Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Paintings I Like, pt. 51

Gerhard Richter, "Administrative Building," 1964. Oil on canvas, 38" x 59."

Gerhard Richter, "Grey Streaks," 1968. Oil on canvas, 79" x 79."

Gerhard Richter, "Red-Blue-Yellow," 1972. Oil on canvas, 59" x 59."

Gerhard Richter, "Man Shot Down 1," 1988. Oil on canvas, 40" x 55."

Gerhard Richter, "Blanket," 1988. Oil on canvas, 79" x 55."

Gerhard Richter, "December," 1989. Oil on canvas, 126" x 158."

Gerhard Richter, "Self-Portrait," 1996. Oil on linen, 20" x 18."

Gerhard Richter, "Abstract Picture," 1999. Oil on aluminum panel, 19" x 22."

Gerhard Richter, "Court Chapel, Dresden," 2000. Oil on canvas, 32" x 37."

As I mentioned in the 50th installment of Paintings I Like, I recently took a look at the series and saw the gaps - not in art historical terms, but in terms of painters I really admire but have yet to include. The three painters who most influence the way I think about painting are Bridget Riley, featured in P.IL. #50, Manet, who pops up on these pages again and again, and Gerhard Richter, who has yet to appear in Paintings I Like.

I used the phrase "the way I think about painting" to mean something broader than "the way I paint." Riley clearly has the greatest influence on the latter in the way that she articulated space and used diminishing contrast to create atmosphere. Manet's playful and ambivalent approach to subject, underscored by his cut-and-paste perspective is endlessly interesting to me, and his confident, shorthand approach to the application of paint gives me a real thrill.

And I think Richter is one of those epochal painters - the way that Manet was in the mid-19th century and Pollock was in the mid-20th. A lot of people (including myself) couldn't quite see this until Robert Storr's excellent retrospective at MoMA in 2002, and there are still many detractors (many whom I know personally). The pictures in the show were mostly terrific - there are always a few duds in a show that big - but more importantly that body of work taken as a whole represents a very different way of thinking about painting.

The end of history and the slippery nature of identity have been two of the dominant themes in art since the '60's and '70's. But when taken up self-consciously as subject, these things tend to lapse into illustrations of philosophical or theoretical concepts - the kiss of death in my estimation. To see Richter's development since his first "official" painting ("Table," 1962, assigned the number GR1 by Richter) is to see these things playing themselves out in practice. The extent to which Richter intended this is very much up for grabs - he's notoriously coy and loves to drop cryptic and/or inflammatory comments, but the fact remains that he appeared on the scene as an artist without a stable history or identity.

As the painter George Hofmann once pointed out to me, growing up in Germany after WWII is about as close as one could come to growing up without a tangible history. The Nazi suppression of modern art followed by the occupation and the split between east and west, the horror and shame as the footage of the camps began to circulate, the level of destruction and the trials all made 1945 the year zero in the story of modern Germany. For an artist, this could be a burden or a boon; the former because it gives you few clues as to where or how to begin. But then again, how many painters get to start with a tabula rasa? Contrast this to the schooled western painter who must go through Leonardo, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, up through Picasso, Matisse and so on.

To largely skip the whole parade of western art history is also to skip the idea that one must adopt a signature style and stick to it. Richter developed a few key techniques, most notably the blurring of wet oil paint, and then applied them to a variety of approaches and subjects: things that fit his technique (like pictures of cars and buildings blurred by speed and also the abstract paintings), things that had meaning for him (like pictures of his family and various German themes), and leftovers from magazines and ads. This last category is notable, because western pop culture loves nothing better than to replace local culture, and if there is a vacuum in this regard, its job is that much easier. Seen as a group, there's a logic to Richter's body of work that gives it as much cohesion as a signature motif might, but at the same time shows an indifference to the pre-1960's notion of what constitutes an artist's identity.

It is now fairly common practice for an artist to work in several styles simultaneously, and it's quite a natural way to proceed - craftsmen do it routinely. It can only be called eclectic or idiosyncratic if you internalize the idea that it's wrong or unnatural or amateurish. These attitudes are not self-evident; they have to be learned, and the ease with which they are disappearing are proof of their conventional nature. One would have to count Richter as an early exponent of this very modern approach to studio practice and the tacit disavowal that an artist's personality is a monolithic thing that can be summed up in a pictorial motif.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

March 23, 2010: The Emperor's 100th Birthday

Akira Kurosawa: March 23, 1910 - September 6, 1998

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Aqueduct and Gulfstream Results, 3/20/10

I was holding my own out at the Big A today until I absorbed a bad beat in the eighth race by a longshot named Weefc. I never recovered from the shame of being thwarted by a horse whose name I can't pronounce.

In other news, the G1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park (video above) saw Todd Pletcher's Rule, a heavy favorite and Kentucky Derby contender, beaten by not one but two longshots: Icebox won it at 20-1 and Pleasant Prince took place at 29-1.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Paulie's Picks, Aqueduct, 3/20/10

When those first intoxicating notes of spring are in the air, poets and young men start dreaming of love. Professor Paulie, on the other hand, takes the A train straight to Aqueduct.

Here are Paulie's picks for tomorrow, the first day of spring, at the Big A:

1st race:
7 - Man of Danger
2 - Ferocious Won
4 - Kiln Creek

2nd race:
1 - Saints Alive
2 - Kid Tornado
3 - Six Flings

3rd race:
1 - Kid Freud
2 - Karakorum On Black
4 - Brock N Roll

4th race:
5 - Mighty Morris
1 - Icabad Crane
6 - Manteca

5th race:
4 - Royal Waltz
2 - Heavenlt Pursuit
9 - My Honey Laurie

6th race:
6 - Mr. Bourbon St.
2 - Wollaston Bay
1 - Volos

7th race:
2 - My Lucky Way
3 - Properlyintroduced
8 - Waylady

8th race:
1 - Gellhorn
4 - Bobby's Bell
9 - Hazaam's Back

9th race, The Cicada, G3:
4 - Bickersons
7 - Romantic Hideaway
6 - Female Drama

10th race:
11 - Smokin Conrad
1 - Showme Zealous
7 - Liberal

Tune in tomorrow night for results.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Derby Trail and Other News

The 2010 Kentucky Derby prep races started in earnest about a week-and-a-half ago, but they were overshadowed by the season-openers for racing's two hot chicks; Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. After Rachel's shocking loss in last Saturday's Ladies Secret at Fair Grounds, her connections immediately announced that her scheduled meeting with Zenyatta in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn on April 9th was off. Of the loss, trainer Steve Asmussen said, "she either did too little or too much." I'm not exactly sure what that means but I get the general drift, I guess.

Some nice Derby Preps also happened on Saturday while everyone was watching the girls, although none put the contenders into especially sharp focus.

Odysseus ran down the favorite Super-Saver and the late-running Schoolyard Dreams in the G3 Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs (video above). Odysseus got passed and then made a second bid - I like a horse the "comes again" as they say, and I'll take a good look at him in the Derby if only for that.

In the G2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn, Lookin at Lucky clipped the heels of Noble's Promise at the half-mile marker, but recovered nicely to run down the latter along with Dublin in the stretch. All three will probably be in the gate on Derby day.

Sydney's Candy got away with a soft pace in the G2 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita, and took them wire to wire. 7-5 Favorite Caracortado had no pace to chase, and his bid came up short. I won't write him off in the Derby, though, that race is famous for pace meltdowns.

But wait, there's more: The previous Saturday (3/6) saw two other early Derby Preps; the G3 Sham at Santa Anita and the G3 Gotham at Aqueduct.

In the Sham, Alphie's Bet was much best in the lane, winning by a convincing two lengths over the favorite Setsuko, who hit the stretch a little too late, a little too wide, and without another gear.

Awesome Act tracked a sharp pace in the Gotham and made a big move in the lane. Yawanna Twist made an earnest run at him in the last 100 yards but couldn't get there in time.

Todd Pletcher trainee Eskendereya, who was co-favorite with Lookin at Lucky in the 2nd Derby future pool (after "other") was initially scheduled to race in this coming Saturday's G1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, but will instead run in the G1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 3rd. Professor Paulie will be in attendance!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Rachel Runs Out of Gas in 2010 Debut

Lately it seems I've been discussing painting at length on the pages of "No Hassle at the Castle," and sorely neglecting my role as fine art's leading thoroughbred racing correspondent. Sorry. Here's a story worth covering, though: Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra and undefeated Zenyatta both made their 2010 debuts today, in preparation their scheduled meeting in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn on April 9. The trouble is, Rachel lost!

The Ladies Secret at Fair Grounds looked like a classic tune-up race: an ungraded stakes consisting of a small field of hopelessly overmatched horses with odds ranging from 9-1 to 42-1, compared to Rachel's imposing 1-9. After stalking longshot Fighter Wing in the backstretch, Rachel took the lead only to be run down in the stretch by the hard charging Zardana, who came off the turn three-back and three-wide. Yikes!

Zenyatta made her first start as a six-year old in a full field of nine at Santa Anita in the G1 Santa Margarita Handicap. She raced dead last into the second turn, coming off three-wide and splitting the competition in the upper stretch to win handily and leave her undefeated record intact. Wow!

After seeing the tape of Rachel losing to Zardana, team Zenyatta must be feeling good. Clearly, super-girl struggles with horses who have vaguely European-sounding names that start with "Z."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

George Hofmann on Ken Noland

George Hofmann, Chinese Landscape, 2009. Acrylic on linen, 68" x 85."

George Hofmann is a fine painter who came of age as Abstract Expressionism was waning and Color Field was on the rise - he personally knew many of the key players, including Jules Olitski and Clement Greenberg. He's remained steadfastly devoted to painting during the waves of painting-is-dead sentiment that have risen periodically over the last four decades, and maintains that emotion is the prime mover in all great art. He was my professor in the MFA program at Hunter College and I have an immense amount of respect for him. I recently received the following comments from him via e-mail, and I thought they were worth broadcasting:

I have been thinking about your Noland comments and the Artforum obit you mentioned, and talking to Mike Williams, who worked for him for a long time. Noland loved jazz, and Mike says he particularly was close, personally too, to Steve Lacey. He cites a tune called "Worms."

I think Noland was as close to the jazz musicians as anybody could have been. That that was his essence and that was how he was different from everybody else. He was cool, but it denoted, as it did in the musicians, a kind of torture of distillation, I guess what is called a crucible. He had that basic truth in his work; he aimed for it, and somehow, a lot of the time, he achieved the state in which he could produce it. I don't know if that meant that he drank, or took dope, or was cruel and indifferent to human life; but whatever it entailed, he got it, and a lot of the time too. Noland was not an Ab Ex killer like the Pop guys; he deepened it.

Rich Garrison directed me to the Olitski website - it does look awful - but it shows what went wrong with him too. In the end, what is wrong with Poons is what went wrong with Jules: all this repetitive, empty motion; unfelt. A good rule, in terms of gestural work, would be to look for what is slow, painful and impossible. I still believe, of course, that Abstract Expressionism was aborted - it was savaged by the back-street aborters with a broken Coke bottle - but of course, the artists themselves were careless; literally care-less, and they did themselves in too. All that false "action" (that's why Rosenberg got it so wrong, in a way: the action wasn't true) was just the "action" of avoidance. Like people running off at the mouth; like Poons, babbling.

Real feeling comes out slowly, painfully perhaps; purified by terror and abandoning all that seems to matter. We've seen very little real gesture yet, and of course, the color of it will matter greatly: the nuance, the exactitude (like the exactitude of Noland, the exactitude of a Degas or of Morandi, or of any of the great color painters). It will show Hans Hofmann to be closer to what Should Be, but it will also show him to be closer to the generation of Franz Marc and the German Expressionists; welded to Cubism, vehement, forceful, searching, driven, lost.

There are a lot of great painters out there, and a lot of them are women: Joanna Pousette-Dart, Emily Mason (and certainly her mother), Gabriele Evertz. If I am very lucky, I will be able to end up with one or two lasting canvases - enough for me! Just think, if you could leave one picture that lasts!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Conversation with a Student, pt. 2

Here's the second part of a lengthy e-mail exchange I had with Sean Ng, a highly articulate student of mine this semester (spring 2010) at the Parsons School of Design. Click here to read part one.

Sean 2/25/10:

Hello Paul,

With regard to the influence of language in art, I have read the piece in the Times and I think it opens up an adjacent field of discussion - the influence of curators on artistic discourse and on artists. The problem with subordinating the visual product to a construct of ideas, in my opinion, is that it replaces the artistic process with a design process. This is probably one of the reasons why Damien Hirst is an artist that we love to hate - yours words, not mine - because it appears we have all been seduced by the implacable logic of cool design.

I had quite a bit of an argument with a number of my peers from the previous semester with regard to the Bauhaus collection largely because I thought it was an amazingly ambitious exercise in building a universal design vernacular and nobody else agreed. A situation commonly confronted in class is when a piece is put on the wall, someone asks why the lines were blue and the student who made it replies he simply liked the colour. I personally feel that every choice in the process of making a piece should have a conscious underpinning but a considerable majority prefer a more intuitive approach. Students often accuse teachers of over analysing or abetting the excessive analysis of their work (we get that a lot in Lab [a Parsons Foundation Course] which makes it a particularly painful exercise) and I'm curious, what do you actually think?


p.s. Which of Derrida's work would you suggest I start with?

Paul 2/25/10:

Regarding the influence of curators, you've really hit on something that I think is a huge problem, and pretty recent in overall terms, say, the last 10-15 years. It's very common now for a curator to come up with some grand concept which is often extremely obscure (e.g. Bifurcated Epistomological Syllogisms Relating to Gender and Class), and then shoehorn together works that have little in common that supposedly fit the thesis. Even worse are the assignment based shows in which the curators approach artists with their concept and have them make work to fit. This is illustration at its worst.

A great curator has to have two things that are often mutually exclusive - first she has to be extremely smart, knowledgeable about history, and possessing of a really good eye, and second, she must have the humility to understand that the work comes first and the theory and analysis spring from the observation of the work, not the other way around. People like this are in short supply. There is a whole generation of curators that essentially consider themselves artists, which, of course, they are not. Many of the department chairs at the big programs are non-practitioners, which I think is outrageous.

Re. Hirst (and Urs Fischer, and Roni Horn, and Tino Sehgal, and Pipilotti Rist), I think that Roberta Smith hit it right on the head in that Times piece when she pointed out the ideas they are exploring are stylized and professionalized versions of topics that bubbled up in the ferment of the late '60's. It's important to look at the time frame of early Post-Modernism; in the late '60's, all institutions of power were under heavy scrutiny in Europe and the USA (civil rights, women's rights, Vietnam, the Sorbonne, etc.) and it only makes sense that art itself would be reevaluated, critiqued, turned inside-out. But now that it's all codifed and reflexive and expected, it's just a look or a kind of mannerism.

In terms of the Bauhaus - yes, the concept of the overall aesthetic environment is very seductive. When you think of certain Japanese interiors, particularly before the huge western influence took hold after WWII, you can really see this in practice. The whole room, the furniture, the flowers, the placement of the window and the view becomes a complete artistic statement. As a result, that isn't a huge tradition of picture-making in Japan (like painting in the west) because the entire environment is the art.

I went in expecting to like the Bauhaus show for this reason, but found it kind of flat. I wonder if I would have felt differently if I could have seen it when it was new? Mondrian's paintings still look incredibly fresh to me, but furniture made in the same spirit looks dated.

And last but not least - intuition vs. analysis; a huge topic! I'll try and keep it short, but I'm so far not doing a very good job in this e-mail.

Art and design will always be, at root, intuitive and emotional. If your classmate chose blue because that was the only tube of paint that he had then it was just laziness, but if he had other colors at hand, even just a couple, then that was an example of an emotional, artistic decision. There can be no art without these kinds of choices, BUT, it's important to be able to look at the result after the fact and realize why you did it, was it successful, did it communicate what you were thinking and feeling, and if not, why? How could you do it differently? This is why one goes to art school.

As a teacher, I feel like the emotional, intuitive part is hard-wired inside you all, I need to do very little to draw this out. As a result, it might sometimes seem as if I don't place a premium on this, but in fact I think it's the most important part! The analytical, however, doesn't come so naturally, and this is why I really try and provide training in this regard. And to tie this in with the beginning of this long e-mail, I think that the only way to diminish the power of star curators is for artists to become a hell of a lot more articulate.

Derrida's seminal work, in which he introduces the now-ubiquitous concept of deconstruction is called "Of Grammatology." I've only read excerpts, and have no plans to wade through the whole thing, so I'll count on you for a concise summary - let me know when you finish!

Talk soon,

Sean 2/28/2010:

I understand that museums are under increasing pressure to justify their costs, and to what extent does this contribute to the decisions of curators? Also, when you mention an entire generation of curators, this necessarily leads us back to their educational background and what the schools have been teaching. But I'm curious, from your experience, what sort of relationship do the big programs and their curators have with artists?

A friend of mine in London just went to look at the Van Doesburg exhibition. She does not have a background in art, and reacted with distaste to his compositions, something about them being too intellectual. It seems to me that if artists from that period - like Van Doesburg and Mondrian - tried to rationalise art in a similar fashion that all other intellectual fields (anthropology, history, social sciences, etc) were being rationalised, then the artists of our time have infused art with the overarching values of commerce that seem so important today. Mannerism indeed!

Re. furniture, I think the plastic arts have not aged as well because they tend to fall into design and are constantly appropriated and re-appropriated to the point that they no longer look new. There seems also to be a very perverse phenomenon today where because mass production has become so common, our obsession with concept and design have resulted in a neglect of craft while emphasising notions of craftsmanship. Ikea, Crate and Barrel or even Muji cleverly manufacture objects that look rough hewn/imperfect on a large scale and the result is saturation.

You mentioned whole room in Japanese art and I cannot help but think of the Packard collection now showing at the Met. They have this fascinating reconstruction of a room with wonderful lacquered screens.

Very interesting, this explain why your critiques have been so useful. On Derrida, that's what spring break's for. I have a friend coming down from Yale where she does art history and this will certainly be great fodder for discussion!


Paul 2/28/2010:

A bunch of issues here, let me address them one at a time:

The museum business: more people have been attending museums in the last decade than at any time in history, the museums are literally rolling in dough. At the same time, it seems that the concerns of the contemporary art institutions must be incredibly obscure to people without a background - shows are often hermetic critiques of art itself. I often wonder what civilians make of this stuff.

Art education: Your point about the curators, and artists for that matter, is a good one. That generation of post-modernist rebels from the '60's and '70's are now faculty members and department chairs. The current group of artists and curators (me included) were their students. This is why so much contemporary art are subtle re-interpretations of late '60's concerns. The Tino Seghal at the Guggenheim is a good example - it's Conceptual Art slightly repackaged.

Neo-plasticism: Van Doesburg and Mondrian weren't intellectualizing, but distilling and simplifying - trying to get at a kind of universal pictorial language. They wanted their pictures to hang on the walls of Utopia. The idea of universals and absolutes is at a very low ebb - cultural difference and specificity is emphasized now. I think this is a positive develpment, but there are many shared aspects a of being human that are now ignored.

Commerce: We're coming off of the hottest art market in history. After world markets crashed in fall of 2008, many people thought that it would actually be a positive thing for art. If it wasn't glamorous anymore, a lot of the silly stuff and silly artists would just drift away. Something is definitely changing, but it's still unclear what the landscape will look like when the dust settles.

Furniture: Giving mass market crap the imprimatur of art and craft seems like it's one of the central evils of our era, but it's been around since the 19th century. The industrial revolution and the rise of capitalism ushered it in, and advertising has made it essentially permanent.

See you tomorrow,

Monday, March 8, 2010

Friday, March 5, 2010

Paul at 210 Gallery, Last Two Days

My show at 210 Gallery is open today and tomorrow (Friday and Saturday, March 5 and 6) from 12:00 to 6:00, and that, as they say, is that.

I'll be in all day on Saturday, with wine. If you haven't seen the show, come over and I'll pour you a glass! Take the R train to 25th St. in Brooklyn, and follow the directions below.

Thanks to everyone that came, and special thanks to the people who wrote and blogged about it, and extra special thanks to 210's proprietors, Kumiko and Troy. It was a good run!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Noland and Color Painting

In my short obits of Jules Olitski and Ken Noland, I made a plea to the tastemaking class to take another look at the marvelous work of the color painters from the late '60's and early '70's, particularly in light of the fact that the major figures (the two mentioned here plus Morris Louis) are no longer with us.

These painters have long been relegated to the historical dustbin, I believe, because of their close association with the highly problematic Clement Greenberg, not because of the work itself. All three made paintings that were self-consciously spatial, not aggressively flat (Greenberg's rule #1), and if only based on the color, the pictures were highly evocative of things outside their own internal existence, not purely auto-referential (Greenberg's rule #2).

I'm not necessarily Greenberg-bashing, here, because I still think he was the best critic of the twentieth century; one of the few non-practitioners who could talk about art in visual terms and say something truly insightful. His insistence on using plain language also speaks volumes on his behalf, particularly in light of the sometimes comically jargon-heavy art writing since the late '60's. When Greenberg's keen observations flipped over into cumbersome demands is when the problems began, most emphatically with the publication of "Modernist Painting" in 1960. Post-modernism effectively sidelined Greenberg, but it also exiled the painters he championed.

In the March 2010 Artforum, however, there is a nice obit for Noland which possibly heralds the beginning of a calmer reevaluation of not only the painter but the period, something I've been waiting for for quite some time. Sarah K. Rich writes:

"Now that we are several decades down the hill of popular culture, and we've all gotten a better idea of how frenzied and mind-numbing kitsch* can be, the formalist advocacy of work that might give the viewing subject a place for the exercise of sustained and quiet attention doesn't seem like such a bad idea."

(*Her description of pop culture as kitsch is a direct reference to Greenberg's essay, "Avant Garde and Kitsch." He wrote this in 1939, and 71 years later it seems like he had a crystal ball.)

Rich also rightly describes Noland's work as possessing of qualities which were entirely outside of the modernist program as outlined by Greenberg, noting his keen interest in Reichian analysis and jazz. In the end of the essay, she does feel the need to apply a kind of meta-agenda (it's still Artforum, after all), but even this was not very troubling - she's using it as away to make the work seem relevant to the present day observer.

So again, here's my plea to MoMA, the Whitney, the Guggenheim, hell, maybe even the Met: "Color Painting Reconsidered: Oiltski, Noland, and Louis in the 1960's." Maybe Sarah K. Rich can write the catalog essay. She works for Artforum, you know.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Conversation with a Student, pt. 1

What follows is the beginning of a lengthy e-mail discussion I had with a student of mine named Sean Hong-Wi Ng in the current (spring 2010) semester. I teach exclusively freshman, many of which are exceptionally talented but few who are this articulate.

A little background on how this started: I teach 2D in the Foundation Program at Parsons, which is a class largely devoted to the formal elements of art and design (it's an updated version of the old Bauhaus foundation course). During the crits we talk a great deal about how pictures look, but obviously the intersection of form and content is also addressed. Sean initiated this exchange after our second crit of the semester.

I intend to put up to whole thing, lightly edited, in segments:

Sean 2/22/10:

There's something I'd like to add but it didn't seem appropriate in class. With regard to reading abstract art and representational elements, I've been reading Roland Barthes' The Fashion System, and it's interesting to apply a similar system of reading signs, signifiers and signified to reading art. Tianyi's piece for example, when we were trying to articulate why the colour choice was so good, a good way to look at it might have been to peel back the layers of signs we read into the colours - both formal (warm, cool, etc) and evocative (swampy, fertile, etc). While it might be reductionist, art can be read as a string of signs and it might sometimes be a useful tool or guide to initiate analysis.

Anyway, have a good day and here's hoping there's no snow this week.

Paul 2/22/10:

Have you read any of Barthes' stuff about myth? That and "Death of the Author" are my favorites.

I have to say, though, that the semiotic reading of art, which has been a big part of the discussion since the '60's, is a thorny one for me. The general drift is to present pictures as a kind of text, as opposed to a wholly unique language, separate from text. Pictures precede and, I believe, supercede language, both written and spoken. Needless to say, the people that claim that art is a kind of text are generally writers, not artists, and a certain kind of power struggle comes into focus.

That said, I love these kind of debates - It's never possible to be wholly right or wholly wrong about art. I think it would be great if you were to introduce these ideas in a critique and let it play out in the group. It would be especially useful in a freshman crit, before people have a strong affinity for certain ideologies. This discussion will be completely new to a lot of your peers.

If you're interested in Semiotics, you should definitely read some Wittgenstein. When these ideas were finding their way into Artforum in the late '60's and early '70's he was a kind of patron saint.

Talk soon,

Sean 2/22/10:

You're right that it's never possible to be entirely right or wrong about art. As it happens, I probably identify with the writer group as opposed to the artists although this comes close to a discussion I have had with a number of my peers about the difference between art and design.

I'll definitely raise it when we have another crit.


Paul 2/23/10:

One more thing, I couldn't resist. Here's a short piece I wrote about one of the earliest known examples of the urge to make art - it predates spoken language by about 100,000 years and written language by about 200,000 years:


Sean 2/24/20:

A couple of things with regard to your piece; I'm often interested to know what teachers really think about art - there's far too much political correctness informing the pedagogy of art and design for my comfort.

1. The language and art dichotomy. While it is a valid argument that art supersedes language, given that our original impulse to decorate or to arrange our surroundings in a way that suggests a form of aesthetics seems to rank on the same level as eating or sleeping, I do think that the advent of language has changed the way we perceive art. Language informs, influences and affirms ways in which we think or perceive art or pieces of art through art criticism, art history and the naming of art. Take abstract art. You could call a red panel "Untitled", "Red Series" or "Lamentations" and it would change the way we look at it. Art criticism and art history add further layers of meaning to art that may or may not have anything to do with the original intent of the artist. Language then becomes a vital factor in the understanding and creation of art.

2. The usefulness of art. This is one of those issues that seem more symptomatic of our times than the actual issue. I find it very amusing that we seem intent on attaching some sort of utility to anything as a form of justification. I fully agree that art's uselessness, in that it lacks utility in its purest sense, might be part of its worth. We must always guard against conflating utility and worth especially with regard to art.

3. Did you look at the Bauhaus exhibition at the Moma? I'd love to know what your thoughts are on that movement.


Paul 2/24/10:

In response to your questions:

1. This is something we talked about just a little in class, the place of language in art. I believe that artistic practice always precedes art theory (i.e. text), and that the practice of art is a primarily visual endeavor. This is a surprisingly controversial view - some of your other teachers would have a stroke if you said this out loud. You are quite correct about the way that language influences perception, though, and your point about the titles is an excellent example. The conceptual artists that emphasized language in the late '60's and early '70's recognized this , and took it to an extreme - seeing the increasing importance of theory and criticism (a process which began at the end of the 19th century), they decided that art was in fact nothing but a linguistically constructed set of ideas; art objects were little more than an illustration of those ideas. This is when semiotics became not only a way of analyzing art and popular culture (like in Barthes), but as a modus operandi for making art. This is a crucial difference - language as a way of explanation and interpretation of existing art vs. theory as a starting point for making art. I think there are big problems with the latter.

The blank, non-visual character of so much recent art, particularly in the last ten or fifteen years, is evidence that this was an interesting set of ideas, but as a sustained approach to art-making it has demonstrable limits. Here's a Roberta Smith piece from the Times that talks about the end-of-an-era feeling attached to much of what is often referred to as post-minimalism:


2. Agreed!

3. I was excited about the Bauhaus show, but when I actually went to see it I felt like I was in Ikea or Crate and Barrel. To go back to your point above, I think that art's usefulness is contemplative, and this is interrupted if not obliterated if you can also use it to make coffee or hold toilet paper.

Talk soon,