Tuesday, June 5, 2012

art criticism or coll(art)eral damage?

gabriel von max, monkeys as judges of art, 1889


i dig wikipedia and, against the grain, recommend it to my students (better to get lost in wikipedia/clustering than idly watching bad tv, right?).

but there are entries, like this, that deserve a second look:
Art critics usually criticize art in the context of aesthetics or the theory of beauty. One of criticism's goals is the pursuit of a rational basis for art appreciation.
i prefer "evaluate" over "criticize" (nothing wrong with "criticize") which doesn't necessarily exclude finding merit. my problem is with "in the context of."  what is that suppose to mean? if aesthetics deals with certain conceptual limits (as it does), then it already presupposes a context, right? dealing with the context (of a context) seems at best redundant, at worst bunkum.

next, not everyone that engages in criticism is doing aesthetics. for example, dominique bouhours' the art of criticism is not a book about aesthetics per se (as this or this, which are more generalized transcendental efforts).

when in his salons, denis diderot picks apart the art of fragonard or boucher, he is enthusing a new audience with what can be called proto-journalistic art criticism: a sort of intuitive enterprise discussing art issues. which? the obscure origin of the discipline points to a very stubborn pre-modern and post-modern problem: thinking vs. feeling.

and both extremes can paradoxically coexist in the same individual. in the 1750's diderot sides with feeling:
Sensibility, not judgment or reflection, is the quality absolutely essential for stirring, moving productions; judgment itself requires a close connection and dependence on feeling.*
chardin, (1699-1799) a painter defended by diderot

in later salons (1761, 1763) he develops a more nuanced position: (...) "the artist's sensibility is not by itself sufficient for producing great art." In Paradoxe sur le comédien of 1773 he states:
Sensibility is the quality of second-rate people, immature fools who are ever at the mercies of their emotions and who are consequently unable to attain self-control, judgment, greatness. Sensibility is the extreme mobility of certain fibres of the nervous system; instead of the mind dominating, it is the diaphragm that rules. The great artist may experience feeling, but his productions are not the direct result of it.**
so, which one? the answer is not that simple & diderot is aware of it, which is why he resorts to his idea of "paradoxe." not unlike bouhours' "je ne sais quoi," paradoxe is a kind of modification of the "ardor of the passions" when the head is calm & the emotions  controlled.

enough detour. let's come back to the wikipedia entry:
The variety of artistic movements has resulted in a division of art criticism into different disciplines, each using vastly different criteria for their judgements. The most common division in the field of criticism is between historical criticism and evaluation, a form of art history, and contemporary criticism of work by living artists.
true, one should not evaluate cubism and 19th century french realism with the same glasses. but that misrepresents the fact that the point of the evaluation is independent of style. whether realism, cubism or conceptual art, the critic looks for similar properties: skill, quality, novelty, fruitfulness, etc. the variety of movements does not require a different "kind" of evaluation. "bad" can apply to realist painting, conceptual art or performance art. as per historical criticism, our current paradigm is perversely historic through and through, which reveals a deeper & more basic contradiction, i.e., that contemporary art has no future. we're stuck in real tv, a recurring present projected for our own enjoyment. as the present gets endlessly repeated, we lost sight of history, which turns into a low-noise, static a-temporal blob.

now the article moves to the critic/artist tension.
Artists have often had an uneasy relationship with their critics. Artists usually need positive opinions from critics for their work to be viewed and purchased; unfortunately for the artists, only later generations may understand it.
did i say that i proudly see myself in the company of my fellow monkeys in von max's painting above? the critic is supposed to find fault! i say this in 2012, an epoch when the market turned art into cultural entertainment.

artists usually need positive opinions? and so do non-artists. what's the point of "positive"?  this is certainly false today. institutions don't need "positive opinions" from critics because they have a publicity machine in place, courtesy of the market. critics are extinct species!

look at facebook and its distinctive thumbs-up operation, the paradigm of contemporary euphoric anomie. folks, the truth is simple:

adulation sells

which brings me to the following three points:

1- "aesthetics" is a dead proposition. now it means art-related, coll(art)eral. it's time to send "aesthetics" to the cleaners (with no claim receipt).

2- feeling isn't (wasn't ever) divorced from thinking. that's a rationalist myth which caused a romantic backlash which brought up our post-modern impasse.   

3- art criticism has been defunct for more than a decade. if art is a passtime, there is no place for art criticism. besides, who cares?

art criticism is coll-art-eral damage

* Diderot & Sterne, Alice Green Freedman, Columbia University Press, 1955) p. 26


Massengale said...

I have been reading your posts lately and find them stimulating since you have been addressing similar issues that have occupied my thoughts. While re-reading John Dewey's ART AS EXPERIENCE, I ask myself what his take on current art conditions would be.
When written in circa 1934 sublimity was about to be addressed in painting again via the Ab Exers and criticism was a necessity to inform an audience conditioned by recognizable subjects - despite the increasing pictorial distortions.

Anonymous said...

Triff nice posting streak.

Anonymous said...

I think that valuation, or evaluation, is a very big struggle for our postmodernist social system. Those with the economical means call the shots for themselves and for their connected allies, comrades. It seems that a lot of artists feel the pressure of doing good work (that they like) while also trying to live off of their art, which puts them in a position directly parasitic of the system they want to be independent of. I think its reasonable for an artist to want to live off of their work, but there aren't enough big time money collectors out there who will be interested. Money in art is such a complex question...
-Daniella Lopez

atRifF said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
atRifF said...

"despite the increasing pictorial distortions", thanks, jordan. :)

tx, Di.

money in art and art in money. good point daniella. keep visiting.