obviously, i've been working on a chart of the interplay of gender, orientation, and aesthetics. in a positive moment in my aesthetic critique of girls and gay men, i said we love y'all anyway, in part because of the differences. now let me try to say a bit more about why, and how i'm thinking about this.
first you get the disclaimer: everything is at an absurdly general level; like, for example, david halperin, i'm trying to describe a cultural imaginary; no person occupies any point in the taxonomy with perfect centrality - and that goes for male and female as well as gay and straight and the various clusters of taste. also every interstice is occupied. i'm identifying an aesthetic coalition of straight women and gay men, and i'm saying that this alliance accounts for a lot of the way things look and sound in popular culture; i suppose one could sum it up like this: a celebration of artifice, an apotheosis of appearance, an orientation toward spectacle. but then just to portray the other side, where i was trying to pair lesbians and straight men, as the wholesale outlet of reality or sincerity or something would just be begging the question in favor of what i'm calling 'our side'. because, true, the appearance/reality split itself needs all sorts of examination. but one way it needs it is precisely as a gendered and orientated pair. it's a complementary system, a yin yang. you can't have one without the other. but i could also say: we're classical, you're baroque. you're rococo, we're neo-classical. you're impressionist, we're cubist. you're pop, we're minimalist.
look i think all these things arise in a system of complements, but then you've got to put them in action in time, like art movements, which they also literally are; they merge and diverge, divide within and coalesce across; the situation at a given time is complex and it's in the middle of reconfiguration. without touching the biology or genetics at all, the way male and female and straight and gay function makes them, i think obviously, interdependent and unstable. the center can be seen in all the sexual and erotic and aesthetic pairings, all the ways people in different groups are drawn to each other and repelled by each other, all the places and ways they merge and segregate themselves from each other, and each other from themselves: psychologically, linguistically, musically, visually, sexually.
the distinction between straight women and straight men - the immense venus/mars differences that supposedly make us incomprehensible to each other - are of course also the center of heterosexual erotics. right? we want to be incomprehensible to each other, and hence be ourselves. this really is actually symbolized in the yin yang, for example: it's a fucking cosmology of difference. and within heterosexuality, the differences become more and more intense because they are the center of the erotic lives of both sorts of people: men get manlier and drive trucks and watch sports, women get girlier and wear frills and makeup and stuff. they drink chardonnay and gossip or whatever. yo we despise that. we can't stand that shit. but what it means to be heterosexual is to emphasize the differentiation and want precisely people who drink creamy lattes and have closets full of incomprehensible grooming products. we are conniving to make ourselves so different that we can't communicate, and so different that we can't not want, can't not be for one another what the other lacks. then again, precisely because of wanting, we are drawn into proximity. we get to know each other. we want to be friends. we are frustrated that we can't communicate. we try. we oscillate toward similarity, and of course we are massively the same as embodied human beings and as part of the same culture or system of identities, even if our bodies and cultures are a bit different too. we try to approach our heterosexual relationships homosocially.
but and so, i don't think there's any objective normative weight in the eroticization of difference: sameness can also be eroticized (and every nuance in between). so we might call that homonormativity or, you know, yinyin or yangyang. well, guess what: heterosexual men and women are the same in that we are heterosexuals, and gay men and women are both gay. so this dimension is not just in play within gay and lesbian groups. now, as, say, lesbians emerge into a kind of erotic solidarity, straight men are migrating to similar symbol systems and erotic configurations, and vice versa: or as the hets push out they enter into an erotics of identification with the homos of the other gender, scattering outliers throughout the journey. one thing i'm trying not to do here is make the het categories fundamental; or to define the homo categories as parasitic on the het categories: i do think in their contemporary configuration they are mutually simultaneously caused, and inconceivable except as a whole system.
the thing is almost an erotic vortex or tornado, in which people are pulled in all sorts of directions by identifications and by disidentifications or disavowals. so the fact that i'm not female, and that i signal that with an entire repertoire - the way i move, the way i dress or groom, the way i adorn my environment, and so on - just is also the fact that i'm male: a complete aesthetic arsenal, but one that only makes sense in relation to its complements. and then the fact that i'm straight: well, that makes use of the same stuff. and so does the fact that you're not a straight woman. and then, with a tilde, that you're not a lesbian; then, that you're a gay man; then, with a tilde, that i'm a straight man, and so on, on each whirl picking up more debris, the whole thing changing shape as it spins.
pretty soon, you have, for example, the diva thing and all its doubly complex longings for the same and for the different. look one thing a diva is likely to be is a sex symbol among heterosexual men: the diva manifests various flavors of extreme femininity. and gay and straight men end up appreciating beyonce from different angles, but certainly erotically both ways round. if, say, lesbians at a certain point distinguish themselves from straight women by identifying with masculinity, then part of masculintiy is precisely eroticizing femininity: voila, lipstick. or if gay men are disavowing heterosexuality by disavowing masculinity or identifying as feminine, then part of being feminine is eroticizing masculinity: pretty soon you've got muscle-bound dudes with mustaches everywhere, more masculine than me by a ways.
but then these pairs might also put the eroticization of differences at an ironic distance, might put them in play, might be too conscious of them to regard them as natural, might see them as erotic resources rather than unbridgeable gaps. and that might be something you could teach us: to stop regarding our own sexuality as natural etc, or to not regard it as only natural, to see that it too is at least in part a performance, and put us in a position where performances of straightmaleness could be critiqued by straight males from different angles, or to see even paradigmatic enactments of masculinity as vulenrable to aesthetic and other sorts of critique. a muscley straight guy with a mustache might re-think his look and come to think of it as intentional. meanwhile, the hets are yearning across the gap and trying to keep the other side's interest or loyalty, and you've got straight women in business suits and metrosexuals. even in a very simplified picture of sameness difference/sameness sameness, there is a constantly volatile swirl of possibilities within all the groups and between them.
there are many oppressions in this unfolding situation, long histories of oppressions that are also eroticized, as dominance and submission, for example. alright? but still we do not want to be without the thing, because then we'd stop wanting, and also become incomprehensible to ourselves. and there are also many liberations, many zones of liberation, many stonewalls. all sorts of loves and all sorts of beauties are opened up as possibilities in the midst of the storm; it's the longings opening up within and across that make the beauty possible or give rise to it or even are it. the het male beauty of a michael jordan or a v-8 engine, the gay beauty of a judy garland or the exact right outfit. and it would not be crazy to look at these as both homo as well as hetero-erotic, as expressing solidarity and difference at once, or the erotics of identification and the erotics of distinction. there might even be transpositions over time as an expressions of yearnings-across.
what you actually want to do with these identities is not destroy or overcome them: no one really has that power even if they are sheer or mere cultural constructions. what you want to do is play with them. we need to try to reduce some of the weight, or some of the power of these systems to configure hatreds even as we try to hold on to the ways they configure loves: hatreds of the same and hatreds of the different. for these are also systems of exclusion, of course, or that's just to say the same thing again. what you want to try to do is increase the pleasure of them and decrease the pain, and i say the best place to focus and celebrate is the art, taking art at its broadest possible sweep, from body presentation to food to music to scent to interior design to cityscape. this is where the play of differences is relatively harmless, but profound. you can't have the identities without exclusions or at least judgments of taste that more or less condemn what is in contrast. but a question is: to what extent can you have these judgments without contemplating destruction? we often actually do pretty well at that, and straight guys in particular need to do it better without abandoning ourselves.
so one thing i am not going to do is just try to disown my male straightness. rather i am actually going to celebrate its aesthetic. we have given a lot of great stuff to the world, and we are, in our own way, extremely aesthetically oriented, or if you could take the oppression out, what you'd have left would be all kinds of interesting symbols and gestures, including all these signifiers of sincerity and authenticity and simplicity, hard work and self-discipline. you might think those are oppressive ideas; you don't actually want to be without them though. that's how we want to be seen, how we dress, how we want to think, how we want to talk.
i think the oppression has been taken out of this aesthetic repertoire at least to this extent: gay male/straight female aesthetics dominates our culture, even if it's still for the most part (apparently! straight men might always be gay men passing) straight men in congress or the board room. now, i say that our various aesthetic expressions and principles constitute a contribution and that you love us for it. and we don't want to lose it partly because of course you do want it. need it, i believe. and of course these categories play out in the tornado in a complex and equivocal way: we become self-deluded in our dedication to the simple truth, and y'all come out of the closet or delight to dress fashionably as an expression of the truth that should not be hidden. bruce springsteen - dressed simply, workin hard all night - might be as much of a gender/orientation re-enactor as rupaul, but might be less conscious of it.
and then i will say, albeit with some grudgingness because i do have the aesthetics i do have, that y'all have made all sorts of contributions too. and even if they were correctly described as frivolity or play or appearance or pop or hedonism or melodrama or spectacle: well, who the hell wants to live without those things in the world, right? anyway, even if i tried to withdraw from them, the withdrawal is defined by their presence. but i don't withdraw: i distinguish myself from them and i eroticize them, see? but looking at it the other way round: hedonism is not sufficient for anyone's liberation. liberation requires hard work, and you want to liberate yourself into something true or meaningful. on the other hand, folks like me seem to be somewhat pleasure or play-deprived. you need anger, but we're perhaps too angry. sheer insulation or ever-growing polarization are unfortunate, but they also intensify the yearnings that end up in new syntheses.
in short, we should really love each other. secretly or not, we do. we certainly need each other and depend on each other and want each other. we should stay different and we should yearn and try to appreciate. we should slum in each other's bars from time to time, and smile, etc. right? i think if you let these things play with you and play with them, the system might become more liquid or improvisational or multi-dimensional. but really who knows? it might even get more extremely differentiated or simplified, which could be interesting too if it doesn't freeze. but you want to start thinking of the gender/sexuality square as an immense set of aesthetic resources, which are also ways to be.
so, y'all think you can dance. could jerome robbins or rudolf nureyev improvise a great dance while you were trying to kick his ass? didn't have the stones, baby. but my people can do that. and we go a step further too: we dance while we kick your ass. we kick your ass by dancing.
my amazing aesthetic manifesto is in the los angeles time today. free your senses, folks.
now, i think the first question that will arise for anyone is whether i can really defend my view that fast five is better than lincoln, obviously and by a long way. both films have stylish cinematography and good editing, but i think what made the difference for me with fast five were the really profound lesssons in leadership. watching vin diesel take a ragtag group of body-builders, hip hop artists, comedians, and models, and forge them into a unit capable of destroying rio...well, it was inspiring. as doris kerns-goodwin, on whose book fast five was based, has so often said with a groan of ecstasy, we need our president to be a lot more like vin diesel.
so to fend off the pernicious girl/gaydude aesthetic, now dominating everything and described primitively below, i think that a conscious arts coalition of straight guys and lesbians is called for. we're being thrown together anyway, and it's just as well because have you seen those people's taste? dress plainly, my people, love your woman right, and listen to excellent roots music. you're not going to believe this but i think we might like the same pornography! who knows? maybe they do too. as each other, i mean.
nothing from a broadway musical is permitted on this here jukebox. sorry, no, we don't serve mojitos. take your sparkles, your designer bag, your cosmetic surgery, your self-esteem issues, your david bowie and beyonce and boy bands, your theatrical emoting, and get em up out this bar, girl; you'll be more comfortable next door. you'll dig the techno. it's supposedly raining men over there again, so you better hurry. dunno, dude, they wander in here sometimes. slummin i guess.
we love y'all in spite of it all, though - even because of it a bit, maybe - and some of us will see some of y'all later on. or let's take in a movie saturday night, sweetie; we can split up by sexual identities in the lobby. you guys can do les mis: just please, i'm begging you, don't come home with the soundtrack. it would be wrong to make us pay for a ticket to that or to force us to smile vaguely and say it wasn't as bad as we thought it might be. you go look for something with amazing costumes; me and my lesbians will rummage around, hoping for explosions. actually, i heard this multiplex might be installing separate entrances. we can meet back here when it's over. we deeply respect foodies, fusion, the chew, and stuff, but we're going to need strictly segregated restaurants, so we can enjoy a burger and a beer without all that chatter. what we need is a tvroom of our own. you guys should go shoe-shopping together. we'll just stay here and watch the game. seriously, it's fine!
i do love a donnybrook between pretentious, tasteless assholes of the sort who dictate the pecking order at the idiot upper end of the artworld.
The legal complaints center on the worth of an unfinished Jeff Koons sculpture, “Popeye,” that Mr. Perelman bought from Mr. Gagosian for $4 million, as well as the value of eight other works that Mr. Perelman used as partial payment for a $10.5 million Cy Twomblypainting and a $12.6 million Richard Serra sculpture he bought from the dealer.
now, i propose that an unfinished sculpture by jeff koons has no value other than what people like larry gagosian pluck out of thin air. how did he pluck it out of thin air? he figured out what you just might pay, so it's too late now to whine because you paid it. the idea that a judge is going to be able to determine what such a thing is really worth presupposes that there is some sort of answer to that question. my view is that it is worth what its component materials are worth, and if called i will testify to that effect. no one can buy something like that because they actually want to look at it or live with it or think about it, right? volcanic tempers and diva egomania are one thing; tastes that are at once bad, pretentious, insincere, and backed by infinite cash are another. how do you persuade yourself that that is a good use of anyone's money? the whole idea of art collecting in this vein is extreme self-deception: i like it. i see what it means. it's deep. it's important. i want to be taken to understand. that's why i buy unfinished popeyes at the price of diamonds. perelman is trying to establish that he's not extremely gauche and tasteless, which is certainly one of the most conspicuous features of...people like himself. but his only way to establish his transcendence is to measure it in dollars: that is, all he knows how to do is crank the gaucherie to excruciating levels.
anyway, if the new york/international art market collapsed utterly, to the point where you couldn't give your twombly scribbles away, the whole culture would be better off.
myself, i'd replace art with craft and suggest that people like perelman do something non-meaningless with their millions. i'm more interested in the iowa or gabon artworld than the new york artworld. or: the original popeye cartoons are art. ok roy lichtenstein's appropriations of such things are art. jeff koons' appropriatons of pop art's appropriations of cartoons are at best momentarily amusing old jokes. they might be sort of funny, or rather they might remind you that lichtenstein really was funny, but that's the best one can say. i'll say to all of us what i said the perelman: if we let people like larry gagosian tell us what art is or why it is important or whether it's good or not, we deserve the art we get and the price we pay.
or here's some more advice while i'm fixing art. don't pretend. if you really like it and understand it, say you do no matter what the status or supposed valuation of it is. if you don't like it or understand it, say you don't like it or understand it. now, you can definitely learn to like and understand something, and you know there might be reasons in some particular case why you should try. but just start with this: i'm as trustworthy on this as anyone else, and at any rate i sort of have to listen to myself or i will be surrounded by things i hate. really, just say it: endorse yourself. nothing goes wrong if you have your own bad taste, but you're just torturing yourself and all of us if you try to have larry gagosian's bad taste. and even larry gagosian can't give you what you want if you don't know what you want, or are just pretending.
defacing art as itself art: well, not new, but exploring new problems in aesthetic criminality. i'd have to say that much of modernism and post-modernism has been dedicated to iconoclasm of one sort or another.even the basic move to abstraction has that element. but hostility toward art is a basic element of, say, dada, pop, conceptualism, jeff koons. or we might ponder rauschenberg's "erased de kooning":
oops i'm going to do to michelangelo what i've been known to do, say, to bruce springsteen: infinitely overrated. the stuff is incredibly overblown, grandiose, extremely pretentious, humorless. it was produced for the corrupt and theologically perverse catholic hierarchy, which shows. it is, in my opinion, wildly conflicted about the nature and meaning of sexuality and, in general, embodiment. michelangelo is obsessed with gigantic musculature: every fresco another schwarzenegger. it's one thing to assert that christianity and pagan antiquity are compatible; it's another to try to capture that mistake in actual images: let's turn jesus into apollo. well, something - perhaps everything - is being severely misunderstood. obviously, this is a problem for the italian renaissance in general, and in my view many of the attempts to render these things compatible were just half-baked or yielded material of extreme or comical incoherence, which i think is at its most excruciating in michelangelo. taking the oeuvre as a whole, it's a kind of orangeish body-building mag. supposedly all the huge bodies mean something spiritual, which would just make the whole thing more ridiculous, or more self-deluded. typically for artists with his sort of neo-Platonic orientation, the work is both absolutely dependent on depicting the real world and devoted to sort of erasing its detail, so it's blank=ideal: that's what this sort of thing really amounted to. there are few artists in the whole tradition who leave me so cold. bleck:
ok, ok, incredible moments. those slave sculptures, for example.
david halperin is one of the people trying to re-enrich gayness after the genetic meltdown. well, among other things, this is a foucault approach, and halperin has been one of the very best readers of foucault.
“Gayness,” Mr. Halperin declares, “is not a state or condition. It’s a mode of perception, an attitude, an ethos: in short, it is a practice.” The great value of traditional gay male culture, he further posits, perhaps even more challengingly, “resides in some of its most despised and repudiated features: gay male femininity, diva worship, aestheticism, snobbery, drama, adoration of glamour, caricature of women and obsession with the figure of the mother.”
now let me ask me this: what does it mean - how does it relate to my heterosexuality or to my homophobia - that i reject the gay aesthetic repertoire more or less entirely? and i don't mean that i sit there and think 'that's too gay': i mean just flatly coming on such things i dislike them without effort or reflection; i wouldn't spend any money on them, e.g. i try to avoid divas of any kind at all costs in life or in entertainment. it's not that broadway musicals never had a good moment, but i find the whole style basically uninteresting: wow you just burst into extremely predictable song and dance there right in the middle of your life. cool. fun. oops i'm really fucking bored. the figure of judy garland does not interest me at all, or no more than a thousand other dead actors or celebrities. i abhor glamour. i would go far out of my way to avoid any exposure to opera of any kind, except maybe gilbert and sullivan. i do so love a snob, though, har har.
so my aesthetic repertoire is just the opposite of gay, i guess (not that there might not be the occasional overlap). and i certainly developed the basic set of preferences before i fully understood the sexual sub-culture signifiers (to the extent they were in place in 1972 or whatever). but i did develop these preferences at the same time that i was trying - i'd say with some embattledness - to establish a straight sexual identity. in a way, maybe every time i put on a merle haggard record i am fending off gayness or experessing homophobia.
but on the other hand, no one is really a monster in virtue of their sheer aesthetic preferences. can it be morally wrong to prefer flatt and scruggs to verdi or to dislike rococo interiors? first off, it's not under my control, exactly; i just do, though of course tastes can be pursued or cultivated. and second: it's not that i can't make actual arguments for these preferences; i do it all the time.
at any rate, i propose to criticize my own homophobic tendencies in almost any dimension but the aesthetic. i intend to promote equality and liberty for all god's creatures. but i don't propose to pretend that i think judy garland made better music than muddy waters. we're in a great gay moment. i propose to approve this politically with all my heart and soul while rolling my eyes at its aesthetic products.
Damien Hirst, Thomas Kincade, and Politics
By Crispin Sartwell
The work of Thomas Kincade - who died on April 6 - and Damien Hirst - whose work is currently represented in a major retrospective at the Tate Modern in London - look entirely different. Kincade painted (or supervised others who painted) pretty and pointedly banal pre-modernist landscapes. Hirst creates extravaganzas of post-modern provocation. But they have evoked a common response: revulsion. They are perhaps the two most widely-hated artists of the era. For many critics and professors, Kincade and Hirst serve as emblems of all that has gone wrong with art or perhaps the world.
What people hate about Kincade and Hirst can be summed up in a single word: cash. Both men became wealthy doing their art, and neither has seemed ashamed about it. The attackers usually merely sneer at the images, which they regard as beneath contempt. But the fundamental impulse of the attack is political.
Since Marx, the politics of much of the world has been conceived along the left-right spectrum, or as a left-right duality. This opposition can be crystallized as state vs. capital. The rhetoric of the current presidential campaign relentlessly prosecutes this apparently exhaustive dichotomy: Obama against Romney will come down – rhetorically, anyway – to the relative roles of government and the private sector.
Neither Kincade nor Hirst needs a government grant. Because they are both shamelessly entrepreneurial, Kincade and Hirst code right-wing. And the American professoriate and art establishment – which are, roughly, unanimous in their politics – believe that commercialism pollutes art. This is an application of the general principle that capitalism pollutes everything it touches.
The modernist conception of art comes to us from the same period as the left-right political spectrum, and was dominant in the West from, say 1860 to 1960. But it is still fundamental to the way our culture understands what art is. It contrasts art in one direction to mere popular entertainment, which panders to the false consciousness of ‘the masses’ induced by capitalism and distracts people from their oppression (Adorno is a good representative of this view). In the other direction, modernism contrasts art to industrial mass production, in which the worker is alienated from his work and its product. Art is unalienated labor and authentic consciousness.
But both Kincade and Hirst collapse the distinctions. Both produce their works in a quasi-industrial manner. Hirst is an entertainer, Kincade a kind of interior decorator.
If Kincade is a pre-modernist and Hirst a post-modernist, their commercialism could be considered part of an attack on these modernist notions, and hence part of the meaning of their work. This doesn’t necessarily make their art good, but it makes the relation of their work to art institutions and ideologies interesting. Were I running the Tate Modern, I’d be tempted to follow up the Hirst blockbuster with a Kincade blockbuster, during which the art might be deaccessioned to tourists at reasonable prices.
In both politics and art, the left/right dilemma as between state and capital, regulatory bureaucracy and banker, authentic and commercial, “public” and “private,” presents a rather miserable choice: all you get to do is choose your oppression. Also it is luridly false to a situation in which these entities are utterly intertwined. Also it doesn’t help us figure out what is and what is not good art.
The leftish alternative to selling your art at the mall or auctioning it off to rich people is not a pure realization of an authentic vision; it is an archipelago of gigantic public and quasi-public institutions: non-profit foundations funded by the world’s richest people as emblems of their transcendence of mere commerce; government endowments; huge buildings made of marble or glass; public and private art schools and university art and art history departments. In imagination, these institutions insulate art from mere money. In reality, they are systems of simultaneous patronage and exclusion, roughly as pervasive and as ideological as the Renaissance papacy or a Stalin-style Ministry of Socialist Realism.
One thing that makes Hirst compelling is that to a Kincade-scale commercialism he adds layers of post-modern irony: it’s not clear, for example, whether his famous crystal skull is an obscene object of conspicuous consumption, a vanitas indicating that even rich people die, or a parody of the whole idea of aesthetic value. That he’s coining money might be represented as itself a piece of performance art, or even as a pointed critique of the role of money in the art world.
For such reasons, Hirst cannot be dismissed by the professoriate in quite the way Kincade can be, and even the people who hate him most find themselves returning to his work again and again trying to say why, exactly. At a minimum, Hirst sustains an extraordinary range and depth of interpretation, which keeps the interpreters in business even as they express their loathing.
And though the Tate is not a for-profit institution, it’s using the controversy around Hirst to do a bang-up business in its gift shop.
Kincade, on the other hand, painted by a kind of polling: he tried to give people what they actually enjoyed having on their walls: a pretty, hyper-traditional picture that was painted by someone (though not necessarily by Kincade). But here the leftish art world might ask itself a question: what, exactly, is wrong with that? And one might remark that, in despising the aesthetic sensibilities of most people, the denizens of that world are expressing an elitism that comports badly with other aspects of their politics.
At any rate, though the role of commercialism in art is certainly a problem, it’s not the only problem, and perhaps not at the moment the worst problem. We might also worry about the thoroughly interlocked roles of foundations and state agencies and mega-museums and universities in commissioning and funding and buying and selling art, and in telling us what art is and what it’s for and what we should enjoy and how.
Meanwhile, in both art and politics, we might want to think about how the left-right spectrum excruciatingly simplifies or just falsifies an immensely complicated situation. We might think about how mechanical it is, how repetitive, how little imagination, pleasure, profundity, originality, freedom, or openness it makes available. Politics articulated in these terms, and not the cute, mute objects of Hirst and Kincade, is the actual opposite of art.
Crispin Sartwell teaches at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA. He is the author of Political Aesthetics (Cornell, 2010)
this is very right. one basic problem with the brain-science approach to everything is that it reinstitutes a kindofcartesian wall or screen between the mind and the world. if you tried to account for making or appreciating art without regard to whole environments, including the work itself in an unfolding history of art, display contexts, and social practices of appreciation, you'd be barking up an extremely wrong tree, or indeed up no tree at all.
i have to say that one of the disconcerting tendencies of human beings is to take a source of their pleasures or entertainments to harbor the entirety of life and significance. so you listen to literature professors and they theorize or even at this point take it as obvious that narrative or story-telling is our fundamental nature, and then after that they blow it up into everything, so that we and the world actually consist of stories. perhaps they've read too much harold bloom, or just too much, period. or say you're lady gaga or some other fashion freak: then you're arguing that clothes can make you into whomever you want to be, or that alexander mcqueen entirely changed the landscape of human identity. or even say you're a philosopher...then you think no one can live without wrestling with kant's moral theory. or you're a physicist and everything is made of numbers. or perhaps you spend all your time on your computer and the world turns out to be made of information. i'll just say: the fact that you love a good story had better be enough, because once you inflate it into a theory of everything, it's just ridiculous. that you enjoy x, or are moved by x, does not make x into the meaning, essence, and full extent of human experience or the universe. shakespeare didn't invent the human, dude: it's plenty that he invented good plays. it's quite seriously as though i said the the world is a country song, or a soap opera, or a baskteball game, or an azalea bush, or a deck of cards, or a cast-iron frying pan. i might make a nice riff out of such a statement, and it might express my passion for tammy wynette. but as a serious assertion it'd just be jive. there are many human pleasures, many human identities, many and varied objects in the world, and the excellence of any one of them doesn't make it into everything. try to make your own predilections a bit less . . . imperialistic.
Crispin used to be a rock and roll critic. So he can relate to this. If you read Crispin, you can probably relate to this. If not, why are you reading this?
Anyway, since only Robots read the Defeatists, I felt that this bit of aesthetic information needed to reach a wider audience. And, he made the mistake of giving me the keys to Storm a half dozen years ago, and I occasionally have to take it out for a spin.
Steve Simmels over at Powerpop has nailed it again, and I feel compelled to acknowledge our alien overlords. David Alan Coe wrote the ultimate Country Song in "You never called me by my name" and everything since has paled...He said once that "Nobody says nothin' that Hank Williams didn't sing." Well, now we know that the soft rock equivalent of Hank Williams is...Journey.
i was talking to a colleague yesterday about the 'theory' course we require of our art history majors. five years ago, when i started teaching in the art department at dickinson, she and i both knew that theory was essential: that you just couldn't send someone to a high-powered graduate program without it: that art history was merging with art theory. now she kind of shrugged and wasn't sure it was so necessary. people now are back in archives, back teasing out the tiniest details, worrying about attribution, reading all the contemporaneous documents, etc.
i bet that it's kind of like that in art schools too (i used to teach all the theory/philosophy at maryland institute college of art). in 2000, everyone understood that you could be a web designer without reading barthes or baudrillard, but also that if we were actually going to produce any downtown art stars, we'd better get them on barthes asap. now i bet they're a bit back to hand skills and stuff.
another sign of the post-postmodern era.
surfing madonna rocks.
here's a thought i'd like to develop systematically: people take 'art' - literary fiction or gallery installations, for example - far far too seriously. there's a constant drumbeat about how you've been redeemed by someone's novel, or how shakespeare invented the human, or how the symphonies of mahler have launched your ass into the stars or whatever it may be. it has to turn out that there is nothing more important; it has to have cosmic significance. really, you know, some of this stuff is pretty good, pretty deep, pretty absorbing etc. but you do not have to take your pleasures and blow them up like blimps. fiction is fictional; paintings are representational; post-modern art is funny; opera hurts; and so on. that you want to spend chunks of your life experiencing such things does not require that you pretend that the novelist is a god or that cezanne entirely changes the human capacity for vision or something. actually, the constant hyperbole about the arts and the next book called why literature matters should arouse your suspicion: it's way too shrill, way too defensive with regard to other aspects of culture - science or reality television - and when you get down to it massively implausible and sort of sad. i really think we need to get art into perspective. it's like, picasso: creator and destroyer: let's try: picasso: occasionally interesting painter. art audiences are constantly reassuring each other about the importance of what they're experiencing, and how great and sensitive they are for experiencing it. that itself should show you that it isn't actually as great as all that.
in blowing art up like this, we lose our connection to it as something human beings do for the reasons human beings do things and as well as humans do things. we lose the connection to craft. we lose the connection of art to work: to what each of us does to make a living. we invent a fantastic context and fantastic beings that inhabit it, beings who crystallize and yet transcend whole historical eras, people who live in the future, people whose misery or insanity is a symptom of how much better they are than everyone else, and so on. we need to keep art with us, here, in our own human lives and in the lives of the actual regular human beings who make it.
if you want to see all sorts of people gasping in faux appreciation at famous art that really sucks, go to moma and see the andy warhol screen tests. then watch his films if that isn't enough.
watcha watchin, crispy? exit through the gift shop, which i thought was a documentary about banksy, whom i regard as the most important artist of the last decade: the stuff is representational, made with great skill, funny, profound, and it actually has a variety of subjects other than art itself: these are all things that we need art for, and which art has ceased to provide. plus it is criminal, anarchist. an exquisite contrast would be to someone like jeff koons - who at least is funny, if empty - or matthew barney who just sucks. you know jeff koons's emptiness is indeed partly redeemed by his consciousness of his emptiness, and his consciousness of that consciousness, etc. but christ that doesn't actually give the crap any content.
now one thing exit through the gift shop might be is a hoax or parody of the art world, perhaps put on by banksy and shepard fairey, both of whose styles are sucked clean of meaning by the "filmmaker"/artist mr. brain wash. it's the kind of documentary where you think it's a documentary about banksy but however it's actually a documentary by banksy about making a documentary about banksy. either way, it certainly expresses banksy's disaffection with the art world, though in an arch superconscious way that is effortlessly taken up into the discourse it attacks. i could say i hope that's not the directon of banksy's work in the future. rather, the question is how to continue to do art outside of the venues of the artworld even while dealing with or accepting artworld success: ultimately the point is where these works are and how they got there, and for banksy that can't only be "here at moma," though that is inevitable.
it's funny but there's always still a place for a kind of classical art criticism, pre-danto (much less craig owens and rosalind krauss), pre-harold rosenberg, even pre-clement greenberg. it's still right back in bernard-berenson-era exquisite connoisseurship, the cult of the masterpiece, etc. people, or at any rate their biographers and canon-formers, even basically treat picasso and (god help us) warhol this way. i suppose it's important because that's still an almost commonsensical approach to art. this piece by andrew butterfield in the new york review, however, shows what can go so horribly wrong.
The ravishing application of paint, the luscious brushwork, and the startling compositions of the two pictures impress all who behold them. But just as fundamental to the pictures’ power is Titian’s poignant exploration of the tragic themes of the myths he represents. Rarely before had any artist looked with such unblinking concentration, and such deep empathy, at the vulnerability and the injustice that are an inescapable part of mortal existence.
it is remarkable that butterfield says almost nothing about the paintings themselves except at that level of generality. but even their mere lusciousness - titian's notorious or obvious sensuality - is incompatible with what he says later in the piece, to wit:
Titian...seems to stress the unfathomable and unmerited cruelty of the gods. Looking at these pictures, it is easy to think of Gloucester's anguished cry in King Lear, "As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods;/They kill us for their sport."
really, honestly, this array of unveiled delectable virgin flesh? if the painting is an influence on rubens, that is precisely how, and through him renoir etc. butterfield's reading makes the work so profound that he misses what's right on the surface: it might be a playful allegory of the battle of the sexes; the eroticism of seeing and of being seen, central to heterosexuality; titian is the most het of painters. the painting is...coquettish. my god her little diva-esque lap dog is yipping at him.
at any rate there's no need to blow the thing up like a balloon into an incomparable trans-human achievement ("the painter Lucian Freud, for example, recently called them “the most beautiful pictures in the world”) to appreciate a good painting: skillfully made, witty and so on.
this is really cool.
the greatest thing about all the stuff that emerged from warhol's factory is that it made us see that skill or thinking or liking some stuff rather than others was over. we don't have any use for them anymore! ok ok, "andy warhol's frankenstein" sucks. or really, by sucking as hard as it sucks it overcomes the passe dualism between sucking and not-sucking: it sucks more than it is possible for anything to suck, itself a sophisticated commentary on and transcendence of the suckiness of things. and yet it still sucks. it's so bad that its badness is more than an accident, though it is, also, a terrible accident; it's an apotheosis, as if you met god and he looked and acted just like buddy hackett or al gore. so clearly was warhol a manipulative charlatan that he overcame the dualism between manipulative charlatans and sincere craftspersons, by a bold negation of the very idea of the latter. a bold inversion of values: the worse, the better.
we should always retain warhol's teachings that popping pills, injecting heroin, having sex with everyone all the time, being extremely stupid, and listening to dirges constitute the royal road to human happiness. no one was quite so into the idea that bad is good and that the noblest life is the most completely repulsive and shortest life. for these lessons - applied assiduously by generations - we should be most grateful. especially the short part. who can regret that we don't have more films featuring edie sedgwick?
in the sixties, warhol was the seventies, with sparkles and an entirely meaningless center; he overcame that irritating moral earnestness of the movements for peace and justice; we might term his style "pre-disco" rather than "pop." he was an important influence on glam rock, which is exactly how he ought to be understood in art history. it would be nice - accurate, so to speak - to ignore warhol for a few centuries, then ignore him some more after that. the idea that neil prinz or whomever is bringing out the whole belligerent machinery of connoisseurship on authenticating warhols is comical in its complete misunderstanding of the whole thing (no warhol is better than any copy, reproduction or photograph of a warhol), but it is also necessary in the task of inflicting warhol on all of us continuously, though entirely arbitrarily, forever.
speaking again of art, i heard that james franco hosted snl last night. past my bedtime. but he rocks on on general hospital. like ed ruscha, he's a twisted, vicious serial killer but on the plus side a gifted young artist (except that ed ruscha isn't a serial killer [probably], isn't gifted, isn't young, and isn't an artist). i wonder whether, when franco did maxie on the floor of his studio/torture facility, he understood that he was doing zenon, space girl, i.e. kirsten storms? yes!: that's a tiny raven-symone standing behind her. (i have raised daughters, now 21 and 9). well zenon: girl of the 21st century wasn't real good, but it was better than zenon: the zequel, which in turn was better than ed ruscha's "visual interpretation of winter."