Sunday, January 06, 2019

WHY ARE THESE ILLUSTRATIONS SO BAD?

Many people who saw the New York Times Magazine last week asked themselves this question privately.  Here at the Illustration Art blog, we dare to consider such questions openly.

At the end of every year the New York Times Magazine runs a special issue devoted to noteworthy lives that ended that year.  In this year's issue they included seven full page portraits by contemporary artists. I think they are, for the most part, astonishingly bad.

Why?  The magazine is an important forum with substantial resources and an intelligent art director who has had a good track record, at least for typography and design.  What accounts for this series of choices?

To investigate, let's start with this awful cover of the great Aretha Franklin.


This unflattering portrait is certainly no likeness.  The strange highlights and the apparently broken neck seem closer to the artistic tradition of depicting flayed meats than the tradition of portraiture.   


The facial expression could've come from Mantegna's Martyrdom of St. Sebastian  and the design seems clumsy and amateurish.  Still, these alone would not be fatal.  (Naive art has its place, and heaven knows most of the contemporary art world ceased caring about design long ago).   

No, what bothers me the most is the utter lack of observation and insight about the subject matter. The artist certainly talks a good game:
When you think of her, you think of this unabashedly free voice.  She really went for the things she wanted, artistically and personally-- and very much a black woman in all of that.  Her black womanhood informed and inspired her process and was the catalyst for so many explorations in the world she created for herself.
But there is little correlation between these words and their visual execution.  When it comes to translating concepts into an image, the effort fails badly. 

This seems to be a common malady in what we might call the "post-visual" era of art: artists spin out ideas in their head but draw with their eyes closed.  And that I find harder to forgive.

Another example of this same phenomenon might be found in this ungainly portrait of Stan Lee:

  

The drawing simulates honest observation by including numerous random squiggles. 


Their dishonesty is revealed by the confusion they create (as with that neck).


Similarly, what is achieved by devoting so much effort to individual unruly hairs?  



So my objection to the Lee portrait is essentially the same as my objection to the Franklin portrait.  Neither picture offers the kind of insights I'd expect from honest observation and consideration of visual experience; neither picture pays the dues that come with the hard work of form-creating activity.  Instead, we are witnessing dialogues that artists have within their own heads, largely disconnected from hand and eye, for indiscriminate audiences who are primarily interested in words and concepts. 

Which brings me to "internationally acclaimed" artist Raymond Pettibon's portrait of Anthony Bourdain.  I'm a big fan of crude drawing with a rough edge; I believe that an insightful drawing could be made with a cigar butt.  However, I've always had a tough slog finding insights in Pettibon's drawings.  Like Gary Panter, his popularity seems to stem from his concepts-- his back story, his irony, his political views- rather than anything about his visual forms.  Like the previous two portraits, his powers of observation are more verbal than visual.  



Worse, he seems to be an artist more in what radio technicians call the "transmit" mode than the "reception" mode.  Which is why it seems so odd that his written explanation says he "wanted to get the smile right."  I confess I don't understand what Pettibon means by the word "right."

Most of the other portraits in the series seem similarly undistinguished for a forum such as the New York Times.  

The photo collage of Linda Brown is, of course, in a different category and should be considered as such.


There is a well designed, conventional portrait of Tom Wolfe in Milton Glaser's trademark style.  (Is there a shortage of under employed, hard working, innovative illustrators out there?)  But my general complaint remains that so many of these pictures, in keeping with the current disappointing fashion, are primarily about the concepts expressed in accompanying words.  

Matisse once said that artists should have their tongues cut out so they won't be tempted to explain their pictures.  Most of these artists could easier put out their eyes. Without their verbal concepts, so many pictures in our conceptual, "post-visual" era would mean nothing.  

The NYT is a forum that should do better.




113 comments:

kev ferrara said...

Here's the ref for Aretha...

https://cdn3.pitchfork.com/longform/796/Aretha2.jpg

j_ay said...

My goodness, these are all indeed...ghastly...

Chris James said...

The flayed woman, the hirsute man, and the smile that was not there. Going by what few opinions on art I've read coming from the NYT, the...quality of this work doesn't surprise me at all.

Tom said...

David you keep describing this malaise that runs through the world of modern illustration, but isn’t it a reflection of our culture in general?
I like your point of how the idea of something, or what the idea symbolizes dominates actual experience. Culture becomes a parody without the consciousness that creates true parody.


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MORAN said...

Time for a new art director at the New York Times.

Richard said...

This isn't about a lack of discrimination, as you put it, at all. Their readers are being perfectly careful -- they know subconsciously that big-A Art is their political enemy, and so they prefer that their media sources don't use it.

The fact of the matter is that big-A Art is a white, male tradition. Most of the best big-A Artists from history were white guys. For the modern progressive, that’s a serious problem. To admit that would be thought-crime, better to redefine art.


To make matters harder for the progressive, it’s still almost exclusively White and Asian guys excelling at Art. So, imagine if they kept the racial and gender affirmative action when picking artists, but they actually picked the best artists that each race and gender afforded them.

It would constitute a serious problem for them, as the East Asian, Persian, and Caucasian artists would embarrass their Hispanic and Black counterparts. Every art anthology would become a battle between the races.
No way, too risky.

As a result, young Progressives have psychologically set themselves against big-A art. It feels inherently elitist, fascist, misogynistic, racist, fat-shaming, etc.

However, 'outsider fashion cartoons' as I'm dubbing these illustrated paintings through stuff like outsider comix, feels much more multicultural, open, egalitarian, fun (girls just wanna have), and has the added benefit of being easy to learn, so it's perfectly suited to Progressivism.

This isn't just about a lack of appreciation for what good Art is. On the contrary. They'd rather destroy representational Art than admit where it came from. This is politics, through and through.



I was closely acquainted with a young woman in highschool who grew up to be one of these so-called Art Directors at the NY Times for the last decade.

She didn't really show any interest in Art at all (she was far more interested in girl-band punk rock and far-left politics).

The closest she came to art is that she and some of her friends would occasionally get very stoned and scribble stick figures (I actually found a picture of one those drawings).

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- A nice photo. They should've stuck with that.

j_ay-- My sentiments exactly.

Chris James-- I take your point. The funny thing is, the NYT was always the most conservative, hidebound publication when it came to running innovations such as comic strips or political cartoons, but when they finally acquiesced to modernity they seemed to surrender way too quickly to the postmodernist trends retreating from skill, standards, and adopt some of the more challenging values of the visual arts. For example, I'm disappointed by the eagerness of NYT art critics in embracing appropriation artists such as Richard Prince and other modern symptoms of nihilism and decadence.

But I have seen plenty of excellent work from the NYT too. They've run some great drawings and inspiring art reviews. They're a large institution covering a wide array of topics so of course some content will inevitably be better than others. I think they offer a lot of connoisseurship on the art of the past, but just like the New Yorker and several other smart periodicals, they are collaborators in the post modernist retreat from some of the more important values and challenges of profound visual arts.

Laurence John said...

David, the first one (like the Pettibon) isn’t technically ‘illustration’ since it's by a ‘fine artist’ (Toyin Ojih Odutola), so your opening question is a bit misleading; really these are ‘fine art’ portraits, so we should be discussing why this type of fine art is so bad (this doesn’t include the Todd McFarlane which is simply weak comic book art).

Richard’s 'outsider fashion cartoons’ is a pretty good opening broadside, and establishes where this type of work is coming from.

Anonymous said...

No surprise on Todd MacFarlane, he was always bad.

Chris James said...

I completely missed that the Stan Lee was done by McFarlane, lothario of arbitrary linework, who never met an anatomy book he loved. But hey, I'm surprised they gave one of those lowborn superhero drawers a shot; was Chris Ware not available? Todd isn't post-modern (in fact, he's one of the most commercial guys to come out of his field. If there is a buck to be made from this comics stuff, he'll find a way to make it), he's just bad.

And I think Richard is on the right track, if not down to the specifics. Others have spoken of Modern art as a tool to help uproot western culture. From truth, beauty and order, to subjectivity, nihilism and chaos, western civilization being the bulwark against these things and the new world order that the elites dream of. A people without cultural roots are easier to isolate, and thus control. Not to paint people on the political left with a broad brush, but that's where you see rabid anti-traditionalism coming from. If you can bring down Europe and North America, you can have your way with the planet.

Asia has pretty much ignored or avoided this nonsense though, much to their credit. Yes, the influence of a stock manga aesthetic in Japan is pervasive to the point of being essentially a national style, but even that is preferable to the notion that representational work of any sort is verboten. And occasionally you get some brilliant work in manga, animation. Japan is particularly strong in design, which is why a lot of there stuff is pleasing to the eye if not strong draughtsmanship. I'm not as familiar with the output of China and Korea, although I am aware there is influence from Russian academic painting in China.

Richard said...

Chris -- That the issue at hand is primarily cultural not racial as you seem to allude is what I believed until recently.
What I believe I have found is that there are several problems with that line of thinking. Foremost is that other ethnic cultural traditions have perfectly reasonable answers to truth, beauty, and order. White people aren’t alone in these societal necessities. Asia has had their own long set of cultural histories of pushing the same. Africa and South America in their own way, if perhaps more alien, have done the same.

Where white culture (or Western) differs is in form, not goal – while the Persians sought truth in pure abstraction, and Chinese in a cartooned minimalism, and Africans in a sculptural one, Europeans sought it in a kind of optical and formal authenticity.

I’m no longer convinced that white civilization is any more the pinnacle bulwark to modernism than is anyone else, “traditionalism” as a non-ethnic term has lost all meaning to me. White civilization’s cultural traditions have not been more viciously erased than that of the African American or the Jew. I would caution against any sort of historiography that puts whites in their own league in the category of erasure.
The only fashion by which whites are unique in this instance is that their racial forms are still to this day denied any ethnic heritage. White arts aren’t considered white, and whites aren’t allowed to have ethnic artforms. You yourself have washed out their heritage with “Western Civilization”, being too embarrassed to admit that it was thousands of years of white guys making white guy stuff for white people.

Which is how we get to this unusual position that progressives feel that specific white artforms are dangerous. I say specific, because not all white arts have been erased so carefully.

“Classical music”, as we boorishly term the music that white people made and liked until recently, has not only been allowed to survive, but has flourished. It has done so, because it has made the jump from a white artform to “western civilization”. Now, several of the greatest living opera singers are black women. Every race has a “classical music” musician to point to. People of all races have built themselves new pidgin forms of classical music.

All in all, the classically white form of music has transferred hands. The process of “cultural appropriation” is complete. See the way that Jazz, which is a fundamentally European-derived form has passed hands and become “black” and nothing else. It apparently needs pay little homage to Ravel or Shostakovich or Debussy. It was “invented”, as if from thin air.

In literature, the same process has become complete, so that Naguib Mafouz owes no homage to Baudelaire, and Cao Xueqin owes nothing to Shakespeare.

Yet, in the visual arts the process of appropriation has failed, there’s been no similar transfer of title. Michelangelo is still unabashedly a white man making white pictures (although they’ll allow that he was probably Gay, so at least he has that going for him).

You note that the Chinese are influenced by the Russian traditionalists. Note that you don’t pretend that those forms are their own. Henry Ossawa Tanner is still obviously working in a white tradition, regardless of his ethnic origins.

There isn’t a war on “tradition”. No one at the New York Times is trying to stop the women of Gee’s Bend from making quilts. This is about one specifically recognizable set of ethnic traditions, and one alone. Don’t beat around the bush with euphemisms like “Western Culture” and “Traditionalism”. The war is on art that is still recognizably White, nothing more.

Perhaps when Dafen Village finally produces a few dozen Velazquez-grade painters this period will be over, the appropriation being complete. Until then, expect more of the same – “Western Culture’s” representationalism is dead. They can’t let it live as long as it remains so dang white.

kev ferrara said...

Only have time/inclination just now to correct one point...

The history of Jazz doesn't begin with "third stream" late romantic classical music. That stuff joins in to the Jazz tradition later. The big bang of that admixture can be traced to the excitement-generating concert Experiment in Modern Music in 1924, during which Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue was first performed in public with orchestration... proving that jazz ideas and classical ideas could merge.

Jazz really begins with the emphasis on the "blue note" added to the ancient pan-cultural pentatonic scale or to a Mixolydian scale (adding a sad and unsure feeling to an otherwise normal sounding scale). Then there's work song call-and-response type vocal counterpoint, gospel feel, and syncopated rhythms from black juke joints doing variations on Ragtime across the south and especially in New Orleans.

Reading mainstream musicologists from the 1890s, they call these rhythms "primitive" and "barbaric" and said they were designed to promote the sexual/bodily urges among 'the Negro', which was frowned upon in Victorian moral norms. (I've seen images where ads for early Jazz showed the spelling as not Jazz but "Jass"... read J'ass or "of ass" with obvious reference to the provocative booty shakin' going on at the roadhouse. And a nod to the French influence in New Orleans too.) So one of the foundational ideas of Jazz, its heightened syncopation, was roundly razzed by the white victorian establishment as vulgar at the time.

Now, not all Jazz pioneers were black, and not all Jazz ideas were black. For instance the "blue note" could be found in music in the Jewish tradition, and most of the instruments used were "white people" inventions, same may be said of the chord progressions, etc. Ragtime borrowed from many music hall, dance hall, and popular folk traditions, and so on. Suffice to say, Jazz was multi-ethnic from the start.


Jvbhrt said...

Wow. I'm glad kev ferarra posted the source for the Aretha Franklin picture. The artist could have done a powerful tribute portrait based on it, instead of what appears to me like a "black-face" parody of an important singer. It's horrible, disgusting, and in no way conveys, to me anyway, anything at all about Aretha Franklin, which I thought was supposed to be the subject of the portrait in the first place. Just terrible, in my opinion. However, I'm glad you posted these.

Richard said...

Kev, I think your history is mostly spot on.

I'll clarify that I wasn't suggesting Jazz is a white authored artform. Its most successful practitioners were black, plain and simple.

Instead I’m just pointing out that it is at its core derived predominantly from European forms, not African ones. That's a very different stance.

While the British/Jewish/Creole Gottschalk certainly brought to and popularized in Jazz the Latin-Slave syncopation of the early 19th century, still he studied at the Paris Conservatoire and was friend of Liszt and Chopin. He added Afro-Latin content into European music, not the other way around. As the father of Jazz, I think his life makes good metaphor. Jazz isn’t an African Slave song with a sprinkling of melody on top. It’s a European form with a sprinkling of African Slave rhythms on it.

Even the existence of a blue note itself derives from western equal temperment, and using notes outside of the western modes to intimate at a missing fraction in well-tempered music or alternative TETs certainly isn't an invention of African American jazz musicians, even if they popularized this specific usage.

From the decidedly European instrumentation to the strong influence of the late romantics through the folk of the Scots-Irish of Appalachia and so on, and Jazz looks much more like Spanglish with some African loan words than it does Yoruba with a smattering of English loan words. (We know what the latter sounds like, say Toumani Diabate for example, and it’s fantastic but it isn’t Jazz.)

Now let me be extremely clear: all of this is not to rob those African Americans who built Jazz into the grand form that it is, but rather to point out how little interest is now paid to giving white civilization its due when describing art traditions that derive predominantly from ours. Were a white musician to author a 22-TET ‘Raga’ with a waltzing beat, the NY Times wouldn’t call it a new white musical form -- that would be robbery.

I think this history is important because it shows why white Music hasn’t been erased the same way that white Art has. It’s easier to appropriate music since it’s not representational. If a black guy paints a new Renoir with brown skinned characters, but doesn’t change out the lighting, the hats, the flowers, and so on, it won’t as easily transmute into a new black artform. Or at least it shouldn’t. Kehinde Wiley will certainly try and let us know.

Anyway, I think this is getting a bit beyond the point of why exactly the NY Times dislikes white artforms, but it’s interesting, nonetheless.

kev ferrara said...

Richard,

I'm enjoying your erudition. But I still find much of what you say tendentious.

Before I even consider the idea that Gottschalk is the "father of jazz" as you assert, (As opposed to Buddy Bolden or somebody similar) I'd need to be acquainted with at least one composition of Gottschalk's that you think qualifies as Jazz, or at least proto-jazz... moreso than other protojazz styles.

The traditional blue note is only approximated in the tempered 12 tone scale by the flat 3. It can exist anywhere between flat 3 and major 3 and is often slurred in the interval. There are other blue notes as well, particularly the flat 5. And when both the flat 3 and flat 5 are added to the mixolydian you get a dense synthetic scale that has both mixolydian and diminished character at once, kinda shuffled into each other (with the mixolydian plus flat 3 providing the jazzy-sounding Dom7 chords at I, IV, and V ... in a similar way that Maleguena is composed with the eerie-beautiful Andelusian/Flamenco scale designed so major chords avail themselves at I, II, and III.)

This merger of opposite feelings at the chordal level into the same scale though, again, is only approximating with the keyboard formalism the emotional quality of the bluesy "between the notes" feelings which derive from notes hovering outside of those formalized intervals. Blues begins with the plasticity of the mouth, not the formality of the keyboard.

One might be inclined to say the great achievement of western music is the formalization of the tempered intervals and the ability to access them at the fingertips via well-engineered keyboards, fretboards, and fingerholes. And that's a reasonable belief, in my opinion.

But intervals themselves were not invented with the 12 tone scale in its tempered form. All scales go way back in time and we have no idea what scales have been lost to history (just as we have no idea what history, philosophy, science, and mathematics, was lost in the three separate incinerations of the great Library at Alexandria)

There are birds that sing in 'tempered' intervals (I hear them all the time; they seem to particularly love major 4ths and 5ths in my neck of the woods. But I've heard the 2, 3, 6 and maj7 in their birdsong too.). Many animals, including humans have an instinct for the sensual emotion-meanings of intervals and the slurring into and out of them. This use of intervallic expression is the stuff of Art since time immemorial.

It just so happens though that the flat 3 and flat 5 glissando/slurs coming off the major 3 and 5 seem to have been something most often found in black music prior to Jazz. So that's why that provenance is granted.

kev ferrara said...


Everybody stands on the shoulders of others; nothing in the arts comes out of the blue. But just as blue and green can be distinguished from each, even though a perfect smear of color connects blue and green, so can Jazz be distinguished from near asymptotic precursor styles by its unique features.

As a general matter, I agree that the anti-white and anti-west sentiment being fomented by the regressive ideologically-possessed 'social justice warriors' types and the activists and politicos trying to exploit that fire to return to power is disgusting, destructive, ahistorical, dangerous, and full of venom and lies.

But I think De-skilling in the arts has many more than one cause. And we need to be careful to not to be swayed into simple answers just because our opponents (postmodern intellectual-yet-idiots) base their warfaring on reductive presuppositions.

Al McLuckie said...

Kev - don't want to sidetrack the thread - but are you familiar with Don Ellis and his work ? Got to play with him once in '72 . Also , am noticing a lot of Kanevsky imitators , blurring and breaking up their edges to look like him .

Al McLuckie

Anonymous said...

Todd McFarlane like a lot of comic book artists created a style that worked in a manner of autograph story telling but is hopeless for identifying people from the real world. Either they stick to the style but it doesn't look like the person. (just put someone into the frame saying "Hey it's Tom Cruise!") Or they have to jarringly abandon their well worn in style and go back to how they drew in High School.

Marc.

David Apatoff said...

MORAN-- You could be right. I've heard the current art director lecture and he seemed thoughtful and earnest but these disastrous choices suggest a politically correct, formulaic series of choices with no regard for the quality of the end product. If the NYT has standards, some of these should have been turned back.

Marc, Chris James and Anonymous-- I wasn't very familiar with McFarlane's work, but judging by this one sample I have to agree. There was a period in the 1930s and 40s when a substantial percentage of comic book art was unbelievably amateurish and crude. We look back on that infancy with some fondness and nostalgia. It's hard for me to summon up the same good will for bad drawing in today's comic books. These artists are no longer excited high school kids knocking out art for $5 a page; the art form passed out of that infancy and can't go back. The industry now involves more sophisticated printing (including color capabilities such as we see wasted in the Stan Lee portrait), better paper, much higher prices, more sophisticated plots, licensing deals for creators, more creative freedom... so if the art is low quality it's harder to forgive.

Laurence John-- That's an interesting distinction. If a fine artist creates an illustration for a publication, does that make them an illustrator? Or perhaps more to the point, how are the standards for excellence in portraiture different for illustration and "fine" art?

David Apatoff said...

Richard, Chris James and Kev Ferrara-- I paused before responding to Richard's comment because I wasn't sure where he was going. He introduced cultural, political and ethnic considerations which are not only potentially immense, but potentially fraught with peril if I misconstrued his intent. After seeing this dialogue play out a little more, the one thing I can confidently agree with is Kev's point that "de-skilling in the arts has more than one cause. And we need to be careful not to be swayed into simple answers…."

If I were to make a list of the probable causes for the awful choices in the New York Times magazine, cultural, political, or ethnic considerations involving "anti-white" or "anti-West" sentiments would not be in my top 10. I would not have thought of "big-A art" as a white male tradition, or "representational art" as something persecuted by progressives for political reasons. Sure,some flaky and clueless people may try to indict western art that way, but I never thought they were worth a response. Let me offer a few other potential causes that seem more likely to me.

One might easily conclude that "representational art" came under fire when photography allowed any nitwit to create a likeness by pushing a button. So much of the historical importance of representational art (including in no small part, portraiture) was eroded at that instant. Now magicians who once commanded respect for their ability to achieve a likeness are matched by any doofus with a cell phone. For economic reasons alone, many artists had to find a different kind of magic to impress the crowds, and this often involved more cerebral or "conceptual" art.

Or, one might easily conclude that "big-A art" requires an attention span that becomes harder and harder to find in an Internet age where everyone needs flashing lights and Dolby sound to usher in fresh images every 10 seconds. Students who once flocked to art schools now flock to film schools because they prefer pictures that move and talk. The remote control for television changed the content of TV shows because viewers no longer had to get up off the sofa to change the channel, so TV shows had to titillate viewers far more frequently if they didn't want to lose viewers to channel surfing. The Velasquez or the Titian or the Caravaggio on the museum wall are not immune to this new attention span (an attention span that was re-shaped by white, male Western inventions).

Or, one might conclude that Western traditions in art seemed universal when people were largely confined to the region where they were born, but with the cross-fertilization of different styles from around the world and the instant availability of art from historical periods dating back to the beginning of humanity, the formerly universal principles seemed much more regional and subjective. (cont.)

Chris James said...

Richard, there is no embarrassment on my part, no attempt to wash out anyone's heritage. For much of my artistic training, I focused solely on the art of white men of the 16th to 18th centuries, as I thought it the pinnacle of visual accomplishment in all the history of the world, and was not shy about saying so to anyone who cared to listen. It wasn't until much later that I allowed for other races' art to enter the conversation, although I did admire the drawing capability of a few manga artists in my youth. I'm amused because I have no desire to spare anyone's feelings at the expense of the truth as I see it.

But I assumed that it is understood by all here that western civilization is synonymous with Europe, having its roots there, and thus white. It was created by whites but whites are no longer the only ones living it, thus my choice of terminology. If one of another race has assimilated to the cultures of Europe or North America, they too are a part of western civilization as they practice its values, strive for its ideals, and/or participate in its functions. The attack on tradition (whether artistic, legal, sexual, spiritual, etc.) is larger than European art. It affects non-whites living in western countries, see the destruction of the black-American family structure due to far-leftist influence, as one example. That's why I said your general thrust was on track, if not the specifics. The attack isn't on whites for the sake of making non-whites not feel inferior, that's penny ante in the game being played*. It's the people on the bottom of the progressive rungs, who know not why they really do what they do, who care about that, scratching around in the dirt like chickens for the grains the farmer throws to them.

Yes, other cultures have answers for truth, beauty, and order; I'll put Hokusai up against any draughtsman from the European canon. But it is western...I'm sorry, white culture that has been dominant. The conversation has always been about white art. By virtue of being dominant (and some would argue, being the best yet conceived and put into practice), it is western ideals and tradition -not African American or Jewish- that stand as the bulwark against the chaos that, if certain conspiracy theories are to be believed, totalitarians wish to plunge common society into. Again, the idea being if you can uproot people from a common culture, they are easier to disenfranchise, separate, isolate, intimidate, and control. Those living in western countries are the most able and willing to mount resistance against global powers, similar to how it's more likely for able bodied men to rebel against oppressive rule. Art is just one means by which cultural un-mooring can be accomplished.

*Of course, you have to buy the premise of a global agenda to begin with. Enough has been written about the subject for people to make up their own minds.

Chris James said...

David, those are sound points,

"Or, one might conclude that Western traditions in art seemed universal when people were largely confined to the region where they were born, but with the cross-fertilization of different styles from around the world and the instant availability of art from historical periods dating back to the beginning of humanity, the formerly universal principles seemed much more regional and subjective.'

But wouldn't you say that there was still a general attempt by all cultures to create art roughly identifiable as real world objects? As opposed to going full Pollack.

I don't have reason to believe the NTY made those selections based on anti-west sentiments. Or it's possible they did, unconsciously. I believe a lot of progressives do not know why they do what they do or feel what they feel. Pawns in a larger game. The result of trickle down ideology, starting from a young age, passed down through universities and media. The elites hate all of us "useless eaters" equally. I'm saying this as theory. Well except that last part, all you have to do is read some important people's memoirs...

The political reasons would come from higher up. If the traditional western art represented order, reason, truth, beauty, Modern art symbolizes the opposite values. Chaos, emotion, subjectivity, beauty(only in the eye of the beholder). The jagged contours, disharmonious color, seemingly random shapes, coarse technique. Piss Christ. What is the psychological affect of all this? The world turned upside down, maybe. Unstable art to un-stabilize people. Again, these are theories I picked up elsewhere, but they are compelling to me because, to be blunt, a lot of people are talking out of their ass about art. For example, it's one thing to show appreciation for new approaches in painting, but quite another to do so at the expense of another. The vehement anti-representational stance in schools, galleries, and critical circles smacks of ulterior motivation. There is just not a rational argument there as far as I can see, unless art is just fashion, which is a notion I abhor and why should true art lovers listen to anything said by anyone who views art that way? I don't see why the existence of photography would create such prejudice against representational art.

(The market-based argument of photography supplanting painting makes sense for some genres, but not for others. Good luck even today trying to accurately replicate a Delacroix for a photo shoot unless Vanity Fair is funding you, and forget about doing it at the advent of photography. Frazetta got rich off of the camera not being able capture some things.)

I believe European painting is partly responsible for it's own demise though. It pursued naturalism to a detrimental end. Frankly, I find academic painting of the 19th century to be mostly boring, pedantic, inert. It's no surprise that the camera and daring new approaches to painting replaced it. I think the renaissance Italians and Flemings, the Baroque painters, and Romantics had it all over them when it comes to infusing their work with life, creativity, technical experimentation.

David Apatoff said...

Chris James wrote: "Others have spoken of modern art as a tool to help uproot Western culture."

Yes, some people have suggested that but an equally large number have suggested the opposite: that modern art is a tool to help Western culture dominate other countries. Stalin claimed that modern art was "ideological sabotage against our country and especially against our youth...." He defended representational art against abstraction, claiming that "attempts are being made against socialist realism in art and literature.... In these so-called abstract paintings there is no real face of those people, whom people would like to imitate in the fight for their peoples’ happiness, for communism and for the path on which they want progress. This portrayal is substituted by the abstract mysticism clouding the issue of socialist struggle against capitalism." And you know what? It turned out that ol' Stalin was partly right, that the CIA was secretly promoting and subsidizing modern art as a cultural weapon against the communists who were attempting to stifle and crush it.

It sounds to me like the political criticisms of abstract art from opposite ends of the political spectrum share a common emotional impetus.


Chris James also wrote: "Not to paint people on the political left with a broad brush, but that's where you see rabid anti-traditionalism coming from.… Representational work of any sort is verboten."

Aren't these problems more symptomatic of free market capitalism than the political left? A capitalist culture is always searching for the latest fashion or trend, and eager to discard yesterday's styles, vocabulary, manners, cell phones, trends etc. without a look back. Capitalism is voracious that way, compared to the more hidebound, centralized economies which (like Stalin, above)are quick to squelch any new culture that might disrupt the state's controls. Also, I don't think you mean that representational work is "verboten" because no art is verboten in a free market economy, you mean that it just doesn't pass a market test (the essence of winners and losers in capitalism). Mao and Stalin were far bigger fans of representational art.

David Apatoff said...

Richard--I agree with you that "white civilization is [no] more the pinnacle bulwark to modernism than is anyone else." But I'm afraid I don't understand the significance of dividing cultures into "white" and "non-white."

I recognize geographic differences, such as the distinction between northern European art (for example, Durer) and Mediterranean art (for example, Titian). Both are white Europeans but there are significant differences in their styles which are generally representative of the artists of their regions. I understand religious differences between white Christian art and white Muslim art for the same reasons. I understand temp oral differences that are obvious in the distinction between classical and romantic periods in "white" Europe. All of these distinctions and more make sense to me, because they are tied to observable, collective distinctions in the nature of the art produced, which can be fruitfully contrasted. But I'm not at all clear on the analytical value of a separate category of "white culture" based on pigmentation of the skin.

I suppose we could get into a discussion of the relative merits of Euro-centric contributions to world culture, but Even the most rousing tributes to Euro-centric cultural achievement that I've read (Arthur Koestler's marvelous, the Lotus and the robot or Bernard Knox's incredible The Oldest Dead White European Males) would not, I think, the tribute the differences to pigmentation. an honest accounting would require us also to take into consideration the cross-fertilization of foreign cultures that led to the Renaissance, jump starting the West out of the doldrums of the dark ages--who gets credit for that? It also might require us to offset the harm caused by other European exports, such as Marxism, poison gas and the nuclear bomb.





Øyvind Lauvdahl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

"Pastiche is, like parody, the imitation of a peculiar or unique, idiosyncratic style, the wearing of a linguistic mask, speech in a dead language. But it is a neutral practice of such mimicry, without any of parody's ulterior motives, amputated of the satiric impulse, devoid of laughter and of any conviction that alongside the abnormal tongue you have momentarily borrowed, some healthy linguistic normality still exists"
- Jameson, Fredric. Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.

Bad? There is a weightlessness to some of these pieces is entirely apropos the time of their production. Also, curatorially, they are haunted not only by who they portray but also of the ideals of yesterday. These are portraits of the dead, not the living.

David Apatoff said...

Jvbhrt-- I agree. It's useful to have the photo reference of Aretha Franklin in front of us so we can see exactly what the artist contributed and what she did not. It's astonishing to me that virtually everything the artist did to transform the original photograph was a step in the wrong direction. What a wretched job, and shame on the New York Times.

Richard and Kev Ferrara-- What is the difference between suggesting that the New York Times' bad taste is fueled by an "anti-white sentiment" and saying that the New York Times is trying to elevate its choices above assumptions created by centuries of cultural appropriation by white artists (for example, Picasso's use of African motifs in les demoiselles d'Avignon?)

My concern here is more with the wretched taste behind this particular selection of pictures than with any attempt to redress historical cultural infringements. There may somewhere be a mind subtle enough and a ledger big enough to set everything right but I am mindful of my own limitations and try not to become too enraged over generalizations about artistic genealogy. I agree with Mark Twain: "All the territorial possessions of all the political establishments in the earth--including America, of course--consist of pilferings from other people's wash. No tribe, howsoever insignificant, and no nation, howsoever mighty occupies a foot of land that was not stolen.... which doesn’t represent the ousting and re-ousting of a long line of successive 'owners,' who each in turn, as 'patriots' defended it against the next gang of 'robbers' who came to steal it and did – and became swelling-hearted patriots in their turn."

David Apatoff said...

Øyvind Lauvdahl-- I promise I'm not trying to be thick about this, but I honestly can't tell if your quote from Frederic Jameson is intended as a parody or not. It seems to be written in the labored prose of Marxist literary criticism and it leaves me bewildered at the end.

This seems to be the week for dialectical materialism, hermeneutics, phenomenology, cultural imperialism and other mega historical filters. Gee, I was just trying to figure out why the New York Times picked such a crummy assortment of drawings last week.

Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

David Apatoff -

"Gee, I was just trying to figure out why the New York Times picked such a crummy assortment of drawings last week."

Here you go, then: The "mega historical filters" broke down some years ago. This also affected art(, said Jameson).

Richard said...

Chris says "Of course, you have to buy the premise of a global agenda to begin with. Enough has been written about the subject for people to make up their own minds."

I don't, I don't even think the NY Times has a real agenda, let alone a global cabal(Or should I spell it "Kabbal", given whom these conspiracy theories normally devolve into identifying as the villain).

That's why I'd like to, in one fell swoop, clear up a significant point about my argument here;
I'm not suggesting that the NY Times as an institution has "anti-West sentiments" or "anti-White sentiments" or "cultural, political, or ethnic considerations" per se. In general people and their organizations are not so intentional.

My argument is, instead, just that the NY Times' increasingly Progressive audience has lost their stomach for Art which feels too white. To those Progressives I argued that white art now feels "inherently elitist, fascist, misogynistic, racist, fat-shaming, etc." Once the audience who pays your bills has a (perhaps subconscious) feeling about white art forms, the market will do the rest. Add to that, again, the embarrassment it would cause to put the best that each race currently has at representational Art up against each other, and the situation creates the outcome.

It doesn't require big explanations of truth or beauty, of a deskilling of the global population, or any such grandiose theory of comparative economics. It's a very small argument that you give your customers what they prefer, and if they prefer a multi-ethnic population of artists in your art anthology, you'll give them that. And if it is currently impossible to give them a multi-ethnic population of artists of any level of mastery, because those artists don't yet exist, then you can't possibly give them that.


"But I'm not at all clear on the analytical value of a separate category of 'white culture' based on pigmentation of the skin."

I would start, I guess, by pointing out that all ethnic groups have a right to exist, a right to self-determination, and a right to pride in their own creations (even when borrowing elements from other ethnic groups), and a right to a culture which is theirs -- even white people. No ethnic group should have to come up with excuses for getting to have their own culture, or for taking pride in that culture. It is a human right.

To Mark Twain's "All the territorial possessions of all the political establishments in the earth--including America, of course--consist of pilferings from other people's wash. "

But there are some territorial possessions which have a stronger degree of right to ownership than others. For example, Whites have a much stronger degree of right to Europe than they do America (even if the Basques technically got here first). Jews have a much stronger degree of right to Israel than do Iranians. Irish people have a much higher degree of right to Ireland than they do to Russia, and vice versa, despite that they're both white.


"Yes, some people have suggested that but an equally large number have suggested the opposite: that modern art is a tool to help Western culture dominate other countries. Stalin claimed that modern art was 'ideological sabotage against our country and especially against our youth....' "

You're confusing Western Culture with The West (a global political entity). Stalin was defending Western Culture from The West.

A Real Black Person said...

"white art now feels "inherently elitist, fascist, misogynistic, racist, fat-shaming, etc."


Art has been deconstructed to the point it can only be described as a political or social message and NOTHING ELSE. Progressive politics have eliminated any other frameworks for evaluating art.

Standards in art are now ableist and saneist. Political correctness was first applied to Fine Art. Modernists in Fine Art revere naive art, art made by marginalized people, particularly the mentally disturbed....because of their unusual insights, much in the same way some religions see insane people as potential prophets.

Industrial technology shares some of the blame for the deskilling of artists.

(except for Asia)
many Fine Artists have rationalized not drawing well by saying that the camera could reproduce nature in a way that was cheaper and more accurate than they could. They got by for several decades by making stylized art. However, the decline of cartooning---it's another dying art form-- tells me that stylized art in the commercial realm has run its full course and is only tolerated by people who read manga.

The expansion of Photography took away a lot of the work of illustrators who worked realistically. The work of the most skilled artists is now done for Hollywood, computer games and is seen by very few people.

The evolving attitude towards art is that it is problematic and I can see critics in multicultural societies going for pure Islamic like abstraction in the future. No one can feel excluded or degraded by a painting of a black square, amiright?

Chris James said...

David -point taken. I knew of the CIAs weaponizing of Modern art. But I left open the possibility that it could serve the dual purpose of battling communism and helping to uproot western culture. I didn't really want to go too far off on this geopolitical tangent though, so apologies for getting off track

"Aren't these problems more symptomatic of free market capitalism than the political left? A capitalist culture is always searching for the latest fashion or trend, and eager to discard yesterday's styles, vocabulary, manners, cell phones, trends etc. without a look back. Capitalism is voracious that way, compared to the more hidebound, centralized economies which (like Stalin, above)are quick to squelch any new culture that might disrupt the state's controls. Also, I don't think you mean that representational work is "verboten" because no art is verboten in a free market economy, you mean that it just doesn't pass a market test (the essence of winners and losers in capitalism). Mao and Stalin were far bigger fans of representational art. "

Yeah I made two errors there. 1.) touching on too many things and not being clear where the overlap and the distinctions lay. To say leftists are against (all forms of) representational art is absurd considering the kinds of media consumed in geek culture, which has a sizable left contingent. Also, we are passed the point where the idea of Modern art as a weapon is relevant, because...

2.) I should say that type of work WAS verboten. The situation is different now, things have leveled off where there is an audience for any kind of work you can imagine. Representational art ateliers are popping up all over the place, life drawing has returned to some university art curriculum, etc.

But I meant in critical and educational circles. I'm not sure the market explained the utter contempt for representational work. It seemeds personal or political, as if they must do their best to make sure the work is utterly invalidated before it even reaches the market. If Abstract art could stand on its own, there would be no reason to take an active stance against realism, it would dwindle away naturally. And these people influenced others from their authoritative pedestals. I'm sure you've heard stories from illustrators and realist painters about rank amateurs informing them that their work isn't real art, because that's what they read in some culture rag or were taught in some popcorn art studies course they took. Something is essentially verboten if the market is tainted against it by "experts" having convinced people it isn't art or worthwhile art. Then there is this label of 'kitsch' that some applied wholesale to representational art, which is a fallacious use of the term.

It appears to me that when you let people decide or they simply do not care what the cultural curators say, representation is the popular winner, just not in the form of an Ingres or Rockwell. Comic books, fantasy illustration, editorial illustration, fan art, tattoos, etc. Um...Thomas Kinkade. That minority of wealthy people paying astronomical sums for a Hirst are in their own bubble.

I'm actually overall positive about where things stand now.

Richard - point also taken, but to be clear I didn't mean to associate the NYT with any kind of globalist agenda. I also see your stance more clearly now. I guess there is a degree of "whiteness" that a work can have that pushes beyond what even an audience not totally set against realism can tolerate. But I don't think there is any threat that they would publish anything approaching that even if there were competitive examples from other races. The taste seems to be for humor, fun, levity, irreverence, cool, style. Thomas Fluharty (white) is more liable to be selected than Steven Assael (also white). And in that case, I'd agree wholeheartedly with the decision...

kev ferrara said...

What is the difference between suggesting that the New York Times' bad taste is fueled by an "anti-white sentiment" and saying that the New York Times is trying to elevate its choices above assumptions created by centuries of cultural appropriation by white artists (for example, Picasso's use of African motifs in les demoiselles d'Avignon?)

I never said that the NYT's ugly aesthetics was directly due to an anti-white bias. I believe only Richard and Chris James said something like that. I believe the story is much more complicated than that, and it would take me hours to write it all out.

However, your question bolded above does lead to another thought....

To what purpose your Russell Conjugation of “Cultural Influence” into “Cultural Appropriation” except to foment anti-Western sentiment and to make anti-art postmodernist claims seem common knowledge in ordinary discourse?

You can't have it both ways. You can't be against deskilling and bad art, and then be against the methods that artists have used since antiquity to find inspiration and renew their culture.

A Real Black Person said...

"It appears to me that when you let people decide or they simply do not care what the cultural curators say, representation is the popular winner, just not in the form of an Ingres or Rockwell. Comic books, fantasy illustration, editorial illustration, fan art, tattoos, etc. Um...Thomas Kinkade. That minority of wealthy people paying astronomical sums for a Hirst are in their own bubble.

I'm actually overall positive about where things stand now."


You're either ignorant or delusional.

Almost all those things are being attacked by activists because they are too white, too straight or too male. You are out of touch with what has been happening in the commercial arts. Comic books, fantasy illustration, editorial illustration, anything that can be potentially viewed by large numbers of people is becoming being subject to the politics of affluent progressives.



https://gulfnews.com/entertainment/books/sana-amanat-marvel-is-not-a-boy-brand-anymore-1.1991792

"“People assume it’s for kids, and that superhero storytelling in particular is really gimmicky and has no real substance to it — it’s just men and women in spandex,” she said. Early issues of Black Panther comics, X-Men comics and The Runaways proved otherwise.

“All of these books deal with really complex, complicated issues that are talking about the social issues of our time,” she said.

“My biggest passion is always going to be how we can make Marvel a gender-neutral brand,” she said. “It’s not a boy brand anymore.”

The current trend is NOT to let people decide anything and to leave it to experts with academic credentials in Intersectionality.

Chris James said...

"You're either ignorant or delusional."

Neither. I'm well aware of the SJW mentality rampant in mainstream comics. People are deciding, and that garbage doesn't sell. The Marvel comics line is going nowhere fast. Good riddance. "Get woke, go broke."

You're not seeing the opportunities, just regurgitating the same doomsday narrative of the non-competitive. Over at the James Gurney blog, it's people fretting over robots taking over art. Meanwhile some kid springboards into a commercial art career from doing fan-art on DeviantArt. I know someone who earned enough from their web-comic to buy a house. Artists are diversifying, starting in one visual medium and branching out into numerous others, wearing the hats of illustrator, graphic designer, filmmaker simultaneously. Ateliers have been popping up all over the country for the last 20 years, so regardless of the market, there is a desire for those skills. Compare that to the state of art training in the 60s.

https://www.schoolofmotion.com/podcast/ash-thorp

"...when I was growing up, I was always told that if I was going to be an artist it was going to be a starving artist. That's how it goes. My mom was an incredible artist. My grandma was incredible. My great grandpa was a craftsman. My brother's incredible at art. They're all way better than me, and they didn't figure out how to really make a career out of it, and I think it's just because there wasn't a place for that at that time for them. I think there is now. The opportunities now are insane"

From a multi-disciplinary commercial artist at the top of his craft.

You're damn right I'm more positive about the options available now.

A Real Black Person said...

First off, I was writing from the perspective of a consumer of mass art, not a producer.

"r. I'm well aware of the SJW mentality rampant in mainstream comics"
You still don't get it. That mentality can be found in all areas of American comics. Until the late-2000s, inter-sectional politics were confined to alternative comics aimed at the academic/literary crowd. The whole industry now caters to the same audience that the "Indie" or "alternative" comics have.


The few people who are good enough and in-demand enough to live off commissions are basically doing art that very few people see. They would make as much money if the pay for illustrators in areas like comic books and traditional illustration hadn't gone down and they haven't been driven underground because their work is "problematic". I will contend that there are fewer Deviantart superstars making a good living now than artists with the state of the art "training" in the 1960s.

" Artists are diversifying, starting in one visual medium and branching out into numerous others, wearing the hats of

illustrator, graphic designer, filmmaker"
Trying to master multiple domains to hide the fact that wages are going down and work is becoming more scarce.

I'd have more respect for you if you'd just said the entertainment industries are always looking for 3d artists who can hit deadlines because they burn them one out every week. Everything else you said is hyperbole. I understand that you have drive and want to be positive but the market is just not as big as you think it is and it is for a number of reasons, not a meritocracy anymore.

Richard said...

"Progressive politics have eliminated any other frameworks for evaluating art."

To play devil's advocate for a second here though, it has at least been beneficial to race politics in the short term, right?

Absent the changes in standards, there may very well still be no black portrait painters with works in the Presidential Portrait Gallery. That had to be worth something, right?

Personally, I would have chosen Thomas Blackshear as he is the best living black painter that I am aware of, but something is better than nothing, no?

Chris James said...

"You still don't get it. That mentality can be found in all areas of American comics"
I'll have to concede to your knowledge in this area as a consumer of mass art. The only. American comics I've been paying attention to in the last few years are independent digital comics and a few Dark Horse series like B.P.R.D, neither of which I've detected SJW taint. Hell, I've even seen a few recent Marvel releases that were free of this nonsense. But the comics industry hasn't been healthy for a long time. Still, it's easier for someone to publish their own passion project now than it was before the 'net.

"The few people who are good enough and in-demand enough to live off commissions are basically doing art that very few people see."
What's your definition of a very few people? Because this is always been the case for most professional artists I've admired, who were big in their niche and among enthusiasts, but not beyond that.


"Trying to master multiple domains to hide the fact that wages are going down and work is becoming more scarce."
In the examples I'm thinking of, they do so because they want to, not out of necessity. Ash Thorp started in graphic design, which he applied to the film industry, which was another passion of his. He could have stayed doing that, but he found how to work his passions for comics and illustration into the mixture. Remember the renaissance man? Artists were painters, designers, architects, all in one. This beats stuck doing Saturday Evening Post covers your whole career.

chris bennett said...

David,
This may help answer your question, particularly in the light of the intriguing discussion it has spawned.

The whole point of quality is that it is the practical embodiment of the universal.

To not believe in the existence of quality (or believing it to be relative) yet believe in the ideal of social universality means that the task of representing the ideal is one of indiscriminately substituting quality for anything that signifies democratic inclusivity to a political consensus.

David Apatoff said...

Øyvind Lauvdahl wrote: "mega historical filters" broke down some years ago. This also affected art(, said Jameson).

Thanks, that helps me understand your point about the weakness of these drawings being "entirely apropos the time of their production." Do you think these filters broke down because they were never really true and their limitations only became apparent to us with the passage of time, or is there another reason?

Richard wrote: "My argument is, instead, just that the NY Times' increasingly Progressive audience has lost their stomach for Art which feels too white."

I see. Then isn't there a more benign, less inflammatory interpretation for what we're witnessing: that people (particularly in the capitalist west) are always searching for some new thrill or experience, some new style that is out of the ordinary, so they scour other countries, cultures, time periods for the unfamiliar? Isn't that why Japanese wood block prints and Japanese design became the rage in England and the US in the 19th century? Or how Picasso became avant garde by introducing to Europe the strength of ancient African aesthetic? Or why art deco became a modern craze by snatching up the ancient Egyptian styles uncovered by the opening of King Tut's tomb?

Perhaps what you call "Progressive" with a capital P could be equally explained as being progressive in the ordinary sense of trying to make discoveries and advance knowledge-- people with natural curiosity, having experienced a representational style for a few centuries, begin to branch out, looking for new, overlooked qualities (you know... "progress"). I agree that a cosmopolitan, urbane population such as the readership of the NYT may search extra hard for new ideas just to feel smug about being the first discoverer, or to brag about how worldly or open minded they are. But that's not the same as feeling that "white art" is "inherently elitist, fascist, misogynistic, racist, fat-shaming, etc." Maybe today it's a greater sin to be "old fashioned" or "familiar."

Richard said...

> David posits -- "Then isn't there a more benign, less inflammatory interpretation for what we're witnessing: that people (particularly in the capitalist west) are always searching for some new thrill or experience, some new style that is out of the ordinary, so they scour other countries, cultures, time periods for the unfamiliar?”


There is in a Liberal/Libertarian civilization like ours a unique obsession with the novel and that thrilling feeling you’ve identified. Yes, chasing this feeling will push people away from familiar arts, familiar sentiments. But I think you’re willfully ignoring that this same Libertarian drive also pushes folks away from familiar ethnic identities.

So I’m granting that it’s possible that the thrill predated any specific sentiments against whiteness in art.

However, to argue that novelty is the actionable cause (or worse, “post-modernism”, as if that was something more than a floating signifier) to the exclusion of boring and tangible considerations of power, politics, ethnicity, caste, class, gender or tribe is to put on blinders to the real subtext of the art world.
That’s something that Progressives understand that your everyday liberals and conservatives don’t.

It’s enticing to believe, as many on this blog do, (and yes, this is an accusation) that by not joining sides, by honorably rising above the political considerations in art history, one might make those considerations disappear.

It won’t. The fact that one ignores the politics in art does not mean that the politics will ignore them or the art which one cherishes. Ask head of antiquities for the ancient city of Palmyra, Khaled al-Asaad, how ignoring art politics works out in the long run. Wait, we can’t, since he was beheaded by ISIS.

So you’re asking “WHY ARE THESE ILLUSTRATIONS SO BAD?”, but don’t want to get in the weeds of the real world. You’re bound to walk in circles.

From time to time some very Progressive family member or other of mine will say, with a sickly giddy smile, “Well, someday American and Europe will all be brown-skinned.” And I’m sure that there is a thrill of novelty in saying that.

The mere fact that my rural/suburbanite liberal family does not know many brown people, other than those they’ve adopted, no doubt results in a certain thrill when imagining a whole-cloth demographic change. I know that consciously they don’t recognize that they’re advocating genocide.

However, even if I were to admit that the physiology of thrill precedes the political implications, I’ve watched how that feeling results in and bolsters an effect larger than the cause.

They’ll feel a certain distaste for things which are primarily white – whether it be places, cultural objects, or people. The NY Times has made a business out of increasingly marketing to that crowd. In response, the conservative troupe usually tries to “go high” when these progressives have “gone low”, which is a dangerous response to such genocidal intuitions.


>Chris Bennett -- "The whole point of quality is that it is the practical embodiment of the universal. To not believe in the existence of quality (or believing it to be relative)"

Wouldn't quality being a practical embodiment of the universal imply that it is not literally the universal? So that if one were to believe your first statement (as I do) they'd also have to believe that quality is literally relative (albeit a relative qualifier whose goal is to approach and approximate the objective)?

Richard said...

Or, perhaps Chris, this confusion arises out of some cultural commentators' misguided overloading of the term "relative".

Where relative should mean that the value of any one thing must be found by comparison, it has come to mean that the value of any one thing can't be quantified at all.

Physically, if an object's speed is said to be relative that doesn't mean that it has no quantifiable speed, but that its speed must be found in relation to some other object, along some specific vector.

Applied to Art, this would mean that no one work can be objectively said to have "quality", but that it can be measurably better than some other work towards some end.

In that sense, there is not a dichotomy between only universal and relative, but instead a trichotomy between universal, relative, and the unquantifiable.

This is a popular misuse of the term relative by art students, so that if one is saying to them "Well, NC Wyeth is better than David Hockney." the common refrain goes "Well, but they're relative." A good conservative response would then be "Exactly, that's why I'm comparing them rather than taking about them in isolation." rather than "No, it's universal and objective."

chris bennett said...

Richard,

By 'universal' I mean the condition of completeness, wholeness, self-containment, self-sufficiency. If this can be said of something, then, by this definition, does it not follow that its quality is not something to be judged in relation to something else?

Manqueman said...

The Times, in the effort to remain viable in a post-paper Digital age, has degenerated into a better, classier clickbait farm and clickbait requires edginess because substance doesn't attract the eyeballs.
Sorry to disillusion.

Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

David Apatoff -

That's a difficult question. In this context, whether the metanarratives refer to (objectively) true structures is beside the point. The idea of history progressing towards an ultimate goal, for instance, is still very much a truth for many people. Most people would probably also agree that knowledge is advancing positively - the more we know and learn, the better, right? But widespread cultural belief in these and other metanarratives has undeniably been disturbed by great doubt. I think it is important that this event be recognized when trying to make sense of contemporary culture.

If the observations of the Postmodernist thinkers are simply brushed off as a Communist conspiracy to destroy the world, one is actively avoiding the problems facing our culture. And I don't think nostalgic reveries will bring about a better future either. The rise of alienating technologies and the Pyrrhic victory of Capitalism aren't going away.

And so, when looking at these portraits it's isn't difficult to agree that these don't look like they're been worked on for months, nor that they'd look out of place hanging on a wall together with Sargent and or Fuchs. But, curatorially, they -do- look as if they were produced in a time in which commodification rules supreme, where Western culture is itself haunted by the past instead of dreaming of the future, and where Baudrillard is looking more and more like a prophet.

Curatorially speaking, Aretha Franklin as a flayed martyr, McFarlane undoing Stan Lee, and the deathly blank parody of text and image in the case of Bourdain is, to me, unbearably fitting.

Again, these are portraits of the dead. Dead people, dead ideals, and dead dreams.

David Apatoff said...

Tom-- Sure, I think that illustration, because it is tied more closely than fine art to its audience, is a good measure of what's going on with our culture. PS-- I enjoyed your link. That's a pretty funny commentary.

Al McLuckie-- Am I the only one here who isn't a professional musician? Also, not sure I follow your point on Kanevsky?

Richard wrote: "Stalin was defending Western Culture from The West."

I know, so was Hitler, who insisted that the great western culture of Beethoven and Goethe could best be defended by exterminating disabled people, gays, gypsies and Jews (and, by the way, defeating Stalin who you say was trying to defend western culture as he massacred composers, artists and pesky intellectuals.) So was Iowa representative Steve King who this week is trying to excuse his ugly racist rhetoric by saying he is just trying to defend western culture. It seems to me that western culture could benefit from a few more Beethovens and Goethes and a few less "defenders."

Tom said...

David said,
“Aren't these problems more symptomatic of free market capitalism than the political left? A capitalist culture is always searching for the latest fashion or trend, and eager to discard yesterday's styles, vocabulary, manners, cell phones, trends etc. without a look back. Capitalism is voracious that way, compared to the more hidebound, centralized economies which (like Stalin, above)are quick to squelch any new culture that might disrupt the state's controls.”

I was writing this when I saw your reply David, but I’ll post it anyway.

What is the first requirement of capitalism? Capital! Not debt. What’s one of the most important aesthetic requirements of an art work? Stability! Did you look at the McMasion hell link David? The ugliness you find in these illustrations is pervasive through out “our,” top down culture as it is seen daily in our built environment. How many people want to visit Rome, compared to Reston town center? This might explain some of the lack of aesthetic purpose or the failure to value art except as some sort of veneer that only connotes wealth or attempts to “appear” genuine. Why would art be immune from the values of the culture at large?

Look at what happened to Las Vegas when corporate America took it over or Times Square.

The American economy is as centralized as any other “hidebound economy.” You can’t get any more centralized then an economy that prints money for the few too big to fail banks and then refuses to pay savers any interest on what wealth they have accumulated through hard work. While the Fed pays the same banks interest on there excessive reserves and then rewards the same banks with a billion dollars in annual dividends. There are lots of ways for a state to stay in “control,” debt is one of them.

Richard said
“It’s enticing to believe, as many on this blog do, (and yes, this is an accusation) that by not joining sides…,”

Divide and conquer is another means of control or as someone once said, “you can always get one half of the poor to beat up the other have.”

As well as maintaining and attempting to controlling a society’s narrative. Which I think Oyvind touches on so well.

As John Kennth Gabraith wrote, " People of privilege will always risk their complete destruction rather than surrender any material part of their advantage.”

Really well said David
"It seems to me that western culture could benefit from a few more Beethovens and Goethes and a few less "defenders."

Richard said...

"It seems to me that western culture could benefit from a few more Beethovens and Goethes and a few less "defenders."

As a person fairly far to the right, I'm endlessly exhausted by my team's professing interest in protecting Western culture, while showing essentially zero interest in participating in it, even as a mere consumer. What exactly are my buds trying to defend culturally if they have only middling acquaintance with European music, fine art, literature, history, and the rest?

I regularly infuriate my compatriots by saying that I'll take an SJW with a master's degree in middle ages art history to an alt-right bro who thinks culture consists of electronica and shonen anime memes.

Richard said...

(Which doesn't mean America needs fewer defenders of Western Civilization, but merely a higher grade of them.)

The Seditionist said...

FWIW, there's a perverse irony.
America, at its worse, inspired Hitler with our extermination of Native Americans and manifestations of racism including, but not limited, to state-endorsed lynching and Jim Crow laws.
And Hitler repaid us by helping making America great by greatly weakening our capitalist competitors, that is, Europe, leaving us the last great capitalist power standing.
As I said: FWIW and perverse. Still. Facts are facts.

The Seditionist said...

Tom's post reminds me of one my first old fart theories going back to the 1980s.
For instance, Mao's personality cult was bad but the Reagan personality cult was good. Maybe I'm a little slow but if a personality cult is bad, it's bad whoever does it.
And while centralized planning in the USSR failed de facto centralized planning by a private capitalist sector -- by corrupting the state -- is fine. The result, of course, is established business interests get protection crippling the free market and the dynamism and growth of same. A crippled economy is a crippled economy regardless who and how is doing the crippling.

kev ferrara said...

Hard to believe such things still need to be pointed out to "educated" adults.

Then again, the whole point of ideological control of mediation is to create as many mindless robots for the utopian cause as is possible.

kev ferrara said...

Does it need to be said that the emergence of markets for commerce is as natural a human dynamic as almost any other you can name… except those so basic we share them with monkeys and wolves.

Almost all the greatest art in the world was made under commercial circumstances, because, as a general matter, people have always needed to earn a living. And so people need to offer something that other people want, and so they generally get good at some one thing as they go along getting paid to do it less than optimally. And eventually talented artists get good at their art and learn to control their environment in order to facilitate their concentration. Even artists supported by patrons or on the dole, still need to produce.

The idea of geniuses working away in their garrets unsung and unpaid is mostly, if not entirely, a myth.

The past and all its values are everywhere you look, but they keep quiet relative to the intensity of now. All one needs to do to begin to live according to the old values is turn off the computer, find a cheap studio in a cheap neighborhood, an old wood stove, and get to work. Basic bootstrapping and discipline.

Another ethic to adopt is the ancient suggestion to stop being jealous and covetous of what the damn Joneses next door done got; which is mostly addictive technology, processed food, ergo-undynamic jobs, insane mortgages, and stress that is killing them anyway.

People all over the country and the world are quietly living in the old values; though mostly outside of the incessant gaze of the strained public eye. And not as much in the cities or other high tax/high rent/high media districts as once upon a less intense public life. (But all over just the same.) If one has the temerity of self-containment and the will to sacrifice for one's ideals and interests, the world is the same as it ever was.

kev ferrara said...

If one trend could be yoked to what has befallen the culture more than any other, I would submit the computer-aided global expansion of the west’s labor and service markets; due to the basic principles of supply and demand taking their inevitable effect.

And the origin point of this great labor/service pool expansion is with the powerlines and phone lines that went up all over the place in the 1890s. That's what got us here.

Only a North Korean/Stalinist/Maoist level commie superstate could have been so destructive to technological progress and so authoritarian in the control of public communication that this connectivity would not have happened. So thank god, so to speak, it has happened.

Then again, authoritarian commie superstates don’t last; and market forces always reassert themselves, as all natural states of humanity do. So the inevitability of the technological progress that led us here was assured all along. Capitalism only accelerated us to the teleological endpoint of this underlying invention at the heart of all industrialization; the transmission of power.

So we are in a dilemma; we are at an inevitable yet difficult moment where a frightening level of change is in the air. Yet nobody wants to go backward to the pre-industrial world.

As sure as a lie gets halfway around the world before truth comes lumbering after, hyperconnectivity has spread all manner of sensationalistic garbage across the globe before actual civilization could get its pants on.

My strong feeling is that we are just now getting to the pants pulling-on stage. And all the crap actors who proffer us poison global garbage by the minute are going to fight like hell to prevent the needed remoralization that will right the mass psychological ship.

Anonymous said...

David , if you are the only non-musician your blog and books compensate ! After reading Kev's comments on jazz , I was curious if he knew of Don Ellis , a trumpeter and composer who integrated complex indian time signatures with his jazz - I used to play alto sax before martial arts and painting took precedent . I had just looked at Kanevsky's FB where he described an encounter with a copycat , and thought of how he has started a trend toward broken edges and blurring in many artists - which is an improvement over dull photo realist tech . As with Frazetta and his imitators , the faux-Kavenskys marks are calculated and forced as opposed to their being an artifact of a true process .

Al McLuckie

kev ferrara said...

Al,

Sorry I forgot to answer your question; the thread suddenly became a blizzard of provocatively wrong statements and I lost track. ;)

Although piano is really my thing, I played trombone in some Jazz ensembles in high school and college and after and I knew some Jazz-heads that were heavily into the early 1970s fusion stuff, and I remember Ellis being one of the guys they played a lot. That's super cool you played with him onstage! (You must have been very good!!)

To refresh my memory of his music after reading your question I jumped on you tube, and the first thing that came up was a live 1977 performance of Open Wide. And immediately I was struck by what a riot the song was; controlled chaos. And then I recognized the influence of one of my favorite pieces of music in the world, the Balinese Monkey Chant!

However, without any reference to the Blues or to Ragtime, Dixieland, or Big Band syncopations, I can't seem to think of this kind of stuff as Jazz. I think Fusion is a better term for it, distinct from Jazz. To me, it is more a continuation of what a lot of great classical composers have done over the centuries which is to create orchestrated and structurally formalized works based on their local folk idioms and tunes. (In fact, The Balinese Monkey Chant as people now know it was itself composed, using the local tunes/idioms/tribal/ritualistic music, by a Western composer visiting that far land in the 1920s. And boy what a great job that guy did keeping the original tribal feel intact!)

Richard said...

“Hard to believe such things still need to be pointed out to "educated" adults.

Then again, the whole point of ideological control of mediation is to create as many mindless robots for the utopian cause as is possible.”


And yet it was propagandist urge which produced the heights of Art. Michelangelo and Raphael had much more in common with Soviet, Nazi, Imperialist Japanese, and Maoist realists than they did Frazetta. Bach had more in common with Wagner than he did Duke Ellington. Brunelleschi would feel more at home in the Soviet Academy of Architects than on the staff of Toll Brothers.

Sure, they were paid. But by whom? Not by a decentralised market, but by a central power looking to solidify their cultural authority.

Even the illustrators of the Saturday Evening Post were working in service of a cultural authority, but one which was a slightly less formalized, being a defacto WASP aristocracy. If there is to be an economic difference to be found to describe the decline in the arts, it's that the cultural authorities of the 1950s were damaged by too much competition in the market. No longer were audiences subjected to great art by the powers at be -- they had access to choose whatever they wanted, and they chose Vanity Fair magazine and the Simpsons.

The reality is that very few great artists got there through “bootstrapping and discipline.” Successful Arts education has through history looked dramatically more like the gymnasts of the Communist party, than the amateurs of the modern Olympics. Yes, the great illustrators of the last century didn't have official state titles, but their educations were ones largely reserved for the cultural aristocracy, they were as a rule well connected, and they produced works definitively in service of the WASP hegemony.

Great Art isn't born from a competitive libertarian dream, as a rule it's born of an aristocratic class with disposable income and cultural authority that it wishes to solidify.

Richard said...

(The art establishment that exists today isn't a failure because it's an establishment, as is usually presupposed in these comments, it's a failure because of who holds the reigns during this peculiar historical detour.

"Then again, authoritarian commie superstates don’t last; and market forces always reassert themselves, as all natural states of humanity do."

Communist control, being unnatural proletariat control, doesn't last, but semi-authoritarian power by a hereditary aristocracy does. The history of the world is one of successful rule by solidified castes of governors, not democracies and universal franchise.

That is the natural state of things. As global capitalism calcifies towards castes, much as rule by merchant calcified into rule by Medici, the issue of control of Art will resolve on its own as the Clans Gates and Musk replace Medici, Habsburg or Ford.)

Richard said...

And I guess I have to point out that there are indeed a host of reasons not to prefer Soviet, Eugenic Fascist, or Communist political rule -- foremost among them their murder of countless innocents. However, these significant concerns are quite beyond the point when looking at the comparative value of their systems for funding the arts.

The number of burghers that the Soviets murdered, for example, while delegitimizing Soviet rule, doesn't undo the fact that their artists were orders of magnitude better than our own.

Stanislaw Szukalski's support for a murderous Polish regime, horribly responsible for much of the Holocaust, shouldn't distract us entirely from the fact that he makes Archipenko or Giacometti look like complete fools, and to question what systems might have caused that difference.

No matter the subject matter, we should be able to look at these qualities in isolation, neither conflating the socialism of Hitler's National Socialists for the Dutch Democratic Socialists, or Napoleon's Paris Academy for the Reichskulturkammer.

A Real Black Person said...


Richard writes "Great Art isn't born from a competitive libertarian dream, as a rule it's born of an aristocratic class with disposable income and cultural authority that it wishes to solidify."

I'm not sure why there wouldn't be competition among artists in a monarchy or any non-democratic society. The difference between then and now is a that there was or were cultures that art drew upon for inspiration. Now, progressive politicians and technocratic fantasies are what are used as inspiration for art. The message is the art and anything that is pleasurable that comes out of is just an accident.


Richard "The Clans, Gates, and Musk know nothing about art and neither do several generations of art dealers. What they support is "Art for people who hate art". " Art for people who hate art" tends to concern itself a lot with political messages and subverting prevailing norms in the name of Progress.
http://coolaccidents.tumblr.com/post/98373469606/art-for-people-who-hate-art

"There’s no denying that this dude is crazy and has issues, but that’s what makes him such a great artist, he makes ART for people who hate ART, and I’m now one of those people"

At this point, I think everyone has answered why those illustrations are so bad. It is because illustration and graphic is influenced by contemporary art, which is influenced by progressive politics. Case closed.

A Real Black Person said...

*At this point, I think everyone has answered why those illustrations are so bad. It is because illustration and graphic design is influenced by contemporary art, which is influenced by progressive politics. Case closed.

Chris James said...

Never heard of Szukalski before. Mighty work. Escher comes to mind. Was there any influence shared between them, being contemporaries?

Chris James said...




"Now if we look for the most fundamental distinction between our modern art and the art of past times, I believe we shall find it to be this: the art of the past was produced for a public that wanted it and understood it, by artists who understood and sympathized with their public; the art of our time has been, for the most part, produced for a public that did not want it and misunderstood it, by artists who disliked and despised the public for which they worked"

"The art of past ages had been distinctively an aristocratic art, created for kings and princes, for the free citizens of slave-holding republics, for the spiritual and intellectual aristocracy of the church, or for a luxurious and frivolous nobility. As the aim of the Revolution was the destruction of aristocratic privilege, it is not surprising that a revolutionary like David should have felt it necessary to destroy the traditions of an art created for the aristocracy. In his own art of painting he succeeded so thoroughly that the painters of the next generation found themselves with no traditions at all. They had not only to work for a public of enriched bourgeois or proletarians who had never cared for art, but they had to create over again the art with which they endeavored to interest this public. How could they succeed? The rift between artist and public had begun, and it has been widening ever since."

"And to the modern artist, so isolated, with no tradition behind him, no direction from above and no support from below, the art of all times and all countries has become familiar through modern means of communication and modern processes of reproduction. Having no compelling reason for doing one thing rather than another, or for choosing one or another way of doing things, he is shown a thousand things that he may do and a thousand ways of doing them. Not clearly knowing his own mind he hears the clash and reverberation of a thousand other minds, and having no certainties he must listen to countless theories."

-Artist and Public, Kenyon Cox 1914. It's an essential read.

kev ferrara said...

Great find James. A sage potted history and still relevant to the minute.

kev ferrara said...

Richard, you propagate more assertions per post than can possibly be rebutted properly. Rather than write a coherent essay, I'll bounce around...

* The Saturday Evening Post offered several market-based exchanges to its readership: money for attractive, interesting and entertaining content, quality in exchange for respect, quantity in exchange for one’s indulgence of advertisements, loyalty in exchange for consistency, and a sense of exclusivity in return for a discriminating editorial stand, both in the bad and good sense. Now all of these exchanges are completely voluntary. This is wholly different than a giant billboard blasting its message in a public space; in which case there is a kind of involuntary assault on the senses which makes it, and most murals, by nature propagandistic in the oppressive sense; consumer choice is basically absent. (All spoken opinions and visual “flashings” have this kind of propagandistic oppressiveness to them as well, because words and images travel through the air to impact the eyes and ears before we have the ability to block them.)

• All communication, including all art, is propagation in the broadcast sense. When we use the word "propaganda" - the connotation is we are no longer talking about spreading ideas in general, but a specific class of ideas which are narrowly political in an ideological-tribal way, commanding or sneaky as the situation and audience warrants.

It is a mistake to conflate all propagated information as falling into the same bin of propaganda. It is also a mistake to throw religion and myth in the same bin with cults of political ideology, and either with an artist’s personal imagined world.

• There is always a standpoint from which to criticize any cultural product with the intent to destroy it and the person/people who make it. To the surface-obsessed postmodern activists, Frazetta's art propagates patriarchal/misogynist hegemonic symbols every bit as oppressive as the Church that commissioned Michaelangelo.

• The laziest winnable game of “Look How Pious I am!” is to compare one’s self to the past. Yet, of course, the fashionably pious of today would have been the fashionably pious then; steeped in the exact sociopolitical and moral roux that made the dead people they hate the object of their hated. If reincarnation were real, the postmodern priests of today would have reviled and spit at every single prior iteration of themselves except their current instantiation. People who are easily possessed by ideology are ripe for any indoctrination at large.

It is also brutally easy to compare one’s self with other’s lives laid bare by media muck-rakers, while keeping one’s own dank secrets and wretched thoughts under wraps.

kev ferrara said...

• I don't believe great artists are ever, in the long run, in service of anything else but their own souls. They may get attached to one tribe or another, but the deeper message is always an aesthetic interpretation of mutually experience-able truth. Art that is made on the basis of anything else, like asserting the status of a patron, will always stink of its obsequiousness. (Pindar’s odes, for instance.)

When we look on the Mask of Tutankhamun, we don't think "How horrible! This is the product of a Theocratic Slave State!" We don't look at Andrew Loomis anymore and think "I need to buy Wonder Bread, Stat!"

In time, quality takes it's rightful place among the community of those who are able to appreciate it; the tribe of visual philosophers, one might call them, who talk to each other across the eons. Life, politics, fashion, and crises are all short. Truly artful Art is part of the long human game.

• Sociology in its usual Critical Theory form is the opposite of art appreciation. It is art depreciation, the vandalism of the resentful looking for status among the tribe of the resentful by isolating out, criticizing, mocking or destroying symbols of anti-utopian ideas.

The art establishment that exists today isn't a failure because it's an establishment, as is usually presupposed in these comments, it's a failure because of who holds the reigns during this peculiar historical detour.

We must define what we mean by success. The art establishment is successful as an establishment, but fails on the "art" part of the ledger.

My view is that the reason we need to fight it out on the basic ideas, and the kind of training, virtues and vices that create the muscle tone of mind able to hold good ideas, is because ideas possess people, not the reverse. Strong minds educated in the dark arts of logic, nature, the complexity of history and society, and moral rectitude, are inoculated against the easy, but highly destructive nihilism of postmodern punks.

kev ferrara said...

The reality is that very few great artists got there through “bootstrapping and discipline.” Successful Arts education has through history looked dramatically more like the gymnasts of the Communist party, than the amateurs of the modern Olympics.

Nope.

“Ten thousand artists in the United States can draw and paint to beat the band. You have never heard of them and you never will. They have thoroughly mastered their craft. And that is all they have – their craft.”

Schooling is the beginning. Anybody can be taken by the hand and walked through a four year training course. The hard work begins when that is over and you are alone in the studio for days at a time, weeks at a time, months at a time, years at a time.

kev ferrara said...

• Quality is a hierarchical value yet is by definition non-quantifiable. So we fall into a situation where the objects of our interest can be ranked in order without numbers getting involved.

But ranking isn't the point of qualitative judgment; its more a second order effect; more of a byproduct of the perfectly natural desire to possess and be possessed by what is good in the world… as best as we can.

• Quality is a judgment call. It is sensed aesthetically. Yet not everyone has the sensibility to feel quality, let alone judge it. As well, there are different qualities that people respond to. And people become addicted to, or indoctrinated into all sorts of low quality stuff.

• Equally sophisticated people, even if they agree in general about a ranking of some set of paintings, say, can have slight differences in opinion about the order of any given subset of those pictures when it comes time to specify the exact order.

The easy, now commonplace thing to say in cultural circles is, therefore its all objective; forgetting that, in general, there is agreement about the qualitative ranking among the sensitive judges. This is why ‘experts’ turn the matter over to the marketplace, allowing it to translate the quality differences into monetary quantity differences; thus the illusion that quality has been quantified and the case has been solved. Which accidentally and wrongly equates quality and desirability.

kev ferrara said...

But this skips us past the real meat of the matter.

• Hierarchy is one of the fundamental patterns of human experience, a crucial method of human judgment. But the pomos dismiss it out of hand and loudly. Postmodern relativism holds that there are no objective foundational standpoints to anchor comparisons at all; thus unmooring all attempts to judge anything in a hierarchical way according to assessment along a positive to negative scale.

But ask any postmodernist to eat a burger that's been sitting on the porch for six days or a fresh cooked one, and they'll absentmindedly prefer the freshly cooked (vegan tofu) burger, no contest. And this has nothing to do with a conversion into currency with numbers on it. It is purely a qualitative judgment. So, as in this example, the whole "no judgment, no hierarchy" thing is instantly shown to be sophistry by virtue of any performative contradictions a postmodernist commits on any given day, all day long. The hailing of a freedom from judgment is just run of the mill virtue signaling but people who live in narcissistic mentalities.

They go beyond dismissing even hierarchy; daring even to say there are no patterns at all; all systemized thoughts being suspect pronouncements wholly subjective in nature decreed by power seeking to oppress the masses. Which is why the deluded pomo can assert that evil is just a different kind of good, quality is fascistic, association is sufficiently determinative or by nature causative, and all the other idiocy one sees if masochistic enough to pay attention. Of course, always failing to mention that they themselves are necessarily thinking in all sorts of suspect ready-made patterns, far more dubious than those they attack.

• The lone standpoint, the foundation of all judgments, as far as I can see, is being a human being, and having those functioning faculties, and living the life of a human being, and sharing that experience in so many ways with all the other sane and functioning human beings crawling around the globe.


/end (with apologies for the length of this text wall)

Chris James said...

I was once told that I was wrong to believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Apocalypse Now is a superior film to Freddy Got Fingered. I'm wide open to argument against the former's vaunted reputation in filmdom, and it's not my personal favorite, but if one cannot see and/or admit to the superiority over the latter even in terms of craft, then we are in Hell-of-subjectivity. Which have been for a long time.

kev ferrara said...

It is a mistake to conflate all propagated information as falling into the same bin of propaganda. It is also a mistake to throw religion and myth in the same bin with cults of political ideology, and either with an artist’s personal imagined world.

Errata:

An artist's personal imagined world is akin to a mythos. But not to a religion. And an ideology is different than both.

Richard said...

“Now if we look for the most fundamental distinction between our modern art and the art of past times, I believe we shall find it to be this: the art of the past was produced for a public that wanted it and understood it”

But is that true? Did the subsistence farmer in Florence really “understand” Michelangelo, or was the sistine chapel more like a high-class 15th century Universal Studios?

Having become numb to the illusion, faith and nudity of 18th and 19th-century representationalism, are we not perhaps ignoring what ultimately was consumed by the commoner only as a sort of Train arriving at the Station, high-def pornography or religious idol?

And the primary evidence for the commoner’s desire for classical art is the lines of Parisians wrapping around the block at the Salon, but don't the Parisians still line up for high-concept graffiti? Ought we then not ask what is it that makes Parisians so uncommonly interested in “high culture” rather than assume the Parisian farmer has something in common with the American auto-mechanic?

Secondary evidence is apparently given by 1950s consumption of American illustration, but the fact that those audiences happily jumped to Andy Griffith and the Brady Bunch from Rockwell as broadcast television came into its own apparently tells us nothing about how the way in which they consumed Rockwell's pictures, and only proves that this technology is evil.

Cox gets it more right when he lists “kings and princes, for the free citizens of slave-holding republics, for the spiritual and intellectual aristocracy of the church, or for a luxurious and frivolous nobility.”

The primary consumers of what is aesthetically valuable in great art has always been the few. That farmer, philosopher and Pope could all glean something from classical art doesn't mean they gleaned the same thing, or that the farmer or Pope got anything particularly valuable out of it.

Richard said...

And I apologize keV for all of the fronts I've opened. When discussing at a high level two moderately different philosophy's it is difficult to keep it down to specifics.

Chris James said...

'But is that true? Did the subsistence farmer in Florence really “understand” Michelangelo, or was the sistine chapel more like a high-class 15th century Universal Studios?'

Possibly, so far as the farmer understood biblical narratives. Failing that, they may have still wanted the art as it were pleasing to them, even if for the reasons you mentioned i.e. titillation, idol worship. The point is that that particular art of the time had support from above and below from those who desired the work, for whatever reasons. I would ask him what he meant by 'caring for art' though, as he argues "a public of enriched bourgeois or proletarians" did not. So why/how were the artists working for them? And did the kings, free-men, etc. really care for the art under his definition of caring?

He also lays a great deal of blame at the feet of David and the revolution, which destroyed this above and below support structure. That's a mighty burden for one artist to bear. In another essay, Cox says that David discarded all former painting methods in regular use. There may be some merit to that, as you can see painting technique sort of flatten out when France became the dominant force in art. There becomes little in the way of idiosyncratic or experimental use of materials, complicated paint layers, and the paintings, imo, are less interesting as a result.

I'm thinking possibly his Public refers to city dwellers. Farmers are not part of his conversation.

"And the primary evidence for the commoner’s desire for classical art is the lines of Parisians wrapping around the block at the Salon, but don't the Parisians still line up for high-concept graffiti? Ought we then not ask what is it that makes Parisians so uncommonly interested in “high culture” rather than assume the Parisian farmer has something in common with the American auto-mechanic?"

I think the assumption is the opposite. In Cox's language, you have there the Parisian 'understanding and wanting' this 'high culture' vs. the American auto mechanic "who never cared for art." It's less about what kind of art is supported, but that there is support at all, an agreeable relationship between the art,artist,and audience. But note that he heaps derision on the Salon and salon pictures. For him, the relationship between Artist and Public was already languishing by then. Paintings were made to win medals then be rolled up and stored forgotten in an attic,as opposed to the earlier High/Low supported work decorating public centers. Personally, I would lump most Salon paintings in with the kind of academic painting I criticized earlier.

When he makes value judgments about the quality of the work itself i.e. being Great Art or not, which requires more than the basic understanding of low vs. high skill that a commoner might have, I believe those are his own and separate from the theme of how the public saw the work or what they got from it. He mentions artists he thought of high merit but nevertheless didn't have the old support structure.

kev ferrara said...

Did the subsistence farmer in Florence really “understand” Michelangelo, or was the sistine chapel more like a high-class 15th century Universal Studios?

One presumes that if the farmer attended that chapel, or any other, he was well acquainted with the stories involved and would have been blown away by the way Michaelangelo symbolized them; so coming to the Sistine would have been like Universal Studio plus Philosophy, Meaning, Community, and Morals.

I don't understand what reason you are giving that the farmer would be ignorant of the religious stories and their meaning. These stories may well have constituted the majority of his education aside from the practice of his profession.

Chris James said...

"...would have been blown away by the way Michaelangelo symbolized them; so coming to the Sistine would have been like Universal Studio plus Philosophy, Meaning, Community, and Morals."

Yes, this is how I would imagine it. The AAA visual production of its time, with significant cultural relevance to the local audience.

Richard said...

'I don't understand what reason you are giving that the farmer would be ignorant of the religious stories and their meaning."

I wasn't. I was saying that if all you get from the Sistine chapel is idol worship and spectacle, you may very well love it, but you haven't begun to participate in the masterpiece. You might as well have watched a Marvel Studios production of The Passion.

Laurence John said...

David: "Or perhaps more to the point, how are the standards for excellence in portraiture different for illustration and "fine" art?

there are numerous ‘fine art’ portraits in which a likeness of the sitter is not the prime objective. the sitter might just be a starting point for a given artist’s other formal / painterly / cartoony concerns. you need only think of examples by Modigliani, Bacon, Auerbach, Giacometti etc.

would you similarly critique a Picasso (who i know you like) portrait based on the fact that the nose is on the side of the head ?

(i’m not defending the two fine artists you’ve posted. just pointing out the inconsistency in your argument).

Richard said...

I think the problem with some of these pictures is less about the aesthetic content for David, and more about the mismatch between aesthetic content and the goal of a pictoral likeness of a recognisable person.

I'd point out that Ojih Odutola, who did the Meat Aretha, has a number of meat portraits done in the same style, which are remarkably better when they're not attempting at a likeness.

I would hope that if Picasso had done a cubist portrait of Billie Holiday when she died, he'd critique it with the same ferocity.

kev ferrara said...

The only way I 'get' the Aretha Franklin portrait's rendering is as an attempt to evoke the shine on old 45 rpm records, ubiquitous during her era. Which I think, if that was the idea, would be a fine concept to execute while nailing the portrait too. Conceptual portraits can be great.

But to flub the portrait so thoroughly (with the darn reference, as we know, right there) feels like the classic rookie art mistake of rendering before the drawing is locked down. Or even the more basic mistake of not actually understanding the key role of proportion, measuring, and sensitivity in capturing a likeness.

The punk aesthetic of the bourdain portrait is the more offensive one to me, because of its unearned swagger. What would it have taken to light box off the drawing and actually get it right and then re-ink it in this brusque style? Probably less than a half hour.

In my view, the whole suite of pictures are in a new-punk aesthetic.

I'm sure the AD's friends told her at lunch the next day that she was really cool in a radical chic way for making this "statement" in the old gray lady.

Unknown said...

Excellent points. Does this stuff have a name? "Progressive Anti-Art" or something like that....

Tom said...

Richard said
‘Stanislaw Szukalski's support for a murderous Polish regime, horribly responsible for much of the Holocaust, shouldn't distract us entirely from the fact that he makes Archipenko or Giacometti look like complete fools,”

Just curious as to how Szukalski’s work makes Giacometti’s look like a complete fool?

Kev said
‘We don't look at Andrew Loomis anymore and think "I need to buy Wonder Bread, Stat!"

In time, quality takes it's rightful place among the community of those who are able to appreciate .”

Again just curious as to what qualities place Andrew Loomis in such high standing?

chris bennett said...

"Or even the more basic mistake of not actually understanding the key role of proportion, measuring, and sensitivity in capturing a likeness.

Kev, capturing a likeness is certainly dependent on sensitivity but not on measuring or 'proportion' in the way you seem to be implying. Likeness is achieved through organizing the key formal rhythms of a face. This is because we rarely see a person's face in repose and our sense of its likeness comes mainly from a synthesized amalgam of its expressions - which is why snapshot photographs of people often don't seem to resemble them. It is also the reason a great caricaturist can distort the crap out of forms drawn from a head yet we will instantly recognize the celebrity being portrayed.

chris bennett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chris bennett said...

Re-reading 'synthesized amalgam of its expressions' I realize it needs a little more explanation:
We relate the forms of a person's face to how we have witnessed it move or, at the very least, how we intuit it might move. And this is where I understand our sense of its 'likeness' comes from.

kev ferrara said...

Again just curious as to what qualities place Andrew Loomis in such high standing?

I think I explained in the following sentence that "quality takes it's rightful place over time." And further on I mentioned that quality can be ranked in a general way without being quantified in any way. The point was, whatever "interested" surface message the work carries, once its marketing moment falls away with the passage of time only the actual Art of it remains viable.

kev ferrara said...

Kev, capturing a likeness is certainly dependent on sensitivity but not on measuring or 'proportion' in the way you seem to be implying.

I used the word basic.

This artist was working from a photo of Aretha Franklin that actually looked like Aretha Franklin; a reference portrait. But couldn't even get the lines of the drawing in place to duplicate what the photo was offering by way of portraiture. This was not an artist that was looking at a hundred different photos of Aretha and videos of her to understand the way her spirit manifests as dynamic structural form. In terms of the drawing, this was a basic attempt at portraiture by copying. And one that failed.

kev ferrara said...

Szukalski artistic defense

Boleslaw The Brave

Michelson

Struggle

(title unknown)

Atlantea.

... and so on....

Tom said...

Thanks for the response Kev. I understood your point about the art living on after the original purpose for its creation has been forgotten.
What I was really asking is what qualities of art do you find in his work that makes him a good artist, his sense of form, his use of value or color? I was looking for the specific attributes you find in his work that makes it quality work.

kev ferrara said...

Hi Tom,

I don't count myself a fan per se of Loomis' work.

He was part of a wave of Chicago illustrators that began with the superior Charles E. Chambers (and spread from him through Sundblom, Elvgren, Harold Anderson, and others) that were obsessed with achieving the broad-brush, richly painted breadth of Zorn in their own work. Even if that work was painting Santa Claus, a loaf of Wonder Bread, or a cute-shy sun-kissed girl-next-door by a pond who accidentally catches her skirt with a fishing line such that her panties are revealed. (Zornites, I believe they were called, early on.)

If you consider painterly "breadth" of this type (and other types) to be an essential poetic features of good art, and I definitely do, then Loomis is very interesting on that account. I dare any artist to try to achieve that Zornite creaminess; that it looks so easy when Chambers, Sundblow, Elgren and Loomis do it is exactly why it is so bloody impressive. Loommis is also an expert in achieving all manner of color and value effects, which dovetail with the Zorniness.

The ethic or heuristic I'm following: One appreciates aesthetic qualities such as they are, wherever one finds it, even behind surface level statements that might offend or irritate, and even when done by artists who, in their personal lives, fall short of your and your tribe's ideals. To do otherwise is Maoism, which I consider to be a totalitarian ethic that is anti-Art in the extreme.

Tom said...

“I dare any artist to try to achieve that Zornite creaminess; that it looks so easy when Chambers, Sundblow, Elgren and Loomis do it is exactly why it is so bloody impressive. ‘

Well that’s the Truth, making the difficult or dare I say the impossible look easy. I wasn’t fimilar with Chambers but wow, I do see the connection between the two artists after looking at some of his paintings on line. And yes I understand what you mean by painterly breadth, the more you describe with the least amount of means (doing the most with the fewest strokes) the greater and more complete the visual impression the work creates in the viewer. Breadth literally makes me think of the distance between the outside edges of bristles of the brush, that creates a great plane traveling across the undulating form of things. Thanks

Richard said...

Oh, also, while I sit and wonder if the NY Times could be racist against white people in their artists selections, I'm reminded that they hired Sarah Jeong to thier editorial board, and then kept her on staff after all of her charming tweets about white people came to light...

Tweets like:

“White men are bullshit.”

“(F)uck white women lol.”

“White people have stopped breeding. (Y)ou’ll all go extinct soon. (T)hat was my plan all along.”


“Dumbass fucking white people marking up the internet with their opinions like dogs pissing on fire hydrants.”

“#CancelWhitePeople.”

“Are white people genetically predisposed to burn faster in the sun, thus logically being only fit to live underground like groveling goblins?”

“(O)h man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men.”

But yeah, that doesn't necessarily mean they are racist enough to accidently make a bad art magazine to ensure they have enough nonwhite art...

Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

kev ferrara -

"Hierarchy is one of the fundamental patterns of human experience, a crucial method of human judgment. But the pomos dismiss it out of hand and loudly. Postmodern relativism holds that there are no objective foundational standpoints to anchor comparisons at all; thus unmooring all attempts to judge anything in a hierarchical way according to assessment along a positive to negative scale."

The problem with engaging with simplifications of this order is both that the postmodern condition is too complex a phenomenon to blankly state "this is a universally ignorant misrepresentation" and also that your statements are descriptive of positions of moral relativism which predate contemporary thought by millennia.

When Nietzsche declared the death of God, he didn't do so with a bloody knife in hand. When Derrida brought forth the spectre haunting Fukuyama's celebration of the end of history, he wasn't wearing a necromancer's robe. And Baudrillard did not perform a Stalinist erasure of the Gulf War.

Robert Cook said...

@ Kev Ferrara:

(title unknown)

I saw the plaster original of this bust at the Polish Museum in Chicago 20 years or so ago. (I had traveled to Chicago to attend the World Science Fiction Con, specifically because Richard Powers was that year's Artist Guest of Honor.) A friend and I went to the Polish Museum specifically hoping they might have some works by Szukalski in their collection. This was the only sculpture they had, (at least, the only one they were exhibiting), but they did have the monograph on his work that had been published in Chicago back in the 1920s, (the one Glen Bray found in a used bookstore in L.A. a half-century later, which led eventually to Bray contacting Szukalski, a contact responsible for Szukalski's eventual rediscovery by the art world).

kev ferrara said...

The problem with engaging with simplifications of this order is both that the postmodern condition is too complex a phenomenon to blankly state "this is a universally ignorant misrepresentation" and also that your statements are descriptive of positions of moral relativism which predate contemporary thought by millennia.

I don't find the postmodern condition all that complex. But I'm certainly willing to hear your sense of its complexity, if you think you have something to offer that hasn't often been said.

And, while the corrosive nihilism of moral (and other) relativisms goes back a long way, it took a very dysfunctional and ignorant, and frankly malicious, academy to try to spread it across the west as a core teaching; which seems to me like an abject abandonment of its mission. The result has not been some new postmodern enlightenment, but a new barbarism; an arrogant know-nothing-ism and mobs of ignorant kids willing to vandalize and destroy any person, object, or institution in non-compliance with the latest fashions in righteousness.

When Nietzsche declared the death of God, he didn't do so with a bloody knife in hand.

The emerging and dissipating of the god idea is a fascinating and complex phenomena. But the god idea is not needed as the foundation upon which all other judgments depend.

When Derrida brought forth the spectre haunting Fukuyama's celebration of the end of history, he wasn't wearing a necromancer's robe.

Fukuyama's prediction was as ahistorical and wishful as Marx's. Derrida, in my view, speaks either sophistry or banality, but I'd be willing to hear anything you might proffer of his that you find compelling.

And Baudrillard did not perform a Stalinist erasure of the Gulf War.

A lot of what goes on in the hothouses of politics is getting your tribe's labels to stick in "common knowledge." And advocating for any "information authority" or propaganda event that does your work, and mocking and reviling any "information authority" or propaganda event that acts against your tribal ideology. The endless competitive refractions that result create a wilderness of broken mirrors for anybody trying to just apprehend what is factual and true. This is why political activism is the opposite of education, the opposite of philosophy, the opposite of humanism, and the opposite of art.

kev ferrara said...

they did have the monograph on (Szukalski's) work that had been published in Chicago back in the 1920s,

Robert,

I remember that I once thought nobody knew about Szukalski (I had first heard about him from Ben Hecht's classic book Child of the Century and had found only a few tantalyzing photographs of his work) when I found one of his 1920s monographs up for auction on ebay 25 years ago. I thought I would get it for a song, under a hundred dollars. But in the last minute of the auction, a horde of bidders showed up and the book's price skyrocketed into the thousands. It taught me that much art appreciation happens under the mainstream radar.

A few years later, I found I would be able to borrow both 1920s monographs through my local interlibrary loan system. I had to pay twenty dollars just to get them into my local branch, couldn't remove them from the premises, and wasn't even allowed to photocopy anything from them.

Luckily, the Polish museum and the DeCaprio family have gotten the word, and some monographs, out to the public since then; the Lost Tune and Struggle are nice productions, both full of top work. (As an aside: I ignore anything 'theoretical' or political of Szukalski's. He wasn't a disciplined thinker and was over-compelled by his enthusiasms.)

Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

kev ferrara -

I don't find the postmodern condition all that complex. But I'm certainly willing to hear your sense of its complexity, if you think you have something to offer that hasn't often been said.

"Complex" here in the sense that it has come to mean many things to many people across many diciplines, making it near impossible to know exactly what thinker or representation you were referring to. At first glance, I'd say that yours is a gross misrepresentation along the lines of the Jordan Petersons of the world, but I might be wrong - you might have been referring to either some field, theory or reading I am unaware of.

And, while the corrosive nihilism of moral (and other) relativisms goes back a long way, it took a very dysfunctional and ignorant, and frankly malicious, academy to try to spread it across the west as a core teaching; which seems to me like an abject abandonment of its mission. The result has not been some new postmodern enlightenment, but a new barbarism; an arrogant know-nothing-ism and mobs of ignorant kids willing to vandalize and destroy any person, object, or institution in non-compliance with the latest fashions in righteousness.

What academy and/or thinkers are you referring to, specifically?

The emerging and dissipating of the god idea is a fascinating and complex phenomena. But the god idea is not needed as the foundation upon which all other judgments depend.

This was Nietzsche's conclusion also, and is often referred to as a/the starting point of postmodernism.

Fukuyama's prediction was as ahistorical and wishful as Marx's. Derrida, in my view, speaks either sophistry or banality, but I'd be willing to hear anything you might proffer of his that you find compelling.

I think Derrida's skeptical approach to Hegel and Marx is sound - I imagine he'd see the parallell to the Abrahamic religions' apocalyptic model of history. Personally, I still can't imagine a better system than capitalistic Western liberal democracy, but then - it's easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.

A lot of what goes on in the hothouses of politics is getting your tribe's labels to stick in "common knowledge." And advocating for any "information authority" or propaganda event that does your work, and mocking and reviling any "information authority" or propaganda event that acts against your tribal ideology. The endless competitive refractions that result create a wilderness of broken mirrors for anybody trying to just apprehend what is factual and true. This is why political activism is the opposite of education, the opposite of philosophy, the opposite of humanism, and the opposite of art.

I'm not sure I understood this correctly, but if you're saying that tribalism is bad, I agree.

kev ferrara said...

"Complex" here in the sense that it has come to mean many things to many people across many diciplines, making it near impossible to know exactly what thinker or representation you were referring to.

I don't think it means "many things." I think in general, it is a critical framework; the defining characteristic of which is a comprehensive attack on western received wisdom across all domains. It's claim is that most belief systems, virtues, values, ethics, norms, customs (etc.) will demonstrate, with examination, that they are predicated on unprovable notions often slyly instantiated to benefit the currently ruling class and judeo-christian normative behaviors. So therefore, let's get rid of all these presumptions first, and let the societal chips fall where they may.

I don't think it need be said how dangerous this injunction to wipe away all unprovable norms is. Only fools and knaves could advocate for such wanton destruction, particularly without the foggiest notion of practical replacements. (Which is where the Marxist-Utopianist fantasies come into it.) But there's enough of a half-kernel of truth that hordes of resentful, otherwise intelligent young people fall into the cult, and spread their antipathy for the west wherever they tweet and talk.

For my own part, I'll take what comes from emergent phenomena and the Lindy effect; I'll take long term evolutions over radical chic any day. I don't trust anybody who isn't terrified of top-down authoritarian meddling in society.

Beyond that, I don't really think the postmodern philosophers know anything. For the areas that I think I know well, where I have studied deeply, I think their ignorance is demonstrable. I am more interested in their psychologies than their ideas. Except of course, the problem that "I have been made to care."

Personally, I still can't imagine a better system than capitalistic Western liberal democracy, but then - it's easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.

I forgot you're a Zizek fan.

I'm not sure I understood this correctly, but if you're saying that tribalism is bad, I agree.

I'm saying there's a dense fog of narratives out there, including the postmodernist-political narratives. Our only way out is to appreciate epistemology deeply, do the science, to know how easily manipulable we all are, to shame the media narrative machines, and think in second and third order effects instead of the promoted reactive emotionalisms.

Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

I don't think it means "many things." I think in general, it is a critical framework; the defining characteristic of which is a comprehensive attack on western received wisdom across all domains.

See, you had me at «critical framework», but then you lost me with «attack on western received wisdom across all domains». Frederick Jameson’s book, «Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism», which I referred to earlier in this thread, is a critique of postmodernism from a marxist’s standpoint. It presents powerful arguments toward postmodernism being exactly a product of (western) capitalism.

It's claim is that most belief systems, virtues, values, ethics, norms, customs (etc.) will demonstrate, with examination, that they are predicated on unprovable notions often slyly instantiated to benefit the currently ruling class and judeo-christian normative behaviors.

Skepticism of meta-narratives is a unifying idea, yes.

So therefore, let's get rid of all these presumptions first, and let the societal chips fall where they may.

No one major postmodern thinker I’m aware of has ever said or intended this. Expanded possibilities of interpretation does not destroy a text.

I don't think it need be said how dangerous this injunction to wipe away all unprovable norms is. Only fools and knaves could advocate for such wanton destruction, particularly without the foggiest notion of practical replacements. (Which is where the Marxist-Utopianist fantasies come into it.) But there's enough of a half-kernel of truth that hordes of resentful, otherwise intelligent young people fall into the cult, and spread their antipathy for the west wherever they tweet and talk.

Deconstruction isn’t destruction. Also, as indicated earlier, the beginnings of this cultural process of "wiping away" was identified by Nietzsche. It didn't emerge ex nihilo in the 60s and 70s.

And, again, how does Marxism enter into this? Marxism is a meta-narrative.

For my own part, I'll take what comes from emergent phenomena and the Lindy effect; I'll take long term evolutions over radical chic any day. I don't trust anybody who isn't terrified of top-down authoritarian meddling in society.

I think both Derrida and Foucalt (at least in regard to the last sentence) would agree with this.

Beyond that, I don't really think the postmodern philosophers know anything. For the areas that I think I know well, where I have studied deeply, I think their ignorance is demonstrable. I am more interested in their psychologies than their ideas. Except of course, the problem that "I have been made to care."

I suspect that the problem, for many, with the postmodern thinkers, is the lack of systems. Their ideas seem intuitively a-philosophical to anyone who's familiar with the history of philosophy (and science).

I forgot you're a Zizek fan.
I find Zizek both amusing and terrifying, but haven't really read enough of him or Lacan to know if I'm a fan. The quote is sometimes attributed to Jameson, by the way.

I'm saying there's a dense fog of narratives out there, including the postmodernist-political narratives. Our only way out is to appreciate epistemology deeply, do the science, to know how easily manipulable we all are, to shame the media narrative machines, and think in second and third order effects instead of the promoted reactive emotionalisms.

I absolutely agree with this, but I also think it is important to engage with contemporary culture and thought as it actually exists, not as it ought to or via misrepresentations. This extends to the realm of art, where postmodern theory has identified (and thereby also amplified) tendencies in Western Culture. Simply brushing off the portraits of the dead that started all this as being "bad" is a refusal to look into the abyss.

kev ferrara said...

I've never read Frederick Jameson or encountered much about him. Sorry.

When it comes to ideas, I don't believe in texts, I believe in practice. An idea is how it instantiates, otherwise how is one to know if we are dealing with a sky castle or pure wind, hype, or bull.

I am very keen on meaning, particular subtextual. And particularly, among subtextual meanings, those that only pretend to be content-based and part of sense-making discourse, but can be shown to be tactically coercive, with ulterior purpose when analyzed more deeply.

I believe both postmodernist and marxist critiques, for the most part, are used mostly tactically, against western, democratic, capitalist liberal society. Because the two ideologies share the same common enemy, rather than their textual rationales butting up against each other because of the inherent contradictions in their systems as they should, those dichotomies are just ignored in practice during the attack. The two critical frames form into a single tag-team wrestling partnership in almost every left-political conversation I seem to get into. And I have seen this for more than twenty years now. This is why I take Hicks' and Peterson's view of the matter seriously.

In my view, these ideologies are weapons, not philosophies. Which exactly why the rigor of the systems do not matter and have never mattered.

Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

But if Peterson's (via Hicks) representation is factually inaccurate, what then? I cannot stress this enough: Marxism and Postmodernism aren't the same. The postmodern condition can mean many things, but the idea of history being a teleological movement towards the inevitability of socialist revolution categorically does not fit into any postmodern theory. It is appropriate here to note that the roots of the so-called alt-right can be at least partially traced back to the very postmodern neoreactionary movement of the Dark Enlightenment, which - as its name indicates - is antithetical to the ideas of the Enlightenment in a very real sense.

Derrida's counter-argument to Fukuyama wasn't that Marxism would eventually conquer capitalism, it was that its spectre would always haunt and irritate. Because history, like interpretation doesn't end.

Now, I don't suppose I'll change your (or anybody else's) mind regarding this matters, but I really think you might like at least some of the ideas in Jameson's book. Precisely because he is "attacking" postmodernism from a Marxist perspective, perhaps.

I recommend Jameson's book

Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

...instead of deleting and reposting. I'll just apologize for the editorial residue that is the final line in my above post.

kev ferrara said...

I cannot stress this enough: Marxism and Postmodernism aren't the same.

Yes, I know. Everybody agrees with you on this in terms of the philosophy as written, including, for what it's worth, Hicks and Peterson. But such does not matter for what is actually happening at the ground level of combative political discourse where the two ideologies are used alternately according to tactical need. Both ideologies are being used as cudgels to undermine the same system and from a suspiciously similar standpoint of power dynamics. Which is why I believe the idea that one is a strange transposition of the other tactically/emotionally speaking (not philosophically) is an insightful point that goes to an even larger point about the common underlying psychologies of all radicals.

I will try to ingest some Jameson down the line, but I am super burned out on politics and the endless toilet rolls of criticism that academic theorists produce. I am very much more interested in thoughtful real-world solutions that lie outside politics and governmental coercion.

Thanks for the recommendation and the good faith exchange however.

vanderleun said...

You have to understand that on every level the Times is a huge pile of shit run by turds. Once you understand that you will know you are not looking at the New York Times you remember but the New York Times that is... and it is repulsive.

Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

kev ferrara -

It is unlikely that postmodernism would have become what it did had not both the revolutions of the the 60s/70s and Communism failed so spectacularly, so your point isn't at all irrelevant. I think my issue with it is that the misrepresentation of the theory by the likes of Hicks and Peterson isn't contributing to healthy debate. Whether this misrepresenation is used with good intention as a short hand device or rather a product of misunderstanding or ideology, I don't know for sure. From what I have gathered, the latter is more likely. But, obviously, I might be wrong. The end result is the same though - the creation of a fantastical hydra-like enemy against which people can be easily rallied.

But OK, enough for now. Thank you for making me have to rethink internalized ideas.

As for Jameson and the "the endless toilet rolls of criticism that academic theorists produce", consider the excerpted paragraph on pastiche in the below link a single sheet. If it triggers interest in further reading, fine. If not, flush it.

https://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/jameson/excerpts/postmod.html

Richard said...

"For my own part, I'll take what comes from emergent phenomena [...] I don't trust anybody who isn't terrified of top-down authoritarian meddling in society."

How do you square with the fact that top-down authoritarian government (from
Hammurabi to Alexander the Great to George III) is the most common and historically successful emergent phenomenon in human political history, not just in the West, but on the planet Earth?

Richard said...

(Note that I removed your word "meddling", since the authority of strong monarchs has generally been a force opposed to meddling, whether by small time landlords, warlords, greedy tax collectors, or rapey dukes, rather than increasing the total amount of meddling going on, their central authority had the general effect of reducing net fvckery, busibodying, and petit fascism.)

kev ferrara said...

Richard,

Most government is self-government. Always has been, always will be. Which is why emergent principles of behavior which become social traditions are so crucial to a society's success. A society that is micromanaged to the extent that every behavior is either forbidden or mandated by armed authorities would be unbearable to the average free soul. The kind of person who would advocate for such a world where every exchange is monitored or controlled, is my natural enemy. I don't easily submit to anything or anybody. I detest control freaks, particularly those who think themselves moral paragons of such unassailable virtue that they feel justified in arrogating power over others unbidden. Such people tend to be egoistic creeps and losers who know nothing but their twisted ideology, the announced piety of which acts as a moral disguise for their truer motives.

National Government pe se, does not entail authoritarianism, merely authority in certain matters at certain scales. The word president, as I'm sure you know, comes from "preside" which more or less means to superintend or guard or sit in witness of; quite an inactive governmental idea. Which is the reason such was chosen by our founders for this free society of ours.

I don't dispute that authoritarian governments keep popping up through history. If you think they're 'successful' we probably have a different sense of that word. In my opinion, the principle of the matter is that the less successful the moral self-governance of the people, the more likely that an authoritarian government will arise to bring order from above. There are other key factors as well, like geography, natural resources, economics, technology, mediation, and education, that play a part in just what emerges as the prevailing zeitgeist that determines what balance of self-governance and top-down governance will likely emerge.





Richard said...

"I don't dispute that authoritarian governments keep popping up through history."

Were no governments successful until the French Revolution?

Perhaps my argument would be clearer if I used the word autocratic rather than authoritarian? Resting power with a central monarch has historically reduced the amount of micromanagement a public felt. The English people, for example, were much freer under Alfred the Great than the various landlords before him. Similarly, in Japan, Tokugawa and Nobunaga gave birth to a period of economic and artistic freedom by way of their violent unification and subsequent autocratic reigns.

History has shown that power shared is power more likely abused. Absolute power, on the contrary, doesn't usually corrupt but rather elevates a monarch beyond middling concerns which would lead them to be moralising control freaks.

Our own Democracy, rather than increasing the freedom of its citizens, has trended toward a cultural, intellectual and economic despotism which would have been unthinkable to the subjects of King George.

Richard said...

(Or Republic if you prefer. Whichever euphemism you choose, the outcome is the same: not toward government working for ALL people, but government working for whichever mass coalition of people can get the most folks to show up to the polls -- a political system which trends towards putting the reigns of government in whichever group of know-it-alls is the most busibodying. Compare this with your average monarch who didn't give a good goddamn what you do as long as he gets his palace and gardens, and it appears to me that we sadly chose the fascism of the crowd over the liberality of the autocrat.)

Richard said...

(Hitler, Polpot, Mao, and the rest are the exceptions that prove the rule, not the culmination of autocracy.

Their rule had the historically peculiar role as having been "socialist", the fascist crowds willfully instantiating their micromanaging rule in the autocrat. Few autocrats before them were so beholden to the masses. Autocracy didn't make Hitler, German socialism did.)

kev ferrara said...

The impossibility of it all makes one long for big sweeping solutions; a great hero on a great white horse riding down from the mountain to right all the wrongs, to free us from our chains, to make the crops grow again, to give us back our lost community, to make us strong, young and innocent once more, free and full of possibility. As it once was, long ago. In our dreams.

Hitler, Polpot, Mao, and the rest are the exceptions that prove the rule

Exceptions "proof" rules, they don't prove rules. To proof means 'to test.' The reason alcohol is 100 "proof" is because its alcohol content has been proven by testing. Enough tests of a rule and it is no longer a rule; it's a siv.

Ah, but this time it will be different, absolute power will not corrupt. King Daddy will love me and the boon of his power will be bestowed upon my hearth. And all will be well. (Lord hear our prayer.)

Richard said...

Thanks for the correction on proof.

I'm not advocating for a king to be artificially placed on a throne ex nihilo. On that point we agree. I would not consider such people royalty in the first place. Royalty is a title given to a family for having gone enough generations without pissing off enough people to spark a coup -- it evolves out of a soft touch and a respect for the plurality of the people.

Which is to say that good kings and queens arise naturally from generations of good governance slowly centralising their dynasty's power in accretions.

When autocrats are created from populist programs, they universally look more like Hitler than Queen Elizabeth.

With history's pretenders at royalty, Napoleon, Oliver Cromwell, Mao, time has proven that you can't will a good king into existence, but history also shows that intergenerational patience will give you one quite naturally.