David Thompson
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June 02, 2016

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Thomas O

Very interesting to see you comment "away from home" as it were; it's almost like philosophical outreach.

And the end result of nurturing stuff that barely constitutes art? This: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/may/27/pair-of-glasses-left-on-us-gallery-floor-mistaken-for-art

David

Very interesting to see you comment “away from home” as it were;

Franklin’s gaff is quite classy. I had to wear a tie and everything.

Alice

That's a cracking thread. I'm sending it to my daughter, an art student. :-)

David

That’s a cracking thread. I’m sending it to my daughter, an art student. :-)

It does, I think, give the nuts of the issue a fairly thorough fondling.

WTP

Hmm...drama and drama queens. I sense a connection.

Jen

That’s a cracking thread.

"If you isolate makers of art from their customers, their patrons, and from the consequences of their own inadequacy – which is what our Arts Council does – the result will be distortions, the aforementioned cargo culture. What we in the UK get isn’t a realistic expression of what the public finds interesting or attractive. Neither is it, I think, a reflection of artistic possibilities. Instead we get what a narrow social group thinks the public ought to like, whether it does or not. If artists and pseudo-artists get paid anyway, in advance, why should the artist try to make something beautiful, which is difficult, or try to please the public, or maybe even see their own aesthetic shortcomings and do something else? Without direct customer feedback, where’s the corrective mechanism for discouraging tat?

Likewise, there’s no credible corrective mechanism for the Arts Council’s own profligacy and incompetence. An obvious example being the remarkably unpopular West Bromwich arts centre, boldly named The Public, which two years after opening had failed to attract a single paying customer. The venue, which promised to “make the arts more accessible,” had not only repelled the locals it was supposed to attract, but also managed to consume almost £60 million of public money. Typical of its offerings was a “five year live art project” by Michael Pinchbeck, in which Mr Pinchbeck “packed a car with the belongings of his brother and drove to Liverpool where his brother died in 1998.” After the car full of rammle had been “toured” around the country, much to the indifference of passers-by, the vehicle was crushed and its fragments displayed to an empty gallery. An absurd press release was the sole, rather slim, visual enticement. The West Bromwich arts centre nevertheless announced the project with great optimism: “Admission will be on a first-come-first-served basis.”"

All of that.

R. Sherman

I once had a friend opine that public funding of the arts is the functional equivalent of the great patrons of Renaissance Florence or something, the implication being that we'll lose out on the next Pietà if we don't pony up the cash. Lost on my friend, however, was the fact that the great patrons of the arts were private individuals who could pull the financial plug whenever they wished and whom the supported artists tried desperately to please. Public funding as it's currently implemented is exactly the opposite and the results--amply chronicled on these pages over the years--speak for themselves.

R. Sherman

I just read the linked piece and comments. I found the discussion of the "high end, big art spenders" interesting for this reason. I'm sure those who advocate the loudest for public funding would love to be a part of the community where their creations bring in the big bucks from well-heeled art consumers. Query then, if the previously publicly subsidized artist strikes it rich, does he then reimburse the public for supporting him during the lean years? Somehow, I think not. After all, capitalism is only evil when I'm a failure at it.

David

After all, capitalism is only evil when I’m a failure at it.

Ah, but many artists would rather have access to a publicly-funded means of circumventing the public - and circumventing that public’s unsophisticated preference for things that are beautiful and visually compelling, and which, coincidentally, are quite hard to create. In this preferred funding model – preferred by artists, that is - the general public are expected to serve as patrons, albeit very often reluctant patrons, and patrons with no say in how or on whom their earnings are spent. And no right to ask for a refund should things go badly wrong.

PiperPaul

"circumventing that public’s unsophisticated preference"

Remember that you can't spell 'sophisticated' without the word, 'sophist'. And I don't mean the good kind.

Sporkatus

Sophisticated - portmanteau of "sophist" and "masticated". Something that a sophist has gnawed all the corners off of and is covered in slobber. Noted.

Hedgehog

For those of you who have been around long enough to remember previous dysfunctional US presidential elections, you may recall John Edwards and his "Two Americas" speech. It struck me at the time that he was right, although not in the way in which he meant it, and much that has happened since reinforces my opinion that this applies not just to America, but to the developed world in general. There are indeed two distinct populations in our post-industrial economies: those who produce, and those who consume by taking from those who produce. On one side, the (shrinking) middle class - on the other, the army of takers: government officials, tenured professors, university administrators, welfare recipients (not all of them poor - witness Elon Musk and his ability to wheedle tax subsidies out of governments for his overpriced conveyances for the terminally self-righteous), and, of course, artists. Or should that be "artists"?

At the risk of sounding apocalyptic, I think we are hurtling toward a showdown between these two populations. Certainly the ructions in the political systems in Europe and the US are a sign of trouble. Brexit, the resurgence of nationalist parties all over Europe, the Trump candidacy - there is a rumble of discontent among the inchoate masses that could quite easily spill over into something nasty.

Sam Duncan

Crumbs. All that, three years ago, partly in response to a comment I barely remember making, and I never knew about it. (I'm desperately trying to recall why “they might have it” as “icing on mud”. Something to do with the original post?)

I do recall being rather pleased with “cargo-culture”, though. Very glad to see someone else picked up on it.

Daniel Ream

Lost on my friend, however, was the fact that the great patrons of the arts were private individuals who could pull the financial plug whenever they wished and whom the supported artists tried desperately to please.

You have to be careful with this argument, because those great patrons of the arts were generally aristocrats - the government of the day, supported by taxes levied on the plebians. Plus ca change.

David

I’m desperately trying to recall why “they might have it” as “icing on mud”. Something to do with the original post?

If so, the reference escapes me. Let’s enjoy the mystery.

I do recall being rather pleased with “cargo-culture”, though.

Quite rightly. I was ever-so-slightly covetous.

Hedgehog

those great patrons of the arts were generally aristocrats - the government of the day, supported by taxes levied on the plebeians.

Well, at least they had better taste than the government officials who insist on funding today's crap. Score one for hereditary aristocracy.

R. Sherman

[T]hose great patrons of the arts were generally aristocrats - the government of the day, supported by taxes levied on the plebeians.

True enough, but they could and did turn off the financial spigot when the product wasn't to their liking. As Hedgehog suggests, the public is forced to subsidize this "art" without any input as to the end result.

And, Hedgehog, I think you're correct regarding a reckoning of sorts. The vast middle has allowed things to progress to this point, because although it doesn't like being poked, the aggravations were kept to a (relative) minimum. That has changed, however, and there will be push back which will grow ever greater the more the elites seek to maintain their position.

dicentra

Much of the art requested was "paint me at the feet of Saint Whoever with a halo around my righteous head."

Bleah.

PiperPaul

"The metaphorical use of "cargo cult" was popularized by physicist Richard Feynman at a 1974 Caltech commencement speech, which later became a chapter in his book Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!, where he coined the phrase "cargo cult science" to describe activity that had some of the trappings of real science (such as publication in scientific journals) but lacked a basis in honest experimentation."

This reminds me of something, but I just can't place what...

Dom

Really, really off topic here, and I apologize for that, but are the rest of you following the story of the white male who shot a professor at ucla? It suddenly stopped trending. Guess why.

K

The "failed artist" makes up a large segment of the socialist left. You can sit in your subsidized garret all day doing art nobody but your friends tell you they like and still get medical, rent and food from the work a day suckers.

Hedgehog

Much of the art requested was "paint me at the feet of Saint Whoever with a halo around my righteous head."

Bleah.

Oh, I don't know. Considering that what we got is this or this or this or this or this, I'd say we did pretty well.

pst314

"artists might consider earning a living, rather than leeching at the taxpayer’s teat"
That's a rather disturbing mixed metaphor, David. :-)

Sporkatus

@pst314: That's the sort of disturbing mixed metaphor an actual *artist* could make his name and raise controversy with. Name it something like "the child" - a giant leech held lovingly to the breast of a smiling blind woman. Something horrifying to give Goya and Bosch a run for their money.

Is there any chance of modern subsidized art being daring in quite that way? Even given such an easy concept with some mileage in it? Slim, I'd say.

R. Sherman

Much of the art requested was "paint me at the feet of Saint Whoever with a halo around my righteous head."

True, but then it was better than Olan Mills*.

*American portrait company whose business model includes church directories and crappy family portraits taken in shopping malls and department stores.

Bert

"Instead we get what a narrow social group thinks the public ought to like ..."

Huh? I believe very many artists not only don't expect, but don't want the public to like their work. Don't want to go all bourgeois, you know.

Hal

. . . . the white male who shot a professor at ucla? It suddenly stopped trending. Guess why.

I've only been noting the headlines going by, didn't actually read any of the stories, but at this moment there is still an entire cluster of stories at the top of the Google news feed . . .

David

Don’t want to go all bourgeois, you know.

Yes, there’s plenty of contrived perversity.

Sporkatus

@David, re contrived perversity:
"Without a theory to go with it, I can't see a painting" - Tom Wolfe, The Painted Word. Empty frames, blank pieces of paper, looks like Tom was a prophet without honor after all.

Chester Draws

You can sit in your subsidized garret all day doing art nobody but your friends tell you they like and still get medical, rent and food from the work a day suckers.

Let's not get too worked up about this. I, for one, would rather work a real job than do what they do. It seems romantic, but in practice it is probably really boring.

I learned quite early in life that a day with something to actually do is better than a day with nothing to do. More so for a week. And even more so for a year. The jobs I have hated were those where I was not kept fully occupied.

Sporkatus

@Chester: I suspect "doing art" here is interchangeable over 80% of the allegedly involved time with "surfing the web and watching TV". Indolence is only grating when there's a hint of guilt about it.

Hedgehog

R. Sherman: That has changed, however, and there will be push back which will grow ever greater the more the elites seek to maintain their position.

Boy do I hope so. To see why see this, for example.

WTP

Let's not get too worked up about this. I, for one, would rather work a real job than do what they do. It seems romantic, but in practice it is probably really boring.

Would agree except they are using our tax dollars to make themselves miserable resulting in protests and riots and such demanding more of our tax dollars so they can make more misery for themselves and others.

PiperPaul

"I suspect 'doing art' here is interchangeable..."

That's research and freeing the mind for creative thought, you Philistine!

David

That’s… freeing the mind for creative thought, you Philistine!

For instance.

WTP

And let's not forget interpretive dance. It's hell fun.

http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2015/07/attack-of-the-art-world-death-star.html?cid=6a00d83451675669e201bb085fd7d8970d#comment-6a00d83451675669e201bb085fd7d8970d

Ray

re cargo cult, there's a perfectly good word, sciosophy, for voodoo done in a scientific style.

Rossco

@Daniel Ream

You have to be careful with this argument, because those great patrons of the arts were generally aristocrats - the government of the day, supported by taxes levied on the plebians. Plus ca change.

There is a difference though. The Aristocrats may have been the government of the day and may be wealthy based on taxes levied on the plebians. However the money they were spending they would consider to be their money (despite how it may have been obtained) and they were spending it for the benefit of themselves.

The modern arts bureaucrat is spending other peoples money for the benefit of other people.

So the aristocrat was getting something that pleased them. The arts bureaucrat is also getting something that pleases them, their own self regard. The public gets whatever dross best inflates the self regard of the bureaucrat.

fnord

When the Gotthard tunnel was opened is Switzerland opened a great many presumably
adult people thought this was an appropriate way to celebrate the occasion.

http://youtu.be/JVw_mPvYcDM

fnord

You have to be careful with this argument, because those great patrons of the arts were generally aristocrats - the government of the day, supported by taxes levied on the plebians. Plus ca change.

-------------------
I think it's illustrative of the differences resulting from an individual vs. a committee, the only lifeform with multiple stomachs and no brain.

Fred the Fourth

Over on the artblog comment thread, a John Link response to David includes the line "Ultimately art is for everybody, but its leadership has always been up to an elite few."
Now, John is arguing that modern art and its subsidies are, and perhaps should be, led by a small group of high-end purchasers.
His line above refers, however, to art in general.
When I read it I was immediately struck by an image of an iPhone. An aesthetically pleasing experience in many ways, and, as with most of Apple's products, the result of elite and idiosyncratic thinking. Also, a tremendous cultural influence (as part of a whole class of devices and tools) with good and bad effects more far-reaching than any art is likely to be these days.
Why is this so?
It's because Apple's elitist behavior is ultimately controlled by a large voluntary audience, an audience which has alternatives to Apple.
Would that the Arts were also.

pst314

"a giant leech held lovingly to the breast of a smiling blind woman"
I wouldn't be surprised if it's already been done--albeit perhaps with little artistic skill. If it has, the woman is most likely a Madonna and elephant dung is incorporated into the painting too.

Hedgehog

When the Gotthard tunnel was opened in Switzerland...

Yes, I brought this up with a Swiss colleague of mine. His first response was that I had to understand that for the Swiss the Gotthard has a quasi mystical meaning, sort of the soul of the nation. That being not a fully adequate explanation for the utter cuntery of the opening ceremony, as I pointed out to him, he admitted that there was some controversy in Switzerland about that ceremony as well. I should hope so.

wtp

White people. SMH.

Hal

. . . a great many presumably adult people thought this was an appropriate way to celebrate the occasion.

Meh. I did a very fast skim through the video, but all I see is a total bog standard modern dance piece where the producers simply took advantage of access to a rather non standard staging area . . . .

Captain Nemo

And let's not forget interpretive dance. It's hell fun.

I had forgotten Mr Devine's arrogant conceit, WTP. I shall not do so again in a hurry.

Franklin

Greetings everyone. Thanks for stopping by. You may also enjoy Democracy Is Killing Art, which takes some of the themes in the essay linked overhead and runs with them to even farther conclusions.

David

Thanks for that, Franklin. My own impression is that much of the art establishment and many, many artists, especially the ones selected by our betters as ideologically congenial, just walked away from aesthetics. And in doing so, walked away from us. Or from me, anyway. Happily, there’s no shortage of attractive and visually compelling things - things to be diverted by, or fascinated by, or to decorate a home. It’s just that very few of them, almost none of them, are made by people in the so-called art world.

Hedgehog

[M]any artists, especially the ones selected by our betters as ideologically congenial, just walked away from aesthetics. And in doing so, walked away from us.

Indeed. Funnily enough, as I was talking to the aforementioned Swiss colleague (see above), deploring the state of modern art or of what passes for art nowadays, he pointed to a lithography on the wall of my office, basically a number of swirling shapes in black on a blue background, and said, "But that's modern art!" To which I replied, "No. While I consider it pleasing to the eye and appreciate it for the fact that it provides a visual respite from the work we do around here, it is the work of a commercial artist, a person who specializes in making pieces that will be sold in offices around the country to philistines like me. The art world would want nothing to do with him."

Franklin

A lot of art gets made that is admirable, relatable, and by some modest measure affordable. But once enough practitioners defy conventions to the point of destruction, you have to dig that work out of a pile of utter nonsense. Why would most people bother? There are other pleasures out there in which the conventions are preserved and celebrated. If you don't enjoy something you can say so, without wondering if you're missing out on some bit of esoteric background that would illuminate it to you.

It really is okay to like a work of art because it looks good, or not like it because it doesn't. That goes for the lithograph of swirling shapes on Hedgehog's wall as much as anything. I have edited the wisdom of one of my mentors into a compendium, Aphorisms for Artists, which we hope will help dispel some of the needless arcana around fine art.

David

Why would most people bother? There are other pleasures out there in which the conventions are preserved and celebrated.

Quite. I’m sure I must have said this before, but I no longer bother visiting my local galleries. It’s just not something I would think of doing on a free afternoon, not for pleasure. The repeated disappointment and wasting of my time has successfully repelled me. I’d rather go to the cinema, or look at furniture, or phones.

Hedgehog

[...] or look at furniture, or phones.

Or cars. Probably not entirely coincidental that at the same time as "art" has gone down the rabbit hole well-heeled collectors have turned to other items to satisfy their aesthetic sensibilities. The fact that fine art museums are putting on exhibitions that concentrate on these artifacts (The art of the motorcycle at the Guggenheim a number of years back being maybe the first one) shows that they are becoming aware of this change in their audience.

I think that there is still a lot of artists out there, but they are now working in industrial design. It is not a coincidence that the country that nurtured the likes of Botticelli and da Vinci and Raphael and Mantegna and Canaletto also allowed for the development of Zagato and Vignale and Michelotti and Gandini and the like. They were what I would call real artists, meaning individuals who had a grounding in craft and the aesthetic vision to transform this craft into something that patrons are willing to pay for. Whereas the people who now pass themselves off as artists are people with no discernible talent who in an earlier time (i.e. before state funding of the arts) would have had to find other lines of work. And if what we see in these pages is any indication, they might have been happier if they had been forced to earn an honest living.

WTP

Presume y'all have seen this?

Speaking of "legal insider trading in the art market", he said: "Let’s say I am a trustee ... and you find out that the museum will be showcasing the work of a mid-career artist and they are going to be presenting a one-person exhibition at the museum.

"If you are privy to that information there’s 25 per cent in it for you."

He added the art world was also now used for "money laundering", after the wealthy realised "you can’t make a deposit or withdrawal at a bank without them looking at your underpants".

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/06/02/art-world-is-hotbed-of-corruption-collector-claims/

Somewhat akin to something I tell my wife, unmade beds don't exactly unmake themselves for large sums of money.

Hedgehog

the art world [is] also now used for "money laundering"

Interesting, that. Would of course explain why aesthetic considerations (and ability, for that matter) are irrelevant.

Franklin

It's minor stuff in the grand scheme of crony capitalism, but the major dealers and collectors maintain their status through networks that ultimately incriminate contemporary museums operating on ostensible behalf of the public interest.

Hedgehog

on ostensible behalf of the public interest

Ha! The public interest is an externality, as the economists say. Pretty much everything that is funded by the public fisc is an insider's game, with the public interest serving as window-dressing for connected parties to enrich themselves. Public universities that serve as jobs programs for otherwise unemployable liberal arts or social studies majors and that churn out more of the same without any concern about what would actually serve the nation whose taxpayers they fleece. Public schools that keep inner-city kids ignorant and unable to read while making sure that the teachers can't get fired for even the most egregious offences. A Veterans' Administration that lets sick veterans die while waiting for care, but that awards its staff bonuses for a job well done. An entire welfare apparatus whose sole purpose seems to be to employ bureaucrats to stick their hands into the pockets of taxpayers and redistribute a tiny portion of the loot without any lasting effect on the poverty rate. And then of course, as you mention, the crony capitalists: Solyndra, Tesla, Google, and on and on ad nauseam.

The public interest. What a quaint notion.

Jimmy

RE: where artists with technical talent end up in clown world - concept art & movies: a surfeit of technical talent churning out space marine design #314567 and sexy dark elf #43921 for the continued gratification of aging manchildren everywhere.

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