06 September 2007

On Expecting More

Blogs are polemical. Someone says something that gets you all riled up, and then you dispute it, and thus the wheel keeps turning. And there is a danger in this. You could wind up taking a side.

Take the conversation that's (very) loosely turning around Thomas Lendvai's installation at Winkleman. Usually these posts on Ed_'s blog are not commented on, except to congratulate and wish dealer and artist well, but this time a conversation has blossomed that is basically about what viewers expect from the art viewing experience.

This is an important conversation to have, and it's important to separate it from conservative arguments like "I don't approve of site-specific work"* v. liberal arguments like "the more I know about art, the more I can appreciate any artwork"*. Both sides of this argument collapse! To place rules on contemporary artmaking is to ignore the 500 years of art history that pushed us into this uniquely lawless space. And to place the onus of understanding any artwork on the viewer's knowledge and sensitivity is to create an army of gullible Yes Men commenting on the fine quality of the Emperor's New Clothes.

No, no, no! I demand more on this Super Thursday. I demand a way of looking at art that denies nothing and expects much. I demand discussions about art that are as sloppy and unpolemical as art actually is! I demand, in the always lurid and in this case appropriate words of JP Gorin, to be kissed while I am being fucked! Because that is what art is about, that's the transaction.

*almost-direct quotes from the afforelinked-to blogorrhea at Edward Winkleman.

8 Comments:

Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Yes yes yes! Kiss me and fuck me! Right!

In the act of viewing art, I deny nothing. In the act of critiquing art, then I have opinions.

06 September, 2007 11:00  
Blogger prettylady said...

Thanks for articulating the false liberal/conservative dichotomy in the art world. Art, I believe, should seek to expand the limits of human consciousness. It can fail to do that, both by repeating a form of the past without original exploration, and by lazily breaking out of that form without rigorous consideration of the reasons for doing so. Rebellion alone is not an act of consciousness extension.

06 September, 2007 13:47  
Blogger Ethan said...

And to place the onus of understanding any artwork on the viewer's knowledge and sensitivity is to create an army of gullible Yes Men commenting on the fine quality of the Emperor's New Clothes.

Well, I think you misunderstand/misrepresent my point about increased knowledge allows increased appreciation. I'm certainly not suggesting that every work of art is good or must be appreciated (or that something is wrong with the viewer if he or she can't find something worthwhile in a given artwork).

Rather, I am arguing against the common attitude of using an increasing knowledge of something (whether it is wine, music, art, or whatever) to narrow what one can appreciate. Sure, it's great if you can spot a flaw in something due to your expertise... but that should be balanced by also being able to spot something great/interesting that might have been missed by a less-keen eye. I guess I'm tired of seeing people use their art knowledge for ill (i.e., to more easily support their pre-conceived positions).

06 September, 2007 23:35  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

Chris: you are not "denying nothing". This whole conversation started because you didn't "approve of" an entire category of art.

Be honest!

PL: Amen!

Ethan: I don't think that what you are describing (using more information to narrow your taste) is a common phenomenon at all! The more I learn about anything, the more I want to experience more of it.

I don't want anyone to use their art knowledge to support their already formed ideas either. Frankly, I think that a couple of people on the EW thread are doing that, and that most people are just figuring out how to be discerning.

"How to be discerning" is a legitimate project right now. Anything goes only gets you so far...

...but going back to a time of standards (what Chris seems to be arguing) is pointlessly backward-looking.

How do you apply rigor to total lawlessness? This is a reasonable question, and answering it does involve questioning the total acceptance and generosity we expect from a contemporary art audience. It's strange, it's not like any other appreciation relationship, and it has the potenital to get really arch and manipulative.

06 September, 2007 23:56  
Blogger Ethan said...

I don't think that what you are describing (using more information to narrow your taste) is a common phenomenon at all! The more I learn about anything, the more I want to experience more of it.

Well, that's really the attitude I'm advocating. You very well may be right and perhaps I'm making connections where there are none (i.e., between an increase knowledge and a tendency to limit one's openness).

There was a recent study about how humans are very good at ignoring facts that contradict their opinions/pre-conceived positions. (see here).

While that study did focus on political opinions, I do suspect it would apply to how we look at art as well. My own manner for fighting this human tendency is to try to set aside--at least for a moment--my own baggage while looking at art and try to take it own its own terms. And even when I don't really see the point of a work of art (or an artist's oeuvre), I do try to keep in mind it may be something I'm missing.

A case in point, I really don't understand the big deal about Basquiat... but at the same time, I haven't seen much of his work (and what I've seen in-person has been minors works), I suspect that a better knowledge of the time & place he was working might be pertinent, and finally it's simply out of an area where I feel have sharpened instincts (i.e., isn't sculpture or installation). On the other hand, perhaps he really isn't all that--I simply don't feel I have a good enough understanding to judge.

I suppose that last sentence may sum up to what you're objecting to (i.e., the withholding of judgment against a work of art). But, as I said on Ed's blog, I've found myself revising opinions on art too many times to feel comfortable completely dismissing a work of art (or of an artist) until I'm really, really well-informed about it (though I'm perfectly happy to have a "opinion in the absence of further knowledge/reflection"). I can see how that could come across wishy-washy, but it works for me :)

07 September, 2007 00:29  
Blogger Ethan said...

One other thought... I was mulling this over and realized that it's much, much more common for me to revise my opinion about an artwork (or artist) to the positive, then to revise it towards the negative. I suspect that's true of most people... if that's the case, I think it would support the idea of being a bit modest about dismissing an artwork as worthless/bad/facile/pointless/etc.

07 September, 2007 00:45  
Blogger Ethan said...

Oops... I meant to say "it's much, much more common for me to revise my opinion about an artwork (or artist) to the positive, than to revise it towards the negative."

(Normally I'd let those kinda of typos slide... but since this one actually reversed the meaning, I thought it best to correct :)

07 September, 2007 07:38  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I don't approve of it, but that doesn't mean I don't try to be open to it when I see it. What I mean to say is, I wouldn't miss conceptual art if everyone stopped making it.

But, again, that's the critic in me. When I'm just experiencing art, I don't bring that in until later.

07 September, 2007 14:34  

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