Tuesday, June 3, 2008

No Consensus on Art

I am currently working on a review about a review on artblog concerning Fleisher-Ollman Gallery in Philadelphia. More specifically about the many comments that were posted afterwards which got a little heated. Check out the original exchange. My review will be on InLiquid.com in a week or so as soon as I finish my piece on Gustav Courbet! Suffice it to say, for now, there is no consensus on art. Why do some artists look at there own artworld with horror. I mean, auction prices are up dude if you are into that sort of thing. Could it be that being an artist is not at all what we first thought?


The Graphic Conscience said...

I wanted to complement you on your article published on Inliquid. I’ve read it and the Artblog battle of comments, but I wanted to response to one of yours in your article:

“I admit, it is particularly unfathomable to some viewers – it immediately sets up a situation of hierarchy, i.e. we are smart and you aren’t – because they haven’t learned enough about the first wave of conceptual art, have dismissed it entirely, or don’t like the mercenary nature of the booming art market these days.”

I think one thing to remember about the first wave of conceptual art was that it was determined to create a hierarchy. It was supported by curators, critics, and the finances of some families such as the Rockefellers, who were also floating the creation of MoMA.

Artists like to think of themselves as rebels (or maybe that’s just me, but for the purposes of this I’m going to assume it’s a feeling shared by others). So isn’t the most rebellious thing to be someone who eschews hierarchy? By letting a hierarchy be established, haven’t we hurt ourselves or at least deluded ourselves? (I also can’t help wondering if us art worlders like art about the art world because it allows us to constantly look in a mirror, rather than look out at and make work that responds to the greater world, but that’s a another issue altogether).

I guess beneath it all, I’m still an idealist – I want art to be something that makes us better. I find art that responds to hierarchy somehow wrong. I guess because it seems to hold it up, enforce it, when we allow hierarchy to be established. I’m not saying we shouldn’t know our (art) history as artists. My comments here are a direct response to ideas I see as imposed on artists by non-artists.

The idealist in me wants contemporary art to be more democratic, to be understood by anyone who walks in off the street, regardless of their background or how much they may know about conceptual art. I think art can be conceptual and democratic at the same time. I think an example of this is an artist like Andrew Jeffrey Wright, insisting that the paintings he paints, the buttons he makes, the t-shirts he screen prints, are all equally valid in his mind as forms of expression.

I think some art worlders fear that when art becomes democratic, it looses its conceptual edge or becomes less somehow, just pretty pictures. But I think it’s more challenging to try for this, to make work that is both conceptually strong and democratic, rather than to create work that responds to the more insular art world.

I think it also this hierarchy that has created fear in the non-Art World public. As a instructor at a community college, my students often feel they have to “art speak up” their opinions and decisions to what they feel is the “right” answer when it comes to art. These students do not come from backgrounds with families that are part of American society hierarchy, and they already feel they have to uphold it in order to be accepted as artists.

Of course, Art World prices are higher than ever, but does that mean that things are good? Has the Art World become the new Circus Maximus in which we reward or devour artist gladiators? And in that audience are some of us artists ourselves, hoping that those of us who take risks will be devoured, while others are rewarded for playing to the hierarchy?

James Rosenthal said...


Thanks for those interesting thoughts. Your perspective is respectable for sure. It is a hard thing to crack because it is a classic binary opposition. But there are many artists who maintain a balance and pursue ideas that are eclectic while serving egalitarian needs. Stay tuned fair reader!!