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Neither subjective nor objective

Post #1309 • March 6, 2009, 2:12 PM • 105 Comments

I left this comment at Thinking About Art at J.T. Kirkland's prompting.

If visual quality was truly subjective, absolutely the product of individual experience, humanity would never have produced culture in the first place. There would have been an idiosyncratic manufacture of objects that individuals thought were attractive, but culture requires that other people pick up on the attractiveness. On the other hand, if visual quality was truly objective, we could measure it, and we can't. After giving this a fair amount of thought, I've concluded that the subjective/objective split is an illusion produced by the brain's inability to feel itself operating. There are not subjective and objective phenomena. There are a phenomena, full stop, and their nature is neither subjective nor objective. Some of these phenomena are highly individual, like falling in love. Some of these phenomena are highly universal, like gravity. And some of these phenomena have both universal and individual components. Visual quality is one of them. It is not universal enough to measure, but it is universal enough that people with a talent for detecting it can do so across time and culture. Phenomena in this group are marked by shared universals and individual particulars. They vary, but they don't vary infinitely. The ideal female in art gains and loses weight over time, becomes bustier or less modestly endowed, but she never sprouts a third arm out of her bellybutton.

Taste is the ability to detect visual quality. It is a talent, which means that not everyone has it, and those that do must cultivate it to get the full benefit. Given a group of students moaning at Pollock, it's likely that a lot of them haven't cultivated the ability to appreciate abstraction. The right way to take care of this is for people with cultivated taste to express their excitement about Pollock and invite them to look at more examples. The cheap way to take care of this is to talk about how influential Pollock was to later artists. That doesn't matter. All things being equal, Pollock could have been an idiot, and his followers could have been bigger idiots. With all due respect, telling students that they're 60 years to late to reject Pollock is really objectionable. They'd be better off hating Pollock with all their hearts than accepting him out a servile attitude towards art history. Art could have been wasting its time for six decades as it explored abstraction. I don't think it did, but I conclude as much by looking at the better objects. Pollock certainly inspired a lot of terrible abstraction. Making similar claims about more recent developments is even more objectionable. I tend to think that conceptualism is wasting art's time, and I don't care whom it has influenced.

I don't oppose the conceptual analysis of art. As I said earlier, art is typically not made in a pure way, and it often takes ideas to get the ball rolling. One might as well appreciate them for what they are. Rather, I object to the notion that ideas have inherent aesthetic value. This is a really brain-damaged way of looking at ideas. Forms are good or not. Ideas are true or not. Entertaining wrong concepts as compelling or beautiful is nonsense, and at a certain scale (such as public policy) dangerous nonsense. (Note that I'm not talking about narrative, which is a different sort of thing.) Ideas that are not wrong ought to be interesting if we're going to bother turning them into art. It can have them, but art does not necessarily need sound or interesting ideas to function well as art. There isn't a formal/conceptual midpoint that delivers the best of both worlds. Rather, there's a formal vehicle and one or more conceptual passengers. You actually end up with a problem when the weight of the passengers starts to equal the weight of the vehicle.

The thread at the link may also be of interest if you want to see me take apart a theory-driven artist like he was made out of Legos.




March 6, 2009, 6:44 PM

Art judgements, and the evaluations of these judgements, must be subjective because in art there is no external measure to compel agreement.

The goodness is real; getting it is subjective.

The ability to get it, for want of a better word, is called "taste". Taste can be cultivated and improved, but only to the extent of a person's ability to improve. Like any talent, it is limited.



March 6, 2009, 7:32 PM

The thread at the link may also be of interest if you want to see me take apart a theory-driven artist like he was made out of Legos.

Since a theory-driven artist (or would-be artist) is about as interesting to me as an opera singer who can't sing, trashes those who can and insists vocalism per se is irrelevant and antiquated, I think I'll pass.

It's sad how some people can't or won't get the obvious. It's even sadder when other people humor or enable them in their delusion.



March 6, 2009, 7:35 PM

Yes, "seeing" has to be acquired. An aside: Isn't actual the opposite of subjective?



March 6, 2009, 7:48 PM

But Jack, they would just take you on a merry chase about the meaning of "vocalism." You are right about their use of intellectual gymnastics to poo poo what they haven't been able to "get." A way to "own" what is beyond them.


K Rockwalt

March 6, 2009, 9:10 PM

Oh, sweat, Franklin, I can't believe you busted out L.L. Cool J on his ass! Word!



March 6, 2009, 10:23 PM

The goodness is real; getting it is subjective.

Even getting it is real. It's as real as light hitting the eye. It's just not readily measurable.



March 6, 2009, 10:51 PM

Tim, if it helps any, when I said vocalism I meant singing skills or singing talent. The analogy, obviously, is to visual skills or visual talent for a visual artist. To stick to opera, the first thing its practitioners need, the absolutely indispensable minimum basic requirement, is being able to sing well enough to do the medium justice. Failing that, no matter what else they can manage, I'm afraid I'm not interested. It's like going to a restaurant. If the food's not good enough, well, you do the math.



March 6, 2009, 10:56 PM

Not so much in this context, Tim.

Subjective is personal, proceeding from the mind: "I like it, I think it is good".

Objective is uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices, factual , measurable: "I can present evidence that compels assent that this is good".

We cannot make objective value judgements about art, but taste makes one's subjective judgement correct about what is good.

Franklin, perhaps I should not have juxtaposed "subjective" and "real". I didn't mean them to appear as opposites. Of course "getting it" is real. But the process of getting to it is subjective.



March 6, 2009, 11:03 PM

To expand on the opera metaphor, if I have to choose between a soprano who looks like a refrigerator but can sing birds off the trees, and one who looks like a wet dream but has to negotiate the notes like she's walking through a minefield, it's no contest. If you're an opera singer, you'd damn better be able to deliver the vocal goods. That's not negotiable. If you're a visual get the idea.



March 6, 2009, 11:09 PM

Jack, I understood your analogy. What I was trying to say in an admittedly clumsy and misleading way was that the ones who pursued the perspective that Franklin took issue with likely wouldn't admit to the necessity of the fundamentals you refer to, and would take issue with it. Thanks though.



March 6, 2009, 11:34 PM

People who presume to dispense with fundamentals are fundamentally wrong and have no credibility. Ultimately, they only fool themselves and/or clueless types.



March 6, 2009, 11:50 PM

We are now at a place where fundamentals are dispensed with in every category. The cleverist arguments take exception to their necessity. We drown in the consequences.



March 7, 2009, 3:02 AM

Franklin said: On the other hand, if visual quality was truly objective, we could measure it, and we can't.

This can be rephrased into a formally valid sillygism:

Everything truly objective is measurable;
Art is not measurable;
Therefore art is not truly objective.

But there are informal fallacies that apply. This could be an example of the "package-deal" fallacy in which two classes that are often grouped together (the truly objective and the measurable) are exclusively grouped together. Contrary to the major premise, "the truly objective" can and is grouped with immeasurable entities as well as measurable, such as God (if you want to go to an extreme) or just everyday realities that we can't measure, such as love. An argument that would not commit this fallacy would be:

Some truly objective entities are measurable;
Art is not measurable;
Therefore, art is not a truly objective entity.

However, this is a formally invalid argument, committing the fallacy of "illicit major" in which "truly objective entity" is distributed in the conclusion but not in the major premise.

Another informal fallacy is that of the "half-truth" (a variant of the package-deal) in which a premise contains an element of the truth, in this case, that some things that exist independent of the mind are measurable, but ignores other elements that are also true. Examples include just about any reality that is intuited, such as the way someone feels about us, whether they like, love, or hate us, whether this tie goes with this shirt, whether it is the right time to ask the boss for a raise, and the like, or art itself. None of them are measurable, though their effects are nonetheless sensed and are often independent of our own mental state and even what we wish reality to be. If you are madly in love with someone who does not love you, it is not necessary for the other person to tell you anything for you to feel the pain this causes.

Thus the half-truth presents what is merely a belief or outright short-sightedness as complete knowledge. Or, to put it differently, part of the truth is represented as all of the truth, and we are denied access to the other part that would enable us to disagree with the conclusion.

And this is what usually plagues arguments that are formally valid. One or more of their premises are questionable, and/or already essentially contain the proposition that is to be "proved".

Formally valid logic often becomes a way of dressing up our assumptions to carry on as if they have some transcendental truth that goes beyond themselves, a universality that others ought to accept, where non acceptance necessarily carries the peril of being disconnected from reality, irrational, or worse, just plain wrong.

Formally valid arguments that commit informal fallacies are especially problematic. When I taught logic as a grad student in philosophy I told my students to learn the informal fallacies well, because many people are easily persuaded by them, and you can use them to get your way. I could not offer my students an explanation of why this peculiar circumstance was so often the case, though.

But sophisticated people focus on the premises and the assumptions behind them, not the formal logic. I sometimes think, though, that even sophisticated people are too tolerant of the informal fallacies.

All this said, Franklin's argument about the subjective was quite convincing.


John the Punisher

March 7, 2009, 4:37 AM

Try making some art instead of writing about that!!!! ....if you can.... jerks!!!!!



March 7, 2009, 5:11 AM

Subjective point of view, thats what everybody think they have. Objective, there is no such thing, only a goal to seem objective about things, instead of showing the subjective side. But being subjective is always effected by external influences, so why not call them objective?

These both ideas live only in the theoretical mind of the viewer, viewer who is determining the object as a reflecting surface of hes subjective experiences, both emotional and intellectual ones. So the object looks back, becoming the subject instead of object. Why think of this? Dasein. So it is.



March 7, 2009, 6:50 AM

We re not trying to measure art, John. Saying art is "subjective" or "objective" makes no sense.

A thing becomes art when we treat it as art, and art is by definition something we comprehend purely for the effect it has on us when we comprehend it for its sensible characteristics. It has no other use until we use it otherwise. A piece of sculpture used as a doorstop is a doorstop.

The subjective/objective discussion comes about when an object us used as art and we try to measure the value of the art effect. We cannot do this because, as you point out, although we make a thousand judgements a day which have indeterminate measures we have set art up categorically to be evaluated subjectively, without external measure. That's what art is. That's what we have it for.


Chris Rywalt

March 7, 2009, 7:54 AM

Jack sez:
If you're an opera singer, you'd damn better be able to deliver the vocal goods. That's not negotiable. If you're a visual get the idea.

Of course the problem with this metaphor, or parallel, is that a painter or sculptor is closer to a composer than a singer. An opera singer, or a violinist, is really nothing more than an extremely flexible paintbrush or chisel. Depending on who you talk to, of course -- classical musicians consider themselves very important, but Frank Zappa, for example, hated having to deal with them and their egos, since he thought of them as nothing more than extremely temperamental instruments. Which is why he switched to electronic music as quickly as he could.

Postmodernists and current art theorists might argue that contemporary art isn't about having opera singers who can't sing, but about having opera singers work within, say, twelve-tone music or musique concréte. Consider the kind of reception someone like John Cage gets from lowbrows. His 4′33″ could be the musical equivalent of Duchamp's Fountain.

Now maybe we think of all that music as being similar to Pop Art through Conceptualism. Obviously Cage was connected to Rauschenberg and Paik. I don't know enough about music, honestly.

But what I'm trying to get at is that maybe what we're seeing as the deskilling of art is actually an attempt to reduce artmaking down to its essential skills rather than have, layered on top of those, a set of superficial skills which have come to mean Art. Yesterday, for example, I saw Wei Dong's latest show. It's easy to see why these paintings have done well: They're very definitely PAINTINGS. They're skillfully executed in a strong academic style with just the right amount of idiosyncrasies. (You can't tell from the JPEGs but the paint is gently hatched, not all smoothly blended.) Wei Dong exhibits all the superficial skills to denote Art, to tell anyone looking at them that these are certainly Art. And the subject matter is just weird and baffling enough to qualify as Contemporary Art -- no stuffy still lifes or pious saints for us!

In a way, the past hundred years or so of music has been about finding the absolute minimum of what qualifies as music. Winnowing out all the devices which had come to be required for music -- working within a given key, proper ways of moving from one key to another, even the whole Western idea of twelve tones to an octave. At some point maybe they went too far and everyone held their ears, but the whole trip was maybe worth it.

Maybe that's what's happening in art, too. Trying to undercut the Wei Dongs of the world by finding out what makes art art without all the trappings that might denote art but aren't really required.

Well, I say happening, but a lot of it's already happened. Wei Dong is, in a sense, a middlebrow resurgence of the old ways, like Andrew Lloyd Webber.



March 7, 2009, 8:10 AM

The comment was in response to another that said, as people sometimes do, that the problem with evaluating art on the basis of visual quality is that what we think of as good is subjective. But if that were true, as I say above, culture would never come into being. Given normal usage of "subjective" and "objective," art objects are objective and our responses to them are subjective. The problem becomes where to locate goodness. It was in trying to work that out that I got the idea that the subjective/objective split isn't real.

What we think of as subjective responses become increasingly measurable as technology improves. Scientists have shown images to people lying in MRI machines and you can see certain responses as particular areas of the brain activate. Fifty years ago that activity would have been unknowable and could only be ascertained by its completely private effects. I'm looking at your brain operate, you're experiencing your brain operate, and we're conscious of a phenomenon in two ways, neither of which completely encompasses the phenomenon itself. Trying to characterize this as subjective or objective starts to get pretty wacky, an accident about who is experiencing the phenomenon in what way. In a sense, everything is objective, but then you have no outside observer to establish objectivity. In another sense, everything is subjective, but it all remains as solid as ever. The split is wrong.



March 7, 2009, 8:54 AM

Franklin, the concepts exist and they can be used to describe how we treat art. We are not using it in reference to reality or existence but in reference to judgements of value.

No one denies that we react to art and that art has value for us but there is considerable difference of opinion about the value or goodness of one kind of art or another. Because art is designed to exclude measure evaluations are reached subjectively, and therefore those who do not think clearly decide that the subjective process means that the goodness of art is relative rather than merely more or less difficult to get to.

Objective evaluations are really nothing more than proceedings from accepted norms. They are really just extended syllogisms. As John demonstrates above they are very variable in essence and in everyday life; we make a mix of subjective/objective judgements a thousand times a day. Art is simply a special case that forces us to judge subjectively with no recourse (or little recourse - the slow moving "consensus") to accepted norms because there are none.


Chris Rywalt

March 7, 2009, 9:46 AM

OP sez:
No one denies that we react to art and that art has value for us...

Oh you are so wrong about this. Plenty of people deny that we react to art. Franklin's post here comes from a discussion with a guy who thinks we react to systems of meaning or somesuch nonsense and the art just happens to be nearby while it's happening.



March 7, 2009, 10:15 AM

Opie, I can't parse the second sentence of the second paragraph in #19.



March 7, 2009, 10:55 AM


Wee Dong's paintings look like a mashup of Yuskavage and Currin. Did you see Lisa's show at Zwirner? It's all so trendy.



March 7, 2009, 10:59 AM

Sorry, I meant Chris, not John in #22



March 7, 2009, 11:16 AM

Chris, Jack's analogy holds up, I think.

From # 17: "An opera singer, or a violinist, is really nothing more than an extremely flexible paintbrush or chisel. Depending on who you talk to, of course -- classical musicians consider themselves very important, but Frank Zappa, for example, hated having to deal with them and their egos, since he thought of them as nothing more than extremely temperamental instruments."

That dismisses all musicians as mere performers. Granted, many are, but Yo Yo Ma a mere performer? Renee Flemming a mere performer? Hmm... Many painters and sculptors are, of course, mere performers.

Zappa concerned with someone else's ego! If I have understood that accurately, his frusration came from trying to fit round pegs into square holes, using 'instruments' with sensibilities and perhaps capabilities unsuited to the task. Plus, Zappa was an impossible autocrat, and respectfulness was not his long suit. The frustration was mutual in every way.

"Maybe that's what's happening in art, too. Trying to undercut the Wei Dongs of the world by finding out what makes art art without all the trappings that might denote art but aren't really required."

The whole enterprise has been so atomized and has become so unnegotiable that I'm wondering whether it's possible to to get to the bottom of that. Too many perspectives, attitudes of approach, way too much noise, all of the effort at discrediting of criterias for judgement. In order to have any hope of appreciating very much of it even for its own sake, much less enjoy it, I have to change hats way too much, consider way too many arguments. Chris, as you put it in an earlier thread, time is necessary. But in our case, time is the only antidote to the scrambled signals of our Tower of Babel wherein everyone has his or her own language and wherein we're expected to learn them all and defer to them all or at least, for appearence's and PCs sake, act as if we have.

From # 20: "Plenty of people deny that we react to art. Franklin's post here comes from a discussion with a guy who thinks we react to systems of meaning or somesuch nonsense and the art just happens to be nearby while it's happening."

Don't some people simply fear that acknowledging or allowing a reaction means some kind of weakness? Aren't they only trying to talk themselves and the rest of us out of the possibility of their own 'weakness' by burying it (and maybe, in the process even atrophying it out of existence, something like a perversion of a Bhuddist's denial of self) under intellectual gymnastics? I don't read a lot of curiosity in any of it. Just a lot of killjoy, leaving the butterfly pinned and wriggling to the specimin card amid a faint scent of formaldehyde. But I accept that sportsmanship demands fair consideration and thoughtful reply.


r and r

March 7, 2009, 11:26 AM

toot your horn,showboat
.and preach on to the sheep choir.



March 7, 2009, 11:27 AM

Chris, it was a general statement meaning that no one will deny that we react to art. What people call it is another matter.

Franklin I wish I had a copy editor. After struggling to write clearly I am somethime unaware that I am being unclear.

The sentence was:

"Because art is designed to exclude measure evaluations are reached subjectively, and therefore those who do not think clearly decide that the subjective process means that the goodness of art is relative rather than merely more or less difficult to get to."

1. Art is designed to be evaluated subjectively, without external measure.

2. That is taken to imply that "art is subjective"

3. If art itself, rather than the process, is subjective, that means that the quality of any particular work of art is relative, and one person's opinion is as good as another person's.

4. This means that opinions are all of equal value while art's value is continuously relative.

5. Whereas in fact art quality is real and it is opinion, taste and how we get to it which are subjective - as in the old example of the blind men feeling the elephant - the elephant is there, but the men can only sense it in a limited way.

6. Art quality is not objective, because it insists on a purely subjective measure, but it is real, just as the elephant is real. Realness and objectiveness are not the same thing.



March 7, 2009, 11:35 AM

Opie, in your 5th and 6th item on your most recent comment, don't you think a better word than 'real' would be 'actual'? It seems to get past the relativity now associated with 'real'.



March 7, 2009, 11:54 AM

Yes, actual might be better than real.

It's a fine point.



March 7, 2009, 11:55 AM

Yes, actual might be better than real.

It's a fine point.



March 7, 2009, 1:03 PM

Re #17:

At some point maybe they went too far and everyone held their ears, but the whole trip was maybe worth it.

Take out the first "maybe" and substitute the second one with not. Otherwise, Chris, I'm afraid hanging out with the Winkletoes crowd, or a similar milieu, has contaminated you. It's unfortunate but hardly shocking.

Of course the problem with [Jack's] metaphor, or parallel, is that a painter or sculptor is closer to a composer than a singer.

If you're talking about a conceptual or theory-driven artist, maybe. If you're talking about an artist that can, in fact, perform, walk the walk, physically create and deliver the visual goods, then not so much. The greatest musical composition in the world is nothing but markings on a page unless and until it is bought to life by suitable performers, and the greater the performers the greater and more meaningful the life.

And by the way, the drive-by traffic seems to be picking up somewhat. I guess it's the weekend.


Chris Rywalt

March 7, 2009, 2:37 PM

I was playing devil's advocate there, a bit. But also I'd hit upon something while I was typing, which made me think a little bit, leaning more in the direction of defending some of the craziness of the art world. I really think it's not such a bad thing to strip away the unnecessary aspects of art so we can find the necessary ones. For example -- going back to music -- it's possible that someone would say, in order for it to be "real music," it must be performed by an orchestra. Or that the performers must wear tuxedos. Or that the performers all be male. Or the women singers fat. I'm making up some crazy versions, but then I remember my Glee Club director, beloved for forty years of teaching music, player of French horn in a jazz orchestra back in the 1940s, saying this to a young man who asked if the music room had any guitar sheet music: "Gee-tar music? Yuh wanna know if we has any GEE-TAR MUSIC in hyar?" To him, guitar wasn't a "real" instrument.

But of course we all here would probably say that "not played on a guitar" isn't a valid requirement for music. Guitars are fine!

So I'm thinking there's some value in stripping things down, in discovering that art doesn't have to be made of dried vegetable oil, that it doesn't have to be hung on a wall, that artists don't need to start out drawing plaster casts. Hooray, we've learned something!

What we also learned, if you ask me, is that concepts are not necessary or sufficient to make art. I think, though, not everyone has learned that yet.


Chris Rywalt

March 7, 2009, 2:39 PM

Shirley sez:
Wee Dong's paintings look like a mashup of Yuskavage and Currin. Did you see Lisa's show at Zwirner? It's all so trendy.

I did see Lisa Yuskavage's show, and I didn't like it.



March 7, 2009, 2:46 PM

She said "Wee Dong," Beavis. Huh-huh...



March 7, 2009, 2:59 PM

Chris, I think you know your examples in #31 are not the sort of thing I'm talking about. I suppose it's a matter of degree, motivation, and character. People can say that the concept or the idea is sufficient all they want, but if they can't create anything worth looking at or worthwhile as visual art, and their motivation is to bypass that little problem, and/or their character is akin to that of Hirst (or Warhol, or Beuys), we're talking bullshit and I'll have none of it. But again, you know where I'm coming from, or you certainly should by now.



March 7, 2009, 4:13 PM

I'm sorry I followed the link in 32, Chris. If those exceedingly sad pictures were not meant as a practical joke, however feeble, their author is a joke.

I know it's moot to even ask, but how can anyone take such pitiful drivel seriously? How can a gallerist (at least outside a shopping mall) show this kind of stuff with a straight face? How can anybody even consider paying anything approaching real money for such tripe? Are people really that out to lunch?




March 7, 2009, 4:29 PM

Here, try this, for something with rather more substance than that Yuskagavage cutesy-pie nonsense:


Chris Rywalt

March 7, 2009, 4:38 PM

Re: 34, I'm not really arguing against you, Jack. Just noodling.

Re: 35, I'm with you completely. I don't get it either. The best I can say is that her work used to be better, although now I'm not so sure I'd like that very much.

Somehow, though, her opening attracted people like Chuck Close. How that happens I do not know. If I did, I'd fucking bottle it.



March 7, 2009, 4:44 PM

Chris, Chuck Close is Chuck Close, not Poussin. And maybe he has a thing for cloying, infantile soft porn.


Chris Rywalt

March 7, 2009, 4:49 PM

P.S: Aah! Japanese coochie!


Chris Rywalt

March 7, 2009, 4:51 PM

If I'd seen Chuck Close at a lot of openings, I'd say okay. But he showed up for this one and not others I've been to. I mean, I'm not at every high-profile opening myself. But to think that he left home to see this crap, it's sad.



March 7, 2009, 5:01 PM

Chuck Close must've had a debt to pay.



March 7, 2009, 5:01 PM

Yes, Chris. Shunga, to be more precise. You can call it erotica or porn (though this is a pretty tame example, i.e., no engorged penis the size of a fire hydrant), but apart from the subject matter, isn't it beautifully done? The draughtmanship, the patterns and composition, the coloring...and this was never meant as "fine art" or anything. It's not even signed like "proper" Japanese prints (shunga rarely were). It's Meiji period, by the way. The day Yuskagavage can show me anything this impressive, maybe I'll stop sneering my head off.



March 7, 2009, 5:07 PM

Um, where's the rest of her right leg?


Chris Rywalt

March 7, 2009, 5:12 PM

I'm not deeply [snort] familiar with shunga and I wouldn't have known to call it that but I've seen it and read about it before. I remember reading a Japanese artist explaining why they draw the penises so huge: It's such a tiny thing, if they drew it the right size, it wouldn't matter at all.

My main problem with older Japanese pornography is those chicks are NOT hot. This one's got a fairly impressive coochie, though.

Franklin: Her leg is curled around and under. This isn't amputee porn! Which is not that exciting, by the way.



March 7, 2009, 5:13 PM

Curled under her left leg, Franklin. The toes of her right foot are showing, also curled (just go down in a straight vertical line from her clitoris). If her position seems a bit contorted, remember, this is a professional.



March 7, 2009, 5:17 PM

Oh, there it is. That's a talented woman.


Chris Rywalt

March 7, 2009, 5:20 PM

"just go down in a straight vertical line from her clitoris"

Words to live by.

(I believe this is the locker room atmosphere some have complained about in the past.)



March 7, 2009, 5:22 PM

I wouldn't want to accused of being discriminatory or anything, so here:

(This one, however, is inferior artistically to the other one).



March 7, 2009, 5:28 PM

By the way, "shunga" literally means "spring pictures."


Chris Rywalt

March 7, 2009, 7:06 PM




March 7, 2009, 8:59 PM

Precisely, Chris.

Some potential dialogue to go with the print in #48:

He: Whadda you think? Nice, huh?

She: Are you kidding me? So what am I, the Holland Tunnel?

He: Oh, c'mon! You should hear how guys compliment me in the locker room!

She: Fine. Tell them to accommodate you.

He: But I thought you'd be thrilled!

She: Thrilled? Try terrified. Look, honey, you need surgery. Either that or a woman who's delivered 15 babies. Big ones.

He: But, but...



March 7, 2009, 9:04 PM

I'm surprised MC hasn't joined us. Of course, I suppose poor Holofernes must be feeling pretty inadequate just now...



March 7, 2009, 10:56 PM

So, back to Yuskavage--though I keep wanting to write it Yuskagavage, presumably a Freudian slip. Anyhow, let's put Japanese genitalia aside, at least for now.

Chris, your review of her show, shockingly vicious though it may seem to Zwirmer's target audience (and possibly Chuck Close) is really too gentle--certainly with the shamelessly debased system that made her a star and apparently means to keep her one. Talk about obscene.

The images you put up are a total joke, very seriously embarrassing. I mean, except for people with absolutely no prior exposure to decent (let alone great) painting, it defies belief that anyone would go for this tripe. I know plenty of people do, or act like it, but it's still incredible. The work is truly sad and profoundly pitiful, given the context in which it has been placed.

OK, now we can resume talking about sexual organs.


Chris Rywalt

March 8, 2009, 8:16 AM

I really don't understand it. The Emperor's New Clothes doesn't even cover it. It's like, the Emperor's Whole New Wardrobe with Shoes. Worse. I don't know.

Maybe if I had a giant Gojira penis I wouldn't worry about it. I'd just be happy with going around thumping my manhood on tables.



March 8, 2009, 9:19 AM

What I said earlier was I didn't see much difference between Dong and Yucksavage, both seemed very trendy, like a vinyl go-go skirt. Somehow Chris turned it into a discussion about wangs and dongs, evading my earlier point about Dongs paintings.


Chris Rywalt

March 8, 2009, 9:42 AM

I wasn't trying to avoid you, Shirley. I thought my review of Yuskavage covered everything, and I'll be writing up Dong shortly. Anyway, Jack distracted me.

I don't think Yuskavage is as trendy as Dong. She was trendy about ten years ago. She's outdated now. Like a poodle skirt. You could get by with a vinyl miniskirt as a kind of retro-cheesy statement, especially if you've got the figure for it, but a poodle skirt is so far out of style it just looks nuts. That's my feeling on Yuskavage: She was elevated much too soon, because of trends having nothing to do with her, and now she's completely lost, like Deee-Lite wondering where the audience has gone.

Although, for all I know, her work is still selling as well as it ever did. I don't keep track of that kind of thing; I just piss on the art.

Dong is much more currently trendy, part of both the painting revival (of which I suppose Yuskavage is an early adopter) and the Asian (especially Chinese) obsession everyone's been on about for the past couple of years. Personally I don't think a work of art is good simply because the artist speaks Mandarin (or even Cantonese), but that's just me. Chelsea has been all over Chinese artists, especially if their work is almost completely Westernized, as Dong's is. It's kind of condescending, actually, although the Chelsea dealers most likely don't realize that. They'd probably claim "We just like great art no matter where it comes from!" But I find it telling that so many unpronounceable names are appearing on work that wouldn't be looked at twice if it'd been signed "Harry McHenry". I get a whiff of the dancing bear -- you know, it's not that the bear dances well, but that it dances at all. It's like they're patting these Chinese guys on the head: "Look what our backward cousins from overseas can do! Good little painter!"

Dong and Yuskavage's work also shares an uneasy sexuality. Their paintings are mostly overtly sexual, with plenty of unctuous genitals and startling nipples, parted lips and half-lidded eyes, rounded curvaceous buttocks. The kitschy porno aspect appeals to the extremely adolescent nature of art dealers in general, I think. They're uncomfortable with sex and can't deal with it in an adult manner, so infantilizing it and cordoning the feelings off in a little ironic ghetto makes it palatable.

As I get older I find it increasingly annoying.



March 8, 2009, 10:24 AM

I just saw a Deee-lite CD at a thrift shop yesterday, and was tempted to buy it, but it was like three bucks, so...

Holofernes is still sleeping, and I'm still noodling over the original post.

Visual quality isn't subjective, but our measurement of it usually is to varying degrees, even if we're all trying to measure in the same way, which most of the time we aren't, anyway.

Such current widespread difficulties with measurement do not alter the objective fact of the object's quality (or lack thereof).

But, the objective fact of the quality of an artwork is only detectable or measurable by a human mind, so by definition, it just cannot exist independent of minds. To say an artwork has quality is to say it acts on a mind in such and such a way. That is the function, the raison d'etre, of an artwork and its quality.

Here's a hypothetical experiment: a Neuroscientist presents an art-viewer (strapped into the high-tech brain reader) with a quality artwork to view. The brain of the art-viewer has a quality-measuring or quality detecting experience (which just feels like pleasure to the subject), which is documented by the scientist and his high tech device.

Then, the scientist hooks up a second, philistine subject to the machine, and uploads the art-viewers brain-state to the philistine, and the high-tech machine induces the same brain states, identical neuronal firing, etc., in the philistine, giving them the identical art-quality-measuring or -detecting experience (which creates the same "subjective" feeling of pleasure).

In this example, everything is made objective, non?



March 8, 2009, 10:34 AM

If he was able to replicate this a few million times and nail down a few factors of consistency etc yes, it would start getting objective, just as the observation that aspirin helps a headach is more or less objective. It has been consistently demonstrated,

And yes, by the same token, we can't say there is "art quality" in an object, any more than we can say there is "lack of headache" in an aspirin. We are examining consistency of result here, and the reasons for it.

The human brain is the thing being affected. Otheriwse the work of art is just thing, and even "just a thing" is, as an observation, the result of an effect on the brain.

I don't think we actually know how aspirin works, for that matter/



March 8, 2009, 10:44 AM

Yes, everything that exists, that we call 'objective' is dependent on human minds to perceive.

Common over-the-counter painkillers such as aspirin kill around 20000 Americans every year. Conversely, nobody has ever died from marijuana.

I wonder: is the widespread perception of the dangerousness of certain drugs objective, or subjective?



March 8, 2009, 11:00 AM

What gives us pleasure from, for instance, painting cannot, as far as I know, be described, cannot be pinned down, cannot be had from any other form. Isn't that what makes painting endure? If so, what would figuring painting out do to the art of painting? Would painting, which is so HARD to do, endure, or would figuring it out lead to an easier, more efficient means of getting what painting gives us?



March 8, 2009, 11:50 AM

It's not that Yuskavage was elevated too soon, but that she was elevated at all. There's no there there. The work is beyond embarrassing.



March 8, 2009, 11:59 AM

And by the way, Chris, I think you're on to something regarding infantilism or juvenile posturing among contemporary art dealers. I guess they figure it's pretty much required to project the desired image. It also applies to collectors, especially of a certain age, who are mortally afraid of appearing too mature.


Chris Rywalt

March 8, 2009, 11:59 AM

Well, there's no telling, Jack, where she might've gone if she'd been left alone to develop her work on her own. She's got the ability to put paint down pretty well, in a physical, technical sense. It's possible she could've moved on to better subject matter, found a better style, all kinds of things. Instead she was given success for her early work, leaving her now to try to replicate that success, to meet expectations, to justify the attention. I have no idea if she's even remotely a self-aware person, but if she is, I imagine it's difficult.

Probably the burden is somewhat lightened when she dries her eyes with hundred dollar bills, but it's still difficult.


Chris Rywalt

March 8, 2009, 12:02 PM

I really do think most humans don't mature past a certain level. Last night at Watchmen every time there was even a hint of male nudity, a chuckle rippled through the audience. Not that I expected funereal, respectful silence at a comic book flick -- and I made a few dick jokes myself -- but to find male nudity something to gurgle uncomfortably at, we should be past that at about 16 years of age, shouldn't we?



March 8, 2009, 12:06 PM

I still remember some female literary type (who obviously had no business writing about art) rhapsodizing over Yuskavage. I think we discussed the piece in question here. She went on and on about LY's "beautiful painting," as if she'd been talking about Velazquez. I mean, please.



March 8, 2009, 12:12 PM

Immaturity is what you get when culture consists only of popular entertainments. The situation that Yuskavage finds herself in is more evidence that arrival = prison.



March 8, 2009, 12:18 PM

Chris, you give her too much credit, but no doubt she would have tried harder, and presumably done better, if she hadn't been allowed to operate like a car running on gas fumes, as opposed to actual gasoline. The work is vapid, empty and cloying. It's like Marie Osmond doing porn. No, thanks.


Chris Rywalt

March 8, 2009, 12:35 PM

I'd pay to see Marie Osmond doing porn.



March 8, 2009, 12:44 PM

To borrow a little bit from the argument Sam Johnson had with Bishop Berkeley:

A 10 ton rock, when dropped from a height of 10 feet above a human being onto said human being, demonstrates its capacity to crush a human.

That capacity to crush a human exists in the rock regardless of whether anyone experiences it or not.

A 10 ounce rock, when dropped from a height of 10 feet above a human being onto said human being, demonstrates its lack of capacity to crush a human.

The capacity to crush a human does not exist in the rock regardless of whether anyone tests it or not.

The capacity or lack thereof is independent of human awareness and has its own mode of existence, some "vulgarians" might say "it is real". These vulgarians would not want to stand underneath a 10 ton rock that was unstable.

The same goes for the sound created by a tree falling in the forest where there are no humans to hear it. Whatever "sound" may be, it is there, and the capacity to affect the ear in a certain way is intrinsic to the event, regardless of whether any ears are affected.

The same goes for a beautiful object. Whatever makes it beautiful inheres in the object first, independent of anyone's perception, before it can be perceived by a beholder. The kicker is that perceiving beauty is not quantitative and therefore does not allow the precision that quantitative measurements allow. Sometimes we feel that beauty is there when it is not, other times we fail to feel beauty when it is there. Gasp! We are not perfect perceivers.

Aristotle admonished his audience not to seek certitude when the subject under consideration does not admit of certitude. I would like to suggest that we not let our mistakes lead us into denying what is delivered by our intuitive experience of beautiful things - that the objects are beautiful. The lack of consistent agreement, even between our own different experiences of the same object, does not disprove this. Rather it points to the fuzzy nature of experiencing qualities as opposed to experiencing quantities.

Science, which will only consider that which is measurable, does not have consistent agreement either. At one time the "consensus" of science said the earth was flat. It was wrong, just as the current consensus that Hirst is a great artist is wrong. That opinion revises itself in both cases does not mean both endeavors are entirely matters of perception.

While I believe there must be something "out there" to perceive, I can't prove beauty inheres in beautiful things, I can only know that it does. I don't find this troubling. Instead, I take comfort in it.



March 8, 2009, 12:59 PM

I notice a lot of water flowed under the bridge while I was writing #69. In it I was addressing MC's general subject in #58.



March 8, 2009, 1:00 PM

Make that #59 by MC.



March 8, 2009, 3:51 PM

Chris, your male gaze problem is getting out of hand. Actually, I think it's been out of hand for quite some time.



March 8, 2009, 9:12 PM

Well, if Yuskavage doesn't satisfy, there's always...Inka Essenhigh!

Maybe I should look into amputee porn. I mean, Chris has. Of course, I expect he's looked into leper porn, harelip porn, colostomy porn...

On second thought, maybe I should give Louise Bourgeois another shot. Or not.



March 8, 2009, 9:37 PM

This may be naive of me, but Yuskavage's problem ( as with Currin and Wong) seems to be that beauty (or sincerity) cannot be directly addressed or expressed in the contemporary market. It must be kept at a distance by either grotesquerie or politics, or plain old irony. Also, in the crowded marketplace, art needs to jump up and down to stand out, and these qualities serve that purpose. "If it makes me uncomfortable, I know it's interesting." Yuskavage's first widely seen paintings had both beauty and the grotesque and she made it into the club, so as was said above, she was imprisoned by that successful mix. To be completely cynical, I suppose the appeal to beauty through skilled painting could be seen as just another tactic that displaces sincerity. You have to think that there must be a love of painting that got these artists going in the first place. Currin's paintings of his children are telling - they are utterly beautiful. He dropped the grotesque when confronted with something truly beautiful - being a parent will do that to you.



March 8, 2009, 10:29 PM

David, the marketplace you're referring to is a circus sideshow. Bonnie and Clyde's Death Car, etc., etc., ad infinitum. A sincere artist might get in there for one reason or another, but the machine of that sideshow will mangle the intentions of the artist. Then, if the artist doesn't cooperate, the artist gets spit out like a grape seed. I don't know exactly what role sincerity plays in things. Nazis were sincere.

"I suppose the appeal to beauty through skilled painting could be seen as just another tactic that displaces sincerity."

What was the deal with Bouguereau, for instance? All of that technique and eye turned to the most styrofoam sentimentality, stroking the most insipid bourgeois values. Did he take a wrong turn? Was it a question of character? The latter is what I think is true.



March 8, 2009, 11:52 PM

What was the deal with Bouguereau, for instance?

He certainly was skilled and had some talent, but not nearly enough, and little or no inspiration. Sentimentality rushed in to fill these voids, as it often does when someone is that skilled and insists upon working without the other assets. I contrast him to Ingres who was fully his equal in skill, but quite superior in talent, and who found inspiration in the same bourgeois values that undid Bouguereau.



March 9, 2009, 12:31 AM

The difference between Ingres and Bouguereau is that Ingres wasn't hollow.



March 9, 2009, 2:45 AM

Well Tim, you knew those guys well?



March 9, 2009, 8:22 AM

Thinking about that market I described as a side show is useful. And sorry to bring up sincerety. It sounds too much like sentiment, which naturally leads to Bougereau. My armor slipped for a minute. All adjusted properly now.



March 9, 2009, 9:06 AM

Actually what got me thinking about the sideshow market was Jerry Saltz's video from the Armory show.

I'll suggest a caption for the image: "This is a sculpture made from rolled up balls of shit." Jerry's a sincere guy.



March 9, 2009, 9:17 AM

You got me there, John.


Chris Rywalt

March 9, 2009, 9:29 AM

Jack sez:
Well, if Yuskavage doesn't satisfy, there's always...Inka Essenhigh!

I haven't seen her work in a long time but I really liked it last time I did.



March 9, 2009, 9:32 AM

"The same goes for the sound created by a tree falling in the forest where there are no humans to hear it. Whatever "sound" may be, it is there, and the capacity to affect the ear in a certain way is intrinsic to the event, regardless of whether any ears are affected."

Whatever "sound" may be, it is three things: a tree falling, an environment with air (whatever "air" may be), and an ear (whatever "ear" may be). If you change one of these things, the "sound" will be different. If you remove any one of these things, there simply is no "sound". A tree falling in the vacuum of space makes no "sound" even in the presence of an "ear", just as an ear and an airy field make no "sound" without a falling tree, just as the tree and the field make no "sound" without the ear.


Chris Rywalt

March 9, 2009, 9:39 AM

Jerry directed his Facebook friends to that video saying, "N.Y. Mag. made this looneytune of me". That about sums it up.


Chris Rywalt

March 9, 2009, 9:48 AM

The whole "sound" argument really depends on how you define sound. Remember that that thought experiment was imagined before the scientific method -- I think -- and that our modern definition of sound didn't exist. Nowadays sound is defined as varying densities of a fluid (he said, roughly working it up from his memory of physics). So a tree falling in a forest definitely makes a sound whether or not anyone's around to hear it.

However, MC, you've defined "sound" as a complex of things: The varying densities in the fluid and the ear perceiving them. Scientifically, we don't need the ear. Philosophically we can say we do, that a sound, by definition, requires someone to hear it. But, really, post-science, I'd say that's a stretch. We have a good working definition of sound. It enables us to make predictions about the world and how it operates. It's an excellent model. And it doesn't need ears.

This is similar to the evaporation/sublimation argument we had earlier; those words may have been coined before the science was developed, but now that we can define them scientifically, it seems to me that's how we should use them.



March 9, 2009, 9:52 AM

Yes Chris, it does depend on how you define "sound"...

This is from Merriam

1 a: a particular auditory impression : tone b: the sensation perceived by the sense of hearing c: mechanical radiant energy that is transmitted by longitudinal pressure waves in a material medium (as air) and is the objective cause of hearing


Chris Rywalt

March 9, 2009, 10:20 AM

Here we go quoting dictionaries again. Is this junior high school? Has it occurred to anyone here that we're smarter and closer to primary sources than the people who compile dictionaries? Our whipping out the dictionary to prove a point is like Jesus Christ, during the Second Coming, turning to the Pope and asking, "Did I get that right?"



March 9, 2009, 10:50 AM

Chris, regarding Inka, you have issues. It's like the Pixar version of Dali.

Unless, of course, you like Dali...


Chris Rywalt

March 9, 2009, 11:03 AM

I don't not like Dali, let's say that. I loved Dali before I learned -- really experienced -- the difference between originals and reproductions. Dali will always have a special place in my heart, or some internal organ or other, much the same way I'll always have a thing for Vargas, Olivia, Vallejo, Frazetta, Giger, and so on. I recognize this as a sort of vestigial tail. I've found so much more to love in other artists, I can't really claim to love Dali any more, but neither can I repudiate him.

Inka's work, like any other, needs to be experienced. In person that one I reproduce on my site was really fantastic. Online it looks kind of obvious and flat, not especially interesting, but in real life it has a certain alchemy. Better than Dali.

Although Dali's really big paintings are still pretty impressive. Have you been to the Dali museum in St. Petersburg? It's pretty cool.



March 9, 2009, 11:34 AM

Chris, in some respects, all sorts of non-art things can be said to be fantastic or have some sort of alchemy, including a ride at Disneyworld. I haven't seen the piece you're talking about in person, but I have seen an Essenhigh solo show filled with very big pieces indeed. I was not impressed. Frankly, I prefer Dali, and yes, that's an insult.


Chris Rywalt

March 9, 2009, 11:39 AM

When I say a work of art is fantastic, I mean as a work of art. I liked it as a painting, not as a ride at Disney World.

I've seen a number of Inka's paintings, although, as I said, not in the past year at least. Not all of them are very good. Mostly they're not much to look at. The one I mentioned in my review, though, was the best of them all, and I thought it was very, very good. I don't know if I'd consider it a masterpiece today -- as Franklin likes to point out, taste is relative, and I've seen a lot since then -- but I think I'd still like it.

Which is not to say you'd like it.



March 9, 2009, 11:47 AM

Chris, go to her website. That's her official website. Click on "work." Five thumbnails will show up. Click on the last one, something called "Age of Aquarius." I'm sorry, but that's what I call a fatal error. Game over.


Chris Rywalt

March 9, 2009, 11:51 AM

Um, okay, that does look really bad.



March 9, 2009, 12:19 PM

Chris, you're not a bad person. You're a pussycat. You were probably breast-fed a bit too long, but that's OK. It happens in the best families. Or so I hear.


Chris Rywalt

March 9, 2009, 12:40 PM

I wasn't breastfed at all, and I'm still bitter about it. That and my circumcision. (My mother made twenty-five bucks on it, because her insurance paid for it but the doctor threw it in for free.)



March 9, 2009, 12:48 PM

Oh, I see. It's some kind of twisted Oedipal thing. Cool. So I guess you've, uh, sublimated your disappointment with your mother by being too soft on young, attractive female artists hoping they will breast feed you--is that it?


O'Dee Puss

March 9, 2009, 1:20 PM

You guys are gross



March 9, 2009, 1:35 PM

All right, Chris; now I feel bad for you, what with your deprived-baby status and all. This lovely shunga print might make you feel a little better:

Nice, eh?


that guy

March 9, 2009, 1:37 PM

Anybody else think the "fake Jack" is back?



March 9, 2009, 1:40 PM

It's the real Jack. Chris is just a very bad influence. It's all his fault.


Chris Rywalt

March 9, 2009, 2:27 PM

I'm pretty sure Inka's older than I am (Wikipedia check: She's got about a year on me). Also, the few times I've met her she reacted as if she thought I might eat her. So I'm not being nice to her in the hopes of anything.

I've been making a conscious effort to stop being nice to pretty girls. Enough people are nice to them without my adding to it. I'm trying to at least ignore them, since, as a good Boy Scout, I find it hard to be actively mean to them. So I don't hold doors for them any more, but I don't slam them in their faces, either.

Actually, I hold doors for everyone. Old habits, you know.



March 9, 2009, 3:35 PM

the few times I've met her she reacted as if she thought I might eat her

Chris, I am not, repeat, not touching that. But I hope everyone can see how your deceptively innocent baits are corrupting my otherwise sterling character. You are a monster of depravity, you are.



March 11, 2009, 9:59 AM

Rywalt: 0


Chris Rywalt

March 12, 2009, 8:42 AM

Dear Marc, sincerely, Chris.



March 12, 2009, 8:59 AM

See Chris, it isn't that hard to look things up once in a while!

And, that site is great, because if you have trouble pronouncing the word, there's a little sound file that contains, um, varying densities of a fluid, or somesuch... I'm a little fuzzy on the details.



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