Monday, March 12, 2018

THE MEANING OF "ICONIC"

After the recent school shootings in Florida, rival cable news channels and political factions chattered away day and night.  They spewed words of explanation or blame, words of solace or rage, words of hopelessness or words proposing solutions.  (For example, the mentally deranged executive vice president of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, proposed that school teachers pack heat, the better to shoot future gunslingers.)  It's doubtful those words persuaded anyone.

In all that noise, one silent image went viral: Norman Rockwell's classic painting of a school teacher, altered to make a point:

                      
Clear as a bell, it wordlessly reminded audiences of what we are at heart, and what we risk becoming.

Here is Rockwell's original version:


In the same month, the Smithsonian Institution published a cover story about the changing state of America.  The benchmark it chose? Norman Rockwell.


 The Smithsonian asked four brave illustrators to try their hand at updating the themes in Rockwell's  famous "Four Freedoms." series.  (They did not do so well):


At the same time, the Chicago History Museum unveiled a prominent new installation showing  Rockwell's take on the legendary cause of the Great Chicago Fire: Mrs. O' Leary's cow which supposedly kicked over a lantern: 



The new permanent display, "Rockwell's Chicago."
There's nothing surprising about any of these uses for Rockwell's work.  Not a week goes by without some prominent publication or institution invoking Rockwell as a standard.


They know their audience will immediately recognize the reference.

In fact, forty years after Rockwell's death, there are still websites that collect dozens of new spoofs and commentaries on Rockwell's pictures.

Despite his lasting popularity-- or perhaps because of it-- we still hear the thin voices of postmodern art critics fulminating that Rockwell dealt in cliché. But if Rockwell dealt in mere clichés, his art would not continue to play such a significant role in today's vital discourse. His style may be out of fashion but his statements about human nature are undeniably true and enduring.  This is the difference between clichés and archetypes.  

Peter Viereck emphasized that archetypes must never be confused with stereotypes. Archetypes, he wrote, are the enduring values and traditions that have “grown out of the soil of history: slowly, painfully, organically.” These may be easily recognizable but they are very different from cliches or “the ephemeral, stereotyped values of the moment" that have “been manufactured out of the mechanical processes of mass production: quickly, painlessly, artificially."  

The great Herman Melville shared this "reverence for archetypes." He believed archetypes to be at the core of the classic architecture of the golden age of Greece, claiming they saved Greek art from "innovating willfulness." (Innovating willfulness might well be the slogan for our culture.)

Rockwell was hugely prolific, and sometimes resorted to clichés during his long career.  But in his stronger work he was an artist of archetypes.  We find ourselves borrowing the power of his silent archetypes when the clamor of our turbo-charged, 3D digital video presentations with Dolby sound cease to hold our attention.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the definition of an "iconic" artist.

  

83 comments:

MORAN said...

There was no one like Rockwell. Totally awesome.

chris bennett said...

Great post David.
So much I could write in response to it. But I'll keep it short:
The archetype is born from a totality of all that a sensation/experience engenders,
the cliché is a selective limitation of it.

Anonymous said...

David, can you name another illustrator as "iconic" as Rockwell?

JSL

Chris James said...

What are these cliches that Rockwell supposedly traffics in?

kev ferrara said...

John Wooden famously wrote, “The true test of a man's character is what he does when no one is watching.”

Well, digital culture has caused a Cambrian explosion of anonymity, and the result has demonstrated an extinction level lack of ethics and morals. The sheer amount of theft, ad hominem, bullying, sociopathy, slander, virtue-signaling, arrogance, ignorance, fallacious reasoning, political tribalism, anti-science, rent-seeking, and ideological possession on parade is shocking.

Maybe the pathological character of the Mob (Or is it the Booboisie? I’m not sure if I can tell them apart anymore.) has always been this way but only recently have the floodgates opened to reveal the fact publicly. Particularly now that everybody has their own digital print, television and radio station and an insatiable need to get likes, hits, and attention without deserving it.

In this current environment, the living have a bad enough time warding off the hordes of content thieves patrolling for fresh meat. But the dead are the most defenseless against appropriation. I remember a few years ago, being disgusted at Ted Turner for digitally colorizing classic old black and white movies like Casablanca. His defense of this desecration was, “The last time I checked, I owned the films...” He didn’t give a damn about art or the legacy of dead artists, that was for sure. Siskel & Ebert rightly called it vandalism.

Turner was already well on his way to destroying the news business and rotting the civic discourse to the core with his round the clock cable news circus at the time, so nobody was all that surprised. Like other such shameless self-promoting billionaires, he was too much of a huckster to hide how much of a cretin he was. Most of the lackeys involved in the Mass Philistinization Program demonstrate their character more anonymously, however: Who was it that digitally resurrected Bogart and Groucho to hawk Diet Coke? Who dug up Bruce Lee to sell Johnnie Walker? Or Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, and Marlene Dietrich to sell Dior perfume? The low point is surely this year’s licensing of a Martin Luther King speech to sell Ram Trucks during the Super Bowl. I guess nobody knows what the word “ghoul” means anymore.

For thousands of years, grave robbers only went for the jewels and the gold teeth. Once mass media got involved, by 1910 actual mummies were sold on the streets of Cairo to tourists. So this vandalism of a Norman Rockwell is only the latest example of the utter lack of character the anonymous demonstrate in their attitude toward the defenseless.

kev ferrara said...

It used to be said that in order to satire someone properly you must be able to do what they are able to do at least as well as them. In order to make a fake ad or fake illustration Mad Magazine or National Lampoon had to hire a real artist or photographer. The Madison Avenue ads were easy enough to fabricate, but still took time and real craftsmen. Art is tougher; but even though every artist that tried failed to meet Norman Rockwell’s standards, they had damn good artists trying. Kelly Freas and Norman Mingo were top notch. And those guys were honorable enough, at the end of the day, to appreciate that they were no match for Rockwell. It is ultimately humbling to put one’s money where one’s mouth is and stack yourself up against the best, even in jest.

But why bother with that in this postmodern values-vacuum? Why not pastiche, borrow, “homage”, “sample”, “find” and all the rest of the euphemisms for steal. Why shouldn’t Richard Prince sign his name to somebody else’s work, if there’s a postmodern excuse for it? Why learn to caricature when you can use the Adobe liquify filter over a photograph and be done with the job in ten minutes? Ten minutes of hackwork for fifteen minutes of fame seems to be the going online rate. Goodbye Norman Rockwell, hello Andy Warhol.

The more we plunge into the postmodern black hole of ethic-less, value-less, moral-less “sampled” content creation, the less and less integrity cultural products and, by extension, our cultural conversation will have. The more all discourse will seem merely a satire of discourse; a mockery of sober reasoning and civility.

But I guess we’re already there.

Gianmaria Caschetto said...

Beautifully worded.
No wonder other artists who deal heavily in archetypes are captivated by Rockwell's art
Check out what Steven Spielberg an George Lucas have to say about Norman Rockwell:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K6L2neYwOms

(Personally, I prefer to oppose the word "stereotype" to "archetype")

Tom said...

‘It used to be said that in order to satire someone properly you must be able to do what they are able to do at least as well as them.”

Interestingly Kev that is how James Agee got his first job out of college at Time magazine. He created such an excellent parody publication of Time at Harvard or Yale, I can’t remember which for sure, that the editors of Time saught him out and offered him a job before he had even graduated.

Tom said...

‘For example, the mentally deranged executive vice president of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre..” and what does that say about a country that made 40 billion in arms sales last year alone, outpacing France the second largest arms dealer in the world by 25 billion?

I think those “prominent publications,” are now referred to as the “legacy media,” by younger people, how many will even be in business in ten years?

That display of Rockwell paintings in the Chicago historical society has all the beauty of a walk down a Kmart aisle. The protective glass is a wonderful touch as the points of attachments and the shadows cast by the glass created as much eye attention contrast as the works themselves. Which of course is all an expression of value. I especially like the way they design the strongest contrast for the glorious 7 foot wall at its top giving the room a wonderful sense of weight and oppression. And does Ms O’leary’s Cow have a body or is it’s head attached to the side of its back leg?

If pracitapating in “today’s vital discourse,” constitutes making paintings from gray tones on photo paper then re photoing the newly made paintings and then returning the paintings back to photos for publication it truly makes me doubt their vitality. Painting has it’s own vitality. Life stands on its own, it doesn’t need mechanical aids to do its thing. Let’s see some Rockwell work form real life then will see his true abilities.

To quote Jed Perl
‘In the American Masters documentary, Russell Baker recalls that, as a boy in Depression-era New Jersey, he made money selling the Saturday Evening Post door-to-door. It was a tough pitch. He describes out-of-work men who looked at the magazine for which Rockwell ultimately did 322 covers and asked the young Baker if he didn’t have something else—maybe True Story or True Detective. “They wanted to read about vice and adultery,” Baker explains. At the High Museum it wasn’t vice and adultery that I found in short supply; it was art. This show is subtitled “Pictures for the American People.” The people deserve better.’

David I know the other side of the argument was needed so I have provide it ;)





kev ferrara said...

that is how James Agee got his first job out of college at Time magazine. He created such an excellent parody publication of Time at Harvard or Yale, I can’t remember which for sure, that the editors of Time saught him out and offered him a job before he had even graduated.

Ha! That's great Tom!

David Apatoff said...

MORAN-- agreed.

chris bennett-- I suppose the question becomes: what kind of "selective limitation" of experience downgrades it to the level of cliché and what kind of selective limitation elevates it to the highest forms of art? That's kind of the trick, isn't it?

JSL-- I think a combination of factors came together to make Rockwell the most iconic, although other artists (such as Maxfield Parrish) have had huge impacts. The Saturday Evening Post was the most popular magazine in the US at a time when magazines were the dominant medium of mass communication. Furthermore, the audience was starved for pictures (because pictures had never been available like this before). But although the conditions were ripe, It was Rockwell's great talent, combined with his astonishing work ethic, that enabled him to make the most of those unique opportunities.

David Apatoff said...

Chris James-- For years, social critics and art experts complained that Rockwell's world was an idealized, white bread world that showed reality only for a small segment of humanity. Blake Gopnik, the sneering and insufferable art critic for the Washington Post gave a scathing review to a museum show of Rockwell paintings, as follows: "Rockwell's greatest sin as an artist is simple: His is an art of unending cliché. The reason we so easily "recognize ourselves" in his paintings is because they reflect the standard image we already know. His stories resonate so strongly because they are the stories we've told ourselves a thousand times... To sell the publications and goods his pictures were in aid of, Rockwell's images needed to be grasped and digested in seconds -- and, unlike really notable art, they reliably achieved such fast-food effects.... His young women are always "spunky" or "hotties." Young girls are "impish" or "pure." Husbands are "harried" and Grandpa is "kindly." And young boys -- as the art history scholar Eric Segal has pointed out -- are either good and scrappy, busy roughhousing at the rural swimming hole, or urban and effeminate and overcivilized, in need of a good, toughening hazing." Gopnik felt that Rockwell's clichés had nothing to offer metrosexuals like himself, or latino socialists, or lesbian spinsters.

Kev Ferrara-- wow. Well put. The ease with which digital tools enable us to cannibalize the genuine accomplishments of others (and feed off the flesh of the dead in instances such as Bogart or Monroe) is certainly dismaying, in part because it blurs the nature of accomplishment and cheapens our respect for true, rare, heroes of culture. Still, I think it's important to note that the vast majority of artists who use Rockwell as a reference point aren't trying to compete with him or imitate him-- even with Photoshop they wouldn't dare. Instead, in situations like the Advertising Age example, or the 30 other Rockwell spoofs on the page I linked, the artists seem to be acknowledging that Rockwell defined the basic landscape, and the artist today is making a cheap and easy variation on that landscape, a contrast or a twist to show how reality has changed. More of a homage than an overt theft.

kev ferrara said...

Still, I think it's important to note that the vast majority of artists who use Rockwell as a reference point aren't trying to compete with him or imitate him-- even with Photoshop they wouldn't dare. Instead, in situations like the Advertising Age example, or the 30 other Rockwell spoofs on the page I linked, the artists seem to be acknowledging that Rockwell defined the basic landscape, and the artist today is making a cheap and easy variation on that landscape, a contrast or a twist to show how reality has changed. More of a homage than an overt theft.

It seems to me that homage has the connotation of paying respect and pledging allegiance to the honoree. I take that to mean that there are shared values involved, an ethic or standard to aspire to. Rockwell was a creative, talented, painstaking artist whose art was his religion. I disagree it appropriately honors him to basically ape his work but with small jokey or snarky changes stuck on (or with the figures replaced by weebles, legos, monkeys, or Appalachian types.)

Also, a good homage buries the reference. Like a real metaphor, it should only be detectable by a very astute observer, not by the average bloke. And that takes talent. These clearly derivative works are the opposite of that. They pinch Rockwell's work blatantly. The have no foundation of their own. So they are more like pastiche or collage.

Laurence John said...

David, don’t forget that it takes time for art or popular imagery to achieve ‘iconic’ status. it has to withstand flash-in-the-pan trends (which render it old fashioned looking overnight), temporary obscurity, and (often) critical unpopularity in order to prove its staying power. so the fact that Rockwell endures at this point in history shouldn’t really surprise.

secondly, the way Rockwell directed his carefully chosen models, selected props, wardrobe, locations etc for his photographic reference was painstaking, and easily comparable to the work of an art director / production designer and film director combined. i think that goes some way to explaining why his work resonates today with a younger generation who’s idea of the iconic image is mainly associated with film imagery. many of his best paintings are very like familiar film stills, except in paint (this point is - obviously - leaving aside how great they are in painterly terms).

p.s. i find it hard to disagree with anything the critic Gopnik says about Rockwell’s work in that bit you’ve quoted. what he fails to take into account is that the public like clichés, and that the presence of clichés in a work don’t instantly disqualify the work as great for a variety of other reasons.

Laurence John said...

... as to whether snarky spins on Rockwell are homage; i think they’re more akin to satire, or pastiche as Kev suggests, although i disagree that this points to the downfall of civilisation as his first polemic suggests. postmodernism - in the arts - didn’t happen for no reason. it happened because we (in the west) began running out of new things to say and new ways to say them, so the past became a source for new material. that this happened at the same time as the emergence of the internet and digital media only made the borrowing / cultural grave robbing / endless veneration of ‘iconic’ works of 20th century art that much easier.

the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries produced most of the great work that defines who we, as a species are, so the fact that many artists (in all mediums including music) feel completely overwhelmed by the past, and that they can’t produce anything new and original is understandable. i think its regrettable that it can feel that we now live in a collage of the past, rather than a vibrant present, and that the west can feel like a vast cultural museum, but the amount of ‘new’ stuff to discover / express in a new way, is ever diminishing. i don’t see a way around that fact.

kev ferrara said...

Laurence,

Nostalgia has been around as long as anxiety. Laziness has been around as long as unoriginality. In terms of postmodernism, unsurprisingly, lazy thinkers tend to produce polemics that, at core, are defenses of laziness. Aesthetic philosophers without talent or creativity tend to produce philosophy that discounts talent while defending pastiche.

The idea that there is nothing more to say is absolutely absurd. As absurd as saying history or culture, or even experience, stopped in 1995. Anybody who believes that or teaches that is perpetuating a self-fulfilling ethic at best.

As far as the Ancient Greeks were concerned, they had all the gods that were possible. Now we have an entire new pantheon of superheroes. Death as a hooded figure with a scythe was all that we needed as a symbol, until it was transformed into The Death Dealer as a helmeted horseman with an axe, and sold a million posters. Ghosts and Goblins became Vampires and Mummies. Prometheus gave us Frankenstein. Pygmalian became My Fair Lady and then Pretty Woman. We once had Golems and Werewolves. Now we have Xenomorphs and Transformers.

The work of deeply creative talents cannot be predicted. We have no idea what is coming. Or who will bring it.

The main problem with art is that we live in a new wholly digital visual culture that is almost founded on the idea of communal ownership - that everything is everybody's - in defiance of any kind of intellectual property rights. The greatest fans of an artist distribute their works in bulk without permission, as if they are heroes bestowing endless joy across the land. With no thought to the artist making a living off his reproductions.

In such a landscape, supply is endless and quality is free on demand. The only people making money are the people who own the venues of the net, where other people's content is given and taken freely. The amount of stolen content monetized through Google and You Tube, for instance, would bankrupt, and should bankrupt, Alphabet Inc.

But, where we are right now... the free market has been distorted to the point that "art" is now nothing more than a form of verbiage; It is built of ready-made materials (used in a word-like way in place of words) and the cost is negligible; merely praise from friends or the in group du jour. Thus the situation rewards the derivative, the bottom feeders, the snarks, the cheap, the shallow, the quick, and the cynical. When we pay for nothing we get nothing. When we tolerate crap, we get crap. When we tell people that pastiching is fine, they won't learn to do anything deeper.

Really good work requires an entire world around it to nurture it and support it and to honor it. Without that structure, the kind of philosophy that believes in the challenge of becoming great or iconic falls away. And it won't wake itself up on its own. And so all the information that explains how and why experience becomes poetry; that stuff sinks back into the ether. But talented people will still be born every day.

Tom said...

‘The work of deeply creative talents cannot be predicted. We have no idea what is coming. Or who will bring it.’

Exactly Kev!

‘Go to nature with no parti pris. You should not know what your picture is to look like until it is done. Just see the picture that is coming.”
(Joaquin Sorolla)

chris bennett said...

David Apatoff; I suppose the question becomes: what kind of "selective limitation" of experience downgrades it to the level of cliché and what kind of selective limitation elevates it to the highest forms of art? That's kind of the trick, isn't it?

In a sense yes David. But not the selected limitations in themselves but rather the way they are related together such that we believe in the totality as being greater than the sum of its parts, seemingly alive.

Ibrahim R. Ineke said...

In regards the whole "new things to say/new ways to say them" thing, i'd like to contribute the suggestion that art ( visual art ) has nothing to 'say.' Such a view ( which seems to be increasingly widespread ), a verbal or literary or narrative one, reduces art to allegory or propaganda. Art seems more like the third thing that comes into existence the moment the artwork encounters the spectator; a relationship, not a statement.
This is neither new nor old, but human.

kev ferrara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kev ferrara said...

In regards the whole "new things to say/new ways to say them" thing, i'd like to contribute the suggestion that art ( visual art ) has nothing to 'say.' Such a view ( which seems to be increasingly widespread ), a verbal or literary or narrative one, reduces art to allegory or propaganda. Art seems more like the third thing that comes into existence the moment the artwork encounters the spectator; a relationship, not a statement.

Art is a unique form of communication founded on the direct suggestion of experience; the majority of art meanings derive from the presentation of illusions of phenomena. However, in order to suggest some things art must state some others, thus references are introduced. In so doing, the result is neither necessarily allegory nor propaganda, provided the work is still "disinterested" in the sense of contemplative, as per Kant's discussion of these things.

Allegory and Propaganda are both "hot" with interest - designed to persuade or coerce behavior in life - and neither predicate their meanings on the core language of phenomenal illusions. Allegory, for instance, assigns meaning - from within the work - to its references in order to create text-like symbolic elements which then interact in form-like or symbolic ways in order to present dogmatic moral injunctions. Propaganda is allegory where proper nouns are being used as symbols in order to present the dogmatic injunction.

When one communicates, it is not into the void, but toward others. The illusions of an artwork only "come alive" when the spectator encounters them. Because suggestion is completed by the spectator; so the artwork only seems to "encounter the spectator."

If nobody reads a text, its meaning is not decoded. A reader is required to decode the meaning of a text. Doing so creates that relational "third thing" (the communication of meaning), which, for text, is as much statement as suggestion.

Ibrahim R. Ineke said...

Hi Kev,

"Art is a unique form of communication founded on the direct suggestion of experience; the majority of art meanings derive from the presentation of illusions of phenomena. However, in order to suggest some things art must state some others, thus references are introduced. In so doing, the result is neither necessarily allegory nor propaganda, provided the work is still "disinterested" in the sense of contemplative, as per Kant's discussion of these things."

Although i have little interest in going down this path, i would like to note that none of the links in that chain of reasoning are anything other than mere claims. Why, for instance is it necesssary to state some things to suggest others? And why should it then follow that references must be introduced &c.

Anyway, i was trying by my original comment to return the discussion of 'new/things/way to say them' to the art itself, instead of some narrative about the decadence of 21st century culture.

So i agree with you when you say 'the idea there is nothing more to say is absolutely absurd,' except i'd add that the saying itself, as an act, or encounter, is fresh enough in itself, even if we don't have anything to say.
Would you gainsay that?

kev ferrara said...

Although i have little interest in going down this path, i would like to note that none of the links in that chain of reasoning are anything other than mere claims.

Your implicit claim here is that what I am saying is not founded. You are wrong about that.

But of course I do not have the time, and this is not the venue, and you are not the type of mind or talent with which to engage on this topic. So dismiss what I say, believe what you wish. That's to be expected.

Just understand; that when I write on this page, even when I seem to respond to your claims directly, I am not writing for you. I am writing for the people who read this who actually want to be educated for real and have accepted the difficulty of that journey, as I have. We don't believe in the easy-ways-out that postmodern relativism affords.

Why, for instance is it necessary to state some things to suggest others? And why should it then follow that references must be introduced?

Why are you asking questions about a subject which you have just said you have "little interest in."

I'd add that saying itself, as an act, or encounter, is fresh enough in itself, even if we don't have anything to say. Would you gainsay that?

The above "fresh" claim gainsays itself.

It sounds like you have "encountered" a fake postmodernist education; consisting of a stock of ready-to-hand impostures of thinking. Engaging with minds mistrained in that dogma is like watching an invisible woman performing a fan dance.

Laurence John said...

Ibrahim: "i'd like to contribute the suggestion that art ( visual art ) has nothing to 'say.’"

depends; art of the visual narrative type by Norman Rockwell is most definitely ‘saying things’ (and has been derided as both allegorical and propagandistic). sometimes the point is subtle and done in an imaginative way, sometimes not. modernism decided that all art which illustrated its themes in a ‘dramatic pictorial storytelling’ way was “vicarious experience and faked sensations” (quote from Greenberg ‘Avant Garde & Kitsch’ essay). a picture of a man clubbing another man over the head derives it’s power from the vicarious thrill of the violence according to this theory; the same way you flinch when someone is shot in a film. modernism decided (with some justification) that this was mere cheap thrills. modernism had to be all about the form itself. narrative was out. content was secondary (if it existed at all). the art became aloof and mute, only about itself (that was the idea anyway).

postmodernism, re-introduced elements of narrative, but ‘saying things’ was still not cool. so postmodernism was all about self-conciously alluding to many other areas of art, while avoiding a narrative, or disrupting the potential narrative by arbitrary juxtapositions, splices, layers, omissions etc.

Ibrahim R. Ineke said...

Kev,

My claim, hardly implicit, is that you do not wish to show what your assertions are founded on, not that they are unfounded; a refusal you demonstrate here again by merely stating that the assertions are not unfounded. And as a reason for your refusal you give that i am 'not the type of mind or talent.' Apart from that low jab you furthermore do me the honour of telling me that you are not talking to me even when it appears that you are.
I do, in fact, want to be educated, but please, along lines of solid reasoning. I am certainly weary enough of seeing the Petitio Principii used in daily life, but to see it used as recourse by intelligent colleagues saddens me.

It is also surprising to find myself depicted as an adherent of postmodernism. I make comics that are by current standards of cartooning incredibly traditionalist, with black-and-white representational drawing influenced by Wrightson, Krigstein, Creepy, without irony. My education as a draughtsman comes from studying in the print cabinets of Leyden University and the British Museum, under the domes of chapels in Rome. They don't come any less postmodern than me.

But the most baffling thing is that you seem to react vehemently against people agreeing with you...my whole point here was basically the one you tried to make about Frazetta a while back, about 'feeling'or being open ( i might be misparaphrasing here ) to the poetry of his work. The point is, in response to the new/things/to/say/or/ways/to/say/it/with, that this being open to a work or having it open up to you is always new.
My point is that you can't validate art or devalue it for any new vocabulary or lack of it, because that means misunderstanding what art can mean or do to an individual - that relationship is inviolate.


Laurence John :
I probably did lean too heavy on the hyperbolical side, or i was too oblique; of course art 'says' things. But even though you could read, for instance, William Blake's drawings as you would a code, there is something about the use of colour, the arrangement and proportions, the 'style' that communicates beyond the symbolism, and conveys something uncanny and unsaid. That part 'says'beyond saying.
&:
"postmodernism, re-introduced elements of narrative, but ‘saying things’ was still not cool. so postmodernism was all about self-conciously alluding to many other areas of art, while avoiding a narrative, or disrupting the potential narrative by arbitrary juxtapositions, splices, layers, omissions etc. "

True; and its sad too see artists forced to work with narrative within that dominant framework, but some find ways to get away with it... funny by the way how the above list is the very definition of what narrative can 'do'in the literary equivalent of Modernism...



kev ferrara said...

Greenberg's 'Avant Garde & Kitsch' is essentially a sociological hit piece. The gist, presented without proof, is that anybody who doesn't like the same graphic cartoons that he does are peasants. And dupes. (No wonder people found him insufferable.)

Meanwhile his betrayal of his own ignorance about form in advanced figurative art (as in Repin or Rockwell) is the essay's greatest unrecognized embarrassment.

kev ferrara said...

My claim, hardly implicit, is that you do not wish to show what your assertions are founded on, not that they are unfounded; a refusal you demonstrate here again by merely stating that the assertions are not unfounded.

It would take me years to explain. That is the truth. I don't have the time. So you can either take what I say as worth considering, a signpost pointing towards a distant meaning, or dismiss it. I don't care. But I will say, we are all postmodernists until we learn the principles of our art and why they exist, the former being difficult enough.

Overall, I can't respond sensibly to what you think you are saying. I can only respond to what you write through my most sober interpretation of it. You aren't always clear.

This sentence:

i'd add that the saying itself, as an act, or encounter, is fresh enough in itself, even if we don't have anything to say.

... sounds like postmodern gibberish written by a twenty-something. Distinguish your two meanings for the word "say." Don't write that "saying" is an "encounter." That's definitionally nonsense. Explain what you mean by "fresh." And if it takes two to tango in the art experience, how can anything in art be "fresh enough in itself." Clarify to yourself first that you actually have an understanding of what you are saying. And then try to set it down so that others understand you.

Ibrahim R. Ineke said...

So you are absolved of the necessity of explaining your reasoning, while i am not?

Your axioms are ‘signposts to distant meaning’ while i write gibberish?

You are allowed to freely mix metaphors & figures of speech with arguments, but when i do it you act as if you can’t distinguish between them?



kev ferrara said...

So you are absolved of the necessity of explaining your reasoning, while i am not?

First of all, you specifically said you "weren't interested" in what I had to say on these questions.

Secondly, I wasn't talking about reasoning. I don't expect you to provide your reasoning. That is 'going the extra mile.' I do expect, however, that your assertions communicate at the basic level of grammar and lexical clarity. If I can understand your assertions, I should be able to figure out your reasoning. Just as in your first post above, to which I responded, I could point out that you had presumed incorrect definitions of allegory and propaganda; because I understand those words and you were speaking in understandable sentences.

Ibrahim R. Ineke said...

Without a doubt there is somewhat of a beam in my eye; let's examine the moat in yours, for good measure.

That i have 'presumed incorrect definitions of allegory and propaganda'is itself a presumption. You come nowhere near proving your presumption. In fact, your own definition of them is hardly more than convoluted verbiage that makes it unclear whether you're talking about text or imagery. Insert your definition of allogory in the sentence that begins "Propaganda is allegory..." and see how that holds up as coherent statement. Spoiler: it does not.

Inasmuch as your reason for claiming that my definitions are incorrect is based on a definition of art ( "founded on the direct suggestion of experience ) that is highly subjective it does very little if nothing to validate the claim. I might here question your wording as you did mine, by the way: what is 'direct suggestion?' Suggestion being indirect, that phrase would signify a 'direct form of indirectness.' What kind of unnecessary circumlocution is that?






Ibrahim R. Ineke said...

Excuse the typos by the way. See them as signposts to distant meaning.

kev ferrara said...

your own definition of them is hardly more than convoluted verbiage that makes it unclear whether you're talking about text or imagery

I forget you're new. I've often written here about the text-like use of imagery. For example, that visual allegory is mostly a text-form cloaked as art, sort of like hieroglyphics. How meaning is developed visually, as well as the differing grammars by which visual elements are related into units of meaning are, linguistically speaking, two of the foundational aspects that distinguish Art from Text. I believe there is a sound empirical basis for making this assertion.

By direct suggestion of experience I mean the phenomena is directly suggested, rather than relying on referencing. Obviously suggestion is an indirect method of communication, but that doesn't mean it can't have a specific target. (You will note in the original text there is a semi-colon after the word 'experience' after which I clarified the earlier statement. I believe there was enough there in the original to get my meaning.)

To go back to an earlier bit, which I'll clarify since it is now clear that you are 'interested'... "in order to suggest some things, art must state some others"... I mean, for example, that in order to suggest that a character is jovial, you must, in some way, state the character first. That is, you must present an icon/image of a person which references how people look in life. Even though such a usage of reference "impurifies" the wholly non-referential realm that art should be; at least according to the dogmatic reductionist views of the Modernist "we want to control art" treehouse club.

Laurence John said...

Ibrahim: “… there is something about the use of colour, the arrangement and proportions, the 'style' that communicates beyond the symbolism, and conveys something uncanny and unsaid. That part 'says'beyond saying.”

what you’re referring to are the formal qualities in an artist’s work, such as the way they distort human form, the way they apply paint, the colour palette they use, whether they go for ‘realistic’ 3-D space or flattened space etc. those things are - i would argue - the first things that attract us to an artist's work. all of my favourite artists are favourites because of those qualities rather than what the work ‘says’ in a ‘message’ way.

kev ferrara said...

And as a reason for your refusal you give that i am 'not the type of mind or talent.' Apart from that low jab

I forgot to address the above.

I didn't mean you weren't talented. Just that you don't appear serious about these questions as it applies to your art. Some people are more intuitive and casual art makers, rather than hyper-critical, deliberate, 'information hawk' types, and you seem like the intuitive type. The comment also stemmed from you saying "I'm not insterested..." earlier.

Ibrahim R. Ineke said...

Kev,

I forget i'm new too; elsewhere i often write or talk about the intuitive ( though my own aristic practice is not solely intuitive - i like to know what i'm doing ), about the mystical even, as a counterweight to exactly the explanation-heavy custom of most contemporary art, also as counterweight to scientific-materialist determinism.
It's exactly the former, perhaps under influence of the latter, which seems intent on loading every artistic decision with 'meaning' ( often nothing more than cultural or social references ), thereby turning art into some kind of text, or at least in many cases a mere illustration of the 'artist's statement'- hence my allegory/propaganda comparison.
Sorry if i'm not always clear. Most of the blame for that i let rest comfortably on the shoulders of my meagre intelligence, but i hope we can we place at least some of it on typing in haste, in a language i do not use daily.

& i kind of suspected you did not mean what i called a low jab as one; i was only trying to point out that given the context of our somewhat irritability-tinged conversation it could be read as such...

Anyway, thanks for the clarification of your 'statement/suggestion' position; but isn't that initial 'statement of the character' itself somewhat of a suggestion too?

Ibrahim R. Ineke said...

Laurence,

It is interesting to me that what we call the 'formal' qualities when taken together as a gestalt point towards something beyond the mere form. I guess that's why i neglected to use that term...

kev ferrara said...

isn't that initial 'statement of the character' itself somewhat of a suggestion too?

References are as direct a signification as is possible through communication.

The icon of a person can be suggested as visual metonym. But once the sign is ascertained, its reference remains a direct signification.

It's exactly the former, perhaps under influence of the latter, which seems intent on loading every artistic decision with 'meaning' ( often nothing more than cultural or social references.)

Here you are repeating modernist/postmodernist dogma. This opinion stems from bad marxist philosophers like Adorno, Greenberg, and Heidegger who were pretending to talk about art.

You have to learn about form. Form is the universal foundation of all the arts.

Regarding that darn 'meaning;' how can a decision not have meaning?

Art is self-evidently a communication. How can a communication not be squarely founded on meaning? What else is there to communicate?

If I were to make a quick provisional list, I'd say there are at least eight basic ways of degrading meaning in communication, including in Art: disorganization, non-sequitors, vagueness, contradiction, redundancy, jerkiness, inappropriate emphasis and diminution, and incompleteness.

Yet, in each of these cases of communicative compromise, there will still be meaning, albeit ineffectively presented.

Since the whole point of communicating is to communicate, attempting to communicate well seems to a very reasonable ethic to adopt, if one wants to communicate. Since meaning is the content of communication, understanding how to convey meaning most effectively would seem to be the key to the whole matter; not at all something to be dismissed after the pomo fashion.

Ibrahim R. Ineke said...

I’m afraid we’re talking at cross purposes here.

The project of contemporary art ( by which i mean the ‘genre’ of contemporary art, the one that came ‘after’ your beloved postmodernism ) is very concerned with assigning meaning to its communication through verbal explanation from outside of the work; which i think often makes for weak art. So yes, of course artistic decisions have ‘meaning,’ but it is not the type of ‘meaning’ most contemporary artist wish to bestow upon their decisions. Or so it seems, from the flaccid texts one often encounters in museums & galleries.

Some of it has quality though, & not all Adorno is nonsense.

Tom said...

Key said
“Since the whole point of communicating is to communicate, attempting to communicate well seems to a very reasonable ethic to adopt, if one wants to communicate”

It seems architects in the past where very good at communicating the distinction between bulidings and their purposes. And they where able to do this purely visually via their use of form.

kev ferrara said...

It seems architects in the past were very good at communicating the distinction between buildings and their purposes. And they where able to do this purely visually via their use of form.

Extrinsic Ornament, past or present, will automatically reveal such a distinction.

Not all Adorno is nonsense.

That which he has written which is not nonsense is either self-evident, not provable, or not his own.

David Apatoff said...


Coming in late, it's difficult to find a foothold so forgive me if I just go through and grab onto a few comments that I thought raised particular issues:

Kev Ferrara wrote: "If I were to make a quick provisional list, I'd say there are at least eight basic ways of degrading meaning in communication, including in Art: disorganization, non-sequitors, vagueness, contradiction, redundancy, jerkiness, inappropriate emphasis and diminution, and incompleteness."

Well, with the exception of "inappropriate emphasis" it sounds like you've just described a Krazy Kat page by George Herriman (who I believe you've said you like in the past). We might all agree that such characteristics degrade the linear nature of communication, but in doing so they can also open up the nature of communication in a good way, requiring a greater participation by the viewer and bringing the viewer into a more personal role with the art (and even a more profound artistic experience). Yes, there is a price to pay in lucidity, but no fan of Herriman would claim that lucidity is the greatest virtue in art.

In fact, one reason we can argue that the lines of a drawing can be a superior means of communication to writing, where the lines are hard wired into letters, words and sentences, is that the lines of a drawing are not rule defined. They aren't required to march in straight rows, ruled by punctuation, carrying a hardened meaning pre-established by the dictionary. Sure, there are some risks associated with permitting art such extraordinary looseness of rules. Some artists take advantage and treat image making like Calvinball, and a lot of bad art gets made, but tightening the rules of communication hardly seems to be the solution.

Kev Ferrara also wrote, "Yet, in each of these cases of communicative compromise, there will still be meaning, albeit ineffectively presented."

Doesn't the meaning of this comment depend entirely on what you mean by "effective"? I have seen some wall sized abstract expressionist paintings that I'd say are pretty damn effective. That doesn't mean they are the most efficient means of communication, or the most precise. But maybe they are the most powerful.

Finally, Kev Ferrara wrote: "Since the whole point of communicating is to communicate, attempting to communicate well seems to a very reasonable ethic to adopt, if one wants to communicate. Since meaning is the content of communication, understanding how to convey meaning most effectively would seem to be the key to the whole matter; not at all something to be dismissed after the pomo fashion."

Again that word "effective." What if your content is the lack of meaning in the universe? Following the orderly procedures and accepted rules of an earlier civilization would seem to undermine the effectiveness of the communication, wouldn't it?

Tom wrote: "It seems architects in the past where very good at communicating the distinction between buildings and their purposes. And they where able to do this purely visually via their use of form."

Can you flesh this out a bit? I'm not sure how wide a distinction you see between buildings and their purposes or between the form of paintings and their meanings, but the Greek architects of the past (who were the subject of the Melville poem about archetypes in this post) were often viewed as a pinnacle of the golden age of Greece precisely because of the Greek unification of form and content; their buildings represented a conscious effort to achieve perfection of form, embodying mathematically derived "perfect" proportions along with beautiful sculptures reflecting religious content, etc.

kev ferrara said...

Well, with the exception of "inappropriate emphasis" it sounds like you've just described a Krazy Kat page by George Herriman (who I believe you've said you like in the past).

I think you misunderstand me. (And, yes, I love Herriman's work. So too, Sterrett.) To be clear, I'm not speaking of the content of the communication, but its presentation as aesthetics form or symbol/codified language.

Herriman's work is ultra specific, it has its own language, narrative style, anatomy and world, it is clear in staging, organized for its effects, tells a story that has continuity that follows the ordinary flow of time (usually), and has its own logic, rules, and poetry to it. That is, Herriman's nonsense actually has its own kind of sense to it. There is an obvious consistency, a rule set by which the work abides. Herriman's style IS defined.. so there are, actually, "rules to his lines." He has, in fact, "closed down the nature of the way he communicates." And for good reason. Partly so that we both could recognize his work in a thunderstorm. Otherwise, as far as comic strips go, neither of us would like it.

In story theory it is wisely pointed out that one of the necessities is to set the rules of the world early. The rules can be absolutely balmy, fantastic notions, or simple matters of tone and standards of genre. But once those notions are set, everything proceeds like clockwork from there. For example: Nutty Krazy Kat Rule Number One: There is always a brick handy. Why? It doesn't matter. (Well, there are actually principles to comedy. Rule number one is, with funny, anything goes.)

I don't confuse silliness and pomo. I don't think silliness has anything to do with postmodernism, which I find dead serious in its aims, and frighteningly so.

I think silliness is good 'ol fashioned nonsense and I love it. Postmodern nonsense is happening at a much deeper level that would destroy our ability to enjoy good 'ol fashioned nonsense, imo. Postmodern nonsense is corrosive, cynical and destructive nonsense. Such does not "open up the nature of communication in a good way." Meaninglessness, I would argue, is the closing down of "the nature of communication." And not in a good way.

kev ferrara said...

What if your content is the lack of meaning in the universe?

Write that story David. Try to communicate that specific idea without trying to do so effectively. You won't be able to.

The lack of meaning in the universe is one of MOST MEANINGFUL, PORTENTOUS STATEMENTS ONE COULD POSSIBLY MAKE.

The attempt to convey that content in all its profundity should damn well spur you to wonder about how to effectively communicate, with all the force of meaning at your disposal. Or else, why bother saying it all?

Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

Blaming postmodernism for the evils of the modern world is like blaming Nietzsche for the death of God.

Ibrahim R. Ineke said...

"There is no right life in the wrong one."
-Adorno/ Minima Moralia

All politics aside, that collection of aphorisms i believe will speak to anyone who has left behind a world, through exile or forced emigration or increasing age.

But to each his own.

kev ferrara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kev ferrara said...

Blaming postmodernism for the evils of the modern world is like blaming Nietzsche for the death of God.

Postmodernism pours gas on the fire of nihilism. The Enlightenment/Modernity saw that selfsame fire, erected a tripod over it and hung a kettle.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote: " The lack of meaning in the universe is one of MOST MEANINGFUL, PORTENTOUS STATEMENTS ONE COULD POSSIBLY MAKE. The attempt to convey that content in all its profundity should damn well spur you to wonder about how to effectively communicate, with all the force of meaning at your disposal. Or else, why bother saying it all?"

I don't disagree, and many great artists / writers have produced profound results wrestling with that message within the structure of conventional art forms. Shakespeare. Nietzsche. Dostoevsky. Goya's black paintings. All stunning work. But I think there is an inherent inconsistency / limitation in using structured art forms to communicate about the absence of structure in the universe. I suspect that inconsistency is why artists began to lash out at recognizable art forms following World War I, and raised the ante by pursuing unintelligibility even further after Hiroshima. Writers such as Bertolt Brecht or Camus or William Burroughs didn't turn to absurdity (or even to gibberish) out of idleness. I think they did as you suggested, "wondered about how to effectively communicate, with all the force of meaning at [their] disposal," and this honest wondering caused them to despair over the inadequacy of man made tools to capture the enormity of a meaningless universe.

Physicists may use mathematical formulae to confirm that the ultimate and eternal fate of the universe is a cold and lifeless perpetual entropy where there will be nothing alive to read or find meaning in Shakespeare's profound writings about the lack of meaning in the world. But math doesn't solve the problem of the artist, who has a different responsibility than the physicist. Shakespeare can cause a certain English-speaking audience of a certain age and maturity to feel momentary pangs of regret over Hamlet's personal demise, but I think many artists of the late 20th century who "wondered about how to effectively communicate" the significance of that end feel that Shakespeare is missing the larger point. Hence all the flailing around with the de-definition of art, with abstract expressionism and happenings and conceptual art and abstraction and earth works. I'm not saying they've been successful, but I think they have a legitimate point about the inability of conventional skills and tools to address this unconventional issue.


David Apatoff said...

Tom wrote: "and what does that say about a country that made 40 billion in arms sales last year alone, outpacing France the second largest arms dealer in the world by 25 billion?"

I'm not sure what it says about the global picture, but I think you'd have to look far and wide to find another paranoid fetishist like LaPierre who is so successful at whipping uneducated and gullible people into frenzies with half baked conspiracy theories. Some of the people you describe take to guns because they feel they have no alternative. LaPierre does it because he likes it.

"That display of Rockwell paintings in the Chicago historical society has all the beauty of a walk down a Kmart aisle. The protective glass is a wonderful touch as the points of attachments and the shadows cast by the glass created as much eye attention contrast as the works themselves. Which of course is all an expression of value. I especially like the way they design the strongest contrast for the glorious 7 foot wall at its top giving the room a wonderful sense of weight and oppression."

Ahhh, Tom, you'll have to visit the museum to decide for yourself. The wall is actually about 20 feet high, with a dark band painted around it to try to bring structure to a large room. I was afraid if I showed the entire space, the paintings would look like microdots.

"Let’s see some Rockwell work form real life then will see his true abilities."

Here I think you do Rockwell an unwarranted unkindness. Rockwell painted from "real life" for decades and was damn good at it. Eventually his clients (including the Post) began to complain to him that all of his subjects looked like they were sitting in front of him in his studio. Rockwell explained, "That's because they were." His clients said, "Well, cut it out. The new style is get angle shots and motion and all kinds of effects that you're not going to be able to capture without photography, etc. That's what the people demand." Rockwell discusses how traumatic it was for him to start using photography in his excellent autobiography.

"To quote Jed Perl...This show is subtitled “Pictures for the American People.” The people deserve better.’"

Yeah, Jed Perl and everybody else was sure they knew best what "the people" deserved. One reason I say Rockwell is iconic is that when the smoke and the rubble cleared, Rockwell's work remained intact and important, while most of his critics ended up in the dustbin of history. Archibald MacLeish, who was an even more insufferable intellectual than Jed Perl, worked for the US government during World war II and rejected Rockwell's "Four Freedoms" because the people deserved better, meaning they deserved "real" artists like Marc Chagall, Salvador Dali and Yasuo Kuniyoshi. MacLeish turned out to be a huge flop at his job and was fired. Meanwhile Rockwell's paintings, which had been published by the Post instead, became wildly successful. The Treasury Department took the original paintings on a tour of the nation as the centerpiece of a Post art show to sell war bonds. They were viewed by 1,222,000 people in 16 leading cities and were instrumental in selling $132,992,539 worth of bonds. The Post received 60,000 letters about the paintings. I'm sure there were plenty of people who preferred to read spicy detective novels, but their numbers were dwarfed by the Post's 6 million subscribers.

I agree with Arthur Koestler who wrote that "any author would trade 100 readers today for 1 reader 100 years from now." When you compare the Norman Rockwell art books, posters, key chains and coffee mugs that flood the market today with the few sparse spicy detective reprints, I think the people have spoken about Jed Perl's helpful suggestion.

kev ferrara said...

Physicists may use mathematical formulae to confirm that the ultimate and eternal fate of the universe is a cold and lifeless perpetual entropy where there will be nothing alive to read or find meaning in Shakespeare's profound writings about the lack of meaning in the world.

By confirm you actually mean ‘predict.’ Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We monkeys can’t even predict the weather more than a few days in advance, so it is a safe bet that we didn’t figure out the entire universe already. We’ve only had tolerable math since Newton and only tolerable physics since Maxwell. Imagine the state of the scientific art in ten thousand years. Such absolutist pessimism eons in advance of the research reminds me of all the cultists who insist on Hard Determinism. Meanwhile every one of them spends their days in performative contradiction. The same with the bloody nihilists and postmodern ‘no hierarchies are real’ types. All of them mistaking an emotional sympathy for an assertion for its rigorous justification.

Writers such as Bertolt Brecht or Camus or William Burroughs didn't turn to absurdity (or even to gibberish) out of idleness. I think they did as you suggested, "wondered about how to effectively communicate, with all the force of meaning at [their] disposal," and this honest wondering caused them to despair over the inadequacy of man made tools to capture the enormity of a meaningless universe.

I don’t recall gibberish from Brecht, Camus or Burroughs. Do you have some examples? My recollection is complete sentences, narratives, characters, continuities. They expressed the yawning emptiness, they didn’t merely state it or mirror it. They were literary artists, not histrionic emoters splashing form at the world pretending to be saying something. Those writers were articulate. (I do remember gibberish from Joyce. But I never read to the end of that little experimental book.)

I think many artists of the late 20th century who "wondered about how to effectively communicate" the significance of that end feel that Shakespeare is missing the larger point. Hence all the flailing around with the de-definition of art, with abstract expressionism and happenings and conceptual art and abstraction and earth works. I'm not saying they've been successful, but I think they have a legitimate point about the inability of conventional skills and tools to address this unconventional issue.

The question I have is Why do you think any of those creative works were addressing “the significance of that end?” What makes you assign those works that intent or meaning? Show me one example, one, where the work itself is telling you that their subject was what you have just now claimed it to be. Show me one and you will have proven my point about the communication of specific meaning, that it requires a sensible symbolic/linguistic structure. There is no freedom from the necessity of linguistic structure in the production of meaningful communication, no matter how bad you want to believe such a thing.

I met a fellow with an art journal full of incoherent scribbles. At the bottom of each tumble of visual gibberish he would write something like “A mother and her child in the aftermath of an explosion in Kabul.” Or “The internal contradiction of the oppressed.” Such works are not expressing their ideas aesthetically; they were not speaking in the language of art. The meanings were simply being assigned to the scribbles. That was the language being ‘spoken.’ To say the scribbles themselves contained the meaning is pretension or credulity and patently false. One may as well have said any one of them were about “the significance of the predicted heat death of the universe.” Just as well to say they were about “A bad batch of clam and black bean stew thrown in a hefty bag full of smelly trash at the picnic area along route 9.”

Anonymous said...

Just curious - what would your fee be for naming my paintings ?

Al McLuckie

chris bennett said...

Just a little aside about how the title of a work is extrinsic to its intrinsic quality. Diarmuid Kelly titles nearly all his paintings nonsensically. For example; a still life of plums is called 'Live at the Witch Trials' and a young woman slouched in a dark corner by a window is called, 'A Guide to the New Elizabethans'.
That these titles are so obviously counter to the actual content of the paintings themselves is part of the fun and intrigue. But more importantly (and relevant to the points being made above) these cryptic games only work because we are sensitive to each painting's intrinsic quality and thus able to witness the mismatch with their labels.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote: "By confirm you actually mean ‘predict.’ Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. "

Yes, you're correct. What I intended to say was that in certain scientific fields, the truth can be accurately described in mathematic terms. As long as you get the math right, you have certainty. But the mathematic version of reality (which can describe phenomena such as entropy in the universe) is very different from the artist's depiction of the same reality, which is far more subjective.

"I don’t recall gibberish from Brecht, Camus or Burroughs. Do you have some examples?"

Well, each rejected the kind of linear, intuitive structure that we are discussing here because they thought it was not up to the task of describing the modern condition. The reason Burroughs (and other followers of the "cut up technique") put sentences in a cuisinart is because they thought the world wasn't laid out in the orderly form of the traditional novel, from start to finish. Jane Austen , like Norman Rockwell, may artificially stage reality in a sequenced, prioritized way but Burroughs said that when you walk down the street talking to a friend you don't have an orderly dialogue, your mind flits around and you are distracted by a barking dog or a honking horn or a visual impression, and reality comes to you in chaotic ways.

Aleatory literature is similar to Dada in the visual arts (one of your favorite schools, I know) which said that the irrational horror of World War I ripped aside the facade of meaning in civilization. But there are a dozen other parallel artistic reactions at reduced levels of incoherence. You're right, Joyce was one. John Cage was another. Disambiguation, Lettrism, theater of the absurd, flarf poetry-- all are symptomatic of the same trends in the visual arts which produced abstract expressionism and your beloved post modernism. Sure, Brecht and Camus retained more of basic sentence etiquette, but their results were equally nonsensical. Why does Meursault randomly kill a man? Why not?

I did not intend to suggest that these writers and artists were addressing the significance of the ultimate end of the universe. After all, they wrote in an era before physicists charted the continued expansion of the universe into ultimate entropy. But they did write after Galileo shocked us with the revelation that the earth was not the center of the universe, after Darwin explained that humans don't enjoy a privileged divine status in the world, after Freud told us we're not nearly as rational as we liked to think, after World War I and Hiroshima showed us the dark side of progress, after communism showed us that the state could not be trusted to fill the chair once occupied by a benevolent deity, etc.

These artists don't believe in the glue that Rockwell uses to hold the world together. Artists such as Brecht, Camus, Albee, Eliot, etc. don't address meaninglessness in the macro form of astrophysics. However, they certainly address meaninglessness in the micro sense by focusing on individual lives and the tools we use to order them.

David Apatoff said...


Øyvind Lauvdahl and kev ferrara -- I agree that postmodernists are often too quick to get weak in the knees about our modern dilemma, and use their disenchantment as an excuse to revel in adolescent cynicism. (I can't find my copy of Zarathustra right now, but Nietzsche had a marvelous line blasting such people, something to the effect of "Those who cannot see what is high in man see all too clearly what is low, and they call their evil eye 'virtue.'")

But having conceded that, I think Kev's take ("The Enlightenment/Modernity saw that selfsame fire, erected a tripod over it and hung a kettle.") ignores the immense truth and honesty of post-enlightenment culture. If you are sincere in your search for meaning, you might better say "The Enlightenment/Modernity saw that selfsame fire, erected an imaginary tripod over it and hung an immaterial kettle in which it cooked a barmecidal feast to feed mankind."

kev ferrara said...

David,

Burroughs was still after some kind of truth. He was still using words that people understand to do so. He still was part of the 'grand project' of sense-making through linguistified thought. Which is enlightenment to the core.

As long as you get the math right, you have certainty.

No, you also have to get the initial conditions right. Which turns out to be a much, much more difficult endeavor. In fact, it is almost impossible even for so fundamental an experiment as determining the speed of light. Math is a technique for approximating some aspects of experience given perfect input information, which is never available. Presuming otherwise has led to more disasters than one cares to name.

As well, you think of yourself in the context of the neverending extent of infinite space and of the neverending time that spools back toward the infinite past and forward toward the infinite future, and maybe even sideways toward an infinite number of parallel realities. Yet none of those extents are any more physically real to you than other 'mere conceptions', like Truth, Meaning, or Honor. So you, as a perfomatively self-contradictory postmodernist, have merely exchanged metaphysics... trading in a set of conceptions that lead to a better world for a set that leads to a worse one.

And yet, the only reality we are dead sure of, that we must be dead sure of, is suffering.

Thus the "feast to feed mankind" was not 'barmecidal' (where'd you dig up that word?)... it is quite real. It sustains us day in and day out. If not, the suffering in this world would be hellish beyond all belief.

The grand mistake you are making, in my view, is that you allow your own personal sense of your insignificance to bleed over into a belief that there is no such thing as significance. Maybe you secretly long for barbarism. Possibly you didn't go camping enough as a kid.



David Apatoff said...

Laurence John wrote: "as to whether snarky spins on Rockwell are homage; i think they’re more akin to satire,"

I agree that many of them are satire (either of middle American 1950s reality or of Rockwell's idealized view of that world). But the majority of the modern spins on Rockwell, and the ones that interest me the most, are ones that use him instead as the baseline. Just as a picture of Paris will always have the Eiffel tower in the background as a common, short hand reference that everyone immediately understands, a Rockwell archetype provides a common framework that starts everyone on the same page. The famous three way self-portrait; the four freedoms; the cop and the runaway boy at the diner; the grandmother and her grandson with the truckers at Thanksgiving; the boy who discovers the Santa Claus outfit in his father's dresser; the Ruby Bridges "problem we all live with." The hits just kept on coming. James Montgomery Flagg found fame with just one or two ("Uncle Sam Wants You" and perhaps "Tell It to the Marines") but Rockwell's visual iconography was like the equivalent of Newton's laws. We all start with the common foundation of the law of gravity and we all start with Rockwell's famous images in our collective consciousness. If an artist wants to make a comment about family, they can begin with Rockwell's family gathered around the table and everyone immediately has a common frame of reference; from there the artist can take it pro or con, nihilistic or constructive, high or low, funny or serious. But at least everyone is alongside you at the start.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote: "Burroughs...still was part of the 'grand project' of sense-making through linguistified thought. Which is enlightenment to the core."

Burroughs advocated, “Exterminate all rational thought.” His most noteworthy writing was a kaleidoscopic jumble of words in run on quasi-sentences ("a Lesbian dwarf who has perfected operation Bang-utot, the lung erection that strangles a sleeping enemy, sellers of orgone tanks and relaxing machines, brokers of exquisite dreams and memories tested on the sensitized cells of junk sickness and bartered for raw materials of the will, doctors skilled in the treatment of diseases dormant in the black dust of ruined cities, gathering virulence in the white blood of eyeless worms feeling slowly to the surface..." and on and on and on.) Such words certainly leave us with vivid impressions, but I'd say they are only "sense-making" in a limited fashion, for those who have already accepted that the sun has set on the age of reason, and that it's no longer sensible to make too much sense (which you seem to claim is not you).

If you like Burroughs and you accept his word salad contributions, how can you not like Rothko or Pollock or Newman?

"No, you also have to get the initial conditions right. Which turns out to be a much, much more difficult endeavor."

Yes, I agree with you again. Of course, the further you stray down that path (" it is almost impossible even for so fundamental an experiment as determining the speed of light. Math is a technique for approximating some aspects of experience given perfect input information, which is never available") the further you get from any hope for redemption from your enlightenment values. You can argue all you want that we can never get the "initial conditions" perfectly correct to feed into the mathematical formulae, and that we don't really know what is real and what isn't. In truth, nobody can get past Descartes' rational skepticism to the pint where we can, with confidence, put one building block on top of another. I would not disagree with you about any of that. But this afternoon you seem to be in a different mindset, in the mode that doctors and scientists and enlightenment thinkers cook something real in that pot of yours, and that what they cook "sustains us day in and day out. If not, the suffering in this world would be hellish beyond all belief. " I wouldn't disagree with that either. But if Jonas Salk were discouraged by the fact that it is impossible to get the initial conditions right," where would we be today?

Tom said...

David said
Can you flesh this out a bit?

I was responding to Kev's point,"“Since the whole point of communicating is to communicate, attempting to communicate well seems to a very reasonable ethic to adopt, if one wants to communicate”

It made think how well architects of the past where so good at directing a person through the space of a building using simple but clear aesthetic principals. For example in a balanced composition we know where to entry the house. The architect directs the eye to the front door of a home by creating a clear hierarchy by applying the principal of unity to the front facade. Unity has and odd number of openings (i.e. two windows with a door in the center) and so the eye is direct the the most important part of the composition. Punctuation, differentiation and inflection are all principals used to emphasis important elements and de-emphasis minor elements. To me this is a form of communication and goes to Kev's point.


Or how one can often tell the difference between a French building and an Italian building, even if they exhibit the same types of ornamentation, you can still identify their difference in the character and handling of form. The form is communicating something of a nations spirit or outlook.










kev ferrara said...

David,

“Exterminate all rational thought,” is another injunction that, in being an injunction with some rationale behind it, is a performative contradiction.

The very act of using words is rational; a following of a linguistic rule of reference; one of the necessities in the logical structuring of functional communication that dates back to the dawn of human intelligence which seems to have latched onto the necessity of symbols straightaway. So, like so many postmodern philosophers, when he articulated his philosophy, Burroughs auto-demonstrated his sophistry.

When I was in my 20s I would often write long strings of 'word salad' nonsense for fun. What I found was that, some kind of sense kept getting made. Mainly because when you use known words, those words come with a whole suite of connotation, denotation and onomatopoeic sonics attached, all of which is already pre-loaded with sense and possibility. Then, there are inherent grammars involved, and (as has been proven with experiments in mixing sentences up) our internal grammars are far more elastic and non-linear than was assumed. So in randomly placing words together, these deeper grammars keep acting to pull the associations of the words together as poetry, which is to say, as meaning.

Leaving that aside, free association is not all that free. The subconsious is feeding us and the subconscious is nothing if not a sense maker. So I had to work like the devil to actually write real nonsense. (I believe the best method turned out to be absolute contradiction.)

Is there some belief in the postmodernosphere that Poety hasn't always been overwhelming associative? Testing the limits of the meanings of words; abutting them together to make the phrase more dense with meaning, fresh, and evocative?

A mistress's command. Wear this; spare speech;
Decline your head: this kiss, if it durst speak(...)


So many of the phrases we now take for granted were diamond dense bits of Shakespearean wit. No different in kind than "lung erection" (which I presume to be the description of the result of a poisoning.) But they have come into common parlance, and now nobody realize how radical and playful they must have been at the time.

Associative thought and Creative thought are as much a part of the Enlightenment project as anything else. Unless you plan on casting out all the artists from the Enlightenment project? And all the creative guesswork?

Burroughs is being poetic, setting a paranoid tone and a dismal world of chemicals and germs and the marginal people who traffic in such biologically muddying things. Associative ideas are still sense making. They still combine to form units of understanding. Logic is but one species of association, one that requires a particular kind of organization.

kev ferrara said...

But if Jonas Salk were discouraged by the fact that it is impossible to get the initial conditions right," where would we be today?

You are conflating your implication that math is all we have to be sure of, with some idea that I don't believe in pragmatic behaviors. This is an error of assumption on your part. I am a Pragmatist in philosophy, and I believe that tradition is being well served by its current turn to Evolutionary Epistemology, rather than Rortian postmodernism.

Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

I think it's fair to say that postmodernism has aided in depriving us of faith in tradition and hope for the future. There's a certain irony in the fact that this mode of skepticism seems to have resulted in a world order where "it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism." However, simply equating postmodernism with nihilism seems simplistic to me. Destabilisation isn't the same as destruction.

(And also, after all, it can be argued that it was Derrida who revitalized the left (utopianists) with his "Specters of Marx".)

Laurence John said...

David: "If you like Burroughs and you accept his word salad contributions, how can you not like Rothko or Pollock or Newman?”

i think Burrough’s prose would be more akin to Neo Rauch in visual art terms, given that it’s made up of vivid imagery but within a disrupted / incoherent narrative.

http://www.eigen-art.com/files/nrauch_ordnungshueter.jpg

Rothko, Pollock and Newman aren’t akin to ‘word salad’. they’re simply abstract design, so they’re almost impossible to find a literary equivalent for (i’m sure someone has made a book where the type just makes abstract shapes on the page, without words or sentences, although such a book would also be abstract design rather than literature).

kev ferrara said...

simply equating postmodernism with nihilism seems simplistic to me. Destabilisation isn't the same as destruction.

Sure, if you only think in first order effects.

If we exactly distribute the world's wealth, that thirty four thousand will buy a lot of hot meals and medicine for the billions of people who currently have nothing. Such would be the grandest moral act of all time, surely. Of course, the disaster that would ensue from such a redistribution would collapse civilization long before that money was spent. The wealth would become worthless almost as fast as it was redistributed. So, in point of fact, it would be the grandest, most brutally immoral act of all time, worse than Hitler and Stalin combined.

There are more prolonged ways of destroying civilization. By a thousand cuts, or a few good chops of the axe. Alexandria wasn't leveled in a day. It took many fools and barbarians to do that work. Neither was Venezuela destroyed quickly. But once the tipping point comes, the acceleration into the ravine goes into effect at the standard gravitational rate.

David Apatoff said...

Laurence John-- I take your point about a "disrupted / incoherent narrative" but on the other hand, wouldn't you say Burroughs paints a general impression or mood with his use of words (rather than conveying a literal message by use of normal sentence structure)? For example, his jumble of words might create a general feeling of heat like a red Rothko, or a swirling confusion like a Pollock. Language is a rule defined activity, and if you break the rules, plucking words out of context and stripping away punctuation, they almost take on the role of pigments.

Øyvind Lauvdahl wrote: "I think it's fair to say that postmodernism has aided in depriving us of faith in tradition and hope for the future."

One of the themes of this post is that, for all of the sustained postmodernist efforts to chip away at Rockwell, his cultural impact continues to tower above anyone I'm aware of on the postmodernist scene. When his stories cease to resonate I'm sure his standing will go down. If postmodernist explanations eventually make more sense to people (whether because they feel they've been betrayed by the Rockwell view of the world, or because they've become ignorant and lazy in a superfluous society, or for any other reason) theirs will surely go up. But in either case, postmodernism seems to me to be largely reactive to external events.

A Real Black Person said...

I think you should refrain from political commentary.
I don't speak for everyone but I find no value in Trump Derangement Syndrome coming from someone who mourns a lack of standards in art but fails to see the connection between those standards and the more conservative and religious world those standards came from.



"or urban and effeminate and overcivilized" An apt description of the typical male Democrat these days. The Unabomber made a note of it in his manifesto. This is a man who will endorse Interior Semiotics as a piece of performance on par, if not greater than a Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn painting. This person is the antithesis of standards or anything deeper.

You claim Trump is bad but you seem to be embracing the values of The Other Side, which is directly responsible for bad art you claim to dislike.

It is Progressivism and cultural egalitarianism that has given Gary Panter.

The majority of Trump voters didn't vote for him because they thought he was a role model for their children but they were disgusted with what is passing for the cultural and economic Left, which, I'm sure you are a card-carrying member of, David.



David Apatoff said...

A Real Black Person-- I fear you are mistaken. I've not mentioned Mr. Trump or his policies in this post. My one reference was to Mr. Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA, a private organization. I trust you are not suggesting he and Mr. Trump are one and the same?

If you think my remark about the NRA was misguided, I'd be very interested in hearing how. My legal analyses of the Supreme Court case law on the Second Amendment have been published in Reuters and the American Firearms Review, and if there is a flaw in my thinking I'd rather learn about it sooner than later. I graduated from the law school where Supreme Court Justice Scalia was a professor for many years. As you know, Scalia was the author of the Heller opinion, the most recent milestone decision expanding the scope of Second Amendment rights, and I don't disagree with the holding in that decision (the “right to bear arms” only applies to “the sorts of weapons … in common use at the time” of the Second Amendment – which was 1791). If you side with Mr. LaPierre, I gather you disagree with Justice Scalia?

I'm not sure I understand your point about Democrats being effeminate, but if you want to hold progressive politics responsible for bad art, I think you'll have an uphill battle. Certainly Gary Panter is hilariously awful, but I'm guessing that if we started checking off names, you'd find more artists that we agree are good (such as Norman Rockwell) on the liberal side of the spectrum, if only because so many of them strive professionally to shed convention and innovate (plus they seem to benefit from socially liberal personal lifestyles).

Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

David Apatoff - Yes, the post seems to resonate with Jameson's critique of postmodernism as representing a crisis in our relation to/placement in history. I think my point may be that this mode of skepticism should perhaps be regarded more of a diagnosis than some conspiratorial attempt to destroy all meta-narratives (except capitalism) - however hard the Jordan Petersons and Alex Joneses insist otherwise.

You are fundamentally right in writing that postmodernism is largely reactive to external events. More precisely, it arose as a reaction to the perceived failure of marxist thought.

kev ferrara - Yes, this is a good example of Zizek's/Jameson's "it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism". We have arrived at a stage where we cannot even imagine an alternative to the status quo. But, similar to how feudalism and the divine right of kings ended, so will this. The best thing that can be said about postmodernism is that it might end up being a catalyst for renewed hop in the future.

Laurence John said...

David: " wouldn't you say Burroughs paints a general impression or mood with his use of words (rather than conveying a literal message by use of normal sentence structure)?”

there’s certainly mood in his writing, but i think the imagery is too specific to be as general as a colour. also, even within Burrough’s cut-up prose, there’s more intelligible phrases and sentences than non. don’t forget that he’s cutting up his own prose by quartering the pages, so large chunks of his sentences still remain. often it’s more a case of a sentence composed of two or three disparate ones. i think the juxtapositions of surrealism are the closest analogy, with a dash of the fractured space of cubism.

to compose totally random, unintelligible prose you’d really need a mechanical / computer-programmed random word generator. even then, i’m not sure the effect would be Pollock-like. there’s lots of organisation in Pollock. his drip technique is really a form of ‘controlled accident’. although Burrough’s cut-up technique is also a type of controlled accident, he’s dealing with pieces of pre-made descriptive imagery (narrative) which Pollock isn’t.

Tom said...

Is that the same justice Scalia who voted with the majority in Citizens United vs FEC?

David said
"but I think you'd have to look far and wide to find another paranoid fetishist like LaPierre who is so successful at whipping uneducated and gullible people into frenzies with half baked conspiracy theories..." isn't that kinda like saying Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction?

Well David if it is an old building with 20 foot tall walls I'm sure its impressive but paint doesn't really bring structure to things if anything it probably diminishes and disrupts the grander intentions of the original space. And it doesn't change how the painting are presented with that awful glass.

I had to share Jed Perl as he is one of the most anti post modern critics writing today and would probably be in agreement with you on many aspects of today's art world.

"Eventually his clients (including the Post) began to complain to him that all of his subjects looked like they were sitting in front of him in his studio."

If copying what you see is your conception of art there will always be natural tendency for the work produced to become stiff and dull. Did they say the same thing to Leyendecker, Von Schmidt and Dean Cronwell? I know artist's work can fall out of flavor as Leyendecker's did because fashion changes but he could paint a landscape as well as his tableaus. Didn't Cronwell have to finish a mural for Rockwell? The wall in the painting of the teacher meets floor at an obtuse angle giving the whole image a sliding affect something you would never see in a Leyendecker cover. You feel like the camera man was up on a ladder when he took the picture.

"I agree with Arthur Koestler who wrote that "any author would trade 100 readers today for 1 reader 100 years from now."

Who even thinks about such things?

"One of the themes of this post is that, for all of the sustained postmodernist efforts to chip away at Rockwell, his cultural impact continues to tower above anyone I'm aware of on the postmodernist scene."

Post-modernist critics have embraced him like David Hickey, Peter Schjeldahl, and Robert Coles. There really isn't an argument with post-modernism in regards to Rockwell, but with modernists yes.

Anyway, it's no big deal but I would really love to see some drawings done from life or his imagination in the last 30 years of his career, or perhaps a landscape painting, not to convince you of anything but for my own edification. But I don't think that will be happening.

kev ferrara said...

The best thing that can be said about postmodernism is that it might end up being a catalyst for renewed hop in the future.

Marx thought Socialism was the necessary bridge to his ideal of Communism. Maybe Captalism is the bridge to something better. But I wouldn't want to predict what that might be. Nor would I want to force any idea forward, or any time frame. I keep hearing the propaganda term "late capitalism." Of course, ideologues are always saying what they want to believe and what they want others to believe. My guess is that after Late Capitalism we will have Post Late Capitalism, then Contemporary Capitalism, then Post Contemporary Capitalism. And by then I'll be long dead.

Whatever evolution economics takes in the future, unless it is emergent, it will fail. Because only emergent phenomena is necessarily connected to what is real. Theory can critique the results of a system, and can spot failings within the system, but it cannot actually control true complexity, because it cannot comprehend it in its full measure. The only functioning model of reality is reality itself. The last thing the world needs is more top-down theoreticians charged with moral zeal and wildly incomplete information looking to arrogate power to themselves in order to control the fates of billions.

kev ferrara said...

Anyway, it's no big deal but I would really love to see some drawings done from life or his imagination in the last 30 years of his career, or perhaps a landscape painting, not to convince you of anything but for my own edification. But I don't think that will be happening.

I think Rockwell was profoundly changed by the studio fire that destroyed so many of his paintings in 1940. After that, it seems to me anyway, he was much more bifurcated in his approach to his work. He was apt to put less of himself into his comical works, and more of himself into his singular masterpieces like "Breaking Home Ties" and "Saying Grace."

With the rise of graphic designer-illustrators with the change in Art Direction for the slicks, Rockwell followed the trend for graphic flatness, and a total reliance on photos aligned perfectly with that kind of stuff. But as art, it's more throwaway, easier to make, more disposable, and was a waste of his talents in my opinion. Rockwell also suffered terrible depression, and that usually increases after middle age.

kev ferrara said...

Scalia was the author of the Heller opinion, the most recent milestone decision expanding the scope of Second Amendment rights, and I don't disagree with the holding in that decision (the “right to bear arms” only applies to “the sorts of weapons … in common use at the time” of the Second Amendment – which was 1791).

"Some have made the argument, bordering on the frivolous, that only those arms in existence in the 18th century are protected by the Second Amendment. We do not interpret constitutional rights that way. Just as the First Amendment protects modern forms of communications, e.g., Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, 521 U. S. 844, 849 (1997), and the Fourth Amendment applies to modern forms of search, e.g., Kyllo v. United States, 533 U. S. 27, 35–36 (2001), the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding."

A Real Black Person said...

David writes " Real Black Person-- I fear you are mistaken. I've not mentioned Mr. Trump or his policies in this post. My one reference was to Mr. Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA, a private organization. I trust you are not suggesting he and Mr. Trump are one and the same?"
Most people who are caught up in the gun debate in the media tend to be liberals and you've already made your political views very clear in your new year (2018) post.
With regards to this particular blog post, you have given your views away. You are convinced that there is a policy solution to a social problem, this is something liberals consistantly believe in. I hate to burst your bubble but the NRA, as an interest group, does not set gun policy for every state. The gun control policies of every state is a reflection of the voters in every state. Every state has some measure of gun control. The latest school shooting as of this post, was a result of government ineptitude, (there were many red flags. The FBI was notified) than a lack of regulation. If regulations cannot be enforced competently then they are useless.
You are not an authority on things political or social. Just because you have published something in Reuters and you have a legal degree does it mean you are able to look at social problems objectively and propose effective solutions.

A Real Black Person said...


David writes "I'm not sure I understand your point about Democrats being effeminate,"
The party's base are women, the LGBT community, and "brown people" with all the spokespeople being overwhelmingly female. I only brought it up because someone else brought it up. It is relevant given the hostility the Left has towards straight "binary" men these days with almost every political topic being turned into an issue of "male privilege" by the Left.

David writes "if you want to hold progressive politics responsible for bad art, I think you'll have an uphill battle. Certainly Gary Panter is hilariously awful, but I'm guessing that if we started checking off names, you'd find more artists that we agree are good (such as Norman Rockwell) on the liberal side of the spectrum, if only because so many of them strive professionally to shed convention and innovate (plus they seem to benefit from socially liberal personal lifestyles)."
The reason why liberals are overrepresented in the arts is because the people who purchase the products of the Arts have come to value people who "think different". People who "think different" tend to think differently than many people and have values different from the average person--but being eccentric does not always lead to good art or good ideas. Eccentric people and people who "think different" are useful for those in the ruling class (not for the often cited reason of business or technological innovation)who want to subvert or change cultural norms in order to

bring in a new political/economic system
enhance economic growth.

In order to promote commerce, it was useful to get a large number of people to change (or destroy) their values and norms that held them back from interacting and trading with people from different cultural backgrounds. People who "think different" come in handy in helping achieving those goals.
"Thinking different" and being eccentric doesn't automatically mean someone isopen to new ideas, it just means they are not in line with prevailing or traditional ideas. A person who thinks differently and is eccentric a lot of the times are just unusual. They may hold rigid beliefs about different things than the average person. People on the Left can have absolute rigid beliefs people about gender, race, and wealth that they do not want challenged.


To get back to what I said, progressive politics has been cited as the philosophical underpinning of bad art...
it reveres amatuerism as authenticity...
and beauty as a form of oppression...only what we call ugly should be depicted
and is always seeking to deconstruct time tested values and beliefs.
What modern left and modern art have in common is their contempt for not just Western civilization but normal human behavior, which explains why many critics idealize the art of the insane and those who think very differently, the insane.


Under the ideology of progress, Art is nothing but a bunch of marks or stuff put together. Anyone who imposes standards is trying to
exclude someone who has or is being treated badly by society.
Therefore, only those who are socially marginalized or insane can be considered true artists because their art is untainted by the great evil of Western civilization.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara and A Real Black Person-- I'm the world's worst judge of what topics are going to take off in these discussions. Our comments always bounce all over the place but I still wouldn't have predicted that we would end up discussing gun control policy. It is of course my own fault for taking that gratuitous slap at the demented Mr LaPierre. And A Real Black Person is correct, I did share my fears at the beginning of the year about what 2018 would bring under Mr. Trump.

It was not my intention by doing so to turn this blog into another one of those political web sites-- there are far too many of those already. I felt I needed to make my own position clear (both here and elsewhere) so that when Americans are tried in the future for crimes against humanity and some future Nuremberg tribunal demands of me, "What were you doing when your country was swept up by a grotesque hate-monger who led you down this terrible path?" I'll be able to point to public statements of resistance and hopefully escape the worst punishments. Having opened that door, I certainly can't begrudge admirers of Mr. Trump or Mr. Scalia for having their say, as often and as extensively as they wish. I am simply saying up front that my own responses will be nominal, as I did not intend to lead us all into the La Brea tar pit. I'll do my best to respond in a tightly legal or artistic way, and try not to stoke the fires of politics any more than I have. I apologize for my weakness.

Kev Ferrara-- You may know this already, but our two quotes from the Heller decision are perfectly compatible, and come out the way I described. Your quote from Justice Scalia ("Some have made the argument, bordering on the frivolous, that only those arms in existence in the 18th century are protected by the Second Amendment. We do not interpret constitutional rights that way.") was made necessary because Scalia previously claimed to be a "strict constructionist" of the Constitution who relied solely on the original intent of the founders. This invited the litigants in Heller to feed his own words back to him, saying "If you're going to be consistent, you have to limit the right to bear arms to what the founding fathers intended." Scalia did not want to be consistent, and in order to broaden the scope of how the Second Amendment has historically been construed by the Supreme Court, he adopted a more expansive method of interpretation in the language you quoted. . However, he still came out the way I reported. He wrote that the second amendment wasn't limited to 18th century muskets in actual existence in 1791, but it was limited, as he said in the text I quoted, to “the SORTS of weapons … in common use at the time." The "sorts" of weapons that the founding fathers subsumed within their use of the term "bear arms" were pistols and rifles they kept around the farm. As Scalia held about the term, "arms:" "The term was applied, then as now, to weapons that were not specifically designed for military use and were not employed in a military capacity." Which is what led Scalia to hold (much to Wayne LaPierre's chagrin) that the Second Amendment does not protect “a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any way whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

Jezus, you see how much time we waste by letting legal arguments about gun control into the tent? Feel free to answer all you want, but I'm done with gun control. I'm already remiss in responding to other comments about art. I'm out of room here but I'll respond to A Real Black Person (briefly) in a separate comment.

kev ferrara said...

Thank you, David. I assumed you would just link me to your article for Reuters. I should have just asked directly.

David Apatoff said...

A Real Black Person-- Perhaps this particular post isn't the most effective one for supporting your point. It's pretty difficult, I think, to argue that Norman Rockwell (who supported the "liberal" causes of the 1960s, preferring Kennedy to Nixon and chafing when the Saturday Evening Post wouldn't let him cover civil rights and other progressive issues for fear of antagonizing their conservative southern readership) is an artist with "values different from the average person" or is "not in line with prevailing or traditional ideas." After all, the Post had 6 million readers and they all loved the iconic Rockwell. You make a fairly sweeping generalization that "What modern left and modern art have in common is their contempt for not just Western civilization but normal human behavior." Would you argue that Rockwell had contempt for normal human behavior?

You write, "progressive politics has been cited as the philosophical underpinning of bad art." The most popular reason for adopting the passive voice ("has been cited") is to avoid accountability: exactly who is it that cites progressive politics as the underpinning of bad art? I know Stalin cited conservative politics as the philosophical underpinning of bad art, but his reasons were identical to yours: he claimed that modern art has values different from the normal person and blasted "these so-called abstract paintings [with] no real face of [ordinary] people."

When you write that I am "not an authority on things political or social," is that good or bad? You say that the voice of the common people is more reliable than the views of the ruling class. Well, I'm about as common as they come.

Someday, perhaps on a more political web site, you'd be willing to explain your criticism, "You are convinced that there is a policy solution to a social problem." I would've thought that was a compliment. The whole reason for politics (people leaving individual caves and coming together in groups) was to solve social problems. Are you advocating that we try to solve such problems without a policy, or that we just give up trying?


A Real Black Person said...

"I think, to argue that Norman Rockwell (who supported the "liberal" causes of the 1960s, preferring Kennedy to Nixon and chafing when the Saturday Evening Post wouldn't let him cover civil rights and other progressive issues for fear of antagonizing their conservative southern readership) is an artist with "values different from the average person" or is "not in line with prevailing or traditional ideas." After all, the Post had 6 million readers and they all loved the iconic Rockwell. You make a fairly sweeping generalization that "What modern left and modern art have in common is their contempt for not just Western civilization but normal human behavior." Would you argue that Rockwell had contempt for normal human behavior?"

David, just stop.

Your remind of the feminist on Adweek.com who used an ad from 1947 as proof of sexism in modern advertising.

Times change. When Norman Rockwell was working, he was not allowed to indulge in partisan views that would alienate large segments of the audiences. Today, many companies are running on fumes, and do not care about profits as much as they care about appearing Progressive. If Norman Rockwell was a contemporary artist today, and if he was doing something with Christmas as the theme, he could submit something that depicts Christians as cruel oppressors of Muslims. In the 1960s, he couldn't do that, even if he privately believed that. In the 1960s, he would not be allowed to demonize large swaths of the population as being evil and problematic. You accuse me of making generalizations when it is the Left that is doing the broad generalizations. There are no moderates on the Left anymore. They have given up on compromise. nuance, and subtlety. They have become a mirror image of the Right.

". Are you advocating that we try to solve such problems without a policy, or that we just give up trying?"
I don't believe in proposing solutions out of emotions.
For example...
There are no replacements for fossil fuels. "Renewable" energy doesn't work. I don't believe in throwing money at "renewable" energy schemes because some people want to feel like they are doing something about the energy problem.


Politicians have had a lousy track record of solving SOCIAL problems. Most of the time, they pick winners and losers. Civilizations are largely temporary arrangements and are not sustainable socially, economically, or ecologically.

Laurence John said...

ARBP: "I think you should refrain from political commentary.”

so why start a debate with him about political issues ?

ARBP: "David, just stop”

same question as before.

Anonymous said...

ARBP IF U VOTED FOR TRUMP U SHOULD CHANGE YOUR NAME TO A REAL DUM FUKR.

Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

kev - "Whatever evolution economics takes in the future, unless it is emergent, it will fail. Because only emergent phenomena is necessarily connected to what is real. Theory can critique the results of a system, and can spot failings within the system, but it cannot actually control true complexity, because it cannot comprehend it in its full measure. The only functioning model of reality is reality itself. The last thing the world needs is more top-down theoreticians charged with moral zeal and wildly incomplete information looking to arrogate power to themselves in order to control the fates of billions."

Unless the emergent mechanism you are referring to is some kind of rational dialectic, this paragraph reads like an example of the nihilism you seem to (justifiably) to oppose. Alternatively(?), it can be paraphrased thus: Laissez-faire.

At the core of Derrida's critique of Fukuyama's notion of capitalism being the "end of history" is this - the spectre of Marx remains. There's no ideological end to history and there's no end to Marx. In Derrida's typically roundabout way, he both affirms and refutes postmodernism's core principle, namely the death of the grand narratives.

As applied to art (and therefore also Norman Rockwell)'s role in this context, "the cannibalization of all the styles of the past" also means that the ghosts (and geists) of modernity cannot be ontologized away - even by that malign conspiracy of postmodernists that supposedly rules the world.

kev ferrara said...

Unless the emergent mechanism you are referring to is some kind of rational dialectic, this paragraph reads like an example of the nihilism you seem to (justifiably) to oppose. Alternatively(?), it can be paraphrased thus: Laissez-faire.

I'm not talking about "mechanism." I'm talking about a new way of life.

Sustainable ways of life don't come out of fiats and theories and laws. Enduring cultures aren't hastily cobbled together and then forced on the populace. Anything sustainable is by nature emergent, which is to say, organic. It comes out of the soil, so to speak, whatever that soil happens to be, and so will perpetuate unbidden. It can't not.

I must believe that natural cultural evolution is the only sane way forward, that which conserves what is worth preserving, including the stabilizing social norms and values that postmodernists sneer at with such arrogance and ignorance. All the while, yes, gently shaving away the obvious errors (like locking workers in a factory, filling cities with smog, dumping PCPs in the Hudson, or allowing teenagers to buy bazookas... so not "laissez-faire").

I see the call and response of emergent phenomena to historical circumstances, and vice versa, as always coherent. It can't not be, I feel. Although I tend to think the impetus for change, or its release mechanism, is always technological: Baking, Agriculture, Armor, Building, Brush and Pen, Explosives, The Piano, Printing, Electricity, Engineering, Automation, Automobiles, Analog Recording, Radio, Antibiotics/Disinfectants, Telephony, Nukes, TV, The Pill, Recreational Drugs, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Video Games, Pharmaceuticals, The Internet, Powdered Protein, Digitization, Nootropics...

Which means, in turn, that the prime movers of culture are the scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs. I presume the next technological wave is already crashing; in biotech, environmental cleanup/restoration, next generation fuels, and the de-physicalization of computer hardware. (There are of course, mental technologies to take into account as well, but I'm already writing too much here.) The point is that it is technology that alters the soil. Human beings have been pretty much the same for hundreds of thousands of years.

Tom said...

Maybe Will Ferrell can shed some light on the predicament!

http://www.adweek.com/creativity/baffled-by-conceptual-art-so-are-will-ferrell-and-joel-mchale-in-this-museums-short-film/