Monday, December 14, 2009

ART TO KILL SNAKES WITH

When Jonathan Williams was asked to define art, he responded, "If you can kill a snake with it, it ain't art."

That definition has served me pretty well in the past. But recently, as conceptual art has become more complex, I have wondered whether Williams' definition requires additional refinement.

In each of the following three examples of conceptual art, an artist takes another artist's work and modifies it:

1. An erased drawing:

Artist Robert Rauschenberg famously took a drawing by DeKooning and erased it as his work of art.

2. A photograph of a photograph:

Artist Sherrie Levine photographed the work of another photographer, Walker Evans, and called her art, "After Walker Evans." According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art's website, her copies of Evans' photos were "a landmark of postmodernism" as well as "a critique of the commodification of art, and an elegy on the death of modernism. Far from a high-concept cheap shot, Levine's works from this series tell the story of our perpetually dashed hopes to create meaning, the inability to recapture the past, and our own lost illusions."

3. Exposing another artist's posters to light:



Illustrator Steve Brodner recently flagged this work by feminist artist Barb Choit, whose art consists of taking posters by illustrator Patrick Nagel and exposing them to light so they fade. The New York Times reported on the opening of her show at a Manhattan gallery: "Ms. Choit buys the posters online and then partly fades them, using a tanning bed, lamps and other skin-darkening products. Then she translates them into ink-jet prints and attaches them to clear plastic panels, creating tension between the risible imagery and slick format and her own sly conceptualism."
All three works are primarily conceptual, but I like Rauschenberg's best. His concept seems the least pretentious of the three and he at least leaves us with an object, made by human hand, with some nice texture and design to it. But between the three of them, there is enough "sly postmodern conceptualism" to choke a full grown python.

So what about Williams' definition of art? Does this mean it is obsolete?

I don't know enough about the definition of art to say that these three works don't qualify, but I feel confident I know enough to say when art is crummy. Ultimately this may be the more relevant judgment.

I agree that one can play interesting conceptual games with the theories advanced above, but personally I find that artistic principles are not at their best when hovering in mid air as concepts. They need to be embodied in something both perishable and difficult in order to achieve their fullest potential.

That is why conceptual art , which does not exist on a sphere where it is forced to compromise and commit, is inherently less interesting.

120 Comments:

Blogger Caduceus said...

I don't care much for the idea that things are or are not art. Art is just the altering of anything for aesthetic reasons in my book. The problem with the photo of a photo and the faded Nagel posters is that they are crappy art. If the artist were doing some more manipulation I might take more interest (such as the Nagel copier trying to approximate the results of the fading using a manual art print instead of just reproducing it with an ink jet printer).

In short, I agree with your final judgement. Whether something is or is not art is less interesting than debating its qualities as art.

12/14/2009 2:36 PM  
Blogger Dominic Bugatto said...

You can't leave the Dadaists out of the equation either. Man Ray signing a urinal says it all , and I believe it pre-dates these examples.

I can appreciate the merit of 'conceptual art' , but personally , wouldn't want to own any. Once you 'get it' it's over. I don't think it gives you any more thereafter.

12/14/2009 2:39 PM  
Anonymous Norm said...

I think it was Duchamp who signed the urinal, but, I kind of got a kick out of him and his belief that art was getting too "precious". He even walked the walk and eventually gave up art to go play chess.
I agree with Dominic though, it's clever, at best....but then what?

12/14/2009 3:58 PM  
Anonymous MORAN said...

I was interested in your own definition of art, that "They need to be embodied in something both perishable and difficult in order to achieve their fullest potential." I probably like that better than the "snakes" definition but why both perishable and difficult?

12/14/2009 4:32 PM  
Blogger kenmeyerjr said...

Oy...I cannot get involved in most of conceptual art. I guess that makes me a dolt, a heathen, or someone who doesn't understand or appreciate it. I recently finished my MFA, so I was exposed to people like those you reference and almost to a man (or woman), it just seemed like masturbation for the masses, self important junk. Count me out.

12/14/2009 4:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ken,
Speaking of masturbation...when I was in school we saw a film on conceptual artists, including one guy who's work was laying under a raised platform in a gallery and then played with himself as he looked up ladies skirts. He had a microphone and there were speakers on the walls so people could hear his comments as he pleasured himself.

12/14/2009 5:36 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

um...I was the last anonymous....I just forgot to type my name.

I have to admit, I kind of love to hate most conceptual artists...

12/14/2009 5:38 PM  
Blogger Matthew Adams said...

Sorry David, but I prefer it when you show some illustrator or artist of skill and talent who has been all but forgotten. This post seems almost as masturbatory as the examples you posted. Most of us who come here agree with you on this topic to some degree and consider conceptual art as intellectual tossing off.

(Sorry if that sounds like a bit of a whinge, this is an incredible blog, I love visiting it, and as this is your blog it doesn't matter what I or anyone else happens to think about any particular post, so long as you keep posting whatever takes your fancy we will keep coming back)

12/14/2009 6:02 PM  
Anonymous larry said...

Speaking of risible, a photo of a photo is an absolute riot. It's refreshing to have someone tell the emperor he has no clothes. Thank you.

12/14/2009 6:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't want to argue. I just want to post in support of others like me, to they know that they're not alone. I think this is charlatanism.

The art version of the emperor's new clothes. If everything is art, then nothing is art. Some articles on the Art Renewal Center website also express similar ideas.

If you think like that, don't feel embarrassed by bullies that will say you're ignorant. If we're not ashamed of this opinion, maybe if someone just opens an umbrella and stick it in a toilet, it won't be considered art. Even if he pours chantilly cream all around it, and hangs some Christmas tree lamps somehow. Even if the water of the toilet has cute aquarium fishes instead of anything disgusting. If someone does such thing, no one will think he's a brilliant inventive genius. They will just say, "what the hell is that man?" or something like that. Amen.



Otherwise I like this blog, though.

12/14/2009 7:16 PM  
Blogger mark morris said...

Then there is Shepard Fairey.
Mark Vallen has written a critique of this fellow's plagiarism here:

http://www.art-for-a-change.com/Obey/index.htm

Is the common thread to all this stuff emptiness?

Some of Mr. Vallen's words: "The expropriation and reuse of images in art has today reached soaring heights, but that relentless mining and distortion of history will turn out to be detrimental for art, leaving it hollowed-out and meaningless in the process. When I refer to "mining" in this case I mean the hasty examination and extraction of information from our collective past as performed by individuals who do not fully comprehend it. That is precisely what Fairey is guilty of, utilizing historic images simply because he "likes" them, and not because he has any grasp of their significance as objects of art or history. In 1916 Henry Ford, the famous American multimillionaire, bigot, and founder of the Ford Motor Company, uttered the infamous words, "History is Bunk." That once outrageous statement has now become part and parcel of postmodern art, as reflected in Fairey’s own negligence regarding history."

12/14/2009 7:38 PM  
Anonymous Norm said...

I guess I take this subject personally. When I was in school a friend and I went by an "art center" at the Marin Headlands. We thought we'd bond as fellow artists and the people there were innitially friendly. Then they found out what we did. "Oh! We SELDOM deal with...cartoonists." was their reply.
They then showed us their "real" art. They put battleship plating between the center's bathroom stalls and replaced the plumbing with flexible metal tubing.

Um....

yeah....

12/14/2009 7:44 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

That should have been "flexible,translucent plastic, tubing" but the point is the same.

And, Mark.
How about Lichtenstein?

Here's a fun site that shows all the specific comic art he ripped off:

http://davidbarsalou.homestead.com/LICHTENSTEINPROJECT.html

Sorry to post so much here....but, like I said...it's a personal pet peeve of mine

12/14/2009 7:50 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Perhaps I made a mistake by picking examples that are so annoying they distract attention from what I believe to be a legitimate underlying question about the definition of art.

We've all seen successful art where the concept is more important than the execution, just as we've seen successful art with little or no concept but which has been executed with great technical skill. We've also seen art where design is more significant than either concept or execution. If there's some recipe identifying the minimum ingredients necessary to qualify as a work of art, I don't know what it is.

The three works in today's post show what can happen when the conceptual element metastasizes and snuffs out the aesthetic qualities of the physical object. But I think those who would like to define art to exclude conceptual art altogether are doomed to disapointment. Art is just too vast and sprawling for the Art Police ever to be effective. It is futile to attempt to define art around anyone's formula so I've just resorted to that "snake killing" test.

Can we do any better than that? Would we have drawn different conclusions if I offered three examples of equally crummy art where the technical skill of an image ran amok and snuffed out the concept instead?

I think where I come out on this is that conceptual art can certainly qualify as "art," but these particular examples, especially Levine and Choit, are crappy art. (Or, to put a sharper point on it, they are shallow thievery aided and abetted by pseudo-intellectual rationalizations from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the new York Times.) My preliminary conclusion from this post is that the highest quality art cannot be merely conceptual. Conceptual art can be smart and fun (I like some of Duchamp very much) but to me it just doesn't seem to present the highest challenges or call upon the highest talents that art has to offer. As MORAN has noted, I think the best, richest, most profound art is 1.)embodied in a perishable physical object and 2.)is technically difficult to achieve. At least I THINK that until one of you explains to me why I am wrong.

12/14/2009 8:16 PM  
Blogger mark morris said...

Norm,

As a fan of comic books since I was a little kid, I was kind of pissed off when I discovered he ripped off guys who got little to no credit for their work. It doesn't matter to me that some of those comic book artists were just churning out pages to make a living. Here comes a "fine artist" who plays the fine art game and gets dealers and critics to think that what he was doing was something special. But I also wonder if he brought any positive attention to comics by this work.

When I thought he was doing originals, I thought it was kind of neat, to distill a comic down to a single panel so to speak. But it still annoyed me that his work was considered good and the comic art was considered crap. It can't be both ways--it is hypocrisy.

12/14/2009 8:16 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Caduceus, you and I are in agreement; the boundaries of "Art" are not a defensible perimeter. I would never know whether I should be on the inside defending the barricades or on the outside screaming to tear them down. (Many elitists in the art establishment have tried to draw a boundary between "high art" and "low art" and I usually find myself championing the low art.) Far better to engage on whether the art is good or bad.

Dominic, I agree. I think that conceptual art started out full of promise and attracted a lot of bright and interesting people but turned out to be a dead end. The only conceptual art I have is the art I concoct walking down the street every day or interacting with my wife or friends.

Norm, I give points for irreverence, whether it's hanging a urinal in a museum or erasing a drawing by a demigod of the art establishment, if only because so much of the art in this area is so damn pretentious.

12/14/2009 8:29 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Thanks, MORAN. That "perishable" part needs a little thinking through, but it seems right to me.

Kenmeyerjr, it seems to me that there was a time at the beginning of conceptual art when honorable people, even pioneers, could legitimately get involved. Now I think such people have a heavy burden of proof to demonstrate the relevance of what they do.

Anonymous/Norm, were these women part of the art?

12/14/2009 8:36 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Matthew, thanks for the first half of your comment keeping me honest even more than for the second half of your comment containing the compliment.

Larry, isn't that commentary from the Metropolitan a hoot? If you look at their web site, the quote is from a Time Line of great moments in the history of art. Sigh. Graduate schools run amok.

Anonymous-- thanks.

Mark, I agree with you about Shepard Fairey. I just don't see the substance. But I did enjoy Mr. Vallen's commentary.

12/14/2009 8:46 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

I figure art is communication.
If the artist communicated what they wanted to communicate, I figure that's successful.

I can't remember which writer said it but, when asked to explain a book, they said "If I could explain the book better that it explained itself, than I failed."

Good art should have to live up to the same standard. Ten pages of BS should not be required to "get it"

That said...just because something communicates successfully, that doesn't mean I'll agree, or like it, or spend money on it.

And crafstmanship is another matter entirely....

12/14/2009 9:04 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Ah, but David, under your definition the constitution, a cat's cradle game, turducken, and a nuclear bomb would qualify as Art. I think you are falling into the game of modernism, which is to turn the entire operation into a linguistic question about the meaning of the word Art in an effort to escape questions of aesthetics and signification (and value judgment based thereupon).

But this is a fool's errand because Art is what it does. Or, as Harvey Dunn said, Art is its own definition.

If we really want to try for some definition that is particular to Art, it seems to me the definition must describe Art while not describing that which is not Art.

Thus, prior to defining Art we must FIRST decide what is Art and what is not Art. And then to discover amid our choices the common denominators, which should become the definition of the group, the definition of the word Art.

Which is to say, the linguistic question remains open because Art isn't a linguistic question. Art establishes its Art-ness, outside of verbiage. The dictionary verbiage only describes the reality. The pseuds have turned this obvious point on its head by caring more about the words.

Anyway, my current definition is, "Art poeticizes life."

12/14/2009 9:11 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

cont...

This definition, "Art Poeticizes Life," then brings up practical and sensible art questions like, "what constitutes good poetry"... "how are tropes used in visual art" ...and most important of all to the artist, "what do I really think about life?"

12/14/2009 9:18 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

Jeez, you guys sure would have real problems with the art of Japan and China. I guess you can dismiss those fakers out of hand because they routinely copied masterpieces and many of the copies were more highly revered and valued than the original. That mentality is on bold display in the way the Japanese artists (Yes Virginia, some of them are actually creative) subsume their artistic identities in doing anime.

Perhaps we westerners cannot let go of our precious egos long enough to submerge ourselves in the actual physical and intellectual act of making art. We're all so damned creative. Perhaps that's why we are wading through a long-lasting period of artistic mediocrity...not conformity, just second-rate crap without two artistic thoughts to rub together.

I am always amused at the western view of the useful things to learn from Japan and China. Strangely, diminishing the importance of the individual is something we don't readily cotton to.

What is of further interest is how many of the expressed opinions would find ready agreement in such halls of culture as 4-H Clubs, county fairs, ghettos and suburban soccer games.

12/14/2009 9:45 PM  
Blogger C B Sorge said...

I find art about art intensely boring.

Being free to critique the nature of the art, the art industry, etc, is a good thing, however. It's good that they're making these pieces and forcing us to ask questions.

But, there's so much more engaging subject matter. Yawn.

12/14/2009 10:37 PM  
Anonymous Norm said...

David,
As far as I know the women weren't technically part of the art, but I figure the artist himself would consider them part of it....even if they didn't know what to expect heading in.
I like irreverence too.....but just to play the Devil's advocate. What if the beurocrats that destroyed the statue in Afghanistan, or the crazy guy who smashed up the Pieta called what they did art?

And Rob....do you have a problem with Ghettos?

12/14/2009 11:01 PM  
Anonymous Norm said...

One more thing. I think this discussion is relevant to other media.....like comic books. I think Fine art is too inbred and of limited interest to most people. This is also the state, I think, of mainstream American comics.
I think the best comics and the best fine art should be acessable to most thinking people....not just a small group that gets all the little inside references.

12/14/2009 11:06 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev, fasten your seatbelt-- I can indeed envision the Constitution or a nuclear bomb blast as art. I think it would depend primarily on the conceptual frame we put around it. In fact, I have already seen an art book of photographs of mushroom clouds, like huge, glowing purple and red flowers. And if you hung the constitution upside down so you could not read the words, but only had rows of black squiggles on a textured surface, couldn't you judge that as art?

I think the Harvey Dunn definition is a pretty good one. As for your view that ""Art poeticizes life," I think it will be almost as hard defining "poetry" as it is to define "art" so the insight may not advance you much. You may have only moved the problem like Dr. Seuss' pink cat ring.

12/15/2009 12:03 AM  
Blogger I.Welsh said...

When things get to this it surpasses coming up with new ideas and goes into pretentiousness. It's like saying, I am so much of a star that I can just add a line with a ballpoint pen through a golf course brochure and call it my magnum opus and everyone will love me.

12/15/2009 12:33 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Rob, nice try-- but do you know of any Japanese or Chinese artists whose "art" was to put a Hokusai woodblock print in the sun to watch it fade? How many whose "art" was to erase a Harunobu? The nearest I can think of to Sherrie Levine's purely mechanical process of taking a photo of someone else's photo would be for another artist to run another print from the original plates of an artist such as Eizan. Any hint that the Japanese or Chinese might view such an act as "telling the story of our perpetually dashed hopes to create meaning, the inability to recapture the past, and our own lost illusions?"

I didn't think so.

12/15/2009 1:10 AM  
Blogger theory_of_me said...

I think Art is best defined as: "Anything done by a person with intent to expose hidden aspects of reality to himself or others." With this definition, the quality of the art is determined by how effectively it communicates. Also, there is no need to waste time trying to construct a hopeless universal standard because only the individual can ever know for certain what aspects of reality they were ignorant of before a particular artwork sparked them into a deeper awareness. Also, the individual decides for himself what aspects of reality are cared for over others.

Another way of expressing this would be: "Art is a stimulant for dulled minds." This attacks the urge to turn art into a kind of religion because once the mind is properly stimulated, there is less need for Art until it becomes unnecessary. This does not devalue Art, just puts it in its proper place for the development of a healthy mind that is open to possibilities.

Flaubert's quote is also helpful: "Of all lies, art is the least untrue." Because the art itself is not the aspect of reality the artist wishes to expose to others, merely the medium that delivers a message about it.

12/15/2009 1:34 AM  
Blogger theory_of_me said...

As always, Rob Howard shows no signs of being a deep thinker and is satisfied with dropping factoids that have no bearing on the actual discussion.

Job Blowhard said: "Japanese artists (Yes Virginia, some of them are actually creative) subsume their artistic identities in doing anime."

If this were true, no one would have ever heard of Hayao Miyazaki, Go Nagai, Katsuhiro Otomo, Osamu Tezuka, and so on. Those artists all have distinctive styles or do you think all Anime looks alike? The same thing happens in western animation, thousands of animators "subsume their artistic identities" to work under a directorial vision.

12/15/2009 2:03 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

I don't think you can define art but you sure can contextualize it. Almost anything in a museum becomes art.
Warhol had a good definition,"Art is whatever you can get away with."

12/15/2009 5:53 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

James Joyce in a Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, did an excellent job of defining what art is by saying what is wasn't. Stephen Delaulas explains to his buddy Lynch that anything that causes fear or desire in the viewer i.e. concern for self is not art. It is either pornography or it is moralizing. While anything that arrests the viewer into a state of stasis is art, you are held and emotionally you are not directed toward completing yourself in something else or link to a cause i.e. something political doing good etc.

12/15/2009 6:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

>And Rob....do you have a problem with >Ghettos?

Norm,
since Rob said

>such halls of culture as 4-H Clubs, >county fairs, ghettos and suburban soccer >games.

I have to ask, why did you single that out? Do you have a problem with county fairs, 4H clubs, and suburban soccer games?

Oh, and by the way, having had a lover that came from a ghetto, I have to say that decent, intelligent people who come from ghettos have a lot of problems with them. Its mostly pampered well-to-do people from outside the ghetto who don't, because it fits with their rosy, ignorant picture of the world. A bit like the kindly souls who praise the simple, close-to-nature lifestyle of the African village because they visited once on a tour and didn't actually have to deal with malaria and malnutrition. White chicks doing gang signs may be sexy but it's really not culture.

Antonio

12/15/2009 6:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Slightly more on topic:

my problem with conceptual art is just that it usually isn't.

It really grates to hear some idiot say that I don't like his art because it is hard to understand when I don't like it because it is just so dumb. "Hard" and "conceptual" is, say, algebraic geometry. I know it is hard and conceptual because I spend months trying to understand a paper written by a guy that actually wants me to understand it, and my brain really hurts. But the "concepts" I see on modern art gallery walls don't hurt my brain. I get the point in 2 minutes (the artist is questioning bla bla bla), it is usually a cheap pun or some sort or a childish display of hysteria, or some battered old political concept currently in vogue, it takes no effort at all to understand. The expression on my face is not of surprise or amazement, it is not of hard effort of thought, it is of disgust at how trivial the concept is and how shabby the execution. The only bafflement I feel is at how something so trivial can even be counted as an idea, much less how it ends up taking wall space at the Tate, real estate in London being so expensive and all. I am all for conceptual, as long as it is so. But the kids at art school should understand that their average IQs are not what they think they are. Guys, no offense, but if I wanted conceptual I'd go have a chat with the physics majors! Unfortunately the critics who evaluate their works are also idiots, and so maybe it does seem "cenceptual" and "challenging" to them, and they do manage to please and amaze each other - I am suddenly reminded of that old picture of a closed circle of black flies engaged in copulation.

Antonio

12/15/2009 7:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

correction: actually, it probably was a picture of drosophila (fruit flies are always the usual suspects), but I guess black flies come to my mind whenever I think of the modern art world, talk about gut reaction...

Antonio

12/15/2009 7:22 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Yeesh, David... when did you become such a postmodernist??!?

So you actually think a bomb blast can be a work of art with "the proper conceptual frame around it."

I'll just assume you think, as well, that slicing your wrists can also be a work of art with "the proper conceptual frame around it."

Same with spitting on someone's baby, taking an axe to a starbucks window, or burning the Reichstag.

All you need to do is come up with the right words... and presto, nothing and nihilism is turned into aesthetics and expression, murder and mayhem becomes Art. Just by the magic incantation of MERE WORDS.

Sorry, I can't buy either the idea, or that you actually believe it.

When I was a kid, we called these incantatory words, "excuses." In religious circles, these excuses are called "apologetics." In politics, they're called "spin." In a court of law its called, "pleading in the alternative." In the gallery its called, "The Artist's Statement."

The point of each is the same, to sell stale goods by the chicanery of the mouth.

I would not have imagined you thought Art was so thoroughly a linguistic game. and nothing more. Wonder how you became infected so? :)

Was it Arthur Danto?

Regarding the constitution, you seem to be saying that all decoration is Art. That is, fancy typography, which decorates the idea being written, is necessarily Art, in the same category as a Rembrandt or Picasso.

Really?

What about the fact that the average workaday page of text in a potboiler novel is also a decorative and hypnotic way of delivering information? It may not be as fancy as the constitution, but all the same qualities are there, design, x-heights, bowls, etc.

So, assuming its an old novel, maybe the original plates for that page are Art?

No, no, no... if you smash somebody over the head with the lead plate, THEN its Art! (With a sufficient incantation in tow to spin the matter, of course.)

Regarding poeticization, there is no need to statically define poetry per se. But it does help to understand what it means to poeticize, to create poetry from reality using symbolic means in the active sense. What Poetry offers is a body of well written technical knowledge that transfers quite well to much of the visual arts.

kev

12/15/2009 9:21 AM  
Blogger theory_of_me said...

kev said: "there is no need to statically define poetry per se. But it does help to understand what it means to poeticize"

How can you know what it means to "poeticize" without a working definition of what poetry is? You are the one playing linguistic games here.

12/15/2009 9:41 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

theory of me... the answer is how tropes are used. Or how aesthetic unity is established. (Just as two examples.)

In our modern artworld, we can define poetry without reference to either tropes or unity. (i.e. without reference to technological information.) But if you use "poeticizing," the word necessarily leads to a consideration of a more technological understanding of poetry, which leads to thoughts about tropes, unity, meter, suggestion, and all the rest of the hallmarks of quality expression that were jettisoned by modernist dogma. (Using active voice is often a good way to avoid linguistic confusion and word games in general)

I hope that makes my point clearer.

kev

12/15/2009 11:33 AM  
Anonymous Valentino said...

There is no viable definition of art.
Problem with today's "art" is in the fact that it can not be distinguished from its opposite, that is from anti-art. It is the paradox of postmodern art criticism.
In my view, the first, the primary and the MOST important ingredient of any work of art, be it Praxiteles, Shakespeare, Guido Reni, Mozart, Antonio Gaudi, Isadora Duncan or Enrico Caruso is its aesthetic content.
If you ask me - if there is no aesthetics, there is no art.
Of course, there's more to it than solely aesthetics, but without it, it becomes something else - political manifesto, agglomerations of bricks, torture device, noise, dirty canvas...

Quote: >Just by the magic incantation of MERE WORDS.

Unfortunately, David is right. It started with Duchamp long ago, and metastased to what we have now.
Neither I nor you, nor most of us agree with that, but ask any mover or shaker on contemporary art scene and you'll see what they'll answer.

12/15/2009 12:21 PM  
Anonymous Norm said...

Anonymous,
I just picked "Ghetto" because I thought it would irritate you the most....while also making my point.

And...I've had a suburban/4H lover...so I'm totally cool with that whole thing.

But I have to admit I have issues with the county fair...it involves a ring toss, goldfish and a stuffed elephant but...I'm afraid I can't say any more. The memory is just too painful...maybe one day when we know each other better...

12/15/2009 1:48 PM  
Blogger theory_of_me said...

kev: "I hope that makes my point clearer."

It doesn't. I take it as a good sign that a person is not having clear thoughts on an issue if they can't explain themselves in clear and simple terms.

For what you posted to make sense you'd have to explain the terms:

"aesthetic unity"
"technological information"
"technological understanding of poetry"
"active voice"

No matter how much I look these phrases up, I have no idea in what sense you are using them. This makes everything you type look vague and undecipherable. I have no problem with people making up their own phrases and definitions for words but if you don't let anyone else in on them, you're basically talking to yourself.

12/15/2009 1:58 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev, it's not hard to get to the place where a mushroom cloud can be a work of art. In fact, I suspect it's harder to resist that conclusion, if you're willing to follow artistic principles to their logical conclusion.

Start with the premise that photography can be art. We're already there, and have been there from the days of Steichen and Steiglitz, if not from the days of Matthew Brady, correct? Next step, photography of nature can also be art, correct? We crossed that line with Ansel Adams. If you're looking for your feeling of "poeticization," has any image inspired you recently as much as those breathtaking photos from the Hubble space telescope? OK, so if photos of nature and cosmic explosions can be judged as art, how can you possibly exclude photos of mushroom clouds? You can't.

Now, do you want to go even further and say that not just the image but the underlying blast can be art? Certainly. If a photo of a man made event (such as a theatrical production or a fireworks display or a sound and light show) can be art, how can you say that the underlying physical event could not possibly qualify as art? You can apply aesthetic criteria to it-- you can judge the sound it makes, the colors it displays, the shape of the cloud, its movement, just as you would judge any other physical phenomenon. At what point in this process are you able to say, categorically and irrevocably, this cannot be art? People have been fighting that rearguard battle since before Beethoven shattered tradition with his 9th symphony, and they always lose.

This isn't a result I particularly desire, I just haven't heard anyone come up with a persuasive barrier to keep it out. (By the way, I am much better on good art vs. bad than I am with art vs. non-art).

12/15/2009 2:26 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

I'm sorry you can't understand what I've written, theory of me. Since I don't have time to really get into it, let's just agree to disengage on this topic.

(no need to respond to this post.)

12/15/2009 2:41 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

I don't agree that photography per se is art.

(I'll be back later on to answer in more detail.)

kev

12/15/2009 2:42 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

I am enjoying the predictable flurry of quotes, examples and insults unleashed by any robust discussion about defining "art." I like hearing what Warhol, Dunn and james Joyce have to say on the subject and I especially enjoy hearing Antonio and Norm compare lovers from the ghetto with lovers from 4H clubs.

However, it seems to me that we are all struggling with the process of refloration: how does art reclaim its virginity once it has accepted abstraction? You may not like where art's path is ineluctably taking you because you are now able to see the end more clearly than our forefathers did, and recognize that it is an end devoid of meaning. But how do you retrace your steps, and even if you could, what standards could you credibly apply on that sunny day when art miraculously recovered its virtue? There was, after all, a reason art succumbed to abstraction in the first place.

12/15/2009 2:55 PM  
Anonymous Thomas said...

Norm,

Who wouldn't have a problem with a ghetto? Most of the people in them don't even want to be there. Hardly and endorsement, eh?

Theory of Me,

Good for you calling Kev Ferrara out on his hopelessly muddled thoughts. Yet another pseudo-intellectual trying to look smart.

Here's the problem with a definition of "Art"--it doesn't exist in isolation. For a picture to be art, it has to be compared with a picture that isn't art. Art is the best of any kind of expression, which means that it has to be compared and found superior to other things like it.

A better way to understand this is to get rid of the word art and use the word "artful", which as an adverb retains the original meaning of the noun "art". It describes HOW a thing is done--"he artfully laid the paint on the canvas", and has nothing to do with the type of act itself. Art is the very best of any genre of work.

So "art" can have a personal interpretation or a larger group or even societal interpretation.

The problem with personal interpretation is that it isn't transferrable to the next generation--it dies with you. Personal preference is nothing to build a culture on. So a better way to define art is that many different types of people, from experts to common men, think that this particular work is the best of any given genre.

The problem with so-called "Modern Art" is that it will not allow for a group or societal definition of art. Most people don't think it has any excellence at all. Hence the ongoing dispute. So Modern Art and its limited number of proponents stay in the personal and small clique defintions of art. Its the same as moral relativism. You can't build a culture on it, just like you can't build a society on anarchy.

That's why our culture is breaking down. Because the greatest exemplars of our western arts are no longer being accepted as art per se. And the defintions of art previously taken for granted are changed for the sake of excluding the public. So the public has no interest in perpetuating the current culture, or what is made to pass for it.

My two cents.

12/15/2009 3:26 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

David, a photo of a hot girl can be very inspiring, too.

You can drop a camera and it can accidentally take an amazing picture. Is that art?

Is intention important? Or just result? Or both?

If you build a mirror, are you making an artwork of that which it reflects? Why or why not? If I say "I am building this mirror as a work of art" even though the mirror looks in all ways the same as any other mirror, is it art, just by the invocation of the magic word "art"?

If you believe that a photo of an atomic bomb is art, I would like to hear your definition of WHY it is art. And in what way it is art in the way that Rembrandt is art. When would a photo of an atom bomb blast NOT be art? Otherwise we're just pronouncing assertions and I can't get at your undergirding philosophy.

---------------

Thomas, since you clearly understood some of my points enough to repeat them, you should probably assume that the parts you didn't understand also had content. That would be the civil thing to think.

Unless of course, you're playing an hilarious joke.

The name calling is, of course, childish. And shows bad faith and bad form on your part. Although the name calling is also hilarious.

The rest of your opinions regarding the importance of the word "artfully" don't acknowledge the role of content in the arts or the difference between a film maker and a couch maker.

12/15/2009 4:16 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>I didn't think so.<<<


Not only are you mixing metaphors, you're also mixing cultures, eras and meaning. But what's a meta for if not ultimate distortion.

C'mon, David. You know that I studied deductive logic and rhetoric and you try to pull that stuff on me. What do you take me for, someone who "watches" the news? I have to say that I'm a bit insulted that even even try to pass that mish-mash past me. Let's bring that legal mind to bear on these remarks.

12/15/2009 4:17 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>And Rob....do you have a problem with Ghettos?<<<

Yes i do, de they the original Jewish ghetto in Venice (the name "ghetto" comes from Il Ghetto, the name of the neighborhood before the Jews were confined to it. I have a problem with the Warsaw ghetto and I have a problem with the self-imposed ghettoes that exist here in the land of the free and the brave. All ghettoes dehumanize and objectify the inhabitants.

Do you have something positive to say about ghettoes?

12/15/2009 4:21 PM  
Anonymous Thomas said...

Kev Ferrara,

I understand your points well enough to know that you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.

In fact, a guy like you makes my point perfectly. You exist in a little pseudo-intellectual bubble where you create your own meanings and vocabulary. "Childish" would be a great way to describe it, since its exactly the kind of imaginary world little kids create when they play.

Then when you try to communicate these supposed "great insights" to somebody else, they have no idea what you're talking about and you look ridiculous.

Your whole schtick is exactly like Modern Art. You get to claim your own greatness and profundity without any external input. You create your own vocabulary that nobody else understands. I'm sorry, but the world doesn't work like that.

I know it's a terrible blow to your ego, but you really aren't as smart as you think you are, and everybody here but you can see that. Maybe someday you'll agree to join the larger world and find that out.

Then again, maybe not.

"Art" is not some solitary definition. It's been warped into that so that the larger public is completely excluded from the creation and promulgation of culture--kind of a coup d'etat. If we lived in world where people didn't make comparisons, the personal definition of "art" would be fine, but we don't.

The reduction of culture to the personal is a form of anarchy--it works just like moral relativsm does. There's room for the personal, but there's also room for the larger society and consensus. In the end, our institutions are about propagating the consensus of the society at large, and not the individual preference. No society can exist without this handing down of culture from one generation to the next.

What we have now is the breakdown of society because this isn't being done. Modern Art is one particular facet of this larger phenomena.

12/15/2009 4:49 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

Rob,
I'm not saying I love ghettos. You know that. What I'm saying is don't use ghettos as an example of a place stupid (closed minded...whatever) opinions come from.
You said:
"What is of further interest is how many of the expressed opinions would find ready agreement in such halls of culture as 4-H Clubs, county fairs, ghettos and suburban soccer games."

12/15/2009 5:31 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Thomas, you seem like an angry fellow...

I'm simply making some arguments which you can like or not. No need to get emotional about it.

I don't disagree that relativism is a problem both in art and society. But simply asserting principles won't make them true. Especially if they're not practical.

And of course, society is not "coming apart" because of a lack of common aesthetic standards, but a lack of functional moral standards. (Since perfectly normal honest people can disagree about morals and aesthetics, I assume there must be an imperfect correlation between a lack of moral standards and a lack of aesthetic standards.)

And most people are left out of the creative process, not by coup, but because of the existence of the meritocratic basis of free markets. Talent and the interest to develop it is not evenly distributed. Not everybody is going to be paid to be creative.

Incidentally Thomas, do you have a web page where I can view some of your work?

Thanks,
kev

12/15/2009 5:42 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

I think there's a lot of value in pushing things and looking at art in new ways.
I think a rigid definition of art is a bad thing.
I also agree with David that arguing about good art vs bad makes more sense than arguing about art vs not art.

And, as much as I'm ok with a totally open defenition of art, I'll still probably think a bunch of it is crap. It won't be the same bunch you think is crap...but, that's where the fun comes in...

12/15/2009 5:43 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

...and by rigid definition, I'm talking about art snobs who look down on cartoonists...or cartoonists who refuse to accept conceptual art as a potentially valid form of expression...or abstract artists who say representational art is useless.

There's plenty of suckiness to go around and a lot of good stuff too.

There's no reason to try to pit one camp against another...but it is useful to try to figure out what works and what doesn't....in a more specific way.
Like, I enjoy Duchamp, but don't care for Lichtenstein. Magritte floats my boat, but not Dali.
I like Jackson Pollock well enough...but I'd never buy a book on him.

12/15/2009 6:00 PM  
Anonymous Thomas said...

Kev,

Why is it that when you make a criticism of people, particularly self-proclaimed know-it-alls like Kev Ferrara, they accuse you of having an anger problem?

Because they get angry when you criticize them--that's why. It's just projection.

I'm sure that you don't disagree with relativism, Kev. It's the neighborhood you live in, as I described before. But art is comparitive term--it's not applied to things in isolation. I'm sorry, but that's just the way it is. Some things are artfully done, and the vast majority are not.

Once again, you redefine terms and arguments to suit your purpose, Its a symptom of completely ignoring other people when they disagree with you. I never said that individuals were shut out from individual creation themselves, but they have no input to the culture at large. It's pretty clear I meant that.

The substitute of individual relativism for larger social standards in terms of morality and culture is indeed the cause of the breakdown of our society. Is there any doubt of a decline? Not to anybody who's been around to see it. Our society hasn't been conquered by and outsider. What else could be the cause of decline? Universal relativism. Me first.

Your new tactic of trying to launch an ad hominem attack is also predictable. Why should I have to show a portfolio to satisfy you? Do you want to launch some kind of ad hominem attack against me? Yes, you do.

I'll let you in on a little secret Kev. I don't need to show a portfolio for your approval. I'm what's called a "general audience". I can say what I want. You know why? I'm the audience! I can boo if I want to, I can cheer if I want to, I can yawn if I want to. And you can't do anything about it. I don't have to perform for you or anybody else--because I'm the audience!

Did I or did I not say that the whole focus of relativism is excluding the general audience? And here we have a modernist who is trying to exclude the general audience once again! Was I right on target or what?

You are soooo childish! Me first. I get my way and I'm always right. Nobody else matters. What nonsense!

And I won't ask you about your portfolio Kev, because it has nothing to do with the issue at hand. You can go back to your solitary world where you are all that matters. I'll even let you think you won, just like I would to one of my little nephews, so you can feel good about yourself, becaue that's the most important part of relativism, the ego.

12/15/2009 6:39 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

I skipped over your rant. Sorry.

kev

12/15/2009 7:20 PM  
Blogger Dominic Bugatto said...

Why do these discussions always deteriorate into 'intellectual pissing contests' ?

Enough already.

12/15/2009 9:57 PM  
Blogger theory_of_me said...

David Apatoff: "(By the way, I am much better on good art vs. bad than I am with art vs. non-art)."

That's because when discussing good vs. bad art you're really just describing what you like and don't like. You can rationalize about it until you drop dead but you will never be talking about anything other than your personal preferences. For some reason, when it comes to art vs. non-art, you haven't been able to convince yourself that anything has inherent qualities which make it art or not art. That's a pretty good sign that you're still dealing with the issue somewhat realistically because inherent qualities do not exist. Anything that appears to be inherent is simply an artifact of consciousness, the same goes for anything else that exists. So when you say that conceptual art is "inherently less interesting" you are just talking about what you personally prefer, not about any philosophically viable quality of inherence. This is perfectly true and cannot be rationally doubted but difficult for people to accept because it pulls the rug out from under all their carefully constructed rationalizations about art which they have so much emotional investment in.

David Apatoff: "how does art reclaim its virginity once it has accepted abstraction?"

It seems to me that many people found the acceptance of abstraction as a reclaiming of art's virginity.

David Apatoff: "You may not like where art's path is ineluctably taking you because you are now able to see the end more clearly than our forefathers did, and recognize that it is an end devoid of meaning."

At that point it would be wise to realize that all meaning was fabricated by you and nothing else. Where else could meaning come from? You have to interpret what you see and decide for yourself if you like it or not. Even if something else is compelling you to see meaning in something, ultimately it's up to the individual to take the final step and give essence to it. The reason hardly anyone is aware of this fact is that we are programmed since birth to give meaning to things before we have a chance to understand what is really happening. This makes the things we bestow value upon seem like they had it all along. It projects the mentally constructed appearance of inherence so convincingly and naturally that it becomes a delusion.

12/15/2009 10:29 PM  
Blogger theory_of_me said...

Thomas: "A better way to understand this is to get rid of the word art and use the word "artful", which as an adverb retains the original meaning of the noun "art"."

This is exactly what kev did when he refused to define "poetry" and somehow expected the lack of a definition to help us know what it means to "poeticize". It's not very helpful at all.

Thomas: "So "art" can have a personal interpretation or a larger group or even societal interpretation."

Well, before it can have a group or social interpretation it needs to have a personal interpretation. This makes the personal interpretation the most important one and, I'd add, the only possible one because you can never be sure if anyone else is interpreting anything the same way you are.

Thomas: "The problem with personal interpretation is that it isn't transferrable to the next generation--it dies with you."

That's fine with me.

12/15/2009 10:43 PM  
Blogger theory_of_me said...

Job Blowhard said: "Not only are you mixing metaphors, you're also mixing cultures, eras and meaning. But what's a meta for if not ultimate distortion."

Wrong. You're the one that tried to mix up Japanese and Chinese art with the examples that David used. If you seriously cannot see this you're pretty screwed in the head.

12/15/2009 10:46 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

"If you can kill a snake with it, it ain't art."

I betcha I could kill a snake with one of my bronzes.

12/15/2009 11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gee David, I can see why you are loved.
~cp

12/15/2009 11:17 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Hi David
Writing on an iPhone. I like the zen saying "nothing is pure and there is nothing to defile.". To me nothing needs to be recovered. Hegel claimed art was beautiful fruit that has fallen from a tree that give it life. As such we never can recover it's original intentions we can only discover what the work brings up in us. Thus the viewer completes the work. The work of art is always new, waiting for the viewer to find it's present meanings. That's what I learned from the divinity school at the U of C but I think it ties in nicely with Delacroix famous quote "o young artist you search for a subject-everything is your subject. Your subject is yourself,your impressions, your emotions in the presence of nature."
I assume you where referring to abstract art, but all art it seems in it's essential nature to be a abstraction. The subjectis often the vehicle that allows an artist to express their concepts. I think Rubens Tiepolo ,Delacroix etc were all great conceptual artist and much more interesting then the artist you presented in this post because their ideas are more interesting.
I think American abstraction and Clement Greenberg where up to the same as you are here they where trying to define Art and hence the huge post modern rejection of modernism everything is art.
By the way when are you going to do a post on H vonScmidt's great paintings of those jungle leaves in his WWII paintings.

12/15/2009 11:23 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"Anything done by a person with intent to expose hidden aspects of reality to himself or others."


that is fine but does all art deal with 'hidden aspects of reality' ?
does a still life of some fruit or a swagger portrait ?


"Another way of expressing this would be: "Art is a stimulant for dulled minds."


the trouble with the art-as-inward -journey-to-enlightenment idea is that everyone is at a different stage and therefore needs a different stimulant to get them there. for some it might be Rothko, for others Jenny Holzer, for others the Simpsons. as a definition of art it seems too all inclusive and leads to the 'all is art' (therefore nothing is art) dead end. why even stop at art ? surely anything could act as the stimulant... a sunset, a urinal, a mushroom cloud. doesn't it render art useless* ?



* which it probably is anyway. i think what we are witnessing is the demystification of art and the 'everyone is an artist' 'anything/everything is art' idea first kicked off by Duchamp's urinal is the first step to realizing we don't actually need art at all.

12/16/2009 2:23 AM  
Anonymous norm said...

Sure...everyone's an artist (potentially) just like everyone who can type thinks they're a writer....and I can say I'm a tennis player, because I go out and play.
But...are they (am I) any good?
I guess I'm repeating myself, so I should stop....but as much goofy fun as this discussion is, I do feel strongly that no one can tell anyone else they're not an artist. What if it came down that none of us were considered official "Artists" ?
Would you all accept that?

12/16/2009 4:24 AM  
Anonymous norm said...

I should also address Laurence's last comment. I still think art is very useful. If it wasn't it would go away. But, people still enjoy art. Maybe the medium changes, but art in one form or another will always be around.

12/16/2009 4:29 AM  
Blogger Matthew Adams said...

Hmmm, mass debate!

I love it when everyone tosses in their two cents worth.

We can probably open up a conceptual sperm bank right now.

Sorry David, just having too much fun and can't resist. Your first response cleared up a lot of things for me. Like you I find that most so called conceptual art is about as deep as the kiddie section at the local pool. There is something a lot deeper to art where the creator struggles with the material they are using to create the artwork (and I don't mean because they have a lack of skill with their chosen medium. Hey Rob, when i think about it like that I can sometimes appreciate Jeff Koons, and his(?) ability to make metal sculptures look light as air).

12/16/2009 8:17 AM  
Anonymous Thomas said...

Theory of Me,

You will never get away from the fact that art is a qualitative and comparitive term. Never.

If you want objective criteria, you're not going to find any. Sure, you can talk all day about drawing, color, design, etc. but whatever it is that gives something that special push above the rest is, in the end, still a mystery.

All we are left with is looking at those special examples and seeing how much better they are than the mediocre and everyday ones, or even the bad ones. I'm sorry, but if you can successfully come up with some kind of objective criteria for what makes something art and something not, you'll be the first. In the absence of absolute standards, all we have is comparison.

My big problem, as I tried to outline, is that there is a larger, general consensus on quality that is being overlooked by those who push modernism. They want to fall back into the position that since what makes something artful and beautiful is intangible, then judgements must be wholly personal--there can be no shared consensus on certain works vs. other works. That's obviously wrong. It's like saying that most men wouldn't find a supermodel beautiful. Sure, some wouldn't, but most would. There's a general consensus. Common ground is important in lots of areas, not just in aesthetic judgement. What do you build a society around, if it's not common ground? People love their individuality, but they refuse to see that it's a larger society with common rules and culture that makes that individuality so enjoyable. Try living in anarchy, and I think your ideas of individual interpretation might change.

If what makes something art is wholly personal, and that's fine with you, then you should have no argument with modernism and it's adherents, because that is the conerstone of their collective insanity. And if you don't think that modernism is where absolute relativism leads, then I'd sure like to know where it comes from. Once you throw common standards out the door, all you have is a cult of personality and the ascendence of ego. And what else would you expect from the Me First crowd? Art about you? Think again.

12/16/2009 10:55 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Well, this all seems to have devolved into a nice holiday mob riot. Even if we aren't coalescing around some consensus, at least it is gratifying that art still inspires such strong emotions.

I don't see any systematic way to respond to all of this, so forgive me for skimming across the surface:

Antonio: You write, "I don't like it because it is just so dumb. "Hard" and "conceptual" is, say, algebraic geometry. I know it is hard and conceptual because I spend months trying to understand a paper written by a guy that actually wants me to understand it, and my brain really hurts." I agree with most of this-- I have little regard for so much of conceptual (and even more traditional editorial) art because those who claim that the "idea" is primary often have ideas that I view as shallow or even just plain lousy. The arrogance and sense of entitlement within this discipline astonishes me, especially in comparison to what I witness in my day job working with people in the hard sciences. You're right, Antonio, Algebraic geometry is hard. So is computer science, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and many other empirical pursuits where progress is quantifiable and the impact on the quality of our daily lives is clear to all. Of course, scientists have their own hubris but at least their results live or die on the basis of their ability to satisfy universal standards. The one especially interesting nuance to your point is your reference to the fact that a mathmatician "actually wants me to understand." Some part of art's greatness lies in its ambiguity and its susceptibility to multiple perspectives, but on the other hand I have little patience for artists who are deliberately obscure to make what they do seem mysterious and difficult.

cp-- where did I go wrong?

Dominic-- I agree. I like the enthusiasm, but at some point this becomes counter productive.

12/16/2009 11:16 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Rob, perhaps I missed the significance of your point that " I guess you can dismiss [Chinese and Japanese artists] out of hand because they routinely copied masterpieces." I know and respect the tradition of copying masterpieces, both in Japan and in the west. But if you are suggesting that Levine or Choit are working in that tradition, or that the important benefits from copying masterpieces are somewhere on display here, you are going to have to help me see the evidence of that.

12/16/2009 11:30 AM  
Blogger theory_of_me said...

Laurence John: "does all art deal with 'hidden aspects of reality' ?
does a still life of some fruit or a swagger portrait ?"

Yes. Even the most basic art school assignments deal with things like drawing, color theory, and design, etc. Studying such things gives you a glimpse of how different elements can interact with each other to produce aesthetic reactions. This is an aspect of reality that most people are unaware of despite the fact that they experience such things every day. It doesn't end there, of course, but that's one place to start looking for such things in art.

"why even stop at art ? surely anything could act as the stimulant... a sunset, a urinal, a mushroom cloud. doesn't it render art useless* ?"

Yes, anything can act as a stimulant. The key point to focus on is that none of the things you mentioned can be art in and of themselves. For a sunset to become art, a human being has to see it through an aesthetic mindset. This doesn't necessarily make our traditional ideas of art "useless" because many people have become separated from or desensitized to the possible aesthetic reactions that nature can trigger, so they need something more artificial.

It's also important to remember that whenever someone begins to mature into a healthy, sane and rational person, they have to go through an aesthetic phase. The urge to make sense of reality starts with the appreciation of a superficial sense of order before it becomes deeper. What you see in the museums, art openings, music concerts or a message board like this are people in that phase who haven't left it yet for various reasons. They could be hopelessly stuck in it due to addiction, just beginning to appreciate it, or looking to profit materially from it, etc.

"...Duchamp's urinal is the first step to realizing we don't actually need art at all."

I don't think we'll ever stop "needing" art, we just don't need the same types of art. If humanity continues existing for much longer it's going to have to change and this will necessarily bring about the need for different kinds of art.

12/16/2009 12:51 PM  
Blogger theory_of_me said...

Thomas: "You will never get away from the fact that art is a qualitative and comparitive term. Never."

What gave you the idea that I wanted to do such a thing?

"If you want objective criteria, you're not going to find any."

It seems you're confusing my creation of a definition for Art as an attempt to create objective criteria. There's no such thing as "objective criteria". All criteria must be interpreted and used subjectively. All experiences are subjective in nature and that's as "objective" as anything can ever possibly get.

My definition of Art is my definition. I made it up for my purposes. If anyone else wants to use it, they are welcome to. The same goes for all definitions, they have to be adopted by the individual for whatever purpose they see fit. It doesn't matter if you go through the dictionary and adhere to every definition inside, you have to first decide that it is proper to do so. Everyone makes up their own or agrees to use previously set definitions, there's no way around that. The only thing that matters as far as definitions go, is that when you are communicating with someone else you need to make sure you are both aware of the definitions in play. Otherwise, communication is impossible.

12/16/2009 1:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Conceptual art is the practice of salesmanship. The "artist" takes anything and convinces the viewer that anything is art. The process, the technique is only defined as part of the pitch.

There is nothing beyond the pitch, what makes it art. There is no depth; there is no substance.

You can understand the concept and move on within less than a minute. For anyone to buy the piece, they are only buying an artist's brand, they are not buying art.

12/16/2009 1:51 PM  
Anonymous Thomas said...

Theory of Me,

All criteria must be interpreted and used subjectively. All experiences are subjective in nature and that's as "objective" as anything can ever possibly get

That is blatantly false. If it were true, science wouldn't exist.

My definition of Art is my definition

See that's the problem with all of it. You, Kev, thousands of other people, and the Modernists say the same thing. Moral relativists say the same thing. I can do what I want. I'm the ultimate arbiter.

Again, I'm sorry, but you're wrong about that. You aren't the ultimate arbiter. There's a whole society that exists outside of you that matters. And they have a vested interest in determining what is and is not valuable enough to praise, retain, and pass to the next generation. The world doesn't begin and end with you. And yes, you do think that, or why are you making the relativist argument?

Your blog handle even backs up what I'm saying. Theory of Me, Me, Me. Me, my, my theory, my navel, my interpretation.

The only thing that matters as far as definitions go, is that when you are communicating with someone else you need to make sure you are both aware of the definitions in play.

I thought everything was subjective? But I guess language can be objective enough to communicate? Oh, yes, only to communicate your thoughts. That's when it's convenient to pop out of the bubble.

What really galls the relativist is that there is a society at large that they choose not to be a part of, and that the society makes collective decisions without them. And worst of all, that those decisions are right and valid.

Unless I get to determine the rules, I'm taking my ball and going home. Now that's an adult attitude.

What a nation of little kids we have! It's truly incredible.

12/16/2009 3:23 PM  
Blogger theory_of_me said...

Thomas: "That is blatantly false. If it were true, science wouldn't exist.

Science does not deal in absolutes. All scientific findings are open to re-evaluation upon the presentation of new evidence. Also, science depends on definitions as well, so you won't be finding any objective reality in science either.

"There's a whole society that exists outside of you that matters.

Matters to who? If it matters to you then you must first decide consciously or unconsciously that it does. Values do not exist outside of human experience. If you'd like to propose that they do, then you're going to have to prove it somehow.

"I thought everything was subjective? But I guess language can be objective enough to communicate? Oh, yes, only to communicate your thoughts. That's when it's convenient to pop out of the bubble."

You can never be absolutely sure that someone is understanding anything you try to communicate to them. The best you can do is judge from observation (empirical, scientific evidence) that they understand you. Naturally, this is always open to uncertainty, like all science.

"What a nation of little kids we have! It's truly incredible."

Actually, it's you that is displaying the "childish" attitude. You believe in an objective reality without any proof that it could ever be real. And the only reason you hold this belief is because it gives you an emotional sense of comfort to do so. It's very much like believing in Santa Clause, or God etc....

12/16/2009 3:54 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"Yes. Even the most basic art school assignments deal with things like drawing, color theory, and design, etc. Studying such things gives you a glimpse of how different elements can interact with each other to produce aesthetic reactions"


ok, but i still don't see how studying the basics of art and design means you are showing 'hidden aspects of reality'. maybe i'm just getting stuck on that phrase. it seems more suitable to esoteric thinking. parallel dimensions, auras etc.



"There's a whole society that exists outside of you that matters. And they have a vested interest in determining what is and is not valuable enough to praise, retain, and pass to the next generation. The world doesn't begin and end with you"

Thomas, 'society' is made up of individuals each as selfish as the next one. you make it sound as if this 'society' holds secret meetings to determine the course of civilization to which selfish egotists/individualists aren't invited. or do you live in a communal utopia i haven't heard of ?
your 'common ground' idea seems to encourage a safe middle-brow polite nicey-nice culture that everyone can agree is OK and sort of normal and healthy (whatever normal and healthy is... but better not think about that too much if you want to maintain the appearance of it) and anyone with ideas that differ from the norm is labelled a nutjob. sounds rather like the repressive America of the 1950s... cozy but bound to errupt sooner or later.

12/16/2009 4:33 PM  
Anonymous Thomas said...

Theory of ME

Science is only up for re-evaluation if you have objective evidence to re-evaluate it. It's called fact, data etc. Believe it or not (and you don't) there is an objective reality around you that doesn't involve your interpretation. There's a moral world like that too, where rape and murder are wrong, adultery is wrong etc. It would exist even if you had never been born. It is wholly independent of you and your personal dictates. You need to grow up and deal with that.

You can use all the silly, contorted arguments that you want, and you will never outrun reality.

And that is the entire point of all of it.

You and other juvenile people don't want to recognize or participate in a society where somebody else gets to make decisions and rules that stick for everybody. If there were some reason higher than your own ego for not abiding by those decisions, that would be fine. But if it's just the desire to live in your own world and be dismissive of others, it isn't fine. It's adolescent. You live in an extended adolescence.

The society at large has a valid interest in defining what it considers to be art and not art, what it considers to valuable and not valuable, and what it considers to be moral and immoral, and to pass that along to the next generation. It's called culture, and it's important. When that breaks down, you have anarchy.

Solitaries like you can't see anything wrong with anarchy because you get to enjoy the fruits of order while personally practicing anarchy. Wait until that order is gone and all the fruits of law and order break down. The anarchists and hedonists will be the first to scream.

Go live in your box if you want. Dismiss everybody but yourself. I have no problem with people making independent decisions and living their own life. Just don't expect me or the society at large to to endorse it. And don't be surprised that you live in a madhouse when everybody else thinks like you do. We're halfway there as it is.

12/16/2009 5:06 PM  
Anonymous Thomas said...

Laurence John

Maybe you could tell me who is writing the art textbooks, designing the art curriculum at colleges and universities, and who is filling up the museums with modernism then? Because they all seem to agree pretty well with each other. It's hard to explain the all-pervading monolithic endorsement of modernism without collusion, isn't it? I mean, modernism was, is, and never will be popular with the larger public. So where does all this standardization come from? Because it's not from the grassroots, that's for sure.

You know what Laurence, society isn't made up of selfish people. It's made up of unselfish people. People who are willing to sacrifice personal fulfillment for a greater good. Like parents, for example. In fact, one of the cornerstones of civil society is unselfish behavior. When that disappears, so does civilization.

But I just bet that you are like Kev and Theory of ME ME ME where you just love to live in the selfish, solitary world of your own making.

All I can say is good luck to you when the world is full of Laurence Johns, Kev Ferraras, and Theory of ME ME MEs, because it will be hell on earth when it happens, that's for sure.

12/16/2009 5:20 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"I mean, modernism was, is, and never will be popular with the larger public. So where does all this standardization come from? Because it's not from the grassroots, that's for sure"


you've obviously never been to Tate Modern in London. it's full of what was once considered shocking, transgressive art, but now droves of (perfectly normal, respectable) tourists flock through it every day bored mostly, and snapping away at the exhibits with their mobile phone cameras. Dali's lobster telephone looks positively quaint these days. Hans Bellmer's doll barely raises an eyebrow, maybe a titter.
the masses are sheep. whatever the latest thing is they're all over it. The latest Anish Kapoor exhibition at the royal Academy has had record ticket sales. that's for an exhibit that fires wax from a canon into a corner... and yes, normal healthy people are going to see what it is all about. not just solitary weirdos like me thank you very much. modern art is all the rage.

12/16/2009 5:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Laurence, it should be clear by now that Thomas is either a troll or a lunatic. In either case an obvious statement about reality will not make a dent.

12/16/2009 5:48 PM  
Anonymous Thomas said...

Laurence John,

Just because people are in a museum doesn't mean they like the art. Just like people in a bar wouldn't necessarily like the music. Look at the Guggnheim. People come out of that laughing.

Seems to me that people these days have lots of time and do all kinds of boring things that they don't enjoy simply to keep moving and kill time.

Hell, I've been in art museums that show modern art, and I can't stand the stuff. Probably the vast majority there are just there because its a Thing To Do.

You never explained how the entire art world and academy completely changed to modernism with no collusion, only "individual choice". The whole movement and its monolithic face is impossible to explain without collusion.

BTW, if you think that there is no objective reality, and that there is no common aesthetic agreement amongst the population, go to a party and start passing lots of gas. Then see how subjective people are. You can explain to them how your farts don't really smell bad, how people are just ignorant, and how you get to determine aesthetic worth yourself without their input. Then while they laugh in your face and call you are a lunatic, you can bask in your private intellectual superiority. All while your farts continue to stink.

Or throw some water on yourself and say you aren't wet.

There's no objective reality. There's no social standards. Just you and your own individual judgement. Sure.

Believe me, if you really think that, I'm not the one that's insane--you are.

12/16/2009 6:34 PM  
Blogger Einbildungskraft said...

RE: "I think the best, richest, most profound art is 1.)embodied in a perishable physical object and 2.)is technically difficult to achieve."
Let me just put in my few cents, in the face of this raucously intellectual audience of yours.
I asked my daughter (17), "Lily, what is the definition of art?"

She said, "That which brings pleasure, evokes emotion, from the viewer." "Its solely in the eyes of the beholder" ~ ie a piece could be coprological junk to one person (not art), but to another, worth its weight in diamonds (art).
gE

12/16/2009 7:19 PM  
Blogger theory_of_me said...

Thomas: "Believe it or not (and you don't) there is an objective reality around you that doesn't involve your interpretation.

I refuse to believe things for which there is no evidence whatsoever. If I look around me, all I see are things that exist within consciousness, that is, extensions of myself. For you to prove that anything exists outside of consciousness you'd have to step out of it and conduct a scientific experiment, which is nonsense because you'd still need consciousness to collect any scientific data. So your proposal is ridiculous and you have no hope of ever proving it. All you're left with is your faith in it.

"you get to enjoy the fruits of order while personally practicing anarchy. Wait until that order is gone and all the fruits of law and order break down. The anarchists and hedonists will be the first to scream."

I am not an anarchist. I adhere as best as I can to that which I find to be absolutely true using logic. If finding pleasure in discovering the truth for myself makes me a hedonist, then so be it. Your scare tactics won't work on me or anyone who knows what I'm talking about.

"Just don't expect me or the society at large to to endorse it."

Now, why would I expect or care about your endorsement?

12/17/2009 12:05 AM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

D.A:
People being spellbound, that is enamoured with the power of words, they seek to elevate the "inferior" visual arts with "literate" concepts. This attitude can be seen throughout the posts here.


Thomas:
You seek to protect the ego within the womb of common ground. What makes society the provider/protector of individuality… Taxes? Town-houses? The Post Office? All is anarchy, their is no super-glue. It only works because individuals agree that it is in their own best interest.

>>science wouldn't exist<< Art isn't science, except for Koons' Train. I wouldn't want to be standing underneath that if the science isn't right.

Who's judgement, but your own, do you respect? The guest curators? The "common ground" of the brie and wine sect? The one printed in the newspaper that you respect?



Laurence John:
Hidden aspects of reality can be found in a bowl of fruit painted by Kalf, Cezanne, Leyendecker , etc. etc. Each artist, formed in the common ground, bring forth their individual vision. Some call it style.


theory_of_me:
>>science depends on definitions as well<< What group has created more words over the past century! A rose by any other…

12/17/2009 12:24 AM  
Blogger theory_of_me said...

Not sure what you were trying to say to me there, अर्जुन.

12/17/2009 12:28 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"You never explained how the entire art world and academy completely changed to modernism with no collusion, only "individual choice".


i don't know why you're asking me that question. when i said this.."you make it sound as if this 'society' holds secret meetings to determine the course of civilization to which selfish egotists/individualists aren't invited" i was talking about your 'common ground' normal people who you seem to think all have the same common taste. if you're looking for an answer to a modern-art-dominance-conspiracy-takeover i don't have
it. you need to speak to Brian (the great 'art to turn the people savage' debate from a few months ago). he had a very similar "YOU'RE ALL WRONG!' tone to you.


"BTW, if you think that there is no objective reality..."


i never said that, you're mixing me up with theory_of_me. i also may share some views with kev, but like many here i can only understand about one third of what he says, so please don't lump me in with anyone who annoys you.


"Seems to me that people these days have lots of time and do all kinds of boring things that they don't enjoy simply to keep moving and kill time"


ah, we agree on something. as i said people are sheep. whatever they read about in the papers they'll go and see. record art gallery ticket sales doesn't mean they actually understand or like it. i don't know why you're so concerned about anarchy. it will take a lot more than some weirdo modern art to move the apathetic/obedient masses to anarchy. they'll still have their Thomas Kinkade prints when they get back home so why worry ?

12/17/2009 2:27 AM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

theory:
It was a quip regarding Thomas' obsession over people creating words and meanings, while he espouses the absolutism of concrete science. Nothing more. I would quote a pertinent line, but having read them once, I've already shown him enough respect.

L John:
We all need to speak to BRIAN!

12/17/2009 3:42 AM  
Anonymous Thomas said...

Theory of ME ME ME,

If reality were really subjective, every single hospital in america would be empty, nobody would age or die, and there would be no poverty.

Go stand out in the rain, and tell everybody you aren't wet.

Reality is not a product of consciousness. It's the other way around. There's an objective world outside of you, Mr. ME ME ME.

You have absoutely lost touch with reality. That's called psychosis. Good luck to you in life, sir. You will need plenty of it.

Laurence John,

Still haven't given me a good explanation for why 99.9% of all art schools in America completely shifted to modernism in the course of about 20 years. Whenever you see that kind of monopoly, it must be the product of a free society. Sure, that's how things work.

I don't need theories for conspiracy. I simply look for facts. And when I see de facto monopolies, I know there is collusion, and not free markets.

Please don't talk about fashion. If there's one thing about the official academy that's true, they don't follow fashion. That's why practically every single university in the western world promotes socialism, even though it is the most vicious and murderous system ever invented. National Socialism, International Socialism, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, etc., it doesn't matter. The monolithic endorsement of this system by the academy has been constant for the last 100 years, before, during, and after the Cold War. Now that's collusion.

(BTW, the only reason socialism hasn't been murderous in western Europe is because there isn't the presence there of a large standing army. If there were, it would have been turned against the citizenry, just like it has been everywhere else. Just wait, you'll see.)

Also, see my comments to the little tin god above.

12/17/2009 10:58 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Thomas, i'm afraid i don't have a theory for the dominance of modernism, but i think it IS just a trend. when a certain type of art is in vogue, then no-one wants to be left out in case they look old-fashioned (more sheep behaviour sadly). i never said i approved of the situation, and never said i thought your country was a 'free market'. (i also, for the record, don't think that reality disappears when i close my eyes. just because i'm a selfish individualist doesn't mean i completely lack common sense).

"And when I see de facto monopolies, I know there is collusion, and not free markets"

ok, so please tell me your theory behind the dominance of modern art. what is the secret agenda we're not being told about ?

also, if common standards are important and hundreds of thousands of decent healthy unselfish people love Thomas Kinkade, does that make him an important painter ?

12/17/2009 11:55 AM  
Blogger theory_of_me said...

Thomas: "If reality were really subjective, every single hospital in america would be empty, nobody would age or die, and there would be no poverty."

"Go stand out in the rain, and tell everybody you aren't wet."

That simply does not follow. Subjectivity does not mean you get to make up your own facts. There are things you can't rationally deny, for example, I can't possibly deny the fact that I see a computer screen right now. If I begin to deny it, I'd be admitting that I see it. Yes, it could all be a hallucination but I could never rationally deny that I was experiencing something. That's the foundation for absolute truth. Contrary to popular opinion, absolute truths do not come from an objective world "out there" somewhere, because no such thing can exist. All absolute truths have to be experienced subjectively.

"Reality is not a product of consciousness. It's the other way around. There's an objective world outside of you"

I agree with you that there needs to be a reality in order for consciousness to exist. But this reality that makes it possible can in no way ever take the form of an "outside objective world". It is essentially formless, beyond existence and non-existence. There is nothing we can really say about it with any accuracy because as soon as we try to define or categorize it we are attempting to make it finite which is always doomed to failure because we'd be talking about the Infinite.

12/17/2009 12:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's only one way out of this mess... Why don't we all agree that Thomas is in charge of everything from now on.

This will make him extremely happy and will end this ludicrous discussion immediately.

12/17/2009 2:29 PM  
Anonymous Thomas said...

Theory of Me,

"the reality that makes it possible can in no way ever take the form of an outside objective world."

Read that sentence you wrote over and over again. It's a complete oxymoron.

Reality is by definition an objective world outside of yourself.

You've slipped over the edge. Please grow up.

It's been nice talking to you (I think). All you can do from now on is continue making my point for me.

Laurence John

Monopolies are not the result of individual choice.

I'm saying that the art market is and has always been manipulated by the big-money boys. Modernism was foisted on the public so that individual collectors, small museums, etc would have to divest themselves of excellent realist paintings in a down market. the big boys have bought most of it up for pennies on the dollar. Now it's time for realism to make a "comeback" so that the values of the big-money boys' portfolios can soar.

As George Bush said, the purpose is to accumulate wealth and control into "tighter and righter hands."

The whole modernist philosophy of relativism was created to sell modernism to the intellectual class by appealing to their vanity. It worked perfectly. Modernism was rigged to ascend, and now it will be rigged to fall. Such changes are done over time.

The very wealthy are families who plan and plot over long periods of time to carry out these schemes.

Look behind the scenes of the New Realist Movement and you will see these wealthy families at work. I'm sorry to say that the world is largely a rigged game.

Anonymous,

I'm sure you're just like Kev Ferrara, Theory of Me, Laurence John, etc who think that they are the sole determinants of what is valuable or not (relativism). Please don't let me intrude on the common strain of egomania and psychosis by pointing out the error of that idea.

By the way, I'm not defining art for anybody, just saying that a common aesthetic exists and is important. It's pretty easy to prove, and readily apparent if you look.

But it's obvious that nobody here but me is looking. I'll gladly make my exit from this madhouse. You can all then argue with each other while claiming that relativism can't be questioned.

Bye.

12/17/2009 2:58 PM  
Blogger slinberg said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12/17/2009 3:08 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"The very wealthy are families who plan and plot over long periods of time to carry out these schemes"


i know ... the Rothschilds, the Rockefellers, the owl worshipping at bohemian grove, skull and bones... it's standard conspiracy stuff Thomas. at least if realism is making a comeback as you claim, we might get to see some decent painting again.

12/17/2009 4:32 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Ah well, another train wreck in the lounge.

12/17/2009 5:18 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

Yeah...at this point,I'll vote for anyone who wants it, as the winner of this debate. But, at the risk of making a positive (if off topic) statement. Kev, I checked out your stuff. Very nice brushwork. Cool stuff.
In fact there are a lot of very gifted artists dropping in here.
I don't want to exclude the non-artists (Hmmmm, is there such a thing?), but for me,it would be interesting to hear how people feel about this "what is art?" question as it applies to them professionally and personally.

Sometimes I get irked going into a musem and realizing I wouldn't get an iota of respect from the crowd gazing at a blank canvas.
I'm probably being a bit petty...but it gets to me sometimes.

Once, I was in a painting class and I took turpentine and smooshed my whole painting (which wasn't working)into a greenish brown smear. Then, when I had just started going in with some Payne's gray to cover it up and start over
, my teacher tells me to "Stop!" then he grabs my painting and runs up to the front of the class..."This is remarkable! It's like a Rothko! Magnificent!"
I liked the teacher...but that kind of knocked me off my pins.
Where does that fall on the "what is art" scale?

12/17/2009 8:13 PM  
Blogger slinberg said...

Norm, you should have sold it to him. :)

12/17/2009 8:43 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

Ha!
You're right!.....What was I thinking?

12/17/2009 10:03 PM  
Blogger theory_of_me said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12/17/2009 10:21 PM  
Blogger theory_of_me said...

Thomas: "Reality is by definition an objective world outside of yourself."

That's not a useful definition. If we use it to define reality, you run into a couple of problems: Firstly, you can't prove that there even is a reality (because everything that appears to be outside of yourself is really within your consciousness) and secondly, it means that you yourself are not part of reality.

I suggest coming up with a more appropriate definition.

12/17/2009 10:25 PM  
Blogger Stephen Worth said...

When the "art of reduction" reaches its zenith, we can declare post modernism dead and start building something real.

12/17/2009 10:48 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

for further reading on 'the great modern art conspiracy' see Brian's comments in the 'illustrating infinity' post, June 2009.

12/18/2009 2:25 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev: you write, "If you believe that a photo of an atomic bomb is art, I would like to hear your definition of WHY it is art. And in what way it is art in the way that Rembrandt is art. When would a photo of an atom bomb blast NOT be art?"

It seems to me that a great many criteria are common to all two dimensional images (including both a photo of an atom bomb blast and a Rembrandt). They can be judged on the basis of design, composition, color, balance, harmony, etc. They can be judged on the basis of content, emotional impact, etc. There are some obvious differences, of course; a photographer chooses a composition by the position of the camera while Rembrandt chooses the composition by cropping his drawing with his hand. Rembrandt achieves a likeness by the skill of his hand, while the photographer achieves it with his skill with camera settings. Rembrandt chooses color from an array of pigments while a photographer uses exposure times and other setting to adjust the colors perceived by the human eye. We may agree that some of these skills are superior to others, but in the respects described above, a photo can be a successful or unsuccessful image just the way that a Rembrandt can.

Norm: you write, "...and by rigid definition, I'm talking about art snobs who look down on cartoonists...or cartoonists who refuse to accept conceptual art as a potentially valid form of expression...or abstract artists who say representational art is useless."

I agree that it is essential to keep an open mind about art forms that make us uncomfortable, and to fight our natural inclination toward snobbishness. But on the other hand, I maintain that it would be a bigger mistake to abandon all standards and treat art as totally subjective. As we have discussed in previous posts, this necessary tension between scylla and charybdis-- between the rock and the whirlpool-- is where all the action is, as far as I am concerned.

12/18/2009 4:00 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

David,

Yes, all that is true... A photo of an atom bomb and a Rembrandt have certain similarities which we text savants can taxonomize: both are flat images, both can have an emotional impact, both have subject matter, have compositions, etc.

But is it not true that we now have cameras with serviceable autofocus, autocomposing, and autostabilization? (One of my first principles is, if a machine can do it, it is craft, not art.)

And couldn't the explosion of a bomb prompt the photographer to drop his camera, which then accidentally goes off when it hits the ground (highly hypothetical I know, but an important philosophical test nonetheless). And couldn't this accidental photo of the bomb blast be absolutely amazing?

If the accidental photo is too much, how about the photographer turns away from the bomb blast, pointing the camera over the shoulder and clicking the shutter button randomly. Could you doubt that at least some of these shots would be amazing?

Is there anything to drop or click that will get us an accidental Rembrandt?

I propose that a bomb blast in and of itself has an emotional charge. Just like a crying child, an elderly man hooked up to life support, a priest disfigured by a splash of acid to the face and neck, or a hot girl bending over.

These things give off light that can be captured. With a machine that captures light, the design of light broadcasting off these charged visuals can be captured sufficiently to communicate the original charge. Anybody can capture this charge. Pressing a button, aligning the subject, and focusing is all the craft required to capture the charge to a flat surface that will then broadcast it.

Imagine three photographers in a row, each looking at the hot girl bending over. They all take photos. They switch places, take more photos. Later on, all the photos are tossed upon a table. Each carries the emotional charge sufficiently, and one photographer's work is indistinguishable from the next.

I can hear voices saying "Ansel Adams! Ansel Adams!" Well, a few years ago I did a test. I found some decent compositions of mountains taken by unknown photographers and Ansel Adamized them in photoshop. I then posted the fakes along with some real Ansel Adams' and, believe it or not, nobody noticed the difference.

Speaking of which, what credit goes to Mr. Ripley that he exhibits his oddities, except insofar as he is an entertaining procurer and curator of them. He made none of them. He just captured them and put them on exhibit. (Well he may have shined a few up, added a few more bits of straw, etc.) If an English safari master had kept a shrunken head for himself, instead of offering it to Mr. Ripley, would that change the emotional charge of the item? Hardly. Nobody calls Mr. Ripley an artist for his capturing and exhibiting of emotional charged objects. (And since we can't touch these objects in his museums, all we have is the light coming off them.)

This goes to the question of Aesthetic Emotion versus sensation, kitsch and curation.

The charge of Aesthetic Emotion does not come from outside. It comes from within the artist. That means, Aesthetic Emotion exists irrespective of subject.

Sensation, however, can be curated... collected by the activation of a light collection machine pointed at the sensation.

All to say, yes a photo and a Rembrandt can be compared at a superficial level. But the most essential question of Art; "from whence does the emotional charge arise," demonstrates that we are comparing two different species of image.

Incidentally, I believe it is the poeticizing act that gives Art aesthetic emotion. The human being interprets the form while suffused with an emotion. This is a synthetic process that encodes emotion within technique.

A camera, on the other hand, couldn't give a damn if it was viewing a flower or a riot. It will still render the given light on the assigned flat surface with the same mechanical sufficiency.

12/18/2009 11:47 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Slinberg-- you asked recently whether I have taken to moderating the comments here. As I hope will be apparent from the chaos that reigns, I never censor any comments except obvious electronic spam. For older posts, I did invoke a blogger feature that requires my approval for new comments. I did this because I was receiving spam from escort services that might show up on 50 old posts simultaneously and I had to go through and weed them all out individually. Now I can simply decline to accept them-- much easier. So if any of you are commenting on posts that are more than a month or two old, it may take a few days for me to check and see that they have new comments but I promise I will get to them and accept them.

Kev-- I think a dropped camera that happens to take a great picture is not much different from a dropped paintbrush that becomes a great Robert Motherwell painting. Furthermore, I don't see how we can view the interesting splash from the dropped Motherwell brush as qualitatively different from the happy accidents that took place in paintings by Rembrandt and lots of other artists we respect (although quantitatively, the accident might account for 5% of the rembrandt and 95% of the Motherwell).

One problem I have with the intellectual framework you propose is that it requires us to know the intent of the artist (or photographer). Obviously we respect the deliberate photograph more than the product of a dropped camera, but you won't always know the history of an image. If the object stands alone as a beautiful object, how deeply do you need to go into its pedigree?

You note that "A camera, on the other hand, couldn't give a damn if it was viewing a flower or a riot. It will still render the given light on the assigned flat surface with the same mechanical sufficiency." Well, a paintbrush doesn't give a damn either. It is the photographer or the painter who decides to portray the flower close up (tell me that Steichen's photograph, "Heavy Roses" is not filled with artistic choices) and the riot with an action packed image from a distance.

Finally, if you think that photographs of girls bending over are "indistinguishable," then I am sorry, but you simply do not love photographs of girls bending over as much as I do. There is, my friend, a HUGE difference.

Thomas-- I agree with you that "a common aesthetic exists," certainly within the confines of a particular culture or a particular time period. I also agree that should be plain to all, just as it is obvious that certain styles-- art deco or art nouveau, for example-- prevail in their era. The far tougher question is whether it is possible to identify common aesthetic criteria, or even a common aesthetic vocabulary, that transcends a particular culture or country. In short, are aesthetic concepts ingrained in us biologically, perhaps from common perception of balance, harmony, etc. in nature?

12/18/2009 1:35 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

David,

You have glanced off Rembrandt to Motherwell.

Let's get back: Can you accidentally make a Rembrandt?

Answer: No. He may have, from time to time, used serendipity in his efforts, but Rembrandt was not clicking a button or turning a crank.

To your girlie point:

If three photographers take the same girl under the same lighting with the same instruments at the same moment, the photos will be indistinguishable. One photographer may zoom in to an extreme, one may tilt the camera, one may get on his belly to get an extreme upshot... but these are all superficial methods to differentiate themselves. So the guy who went zoom gets on his belly, the upshooter stands up and tilts, and the tilter instead goes zoom. One unfocuses, then the other says, "hey that's neat! I'll do that too!" One blots out a blemish in the darkroom, another sees the effect and replicates the act. These are simple technical matters, easily transferrable. The difference is marginal. The real issue for the photographer is the same as the journalist: How do I get myself in the position so that I can record the light coming off important and newsworthy or rare action or experience.

On the other hand...

If you put Leyendecker, Burton Silverman, and Rembrandt in front of the same model, same paper, same chalk, same light, same girl, then the difference will be highly pronounced.

The reason is because the penmanship of art carries the expression, not just of the man, but also his thoughts. Think of the brush as a seismograph needle, but with a psychological sensitivity as well. This is the encoding I referred to earlier.

Photography has no such penmanship aspect. The hand has been de-coupled from the surface in any meaningful way, except for the general causality. Furthermore, a camera has never facilitated a coupling of the photographer's intention with the physicality of the thing being photographed. Unless the photographer puts down the camera and physically changes the form of the things he is to photograph, which is of course Sculpture. The photograph then would capture the light coming off the sculpture... recording an artwork that lies outside the finished product. Which means, again, if two other photographers were in his studio with him with the same equipment, their recording of his sculpture would be largely the same as his.

And as far as that Steichen photo, I agree with him that roses in black and white can be pretty. Credit where credit is due. So let us salute the beauty of nature and the invention of the camera and, yes, Steichen for giving us an excellent demonstration of both.

If you really want to test your beliefs, bring 5 different color photos, recent ones, of similar flowers in a similar arrangement as that Steichen into photoshop. Then play around with it.

There are about 10 million photoshop jockeys that can play that Steichen in 10 minutes or less from any given photo of flowers. The city agencies have production people galore who can do it. In my experience, it is purely a technical matter.

12/18/2009 2:22 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

kev, that was a very articulate summation of the nagging suspicion most of us on the painterly side of things have... that photography is far easier than painting (and action painting is far easier than realist painting).

there is a middle ground however... photographic artists who meticulously construct elaborate sets and/or use digital post production to heavily alter the photographic source to achieve something closer to their imagination. photographer Gregory Crewdson, who's still-photo shoots are often of film set proportions, would be a good example.

12/18/2009 3:08 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Laurence, I would agree with your general assessment, but as usual, with exceptions. For example, I suspect it required more creativity and hard work for Annie Liebovitz to come up with her photo of Whoopi Goldberg in a bathtub full of milk than it takes for some hack paperback cover artist to paint one more conventional potboiler cover.

But as long as we are judging human pursuits by how "hard" they are, what do you think about Antonio's point that algebraic geometry is by comparison REALLY hard: "I know it is hard and conceptual because I spend months trying to understand a paper written by a guy that actually wants me to understand it, and my brain really hurts." Do you (or Kev) think that "realist painting" is harder than that? Do you think it is harder than coal mining?

12/18/2009 6:35 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

Kev, that was a revealing discussion of the Puritan Work Ethic. How that relates to art is anyone's guess. For that sort of penance I'll stick to a few Hail Marys and some Our Fathers.

You seem to be confused between between labor and genius and pain. If hard work was what made great art, you wouldn't use a computer. But you do, so what's that say about your commitment versus your pronunciamentos?

12/18/2009 6:45 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"Do you (or Kev) think that "realist painting" is harder than that? Do you think it is harder than coal mining?"

no... those are feats of logic and physical endurance respectively... a completely different kind of 'hard'. painting requires subtle, practiced technical skill plus imagination. or not much imagination if you're producing straight studies from life. i wouldn't compare them myself.

"I suspect it required more creativity and hard work for Annie Liebovitz to come up with her photo of Whoopi Goldberg in a bathtub full of milk..."

creativity maybe. hard work, i'm not sure.

12/18/2009 7:09 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

p.s. David, if you think Whoopi Goldberg in a bath of milk is hard work, i urge you to check out what Gregory Crewdson gets up to take a decent snap.

12/18/2009 7:20 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Thank you Norm. I enjoyed looking at your work too. And I agree that a lot of talented people are coming in here.

David, my point was not about hard versus easy per se. It was about encoding expression with the mind and hand. Versus not.

It is equally difficult to make a fantastic painting (I've not made one yet, so I'm just extrapolating.) as a crappy one. But it is not possible to make a fantastic painting at the touch of a button, or by virtue of an accident.

So even if you don't agree with my arguments, you must agree that clearly there is some fundamental difference between Rembrandt (which nobody disputes is Art) and a randomly captured, yet spectacularly effective photograph of a nuclear bomb explosion.

Getting into such questions as arise with "action painting" is very tricky, because making a good looking abstract is rather difficult. In some ways it would seem to be as difficult as painting some hacky cover because you have nothing but instinct to act upon.

But, again, difficulty or ease, are not my concerns. Except to say that it is very difficult to encode emotion into art. And, it is impossible to encode your own emotions into a photograph per se. (Unless you get into much more manipulation and staging of the reality in front of the camera and the photo in post-production, as Laurence mentioned. Which is the scenario within which Annie Leibovitz does her work (which I like, btw.))

I have a friend who works in Boston at a food-photography agency. All day long he spritzes glycerin on meatloaf to make it more appetizing. He describes the entire output of the agency as "hackwork delux." And so it is, but so what. People have to make a living. I've done my share of hack work myself, including shiny product photography. I don't confuse it with Art with a capital A, although I take pride in doing any job well, even a hack job.

Rob, I paint in oils, and draw with pencil. For my graphic novel I only color, letter, and do the compositing on computer. I make it a point to keep the physicality of the pencils and inks evident throughout the digital production process.

I consider the experience of reading a graphic novel an Art experience in the same way as I consider movies an Art experience. There is no "original" of the experience. There is only the experience of running through the frames, which are themselves reproductions. My photoshop documents aren't artworks, they are (beating my old dead horse here) the first reproductions of artworks that never existed.

I like to think that the some of the original ink work stands on its own, however.

Lastly, as I stated above, (and this is to you as well, David) my point was not about ease or difficulty, but about aesthetic emotion, which derives from within, versus captured emotion, which derives from without. Obviously I wouldn't agree that this distinction is without relevance to creating art.

12/18/2009 7:58 PM  
Anonymous Valentino said...

David: >"In short, are aesthetic concepts ingrained in us biologically, perhaps from common perception of balance, harmony, etc. in nature?"

Obviously, they are part of human nature. As early as the dawn of humanity, cave dwellers have shaped the pieces of stones and animal bones into objects which served a strictly practical purpose but, once they gained sufficient skills and confidence, they added to those items another dimension - aesthetic value.
Those tools could have served their purposes equally well without being nicely shaped, but our ancestors obviously appreciated more the items which looked beautiful. I am sure the tribe members able to make more perfect tools were held in higher regard than those who could only make a crude, simple tools. (I am tempted to make analogy with contemporary, post modern art scene here, but I will refrain from that...)
Then came the age when people wanted items that served solely the purpose of decoration. They liked to both look at beauty (and not ugliness, for some reason) and being surrounded by beauty. It's obvious that aesthetic principle (or however we chose to call it) is part of our nature.

12/19/2009 5:14 AM  
Anonymous Valentino said...

>They liked to both look at beauty (and not ugliness, for some reason)and being surrounded by beauty."

Error. I wanted to say:
"The liked to both look at beauty (and not ugliness, for some reason) and to look beautiful".

12/19/2009 5:18 AM  
Anonymous Valentino said...

To avoid misunderstanding - I did not wish to imply that art should be merely a decoration. I was talking about aesthetic sense which, in my view is ingrained in us. I also did wish to imply that work which pretends to be called "artwork" should have aesthetic quality first, then everything else. If aesthetic charge is absent, than it does not have what it takes to be considered as art.

12/19/2009 5:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kev, I am having trouble with your argument. The thing is, when I try to parse this sentence

>If three photographers take the same girl >under the same lighting with the same >instruments

for some reason my face starts grinning all by itself and I keep going back to the start and reading it over and over again with a fuzzy feeling growing inside me >:-D

Antonio

12/19/2009 5:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

>Finally, if you think that photographs of >girls bending over are >"indistinguishable," then I am sorry, but >you simply do not love photographs of >girls bending over as much as I do. There >is, my friend, a HUGE difference.

You tell it like it is, brother!
Now we are talking REAL art! One's aesthetic reactions to photos of girls bending over can be measured and graded on the metric system, and you can't be more objective than that! Nobody can argue with the physiological girl-o-ometer.


This reminds me I had settled once and for all this "what is art" nonsense long ago. Remember kids, if it gets girls to strip for you, it is art, if not, it is not. Hence Oil painting can be art, photoshop is not. Photography most certainly can be art, pottery is not. Nobody strips for a potter.Look upon the historical record, people. All the Old Masters had girlies stripping for them.

12/19/2009 5:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, the previous anonymous was me (I know you wouldn't have guessed, David). How did I forget to take credit for that great opus of rationality :)

Antonio

12/19/2009 5:40 AM  
Blogger Einbildungskraft said...

physiological girl-o-ometer,fuzzy feeling,Whoopi Goldberg in a bathtub full of milk,aesthetic concepts ingrained in us biologically,glycerin on meatloaf... & Kev says "Ah well, another train wreck in the lounge."
Nooo, its a lovely party, thanks!
Oh, yes, not to foreget the importance of.... imagination!
Happy holidays to all of you.
Beth

12/20/2009 3:47 PM  
Blogger Sir Fred Gear said...

I have to say, I completely agree that all of the above examples destroy the concept of art and beauty in our world. It steals from artists in our communities doing real work, seeking to expand our consciousness of what beauty is, and what it means to master a method.

Expressing something already expressed is mere documentation. The moronic people who want to seem high-brow have always sought to destroy and muddy the waters of this self-evident aspect of human nature. To capture the world around them with a masterful eye and somehow add their own brand of seeing.

Killing snakes is for farmers.

10/06/2012 3:09 PM  

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