Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Holland Cotter's Unknowns

I enjoyed reading "The Boom Is Over. Long Live the Art!," Holland Cotter's sometimes scathing New York Times farewell to contemporary art's reckless past decade. Cotter describes the art world as a "full-service marketing industry [built] on the corporate model," and he sees art schools as a branch of this money-hungry industry. In his estimation, critics, curators and other art world operators are "public relations specialists who provide timely updates on what desirable means." With these stark observations in mind, Cotter asserts that "a financial scouring can only be good for American art."

"The Boom Is Over" likely raised the ire of many artists and dealers. A commenter on Edward Winkleman's blog characterized Cotter as "out of touch" and guilty of perpetuating a "fabled myth," and I wouldn't be surprised if more online dismissals and condemnations of Cotter's article appear in coming days. That's a shame. I don't believe that the article is intended to titillate or to offend.

Cotter's description of our prodigal art world brings to mind artist and critic Robert Morgan's caution not to mistake glamour for substantive beauty.
"Beauty is not glamour. Most of what the...art world has to offer is glamour. Glamour, like the art world itself, is a highly fickle and commercially driven enterprise that contributes to...the 'humdrum.' It appears and disappears...No one ever catches up to glamour."
Because I call on Morgan's rather romantic position, some readers will immediately decide that, like Cotter, I'm guilty of perpetuating a myth. If so, it is a vital myth. The beauty that Morgan exalts is complicated and profound. I have in mind philosopher poet John O'Donohue's conception of beauty.
"Beauty induces atmosphere and spirit: wonder, delicious turbulence, love, longing and a trembling delight....Beauty inhabits the cutting edge of creativity - mediating between the known and the unknown, light and darkness, masculine and feminine, visible and invisible, chaos and meaning, sound and silence, self and others."
O'Donohue defines a soulful beauty, a beauty that springs from generous attempts to be and to belong.

Although many of the artworks offered for sale at art fairs or on auction blocks are born of beautiful striving, art fairs and auctions are never, themselves, beautiful. And because fairs and auctions are the events most representative of the contemporary art world, Cotter's harsh language seems reasonable. He's right; "during the present decade [art] has become a diminished thing."

I sense that Cotter wants the Times article, a dismal record of a profligate art world, to serve as license for artists, dealers, curators and critics (Cotter's own tribe) to ruminate on their standing. He hopes that the result of that rumination would be an open-hearted embrace of the artist's vital social role (and the art world's part in facilitating that). It is edification, above all, that interests Cotter.
"With markets uncertain, possibly nonexistent, why not relax this mode, open up education? Why not make studio training an interdisciplinary experience, crossing over into sociology, anthropology, psychology, philosophy, poetry and theology? Why not build into your graduate program a work-study semester that takes students out of the art world entirely and places them in hospitals, schools and prisons, sometimes in in-extremis environments, i.e. real life?...Such changes would require new ways of thinking and writing about art, so critics would need to go back to school, miss a few parties and hit the books and the Internet....[If] there is a crisis, it is not a crisis of power; it's a crisis of knowledge. Simply put, we don't know enough..."

But I think that Cotter should have included an addendum. Speaking in generalities can be valuable, but the excess and superficiality of the art world's recent history hasn't tainted all artists, dealers, curators and critics. Certainly, there are "thousands of groomed-for-success [art school] graduates" who have made contemporary art into something "proliferating but languishing," but there are also, as ever, many individuals pushing toward O'Donohue's complicated beauty. Some admirable artists and dealers experienced great success in the boom market of the late nineties and oughties. Perhaps they wouldn't have flourished without the opportunities afforded them by the fattened industry? Artists have always had an uneasy relationship with commodity, and there's little sense in championing lean times over relative abundance.

We're now living through an socio-economic upheaval that is quite nearly global. Such rapid and widespread change should, as Cotter expects, force a significant number of artists to conscientiously reexamine their ideals. But let's not delude ourselves. The opportunity for reflection and mindful action wasn't precluded by the excesses and superficialities of boom time. Although some artists, dealers, curators, critics and hangers-on acted improperly because the environment encouraged bad behavior, most did so because they wanted to. So even as I cheer Cotter's call for us to "[imagine] the unknown and the unknowable," to raise up "new ways of thinking and writing about art," and to see artists blazing unexpected paths, I remind myself that the burden of proof falls foremost on the individual.

Image credit: ripped from Daily Serving


Donald Frazell google me said...

Beauty is not Creative Arts focus, that is Truth, beauty is for Fine arts, to pleasure those who can afford the works. Applied Arts like Graphic Arts are for advertising and marketing, Design for the products themselves and the packaging it comes in. Decorative Arts are often Fine Arts but not necessarily so. It is the backgrounds to fill a space, the wallpaper, often in a frame, while Fine at can be objects and isolated works. Illustration is for books, visualizing an idea or story for the viewer edification or entertainment. Pop is disposable art, made of the media they enliven, with no shelf life like pop music, to be rid of with the next import of product.

The avoidance of the Academic Art world defining the arts makes it easy to market, and allow for anyone who wantss to be called an artiste, to buy a degree and proclaim to the world their self worth. It is a briliant marketing campaign, and has destroyed publics appetite for Art, as Academies create their own market through the schools and entertaining the wealthy.

Except for Pop, and the vast majority tired of that visualy long ago, art now is effete and irrelevant to our lives. Sadly, Creative art, that of what we claimed to be in museums, at least pre WWII, has been castrated and buried under the avalanche of mediocrity claiming to be Art. Evey art studnet dreams of being van Gogh, no matter what field they go in, and by eliminating any defintion of the word Art, a symbol and as such must have a meaning to exist, makes it easy for boys and girls to fantasize about their own personal greatness.

And so Creative Art was tossed aside, possibly because in a time of great personal wealth, decadence and entertainment, it became viewed as a luxury and not essential to mankind. The mind, body, and soul of art ceased to be. Arts Purpose was no more.

But times have changed, drasticaly, as those very patrons of the arts who created this economic meltdown, far greater than what most believe, has shown the falacy of self worship, and individual worth. It is WE that counts, not I. The Age of Excess and Meism is over. Now is the time for Art to refind its Purpose, to grow, to reflect what is esential and best in Humanties existence. it is time to grow up. It is time to put aside childish things.

I wrote about this over a year ago, how Marketing took over Art after WWII. I felt this from my youth, the son of an athlete and an artist, I found much more truth and better people in sports than Art. Which had become a self indulgence, a lie to cover up a decadent way of life. After being out of Art for a dozen years, coming back and finding how terrible it had become in that time, far worse than the nadir it had reached in the 80s, that I was in shock, and complete and total disgust.

I wrote -Imperial Clothing-
posted on artnewsblog.com after not being able to get it published, as I new it wouldnt be, undercutting all that those at these periodicals had been taught adn depended on for a living. The Falsehood they had been living. It covered these very things over a year ago, and now I am working on what is now and to be,- Art and Purpose-, as Imperial Clothing was how we got into this mess in art, reflecting the very forces that have crippled our economy and culture.

This was not new, just a reaffirming of what art has always been. Defining Mankind, Exploring Nature, Searching for God. All art that has lasted throught the ages are of this stuff. In various degrees and manifestations,the entertwing and layering of meaning reflected in the melody-line, harmony-color, and rhythm-structure and composition, of Visual Art. For art is alwawy at its best and Truest when of Music and Poetry, decadent when Illustrative of Academic Ideas and Prosaic of Mans Desires over Love, Passion, Sacrifice. Me had defeated We.

That is over. We must return to Art, to being relevant to Mankind again, which 99% couldnt give a damn about. Art world, it is not about you. Artistes dont matter, Art does. Lets get to work.

art collegia delenda est

amytalluto said...

I totally agree with you!!! hear hear!

Hungry Hyaena said...


I agree with you, generally...but I can not write off the countless "masterpieces" - though I don't particularly care for that term - painted since the Second World War. For a variety of reasons, the fine arts have grown apart from the mass of man, and that is deeply troubling; yet not all of the art, itself, is ailing.


Rock on with your bad self, Talluto! I hope that the studio is happy and productive.

Donald Frazell said...

Name them, those of the artistes who came to maturity after 1962, the year contempt art was officially born, til its death last year. Rest In Hell. Warhol may have started Pop art trend, really just glorified design, built off the last true great Modern Artist, Rauschenberg. This is what happens when children play with things they dont understand, are too lazy to understand, and dont want to understand, but use for their own self gratification. And an Academy sees an opportunity to market to a bigger audience, to sell degrees to anyone regardless of talent, desire, or intelligence.

No, very little since then, Anselm Kiefer is excellent, Hockney after he got over the stiff cartoon illustrations after he learned set design and flowered with Matissean color. I listed several others on the thread at artnewsblog.com about the top 200 artists of the 2oth century. Put together by Saatchi, and so filled with many usless and meaningless chracters of no creative worth. Should say top 100 artists, and 100 artistes. Frontin fools, havin fun, while others died, worked to death, war, sacrificed, bled, and cried. The Art world is now Neverland.

And if you noticed, lily white. Hell, artistes think Cage, Glass adn the Talking Heads are art, when they are absurdly simplistic ripoffs of Jazz and Blues, Americas true and only art forms. Miles, Monk and Coltrane are so far beyond their comprhension and abilities its sickening, yet the white world loves its silly absurdist court jesters. It talks a good game, but only contemplates itself.

No, Art is dead, has been for quite sometime. But now is again called for. Time to rid it of the pseudo intellectual games and therapies of the academies, no grat artist ever gradauted from an art school, unless he had done much life before. And none since except Kiefer since the early 60s.
Throw it all out, its all crap. Marketing ploys to get youmoney, you know one is born every minute.

No, Art is needed again, but msut rid itself of its baggage, open its eyes,a dn see teh world afresh. Teh decadence is over. the age of Excess adn Mesim gone. Lets get to work.

art collegia delenda est

Donald Frazell said...

Plus, this Cotter guy is leaving out one essential function and need of creative art. Exploring nature. He has the theology, studying god. Philosophy, mankinds thoughts. But lacks science, and the direct study of nature, as well as scientific being. Without knowledge of the material world, art is effete and without form.

This you should see, as it is the stated purpose of this site, and an essential one to art. I was a photographer originally, and studied it far more than just about any artist, and still have a sketchbook to draw leaves and trees, flowers, and fruit. But so far have not used it directly in my paintings. Since the advent of photography, and especially color photography, art has left using nature in its works.

Perhaps now is a time to return to it. Cezannes late Bathers incorporated all three literally, yet as all true Art is, musically, and poetically. His last Great Bathers has vaulted trees, opening to a steeple like one against a tunneled, yet surface dwelling, sky. It therefore has both Nature and a gothic arch like spirituality, seeking god. And the women stretched across frieze like, yet joined to the earth, trees and sky through their shapes and color. This is one of the most difficult paintings ever attempted, all three acts of art in ballance, but never completed.

We must return to the fundamentals, this surface garbage we have ben doing has avoided arts Purpose. It has all been about branding, creating a unique signature for marketing purposes, not seeking truth. Being new and original is grossly overrated, as in itself, it is meaningless. The truly original is simply newly modified viewing of life, built upon the past, but with newly acquired knowledge. Far too little has been emphasized in the Academies about knowledge, learning the world around oneself, in its business plan of selling individuals, no matter how shallow or trite. This guy is close, but still missing the point. He is still loking at it from a marketing and business perspective, about gaining career, not making better Art. And so is another dead end.

Never listen to critics, including me. Search our past. From the beginnings of mans creative visualization, cave art and fertility goddesses. Listen only to true artists of the past, dont get caught up in the moment, what is "new", and "hip". Which is always false and dorky. Soon to fade. Build on top of what we have learned before, do it with your own created langauge, what you know, but always tied to tohers, it is NOT about you. It is about Us. The more you lose yourself, the closer to creation you can get.

There is no such ting as a creative arts school. One must always learn on ones own. Go learn a craft, develop you skills through applied arts, and then if you must, if it is part of your very being, perhaps you will be an artist. But 90% of everything is crap, never take for granted that you are good, constructive self criticism is a lost art. As well as paying ones dues. One must continually develop, adapt, evolve, grow, and become more. Explore. For every creative act is an exploration of nature, god and mankind. or it is not creative Art at all.

art collegia delenda est