses color well. I'm not sure I agree, but I see what she's saying.

Here's a discussion on what Saltz wrote.

Joy Garnett's comment there is exactly the kind of thing I argued against in the comments on my review. She says "It appears you're simply writing 'dreary' to avoid dealing with Dark." Which is a stupid thing to say. As I wrote, "By saying it's about ugliness, rather than actually embodying ugliness, you can get people to pretend it's profound, when in fact it's just not very good."

74.

Jack

February 2, 2009, 12:39 PM

The first Dumas I saw was a roughly life-size standing female figure, a sort of prostitute type, in a very "major" Miami collection. If I'd seen it in an MFA show, I wouldn't have given it more than a single, brief glance. As it was, I only bothered to really look at it to figure out what the fuss was about. Much ado about not much. Ms. Dumas failed her audition; I have better things to do.

75.

David

February 2, 2009, 1:03 PM

re Saltz:I don't think the short form review works when it's dismissive. It has to embody some positive insight, like a poem. Has anyone mentioned Dumas' in relation to Zen portraits? I would have thought you'd like that room of portraits on paper Chris after seeing some of your work online. I don't think "feeble painting" really says it, except perhaps for Luc Tuymans, whose work is literally wan and feeble. Dumas's affinity for the ugly may be sincere but maybe painting isn't the place for such images when we have the premier of Chechnya torturing his enemies on the front page of the Times - hence, Dumas' ugliness is gratuitous. Doig is a strong painter. Schjeydahl says his work is "hip fun". Peyton is hip fun. I think of a comment from Walton Ford, the neo-naturalist watercolorist, in a bio piece by Calvin Tompkins. Ford says he is afraid he will be remembered as a minor artist but his ambition is to contribute to the history of images. This is a big and worthy ambition and you can see this is what Doig is shooting for.

"The raffish drawing and quite wonderfully seductive color promote this fix as our best available fun: post-everythingness, for the hip heck of it."

76.

Chris Rywalt

February 2, 2009, 1:07 PM

Those portraits on paper, David, were terrible. I didn't even walk all the way into the room with them.

77.

Chris Rywalt

February 2, 2009, 1:12 PM

Oh my god, MoMA has a video up of Dumas talking about her show. She's a ditz, a total airhead. I'd rather hear Edith Bunker discuss her art.

78.

Chris Rywalt

February 2, 2009, 1:14 PM

Good lord, she even botches a quote from T.S. Eliot. She's really terrible. I'm getting angry now.

79.

opie

February 2, 2009, 1:47 PM

David, the work is either good or not. Making connections neither justifies not excuses bad art, and only makes it more interesting in connection to something which may suffer from the comparison.

80.

opie

February 2, 2009, 1:49 PM

Chris, I would love hearing Edith Bunker discussing Dumas's art. Archie, too, for that matter. And Meathead.

81.

Jack

February 2, 2009, 2:13 PM

Wonder what Alfred Barr would think of Dumas.

82.

opie

February 2, 2009, 2:47 PM

He would Barr it.

83.

eageageag

February 2, 2009, 2:49 PM

MoMA minus Barr=SHIT

84.

Chris Rywalt

February 2, 2009, 3:37 PM

Perhaps we should RAISE the BARR.

Aha! Ha!

85.

David

February 2, 2009, 4:55 PM

O.K. O.K. the Dumas drawings were pretty terrible. I'm experimenting with a new open mind policy. I did spend some time with them just to be sure. Some of the Zen ink drawings are awful too - seen recently at the Boston Museum - that's what made me think of them. Well we'll always have the Vollard Suite.

86.

Chris Rywalt

February 2, 2009, 5:35 PM

As Terry Pratchett once wrote, "The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it."

87.

opie

February 2, 2009, 6:08 PM

And as I have said 3 or 4 times right here on the blog, if you are too open minded your brains fall out.

Subscribe

@franklin_e

franklin.e

Offers

Other Projects

Legal

Design and content ©2003-2014 Franklin Einspruch except where otherwise noted