August 6, 2006

"I could see myself, retired from professorhood, roaming around the museum looking for the surly folk ..."

That's me, over at Instapundit, riffing on this.

31 comments:

Brian said...

Maybe people are "angry" at modern art because it sucks.

Maybe the moral and aesthetic sentiments of the people dragged to these museums, and who protest, are superior to those of the people who run the museum (and superior to those of the author of the story; the original author, not Miss Althouse.)

tiggeril said...

A lot of modern art reminds me of the girl I knew in high school who went to college and majored in studio art. She didn't want to have to take classical technique classes because "it's art" and she should be able to create as she pleases.

Rick Lee said...

Ummm... it seems that your riff on the matter is based on a misunderstanding. The guides aren't mingling trying to look like ordinary patrons, they are wearing green badges that say "Gallery Guide".

Palladian said...

Well, before this post turns into the standard litany of reactionary hatred toward that most threatening enemy of our American way of life, modern art, I'd like to at least insert several ideas into the mixture before it curdles. The first is that, though it may be a futile question of semantics, the word "modern", when applied to art is not generally synonymous with "new". Modern art usually refers to Modernism, the spate of developments toward abstraction that occurred between the late 19th century and the 1950s. In art lingo, if you want to refer to current art the word "contemporary" is used.

The second idea i'd like to throw into the discussion is that it's not just modernism that the "general public" doesn't understand, it's really most of art history. There's simply a sense, often false, that art of a certain age is comfortable and comprehensible because it's old and because elements of it are familiar. But much of the art of history is far more hermetic and elitist than you could even fathom, it's just much more subtle about it. The great works of Reubens or Veronese or Titian or Pontormo were assuredly not painted for the likes of you.

Point the third: Impressionism, much beloved by the so-called general public, was a more radical and hated break from the western tradition of painting than abstract expressionism, and bears the primary responsibility for all those things that the "general public" gets into such a moral panic about, like cubism and Jackson Pollock.

Point the fourth: As a practitioner of art, I find the general direction of contemporary art to be as misguided as our "average Joe", if not for different reasons. But hostility that stems from ignorance makes you sound like a boob. Hostility that stems from a full awareness of what's wrong is a catalyst for change. Making a wholesale condemnation out of an extremely large and diverse mass of ideas and works only turns you into a stereotypical rube from a New Yorker cartoon.

Palladian said...

And I would agree with tiggeril's anecdote, that many of the problematic developments in contemporary art have their genesis in the abandonment of the craft of painting and the alienation of the artist from an intimate understanding of his materials, which was a consequence of the availability of commercial art supplies in the nineteenth century. The other problem, also related to tiggeril's anecdote, is the romantic 19th century ideal of "expression" trumping everything else, but that's a much larger problem in culture, not specific to art.

Ann Althouse said...

Rick: The badges aren't mentioned in the article, but you can see them in the photo, and I've done an update pointing them out. Of course, there may be other, sneakier guides in the employ of the museum, or art-loving volunteers who do this (or art-hating volunteers who try to drive opinion the other way). But really, the museum couldn't risk having complete sneaks doing this work, because they'd be embarrassed by accusations of fraud. My proposal at the end of the post is meant as more of a job fantasy.

tiggeril said...

Forgive me, as I did mean contemporary, art, not modern. Danke, Palladian.

Rick Lee said...

I didn't notice the badges until I viewed the video where they readily visible and you can watch the guides doing their job.

Elizabeth said...

I'm not angry at modern art, but if I might feel alienated by it, isn't that part of Modernism, the expression of alienation from a fragmented society? Perhaps it's a hallmark of our current culture that we feel we ought to be made comfortable rather than soak in the feeling of alienation.

Dave said...

What Palladian said.

And I'm neither an artist nor an art historian. I'm just an informed member of "Joe Public."

dick said...

I think there is a difference between alienation and just plain finding that much of contemporary art really sucks big time. While I can see that the museums like the Guggenheim might try to sell the stuff to the public as great art or good art, the public might not buy that because they just plain do not like it at all. I guess it is like a lot of the performance art that just does not speak to me as performance or art.

Does that make me a bad person because I think so much of what is produced is crap? Of course that has probably always been true but it seems as if sometimes people are trying specifically to create crap and some of the art mavens think that if they accept this then they are superior to those who say that it is crap.

Back in the early to mid 1970's I lived for a time in a loft in Soho with a bar across the street where the artists hung out in the evening. They had a lot of art displayed in that bar and the artists would preen themselves to have their works displayed there. I found it interesting what these people thought was good art. Most of it I would have used as a fire starter in a fireplace. I guess that just makes me a Philistine.

Brian said...

As soon as I finished my post, I figured there was a 99 percent chance of a snot-nosed response making the distinction between modern and contemporary art.

The point is, a great deal of the stuff hanging in Moma and the Guggenheim is utterly worthless crap, and its practitioners have a difficult time defending it.

And for all his verbiage, Palladian doesn't try to defend it, but merely states that he, as a member of the art elite, has much more sophisticated reasons for rejecting contemporary art than the average joe.

In the end, Palladian relies upon an Argument from Authority, and dismisses the proletariat via name-calling: "boobs," "reactionary," etc. That fails not only as a matter of logic, but additioanlly as a matter of psychology, because the proletariat is typically repulsed by the art-elite, and doesn't accept your claim to authority.

But a few of the guity rich - who endow the museums and purchase the crap - do, which allows the confidence game to continue.

Dave said...

Wow, Brian, you're a bitter one, aren't you?

Palladian said...

Quite a lot of the distaste many feel for certain kinds of art comes from the notion that art should have a broad appeal, that it should be in some sense "democratic". This is a thoroughly misguided notion. As I implied in my previous comment, art (by art I mean the "plastic arts") is probably now more "democratic" that it has ever been in its history. More people look at the art of all periods and places in one day than ever saw it in all of its early history. The Sistine chapel was not painted for "you"; things only really began to be painted for "you" in the nineteenth century. In previous times, the only access you would have had to the great works of painting and sculpture were printed woodcuts or engraved plate reproductions.

But why should art strive to be "democratic"? This is applying political notions to art. My criticism of much contemporary art is not based on its disservice to the "public" but its disservice to art and the traditions and practice of art, specifically painting. The only time political notions of democracy can be applied to art is when the public is forced to fund the creation of individual works of art and artists through taxes, a practice I completely oppose.

"As soon as I finished my post, I figured there was a 99 percent chance of a snot-nosed response making the distinction between modern and contemporary art."

I took a Claritin, so I'm not snot-nosed at all. I merely care about precision in language.

"The point is, a great deal of the stuff hanging in Moma and the Guggenheim is utterly worthless crap, and its practitioners have a difficult time defending it."

Mostly because the practitioners of the "crap" hanging in the Moma and Guggenheim are dead, and the dead are not known for their ability to defend modernism.

"And for all his verbiage, Palladian doesn't try to defend it, but merely states that he, as a member of the art elite, has much more sophisticated reasons for rejecting contemporary art than the average joe."

Defending modernism and good contemporary art from the attacks of someone that is coming from a position of both hostility and ignorance is much too time-consuming and ultimately futile. I don't know what the "art elite" is, nor do I think they would want me as a member, but I proudly accept the general title of elitist. When did it become preferable to be average over elite? But bravo on figuring out the point of my pervious comments. I was basically trying to state that I had more sophisticated reasons for rejecting a lot of contemporary art practice than the "average Joe" so I'm glad I was successful.

"In the end, Palladian relies upon an Argument from Authority, and dismisses the proletariat via name-calling: "boobs," "reactionary," etc. That fails not only as a matter of logic, but additioanlly as a matter of psychology, because the proletariat is typically repulsed by the art-elite, and doesn't accept your claim to authority."

Argument from authority doesn't mean you can't argue from your own authority. And what's with the references to the "proletariat"? You sound just like the Marxist boobs I run into in the art elite.

"But a few of the guity rich - who endow the museums and purchase the crap - do, which allows the confidence game to continue."

Good for the guilty rich. The more they do that, the less the public has to pay to support museums and their purchases, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art's recent purchase (for an alleged 45 million dollars) of this beautiful "piece of crap".

Joan said...

I had a discussion with my 9-year-old son just a few days ago about art and the work it takes to produce it. He said that some "art" (you could hear the quotes in the way he said it) was just paint splashed on paper or things like that, and that art like that didn't require any work. Then there was art (real art, from his intonation) that the painter or sculptor clearly spent a great deal of time creating. He was dismissive of "art" that is produced without work, but he had still concluded that apparently, art doesn't necessarily have anything to do with work.

I could see his point.

The conversation was limited by our surroundings but I tried to convey to him that there are different tastes in art. I didn't really have time to get into what makes art, art, and what the purpose of art is. But I'll never forget the critique I once heard from the master's degree'd artist girlfriend of a college friend of mine, looking at a particularly hideous modern work: There's not a whole lot of painting going on there. It was a huge canvas with large swathes of color, but she was right: there wasn't a whole lot of painting on that canvas, just a whole lot of paint. Was it art? Yeah, it just wasn't good.

Dave said...

What Palladian said, again.

dick said...

If "art" is not supposed to be democratic, then why do we even have museums? Just let the rich buy the works they want for the obscene prices they want to pay and have done with it. Let them enjoy it in the privacy of their homes and ignore the rest of us.

Actually I believe that art is not supposed to be democratic; it is supposed to be the free expression of what the artist chooses to represent. Unfortunately that does not buy the food or pay the bills so the artist has to make the art capable of being enjoyed by those willing to pay for it, either because they really do enjoy it or because somebody has made them believe that they are supposed to enjoy it so enjoy it they will or else. These are the people who then turn around and donate to the museums so the rest of us poor benighted souls will get an eddikation about the finer things of life. The problem is that the whole thing has become such a scam that when the people let the artist know they don't appreciate his work, then he has to call them idiots and uneducated boobs, etc.

The museums are trying to eddikate us poor boobs by selling the product to the public as if it were worth having. Since it is not obvious to us poor uneddikated boobs that it is worth having, they have to push the product as if it were. The public is not buying it evidently.

Derve said...

Hmm...
Didn't Palladian reveal, at one time, that he found the thick-ankled guys wearing the skirts attractive? Isn't this like art? What you like, others may not.

I'm with Brian. Other comments by Palladian have shown what he likes and values, but I don't think his tastes are necessarily better.

Palladian said...

You're confusing art and fucking, Derve. A common mistake.

Derve said...

You missed my point, or perhaps I was too simplistic in making it?

"What you like, others may not."

Derve said...

Lose the hostility and dismissiveness, perhaps we could examine that further.

What is commonplace and everyday to some, is beauty to others. What is chaos and unorganization to some eyes speaks to others as a work. There's a reason Terry Redlin sells.

somefeller said...

Excellent comments, Palladian.

When I hear most of the commentary against modern / contemporary art (and I'm referring to the hostile/ignorant "it's not art and people who like it are just a bunch of highfalutin elitists!" type of commentary, not specific and informed critiques, a la Tom Stoppard mocking the Tracey Emins of the world), I'm reminded of a line I heard from a local art professor: "No one has come up with a new joke about modern art in 80 years". The same can be said for much of the criticism of such art.

Palladian said...

No, I didn't misunderstand your point. I was disagreeing with the idea that art is purely an issue of taste, that it's some gonadinal id response akin to which kind of guy makes me pop a boner or what kind of dipping sauce I like with my McNuggets. In relation to art, I don't care about taste. Taste is not worth talking about, unless you can do it so entertainingly and intelligently that your discussion of taste becomes art.

Otherwise, I don't care what Joe/Jane likes or doesn't like. I'm interested in talking about ideas, about history, about technique, about culture; I'm not interested in hearing that brian doesn't like "all that crap". That's about as informative and interesting as hearing that young Julie Tuttleman doesn't like spinach. Do we care? Does the fact that Miss Tuttleman doesn't like spinach make spinach a less valid vegetable to the vegetable elitists?

What you're talking about is relativism, and relativism is boring.

Johnny Nucleo said...

I would love that job! And though I know nothing about art, I think I would be good at it because I am so full of shit.

But I will not give you ten percent if you get me that job, Ann. What I will do is steal a piece of art for you. You can keep it, or I know a fence in Hong Kong who can get you half the market price. He got me thirty bucks for Christo's "Gates Project"!

Derve said...

"which kind of guy makes me pop a boner or what kind of dipping sauce I like with my McNuggets"


OK, so you're not an elitist then. People's tastes are relative. Boredom is unavoidable in life.

knoxgirl said...

My proposal at the end of the post is meant as more of a job fantasy.

Not fantasy, so much... Pabst Blue Ribbon strategicallyl plied hipsters with free product at carefully selected bars and clubs across the country. Enough people started observing the "cool kids" drinking it, and it has since became the beer of choice among youths. Sneaky, under-the-radar marketing techniques are alive and well!

knoxgirl said...

I think what can be difficult about contemporary art is that if you don't know the context of say, a Stella, it's easy to be like: "hmmm, a black zig-zag. I'm looking at this why...?"

I happen to like the more abstract stuff, so I don't tend to have that reaction, and I had to take a ton of art history classes to get my BFA. (I am NOT an artist, by the way, I am a graphic designer, big big difference) But I can understand why the average person, without my background (and my tendency to simply like contemporary art, merely a matter of taste) might be dismissive--if, admittedly, in ignorance--of some of the art that's in museums.

At the same time, if I were an artist, I would certainly not care to hear people just criticize with such hostility when they don't know what they're talking about.

Not sure what my point is. I guess I can understand both sides to some extent. yikes, relativism! sorry Palladian!

madawaskan said...

Palladian-

Does the fact that Miss Tuttleman doesn't like spinach make spinach a less valid vegetable to the vegetable elitists?

I don't understand this. How can you subtract the aesthetic from art?

Art is "created" by humans to get a reaction otherwise why transcribe your individual vision?

It is a form of communication that does look for feedback otherwise why objectify? How can the subjective of the audience not be a part of it?

After all Spinach is not "created" by Susan.

If you make art not to be "shared" is it art?

SippicanCottage said...

After all Spinach is not "created" by Susan.

This is technically correct. But Susan could, of course, "process" said spinach in an alimentary fashion and then smear herself or some handy Madonna with it. Then we're off to the races.

Madonna a epinard et merde

What's my docent quotient?

phillywalker said...

This comment is not about art, but about the fantasy job aspect of the post.

I have a friend who was hired to "make parties fun." Really. At larger corporate get togethers, people from the place he worked for came and "posed" as partygoers. They asked people to dance, told jokes, started conversations, introduced people to each other, etc. There was a little corps of these people working hard at making the party a success.

I started to wonder what would happen if I went to a social gathering and acted as though I were one of these professional "successful party" people. It's really like being hired to be a great host or hostess.

I don't act like that in real life, but somehow I thought I might like to do it for a job!

Henry said...

Why be angry at something whose enjoyment is completely voluntary?

Do non-sports-fans go to Yankees games and get angry because baseball is boring?

Do vegetarians go to Sushi bars and get angry at the menu?

There's an awful lot of bad art out there, and the contemporary art scene appears to be run by permanent adolescents, but that doesn't make me angry. It's just sad. For me, it's the same level of sad as looking at the current fiction best-sellers list, or watching any one of the last three Star Wars movies.

Someone in the comments mentioned the MOMA, which seems weird to me. A good chunk of the art in the MOMA is 50 to 100 years old and as "popular" as any "old master" art.

I wonder if the Guggenheim has a unique problem in that being a fairly small museum with changing exhibits, it gets many visitors who have no idea what they're going to see that day. The Guggenheim is also so famous as an architectural landmark that I suspect it draws visitors who are unaware of the kind of resolutely contemporary art it presents.