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Post #1379 • August 7, 2009, 11:49 AM • 66 Comments

Jed Perl on the drawings by John Heliker of the recently departed Merce Cunningham. "In the summer of 1949, Heliker was living in Rome, and went with Cage and Cunningham to a music festival in Palermo. Later, they spent time together in Paris, where they went to visit Alice B. Toklas and the great collection of Picassos in the apartment she had shared on the Rue Christine with Gertrude Stein, who had died three years earlier. There was always a catch in Heliker's voice when he spoke about seeing those paintings in that place, as if for a moment he had stepped back to the beginning of the century, when Picasso was a young man and the Rose Period was climaxing and Cubism had not yet been born." Complete with slideshow. This article also brings to my attention the Heliker-LaHotan Foundation, which is now on my list of residencies to apply for. (aj)

Regina Hackett, possibly the paltriest art critic to come along since Blake Gopnik, gets taken to school by Jen Graves.

Michael Kimmelman takes up drawing, apologetically.

Bunny Smedley on Altinium. "Based on aerial photos taken in several wavelengths of visible light and in near-infrared, with a resolution of half a meter, it has been possible to reconstruct the street-plan of Altinium, complete with basilica, forum and theatre, as well as a canal. This latter feature is fascinating, suggesting as it does that long before the Lombard invasions of the seventh century, the inhabitants of Altinium were already learning the arts of embanking, draining and canal-building—all of which would later prove so central to history of the world's most beautiful city."

The 7 vices of highly creative people. Drink, smoke, gamble, eat oysters, dress finely, screw, and borrow. (kottke) And you can pass off the oyster vice as good for the environment.

Golan Levin at TED. (waxy)

Department of Skills: unicycling prowess. I apologize for the Christina Aguilera - if you can't take it, skip to the 20-second long, 120-180 RPM pirouette at 1:23. Guess what I asked Supergirl for my birthday.




August 7, 2009, 12:30 PM

Re Hackett (whose name is evidence of poetic justice, or potential proof that God has a sense of humor), Jen Graves nails it in one line:

I cannot even address a person who dismisses Hogarth.

Game, set and match.

It's astonishing how foolish some people are, or how they blithely assume everyone who might hear their idiotic pronouncements is similarly idiotic. After that Hogarth gaffe, she can kiss credibility goodbye.



August 7, 2009, 1:41 PM

The problem with someone like Hackett, apart from woeful unsuitability for her job, is the widespread assumption that striking the right pose can compensate for virtually any deficiency. True, this approach can work, after a fashion--popular culture is rife with examples, which are hardly admirable but still successful, certainly commercially. However, pop culture poseurs tend to avoid getting in too far over their head. It's called common sense, which evidently is not one of Hackett's strong points (assuming she has any worthy of the name).


Tom Hering

August 7, 2009, 2:21 PM

At first I wanted to dismiss Golan Levin's works as mere Disney attractions - not art. I mean, how does improving upon puppet shows with an autonomous robot called "The Snout" begin to compare with the achievements of Giotto or Rothko? But then I remembered that not all art is great because it's transcendent. Some art is great just because it gives pleasure - like Matisse. Nonetheless, I'm still left wondering whether Levin has achieved greatness as a pleasure-giving artist. I have the feeling that the sort of pleasures he creates get old fast. So maybe my first reaction to his work wasn't too far off.



August 7, 2009, 7:22 PM

By the way, Franklin, it was rather indelicate of you to put references to both Bunny and the aptly named Ms. Hackett in the same thread. I think an apology to the former might be in order. After all, we're talking an absolutely unbridgeable chasm.



August 7, 2009, 8:16 PM

Furthermore, it's a pity the pugnacious Hogarth is not here to respond to such a critic. As one who hated fashionable posturing and affectation, no doubt he would have risen to the occasion with another memorable series of pictures or engravings. I can see it now: The Hack's Progress, or Incompetence à la mode.



August 8, 2009, 7:14 AM

I've seen more than one lesser critic get tripped up by Hogarth's use of so much anecdote and caricature.



August 8, 2009, 7:25 AM

I agree with Jack that the Hackett person does not need to be recognized here. And that Bunny, as always, is a joy to read.

I was not able (on my computer) to see anything by Levin but it sounds like his stuff might be fun to look at, like Fischl & Weiss's Rube Goldberg contraptions are.

However I deplore the recent habit of calling anything and everything "art". Art, like food and news and transportation, is simply a particular kind of thing, and calling anything one wishes to sell "art" just because art has such an elevated status does not enhance reasonable discussion.



August 8, 2009, 7:33 AM

For example, I find any extreme demonstration of exotic skill, like the unicycle clip, fascinating for just it is, but if I tried to see it as "art" it would spoil it completely.



August 8, 2009, 8:28 AM

There can be an art to just about anything, but I wouldn't say that Levin and the unicyclist qualify. They emphasize amusement, spectacle. There is no art in them. And, as Tom mentioned, they have no shelf life.


Chris Rywalt

August 8, 2009, 8:29 AM

Here I was just writing about how I can't enjoy myself at parties and you link to an article telling me I need to get out more, drink (which I don't), smoke (which I despise), gamble (which I also don't), and dress memorably. About the only things on that list I can handle are oysters and sex. And oysters are expensive.


David Richardson

August 8, 2009, 8:36 AM

Thanks for the John Heliker links. Wonderful drawings and a great evocation of the span of an artist's life.



August 8, 2009, 9:27 AM

Hackett strikes me as the type who would think it the height of sophistication to state that Verdi's music is only fit for an organ grinder. It's yet another illustration of the old adage: better to keep quiet and be thought dimwitted or a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt.



August 8, 2009, 10:04 AM

Sex is expensive too, Chris, if you really parse the costs.

Tim,the easiest way around the "what is art" question is to look at something and see if it does what art is supposed to do. It's the same way you would define food or anything else.



August 8, 2009, 10:09 AM

BTW Bunny, I hope that is not something corrosive that you are "pouring over" your maps.



August 8, 2009, 10:27 AM

Opie, I would agree with your #13 comment. But one has to be equipped with insight and discernment to be able to do what you recommend. It's no news that the general lack of those necessities these days is one reason so many Hacketts and artist poseurs get so much exposure.



August 8, 2009, 11:07 AM

Right. And It is art's prestige and high-class connotations that lures them and thereby virtually guarantees that they are phonies.



August 8, 2009, 11:09 AM

The only item on that list of vices that interests me is sex, and although I like a glass of wine now and then, the prospect of seeking drunkenness repulses me. I also find parties hard to deal with unless the company is fine.

The Department of Skills started off as a Roundup feature in which I asked, Do you make art as well as [this dedicated person does his dedicated thing]? Early on I linked to this. Skills are not the epitome of art, nor vice-versa, but I grew so weary of thoroughly de-skilled art that I started appreciating skill for its own sake. Also, I'm a juggler from way back.



August 8, 2009, 12:15 PM

I've always enjoyed the 'skills' posts. They stand as examples of dedication and commitment to making some singular activity good, and sometimes excellent. They usually exhibit activities that cannot be reduced or combined with something else without compromise. They contain their results in themselves, like CG said somewhere about good art.

'However I deplore the recent habit of calling anything and everything "art". Art, like food and news and transportation, is simply a particular kind of thing, and calling anything one wishes to sell "art" just because art has such an elevated status does not enhance reasonable discussion.'

My point in the other thread about the importance of specifics at this juncture, is aimed, however clumsily, at underscoring these sentiments opie. I think specific disciplines like painting and sculpture have purposefully been severed from their full histories in order that we confront 'art' as anything. I'm not saying traditional forms are all there is, only that successful work in other media, I mean satisfying the way only good visual art can satisfy, is rare. Rarer than it is within the history of these other traditions anyway. Maybe this leads to articulating better criteria for new media and different kinds of stuff, instead of it all being just ART with no critical foundation whatsoever (this looks to me like an enormous task, given that there is so little good work out there to build useful generalizations with). Jack's demand for visual satisfaction is the cornerstone of this distinction. I was just reading some writings etc by Motherwell and he mentions the 'ecstasy of the eye'. I for one, believe it to be real and singular and that part of fortifying any resonance it has left for future means identifying what is unique and irreducible about certain types of practice. I guess there is some marketing to be done that way, in order to tease out the value of real visual art. A portion of the audience, rich and poor alike is growing more and more weary of irony and dehumanized form and content. If a new case can be made, or reintroduced around for the quality and value of the history of the modern, new moderns stand to benefit. The audience for art is no more advanced, probably the contrary, than it was 50 years ago when art got big, the hucksters jumped on and quality went south.



August 8, 2009, 12:37 PM

Skill in just about anything, when it reaches a sufficiently high or supranormal level, can become beautiful in and of itself. There is pleasure, even joy, in watching or experiencing someone do almost anything superlatively well. Those who dismiss such skill as mere techniqe virtually always lack such ability themselves, and they are also missing out on a source of real pleasure and satisfaction.



August 8, 2009, 2:42 PM

Dude, what I get from your comment is a suggestion that credible, authoritative people lead art's audience out of the convoluted morass of anything-is-art toward that part of the new which actually is worth their attention. I'd like to see an introduction to the art audience of the idea that there is art outside of the art world. The idea of an 'art world' set apart from everything else seems a part of the problem. In many cities there is an 'arts district,' with the obligatory features. I've wondered why these cities wouldn't spread their institutions around so other parts of the city could be affected by them. There is a bit of a parallel to that and the 'art world,' I think. So far, all of the independent movements that get any traction just end up as adjuncts to the art world, stuck in the very position they wanted to avoid.



August 8, 2009, 2:55 PM

'identifying what is unique and irreducible about certain types of practice'

Sounds like modernism! I mean to say something more about a new kind of promoting, rather than identifying. New and meaningful energy that takes stock of the current lack, and goes on situate the importance of current practitioners in relation to an undeniable history of skilled makers. As an example, where visual fundamentals becomes so debased as curriculum, there emerges opportunity for those with real chops to market their work as a rarity of sorts. Envied members of some esoteric pleasure cult.

I think there is a surge of appreciation for experience of 'handmade' and custom goods growing steadily as part of new demands. Artist as massive celebrity has no real place in it. That kind of energy is generally weeded out by dedication and real caring for the history and the quality of what's at hand. The scale is changing and artist-thinkers like Franklin are promoting and creating the new kinds of solutions that could level some aspects of the playing field and also open up whole new possibilities. This forum itself is example number one.



August 8, 2009, 3:15 PM

I'd like to see the growth of an attitude of respect for art that has really been worked out and has (for want of a better term) "visual integrity", and a corresponding interest among artists and the art audience for sensible, rational talk about art.

I see glimmers of this but no real signs (of course I am not at all in the middle of things). Certainly Museums and galleries are lagging indicators. I assume it will be artists that make the changes and blogs that first reflect it.



August 8, 2009, 3:49 PM

The surge of appreciation you mention, Dude, I have not seen. I hope you're right.

My cynicism has me imagining that any artist who has any success in the arena you envision is inevitably going to be dragged under the spotlight of pop culture, required to have some kind of entertaining/quirky personality behind which the art becomes a backdrop, consumed and discarded. And that will be that artist's 'success.' That's just how the audience thinks and operates.

I want to believe that audiences are growing weary of irony and dehumanized content, but has any forum emerged that you know of which would answer their weariness? I haven't seen any in my neck of the woods. Just relentless consumerism as the ONLY way to proceed. And blogs where people can crank about it.

Staying under the radar has thus far been my perhaps unimaginitive answer to the conditions of pop culture, which has overwhelmed all other possibilities and has certainly affected the perspective of art's audiences.



August 8, 2009, 4:06 PM

I'd like to see the interest separated off and nutured away from efforts to regain lost ground within the establishment and the vanity of trying to reform it. Little pockets of real interest now have a chance at connecting again to figure something out.

Part of what's biting us in the ass is the cascading loss of connections between those who would otherwise have spurned each other along later in their careers. Many talented artists in differing regions have suffered this loss of momentum in the last 25 years or so. The few quality artists that still even bother to make work are becoming a rarer commodity in different ways all the time, leading to a critical downturn in the numbers of young artists that come at all close to being exposed to the history.

Some of the problems of this moment are tied to an old model of how to do things.



August 8, 2009, 4:26 PM

"The few quality artists that still even bother to make work are becoming a rarer commodity in different ways all the time..."

I don't know if that's a bad thing. There are only a very few really good artists in any given time anyway. Today everybody's a damn artist. Audiences are bewildered.

I never worry much about the work getting done. With real artists, the art is bigger than they are, and it will have it's day in court one way or another. Real artists are going to get it done if they have to push everything else in their lives out of the way to make it happen.

Not sure what you mean, Dude, by loss of connections.



August 8, 2009, 5:09 PM

I think the only ones who can really change the status quo significantly, assuming they care to and act accordingly, are the members of the art audience, particularly those that in some fashion are financing or materially supporting the art system. Of course the artists have to make the art and are responsible for its quality, but if they're great and get no support it matters little, and if they're lousy and do get support it matters a lot.

The problem is not that slick or canny purveyors of glorified BS are major stars, just like the problem is not that so many lousy politicians get so far. Who's really responsible for that? Who made them stars? Who elected and re-elected them? Who's providing the crucial, indispensable validation?

In other words, follow the money, or the support.

People want better art? They need to figure out what that is, and what it's not, and put their money where their mouth is. But there's the rub. People can only do that if they have a good eye, a good grasp of art history (all of it), and are ready and willing to use their own personal judgment and stand their ground no matter who or how many might disagree. How probable or likely is that? I'm afraid the answer is not very encouraging.



August 8, 2009, 5:23 PM

Jack, you placed the responsibility well in my view. What you wrote are pretty much the reasons why, since my college days, my contention has been that art school should be primarily about teaching how to see, how to discern, rather than, or at least more than, how to do. Most students will not emerge as artists, so why not at least have them emerge equipped to see, thereby making up a prepared audience?



August 8, 2009, 6:12 PM

"Not sure what you mean, Dude, by loss of connections."

Connections to the quality of support and exhibitions and peer recognition that accompanied the scene leading into the early eighties by and large. I'm too young to say I was a part of it, but the repercussions have been manifold especially in the critical area of art education. Personally, I like the idea of a new and focused stand alone school with 'visual integrity' as its sole reason to exist. And you would market it as such shamelessly. If I had bucks like that clown in Miami I'd nab all the best artists and fund endless workshops for anyone wanting to learn the real deal. Credentials be damned. There would be absolute focus on becoming a competent artist with visual integrity and a link to tradition. Whether they stuck with Fine Art or took their understanding elsewhere, the nugget you'd take away is a bomb-proof grounding in things visual, uninflected by conciliation to bullshit concerns that have yet to prove any credibility in the realm of the esthetic.



August 8, 2009, 6:33 PM

Yeah, Dude, and if you really wanted to get the job done well, you'd start that curriculum with kids about 10 years old, like they do with musicians. Plant that seed and get them with the program, get them into the habit of thinking that art is as important as everything else, as soon as they're receptive. By college age, for most the window has closed.



August 8, 2009, 6:53 PM

That's what I'm thinking! I'd have a list of eye-scouts that I trusted and send them out internationally to draft for talent. Then you just buy the kids like they do in professional sport. Graft them back into tradition.



August 8, 2009, 7:43 PM

If you had enough startup to do it all right and get the right people in place you would be looking to leverage the school as an authority and establish a market already stacked with good work.



August 8, 2009, 7:46 PM

Last year I was teaching at a realist atelier and I'm not sure that tradition is the point. I thought they were onto something though, in that kids self-selected into the program knowing that they were going to paint and sculpt the figure - mostly paint - in the academic tradition. I think that there should be a modernist atelier, as well as installation ateliers, time arts ateliers, on and on...



August 8, 2009, 8:05 PM

Tradition works for the better only inasmuch as it's constantly being refreshed. The first job of an artist is to take on and grasp the entirity of the heritage of the art. The next job is to answer that heritage with the artist's own voice, having been informed, tempered, etc. by the heritage, thus adding the next chapter to the heritage. That's the way to avoid the kind of Tower of Babel we are now experiencing.



August 8, 2009, 8:32 PM

ok so tradition isn't quite it but the history has to be the nurturing core. i was thinking that becoming THE authority for education in around the figure would give you a running shot that you could branch out from


Chris Rywalt

August 8, 2009, 8:49 PM

Regarding the cost of sex, I know it's hard to imagine, but I actually get paid to have sex. Not that the exchange is that exact, but my wife is the main breadwinner in the house. I haven't made a significant economic contribution to the family in two years.


Chris Rywalt

August 8, 2009, 8:52 PM

Back on topic: Franklin, what do you suppose a Modernist atelier might look like?



August 8, 2009, 10:35 PM

Chris: a modernist atelier would contain 55 gallon barrels of gel, 5 gallon pails of color, rolls of canvas, and plenty of shovels. North light is optional.



August 9, 2009, 8:57 AM

Woo! I had to unplug the comment form this morning because somebody spammed this page no fewer than 120 times. Things should be working normally now.

A modernist curriculum would have a lot of classes on materials, a solid but not necessarily academic basis in drawing, and it would likely produce non-modernist work, but that's okay.



August 9, 2009, 9:14 AM

Franklin, is spamming random? Why would a site like yours be targeted otherwise? I don't get that.


Tom Hering

August 9, 2009, 9:31 AM

Because Modernism sprang from a new sense of universal art history, a Modernist atelier would be a place where you'd really look at the masterpieces of Primitive, Ancient, Classical and Modern art. Masterpieces in every medium, from cave painting to cinema. You'd have to learn what each piece accomplished, visually - and how it accomplished it, physically. By doing it yourself. Then, after one or two years of this - since Modernism was all about discovering a purely individual method and style of painting and/or sculpture, rather than learning traditional methods and styles - you'd get sent back to your own studio and be told to just do it.



August 9, 2009, 9:52 AM

Oh, I went to a group show last night at Wynwood. George Bethea had some very nice things up. His stuff is at:

However, at least some reproduced images give a rather different (and lesser) impression than the originals.

Let's just say that, if the Miami Art Museum (MAM) was worth taking seriously, it would be taking work like Bethea's more seriously (and not just because he's a Miami artist). I recently went to MAM to see a show of its "New Acquisitions," which were distinctly underwhelming. Some of them were risible, though most were merely the stuff you look at once and wonder why it's there and, more to the point, why you're there.


Chris Rywalt

August 9, 2009, 10:20 AM

Here's what I don't get -- off topic again. Apparently this is not just about what Franklin writes, but a place to discuss random musings, occasionally about Miami art but also about the art world in general.

Why, when I opened up a discussion board, did no one show up, even though I specifically invited everyone here I could find?

I mean, if you're going to randomly discuss whatever you feel like, without recourse to what Franklin's actually posting about...and then Franklin had shut down just seems to me that a place specifically designed for random venting about art would be perfect.

I clearly don't understand this community-building thing.


Chris Rywalt

August 9, 2009, 10:24 AM

Back on topic: How would one go about opening an atelier?

I find, by the way, that Wikipedia defines the Atelier Method as being specifically what we'd call academic art training. So a Modernist atelier is something of a contradiction in terms by that definition. Just an aside. No one says we can't use the lowercase word however we want.


Tom Hering

August 9, 2009, 10:36 AM

Chris, in the sense of teaching someone what he or she will ultimately end up doing, yes, a Modernist atelier would be an impossibility. As for staying on topic, has anyone ever succeeded in herding artists? Meow.



August 9, 2009, 10:57 AM

Sorry Chris, and Franklin too if I'm out of line here. I started out responding to the skills post and got carried away as usual.



August 9, 2009, 11:11 AM

Dude, don't worry. I think Chris is just cranky because he's not getting paid enough for sex.


Chris Rywalt

August 9, 2009, 12:04 PM

What? No, no apology necessary. I honestly only skimmed Dude's posts and the replies here. I wasn't annoyed or cranky about any of that at all. Didn't even know about it, really.

I was replying to Jack's anti-Miami-art-world screed, which I think he may cut and paste from post to post. Not that there's anything wrong with that. As long as Franklin doesn't mind I certainly don't mind. I was just wondering about why no one came to my site when I had it up, boo hoo on me. I'm unloved!

More seriously, over the past little while I've become convinced more than ever of my own ignorance of pretty much everything. I honestly don't know how anything works in the universe. Included in this is how this Web stuff comes together.


Chris Rywalt

August 9, 2009, 12:05 PM

Also, my wife was just yelling at me to get off the damned computer. So I'm clearly not being paid enough for sex. Not enough computer time!



August 9, 2009, 12:33 PM

Chris, for what it's worth, the Roundup post, which is a potpourri to begin with, has typically generated fairly rambling responses. In other words, what you're objecting to is hardly unprecedented. Besides, it's not as if I was commenting on Hillary Clinton's new hairdo, or whatever the hell she's up to. That would be off-topic.


Chris Rywalt

August 9, 2009, 12:54 PM

See, but at my site, you could've titled a whole discussion thread "Hillary's New Hairdon't" and it would've been okay.

That's all right. I know I'm unloved. I'm trying to accept it. [frowny face]



August 9, 2009, 1:35 PM

Jack, this site gets targeted fairly heavily by comment spammers probably just because it has been around so long, I believe.

Chris, with all the options out there on the Intertubes, it takes more than an invitation to draw in a community.


Tom Hering

August 9, 2009, 1:59 PM

Chris, I wouldn't want to participate in an endless sea of "anything goes." If your discussion site had a focus, say, "artists' personal struggles with art and life," I'd be right there.



August 9, 2009, 2:52 PM

Don't feel too bad, Chris. If a woman's paying you for sex, you must have some redeeming qualities.



August 9, 2009, 3:09 PM

Yeah, Chris. Your wife loves you. Or at least I guess she must. And I suggest her answer to "sex is not free" might be somewhat different from yours.

Jack this group is fairly educated but my experience teaching writing tells me that a good percentage do not know what "risible" means.



August 9, 2009, 3:26 PM

Well, OP, for those who haven't discovered that the dictionary is their friend, here's a clue: by risible I did not mean uplifting or elevating.



August 9, 2009, 3:35 PM

Oh, and Franklin, regarding that unicycle, in case Supergirl hasn't told you, you're not getting that.



August 9, 2009, 6:36 PM

No, it means able to get up in the morning. I knew that.


Chris Rywalt

August 9, 2009, 11:16 PM

Franklin sez:
Chris, with all the options out there on the Intertubes, it takes more than an invitation to draw in a community.

Perhaps risibility?



August 10, 2009, 8:23 AM

Not risibility - credibility. Not that you have none, but there's a lot of competition out there.


Chris Rywalt

August 10, 2009, 8:52 AM

I thought getting-up-in-the-morningness would be key.



August 10, 2009, 1:13 PM

Chris, you could try offering sexual favors as a lure. That sort of approach seems to work for you.


Chris Rywalt

August 10, 2009, 1:48 PM

If only I had the vaguest idea of how it worked, I'd use it more often, Jack.


Chris Rywalt

August 10, 2009, 1:53 PM

I just watched the Golan Levin video. Very interesting. Poor guy was obviously nervous as hell. His work reminded me of Danny Rozin's which I saw a couple of years ago at bitforms. Very cool stuff. The reaction of the audience to Golan's final piece -- the robot arm with the googly eye on it -- is a fantastic thing for any artist to get. Clearly it worked for them, and how great is that?

It must be fun to have the resources to mess around with that kind of thing. Every project of any level of complexity I attempt fails in the face of my incompetence. It's heartening to see some people do get things right.


Bunny Smedley

August 11, 2009, 1:07 AM

Opie at 14: good point (now fixed, thanks) illustrating why I'm not really posting much until the school holidays are over.


Jeff Caporizzo

August 13, 2009, 7:02 AM

My drawing professor in college actually recommended Mr.Covey's "7 Habits" book, saying it changed her life. This woman was a prolific artist, had talent - very creative.

I managed to duck the book then and in subsequent years when it was offered to me by various managers, responding to a kind of animal sense that steers me clear of - whats do we call them? "life changing/life's answer fads?" - referring to "The Celestine Prophesy", "The Alchemist", "The Artist's Way", "Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten".

People tell me I'm missing out, the tell me I'm arrogant. They could be right. But at the heart of it I'm protecting the right to figure out my life on my own.



August 13, 2009, 3:16 PM

Jeff: part of figuring out your life on your own is deciding what to be influenced by. We don't live in a vacuum.



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