David Thompson
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October 02, 2013

Comments

docwatson55

Proverbs 29:18 "Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint; but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction."

A sad, lost soul.

rjmadden

I counted ten people in the audience. A packed house.

Rickmcginnis

I always wondered what happened to Karen Finley.

David

I counted ten people in the audience. A packed house.

And sadly the video fades out before we hear their response. As I’ve said before with things of this kind – are they are very much of a kind - I’m more interested in the audience, such as it is. In previous videos we’ve seen these tiny groups of people who choose to search out this stuff, even pay for it, and who often look self-conscious, as if acting their parts as much as the performers. I think I know what the artist’s problem most likely is, but I want to know what their deal is.

Dr Cromarty

The audience is made up of the Modern Parents from Viz

rjmadden

musical performance,

I missed that one.
Shame I can't miss it again.

Anna

Nudity? Tick.
Anti-capitalism? Tick.
Self-harm? Tick.

No, she's not conformist at all.

David

Nudity? Tick.
Anti-capitalism? Tick.
Self-harm? Tick.

No, she’s not conformist at all.

Heh. Quite. But there’s a long and tedious tradition of self-harm in performance art. It’s hardly less common than nudity or faeces. Or anti-capitalist pretensions. For instance, Marina Abramovic, a sort of elder stateswoman of performance art, has over the years cut herself with razor blades, allowed audiences to burn her, and brushed her hair aggressively until her head started to bleed. What I’ve seen of it is very boring and the aesthetics escape me. Though to be fair, some have embraced self-mutilation in a slightly less time-wasting and roundabout manner. In the Seventies one chap had a friend load a rifle and shoot him in the arm. Apparently, it was his way of being “taken seriously as an artist.”

And hey, if that’s not a fun night out, I don’t know what is.

ACTOldFart

Well, someone once described politics as show-biz for ugly people. I think we can now add transgressive, anti-capitalist electroshocking to the list. But I still think politics will play to a bigger audience.

AC1

Was this funded by ticketing or extorting?

David

Was this funded by ticketing or extorting?

This particular, um, piece was funded by A Space For Live Art, which in turn is bankrolled by the Culture Programme of the European Union. So taxpayer extortion. It’s the anti-capitalist way.

sk60

No sell-out flattering of the audience, then.

No sell-out entertaining of the audience either.

Jimmy

By the end I thought they looked more like hostages than an audience.

Greg

Why must they always explain it? I'm sure I could define it in 10 words or less.

Dr Cromarty

Why must they always explain it? I'm sure I could define it in 10 words or less.

I'll see your ten words and raise you. Two words.

David

By the end I thought they looked more like hostages than an audience.

You have to wonder if some of the people sitting on the floor have at some point quietly realised, “Wait a minute. This is god-awful shite. What the hell am I doing here?” I mean, at what point would it be least impolite to leave to do something more interesting? I actually had this problem a few years ago. The Other Half and I had been invited to an apparently quite cultish performance that involved some banal music and a woman standing around idly onstage, first reading a book and then pretending to masturbate. Luckily, the venue was just about busy enough and dark enough for us to slip out and head home without being too conspicuous.

Franklin

Being there only encourages them. Walking out only encourages them. It's a conundrum.

R. Sherman

If art provides us with a glimpse of the Divine, one wonders who is the object of Ms. Boliver's worship.

David

The thing is, if you want to watch someone doing something uncommon and physically hazardous – really hazardous – you could, for instance, watch one of the BMX dirt bike competitions. They get quite daring. Certainly more daring - and requiring much more skill - than anything I’ve seen done in the name of “radical” performance art. And if you want to see something startling and highly improbable, you could always watch the illusionist Dynamo. In terms of impact and pleasure, it seems a better bet.

JuliaM

" I think I know what the artist’s problem most likely is, but I want to know what their deal is."

It's possible they're just deviants, and can go along to something like this rather than delve in the outré realms of the Internet and risk getting unwanted attention?

rabbit

Ms. Boliver seems immensely impressed that she's a modern middle-aged woman, and wants us to share in her astonishment at her monumental achievement. How many capitalists would be so generous?

Ten
aims to demystify the horror of old age in an ironical way

A demystification for which I've waited my entire life, the magnitude of which is literally indescribable.

Watcher

Other than the nude sado-masochist, did anyone present even begin to enjoy this?

Jonathan

I can hear someone laughing at about 4:05 - For Shame! Probably the best way to deal with this shite though.

David

Other than the nude sado-masochist, did anyone present even begin to enjoy this?

Compared to the bike jump, the levitation, or this display of skill, I don’t see what Ms Boliver can believe she’s offering an audience. Or what the audience can believe they’re getting for their time and money - besides an adolescent pretence of radicalism. The kind of radicalism that was hackneyed and laughable a generation ago.

Ten

Let me see if I have this right.

The postmodern milieu hinges on all truths being equal and thus all interpretations of all truths being valid. Beauty being in the eye of the beholder would be its highest principle ... and the right to speech conflating perfectly with the right to assert yours over all others being the lowest, but the latter is a reality only observed by us Unwashed.

Which brings up the point. The Unwashed may never question the meaning - the very intent and perhaps mindset - of the postmodernistic artist. Only they shall hold singular meaning and if you don't get barbed wire and bicycle pump auto eroticism then out you go.

Is it me or is there a disconnect here? I mean not including the taunt moments in coffee house and bar conversations post-performance.

mojo

"Vanity of vanities, sayeth the Preacher, all is vanity. There is no new thing under the sun."
-- Ecclesiasties, still wrong some 3500-odd years later

Jeff Davis

What's the different between this and "World's Dumbest __" on TV? No snarky commentary I suppose.

LS

Could her performing be considered a viable replacement for waterboarding at Gitmo?

Bunny

Er if being shot in the arm makes someone be taken more seriously as an artist, what did it do for Tim Westwood? I also agree someone was laughing at 4 05. Deluded bloody woman.

Sam

barbed wire and bicycle pump auto eroticism

They should slap that on the flyers.

Hal

Ms. Boliver seems immensely impressed that she's a modern middle-aged woman, and wants us to share in her astonishment at her monumental achievement. How many capitalists would be so generous?

"When Samantha and Gideon take their daughter Thalia back to Sussex, Samantha in her ethnic and Gideon in his jeans, it looks as if Birnam Wood has arrived in Dunsinane, the car is so thick with potted plants for her room. Samantha was certain she would be the youngest and trendiest mother, and was disappointed to find the entire campus swarming with middle-aged Bolivian peasant ladies."

---Jilly Cooper, Class

JuliaM

Hyperbole alert!

"Chinneck says his work "is largely about surprise – taking something familiar and doing something with it that distorts our perception of the world around us". That seems to have worked, in its own way, for the man in a convertible with personalised number plate who drove by the house while Chinneck was at work and yelled out: "Call that art, mate?" It was, says Chinneck, "like a drive-by shooting"."

Without, of course, all the blood and the dying?

Jimmy

You have to wonder if some of the people sitting on the floor have at some point quietly realised, “Wait a minute. This is god-awful shite. What the hell am I doing here?” I mean, at what point would it be least impolite to leave to do something more interesting?

If it was anything like the very exciting performance art I've seen at the school I attend, there would have been free booze and snacks!. The last show I watched (for all of 20 seconds before I walked out) involved two polite looking girls, one standing at either end of a portable light table (lit) whimsically kneading water into two little pyramids of flour. I'm sure the performance set someone's heart ablaze with its passionate invocation of whatever intellectual noodlery was used to justify it.

Rafi

In 1971 an artist named Chris Burden had a friend load a rifle and then shoot him in the arm. Mr Burden felt this would lead to him being “taken seriously as an artist.”

Surely nothing less than a head shot should count as art?

David

Surely nothing less than a head shot should count as art?

Head shot, death and resurrection would count, I think. That might put some wonderment back into performance art, as opposed to an air of desperation and squalor. More so than a relatively minor flesh wound and a professed need to be “taken seriously as an artist.” And if the resurrection part failed to happen, it might at least have saved us from the pile of commentary that followed, invoking unobvious complexity, unspecified “challenges” to this and that, and roping in everything from capitalism, naturally, to the war in Vietnam. As when curator Josh Baer enthused about Mr Burden’s Trans-Fixed, in which the artist’s hands were nailed to the roof a VW Beetle, claiming it was a “crucifixion to liberate not just himself but everyone” from the “collective fears that society uses to keep people in order” and “the idea that the human body is governed by law.”

He’s liberating us, you see. Or at least the tiny, in-group audience, mostly art students, that could be persuaded to turn up. Just as he was liberating us by being pushed down a flight of stairs, or by stripping down to his underpants and squirming across a parking lot strewn with broken glass. What a saviour. Thank goodness for all those NEA grants.

Diane

Being there only encourages them. Walking out only encourages them. It's a conundrum.

Make them earn their own living from ticket sales not public subsidy. That would discourage them pretty quick.

Jimmy

He’s liberating us, you see. Or at least the tiny, in-group audience, mostly art students, that could be persuaded to turn up

Yes, the in-group!.

This year I started arguing with my lecturers about the level of pretense and feigned intellectualism at the school (it's a conceptual art school, not traditional). It's impossible to get a straight answer about the legitimacy of so much artistic research and why it's apparently so important. I got them to grudgingly admit that this research exists primarily as a dialogue between students and the academy, and has little to do with what happens between art, artists, and the public in general. Of course they quickly reminded me that I had to follow the curriculum or I might not pass. This goes some way to explaining why so much art these days is unintelligible to a lot people. The course actively encourages this rarefied atmosphere of faux theorising and dishonest posturing. You can't score more than a C- without demonstrating 'research' and rationalising your work in an oral presentation. (you literally have to explain why your work is legitimate - it can't speak for itself) This works out great for people with little technical aptitude and a gift for spinning bullshit.

David

rationalising your work in an oral presentation. (you literally have to explain why your work is legitimate - it can’t speak for itself)

It seems to me that if a piece has to be justified with theory before its aesthetic becomes apparent, the odds are there isn’t much of an aesthetic there. In which case, why call it art?

matt

three minutes in of you're not thinking, "why doesn't she just take a dump and get it over with?" then there's something wrong with you.

Jimmy

It seems to me that if a piece has to be justified with theory before its aesthetic becomes apparent, the odds are there isn’t much of an aesthetic there. In which case, why call it art?

Can you just imagine all the super creative sculpture students standing mute next to their slap-dash assemblages of household and found objects? Joy!. But it simply doesn't work that way. The curriculum makes the institution's expectations more clear. You have to do things like 'Recognise and account for the position of their work as it sits within the bicultural nature of Aotearoa/New Zealand and its international context' and 'Discuss ways in which their work contributes to the cultural and social environment of Aotearoa/New Zealand and its wider contexts', and further 'Recognise and articulate the ways in which your work can be positioned within a discussion of sustainability.'

Positioned within a discussion of sustainability. So generously open to interpretation!. Here it's all about discussions, notions, proposals, ideas. Theories, hard facts, quantifiable and measurable results not so much. My answer to the above requirements is that my art fulfills none of those criteria, insomuch as it exists only as discussion between the school and myself. The public isn't even involved at this point, so how could I possibly justify meeting those requirements without first presuming that my work is culturally relevant because it fits the 'theories' and gets a nod from the school? Hah!

Malcolm coghill

She is a fit old bird though, in spite of the barbed-wire wounds. Fnarr fnarr.

jones

Just thought you should know David that I've just tried to encourage your rabble-rousing via the paypal button but it wouldn't process my payment due to an invalid postcode message...I don't live in your locale and there doesn't seem to be an option for clicking the country where I live.

I am very thick though........

jones

David

Jimmy,

Here it’s all about discussions, notions, proposals, ideas.

Well, I suppose the problem is that academics can’t teach artistic genius, or even uncommon skill. It seems to me that a gifted artist, in whatever medium, would have little use for what many, if not most, art schools tend to offer, beyond some material resources. In much the same way that creative writing courses don’t have much impact on the number of gifted writers at any given time. Academics can, however, encourage a fixation with irrelevant and tendentious theory, and often pure bullshit, as if that were adequate compensation. As if art were about pseudo-intellectual noodling and leftwing politics rather than making things that are visually compelling and – dare I say it - beautiful.

As I said a few years ago,

The world of new media art is peppered with platforms and discussions, organised and attended by a “community” that appears united in its assumption that art’s primary function is as a vehicle for political transformation. Or rather, as a vehicle for discussions about political transformation. This preoccupation with political discussion rather than aesthetic absorption supports Brian Ashbee’s observation that, “This is not art to be looked at; this is art to talk about and write about. It doesn’t reward visual attention; it generates text.” The lengthy press release for RISK, an exhibition-cum-discussion at Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts, claimed to “celebrate the ways in which artists investigate the values of social inclusion – not as a political diversionary tactic, but as a radical art practice.” This couching of art in terms of “raising issues” suggests that artists who wish to be exhibited may find themselves being judged as much for their political sensibilities as for their aesthetic ones…

The results of this conceptual approach are not so much art as a commentary on art - and, inadvertently, a commentary on the shortcomings of art education. Whereas creative genius is, by definition, unequally distributed and often expensive to develop, theoretical facility is cheap to disseminate and all too easy to regurgitate. While very few of us can hope to create things of extraordinary beauty, rather more of us can learn to “reference” things of beauty or, better yet, to say why beauty doesn’t matter. Interviewed in the Guardian, the conceptual artist Gavin Turk said: “My work is full of quotations - as though I’m a DJ recycling other people’s work. I’m just doing what everybody else does, but more explicitly. What really interests me is the charade of creativity...”

Academics have to justify their salaries one way or another. They may not be able to cultivate talent to any significant degree, but they can coach students in the mouthing of bollocks. Preferably bollocks of a certain kind and political connotation. And this attitude is pretty much a default among many publicly-funded art institutions. The Arts Council’s Director of Visual Art Peter Heslip doesn’t seem overly interested in visual aesthetics. Instead, he talks about art being “challenging, not always easy to grasp.” How they love the word challenging. “It’s often intellectual,” says Heslip, “but I think anyone who spends enough time just seeing knows it’s richly rewarding.” So rewarding, in fact, that the public must be coerced to fund it.

That so many art students and educators dismiss beauty as, at best, something to “interrogate” and “problematise” suggests a disdain for the public, whose taxpayer subsidy they nonetheless hope to leech. Thankfully, we, the public, no longer rely on people who call themselves ‘artists’ to make visually pleasing things. They don’t have a monopoly, thanks to the commercial world that so many art students and educators pretend to disdain. Beauty is available in vast quantities, often at a reasonable price, from well-designed kitchen bins to smartphone interfaces. The people who designed those phones and kitchen bins weren’t trying to challenge or transgress the customer. They weren’t fretting about how shocking or intellectual we’d think they are. They were trying to make us smile, or play, or just drool with desire. Which is no small feat, and much harder than mouthing bollocks.

Jimmy

David,

That all makes sense to me. Experiencing it first-hand was quite demotivating. For my final Theory essay I wrote about my experience and the dissatisfaction I felt with the lack of technical tutoring (in third year there is NO practical tutoring, just weekly consultations). I also mentioned that other schools, those that provide talent for the movie and games industries, seem to have no problem with producing beautiful things (i.e they have aesthetic standards to adhere to). That got me a meeting with the head of the school to discuss my concerns. To my mind, if you can't effectively teach creativity and 'genius', you can, at the very least, promote technical aptitude.

I once spoke briefly with an ex student of the school who studied there during the 70s, and he confirmed my suspicion that it was, at one point, very traditional (they even taught architecture!). After I graduate I plan on writing to my local MP and the Minister of Education to voice my concerns.

This preoccupation with political discussion...

Imagine being present at an assessment where the tutor and student are having a very cerebral discussion about how to make the student's 'cardboard-chocolate-sculpture screen printed with the faces of starving African children' more effective at making naughty white people feel guilty for buying the wrong brand of chocolate. Stimulating stuff...

David

other schools, those that provide talent for the movie and games industries, seem to have no problem with producing beautiful things (i.e they have aesthetic standards to adhere to).

At risk of sounding philistine – more so than usual – I’m not sure what art is for any more. I mean, as a standalone academic and institutional thing, supposedly apart from and above “mere” commercial culture. I understand it as an activity – something one might do for personal pleasure – I just don’t see that it warrants any great social status any more. There are other things serving the purpose it once served, and often doing it better. I imagine people will always enjoy visually pleasing things, things that require rare skill to produce and that make us look in wonder, wherever they come from; but I’m not convinced that many of us are willing to subsidise pseudo-intellectual flummery from insecure people who assume their job is to correct our politics and generally condescend.

Watcher

I once had an exercise at Art College (Watford, if you must know) where the student spent an hour drawing a plant and then -- shock horror -- had to rub it out and start again. It was, of course, meant to show that not even your best effort at art was permanent and an artist can always start again.

However, I now realise that as performance art I could have made a killing. The audience would be guaranteed two hours and ten minutes of entertainment. Two hours on drawing, ten minutes on erasing. Creative boredom in a fun-filled evening.

Jeez, I was so thick when young and couldn't see what they were really trying to teach me.

Franklin

That got me a meeting with the head of the school to discuss my concerns.

At which what happened, if you don't mind sharing? Did he tell you that you had some valid objections? Were you berated for not adhering to the dominant paradigm? Did he smile, nod, and mumble?

All things being equal, it would be possible for a bright student, when asked to "Recognise and articulate the ways in which your work can be positioned within a discussion of sustainability," to reply that it's a call to the cessation of such a discussion as irrelevant or even deleterious, and have some sources ready to back that position up if challenged. It wouldn't be a effective way to pass, however.

We need an art theory that derives from an entirely different set of conceptions. Let's just say that I'm working on it.

Patrick Brown

I think perhaps the biggest wrong that has been done to the idea of art is the romantic idea that talent is magic, so you don't need to teach people techniques. That's bollocks. I suspect that all talent is is a tendency to enjoy a particular activity, leading you to do it more and get better with practice. But drawing, painting, sculpting, whatever, are all skills that need to be learned, and even talented people need challenged or they coast and never improve. You also need exposed to the work of great artists to broaden your influences, so you don't become narrowly derivative (stealing from one source being plagiarism, and stealing from many sources being research). The point is, the current paradigm says it all comes from within and you don't need to learn, which is not good for anybody. Learning is always good. Complacency and self-satisfaction are always bad.

Anyway. I've just ordered a second hand Leo Baxendale Willy the Kid book off AbeBooks. Now there was an artist.

Jimmy

David,

At risk of sounding philistine – more so than usual – I’m not sure what art is for any more

Unless you consider social and political agitation over things like sustainability, peak oil, fracking, consumerism, religion and gender issues culturally enriching?. Pass?. What is it that Western art is really doing outside of movies, games, and advertising?. I can bet you there are plenty of students graduating this year who have little idea. Even less so than when they entered the school. 'Other' cultures get to jealously guard their unique artistic history and aesthetics, e.g. the Maori in New Zealand with their tattoo, carving and weaving, but at the school I attended, the engagement with Western tradition was somewhat antagonistic and distant, like we were picking apart a dead thing. One memorable student's Theory presentation I attended had the grandiose title 'A Critique of Western Civilisation', but it was mostly a whinge about how much oil we awful Westerners use and here are some photos of my brutally ugly jewellery that's inspired by oil use and here are some random pictures of industrial waste sites how awful do they look am I right?. And here are some pictures of abysmal postmodern buildings because I like the way they clash and contrast with old buildings somehow-kinda-I-don't-know-really-lol'. Missing are the students who have a real passion for Western art, feel deeply connected to it, and who see it as something to be preserved and treasured. That cultural attitude simply doesn't exist here at the school. Instead, students are more aligned in a general critique, deconstruction and disabuse of Art. I don't understand how something positive is supposed to come from this.

David

Unless you consider social and political agitation over things like sustainability, peak oil, fracking, consumerism, religion and gender issues culturally enriching? Pass?

Well, I’m not convinced that ‘fine’ art - as opposed to, say, documentary film - is a great way to convey a political message of much complexity. Slogans, yes, maybe emotive images. But not so much an argument, let alone a fair one. At least I can’t offhand think of an example. And then there’s the issue of where the beauty fits.

D

It seems a shame that people like the above woman are considered "artists," and people who make beautiful things are considered to be just standard workers. To my mind there has been more artistic nourishment from this than from all the pretentious performance art shows I've ever heard of.

Years ago I went to an exhibit that showed a bunch of pieces from da Vinci, including his notes and sketches. I was really interested to note that his sketches and drawings were very similar to engineering notes and sketches that I or my colleagues would make. My conclusion was that he was a craftsman, as much or even more than an "artist" in the modern sense. Certainly he had great artistic sensibility, but he was also focused on making products which would please his customers, which were expertly crafted. His sketches and notes for building the horse sculpture (a full-size version of which was outside the exhibit) were fascinating, the way he attempted to perfectly capture the motion and musculature of the horse.

Today, a person with that attitude and approach would not be considered a "serious artist." He might even be mocked and hated, the way many do with Kinkade or to a lesser extent Norman Rockwell ("yes, his painting was good technically, but [insert various political complaints here]"). That's a shame for everyone, and it diminishes art. I agree that it's hard to see what the purpose of Art in the modern sense is at this point.

Anon

Art, I've always thought, is the prefect marriage of medium and message. Art is about communication through craft.

If it has nothing to say -- if it is just there to be pretty, or to entertain, but it has nothing to say, nothing to communicate -- then it's not art. It's craft. And there's nothing wrong with craft, but it's not art.

On the other hand, if there's no craft there -- if it's just message -- then it's not art either. It's just propaganda.

Annoyingly today real art is getting harder to find: it's kind of split, so you get lots of craft, like slick sitcoms that are entertaining but have nothing to communicate, and lots of awful, awful propaganda, like the stuff discussed here, but rare is the play, the novel or the film that actually manages to combine both craft and communication, medium and message, and actually become art.

Hal

David and Jimmy . . . .

What comes to mind is an essay I read a number of years back, written by a long time computer programmer who had recently returned to school, as a professor. Once upon a time, he and a very close friend were taking classes, they were studying computer programming, and this was a very long time ago, and they were a very tiny offshoot of some uni department, and the entire lot of they and their classmates was all of about 150 people. And then they graduated. The writer went off and got an assortment of jobs over at least a couple of decades, the friend stayed around school(s) and taught, and then finally came wandering back to join his friend.

This time around, computer programming had become The Big Thing Which All Must Become And Collect Masses Of Money And etc, mumble, wave hands, observe all around being very impressed, Etc. There really weren't classes to take any more. Instead the Big New Process was to stand at one end of an aircraft hangar and hold forth on some topic. The small horde of Computer Programming Students (cue thunder) were arrayed before the lecturer, and prolly there was some small army of teacher's assistants of some sort that would run discussion sessions, or something like that.

And then the newly returned professor started picking up on a pattern . . . . In that aircraft hanger of a hall, that cluster of bodies was sound asleep, that couple over there were three hairs short of having sex, those three over there were having lunch while reading something else, and so forth, regardless of all being signed up for the course. And in that semester, and in general, as the class progressed, he started seeing a cluster of the same names coming up, the same students proactively doing the same sort of work, tearing apart the concepts, breaking things, fixing things, seeing how one actively Does this thing called computer programming.

And of that cluster of the same names doing that same work, the entire lot of they and their classmates was all of about 150 people.


I am a bit at a distance from the British, ah, schools, but I'm rather getting the impression that British or not, the diploma mills selling overpriced wallpaper labeled ARTIST----or mba, or uber ultra executive international mba, or anything else printed up by the diploma mills these days---are indeed not training artists, or anyone who actually do the fun of I wanna see what this picture or sculpture or whatnot winds up looking like, because I think it would be fun, or because I just feel I must do this.

And, the Actual artists are out there. They're just not bothering with any formal training more complicated than either personally or institutionally reading the how-to manual and then going off to experiment and play.

I recommend another essay, http://themacavity.com/filmschool.html . . . The Collective MacAvity School Of Making Movies

The opening lines are;

So You Want To Go To "Film School" . . .

Quite simply, Why Bother?

Jimmy

David,

Well, I’m not convinced that ‘fine’ art - as opposed to, say, documentary film - is a great way to convey a political message of much complexity. Slogans, yes, maybe emotive images. But not so much an argument, let alone a fair one.

I completely agree with this. I'm going to try and get someone in government to agree as well.

Hal,

...the diploma mills these days---are indeed not training artists, or anyone who actually do the fun of I wanna see what this picture or sculpture or whatnot winds up looking like, because I think it would be fun, or because I just feel I must do this...And, the Actual artists are out there. They're just not bothering with any formal training more complicated than either personally or institutionally reading the how-to manual and then going off to experiment and play.

Yes, there's a lot of truth to this. Re Anon's post, trying to inject 'meaning' into every drawing, every painting, every sculpt, is stultifying. To be exceptionally good at something like drawing requires hours upon hours, days upon days, of grind work. My tutors weren't interested in seeing this. It was too technical. They would say "but what does it all MEAN?", obviously irritated with my lack of engagement with meaning. In order to critically reflect on your work you actually have to produce a lot of it. It can't all be deeply meaningful. A problem arises when a student has little of their own work to engage with visually. They get stuck with trying to suss out what it all means and where to go with it, and become open to influence from ideas and sources that they may not really care about, but which help them engorge their practice with sufficient meaning to please their tutors.

David

trying to inject ‘meaning’ into every drawing, every painting, every sculpt, is stultifying.

It seems to me that if a piece of art is evidently beautiful, it doesn’t require any external or theoretical attempt at validation. Exposition may be added of course, as a footnote perhaps, but it isn’t, or shouldn’t be, necessary in order to find the beauty. The attempt to justify with theory and cleverness isn’t the meat of it. The verbal add-on isn’t its reason for being looked at by the public and presumably enjoyed. And if the aesthetic is quite enough to captivate and intrigue, isn’t that an ideal? And the further from that ideal a piece of art falls, the more likely one is to find an acreage of elaborate and unconvincing verbiage.

Conceivably, this is annoying for quite a few art “theoreticians,” some of whom, like Benjamin Buchloh, like to bang on at length about how “The antinomy between artists and intellectuals on the one hand and capitalist production on the other has been annihilated or has disappeared by attrition.” And other tendentious guff. As shown in the Art Bollocks piece, for some critics and “theoreticians” art is little more than a vehicle for the airing of their own political suppositions. And even if one assumes that ‘fine’ art should have some socio-political content, some ‘message’ - some ideological excuse for being – there’s another problem.

It’s easy to find art or pseudo-art that has political ‘messages’ but those messages tend to be predictable and very much of a kind. The local taxpayer-funded city-wide art festival is much the same as previous ones – heavy on leftwing politics and textual exposition, light on aesthetic substance. If you want to look at objects and images that are captivating and pleasing to the eye, you should probably stay home and do something else. But if you’re inclined to socialism and want to reinforce your own assumptions with a “critique” of “international market forces,” a “critique” of privatisation and “neoliberal policies,” a piece that “highlights economic and social inequalities,” and a film about an attempt to unionise office cleaners… well, knock yourself out.

The festival – which isn’t actually festive, so far as I can see – is curated by lefties, features work by artists who are largely leftwing, or pretend to be, and attracts a small audience of people whose politics generally correspond with those of the artists and curators. Despite the obligatory blather about art “being challenging,” it’s hard to see how any of the people involved are being challenged in this respect. And this is hardly unusual. As we’ve seen, many times, what you very often end up with is an in-group, a tiny caste of middle-class lefties leeching taxpayers’ money while telling each other how egalitarian they are.

Jacob

Despite the obligatory blather about art “being challenging,” it’s hard to see how any of the people involved are being challenged in this respect.

Spot on, David. Have a drink on me. *hits tip jar*

present & correct

I think here is an appropriate point to link to Roger Scruton's documentary about beauty, for those who never managed to see when it did the rounds on tv...
http://rclvideolibrary.com/2012/12/08/why-beauty-matters/

David

present & correct,

Thanks for that. Michael Craig-Martin, who appears in Scruton’s film, is mentioned here. Note the condescension and the implicit, rather immense, self-flattery.

Henry

This display of skill

I clcked on David's original link - watch it if you haven't seen it - and was pretty impressed so I tweeted the link. I was retweeted by a lady I'd never heard of before, so I looked at her profile and found exactly the same thing done by someone else.

Perhaps balancing feathers on lattices of reeds and doing yoga at the same time is what people need to do these days to relax.

rjmadden

And even if one assumes that ‘fine’ art should have some socio-political content, some ‘message’ - some ideological excuse for being - there’s another problem.

If you can make something beautiful (which isn't easy, I've tried) you don't need to say why you bothered. It doesn't need 'some ideological excuse for being'. Lovely phrase, btw.

David

If you can make something beautiful (which isn’t easy, I’ve tried) you don’t need to say why you bothered.

Well, yes. From the public’s point of view, beauty pretty much speaks for itself. But as you say, making beauty is hard, very few of us can do it, while theory is relatively easy and, more to the point, unhindered by standards. And if you manage to make something beautiful, evidently so, this may well please the public but it rather diminishes the role of the academic “theoretician,” whose career generally depends on obscurity, chest-puffing and reams of tendentious and uninteresting text. (See, for instance, the hefty tome mentioned in the Art Bollocks piece. It’s an enormous pile of untested assertions, inflated jargon and political conceit.) It’s much easier to churn out thousands of words, big words, on why a pile of sand and fag-ends or some arbitrary display of squalor is a masterpiece of art, an “intellectual miracle.” One can theorise wildly and be terribly transgressive. You can claim to see things that others can’t, because you’re so much cleverer than them, and never be proven wrong. You can even shoehorn in lots of hackneyed student politics.

If more artists made art the public might like and even be willing to pay for directly, what would all the theorists and self-appointed intermediaries do? What would happen to all those middle-class lefties who aren’t very talented and couldn’t get a decent job anywhere else?

rjmadden

Will no one think of the middle-class lefties?! :-D

David

Have a drink on me. *hits tip jar*

Thanks, Jacob.

Hal

Perhaps balancing feathers on lattices of reeds and doing yoga at the same time is what people need to do these days to relax.

Short summary, Nah. Apparently it's merely what those hipsters were all doing at that particular moment.

My first responding thought had actually been: "And about 10 years on, the formal training in [insert collective name for balancing feathers on lattices of reeds and doing yoga at the same time] will have been established, with the occurrence of schismatic conflicting schools starting up about 5 years after that . . ."

. . . except that the effort required for actual schools of practice to form would require an ability to have actual focus and structure and attention to actual context, and we're talking about wannabe theorists here.

Instead, I rather expect the simpler and more likely explanation is that this all just falls into the same pit as someone writing a parody sociological study of a very obscure and limited cluster of people she grew up around, where the same variety of posers here being discussed then started calling themselves preppys after reading that limited bit of satire called The Preppy Handbook. . .

---at least in the US . . . I've read that in Britain that terms like sloane ranger/chav. Etc. very much, have also been applied to describe the vacantly pretentious and generally useless members of several layers of economic levels . . . .

. . . and then that claim to artificial gravity didn't get the posers any social, cultural, or monetary benefit(1), so they started being the yuppys, and continued with all the vacuosity and the total abhorrence of any and all taste, style, and coherent thought and practice . . .

. . . and then the ability to scam easy credit collapsed along with the government of Iceland, et al, and now they're called hipsters, and thanks to the prevalence of electronic communication and equipment developed by adults out there in reality, thanks to those tools and techniques developed out here outside the rabbit hole, now the posers are reduced to sending tweets and posting YouTube clips on web pages about balancing feathers on lattices of reeds and doing yoga at the same time . . . . . . .


(1) Yeah, it's a footnote. Yes, the peddlers of brand name costuming and related kitsch have made and continue to make masses of money off of the suckers, but the peddlers themselves make no claims of taste or style or importance.

sackcloth and ashes

I understand that Witkacy's novel 'Insatiability' is translated into English.

It seems as good a commentary on the contemporary art world as any (I'm relying on Czeslaw Milosz's precis of the novel).

Hal

If more artists made art the public might like and even be willing to pay for directly, what would all the theorists and self-appointed intermediaries do?

They might find out how well they can play football: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Middle-Class_Rip-Off

Jim Hacker is in his constituency watching his local football team . . . Two of the club's officials tell him of its financial difficulties: . . . one of the officials is chairman of the council's Arts and Leisure Committee. He mentions that money is being spent on a nearby art gallery that is in a state of disrepair, and that they keep getting offers for the site. Hacker suggests they sell the art gallery and save the football club . . .

Hacker can see no difference between art and football — except that a lot more people are interested in the latter. The Minister opines to Sir Humphrey that art is only subsidised for people like him: the educated middle classes, who enjoy theatre, opera and ballet. Sir Humphrey counters that . . .and the councillors come up with an alternative plan to raise the money by closing down a local school . . .


On another hand, all this does get easier when considering that pesky little question of actually defining “theory”. But as you say, making beauty is hard, very few of us can do it, while theory is relatively easy and, more to the point, unhindered by standards. . . . the role of the academic “theoretician,” whose career generally depends on obscurity, chest-puffing and reams of tendentious and uninteresting text. . . One can theorise wildly and be terribly transgressive. You can claim to see things that others can’t, because you’re so much cleverer than them, and never be proven wrong. You can even shoehorn in lots of hackneyed student politics.

In fact quite particularly, as part of that defining of theory, one can solemnly announce that “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination.” and Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” and that “Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.” . . . . Welllll, with Just One Relative problem. These quotes are attributed to Albert Einstein.

Yes, theory is very, very, very important, in that it allows for the exploration of all sorts of possibilities . . . and with that wide open ability to explore is the realization, acknowledgment, and open practice of the one and only situation where the theoretical is as credible as the practical: Mathematics.

Outside of Mathematics however, there is indeed only that which is actually practiced, such as accounting, portrait painting, plumbing, acting, singing, news photography, setting splints for broken bones, vs the “theory” that results in being merely some variety of being a hipster and neither good at or good for anything else . . . .

sackcloth and ashes

Following on from Hal's point, isn't there an episode of 'Yes, Prime Minister' in which Hacker has to deal with some thespy types who complain about expenditure on defence, rather than the arts, and call for cuts in the former in favour of subsidies for the latter?

IIRC he then makes a quip about substituting the armed forces for a particularly vibrant production of 'Henry V', which doesn't go down at all well.

EnnEssA

She wishes she were a pornstar, but she's too old.

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