We Need Critics to Define Truly Great Art

Jean-Baptiste Simeon Chardin, Basket of Wild Strawberries, oil on canvas, 1761

Jonathan Jones’ latest piece in the Guardian, We Need Critics to Define Truly Great Art. At least he’s writing about art. I can’t find any American critics that write about anything but fashion and celebrity, which is of course our version of Art.


I’ve got a novel idea. Why not try to establish some elementary standards?

Before the critics and monied interests grabbed hold of art it used to be defined by artists themselves. Look at the early 20th Century as an example– the German Expressionists, Dadaists, Impressionists, Futurists, Post-Impressionists, Surrealists, Cubist, and various groups defined what art was among themselves and they did a pretty sound job of bringing to the fore a fantastic array of original artists.

In the Renaissance the Medici bankers and Popes funded artistic production. If our current Medicis were in charge in Renaissance Rome, rather then Michelangelo painting the ceiling of the Sistine, we’d have had Banksy or Keith Haring do it.

If JJ is really interested in serious art criticism, I’d suggest starting with some elementary standards. He might, for example,  start  by matching Matisse to Koons, Picasso to Emin and so on and so forth. Then he could draw up a list of the differences.

What might strike him first off is that the former group  actually learned how to draw and paint, both as it turns out at Academies. In the old days it was de rigeur for an artist to know how to draw and paint if he or she wanted to be an artist. How is it that art critics have given us lavishly praised current Great Artists  who, almost to a person, haven’t the foggiest notion how to do either?

Do we find music critics in an excited lather making lists  of the greatest guitarists with the ones at the top being those who haven’t yet learned how to place their fingers properly to play a chord?

Or book critics compiling Booker Prize finalists of authors who haven’t a clue about elementary syntax?

Why is it only in the visual arts where any notions of elementary standards have been thrown out the window?

It’s perfectly clear to me that there isn’t a critic writing who would have the guts to dismiss out of hand the infantile Duchampian antics of artists like Vito Acconci masturbating under a platform or Santiago Serra’s and Emin’s latest lamentable updates on boring inanity. This is an art world of sycophantic critics who are shilling for monied interests. It’s quite simple. Of course, artists who want to be considered “relevant” will glob on the same kind of praise for masturbatory acts, along with all the brilliant social insights the viewer is gaining by attending the performances.

In a Reuters piece yesterday Mike Collett-White quotes Gerhard Richter remarks about the current art world (no doubt paraphrasing some of my remarks here on True Outsider): “It’s just as absurd as the banking crisis…. It’s impossible to understand and it’s daft.”

It’s perfectly easy to understand.  The 1 percent of the wealthiest collectors dictate what art is. Everyone else emulates what’s at the top. The fish rots from the head down. Meanwhile, art critics unanimously praise the rotten fish head art, while incidentally carping (sorry, I can never resist a  pun) about one or two artists they don’t like to somehow show they have some kind of critical standards.

Donald Kuspit will trash the work of Bruce Nauman in The End of Art, after having written in ecstatic terms about Dan Flavin, for example. So Flavin’s fluorescent tubes are brilliant art because they’re not formed into words? Flavin’s work is reminiscent of the hippie infatuation with black light and fluorescent posters and about on the same level of profundity.

Here’s a Dan Flavin piece:

Here’s one of the comments below the image on the blog where I found the image.  :

To continue the space theme, this reminded me quite vividly of the training courses in the early Star Wars PC game Tie-Fighter. Maybe you played it circa 1994 — it was installed from floppy disks and ran from DOS.

Also, I agree that the near-complimentary colors surrounding the blue make it more striking.

This is the type of art aficionado the contemporary art world is geared toward and the museums, galleries and wealthy collectors know will attract large crowds. Who wants to see a gloomy old brown encrusted Rembrandt or Chardin after all? Neon and people jerking off, that’s what draws a crowd. It’s really not that hard to understand, Gerhard.

About trueoutsider

I'm an artist.
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