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Post #1563 • August 2, 2012, 7:57 AM • 16 Comments

[Image: , ]

George Bethea, Red Roofs To H.M., 2011, acrylic on canvas, 20 x 16 inches, © and courtesy of the artist

"Current NEA funding amounts to about $1 per U.S. taxpayer each year. Yet the program is controversial and likely will remain so because those who contribute to it have no say in how their dollar is applied. Kickstarter, by contrast, gives people that control. It turns arts patronage from an abstract, opaque, disconnected, possibly involuntary act into one of dynamic engagement, where creators get to pitch supporters instead of faceless institutions and supporters feel as if they have a personal stake in helping creators realize their visions." - Greg Beato

"Why might painting be deemed impossible? Thierry de Duve proposes that painting is out of step with the economic and technological imperatives of contemporary industrial societies, being 'artisanal', 'objectively useless', 'obsolete'. This is a rehearsal of standard 'death of painting' narratives that have been around since at least the advent of photography in the nineteenth century. On the face of it, there is very little to argue with here. Painting has been widely displaced as an image-making technology, first by photography and more recently by digital imaging. However, dis-placed is not the same as re-placed." - Chris Down

"All seeking and aspiration ends in finding yourself, your real self of which your present self is only a weak reflection. There is no doubt that this is the ultimate, the most difficult exertion we poor men can perform. So, with all this work before you, your beauty, culture and your devotion to the external pleasures of life must suffer." - Max Beckmann

"Karl Benjamin, a painter of dazzling geometric abstractions who established a national reputation in 1959 as one of four Los Angeles-based Abstract Classicists and created a highly acclaimed body of work that celebrates the glories of color in all its variations, has died. He was 86." - Suzanne Muchnic

"The Observer's Elizabeth Day asks a question of thunderous, nay, cosmic, importance: 'Should artists have to work or should they be supported by the state?' Apparently public funding via the Arts Council, which currently spends around four hundred million pounds a year, simply isn't enough. ... Cease that weeping immediately." - David Thompson

"Setting aside [Hayward Gallery]'s standard blather about 'diverse aesthetic practices and concerns' and 'using invisibility as a metaphor that relates to the marginalisation of social groups,' one can't help but feel that conceptual artists are in fact tragic figures, or tragicomic at least. By and large they're the leftovers, the dregs. They're the people who weren't good enough to get a job in advertising. Having abandoned craft, aesthetics and mere looking at things—and with them, any sense of wonderment or joy—what's left is typically hackneyed, desperate and gratingly self-conscious." - David Thompson

"President Obama's 'you didn't build that' statement to successful business owners has created a serious backlash. ... [His defenders'] defense is that what President Obama said somebody else made happen was not their success, but the teachers, roads, bridges, etc., provided by government, that 'gave you some help.' However, that broader statement is still both confused and ominous for America. Most ominous is President Obama's mistaken equation of society and government." - Gary Galles

"People who relied on their intuitive judgments were more likely to line up with expert opinion regarding the quality of both poems and abstract art. ... Those asked to go with their gut reactions were better at rating the acknowledged good paintings more highly—'were more accurate in their judgments,' as the researchers put it—than were the more deliberative observers." - Tom Jacobs

"I want to tell you a story. As a writer, that's what I do. Using words to capture experiences, dialogue, and a sense of place, I create characters to move the plot from point A to B all the way to Z. But what if the words themselves were the experience? What if they leapt off the page, floated across your arms, or tumbled through space and disappeared at your feet?" - Necee Regis

"Over the years, countless items have disappeared [from the Massachusetts State House, and] most have never been seen again. That includes more than a dozen oil paintings of such notables as founding father John Adams and iconic State House architect Charles Bulfinch; documents including letters from George Washington to John Hancock; a box made from the original USS Constitution; Native American arrowheads; and the marble bust of education reformer Reverend Charles Brooks, sculpted by renowned artist Thomas Crawford in 1842, which was last seen by officials in the State Library 90 years ago. In 1970, a 35-by-54-foot stained-glass ceiling—once described by the Associated Press as "one of the largest single skylights in the country"—was removed from the House chamber. It would be 17 years before anyone realized that the oval-shaped wrought-iron masterpiece was gone for good, most likely divided into sections and sold off by Beacon Hill insiders." - Chris Faraone

"There weren't a whole lot of people in [Grand Coteau, LA] familiar with open mic. I might have had five people at the first one. In the beginning, I said, 'I know we might not have anyone show up the first time, but we're just going to keep doing it and doing it until it grows, because I'm patient and stubborn. And I think we can do this.'" - Patrice Melnick (my cousin, whose memoir Po-Boy Contraband was recently published)

"The manipulative, radical stress ratio exchanges the significance of generative movements, while the resonant reformulations elicit the result to perform. The inconsistency dematerialised these paraphrases through it's phenomenological art production with a generative layer. The radical and manipulative manifesto localises and retracts the result to extend. In order to re-associate this massive, grotesque term and the subscript of it's result to research - which is manipulatively radical - the simultaneity contemplates it's de-central inversion. The manifesto coordinated these conceptual arts through it's manipulative synergy with a resistive analogy." - a program

Hat tips: Jordan Massengale, Kerry Ware, Artsjournal, Necee Regis.



Walter Darby Bannard

August 2, 2012, 12:16 PM

George is really hitting it lately. He's done a series of small landscapes, like the above, with Matissean color like I have not seen since Matisse. It bothers me all to hell.

Is that "program" one of those Postmodernism nonsense generators? If so, it is doing well. Bad as they are, very few academic art writers could come up with anything like this passage.

Necee says, "But what if the words themselves were the experience?" Of course the word (sounds, colors, whatever) are the experience. This is a basic, self-evident fact about art, and one which, although it provides the foundation for our high esteem of art, is brutally and universally resisted whenever it is articulated in words. We love art, but we can't take it straight. We need a cover story.


John Link

August 2, 2012, 12:47 PM

Ah, the political season is upon us. The juiciest tidbit in this Roundup, and the one that is causing me to break my promise to abstain from political conversations, is by Gary Galles. I read his whole essay.

He seems to recognize that Elizabeth Warren established the common sense explanation of how the most financially successful amongst us benefit from the government, and indeed, from other citizens who are much less successful. Common sense is most satisfying when it supports one's personal theories and values, as it obviously does for Obama. Yet it is intensely irritating when one's theories are contradicted by it. Galles must adjust his theory or remain irritated. At best he treads water against Warren's tide of almost self-evident explanation. He 's pretty good at that, but it does look damn awkward, even though he avoids drowning. Seems like an Austrian as smart as him ought to be able to put something smoother together.

In a wild fit of optimism, I can hope for a real accommodation by Austrian theory for what Warren has made so obvious. The Austrians got a lot of things right and it is a shame to see them discredit themselves over something like this.

Unfortunately, there is still a place for writing like that of David Thompson. He goes farther than I would, though, when he calls the conceptualists "tragic figures". I call them nothing, just like I don't analyze the stuff that accumulates along the sides of well traveled roads.

Like my fellow Okie Woody Guthrie, I long for an art that just makes me feel good. That's the kind of art that deserves the effort required to write about it. Such writing, if its choices are good, is the only kind that stands a chance of changing anything anyway.


Eric Gelber

August 2, 2012, 10:57 PM

It would be great to see these George Bethea paintings live. Thank you for bringing our attention to his work.


Walter Darby Bannard

August 2, 2012, 12:16 PM

It's hard to make head or tail of your comment, John. I though Gelles and Thompson both made good sense. You didn't?


Alan Pocaro

August 3, 2012, 10:09 PM

The problem with economics is economists. I read Galles's essay as well, and it felt like a pretty conventional partisan analysis. You can make numbers do anything to support your preconceived worldview. Arguments like Galles's take as a given that government is always inefficient compared with the private sector, and tax rates only inhibit activities. Where's the evidence? Or should I just take his word for it? The private sector is just as incompetent and inefficient (J.P. Morgan's $2 billion loss anyone?).

At its core, this is really a moral argument over what responsibilities humans have to each other, and the mechanisms we create to fulfill these obligations. Government of the people, by the people, and for the people, is the mechanism we have chosen to execute some of these activities (education, protection, policing, consumer product safety, etc.) on our behalf for the common good.

Government is not, as so many on the right like to portray, a tyrannical alien force perpetually at odds with its citizenry. Government is us, we elected it. I'm a government employee. I'm not by default inefficient at providing my students a quality education because the state of Ohio signs my paychecks. And conversely Galles is not a better, "more efficient" professor because he works for a private university.


John Link

August 4, 2012, 5:49 PM

Darby, I sent the comments in separately, as the subjects are quite different. You lump them both under the term "making sense" but I will again separate my response because one does and the other doesn't.

Gary Galles: He has a lot to say but it is intertwined in his denial of the obvious, common sense position I first encountered from Elizabeth Warren. "Job creators" who think they accomplished everything they accomplished by their lonesome are deluded. Even when Galles says the government is the least able to solve problems when they arise, he ignores the fact "job creating bankers" turned to the government to save them from their impending demise because the government was the only entity with a ghost of a chance for helping them. So Galles (and others in his camp) could be more compelling in their analysis if they accommodated simple common sense like that of Warren's. Obama apparently does and shouldn't be given the credit for originating the idea, as perhaps Galles is trying to do in a pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey by giving him more credit than he deserves. Maybe Warren is just the latest incarnation of John Donne. But she said the obvious, and the Austrians need to accommodate it if they want to escape from their own zealotry.

David Thompson: Yes, he makes good sense. Just as it makes sense to say the fragments of truck tires that lay by the side of interstates are detritus. But is it an interesting statement? Is it worth the time to construct somewhat elaborate explanations of how they got there? When I read Thompson's whole essay I found I could not agree more, yet it stripped me of my admittedly longtime interest in commenting on junky art. When the major preoccupation of an essay is junk, it is hard to hoist the damn thing above that level. I would not exclude the possibility that I might refer to junk art to illustrate a point, or serve some other purpose in an otherwise positive piece. But I did hit an inflection point of sorts, a place where I turned away from devoting real effort to things that are not at all good. They are not worth it.


John Link

August 5, 2012, 8:07 PM

Alan, I see your point. However, I am not particularly confident that it is the nature of government to be "of the people, by the people, and for the people". Only with a lot of effort (and probably luck) does it rise to that level of goodness. Murray Rothbard, one of the Austrians, wrote an essay I read last year that painted government as bent on unbridled acquisition of power, somewhat like a political incarnation of Schopenhauer's "Will", working only for its own satisfaction, all else be damned. It affected me a lot in the sense that when something walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, etc. That is, I thought he hit pretty close to the underlying nature of government in general.

A year ago the governor of Michigan and his cohorts in the legislature passed a law that goes like this (I am presenting it objectively):

The Governor has the power to unilaterally (1) declare a local government or school district to be in a state of “financial emergency”, (2) determine if that local government or school district has a “satisfactory” plan to resolve the emergency, and, if he determines that no satisfactory plan exists, (3) appoint an emergency financial manager to act for, and in place of the, the local governing body (i.e., mayor, school superintendent, city council, school board). Note: he does not even consult the legislature, much less need to seek their approval.

Once appointed, an emergency financial manager, who is an unelected state executive branch official, is given unchecked power and authority over virtually all operations of local government, financial and otherwise. Under the new law, the emergency manager can unilaterally: (1) repeal existing local laws and ordinances, (2) enact new local laws or ordinances, and (3) act in violation of City charters. Meanwhile, the law itself provides no standards to guide an emergency financial manager’s exercise of these broad powers, and the law also requires that any city or school district taken over by a state emergency financial manager pay all costs associated with the manager’s work, including the salaries of the manager and his or her staff.

After a year of actually applying this weird law to several cities (including Detroit), our Supreme Court ruled last week that it is not "constitutional" unless the voters of the state approve it in a special referendum. While that is relief of sorts, I am aghast that voters can make such a law constitutional. But then I remembered Rothbard's essay and thought, yes, the Supreme Court is government too. Government's first priority is power for itself, even if the basis for it is implausible, as it clearly is in this case.


Walter Darby Bannard

August 6, 2012, 11:50 AM

Alan, politics, like many other things, can only reasonably be taken case by case: you look at a specific situation and evaluate it. The minute you generalize it, as you did by referring to exaggerated generalities and calling something "partisan", you move away from direct observation of real circumstances. And using yourself as college teacher as an example does little more than serve as self-justification and evidence that perhaps you, like many professors (I am surrounded by them) may lack the kind of real-world experience that forces one to take the real world into account.

I know this is pulling rank, but I have had direct contact with government on may levels, ranging from a number of years on the National Endowments to being an individual entrepreneur in NYC to observing the ruinous recent experience one of my ex-students had at the hands of local regulators when he had the temerity to try to start a business.

As Tocqueville observed 175 years ago Democratic government may be the best choice we have, but it has the systemic flaw of internal self-generation, like a parasite or a cancer that feeds on and weakens the host as it grows and sustains itself. It also has the subsidiary weakness of attracting ideological extremists of all sorts and giving them power.

It has taken us a few hundred years but in my judgment we now seem to have pretty good evidence that we have come to a point of no return in this process. I don't want to argue it because there are those like Gelles, who isn't perfect but says things that certainly square with my experience and notions of common sense, and to little effect, and future circumstances will bear me out in any event. Believe me, in 50 years social historians will be writing, "What the hell were they thinking?"

John, your tire detritus example is misapplied. It should be used to refer to the Warren/Obama "duh" statement that no one accomplishes anything without help from others, which is actually nothing more than a "we need government" shot from one side in the current political debate. It certainly does not deserve the importance that you seem to be attributing to it. The "Austrians" would not basically contradict this any more than Ayn Rand would, as much as they celebrate individual accomplishment.

As for the "job-creating bankers" turning to the government, you must be aware that the whole mess was generated by the direct conspiring of the government with the banks, beginning back in the Johnson and Carter administrations. Not an effective example!

Then you go right into a complete turnabout by challenging Thompson for his obviousness, misapplying the tire detritus example (it could be observed that he is saying that the tire detritus should not be called "art") and sighing, in a world-weary way, that it is not worth writing that crap is crap. I'm sorry, but somebody has to say it, and the more it is said the better.


Alan Pocaro

August 6, 2012, 12:58 PM

You make a good point, John. I'm familiar with that Michigan law, and it's pretty horrifying. I haven't finished reading the Rothbard essay (though I'm suspicious when the first example of a citizen's relationship to the state is Nazi Germany, a totalitarian dictatorship, not a capitalist democracy), but I think we can apply that pathology to any large scale organization. Whats J.P. Morgan's primary motivation beyond accumulating financial power for itself? I think that when any collective of humans grows to a certain size, it takes on a life of its own, and becomes motivated in part by a kind of self-preservation. I watched a documentary once called "The Corporation" and its aim was to take on the idea of corporate "personhood." It examined the behaviors of several companies as if they were in fact people. The result being that they behave basically like psychopaths.

If it were up to me, I'd go back to the old days. Small government, and equally small business. Mom and pop shops and local banks may be less efficient, but their also a lot less dangerous, ditto for Uncle Sam.


Alan Pocaro

August 6, 2012, 5:31 PM

Darby, I'm not sure that I'm exaggerating generalities. I'm simply pointing out that Gelles makes a assertions about government efficacy (or lack thereof) and its influence on the economic choices of its citizens, but provides no evidence to back up his claims. They just happen to be the same assertions I frequently hear from partisans on the right. Don't get me wrong, I'd call out a leftist on his baseless assertions as well, and they've got plenty to answer for. The main thrust of my comment was that frequently economic arguments—such as Gelles's—are moral arguments disguised as empirical ones.

As far as real-world experience goes, visiting assistant professor is merely the latest incarnation of a career filled with many, many jobs. I worked 2nd shift in a glass factory in Cleveland for 5 years. I'd say (just to name two) getting my arm caught in the rollers of a ig unit oven with a broken emergency stop, or witnessing a guy get his fingers chopped off was pretty real. That stint in a non-union shop was perhaps the best education about the real world I ever received, and I got paid for it too! I recommend it to all my students.


John Link

August 6, 2012, 6:12 PM

Darby, obviously I can't believe you. I don't understand "pulling rank". You are just another person with another opinion.

Alan, I am not surprised this Michigan law's reputation has migrated outside our borders. If the voters OK it—and they might—I expect it to wind up in the US Supreme Court.

About the "old days", they don't look like they can return. But I'm not so sure they were as good in reality as I remember them, if we are talking about the '50s, the last time we had a president (Ike) who actually shrank the government (inflation adjusted). Even if only slightly, a shrink is a shrink. Ike also warned us against the military industrial complex, of which he was a highly honored member. But people died for lack of access to health care, women were quite limited as to the roles they could play beyond "home-making", men were forced to provide all the family income, men were conscripted to fight in any war Washington wished to start, blacks had few civil rights, banks were benign only because they did not yet understand the power of lobbying, and so on. But I was one happy-ass lower middle class teenager attending a private high school only because my parish paid most of the tuition for any parish kid who wanted to go there. Emotionally I am with you. I would welcome the return of those times in an instant. They were good for me.


Walter Darby Bannard

August 6, 2012, 7:46 PM

Alan, Having worked in a sugar refinery, the Great Northern Railroad, the US Forest Service, and other fun venues, I also have seen the hard side of hard work, but what I was referring to was experience working for (and against) government bureaucracy.

John, you can believe whatever you choose to believe, but, as I made clear, I am not "just another opinion", I am another opinion with a great deal of experience to back up that opinion.


John Link

August 7, 2012, 3:02 PM

Darby, you forgot Clinton in your analysis of the banking problem. He signed the bill that repealed Glass-Steagall. Naturally, it almost goes without saying that Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush the elder, and Bush the younger had absolutely no role in fostering the crisis.

Yes, I go where I go and don't fret if I contradict myself. As always, I am what I am. But the artcrit site is ready and waiting for any entry that delves into art for crap's sake. I simply realize the place-holder entry I wrote is dull because my heart is no longer into that sort of thing. While it remains theoretically possible for someone to write compellingly on art for crap's sake, Mr. Thompson did not achieve that. Why don't you give it a shot?


John Link

August 8, 2012, 4:46 PM

Also, "pulling rank" usually means leveraging one's higher position in a hierarchy created by an institution, like I used to do when I told students to get their grammar right by hook or by crook or suffer a lower grade. But if you mean by it others and myself are simply too inexperienced and young to supply the same validity for our opinions that you provide with yours, I'll accept that. I like being considered young and inexperienced. It's been a long time since anyone suggested anything remotely like that. Most of the time it has been that I am too old and have become enslaved by my long-in-the-tooth habits of experience, which no longer count in the "new era" that has replaced the old order. Damn... young, naive, inexperienced, untainted by the weight of time—that sounds wonderful. I'll take it and try to live up to it.

Meantime, please do write something about bad art or bad art institutions and claim your crown as the reigning nattering nabob of negativity. Artcrit awaits something to go live with.


Walter Darby Bannard

August 10, 2012, 12:05 PM

John, "pulling rank" is a military term which is useful whenever one wants to express a presumed superiority in anything. All I was saying is that I have had many years of direct and second-hand experience with the way government works, from top to bottom. I was making the assumption, perhaps presumptuous, based on what he was saying, that Alan had less of this kind of experience. It was not meant to demean anyone, only to claim that I knew enough to make an authoritative statement.

I have lots of ideas for Artcrit but because it is at a beginning stage these ideas have to be worked out and constructed. We have school starting (early in Miami) and I have been having house problems and such like but I will try to find time soon.


Eric Gelber

2, 2012, 11:37 PM

Thank you for the inclusion of the hyperlink in your post.

I stopped writing about art and making cartoons about art because I realized that being critical, really having a strong opinion because you felt passionate about art regardless of how many people you ticked off, was a path to nowhere. Raging narcissists and navel gazers don't want criticism, they want attention at any cost. Yes, there is good art being made now by living artists, but much art is not very good and this truth should be stated when necessary. Sugar-coating everything and writing tepid press releases instead of criticism invalidates judgement. Most if not all editors demand a positive review. There is too much risk involved in saying negative things about a person who is embedded in a corrupt web of interrelated professionals. Everyone pretends that they want objectivity, but the only language spoken is smoke signals up the arses of the successful. Network or die is the new Arbeit macht frei and unless you like everything or at the very least tell everyone that, good luck getting gallery representation, published, etc.



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