Monday, July 30, 2007

Holding Pattern

Yesterday I cam across a tattered copy of the January 1970 Artforum. There's an article by Walter Darby Bannnard called "Notes on American Painting of the Sixties" in which he looks back on the developments in art from the preceding decade. He's a curmudgeon to be sure, but an awful lot of what he writes could be applied word for word to the present day, particularly in respect to the rise of the "new and important" as central criteria to the evaluation of art:

"The present generation of critics, museum directors, and the lot, endowed with a strong sense of history and a determination not to be "wrong," have been clever enough to take in not only the successes of recent art, but also the failures of past criticism as a negative guide to assure that they do not pick against history. They live with the spectre of the critic who denounced new art which proved to be important, and these are the key words of the sixties, the all-purpose catch phrase of the eyeless art public: new and important.

[...] The mediocre ambitious artist is always a few jumps ahead; he has a keen nose for what's "in the air" and he wastes no time bringing in into his art. It is still true that good art is new and important. What is unique to the sixties is that bad art is now new and important. As always, bad art takes aim at assimilated taste. But it has taken until now for assimilated taste to demand these qualities. This has produced something else peculiar to the sixties: the co-existence of many very different-looking styles of art-making, each claiming to be as much "high art" as the others, each with its defenders and detractors. [...] The fear of being "wrong" fosters acceptance of bad art as long as the art public is not sure it is actually bad. History has told them to go along with whatever seems to persist. And their own indecision sustains the very persistence they seek."