Why There's So Much Bad Art

| 23 Comments

Two-Fisted Art

I'm going to lead off by demonstrating a great technique. I'm going to magically cast a glowing aura of erudite gravitas over my whole essay. I'll perform this amazing feat by quoting a few lines of one of the most popular poems in the English language. It's perfect for this kind of magic because, first of all, it's really dark and portentous and therefore really sincere and important; and second of all it's really short, so it doesn't tax anyone's brains too hard. Part of the magic of appearing erudite and grave involves not straining yourself too hard. (Strain too much and you just look constipated.) Thirdly, the poem is so incredibly well known you don't have to look too hard to find a copy.

Okay, so here comes the magic. Get ready for it.

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

from The Second Coming
by William Butler Yeats

See that? Isn't it wonderful? Now I look really serious and smart and can move on to the main part of my essay, which is to lay out who the worst are and to build up some passionate intensity in the best.

I have been too respectful.

This might seem a bit much for me to say. You might think I'm an amazingly disrespectful person with the things I've written on my blog and elsewhere. But you're not in my head. You don't know what I really think. And I often find myself trying to phrase things in a nicer way. I pull my punches. Sometimes I just avoid saying things -- even really obvious things -- because I'm too respectful.

I grew up lower middle class in New York City. My father was an auto mechanic and my friends were sons of firemen and construction workers. Roofers and carpenters. Janitors. People who worked with their hands. One thing I was taught growing up was the value of hard work because working hard was something the people around me knew about. They worked hard to get what they had. They respected work.

They also extended this ethic to others. When you met a successful businessman, you showed him respect, because to become successful, he must've worked very hard. The more successful he appeared, the more respectful you had to be.

What I've learned over the years, though, is that actual success, the appearance of success, and work are three separate items. You can have any one of them without the others.

When you walk into a hardware store, let's say, you can be reasonably sure, unless the store is new or going out of business as you stand there, that it's making enough money to continue. As my dad would say, it's makin' its nut: Selling enough merchandise to cover its expenses. You can look around on the shelves and not ask yourself, does someone buy all this crap? Because someone does. The store sells enough fertilizer and paintbrushes and screws and nails and whatever else to pay for its rent and employees and dusty stock of enameled cast iron cookware. If you meet the owner of the store, you show him some respect, because he's running a successful business.

The same is true of a dry cleaners, and a liquor store, and a Chinese take-out place. Because no one opens a 7-11 for the cachet, for the prestige, for the access to a higher class of people. These places all make their nut or they die.

Not all businesses are like that, though. There are businesses that people go into because it looks like fun or because it makes them feel better about themselves in some way. Businesses that come with a certain class, that allow one to rub elbows with better people than you find on the street. Movie studios. Restaurants. Antique shops. Art galleries.

If you approach the people who own and run these places the same way I was taught to, you can end up in trouble. Because you might walk into an art store and look around and think, "Who buys all this crap? Well, someone must, because the store's still here and the rents are really high in this neighborhood." And you might be respectful to the owner of that gallery because you think they're running a good business.

Are they really? You have no way of knowing. For all you know, the gallery owner sells heroin in the South Bronx to pay for their art store. They could have a well-paying day job, or a trust fund, or a rich spouse. There's no reason at all to think, when you want to know who buys all this crap, there's no reason to think that anyone does. It could all really be exactly what it appears to be: Worthless junk.

Of course at a certain point the appearance of success can become success of a sort. People continued to invest in Bernard Madoff's enterprises, not because he actually had a good business, but because he appeared to have a good business. People threw good money after imaginary money. Likewise, someone might buy a Jeff Koons sculpture because Jeff Koons is a successful artist. Never mind if his reputation is all hot air: If enough people buy his junk because he appears successful then he becomes successful.

Alas, I was brought up to be respectful to people who appeared to be successful. I'd probably have been respectful to Charles Ponzi, Jack Abramoff, or Bernard Madoff. If I met him, I'd probably smile and shake George W. Bush's hand. Because it's hard to be disrespectful to people, and I was brought up to be polite and respectful towards successful men. I was never really taught to question that success.

Gradually I've learned it's a bad idea to respect those who don't deserve it. They won't respect you back and you'll look like an idiot. They'll use you for what they can and they'll treat you like crap otherwise, because they don't need your respect. They didn't earn it and they don't want it. They can drop you like a used Kleenex because their business isn't real. It's trickery. It's fake. It is, in fact, bullshit.

Worse, if you appear as if you might even slightly threaten their bullshit, if you perhaps suggest they face the emptiness and worthlessness of their endeavor, then they really won't like you. And if you continue to show them respect after that, well, then you'll just look like a lickspittle.

I don't want to look like a lickspittle. I don't want to toady. I don't want to tie myself in knots trying not to say the obvious thing, trying to be polite, trying to maintain a veneer of civility in the face of gross stupidity, cupidity, and egoism. I don't want to be nice any more. As the great philosopher James Woods once said, "There's only one thing you get from eating a bowl of shit, and that's a bigger bowl of it the second time around."

I think I've eaten the biggest bowl of shit I'm going to.

My plan is not to attack people for no reason. I have no intentions of being entirely negative here. I have no desire to expressly go looking for people I can pick on.

However, my plan is to stop being nice to people who don't deserve it. I'm going to praise those who earn praise and denigrate those who earn denigration. I'm not going to sit quietly while stupidity reigns. I'm going to renew my commitment to total and complete honesty. I'm going to strive to write down the truth as I see it, and I'm going to strive to see things truly.

This is going to make people angry. This is going to, at some point, make you angry. Too bad. For everyone who thinks that they're allowed to wave their ignorant opinions and unlettered ideas around in public without being called on their bullshit, I offer this quick course in logic: Reasonable people can disagree. You disagree with me. That doesn't mean you're reasonable.

23 Comments

Chris,Why not put all this anger into your art?Is it because you believe art must be proofed against extraneous emotions?I agree with Yeats that the best art often ask questions instead of proposing answers, but nevertheless, I always have a bag of questions when confronted to the most self-convicted arts.Cheers,Cedric

Art shouldn't ask questions. "Ask" and "question" are verbal concepts. Art isn't verbal, it's visual. Visual things don't ask questions. They simply are.I don't know about putting anger into art. I'm not usually angry when I'm painting. I'm usually happy, or anyway content.I don't believe "art must be proofed against extraneous emotions". In fact I have no idea what that even means.

Ok, maybe "question" wasn't the right word, but I find generallythe best art, let's take music for example, is more "explorative"than "convinced". This is just personal taste. A lot of people adore Mozart. I have a hard time with many of Mozart because it'sleaning toward the obvious, musically. The problem set up by visual arts or any arts is that it is always the product of a cognitive precept. When you look at 2 apples, your consciousand subconscious are working their ways into which one you will choose, or if you disregard them both, or adopt them both. This is what I question in arts: what led Chris opt for this apple instead of the other? If it's its smell and sensuousness, then I can't really argue anything with that, but it's still important to ask in case there would be other data getting in the way (like Chris doesn't like apples because of a childhood trauma).Arts are products of desires. They're not spontaneous objects that "simply are", there are still the results of choices and rejections, things that can be talked about, even when pure emotion and passion seem to erase every facets of reason. Fine Art, specifically, did not exist until we consciously created it, when we started to socially categorize these choices and rejections.+++I have no idea what that even means.Some artists refute that their art should be "programmatic"(or "about something"'.). For example, they repeat a simple motif over and over because there is no emotionsattached to it but the study of its forms. They're not telling astory or representing a drama or anything. It's the differencebetween a Giacommeti Odalisque and a Modigliani Nude.Cheers,Cedric Casp

The real question is this: how long will Chris continue to blog if Cedric is the only person who leaves comments?

I'm sorry, Anon, but you're laboring under a gross misconception. I don't blog for the comments, and I most assuredly do not give a crap what you think.Cedric: Mozart's only obvious in retrospect. Certainly his music is very much on the beat, as it were, hewing to traditional forms and making use of perfect cadences.David Galenson, in Painting Outside the Lines, loosely categorizes visual artists in two groups, experimentalists and conceptualists. One could argue pretty much endlessly with both the generalities and particulars of his thesis, but I think we an use it as a handy guide, a rule of thumb -- nothing to take too seriously, but something useful and interesting.Mozart would be an example of a conceptualist: He was a prodigy and his ideas leaped forth fully formed. Beethoven would be an example of an experimentalist, always searching for something, trying different approaches, making incremental progress rather than arriving suddenly.You like experimentalists, I guess. C├ęzanne over Picasso.I'm an experimentalist. I didn't set out to be. It's not a prescriptive term, but a descriptive one. It's how I work.However, it doesn't mean I'm asking anything. No questions. Just records of a journey. And not a journey with an end, either. An aimless ramble.You're certainly correct (and more lucid than usual), Cedric, when you say that art is "still the results of choices and rejections, things that can be talked about". However, that's not what the art itself is about. Art doesn't exist just to foment discussion. Art's not about talking.I find I'll talk about art, but only after experiencing it. It's the experience that's the important part. I keep coming back to this metaphor, but art's like sex: It's better to do it than to discuss it.

Brenda Ueland lived by two principles: always tell the truth, and never do anything you don't want to do. As it turns out, discerning the truth and figuring out what you truly want to do are often the hardest problems we have to deal with, and require a lot of intelligence and probity to solve. I congratulate your renewed effort.

+++experimentalists and conceptualistsYes, that's a nice way to put it.As I said earlier, to me every artwork is 50 per cent aestheticsand 50 per cent idea (intention, process, method, concept, whatever). It's only from there that you have artists trying to push their art one way or the other.As a viewer I'm trying to dive in between and I do question howI'm supposed to view the art, or throw in ideas from whateverside the art seems to reject at first sight.+++and more lucid than usualNot quite. I'll be lucid when I make art again.++++Art's not about talking.Hmmm. As I am an expert in talking to myself, I guess I will always disagree with this. But there is always a part of art that will escape words. For me it's still 50-50.+++only after experiencing it. I never read PR before I see a work or during a visit.I read them back at home. The first apprehension ofart is always aesthetic. But the way our brain functionsmakes it impossible for the experience to remain purelyaesthetic.Cedric Casp

Ced sez:But the way our brain functionsmakes it impossible for the experience to remain purelyaesthetic.Maybe. But only the aesthetic belongs to art.

Why don't you turn the comments off then?

Perhaps you need a more involved course in logic, anonymous tiny-brain. I do not blog for the comments, but that doesn't mean there shouldn't be any.

Hey Chris I don't know about you but I often think that all the time I put into creating blog entries and reading blogs, would be better spent if I made art or read instead. Do you ever have these kinds of thoughts? I mean it is satisfying to put your thoughts or images out there and have a segment of the world pay attention. One can't deny the social component of art, but I really wonder if the Internet is radically different (besides the obvious ways it is different) from the television in the way it steals away your precious time.

The thought does cross my mind occasionally, Eric, but mostly I feel pretty sure it doesn't work like that. In a way it's like lamenting that you don't get paid to drive an hour each way to work when your time is worth $X per hour at work; your time isn't really worth that much ALL the time, only when you're actually working, and you certainly can't work ALL the time. Or you could argue that sleeping is wasted time. In fact commuting and sleeping time is time that makes the working and living time possible.I believe very strongly that my Internet time is what makes my art time possible. Three years ago -- my first post was on February 21, 2006 -- I didn't know a single artist, art blogger, or gallerist, and couldn't name one contemporary gallery. Now I know a whole bunch of people and have been around the block a couple of times. The Internet -- this blog specifically -- is what made that possible.It's not just a virtual community, either. It's real. I've had people recognize me from my blog more than once. I've met people and, in a few cases, made really good real-world friendships with them. (I was just over at Pretty Lady's last Friday. I got to see how big she's gotten -- her due date's in about two weeks.)Those connections are important to me. I guess they're important to everyone but they're very important to me. On my own, with a studio at home, without going out to see art, I made maybe a painting a year. With a studio an hour and a half away, with studio mates and friends down the hall, regular gallery visits, and plenty of blogging time, I've turned out...you know, I don't even know. Wait here while I count. Okay: About 40 paintings since August. And that's being limited by my supplies -- I keep running out of panels to paint on.Clearly the more time I waste the more time I have.

Can't say the same for myself. But I am glad it has worked out for you.

hmmm..., not sure what to make of editorials such as these.Spoken like a true totalitarian though.

Speaking of art that sucks, check out this artist who just won $25,000 from the ICA in Boston. Seems he works for a major commercial gallery and that his boss is on the board of directors at the museum. Some people in Boston feel that this smacks of favoritism and is the art equivalent of insider trading. http://www.bigredandshiny.com/cgi-bin/retrieve.pl?issue=issue99&section=news&article=ANDREW_WITKIN_WINS_1114445

I think it is favoritism. They should hire a jury with people having nothing to do with the Boston scene. Past recipients of the prize are not well-known to me, except Laylah Ali which I haven't heard from in a couple years.Cedric Casp

The late governor George Wallace lost an election early in his career to an opponent whose views were similar to his own but Wallace had censored himself out of "poiteness"--after that defeat he said "I'm never going to be outniggered again." I don't think he ever lost another election. I try to remember that when there is a temptation to hold back--let the cards fall where they may.

I don't think George Wallace and his approach to race is one we should emulate. The idea is not that we should take a popular position and run with it, no matter how evil or wrong it may be. The idea is to be honest and true, even if that's not popular.

I think that art scenes simply reflect the times, and these times have been all about money and power.I see the current art scene as being the perfection stage of all that Andy started (art as product).Galleries invest millions, to make tens of millions. It's more about being clever than it is about genius. The artists, for all practical purposes, are interchangable, as it's the wrapper that makes the sales.People with too much money will buy anything they are told, provided they are told by someone wearing a thousand dollar suit inside million dollar real estate.Deals are made between museums and galleries to promote artists whose work is then doanted to the museum which raises the demand, price and value of the collection.It's just like the stock market. I mean, talk about an unregulated market. The only reason that the art is priced what it is, is because the people who stand to make millions say that it is.Just wait until all those investors decide to start cashing in their investments. I see it all as collapsing real soon, due to its own bloated weight.I think the more interesting question is what's next?I think the next big thing is everybody.Tim Folzenlogen

In sending, I never know what to click on.This time, my post came up in black and gray (again) and as having been sent by anonymous. (I thought I clicked on Name/URL)What do you click on to get that pretty orange and blue with my own name?I only achieved that once, but I have no idea how.Tim Folzenlogen

The only trouble with the next big thing being "everybody" is that's way too much. I mean, I've gone on before about how in the future we're all going to be the audience for our friends while they become our audience -- like a village within the larger city. But that won't satisfy every artist's need for an audience; some artists are going to want more.If there's anything my time on the World Wide Web has taught me it's that editors are important. Someone needs to filter out what's important from what's not. Someone has to be the gatekeeper.As an example, try browsing Saatchi's site. I don't know about you, but I find it instantly overwhelming. I need someone to tell me what's worth looking at. I can't go through it all on my own. Sure, maybe a friend or two is on there. But how else can I find the good stuff?

I applied for a Guggenheim Fellowship Grant this year. This is the first time in my 56 years on the planet that I have applied for such a thing.I broke my presentation of my career into three segments:1. Gallery World (I've had over 50 solo shows)2. Writing and Projects (my web site)3. Cartoons (I sent them xerox copies of three of them).The first cartoon is the telling of my life story.It is entitled "Too Much" (as so many have always told me that I am "too much").I just find it delightful that you used those two same words to describe my first presentation of the real me on this blog.But yo bro.I say a line, and you are running with what you think it means, which only has the slightest context with how I intended it.But I hear what you are saying.Just, well, I'm coming from a space that is infinitely more deep and wide.I see this time, our time, as being much like Galileo's time.In Galileo's day, heaven was above, hell was below, and the earth was thought to be at the center of the universe.This thought was completely pervasive in society at that time - deeply affecting how families thought about their relationships with one another, how business was done, how every single person related to life in this universe.Galileo exploded that myth.The entire world changed. How could it not? All one needed to do was to check his facts.Something is about to happen on this planet that will be just like that, squared.A whole different way or orienting oneself to life in this universe, that will change every single thing about everything.Were flying saucers to start landing in everyone's backyard, the change that is about to occur would not be seen as being less radical.This will absolutely happen.Look through The Hubble Telescope and talk to me about Satchi.No one on this planet understands shit about hardly anything.This is an extremely primitive planet, that is about to wake up.I mean, give me a break. We still do starvation and war.It's like we have barely begun to emarge from the cave.Nothing you currently know, really applies.If you can understand that we are all near complete idiots, you are way ahead of the game.Tim Folzenlogen

Why did you include a comments section? You might as well have given your dumbist, least busy critics a microphone and payed them to yell at you.

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