Paradigm Lost

Jean-Leon Gerome, Bathsheba, 1889

Becoming ever poorer and poorer in subject matter and more and more unintelligible in form, the art of the upper classes, in its latest productions, has even lost all the characteristics of art, and has been replaced by imitations of art.  Not only has upper-class art, in consequence of it s separation from universal art, become poor in subject matter and bad in form, i.e. ever more and more unintelligible, it has in course of time, ceased even to be art at all and has been replaced by counterfeits. –Leo Tolstoy, What is Art?, Ch.9

Rather than to go on beating a dead horse* in the hopes that the living dead wandering aimlessly around it hoping it will miraculously revive and return to its former Triumph of Abstraction from Reality I’m going to begin down the path of the new paradigm that has been evident to me for the last few months, if to nobody else flogging PoMo to death and too busy too notice that it isn’t just the horse that is dead. They can cling to each other trying to reassure each other that what they do has meaning just because it has a price tag but everyone with any honesty knows that making money bears no relationship at all to artmaking.

What used to be real art has long since been converted into commercial art and there are only one of two choices available to anyone endeavoring to take on the burdensome task of being an artist in the coming transformation.  One can either continue to be part of the commercial art system that is in process of total disintegration by holding on to all its values and commandments. Or one can reject it in its entirety, particularly it’s tawdry and long past their sell by date “ideas” and “theories”, none of which bear any relationship to real life on Earth. (see previous post The First PostModernist)

The choice is yours. I’m not advocating for anything. This began as a personal investigation along the lines of Franz Kafka’s Investigations of a Dog. For what else is the current artist but a whining and begging dog, tongue hanging out of his mouth hoping one of his old tricks will please the master and the servants of the master, the clueless masses. I have no Messianic mission. I’m simply bored to death talking about current fashion styles and and decadent work. What else could one expect to be produced in a corporate run and corporate controlled art world? As Capitalism either twinkles out or explodes into apocalypse it quite obviously has no future whatsoever, and when it fails the last half century and more of Business Art will collapse along with it.

Keeping my eye open for the panic that inevitably follows a long boom of this sort, the longest in history supported by little more than trite fashion art, I interpret the drop of 2/3 of value suffered over the last 27 years of  Gerome’s Bathsheba (a work that puts any PoMo Pop artist to shame) as the sign that the game is up. When masterpieces of the late 19th century drop that precipitously it’s clear that knowledge buyers realize that the overall “exuberance” allowing Old Master paintings to ride the vapor trails given off by mediocre kitsch like Basquiat is all but ended.

About the only thing going on in art at the moment is to convert anything possible that had never been considered serious art as late as the 1970s into brand New Innovations in Art. Ceramics, Jewelry, Costumes, RockStar Memorabilia, “Underground” Comic Books , Rap Stars, tattoo artists, etc. into High Art. This is a sign of total desperation. I’ve been enjoying it myself. Only those with vested interests in it or who have been playing the game since art schools are in a lather and looking for anyone else to blame but themselves. I can only imagine what not only Tolstoy but any other serious writer or artist of the past would make of this clowning and clowns who take themselves seriously going red as beets if one ever questions why digital printouts of their work on T-Shirts is  “art.”

I’m here as your scapegoat, gang. I’m hardly unfriendly or chastising anyone. Detached amusement, at myself included. So:   Fire away, Gridley. Or bleat away like sheep to sheering or stare vacantly like lambs to slaughter. Curse the fates in the person of yours truly. I bring bad tidings. That’s all they gave me. Somebody has to transmit the messages from above. That’s what artists are for. This happens historically. Things rise and fall. This collapse looks to be spectacular. I wish there were more outsider artists to watch it with, but the others  seem bound and determined to jump into it with their tshirts, tattoos, pop and multiple neo-styles and concepts rather than depart the vessel. Or exit through the gift shop leaving their Banksy memorabilia behind.

It can be nostalgia for the French Academy, the Italian Renaissance, the glory days of the American 1940s or the Pop Heyday. But all of it is kitsch sentimentality. And all of it is banal and without life.

To understand what real art is, I’ll keep trying to pepper some more serious thinkers on the subject than anybody we have writing today. I’ll repeat Tolstoy’s point. You’ll notice that Tolstoy’s clarity of thought on the subject bears as much relation to current art writing (i.e.,, sales talk with little resemblance to intelligible writing) as David Foster Wallace bears to Dickens.

Tolstoy’s   extraordinarily accurate summation of the art scene of 1898  is perfectly compatible with my own conclusions based on the volume of research I’ve done on this blog over the last few years.

Becoming ever poorer and poorer in subject matter and more and more unintelligible in form, the art of the upper classes, in its latest productions, has even lost all the characteristics of art, and has been replaced by imitations of art. Not only has upper-class art, in consequence of its separation from universal art, become poor in subject matter and bad in form, i.e. ever more and more unintelligible, it has in course of time, ceased even to be art at all and has been replaced by counterfeits.

We live now in an age of Ersatz, Computerized virtual reality fantasies, the so-called art being a mere form of disposable entertainment. If it isn’t pushed into big ticket monetized commodities, it ends up as kitsch trinkets on Ebay, Etsy, Artfinder, Artnet and other venues for investors who prefer nice things to trading gold, silver, porkbellies, and Collateralized Debt Obligations. I wish this weren’t the case but the only way for me to work as an artist is to work in relationship to the reality I live in. And in this case I work diametrically opposed to the commodification of life.

Note the Gerome painting above, which was his highest selling painting for $2.2 Million. In June it went for $631,000 with only one bidder. Contrast to what just sold for, according to the Times, a  mindblowing  (translation: absurd) $110.5 million at auction in Mid-May.

Yet artists keep cranking this kind of lamebrain stuff out. And recall that lamebrain critics like John Berger claimed the painting above to be greater than those by Picasso, whose later worker Berger wrote about as a failure. How much more absurd can it get really? It can only get more interesting as we watch the rivets popping and the gaskets blowing off and the water flooding into the lower decks wiping out the small fry with their Hirst Spot Paintings and Jeff and Andy and Bob and Jasper multiples. That Bacon is the other big name along with Basquiat, naturally drawing the attention of those who want to be “big stars” themselves is a kind of screaming and repetitive narcissism that somehow deceives itself into thinking it stands for anything thing more than “Look At ME!”

The Me Generation’s last Hurrah. And what could be a more pathetic of a life than what we see above selling for more than a hundred times the work of a mid-grade French Academician. The Avant-Garde as a fraudulent myth replacing real art with nothing but counterfeits.

About trueoutsider

I'm an artist.
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3 Responses to Paradigm Lost

  1. wewordsmiths says:

    An intriguing find de siecle timeline parallel. Thanks(!) (I qualify my excitement these days.)

    Of course, there is no guaranteed progress in history, civilization, or culture. Much less art as creative amplification of our human condition. (Artful art.)

    For proof, here’s yet another pedestrian sample of *drained art*. (Artless art.)

    Pablo Griss, née Pablo Blanco, which now is the artist against himself. Here’s an example from his early self:

    ANTHROPOLOGY, 1994, 50″x73″
    A rather large work, reminding me of Bacon, etc al. At least there is content (grotesque human portrait) and color gradation (suggesting certain meanings, rather than mere random lazology).

    Here he is today, presenting wondrous backgammon templates disguised as artful art by way of the usual hog washing:


    Everyone will be pleased to know that the artist’s explanation-biography reveals that he is “obsessed with space” and that his pieces “don’t belong to any specific tendency.”

    What’s the phrase? Ipso somethingorother.


  2. wewordsmiths says:

    Oops. This part was my bad. Try again Finnegan:

  3. trueoutsider says:

    My assumption is that the backgammon “paintings” were made by computer program. I watched a guy the other day demonstrate an ap he was using that would create mandalas in a few minutes.

    By and large, the art I see largely breaks down into two categories. The infantile expressionism of the basquiat variety where artists showcase their inability to draw as a strength (vis a vis Orwell: Ignorance is Strength). Basquiat himself is quoted as saying in the p. hoban biography, that he’d have time to learn how to draw once he was rich and famous, his stated objective as an artist. The other variety is art that either was made on a computer, or might as well have been made on a computer as it’s largely devoid of any kind of human creativity. This would also include photorealism, photocollage type art. Depth and complexity are largely absent entirely from art galleries.

    In fact, most galleries out here are combination jewelry/craft/paintings/ceramic kitsch, etc. The few “pure” art galleries with the high end merch are filled with totally dehumanized mass produced work, or hand made work that simulates mass-produced work. In effect, it’s a formula the artists repeats to perfection day in and out as if making “wall hangings” instead of paintings. Art galleries mimic Art Fairs on the Square and vice versa.

    If I see artists drawing in sketchbooks, it’s almost invariably some kind of material conforming to currently popular “motifs” as in tattoo designs, comic book/animation, abstract designs and so on. I never see anyone drawing what’s around them. By and large they’re drawing off a computer screen. Needless to say, this isn’t exactly a healthy situation for the visual arts and it’s hard to expect much from artists who draw from computer screens or with computer aids or from photographs, etc.

    The entire point of much of late twentieth century art has been the dehumanization and mechanization of art, which is what one would expect under Capitalism as its necessary that commodities be uniform quality and lacking in any kind of internal evolution in favor of stylistic changes. instead, as demonstrated by pablo who is typical, the artist selects pseudo-expressionism to test out, then jumps to the next entirely unrelated style, as in his bland designer decoration art. No doubt he found the decorative stuff was what collectors favored over the “expressionism”.

    And since there is no actual self behind the work at all, as anything smacking of actual self-examination is viewed as retrograde and “sentimental”, which is how art has been taught since the 1960s. Art as idea or art as formalism, i.e., “art for art’s sake” was just as totalitarian a requirement for American artists as Social Realism was for the actual totalitarian states. This is another syndrome that, should there ever be an actual art historian to come along one of these days, that should be examined objectively.

    As far as I’m concerned, art historians are just as defunct as art is. The so called historians are laughably biased in that they write nothing whatsoever critical of any art that’s firmly ensconced in the pantheon of million dollar art masterpieces. Without their being a serious evaluation of just how fraudulent and arbitrary the process has been that has allowed every kind of idiocy and mediocrity to be taking up vast areas real estate in art museums we are held captive to the small clique of big-money collectors who continue to plaster the most vulgar and boring visual objects throughout contemporary art spaces, turning art museums into little more than glorified shopping malls complete with every kind of entertainment for the entire family that their hearts’ desire. Plus gifts and kitsch galore. Plus restaurants with “gourmet” food and coffee.

    Walter Benjamin pointed out in his essay on art in the age of photographic reproduction that art cannot compete with the cinema. I wish it would stop trying. The action painters and the work that came out of competing for attention by making everything as big and splashy and demanding of attention has led to the most boring experiences imaginable, except of course for a public that can’t get enough of Las Vegas style entertainment.

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