There’s more than a little irony in the fact that a self-enclosed and self-admiring Contemporary Art academy of thoroughly doctrinaire beliefs that have been repeated ad infinitum and religiously for at least a half a century thinks of itself as producing avant-garde ideas on a regular basis, each one more fascinating and insightful than the exact same one that occurred just the year before.
Not to mention the fact that the majority of those beliefs stem from the absurd (as well as idiotic) axiom asserted by Duchamp that a urinal was a work of art. From that flows the dictum: “Whatever an ‘artist’ calls ‘art’ is by definition art. And, parenthetically, that whatever the public believes is art is what defines it as art.
Both premises are completely flawed on their face. Note that neither premise applies to any other art going back to the cave paintings in France. In effect, there is no art prior to the American Post War Period where artists themselves have the magical power to pick up anything off the ground with little to no transformation of it and term it art. Nor has the society in which the artists picked up something from a trash dump had the ability, no matter how many of them were fascinated by it, designate it as art.
But getting any artist, art lover, art critic, art curator, or art collector to admit to just how preposterous Duchamp’s assertions were is a complete impossibility today. This is what I define as a contemporary art world that is thoroughly ossified and incapable of any meaningful change. In other words, a dead culture. Any culture incapable of examining its premises and evolving to the next stage of development of them through criticism has come to the end of its run.
Small wonder all art now is reduced to Duchampian philosophical propositions (as in “Is this art also? And is it new?”) as there are no more aesthetic issues to discuss once a pile of horse manure or a man puking into a bucket on film are considered art. What possible aesthetic system could accommodate virtually anything whatsoever and still remain an aesthetic system?
Look at it this way, if philosophical questions and ideas were actually art then why wouldn’t I be able to call my blog questions art? I’m certainly raising far more interesting philosophical questions about arts meaning than somebody writing ‘I won’t make any more boring art” repetitively on a piece of paper or Femen’s topless and urinating protestors who call themselves artists… or at least I think I am. Of course the art world thinks just the opposite, as it’s incapable in engaging in basic epistemological or ontological discussions in favor of pondering the meaning of a longrunning videotape of an empty artists studio.
In other words, Duchamp’s “ideas” in the long run amount to no more than masturbating in an empty studio. He has no ideas whatsoever that have any real bearing on what art is or what actually constitutes the creative process.
Duchamp made self-proclaimed anti-art. I see no reason whatsoever not to take that at face value. I also think it a logical impossibility for an object to be both art and anti-art simultaneously.
A urinal is either anti-art or it is art. It can’t be both anymore than a painting by Ingres can be both art and anti-art. The urinal is a direct contradiction of an Ingres painting. Thus it is the opposite of all the things art is. Ingres sits on Mt. Olympus along with many other works of art. The urinal sits somewhere at the bottom of Mt. Olympus in a garbage dump.
It wasn’t new art when it was manufactured at a factory. Placing it in a museum or gallery did not make it into art, either. A new idea about art isn’t art. Giotto, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Ingres, van Gogh did not have “new” ideas about art. They made paintings. Duchamp’s urinal and most of everything else he made as “art” doesn’t rise to the level of art. Art isn’t made or defined by financial rigging, critical writings and theories, museum goers or other artists opinions or emulation of anti-art. As a rose is a rose, so a urinal is a urinal. Duchamp couldn’t have put a rose on a pedestal and claimed it as art anymore than he could claim as art the rest of his dull-witted posturing. Who but those with the dullest wit and intellect would consider his monotonous and aesthetically indifferent productions art much less interesting art if they had any notion whatsoever of what art was?
If one is going to think a Rembrandt has been superseded by a vial labeled Paris air I think one is either clearly lacking intelligence, is delighted by the mundane and banal and hasn’t the remotest ability to appreciate the sublime achievements of past artists, or whose identity rests on making oneself sycophantically aligned with ones peer group regardless of the cost to and even loss of one’s own identity.
Duchamp’s repetitive insistence was that each society decides what is and what isn’t art. This is patently untrue as it’s not the society that makes the art that decides what will be honored in an art museum. And art museums are a relatively recent phenomenon. The Louvre was opened in 1793. The Rijksmuseum in 1885. These museums housed the art of the past that the aristocratic class of the time decided was the best work from earlier civilizations. It had nothing whatsoever to do with public opinion, art criticism/theory, what sold best at galleries, etc.. In other words, all the things that are central to decided what Contemporary Art is the most significant.
It’s the next society after this one collapses, which it’s in the process of doing, that will decide which art is to be considered significant or not. They could very well choose the urinal and endless rows of Irwin and Ryman and Rauschenberg and Malevich white room canvases for all I know. But if so, I might suggest that future society will have totally flatlined intellectually.
Today’s artists paint (if they even paint at all) from their “ideas” (about what art is) and the purpose of that is to come up with a consistent and saleable product that is largely without any kind of deep emotional attachment to any real subject, to the extent there even is a subject other than the “idea.”
If we’re going to call what van Gogh made art, we cannot call videotapes and digital created collages and photographs and “performances” and light bulb installations “art” without rendering the term “art” completely void and meaningless.
Isn’t this perfectly obvious?
I’m building up to the Pollock post. Pollock was the linchpin of Clement Greenberg’s case made in his 1939 article “The Avant Garde and Kitsch.” In that essay Greenberg differentiated High Art from low or kitsch art. Pollock was to become the artist that represented the category of High Art, with all other art falling into the kitsch or “academic” category. A Dali or Ernst would be considered “academic” as they relied on “academic” techniques. It also made Surrealism, Social Realism and so on retrograde artistic forms, needed to be completely replaced by American High Art.
It was a protest against a dumbed down “consumer culture” with only a small elite at the top enlightened enough to be able to discriminate between real art and dumbed down art. That small elite was composed of Clement Greenberg. Of course, it should be perfectly obvious to anyone looking at the Greenberg Collection in Portland or the Washington Color School painters, who painted exactly according to Greenbergian High Art theories, just how dumbed down and consumerist those paintings actually are as one can see them everywhere in consumer society from the local coffeeshop to the shopping malls to the contempo furnishings stores to Timbuctoo. If they aren’t the very definition of Kitsch Art I’d be hard pressed to come up with a better example.
The necessary feature of kitsch which distinguishes it from avant-garde art is that it repeats itself over and over along narrow, and visually simplistic, stylistic lines. See Diebenkorn, Stella, Frankenthaler, Washington Color School, Photorealism, Minimalism, Chuck Close. In fact, see ALL of top tier Contemporary American Art.
For art see Manet, Degas, van Gogh, Picasso, Max Ernst, Edward Hopper… Note the movement and lack of repetition in the work of Van Gogh in particular over the 9 years in which he painted 900 paintings. He painted 200 paintings in the last two months of his life, according to a film I saw on him recently. That’s about 3 a day. Hard to believe. But he wasn’t knocking off silkscreen Elvises or Banksy spray stencil graffiti even with his speed of production. Neither was Picasso.
Many of these American artists established a single style as absurd as targets, stripes, grids, which were hammered out in varying configurations (if even that) for decades.
The European artists (as Edward Hopper was both educated in Europe and part of the European tradition as were all other American artists up until we decided that European art was dead and over) did not make repetitive paintings. Their minds and brushes were vitally engaged and alive. Grid painting, minimal painting, photorealism lethally inactive mental activity. Photorealism is filled with “aesthetic” choices that not only require no spontaneous thinking or involvement in the creation of the image and that is the essence of what painting is. Without any kind of internal vision whatsoever all one is doing is a kind of glorified paint by numbers showing how creative or pleasing ones color choices and paint handling are within the severe restrictions of the photographic grid.
Here’s an illustration. Compare the five paintings below, all painted ca. 1943. One of them was considered to have been made by the greatest painter of his times. Two were made by complete nobodies whose work never counted for anything, as far as the “avant-garde” was concerned.Two were made by “avant-garde” artists whose work would be rendered retograde and passé as advanced art in the 1950s, as in belonging to the past. All of this was verified by the Museum of Modern Art, the single place on Earth tasked with sorting out the wheat from the chaff.
Now go back up and look at the paintings. Is the Pollock on top the greatest, by far, of the others. As not to believe that is to undermine entirely the belief system that Contemporary Art rests upon, just as much as it rests upon Duchamp’s urinal. Without the urinal and the abstract expression the premises of all the art that came after it and was believed to advance it, is inherently flawed. In my opinion, it’s flawed to the point of being utterly meaningless and irrelevant to the history of Art. This, by the way, is the opinion of many cultural commentators (Jacques Barzun and so on) but implicitly the opinion of the main body of intellectuals who write on cultural issues, where one never sees the least bit of concern or interest in Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ or Jeff Koons Porcelain Michael Jackson.
I know this might come as a shock. But one might try reading through some of the current thinkers of today and see where anyone mentions John Currin or Lisa Yukvasage. This is what I mean by an art world that is entirely self-enclosed and self-admiring and totally inbred through attendance at overpriced art schools staffed by overpaid teachers and administrators. Overpaid by the standards of the fact that they aren’t actually teaching anybody anything at all, other than how to talk a lot of bullshit. They certainly aren’t teaching them about art as that would involve looking deeply and seriously at the art that precedes the debacle of Warhol and Johns.
If anyone working today thinks that continuing on in Warhol /Johns/Koons/Marina Abramovic fashion (i.e., Post-Modern styles) is heading anywhere…. or even has the possibilty of heading anywhere I’m all ears waiting for you to articulate why you think it might be so.
What we have here is a dead whale… or perhaps a better metaphor would be a “pickled shark that is rotting and needs to be replaced.” And note that article is 10 years old.
And if somebody thinks that Hirst’s shark has been superseded by even greater work than the shark, even by work Hirst has done, I wonder if they could point me in the direction of it? Where has art gone in 10 years time that is so new and exciting exactly? And if they can’t perhaps they could explain why they find it necessary to continue with their arms upraised fist-pumping about the greatness of all of it, particularly in view of the fact that it’s led into an obvious cul-de-sac.
The painters of the past are largely viewed as great according to the legacy and inspiration they left behind for the artists of the future to build on…. as in “Standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Somehow Moderns think it a fantastic idea to stand on the shoulders of pygmies like Marcel Duchamp or Clement Greenberg. Frankly, I can’t make up my mind which one of them is worse. Any thoughts from readers?
If not on this how about Obama, our great education President (who, like Hillary, cares so much about our students), screwing this current generation of students just four days ago. Is anybody aware of this, other than a few students perhaps? Perhaps those paying a couple hundred grand for an art school degree that along with 5 dollars will get you a Starbucks Nitro Brew coffee with your own choice of flavors?
Note that more than 40 percent of student borrowers aren’t making payments as of April 7 and that Obama has just insured they’re going to have to suck it up and stay wage slaves for life even if they were screwed by a phony for-profit… It’s a great system isn’t it? I can’t wait for our next Education President who cares so much about the kids takes charge… Maybe she can put Anthony Weiner at the head of the Department of Education. He seems to like teenage kids.
By the way, anybody aware of what the failure rate on mortgages was that led to the collapse of the housing bubble? What percent of homeowner borrowers weren’t making payments way back in 2008?
That was exactly the same year that Damien Hirst shattered the world record for an auction sale dedicated to a single artist. … 111 million pounds… pre-Brexit pounds too.
One might ask: “Which is more vacuous, the look on Hirst’s face or the piece of “art” in back of him?”