This reply takes off from John Dockus’s comment at the bottom of the Gage Taylor post. Rather than have it buried there I’m continuing below.:
I’m fine with psychologizing about art. Just not going into the TMZ stuff, i.e. stuff like Norman Rockwell’s homosexuality as speculated on by Deborah Solomon. In other words, I don’t want to get into speculating about an artist’s private life or psychological motivations. I know you weren’t doing this. I’m just clarifying that I don’t disapprove of all psychological interpretation of artwork.
I believe that in all great art the aesthetic considerations are at the lowest level of artistic concerns. They’re a byproduct of the spiritual/emotional concerns. I doubt very seriously that Michelangelo or Rembrandt were that concerned about how pretty the blue was they were going to color a robe with. Greenberg’s art for art’s sake has led to a lot of hoakum. I’m just attempting to clean it up. Painting today is little more than an arm of the fashion/entertainment complex. What content is there to painting today other than aesthetic content? I hope you’re not going to maintain that John Currin’s and Eric Fischl paintings are saying something other than we live in a decadent culture. Is there anybody not aware of this? I expect art to make us aware of something that isn’t perfectly obvious. And to do that it needs to have human, or psychological, content. There isn’t anything of John Currin or Eric Fischl in their paintings, unless the pair of them are totally vacuous. The total lack of feeling or empathy in that kind of work verges on the psychopathic. This is characteristic of a majority of contemporary art, and why see it as a pure reflection of the corporate elite who support and demand this kind of art work?
The Greenberg art picks strikes me as similarly dehumanized.
Greenberg wrote: “As it is, psychopathy has become endemic among artists and writers, in whose company the moral idiot is tolerated as perhaps nowhere else in society.”
Greenberg is describing himself. He was decrying the lack of morality in artists at a time Ezra Pound was being awarded the Bollingen Prize in Literature. He wasn’t quarreling with the aesthetic judgement of the panel. He was writing a jeremiad about them condoning any moral or intellectual failing on the artist’s part as long as he is or seems a successful artist.
Greenberg was making spurious spiritual claims for the artists he was about to propose as achieving the heights of artistic achievement. He was well aware, being a charlatan, that one needed that kind of pitch for an American audience tuned into religious charlatans.
I don’t think Agnes Martin/Mark Rothko were profound painters by a long stretch. No doubt this will stoke the rage of the Agnes and Rothko devotees but what can I do about it? How dare another artist say something against sainted figures? They’re nice enough paintings, but raising them to the perch on which they rest now? Totally absurd. They seem more like religious nuts to me than anything else. Clyfford Still and his Manicheanism. Mondrian and his Theosophy. But Americans believe in all kinds of other religious fantasies and so the fac that these artists have some seemingly deep “spiritual” beliefs makes their art appear profound. On the contrary, as far as I’m concerned. Still is totally unconvincing to me precisely because he was a Manichean nutjob. I don’t believe that Jimmy Swaggart has access to profound truths. Why would I believe Clyfford Still did? And if he didn’t what’s so interesting about large masses of palette-knife applied earth colors?
One can’t stain a canvas with some pleasant colors like Helen Frankenthaler/Paul Jenkins/Morris Louis and 30,000 other painters imitating them and end up with anything other than a pleasant wall decoration (at best). What else is changing these colored pours into art other than a pseudo-religious belief system called “art”? And that this art is some mystical and sublime phenomenon that only the deeply spiritual/intellectual elite armed with Clement Greenberg’s Art and Culture Bible are privy to.
Morris Berman in “Why America Failed” chronicles this ability of Americans to fall for whatever cheap hustle comes by tracing it back to the creation of the country. Religious fanaticism is the air we breath and the American ART belief is just one among many pseudo-religious beliefs. Maybe one of these religions is right for all I know. But I’d say the ART religion is one of the more unlike prospects. The American Art Bubble is no different from real estate/stock swindles of the past and present. Bronze Beer Cans as the pinnacle of Western Culture. Hey. I give us credit. It’s no small achievement to have pulled that off. But everyone is in a panic to keep the illusion going. Wizard of Oz America. If Jasper Johns isn’t an artistic genius then the entire world of the art lover crumbles to dust. Right? Sure one can let the odd Keith Haring or Marcel Dzama go… but the very pillars of American Genius like Rauschenberg, Warhol Johns? Heresy!!!! Doubters must be burned (symbolically) at the stake. We’re a country of religious fanatics and that doesn’t just pertain to the right wing Christian fundamentalists. The Art Fundamentalist liberals are equally unquestioning and dogmatic about their beliefs as are the right wing conservatives.
And we all live in a cultural wasteland as a result.
This isn’t the case today? Am I imagining it? The French Independent artists had the vitality to knock Cabanel and Meissonier off their high horses… But American artists/art lovers? Cast an aspersion on Jasper Johns or Warhol and they go into hysterics.
Have you the seen the WSJ today? Total idiocy. “It is not quite design; it is not quite art,” said Ruse co-founder Fernando Cwilich Gil. “It’s invisible, conceptual, kinetic. An algorithm is unique.” So is my ass. But that doesn’t make it art.
I brought up Fragonard in connection to what you say about Taylor and eye candy. Eye candy is when there’s no depth of emotion. Vermeer is flawlessly and beautifully seductive. But there’s a quality present in his work that isn’t present in a and flawlessly painted still life. It’s why the hierarchy of genres was instituted and we’ve torn that to shreds.
I’m not a materialist. Post-War American Art became completely materialistic because the capitalist structure that instituted and maintains it is completely materialistic. If a work of art isn’t conveying spirit, I don’t recognize it as a work of art. It’s just a material object. Duchamp/Greenberg explicitly or implicitly assert this. Greenberg was a complete gasbag, like the critics who followed in his destructive wake. It’s all enshrined now as Gospel. But I prefer the Old Time Religion. And it’s more than good enough for me. Today’s fare is as thin a gruel as I can imagine. Like Duchamp, Greenberg he was a charlatan and a liar. There is ample record of this if one looks at them at all closely. I don’t write this out of anger or hatred. They’re simply facts. The historical research shows it. I’m not a big fan of liars and charlatans.
And I don’t share the definition of art that America has passed on to the world, which is essentially written by Duchamp/Greenberg.
I think some readers might try looking at the Gage Taylor and Clyfford Still paintings above in comparison to one another. Strip away all the critical bilge lavished on Still and see what their actual opinion is. Post War American Art theory managed to upend and reverse all the values that pertained to the painting preceding it. Stripping out all the qualities that made oil painting such a rich and profound visual experience, leaving it emptied of anything but a lot of material applied more or less crudely,,, with palette knife, dripped from a stick, poured from a can, thrown from above…
If art is going to return to having any significance or meaning it’s going to have to re-establish the values that we aimlessly destroyed.
PS… no need to follow up on my own personal obsession with the total corruption of all things good in art. I don’t mind just sticking to aesthetics if that’s your primary interest/concern.