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The new center of the art world

Post #1375 • July 30, 2009, 10:15 AM • 60 Comments

According to Bill Wasik, it's the Internet.

Meanwhile, another destination beckons, a place that courses with all the raw ambition and creative energy that the hard times seem to have drained from New York. I am referring, of course, to the Internet, which over the past decade has slowly become the de facto heart of American culture: the public space in which our most influential conversations transpire, in which our new celebrities are discovered and touted, in which fans are won and careers made. ...

The experience of moving online actually bears quite a few similarities to becoming a New Yorker. Disorienting and seemingly endless, the Internet conversation moves at lightning speed and according to unstated social rules that can bewilder outsiders. Also, like New Yorkers, residents of the Internet do not suffer fools, or mince words in belittling them, as anyone who has contributed a redundant post to Metafilter, or an earnest comment to Gawker, can attest.

According to Ed Winkleman, it may be Berlin, but it's probably the Internet.

After surfing around the site a bit I began to wonder whether the "center" of the art world even needs to a be one physical location anymore. We still need to experience the art in person, of course, but there's always been two important factors in what made a location the "center of the art world." The fact that you could view the art there (and with the proliferation of international fairs and biennials, a physical center becomes less of a requirement) and the fact that you could find a high concentration of knowledgeable people there. The speed of communication from anywhere to anywhere today makes travelling to one place for that less important today as well.

Imagine a scenario in which artists, armed with readily available information about how to take control of their careers, do so. It becomes common for artists to cultivate their own collector bases and media contacts. Artists pull down price points, favor work that reproduces well, and make it available through their own online stores. Just as everyone knows that there's no substitute for hearing music in person, but hardly anyone consumes the majority of their music that way anymore, people start buying art online as a matter of course. Galleries stop representing artists and start representing works. The majority of artists disappear into the crowd, as they tend to anyway, but for the first time, so do the majority of galleries, as more and more business gets done online and they find themselves increasingly disintermediated.

Galleries respond by leveraging the one irreproducible aspect of their operation: their space. Their exhibition calendar becomes their portfolio, which they then have to draw attention to in the same way that artists have to draw attention to their portfolios, via largely the same channels. Opening receptions in major metropolitan areas become ever more elaborate, liquored, and deejayed, while the exhibition run fills up with artist talks, performances, and anything else that will draw bodies into the building. Galleries, administratively speaking, begin to resemble stage theaters. Taking cues from savvier artists, galleries begin producing audio and video tours of exhibitions by increasingly noteworthy narrators. It becomes common for an exhibition to have both a physical and digital presence. Critics consequently feel free to comment upon work that they haven't seen in person.

Welcome to the new center of the art world: nowhere in particular.




July 30, 2009, 11:19 AM

"Center" is something of a fiction. "Center of attention" is more like it, because you can sit in a chair and participate in much more much better than before. By now this is true of most human activities.

The money (and the actual experience of art), is still in the physical sale of a physical thing from a physical place to go on a physical wall, or whereever.

Music, I would argue, is different - it has a diffrent commercial dynamic - but I'd rather not argue about it at the moment.

So far no one has managed to really turn these two apparent irreconcilables into a unified "center". Whoever does better patent it real quick.


Tom Hering

July 30, 2009, 11:44 AM

What I like about your scenario, Franklin, is what's missing: a lot of relationship landmines that can ruin an artist's career with one wrong step. Face-to-face interactions with critics, dealers and curators become less important. Though personally meeting with collectors (at some point) probably becomes more important.

Overall, internet relationships are less hazardous, because one has the opportunity to carefully consider one's words and actions. Of course, becoming skilled in communicating exactly what you mean via emails and websites - rather than something you didn't intend - becomes very important. And in your career as an web-centric artist, you have to be careful about what you say anywhere on the internet. It's all public knowledge.



July 30, 2009, 6:34 PM

Berlin, eh? How nice. I guess. The thing is, what real difference does it make? Essentially none, from my standpoint as a non-artist. The "center," real or imagined, is not the point, certainly not mine. The only real issue is, is the stuff to be found there worth bothering with in the first place, regardless of location? Is it truly, significantly, substantially better than the stuff anywhere (or everywhere) else? Unless the answer is a resounding Yes, I couldn't care less where the center is, or isn't.



July 30, 2009, 10:11 PM

Franklin, the center you envision, it could be interesting to watch. I couldn't see expending the effort involved in negotiating and navigating it; I would think that if one is actually doing anything, then one is too busy for all of that. In no time it becomes a kind of crowded side show. Moving around physically from gallery to gallery, place to place, at least one gets exercise and gets to exercise more than one sense, and has an opportunity to interact directly with others.

An art center is a kind of street market. It takes a certain type/temperament to turn it to account.



July 30, 2009, 11:16 PM

Franklin is right about "nowhere in particular". I suspect that art itself has become nothing in particular as well.

I have often used my bastardized version of Schopenhauer's "will" to describe the brute force with which art pursues its own goodness, I've come to wonder if art didn't slip up when it allowed pluralism to run rampant. As a budding artist in the 60s pluralism excited me; it seemed like art was busting out all over and was fully in charge of its own destiny, a destiny that it had decided to expand. Now it looks more like the beginning of a wreck that art should have been smart enough to squash, but didn't.

As Colin Powell said the other night on Larry King, when you attack on too many fronts at once, you lose them all. In the middle 80s Darby Bannard called the art scene what it was, a "glut". But that was nothing compared to what it is now. There is so much of it that high culture is suffocating underneath an immense expanse of eutrophied but fertile financial success. I used to think this was the fault of artists, but now I'm inclined to include art itself as one of the responsible entities. In extending itself to include more possibilities and the widest possible audience, it corrupted its own nature.

Those who defend what art has become by saying things are different now may be right. We may just have to get over good, better, best and settle for interesting or not.



July 30, 2009, 11:36 PM

Good observation, John. I never thought of it that way.

Of course "interesting" and "good" are more or less the same, far as I'm concerned.

You say "eutrophied but fertile", but isn't eutrophy an instance of extreme fertility anyway? Why "but"?



July 31, 2009, 12:32 AM

You are right that "eutrophied" water is very fertile, but the fertility supports huge quantities of lower forms of life that are more efficient at consuming oxygen than higher forms. Thus "eutrophied" implies lack of oxygen, at least as it is needed by complex forms of life. They are crowded out by the morass of algae and other types of living slime that get the O2 first and replace it with nitrogen. Eventually the eutrophied body of water is filled in by the decomposed crap that flourished so vehemently in its final fling of raw fertility, so that it is no longer a body of water. Some algae is good, too much is toxic, just as some money is good for art while too much has harmed it. I suppose the question is "fertile for what?" Overfertilzed art seems to be good only for the middle brows. D. Hirst's diamond covered skull wasn't possible until the art scene eutrophied. I guess that makes it "new".

"Interesting" and "good" are the same to you because you can see. When one cannot see, as is the case with many curators these days, they signify very different things. Cloaca was interesting but not good. Nor was it bad. It existed outside the good-bad continuum. So does the skull; it is a freakish conversation piece that far outstrips the interest created by human gall stones cultured gentlemen carried around in the 18th century.



July 31, 2009, 12:40 AM

And there I go again - saying something that is held up as art, and of the highest, most expensive caliber, is not art at all, but something else.



July 31, 2009, 8:48 AM

"Interesting to look at" and "good" are certainly the same, but typically I make a distinction between "good" and "interesting" because generally people don't distinguish between "interesting to look at" and "interesting to ponder." In fact, they generally don't distinguish between any interesting qualities, and conclude that a work of art succeeds by being interesting for any reason whatsoever.

This is depressing, but it provides a nifty hack for the advancement of visually good work. It relates to the lookers and readers discussion from last year. There are people who tend towards reading who nevertheless have something of an eye. One could provide them with a story of some kind, either in the art itself, or in the personal narrative of the artist. I'm pulling some of the things going on in my comics work into my painting, to give an example of the former (although I'm doing it for reasons inherent to the work, not as a hack to interest readers). As for the latter, I would read John all day if he put up a blog about his studio process and his thoughts about the universe. Reader-lookers hook on to the story and then you give them good work that they might not detect otherwise, as a pure, uncompromised looker like Jack would on his own. People who are readers through and through you don't bother with, and if they buy your work for absurd conceptual reasons, you refrain from scolding them and acknowledge that the world is an odd place.

As for the music/art divide when it comes to distribution, it's true that mp3s deliver in a way that jpegs just don't, but there is an element of training and familiarity here as well. People eventually are going to recognize what's going on in a screen-based image of art well enough to get an idea of what it will do for them in person, and buy accordingly. Initially you would have to smooth out the transaction with a generous return policy, or price things low enough to put a floor under potential disappointment, but I have a feeling that we're headed there one way or another.



July 31, 2009, 9:05 AM

Franklin, I like a nice, genuinely interesting "read" as much as the next guy, but if you tell me it's art, it had better be worth looking at first, reading aside. Maybe I'm biased (imagine that), but I think that's eminently reasonable, not to say perfectly logical.



July 31, 2009, 9:28 AM

You're doing it right, Jack, but unfortunately that makes you a rare sort of creature. Frankly, there aren't enough of you out there to support all the explicitly visual visual art being made. Not your problem, of course, but it's mine, big time.



July 31, 2009, 10:20 AM

"You're right, but you're strange and totally out-of-it." Yes, that would be the story of my life, generally speaking. There are not so many sheep out there for nothing. At least they have lots of company.


Jeff Caporizzo

July 31, 2009, 10:54 AM


Stumbled onto this conversation in my first ever visit to the blog. The collective cerebral power and its written expression here are impressive and refreshing, I think I need to be a bit more caffienated next time I visit to keep up.

The internet as the center for art? I'm all for it. While I agree that there is nothing like seeing an original work in person, and enjoy face to face discussion about my work (or good work, or interesting work), the internet can give art something it desperately needs, millions and millions of eyeballs.

Because as alluded to in some of your comments, the artworld, through some fault of its own, it not very accessible. Pieces are cloistered in museums, studios, auction houses, private collections, or galleries - they are decidedly off the beaten path for most people.

Some of you may argue this is ok. Let me be clear, I'm not suggesting that by making Art mainstream we dumb it down, or let the audience off the hook that what they are looking at IS NOT as easily interpreted as say, American Idol or their Sunday Parade Magazine, quite the contrary.

What I'm saying is that there is something wonderful that happens when people are exposed to Art, and if we make it easier to experience, we get more wonderfulness. The internet has proven a good way to do this.

If more people see art, they might be inspired to learn about it, they might appreciate it more, they might encourage their children to pursue it, they might vote their tax dollars to support it and yes, they might even buy more of it.

And of course the benefit to artists will follow the same paths as their compatriots in writing, music and comic art - all of which used to have to go through the limiting sphincter of a publisher or record executive or major comics co. editor to claw a place on the roster, now the artist can gain a following on his/her own and leverage that into representation and distribution. This is a good thing.

And again, I agree with Franklin. To gain all this some things are lost, thats the nature of change, and the nature of life - it ain't perfect. But Art in every computer in the world? Every Blackberry? Every iPhone? Art reaching millions of people, 24 hours a day? I'm all for it.



July 31, 2009, 11:25 AM

Keep coming back Jeff. We need all the intelligent discourse we can get.

Be careful about "the more the better" approach, though. it has mixed results. We have had a number of discussions here about the effects of art's popularity. They (the effects) are not all good.

Franklin, to me anything "interesting" to look at is at least an opening to something "good" as art. It's what catches my eye, the glint of gold in the pan.

Music, in the "second hand" sense, is much more deliverable than art. Listening to a chamber work on a good sound system is way more direct than looking at a painting on a computer screen. Of course the commercial problem with painting (visual art) is that you can't reproduce sellable units, not in any commercially practical way. Too bad for us.

As for readers, I guess anything is OK if it invegles people in, although as i write this the caveats start knocking at the door.



July 31, 2009, 11:33 AM

Franklin has hit another nail - well done mp3s do a damn good job of presenting music nearly at its fullest, assuming good equipment to play them on. Sometimes even better than live, perhaps ...

JPEGs yield just a general feeling of level, but really start to come up short if your looking for more than that. Which is why the internet probably can't substitute for a real "center".

There is no theoretical reason that the internet can be the source for reading about art, though. It is just that printed publications carry so much more muscle in the minds of so many. Internet art writing suffers from the same kind of pluralistic glut that art itself suffers from. The raw fertility suffocates the higher forms. (Not that there are higher forms of writing that use print as their mode of existence ... but there is no doubt that most artists would prefer being the subject of a feature article in Art in America over just about any kind of internet exposure.)


Jeff Caporizzo

July 31, 2009, 11:48 AM

Thanks Opie

No question, (along the "it ain't perfect" lines) the internet as a center for art won't all be good, but I think will be better (in the aggregate) than where it is/was.

Admittedly I'm a fan of the internet (and its paradigm-shifting effects) across the board - democracy, communication, art, music, writing, medicine, interior design, whatever.



July 31, 2009, 12:59 PM

I am a big fan of the interenet too, Jeff. More than that, I think the effects of the internet, when they sink in, will be seen as deeply life-changing. The information flow is creating all kinds of new synapses. It is an evolutionary change.One clear instance of this may be the recent reaction to the elections Iran - those young people there know what they are missing.

John your algae-killing-the-fish idea is a rich one. I always thought of the results of pluralism as diluting and lowering but smothering certainly does its part. Everything good comes from narrowing and simplifying and concentrating.

" When anything can be art, art isn't much of anything" (From Opie's Homespun Almanac)



July 31, 2009, 1:07 PM

Right opie. Pomo isn't really the problem, only the effect of the problem. In fact, one word it has contributed (deconstruct) I've begun to like. Sprawling, undisciplined pluralism I can't treat so kindly.



July 31, 2009, 2:16 PM

Yes the internet...and now a TV reality art show filmed in Miami called Work of Genius! Terrible



July 31, 2009, 2:25 PM

I think we can file that under Opie's caveats.



July 31, 2009, 2:32 PM

Well, you know what they say: reality sucks.



July 31, 2009, 6:12 PM

By the way, Franklin, that previous lookers vs. readers thread you linked in #9 is pretty decent. Oh, and I liked hearing myself described as "a pure, uncompromised looker." At least, that's what I strive to be.



August 1, 2009, 10:25 PM

I originally read this topic on Edward Winkleman’s blog and glad to see it on the discussion here. As far as a world where galleries start representing “works” rather than artists, I believe “works” without artists are just objects. Just as paintings, sculpture etc. are not art but merely objects until there is an audience to respond to them. There will be the temptation for artists to choose pieces that reproduce well or to paint in a way that would make it easier to photograph. That would be tedious for the creator and a step removed from hackery. It would be refreshing to see more work that looks better in person than online. Sadly I’ve seen a lot which look good online but anemic in the flesh versus older art which looks better in person but not digitally or in print (this might be because what has survived were pieces whose merit ensured their conservation).

The proliferation of so much art available to see on the internet requires very strict filters. You have to really know what you want to avoid all the randomness. Perhaps there is a post-pluralistic world (as discussed by Winkleman) wherein there arises a trending towards specificity as opposed to (let’s face it) “anything goes.” There is the idea spreading now that artists only need a 1000 fans who respond viscerally to the artist’s highly specialized vision or style. The world gets bigger and smaller at the same time. To survive, artists must not get lost in the sea of the greater masses.

I need to see paint in person and absorb its nuances. The paint skin in itself is what painting is. There is also matters of scale. Artistotle is still correct when he wrote that “beauty consists in magnitude and order.” Difficult to feel meditative seeing an Agnes Martin on your browser window. The expanse of canvas is part of the experience. Otherwise a poster would satisfy. Having said thus, I look at stuff online first, then decide if it’s worth the trip.



August 2, 2009, 7:10 AM

Good point, Fatima. Some of the best art of our time looks like nothing on the computer screen. And conversely, most of the specious art improves little seen in person.

A work seen on the computer screen conveys much information about itself but it can't really tell us how good it is, any more than you can tell much about a person from a mug shot.



August 2, 2009, 8:50 AM

The internet can be the center (especially for those who don't live in physical art centers or don't care for the art in such places), but individuals now have the power to define what that center means. It's made it possible for art to move beyond what social institutions sanction. It could be more individualistic and less museal, less conscious of being seen in institutions. Possibly more intuitive and less conceptual.



August 2, 2009, 9:02 AM

Agreed on all points, with the reservation that 72ppi web images on 1280x1024 screens aren't going to be with us forever. Last year Toshiba came out with a 22-inch LCD panel that was 3840x2400. That's roughly 205ppi. (Sticky-note calculation assuming stated pixel count, 22-inch diagonal, and 16:10 screen ratio.) A printed book is 300dpi. Even once screen displays meet and exceed the quality of printed reproductions, jpegs are still not going to deliver on scale and physicality, but we'll be very well set up to make the kind of judgment Fatima describes, deciding whether something is worth the trip, or even whether something might be worth purchasing.

I have brought up the 1000 True Fans hypothesis here before and I find it an intriguing idea.


Tom Hering

August 2, 2009, 9:05 AM

The original vs reproduction question is one I've thought about a lot.

Other than my father's paintings, I never saw an original until I was 25, when I made my first visit to an art museum. Reproductions were the only fine art I saw while growing up. (And it's still the way I experience most fine art.)

To this day, I feel that my exposure to nothing but reproductions while growing up was a real experience of fine art. I also recognize that reproductions are the way most people experience fine art, all through their lives.

All this has made me very conscious of the importance of reproduction. My work is (and always has been) made with reproduction in mind. There isn't much in one of my originals that a good 2D reproduction wouldn't communicate (the only real exception being a sense of physical presence). I even feel that the reproduction of my art - by others for others - would be the ultimate validation of my art. Not the purchase of my originals.

So the possibility that the "center" of the art world is shifting to the internet doesn't disturb me. I welcome it.



August 2, 2009, 9:43 AM

Thanks Franklin for letting me know about your post on the 1000 fans. When you think about a typical artist's output for a lifetime...this hypothesis hits the nail.



August 2, 2009, 10:33 AM

Somehow, "making the internet the center of art" associates itself with pluralism. The internet expands potential like crazy, that is certain. But it achieves this by the classical method Aristotle described, eliminating defining characteristics. To which it adds acceleration of the rate by which whatever is left changes. The less you have in the first place, the less it resists change, and the more it resembles the evolution of nothing.

Once change loses contact with substance and attempts to become substance itself, it becomes a black hole that consumes rather than builds. I think Hawking has observed that those in the process of being swallowed by a black hole do not experience it as destruction. They think this mode of existence is "normal".

Before new participants judge me to be anti-tech, they should know I have authored commercial software, have been a system administrator for unix networks, build my own computers, and run my own mail server.



August 2, 2009, 10:42 AM

I apologize for the rampant credentialism in my last post. I simply could not think of a better way to show that my criticism of the internet is based on experience, not apriori rejection.


Tom Hering

August 2, 2009, 1:19 PM

I see the internet as something more than just another venue for the sale of originals. I see it as an alternative art world. Existing side by side with the traditional art world. So it really isn't a matter of the internet becoming the "new center" of the art world, but rather a matter of the internet becoming its own art world. With its own way of doing things. This is already happening. And we are creating the lay of the land as we move forward through it.



August 2, 2009, 2:07 PM

Almost all of us see most art in reproduction. This is the mode in which we see art.

You see most of the facts in the reproduction. But you see the art on the wall.

Seeing the real thing is the real thing.


Tom Hering

August 2, 2009, 2:45 PM

opie, looking at reproductions moved and inspired me while I was growing up. Looking at them was responsible for my decision to become an artist. So I learned how it's possible for reproductions to be a real experience of art.

Yes, if a work of art is made to be seen in person, then seeing the original is the ultimate experience of that work. But if a work of art is made to be seen in reproduction, then seeing a reproduction is the ultimate experience of that work. You are seeing the work the way the artist intended. It's the real thing.



August 2, 2009, 2:48 PM

Well, the center of the art world (which, in this day and age, may not amount to much anyway) is definitely not Miami. Today I dropped by MAM (Miami Art Museum). Yes, I was that bored. I got in free (I wouldn't have gone otherwise), but it was hardly worth the change I put into the parking meter. Of course, I knew not to expect much, if anything, which was some consolation.

There was some contrived theme show upstairs, which I won't bother discussing, and a show of "new acquisitions," which is why I went (hope springs eternal, and all that). Clearly, I'm not part of their target audience. The best I could say for it (and by no means all) was that it was feebly interesting, and more in a clinical than artistic sense (depending on one's perspective and/or occupation, even disease can be interesting, after a fashion).

MAM is poised, or so one hears, for a major upgrade (meaning a new, and suitably expensive, museum facility). The prospect of the sort of thing they've delivered so far, magnified by a bigger, slicker, trendier space, is hardly promising. But then again, I'm not their target. If I were, no bailout could save them.



August 2, 2009, 6:46 PM

Sorry you had to go through that Jack. I expect to see loads of filler on the internet, but it really sucks to be subjected to it in person. I confess, I don't have a beef with either the internet or the brick and mortar spaces. As long as I still have the senses to choose what I'd like to see or experience, it's all good. I'll worry when I start mindlessly absorbing or pursuing. I try not to confuse art with life/nature/theory/internet and that keeps me in a happy state.



August 2, 2009, 7:40 PM

Haven't read Ed's blog but 'specifics' are a priority. Those that care about painting should promote it, make it, talk about its history as painting, not ART, not as some ill fitting aspect of this grand new horizon. Well honed, perfectly valid, deadly serious and committed practice. Same goes for sculpture. We should stress these as the specific disciplines they are without recourse to speculation on how or why they matter to BIG ART. I just don't have hopes of it coming around to take painting or sculpture seriously in any credible way any time soon. It's not where any of the decision makers heads are at, at all. These little revivals in interest for traditional mediums are thin on authenticity every time. In fact I don't think this game played at this scale can do anything good for anything.

For now, so what if serious work basically falls off the screen of BIG ART. We'll just keep grinding it out. Complaining about an audience that doesn't see it won't cut it. I'm with Franklin. For now I'll be out fishing for my 1000 Fans. If I find them, that's all I'll need. I just wanna make stuff. They have to be out there, along with enough good work.

Dust ya shoulders off New Mod.



August 2, 2009, 8:00 PM

Dude, that's why I mainly blog about process specific to my work. I really do like how I work. Every now and then, like over here, I dip my toes in the pond, splash around a bit and now I'd like to get back in the boat.



August 2, 2009, 10:02 PM

Tom you write "To this day, I feel that my exposure to nothing but reproductions while growing up was a real experience of fine art"

Of course it is real. Just incomplete, as such, as art. My first real "lock" on a work of art was from a Ben Nicholson in a tiny reproduction in a Sunday newspper Roto section when I was 11 years old. It certainly was real, but not the same as looking at an original.

You also say "But if a work of art is made to be seen in reproduction, then seeing a reproduction is the ultimate experience of that work. You are seeing the work the way the artist intended. It's the real thing."

This is not necessaruly true. The intention of the artist really has nothing to do with it. For example, I have see many originals of Norman Rockwell, whom I admire as an artist, illustrator and technician. The originals are better.

I am not fetishizing originality; There is plenty of art that looks better in reproduction (I had that experience with Baselitz recently - bad in reproduction, worse in person). But I have never had the experience that good art looks better in reproduction. It is always somewhat incomplete at best.



August 2, 2009, 10:02 PM

Tom you write "To this day, I feel that my exposure to nothing but reproductions while growing up was a real experience of fine art"

Of course it is real. Just incomplete, as such, as art. My first real "lock" on a work of art was from a Ben Nicholson in a tiny reproduction in a Sunday newspper Roto section when I was 11 years old. It certainly was real, but not the same as looking at an original.

You also say "But if a work of art is made to be seen in reproduction, then seeing a reproduction is the ultimate experience of that work. You are seeing the work the way the artist intended. It's the real thing."

This is not necessaruly true. The intention of the artist really has nothing to do with it. For example, I have see many originals of Norman Rockwell, whom I admire as an artist, illustrator and technician. The originals are better.

I am not fetishizing originality; There is plenty of art that looks better in reproduction (I had that experience with Baselitz recently - bad in reproduction, worse in person). But I have never had the experience that good art looks better in reproduction. It is always somewhat incomplete at best.



August 3, 2009, 4:08 AM

My experience is that repros on the internet vs. the real thing are apples vs. oranges. Such integral components as scale, tactile dimension, changing light, etc. are facts of a physical object which cannot be part of an internet experience. Many times I've simply not understood why a work "works" til I saw it in person rather than in print or on a computer screen.

I think there is something to Tom's #31. I want to think of the computer screen as a medium in itself, to make art with rather than reproduce material made in another medium. There was a time when opera was presented on TV by means of a TV camera and mics broadcasting the opera as presented on stage. The failure of that approach to convey the operatic experience was so jarring that I couldn't watch it. Then along came Franco Zeffirelli, who made a production of Carmen specifically designed for the TV screen format. Seeing it was as though it was the first time I'd seen that hackneyed operatic war horse. Zeffirelli had understood the idea of producing something specific to a medium rather than using a medium to try to reproduce something made in another medium.

The "1000 true fans" hypothesis is interesting. My approach ends up being pragmatic, 'whatever works,' whatever gets the 'disease' paid for. Posterity will sort it all out anyway, and in its own terms, which as likely as not will have little or nothing to do with whatever practical considerations I've had to deal with.



August 3, 2009, 7:19 AM

Tim, the pragmatic approach, using your eyes and your brain, judging on the spot, is always best.

I get bothered only because reproduction facilitates a lot of misjudgement of both good art and bad art, particularly when good art gets slighted because it doesn't reproduce well.


Tom Hering

August 3, 2009, 8:04 AM

Tim, I wasn't really thinking about digital art made on a computer for viewing on a computer. I was thinking more along the lines of your excellent Zeffirelli example: art made in one medium (the opera stage) specifically for reproduction in another medium (millions of TV sets). It's something commercial artists do all the time. For example, when they consider how paint pigments will reproduce with ink pigments. (Rockwell wouldn't be the best example of this.) In both cases - Zeffirelli and the commercial artist - a reproduction is in mind as the intended experience of the work.

The internet makes it possible for the artist to take a number of approaches. Art made on one computer to be viewed on millions of other computers is the most obvious approach. Computer art or digitized traditional art meant to be downloaded to a desktop or commercial printer is another. Originals and artist-produced prints sold online is yet another.

What I hope for (in my lifetime) is to see relatively inexpensive digital art frames become available (a larger version of the digital photo frame). I would make my traditional art, which is dependent on reflected light, specifically for reproduction with direct light.



August 3, 2009, 8:38 AM

The Zeffirelli Carmen is a movie, not a filmed opera performance. It was not filmed on an actual opera stage, but on suitable locations, like any movie. It was not performed like an opera would be on stage, but put together and shot and manipulated like a movie. In other words, it was a film based on, or after, the opera. I suppose that doesn't necessarily change anything, but we're talking about two different experiences.


Tom Hering

August 3, 2009, 9:08 AM

Jack, according to the IMDb, Zeffirelli made Carmen for TV three times - in 1978, 1997 and 2003. One of these might have been the television broadcast of an opera stage production that Tim is thinking of.



August 3, 2009, 9:27 AM

I live in the center of a telecom hub. Here (as everywhere, I assume) for the last couple of decades people have been frantically busy 'moving with the herds,' committing more and more of their time to cyberlife. But, as yet I haven't seen a whole lot in the way of reflecting about the quality of the cyber experience.

There seem to be two sides of that coin: One side is the revolutionary speed of movement of and access to information. The good part of that is obvious, i.e. Opie's #17 reference to the young people of Iran. The other part, though, is that speed combined with quantity has an effect on the ability to process and do justice to the info. The ancient Athenians didn't suffer for allowing themselves only one tragedy per year.

The other side of that coin seems to be the indirect (is that impersonal or apersonal?) experience of the internet. If, for instance, film isn't seen and dealt with as an object in and of itself, then it becomes a way to represent (re-present) the world or experience. As such, a mechanical device, rather than my senses, provides the experience. With that approach, we have to learn to see photographically, an indirect way of seeing, wherein the film is received as re-presenting something rather than presenting something. It seems true that we are so in the habit of seeing photographically that we don't notice a landscape til after we see a photo of it. Isn't a lot of the internet experience like that?

The fact is that people will tend to move in the direction of whatever will reduce direct interaction with each other because it's easier (re Tom's point in #2). And, it seems to me that technological progress has invited/enabled that tendency. Is the result an evolution or a devolution? Or is the point moot because that's the reality now anyway, so make it work out or be a Luddite? The question seems to have a moral aspect.

As with my experience elsewhere on the internet, I've noticed that, automatically, as I read entries by the regular participants, my imagination begins to fill out an image of who you are beyond words on a screen, what kind of persons, how you look, what is the sound of your voice, etc. To me, not having those aspects to deal with is a deficit. But those younger, whose lives are more cyber than mine, don't seem to miss that. The ones I encounter as a rule seem to be much more at ease in cyberspace than in person.



August 3, 2009, 9:37 AM

Jack and Tom, I'm referring to the 1978 production of Carmen, not a reproduction of a staged opera, but a production designed specifically, scale-wise, image quality-wise, etc., for TV. It was an entirely different experience than seeing an opera in an opera house. That was the genius of it. It refreshed that old three ring circus of an opera by presenting it in the specific terms of a different medium.



August 3, 2009, 9:44 AM

I was referring to the Zeffirelli movie of Carmen, starring Placido Domingo and Julia Migenes-Johnson, whatever year that was made. I believe at least parts of it were filmed on location in Seville. As I said, it was a movie. Its quality or effectiveness as such has to be considered in cinematic terms, not what would apply in an opera house, which is what Bizet was dealing with and had in mind.



August 3, 2009, 9:52 AM

On a somewhat related note, it is now quite commonplace, and has been for some time, to cast operas based to a very significant degree on how well the singers look the part, even if they don't sing it nearly as well. This is no doubt influenced by the heavily visual and superficial nature of much of our culture, which values image over substance to an inordinate (not to say outrageous) degree.



August 3, 2009, 9:57 AM

Jack, what Zeffirelli proved, in my opinion, at least in the 1978 Carmen production, is that Carmen, though designed by Bizet for an opera house stage, an opera house orchestra pit and an opera house audience, could be effectively transposed into the terms of the medium of TV. I didn't see the movie.



August 3, 2009, 10:14 AM

Jack, what I'm seeing in opera today is a turning away from using the opera presentation as a mere platform for virtuosic displays of technique ala Pavarotti. By comparison, for instance, Renee Fleming gives a total dramatic presence plus a meltingly beautiful technique. This is true in other areas too, stage design, orchestral performance, costuming. Not unlike what Wagner had in mind with his 'total theater' idea. I see that as a huge plus. Except in the boonies where they want to get things paid for and are trying to build an audience, I've not seen opera companies cater to or participate in the superficial nature of our culture. It's one place where I can still find consistent quality.



August 3, 2009, 10:39 AM

Tim, Miami may not be "the boonies," but it's definitely not a cultural mecca and never has been. Not even close. It has had, however, a local opera company for decades. At one point, I subscribed for the season and went to their productions regularly. Even though I love opera and would very much have liked to keep going, I finally got tired of being disappointed and frustrated, not to mention wasting time, energy and money, and I pulled the plug.

The key problem, for me, was that the singers typically looked considerably better than they sang. This, to me, is not acceptable, though the reverse could be. It's like a restaurant; the quality of the food is not the only thing, but it's the most important thing. As for acting, of course that's a highly desirable skill, but it does not compensate for inadequate or unsatisfactory singing. It's opera, not regular theater.

There's obviously a parallel to visual art here. My position is that visual art must satisfy and succeed on a purely visual level first, and if it doesn't, nothing else can compensate for that crucial failure. There can certainly be, and there typically are, a number of other considerations in experiencing and evaluating a work of visual art, or an opera, but the basic element, the sine qua non, MUST work and MUST deliver the goods. Otherwise, I, at least, am not interested.

As for what seems an implied dismissal of virtuosity on your part, many operas were specifically and deliberately designed to showcase virtuoso singing, and if that's what the composer wanted, you'd better believe it's what I not only expect but demand. If you want me to pay to see Lucia, you'd damn better get a soprano who can do that Mad Scene justice. If she has to negotiate her way through it like she's walking on eggshells or trying to avoid landmines, what she looks like or how she acts is irrelevant: I want my money back, and an apology.



August 3, 2009, 11:18 AM

Jack, "implied dismissal of virtuosity"? Read my entry again. Far from dismissing technique, I'm saying that opera is now trying to provide the whole package, except in instances where, as you say, the composer's intent was to frankly showcase the singer.

As for the mad scene in Lucia, after Callas, what's the point? Even that scratchy Met recording produces goose flesh. Now, at least the glass harp is being reintroduced.

As for your requirement of visual art, I take it then that you stay away from reproductions. How could anything other than direct personal experience provide the perfume of, for instance, a Chardin (re Franklin's "Beautiful like a Chardin" post), so many of which seem rather average in reproduction. I wonder if I would've spent as much time with Chardin as I have, had I not accidentally seen a roomful of his things in person.



August 3, 2009, 11:45 AM

Tim, I don't want to get into a Callas fight, which I'll leave to the opera queens, but let's just say she had great gifts, especially as an actress, as well as definite shortcomings. I don't worship at her altar as so many do, and as it has become so tediously correct to do. Opera existed long before she came along, and she was not the end-all or be-all of the art form. I instinctively resist anything that smacks of hagiography or idolatry when it comes to her, or any singer.

Opera has pretty much always embraced and involved vocal virtuosity of some sort, just as ballet has involved virtuosity of physical movement. It is not even remotely normal to sing or dance that way, and that's part of the point and the appeal of both disciplines. The minute somebody, especially a singer, starts dismissing or downplaying the crucial importance of singing qua singing, I start getting skeptical, not to say actively unsympathetic.

What I said about visual art needing to succeed visually was not really related to live vs. reproduction. It's simply a basic principle or tenet which I apply to any and all visual art, in any form.



August 3, 2009, 12:08 PM

Jack, read it again. My remark about Callas was specifically about what she did with the mad scene of Lucia. No idolatry here. In fact, in the recording of the Met performance, she went for a high note and it wasn't there. (Bing fired McCracken immediately for sustaining the note in that duet and leaving her standing there, telling him that a gentleman would never do that. Those were the days!) But because of her presence and the way she inhabited a role, you just sort of went with whatever she did because she so convincingly became the role and never broke character. Uh oh, IDOLATRY!

Not normal to sing that way? Yes, that's why they call the operatic voice an instrument. It's an artifice.

For me, in painting, I need ultimately an essence, a perfume. The visual part is, of course, utterly important as a vessal or carrier and as an invitation into a work, so it has to attain a high degree of integration. But the ultimate essence of a painting goes past the visual into realms which cannot be worded, at least by me. Again, Chardin comes to mind, and Renoir.



August 3, 2009, 12:13 PM

Of the Moderns, Rothko's essence ultimately is what it's all about.



August 3, 2009, 12:32 PM

Tim, for what it's worth, my comment regarding Callas idolatry, which is quite rampant and truly tiresome in certain circles, was a general statement, not meant specifically for you. But as I said, Callas herself is not the point or issue here. The point, at least mine, is that, in opera, or ballet, or visual art, there is such a thing as a sine qua non, and any attempt to evade, bypass or shortchange that is inadmissible.



August 3, 2009, 12:40 PM

Jack, thanks for clarifying and, re sine qua non, agreed. I've been called a hard little b----- for espousing same. Whatever. Not my problemo.



August 3, 2009, 6:18 PM

Tim and Jack, I think we all love opera because it's still the ultimate in performance art. There remains a standard because people remember great performances. We must envy the constant practice and dedication involved to hone the operatic voice. I too love Callas and Pavarotti but it doesn't prevent me from enjoying Dessay as Lucia (I even liked Netrebko in it but she was pregnant and her voice was fuller) or Florez' high C's in La Fille.

I am fortunate to be living in Santa Fe which is the boonies, but it is cultured. I have to roll my eyes at the purists who bemoaned that the Traviata with Dessay this season had too modern a staging. Enough already -the voices and orchestra were great, the staging fresh, it was beautiful weather. Yes, there were great singers in the past. I'd rather hear those alive now who work so hard to share their talents with us.

Relating to the visual arts, we can't repeat performances or perpetuate a great work of art. We can only respond and sample from existing works. There is a difference between reproducing a photograph/scan of a painting (the giclee/pigment prints) and conceiving works to be seen in multiples such as etchings. The former is just a poster while the latter can have every single piece in the edition be an original in its own right due to the human involvement in its printing and its conception. I throw in digital art and photography in the latter category.



August 3, 2009, 9:07 PM

Fatima, Whistler's drypoints were my first intro into the possibilities in etching as per your description. A friend and I found a curator at the Freer with some time. He took us down to the basement where we viewed walls full of Whistler's little jewels which cannot be placed on view because Whistler was not always careful about the quality of paper he used, so they are self-destructing. Though each was pulled from the same plate, each had entirely its own treatment and character, a revelation. Jim Dine comes to mind as someone who took a cue from Whistler.

Santa Fe, the cultured boonies...pretty good description. The 'purists' (I'd call them traditionalists, but I know what you mean) crank in reaction to efforts to keep opera fresh. Well, that's a way to spend one's time, I guess. Fleming's technique! Florez, a true original. In Dallas, the new Winspear Opera House, a minimalist gem that with its couple of gestures, says opera as much as anything I know of.



August 3, 2009, 10:02 PM

Tim, how lucky of you to have seen Whistler's prints. Printmaking is much like painting (a brushstroke, once brushed over is gone forever) in that how plates are wiped and the pressure applied during printing is different each time. A good experimenter is Manet who usually kept working on the plates throughout.

Traditionalists is a better term.



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