12 July 2006

Oh yeah... Art.

Yves Klein, Leap Into The Void, 1960

The question that I need to keep coming back to, which is also High, Low and In Between's, Ashes', and Art Powerlines' question, is about the social role of the artist. Sure, Eric Larsen can come in here and get everyone all whooped up about the Age of Simplification... but what does it mean to art?

I don't know. But HLIB has started the conversation nicely:

"I’m increasingly concerned with the notion of survival – my beliefs, my preferences and my prejudices and what these mean for an artist. Who is the moral personality behind the work? Do I have the ability to be virtuous in the face an ideology of debasement or what Larsen calls simplification? Can I understand beauty and justice?"

And Ashes takes HLIB's question and smacks it right out of the park:

"The point of course is to understand beauty and justice independent of the ideology of debasement and simplification."

Beautiful, just beautiful. But where is this independent place where moral artists can understand beauty and justice? Between people's blogs? Can it exist elsewhere? Out in the real world? In art? And is it independent, or does it depend on a community of similarly independent folks? I'm going to go make some dinner, and I know what I'll be thinking about...


Blogger highlowbetween said...

D - thanks again for linking. I'm very excited by this whole week and ashes made me more so. I feel fried almost from it all. I'm thinking on this more as well - I just posted a dedication to the simplification life. Enjoy.

12 July, 2006 22:50  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

I'm almost fried, too. I don't think I"ll be posting for a little while--I've got to go make some art.

But yeah, I'll still be reading!

13 July, 2006 07:02  
Blogger highlowbetween said...

I hear you.

13 July, 2006 12:05  
Blogger highlowbetween said...

Hey - perhaps you know this but your original Larsen post is on Amazon!
scroll to the bottom to comments

13 July, 2006 13:39  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

Well, lookie there! Thanks H, I had no idea.

13 July, 2006 15:08  
Blogger highlowbetween said...

let me know when you get your star on hollywood boulevard

time to get site meter.

13 July, 2006 16:04  
Blogger DilettanteVentures said...

"Art comes not from issues and abstractions like race and gender but it comes from forces and feelings like mystery, rage, sorrow, loss, ecstasy, or it comes from the unbridled, the angry, the selfish, the unleashed, the miserable, the grief-stricken, the hopeful, the doomed, the yearning, the desiring, the blissful, the ecstatic—in every case this originating embryo or germ of emotion, existing in life and not in abstraction, is then married with intellect and thought, creating the art-union of feeling and thinking that in turn results in meaning and significance, a meaning and significance that can be created and expressed in no other way than through that marriage." - Eric Larsen

You guys don't actually agree with this assessment do you? That notion rules out a good deal of art of the last 4 decades or so...No more Nauman, Friedman, Graham, Smithson...not to mention Piper, Antin, Sherman, Hammons, or Fusco...

13 July, 2006 21:40  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

Hello DV,

I was reading this last night, and yes, I bought Larsen's assertion that art is, essentially, existential, and that its goal is to wed thinking and emotion. And yeah, I do have a hard time with art that deals in abstractions like identity or pop culture, and I do prefer art that deals directly in human experience. I have always thought about this in terms of bringing together instead of dividing--I want Kara Walker, say, to communicate with me instead reinforcing a pre-existing, hurtful boundary. I think this is more than prefering what is old to what is new--I think that the only real power art has is in its ability to share existence, however imperfectly, and transcend issue.

This is something I struggle with in my own work. I dilute what I want to do by getting into an issue (climate change) and allowing my own work to become political and not existential. I do that because it's easier and more people understand it, but it slips off the mark for me.

Your list of artists includes some that make me go "meh" for exactly this reason: ie, Fusco or Piper.

But Antin, Smithson and Nauman--these are artists that I believe do understand art as an existential mission, and I believe that they do wed thinking and emotion. Smithson in particular was quite insightful about the existential importance of perceiving the world he lived in.

13 July, 2006 22:27  
Blogger DilettanteVentures said...

To be clear, are you're asserting that what Piper and Fusco are doing is not art? Because that is what logically follows from Larsen's schema. I guess Sol Lewitt is out too...we must have missed all the emotion pouring out of Smithson's work. Even given your existential interpretation of Larsen's romanticism, we're hard pressed to see how a good deal of Smithson's work "deals directly in human experience." It seems that a good deal of his work was an abstract, conceptual critique of human perception altogether. That is, his work was an attempt to think geologically, not psychologically...
Also, let's say he was stressing "the existential importance of perceiving the world he lived in." Who could argue that so-called "abstractions like identity or pop culture" are not a part of that world, or ARE that world in our current cultural climate?

(Leave it to us to come into the middle of a conversation everyone is winding down from and start attacking)

13 July, 2006 23:20  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

Love bites, Dilletanteventures, love bites! You know I love arguing with you, and I hopethink the feeling's mutual. This has been too much of a love-in, and I am happy you're here to make some backbone happen.

I think Larsen confuses the issue with hyperbole, and I think there's a difference between making a statement about where you find value in art and whether or not something is art at all. Because I agree with his sentiment, I see that I am glossing over his broadness, touche. He does this with his other points, like saying that there is no good writing after a certain date, and these overly broad statements are not helpful to the larger enterprise.

I also buy your assertion that denying popular culture is a fool's errand, and again, this is a consistent weak link in Larsen's logic. You can't just deny what has happened. Well, you can, but it will stay there and continue to be an obstacle.

That said, Fusco and Piper are examples of artmaking strategies that, IMO, are of a time, and that I don't think are particularly powerful now, and I think that has to do with the political nature of their work. I don't like the way they handle race as an issue because I find it divisive, and I think its divisiveness undercuts their (assumed) goals.

I'm going to have to do a little quote finding and get back to you about Smithson, because I can't believe anyone wouldn't see his work as the perfect synthesis of emotion and thought... who are you???

And yeah, this is something I am going to need to back up later, but I am just going to throw it out there:

I totally agree with you that it is specious to claim that "so-called "abstractions like identity or pop culture" are not a part of that world, or ARE that world in our current cultural climate"

But then what? What does one do with it? There is a difference between working with something and letting it work you. Where we probably differ is that I see popular culture as being quite insidious and prefer to bring a lot of other stuff to bear on it, like craft or art history or the Enlightenment writers or science. You can, and probably should, call this romantic and you should probably warn me that I am going to totally backslide into a prosaic wasteland of what we expect art to be (that's kind of what I am getting between the lines of your posts).

You are right to do this! But I think I can get to a third, more powerful, place if I keep working one thing against another. I am not sure how to do this quite yet, it's not like I have evidence in my own work of it happening that I can point to... but I'm working on it. Writing helps.

I hate to be so abstract. Please tear me apart so I am forced to put a finer point on all this.

14 July, 2006 07:58  
Anonymous Eric Larsen said...

That was me, the one who put the conversation on Amazon. Shoemaker & Hoard's publicist knew about this program called "Amazon Connect" whereby you can talk with the people who've bought your book via Amazon--or I think that's the way it works. Hope it was all right with you, Deborah Fisher. I'd actually like to put up some more, so let me know. Also spent yesterday writing a response to your question about "the social role of the artist." It's long, though, and I'd feel like a space-hog if I put it here, so thought I'd keep it on my own website and put a link here. If I can figure out how to do that.
It's more on the subject of art and the genesis of art as opposed to social responsibility and goodness. Gulp. Might vindicate me in the eyes of dilettanteventures--or maybe get me in even hotter water. Great conversations, though. EL

14 July, 2006 09:50  
Blogger DilettanteVentures said...

DF -

Piper's work, especially her early work, deals with far more than race (although her work that handles "race as an issue" is great). Food for the Spirit is about as existential a piece of work as you'll find.

"who are you???"

We're gadflys to be sure...but Smithson's work has ZERO emotional resonance for us.

Pop culture is often insidious and insipid but so is so-called "high" culture...We love the "great books" of Western Civ, but we love Aaron Spelling's work too. We refuse to privilege one or the other prima facie...

EL -

Please do post that link. We looked for the wrting you mention on your site, but couldn't find it.

14 July, 2006 10:34  
Anonymous Eric Larsen said...

OK. It's up there now. Here's the URL, but I don't know how to make it hot.


14 July, 2006 12:26  
Blogger Art Soldier said...

Sorry for lurking, had to jump in.


You write that "The question isn't, what is the social role of the artist. The question is, what is the social role of people."

I agree, they are the same. The artist bears the same responsibility to be a "good" member of society as the non-artist. Logic follows then, according to your definition of a "good person," that the function of the artist is then "to strive for and implement the good and the just."

Yet, while making your appeal for an art-art that is opposed to an art that refers to non-art (i.e., socio-policital conditions), you fail to explain what makes your "art-art" the product of someone "striving for and implementing the good and just."

But you don't have to, as we've seen this line of reasoning before. Its logic is particularly Modernist (having originated with the philosophy of Kant), and argues for the inherent virtue of an autonomous art separated from any reference outside of itself. It's the very justification used for establishing a 'high-art' that is exclusive and elitist.

So the question is not "what is the social role of people?", but what kind of art "implements the good and the just?" Which officially brings us right back to where we started -- the moral dillema of artmaking -- and so far you haven't demonstrated why art-art is any more desirable than an aesthetic that engages with a lived experience outside of itself.

14 July, 2006 13:27  
Blogger highlowbetween said...

hey kids - sorry I've been out in the killing fields.

hmmm good discussion.
unfortunately I'm too tired to add much except I like Piper and agree with all of you. Now vote for me in November!
Seriously though, good talk I wish I had the energy to inject something substantial. I will say this in closing, I seriously question the assumption that pop art is a critique in most of its manifestations - early Warhol yes, and a few others, but not the later/current generations.
I think identity is a platform for many, abused and dumbed down to bumper stickers but its is critical to making and discourse. I just wish more people would get deeper into it as mechanism and less cliches for the converted. Make some damn connections!

Aaron Spelling? Loved Charmed but for same reasons I loved Angels - yes I'm a pig...

14 July, 2006 13:29  
Blogger highlowbetween said...

oh and great point by Soldier

I have to read Erics link and wake up a little. Sleeping in the office is frowned on

14 July, 2006 13:45  
Blogger Ashes77 said...

yeah, kudos to art soldier, for a point well made, but that said, I don't really disagree with 99% of where Larsen is going. I think I was incorrect to leave the beauty together with the justice, as I'd picked the two up together in a quote from somewhere else.

I don't think though, that Larsen read the entirety of my post which finished with a not-attributed reference to W Benjamin on aestethiczing politics

14 July, 2006 18:04  
Blogger Art Powerlines said...

D - I'm back from a little downtime.

Kudos Art Soldier, and good questions and thoughts EL. Although I have to ask Deb, why do you think I'm asking the question, what is the social role of the artist?

I'm with Ashes and almost agree entirely with what Larsen is saying, I feel he hits on something in his "What's Art For" post that was spot on. And that was regarding assumptions, the assumptions on what HLIB and Ashes were quoted as saying via DF's post.

I'm going to ask everyone on this thread - how do our assumptions shape the nature of our observations and structure our thoughts?

This question comes from David Bohm, and I touched on this yesterday in a post titled Call Bird II, where I spoke about the assumptions I make in my artistic practice and with blogging.

Although I'd like to hear more of Art Soldier go on about art-art falling into modernism's lap and loop, I think I've heard it before....

14 July, 2006 19:55  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

Hello AP, glad to see you.

Your Socialist Art Public post made me think you are thinking about the social role of the artist, especially when paired with this post and this one.

It sounds to me like you are consistently asking for:

1. a marxist critique of art institutions
2. a kind of art that exists for the people and not for the elite, and you seem to place this responsibility for the people on the artist
3. an honest exploration of the kind of power art has.

That all points in my head to the social role of the artist, but I don't want to put words into your mouth (or Ashes') at all. What do you think?

I do think it's interesting that most of the people I know who are most consistently thinking about art in terms of its power (HLIB, AP, Ashes, myself) are thinking very much in terms of what Larsen is calling "Doing Good". And it sounds like nobody on the ground is willing to buy that art is not political, nor that "art for art's sake" does not exist in Chelsea, anyway.

I have been turning this one around as I read (and go back over) Larsen's second essay, because while I believe fully in both the existential purpose art serves and the whole emotion--thought thing, much of the logic doesn't quite ring true for me. I am not convinced, for instance, that a "return" to art-art is going to solve visual art's malaise... can you say 2004 biennial?

And I am not convinced that being apolitical is such a great option these days, although I do tend to agree with Larsen's ideas about the difference between politics and art, and have written about this before.

Frankly, I am going to have to take some time to think. This whole set of thoughts cuts really closely to my studio practice at a time when I need to be making and not palavering. I hope the discussion keeps happening... I'll be around again soon.

14 July, 2006 20:59  
Blogger highlowbetween said...

There is a lot to chew on here. I'm just getting over being taken out of context by Eric somewhat but that's half the fun. I'm off to openings tomorrow and hopefully some train time will help me focus on this especially after some paintings get worked on.

14 July, 2006 22:35  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

Amen, HLIB, first you were taken out of context by me, if that's any help...

And yes, all of this will make more sense to me on the other side of some doing.

15 July, 2006 07:49  
Blogger Art Powerlines said...

I can't say your way off the mark in asking your questions, and you raise good solid points. As HLIB said, this is part of the fun. I'd like to think that I'm asking and pointing to something else though, something beyond the "social role". I'll work on that some more in future postings.

have fun doing. i've been doing just that for the past month. long live art!!!!

and hang that dj

15 July, 2006 12:48  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

AP, I love your passion, and I will hang the DJ if I see him. And yes, I would like to get to a place of more too.

Thanks for your time and thoughts, Deborah

16 July, 2006 21:59  

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