Recent Stupidities




I should be getting back to actual reviews shortly. I'm hoping to go on a gallery slog tomorrow and that should get me something to write about. I feel bad because I have a small stack of postcards from shows I meant to write about, but I saw them the same day I saw that hideous show and writing that burned me out. Now it's too long after seeing the others, some of which were very good, for me to write them up. It's a personal problem: Sometimes things just go stale.

Not long ago Stephanie wrote to me to say, among other things, "Be aware that venting, no matter how justified, just makes you look bad if 95 percent of your output isn't of the 'and now back to the things that are interesting and worthwhile' variety." Despite this advice, I'm going to vent some more.

In the course of my ramblings through the art world and its online adjuncts I often find people saying, doing, and writing down egregiously stupid things. Sometimes I devote a short blog post to them and sometimes I just let them slide. I've decided that, today at least, I have enough of these saved up to put them all in one place. I'd like to imagine this will become a regular feature, in which case I'd call it "The Week in Stupidity" maybe, but I don't know if I'll keep it up. So for now here is Recent Stupidities.

ARTINFO reports that an organization called United States Artists has awarded ten grants of $50,000 each to visual artists. ARTINFO helpfully quotes the USA Website as saying "96 percent of Americans say they value art but only 27 percent say that they value actual artists". USA hopes to improve Americans' attitude towards the arts by giving these grants to a few photographers, a couple of artists who pile up junk, a couple of others who fill entire rooms with dense agglomerations of pointless constructions, and a guy who uses "stretched and pulled audio tape" as a medium. USA may be attempting to explain, then, why 96 percent of Americans value art -- which includes great work by Rodin, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Van Gogh, Picasso, Matisse, Pollock, Rembrandt and Ingres -- but only 27 percent value actual artists -- who scribble, spew, and make yet more art videos, which of course have been positively embraced across this fine country of ours.

Meanwhile over at New York magazine, Jerry Saltz, whose sanity is clearly being taxed by his Facebook time, is thrilled that 52 percent of the artists in 2010 Whitney Biennial are women. Hooray! Female artists now suck as badly as male artists!

I keep up with the blog of the Unnamed Art Writer and Sometime Curator. (I call him that because he demanded I remove my transcript of a conversation we had from my blog; after arguing for a while I decided I didn't want his name on my blog any more, which I admit in a way was giving in to the twerp, but I got fed up.) I keep up with his blog mainly to find things to mock; luckily he almost never writes except, usually, to note that his latest dubious curatorial effort has been reviewed by one or another publication. But the other day he posted this howler:

" seems to me that contemporary art is taking over the place of metaphysics in human understanding. If metaphysics was cast out of natural philosophy, out of scientific rationality, modernity and philosophy (think Heidegger/Derrida) have its concerns crept up in contemporary art now?...Metaphysical concerns seem to unite so much of current contemporary art...."

Metaphysics was cast out of philosophy? That must be quite a surprise to Thomas Nagel, Kit Fine, Judith Jarvis Thomson, and many others still working in the field. And, hey, was metaphysics really cast out of natural philosophy? Not really. Natural philosophy became science, and science took over a lot of what metaphysics used to cover. There's still plenty to think about that science doesn't handle, at least if you're a thinking kind of person.

In any case, if contemporary art has taken over metaphysics, the human race is in deep doo-doo. Handing metaphysics over to contemporary artists would be like handing over Nature to a couple of guys who spent a year designing (but not actually implementing) an experiment to determine if the light stays on when you close the fridge.

But, you know, if you throw out enough big words and stuff, it's not like anyone's going to call you on your bullshit, right? Right. You get cracking on that "Man in the Holocene" job. Let me know when you've got something.

If you need a perfect example of 350 words that say absolutely nothing, look no further.

And finally, what round-up of stupidity would be complete without quotes from Damien Hirst? Good old Damien recently claimed he's going to learn to paint, god bless him, and to that end was quoted as saying, "Anyone can be like Rembrandt. I don't think a painter like Rembrandt is a genius. It's about freedom and guts. It's about looking. It can be learnt. That's the great thing about art. Anybody can do it if you just believe. With practice you can make great paintings."

Sounds like Damien saw Kung Fu Panda one time too many. "To make something special you just have to believe it's special!"

But I'll go so far as to say Damien is part right: Anyone can learn to paint. Will they be as good as Rembrandt? Probably not. But anyone can learn to be a decent academic painter. It's just a matter of instruction and practice.

With practice, then, one can make acceptable paintings. Something one can do without practice, however, is make stupid pronouncements.


Yikes. Please don't visit my blog. After that I'll have remove everything! :) (Actually, I come here to get a gimlet-eyed perspective on the art world, so keep doing what you're doing. But still -- don't visit me!)

Saltz continues to be an embarrassment. The fact he's gotten where he is speaks volumes, and is even more embarrassing. As for Hirst, even he knows he's full of it, but as long as his bullshit act keeps being so profitable, he's highly unlikely to care. He's not the problem anyway; it's anybody who takes him at all seriously and plays along.

Chris, the fact you like Saltz is one thing; how he strikes me as a supposedly major art critic is quite another. For somebody in his position, he's simply not up to it.

He's an at best so-so practitioner who's been elevated beyond his merits. Of course, there's a lot of that going around, certainly among brand-name artists, so it's par for the course, but I'm still not buying it.

The future is stupid, says jenny Holzer, who admits int he NYT magazine that she isnt a good writer or painter. Disarm them with false humility! Then cash it in again, just wait long enough for them to forget it's the same book with a different cover. Abuse of the english language comes as no surprise.

WHat is surprising is what gets rewarded, or at least encouraged (faith!). Case in point: Art Fag City sent out a fundraiser message recently that reminded me that I am not dumb enough to make money writing for idiots. AFC is financially viable, despite the fact that it is no better than this or other blogs, has nothing more profound to say about the state of the art, and is essentially a watered down FlavorPill or what have you (artInfo, Artrash, Artfever, Artgeist, Artshill, ArtCritical) I dont think you should get any money at all for the kind of crap AFC writes - reportage and distutbingly shallow critiques - or simply hinting darkly that the work is bad - because to actually explain why the work is bad is to explain the obvious, or would "ruin the experience for the viewer" I suspect. Well the thin patina of like or dont like doesnt justify a contribution! Or rather, I spent it on beer. Sorry.

Chris, I hate to discourage your righteous indignation, but Holzer is not to blame. Neither is any comparable so-called artist who's achieved fame and fortune way, way beyond what s/he deserves. Just follow the money, the acclaim and the attention to their actual sources. THOSE are the people who deserve your indignation. In other words, Holzer may be a gun, but she can't shoot unless somebody else pulls the trigger.

And as for her going for Smith, Spero and Bourgeois, can you really expect her to do (or at least admit) otherwise? What do you think she's gonna do, say that deep down she has the hots for AbEx? Even if she did, that would clearly not be correct, and "correctness" is absolutely de rigueur.

Chris, what's more reasonable or realistic to expect, for someone to decline fame and fortune because it's undeserved, or for those who can bestow fame and fortune to decline doing so for the undeserving? Do you realize how insane it is for you to expect, say, Damien Hirst, to give it all up because he's a bullshit artist? You cannot possibly be so naive.

So what if Holzer knows she's no good? Even if that's not just false modesty, as I strongly suspect it is, why shouldn't she take what her public persists in giving her? Why shouldn't Hirst? They're not forcing anybody, and the nature of their work is there for all to see. If you want saints, the art world is not the place to look.

Chris, have you really never gotten the memo that people who can make out like bandits frequently don't give a shit whether or not they deserve to, especially if it's perfectly legal and nobody can touch them for it? People like your friend are an exception, as in, not the norm. Sheesh.

invisible bridges make good neighbors.

I'm starting to figure out that you may be delusional, or at least deliberately contrary. But you go ahead and confront Jenny Holzer and demand greatness from her. If her work is any indication, I expect she could do with a good laugh.

Chris, Jack, pardon me for butting into your conversation with a few thoughts but it strikes me that the issue you are discussing here is not one of 'standards' but of 'integrity' and while I personally think that there are good reasons for us wanting artists to choose (repeat - choose) to have the 'i' word (or at least a demonstrable level of responsibility), there really is no imperative for us to demand this of them.

If one has a functioning critical facility it's not difficult to differentiate between the music of, say, Dylan and Spears (pick your own examples), but a CD costs a lot less than most artwork. If one wants to point an accusing finger at the music world, then the the performer or the fan's taste (or lack thereof) are soft targets, what is really at stake is the use/misuse of power in the industry's ability to manipulate markets.

Likewise in the world of cultural artifacts we need to examine the process by which artworks are transformed into 'Art'. The artists involved can be described as, at best, unthinking, at worst, cynical and/or greedy, and surely the private collector has the right to spend her/his own money on whatever fashion accessory (oops, do I mean artwork?), she/he sees fit?

When (usually self-appointed and unaccountable) arbiters of taste start spending relatively large amounts of other people's (i.e. public) money to monopolize the machinery of collecting, displaying, criticizing, publicizing, conserving and ultimately redefining what should or should not be deemed as 'Art', we are talking arrogance, corruption and privilege (etymology - private law) on a scale even the average politician would blush at. Isn't this where our ire should be directed?

Hooray for the Internet! indeed, and please keep making your case.

Though it helps, when one is feeling discouraged, to remember that when the salons and galleries (backed by the press and buyers) were showing fashionable names like Gerome, Bastien-Lepage, Durand, Bonnat, Meissonier and Alma-Tadema, the Paris Salon was rejecting Pissarro, Monet, Renoir, Cezanne and Sisley forcing them to organize their own show in a friend's photography studio which was ridiculed by the press. Who do we remember today? What's different today?

I think it was Durer who said that the history of art was a history of artists trying to raise their social status. If this is so, then Hirst and Holzer have made it to CEO level and can make their money and reputation by telling others what to do. I suppose this is an inevitable consequence of a 'post-modern' 'capitalist' society, but I, like you, hang on to the apparently outmoded concept that art is something that artists have some part in making with their own hands.

Someone once casually tossed me a small silver-bronze cast head by Rodin (not a museum copy). A Hirst could never match the frisson from spending an hour examining closely the marks made by Rodin's own hands in the original modeling material.

As for balance, the private buyer has much more effect over there in the Land of the Free than much of the rest of the world. I was involved as a research subject in a Gulbenkian commissioned study into the financial situation of the visual artist. Amongst other findings, it revealed that, in the U.K., the state 'arbiters' sector received over 90% of the media coverage of the arts while contributing only 2% of the spending - all parties involved in the debate found the research figures to be vastly different to their assumptions.

Agreed, "in the grand scheme of things they're not expensive", but their cultural impact in alienating people from the arts is disproportionate.

And the 'big dumb circle-jerk' goes around... and around.... and.....

around. I am interested in the slalom des refuse as much as the next person - re-reading the NYT magagazine article on Jenny "I rest my hemoroids on my rotting hybrid laurel-holly cushion" Holzer and having watched "Children of Men" I am reminded of the future, and do you make art for the future or for the now? If you are smart you make work that helps your future, and not he future of the children you will not have nor care about. Who "really cares" about the future? Assholes, that's who. When I see my friends children, I feel deeply competitive, while at the same time sighing in content - if I can ruin art for them, the fantasy, the reality, then at least they wont pretend that they have achieved anything "of merrit" in the "progression of art hisotrical inevitability" - and the thought of eliminating smug complacent entitled faces, replacing them with embittered hardened masks - well that's joy, of a sort, isn't it?
Happy end times everyone!

Lol zipthwung, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, I remain an inveterate optimist. I learned very early that (a) one can only make art for the here and now and (b) there is no "progression of art historical inevitability". Imo neither of these points negates the value of Chris's search for standards or integrity. As for the the youngsters I've been lucky enough to teach and also my own children, I encourage a healthy cynicism towards the 'markets', teach only technique (as style is their business not mine) and suggest that a sense of personal achievement (by whatever criteria they choose to measure) is the only worthwhile goal in making art. But then, maybe I'm not that smart!

Hirst's most recent paintings, by which I assume you mean the stuff shown at the Wallace Collection in London, are SO inescapably awful that the only possible way out is to take them as a very heavy-handed practical joke, and write them off as Damien being a rather long-in-the-tooth enfant terrible. The problem is that Damien's schtick is wearing thin, both from overexposure and from his apparent conviction that there's no such thing as going too far or pushing your luck too much.

As I've said, Hirst is not the real problem, and the fact he's full of it is not what bothers me. Such people, in all walks of life, have always been around and always will be. The problem comes when the supposed experts and ostensible connoisseurs, meaning the institutional and establishment types, swallow such BS hook, line and sinker and promote it to the skies.

That Gordon Burn piece is wonderful. ("Aspden"? What a perfect name for a critic.) I can't wait to use the word "louche" in a review.

Chris: I paint for today, but I paint pictures that might just last 500 years. How many of us are left who know how to do that? I suppose it's a consolation that the work of most of the artists we can complain about won't go the distance anyway.
Jack: Exactly the point I was trying to make, but don't be fooled into thinking they "swallow such BS hook, line and sinker", The most powerful players (at least over here) are just cynically running a scam that gives them an inflation-proof supplement to their already over-inflated pensions (details on request).

Whether they genuinely swallow the BS or merely act as if they have makes little practical difference. The outcome or result is essentially the same. I expect there are always more opportunists than true believers when there's enough gain to be had, but either way, harm is done.

To the living and especially the struggling yes. In the long run.... how many people now take Ruskin seriously and I seem to remember reading that The Times critic said of a certain first performance that, if all the repeats were removed and the choral section left out altogether, it might make a passable symphony. The piece? Beethoven's 9th.

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