December 30, 2014

"When works of art become commodities and nothing else, when every endeavor becomes 'creative' and everybody 'a creative'..."

"...  then art sinks back to craft and artists back to artisans—a word that, in its adjectival form, at least, is newly popular again. Artisanal pickles, artisanal poems: what’s the difference, after all? So 'art' itself may disappear: art as Art, that old high thing. Which — unless, like me, you think we need a vessel for our inner life — is nothing much to mourn."

"me" = William Deresiewicz.


The Drill SGT said...

You can eat and enjoy artisan pickles or good craft beer.

some of the tripe passed off as art? much less valuable than real tripe...

just saying.

Wince said...

Fewer superstars, more people able to eek-out an existence following their passion?

Isn't that a democratizing trend in the creative world right now?

And Nancy Pelosi gave you health insurance so you can follow that creative dream of yours!

buwaya said...

Art as an object of worship, with an edge of mysticism, was always a delusion of the Romantic era.
In previous times artists were artisans, and businessmen, as they should properly be.
Going about their prosaic business they made better art than their more high minded successors.

Henry said...

This reads like it was written in 1990 when I was in art school. Back then it was the Saatchi brothers and Japanese insurance companies that were turning art into a commodity. The only difference is that Deresiewicz is published electronically instead of in the ink-smeared pages of ArtForum.

The things that strikes me about Deresiewicz's lament is what often strikes me about such articles. It is the crutch of the first-person plural. Who is this "we" he keeps referencing?

He makes an appeal to some shared experience while at once decrying the shared experience that doesn't appeal to him. Say "I" and "my" instead of "we" and "our", find what you need, and be happy.

mccullough said...

Common and timeless complaint

gerry said...


I call it "Three Smiles on a bed of Needles."

$450/copy in the lobby after luncheon.

Can I get a federal grant?

madAsHell said...

Now, what is it that makes this pickle different?

Nonapod said...

As affluence increases, so does free time and the ability for people to do things creative whether as a hobby or as a means of making a living. This means the world of "Art" and creation is no longer limited to a certain type of dedicated elite, suffering misanthrope, or eccentric with a patron. Exclusivity has far more negatives than virtues. So all this is a Good Thing.

longer exclusionary

Henry said...

Here's Deresiewicz, from 2014:

The democratization of taste, abetted by the Web, coincides with the democratization of creativity. The makers have the means to sell, but everybody has the means to make. And everybody’s using them. Everybody seems to fancy himself a writer, a musician, a visual artist....

“Producerism,” we can call this, by analogy with consumerism.... A universal grade inflation now obtains: we’re all swapping A-minuses all the time, or, in the language of Facebook, “likes.”

Compare him to the far more acerbic Walter Darby Bannard in 1986:

Where Middlebrow's soul goes his money soon follows, blown into an oblivion of faint hearts twisting in the winds of fashion. Why is fashionable new art bold, crude, heavy-handed, graphic, ugly, ornate, garish, gaudy, bizarre, glitzy, obvious, inane, outlandish, portentous, "zany," "mysterious," "mythological," "powerful," "primitive"? Because that's what totems and ritual objects are like, that's why. These puffed-up clunkers are the emblems of a ceremony of belonging. Fools crave the company of fools and revel in the grotesque tokens of their affiliation. No plain everyday thing will do. Neither will good art.

(The Art Glut, Arts, December 1986, pp. 22 - 23.)

Hammond X. Gritzkofe said...

Hard-working artisan, solitary genius, credentialed professional — the image of the artist has changed radically over the centuries. What if the latest model to emerge means the end of art as we have known it?

Well, I guess it means the image of the artist will continue to "[change] over the centuries."

Sorry, Bill, but I wasn't interested enough to read more than the sub-headline of your 'artisanal' article. (artis-anal?)

Bob R said...

I thought a lot of his points were well made: breadth vs. depth, "no one wants to put in 10,000 hours," networks vs. real collaborations. And these laments/concerns are different than the old "rise of the middlebrow" arguments.

buwaya said...

Back in the day powerful people would compete with each other in making their public spaces beautiful - their houses, their gardens, their public rooms. And for that matter, their churches, business premises and state capitols. All, or at least many, of the less wealthy could enjoy the beauty.
The foolish egalitarianism of the modern world has discouraged this competition and made rich people pretend to be prosaic, suppressing conspicuous consumption and reserving whatever elegance and beauty the rich care to pay for to very narrow circles.

Fernandinande said...

madAsHell said...
Now, what is it that makes this pickle different?

Everyone knows that hand-made AA batteries are the best, so why not piggles?

NotWhoIUsedtoBe said...

Make better art, then.

Henry said...

Another excerpt from Bannard, also from 1986:

Best of all, the market loves pluralism. Money is the fuel that drives this engine, after all. Art has always been at odds with its own marketing and management. This is very awkward and inefficient. What to do? Pluralism knows. Just toss that old-fashioned idea of excellence, and craft and "elitist" aesthetics along with it. These things only hinder commerce.

(On Pluralism, Arts, December 1986, pp. 22 - 23.)

Here, Bannard seems to agree with Deresiewicz, except Bannard is writing from the era Deresiewicz pines for.

So there is a difference. Bannard loves craft and loves genius and sees the professional institutions of the university and the public-grant-factory as destroying both. Deresiewicz worries that the market for craft will make art "more familiar, formulaic, user-friendly, eager to please." Bannard reports that the formulaic, sans craft, was endemic to the old regime:

[pluralism] tells the collector whose timid eye needs a "highbrow" label that, what the heck, anything can be highbrow, especially if it looks really awful and gets the ordinary person upset.

buwaya said...

At some point someone will settle on the revolutionary idea that the primary intended function of art is to put the ordinary person in a good mood. The secondary functions of course are why people will pay for it.
In other words, the original understanding of art, since the year zero.

jr565 said...

You can see this with the music industry. Every one has a computer and pumps out songs. And most of the songs suck. Everyone has iMovie and now thinks they are a hollywood director, and put out a video of their cats on you tube.

jr565 said...

When Taylor Swift decided not to stream her music on Spotify a lot of people said, if she didn't they'd just listen to what was on Spotify. As if any music is interchangable.

Sigivald said...

Good riddance, then.

The "Artist" as he seems to use the term was always bollocks, and not a Vital Expression Of Inner Life.

(Turns out you can express that while being an artisan, or not An Artist(tm).

Anyone who makes art I give a damn about won't care, and won't stop, and indeed probably won't even notice this alleged change.

Except if it lets them start making a living making art.)

Henry said...

jr565 wrote: When Taylor Swift decided not to stream her music on Spotify a lot of people said, if she didn't they'd just listen to what was on Spotify. As if any music is interchangable.

They used to call this "radio"

Richard Dolan said...

It's an old lament, hardly limited to the visual arts, that Aristotle and Aristophanes used for their own, somewhat contrary, purposes. But age and repetition haven't diminished the benefit of being reminded that, in truth, everyone doesn't deserve a trophy just for showing up. WD's lament is, in its way, the art world equivalent.

Anonymous said...

Before it was coopted by marketing, 'artisanal' was just a way of putting the buyer on notice that the item was not and could not be mass produced in the same quantities as corporate product.

grackle said...

Artisanal pickles, artisanal poems: what’s the difference, after all?

Cutting edge contemporary art is at an esthetic dead end, represented by performance art and installations. After Picasso's example, the goal became not to create art but simply to be different or novel and hopefully to capture the critics' attention. That became the way to fame and fortune in art.

The best way to learn art is through an apprenticeship system, which is what that small area, the Netherlands, had in place when it produced more great artists than ALL the rest of Europe put together for over two centuries.

They also had guilds and through them a very effective method of quality control. A potential artist had to have their work presented to the guild by a master with whom the hopeful had apprenticed under. If not accepted into the guild an artist was not able to sell his work.

A third factor was an emerging middleclass, the first in Europe, with discretionary income to spend on non-essentials, i.e., art.

Back then, several apprentices or assistants could create most of a painting, under the direction of their master of course, and it was still considered the work of the master. If it came from his studio it was the master's work, period. There was a refreshing lack of ego in artistic endeavors.

What we have now is shit, sometimes literally.

Peter said...

There's really a lot to like about commercialized art: specifically, one can enjoy the art and not have to put up with the artist (and the artist's artistic temperament).

Is it really necessary to point out that Sturgeon's Law applies to the arts no less (perhaps more) than it applies to everything else?

chuck said...

He lost me at "The Atlantic".

Anonymous said...

What has been produced with this attitude as a DaVinci or Michealango?


oh and f u I used to be able to post here

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I have been to the modern are exhibits in many cities, and they are CRAP compared to what I consider real artists, including what drivel I had to endure in college.

Whenever the do the neo-classical style again, I will be interested.

Don't have a problem with expressionism, but so much of this supposed art these days is just a look at me moment.


stlcdr said...

Eliminating art for arts sake? 'Bout time.

SGT Ted said...

Artistry separated from economics is the pretentious fiction of starving artists to boost the egos of the artists and the hipster crowd that worships them with a pretense of hidden genius both of the artist and their own for recognizing the art.

It also the hipster posing of the socialist leaning arts crowd that eschews the mass production success of capitalism in order to maintain exclusivity and ironically command higher prices only affordable by the wealthy for their art. This type of artist wishes to be seen as part of the high class to be rewarded with wealth beyond that of ordinary craftsmen.

It also reinforces the snobbery inherent in this type of "high art" subculture. Which also reveals the Old World mindset of seeking to continue segregating art by the artificiality of class distinction and taste, in order to maintain the Old World style patronage systems of the aristocratic and wealthy subsidizing the commoner artist.

This helps hide the fact that art is dependent on subjective cultural trends and fashion.

wildswan said...

If you know any subject or type of art you know who is doing good work. These days there is sort of flood of subjects and types of art so that you can't educate your own taste to see who is really any good in their own line. But that's our era, the era of the digital frontier when it's all accessible to the point of being inaccessible in terms of real appreciation. It's my opinion that the real art of our day will turn out to be the art that most incorporated some one tradition (from anywhere in the world) while advancing toward some one other tradition. For instance jazz incorporated western music and advanced toward West African music - or maybe it was the other way around. I think that it is only by incorporating a tradition from somewhere and then advancing it that you ever get to the point of saying something significant in art or philosophy or history or doing something in painting or music or science. That's the sorting mechanism.

Nothing wrong with sitting around telling silly non-traditional jokes while we're here. If the jokes are funny that is a sorting mechanism also.

Brian McKim and/or Traci Skene said...

"Man! That is ART!" was a catchphrase among my fellow college mates in 1978 or so. We used it to describe practically everything. We were mocking the pretentious boobs who distorted the idea of art. It indicated to me that art was a joke. It is ever more so now. And we're just fine.