Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I am surprised to have appreciated an essay on artnet by Ben Davis. It is a defence of conceptual art, but one of the best bits seems to me to be "The Painted Word" by Tom Wolfe edited as Maxwell Perkins edited Thomas Wolfe

What’s notable about the present attack on "conceptual" art by Dutton and many, many others is that it is a symmetrical, distorted reflection of the very critique of "traditional" art that led artists to adopt diverse "conceptual" strategies in the first place. A great many of these (e.g. process art, abject art, performance art) attracted the zeal of their purveyors in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s because they seemed to promise some kind of critique of the art market. Traditional art forms like painting and sculpture were -- and still are, in some circles -- considered to be corrupt, because the objects they produce lend themselves to being sold, owned and traded. Barbara Rose expressed this silly conception in a particularly hyperbolic passage from the Partisan Review: "For some time now I have felt that the radicalism of Minimal and Conceptual art is fundamentally political, that its implicit aim is to discredit thoroughly the forms and institutions of dominant bourgeois culture."

The fact that such strategies devolved inexorably into their own sort of market-friendly style just proves a point. On both sides, "traditional" and "conceptual," the perceived ill of the other is actually just the displaced face of the market itself, with its tendency to transmogrify and vulgarize everything. Which should provide a lesson for critics about the kind of promises they make for art: There are no formal or esthetic solutions to the political and economic dilemmas that art faces -- only political and economic solutions.


I do mildly disagree with something Davis wrote

"In fact, appreciating art of any kind implies a command of the narratives around it; ancient Greek and Chinese art require a great accumulation of cultural knowledge to "get" them. All art is conceptual if by that you mean that actually having a rewarding encounter with it implies something beyond just the brute facts before your eyes."

I would edit to

"In fact, [fully] appreciating art of any kind implies a command of the narratives around it; [appreciation of] ancient Greek and Chinese art require [is enhanced by] a great accumulation of cultural knowledge to [fully] "get" them. All art is conceptual if by that you mean that actually having a [maximally] rewarding encounter with it implies something beyond just the brute facts before your eyes."

So, I think, mildly overstated. I get more than nothing out of ancient chinese art and I have almost no relevant cultural knowledge.

Also the essay risks self reference when Davis writes "He completely collapses the notion of "virtuoso display" with handicraft, as if a well-crafted philosophical essay weren’t a "virtuoso display" of its own sort" but, as someone said, a virtuoso display which might be suspected of self regard is a joy forever.

I guess I now know how the original Philistines felt after a few rounds with Samson.

1 comment:

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