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J.A.A. Purves

Art Renewal International

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The Picasso museum in Barcelona is arranged chronologically, and the rooms from his training periods feature mind-boggling studies of classic works. In successive rooms, you can then see how he began to think about these classical forms and techniques in different ways, ways that abstracted what you refer to above as the "Creator's beauty" (which is too slippery a theological term to be of any use) into forms that contained movement, rhythm, and other inherent qualities of matter. Same thing with Paul Klee or Malevich, two more painters who produced realistic studies during training, but became entranced by what the eye actually sees rather than what classical painting tells us the eye sees. Kandinsky is a case in point. Celebrating creation involves more than rote mimicry of observable, defined moments. It involves a celebration of form and pattern that can be expressed in multiple, relative ways.

I’m not sure who wouldn’t grant that a number of artists, including Picasso, Klee, Malevich, or Kandinsky, all had great skill and talent as artists. It’s not that they weren’t artists as much as that a particular philosophy of art hurt the quality of what they produced. Thus, I’d suggest that Picasso’s 1938 Mother and Son took significantly less skill to paint than his 1896 Artist’s Mother. I also don't think I could argue that some works, like for example Klee's Dream City, aren't a celebration of the beauty of the form and order of creation. I'd simply argue that the Modernist rejection of form and order often results in some "art" that really should be called "art" at all.

What I also find borderline offensive about the OP quoted material is that there is no allowance in their perspective for material arts/crafts. I find something inherently doxological in the bravura re-arrangement natural or artificial material that experiments with form, texture, and memory.

On the contrary, the same contrasting philosophies of art could apply to material arts & crafts, specifically in sculpture. And again, the argument goes that the material art of, oh say, Vala Ola is far superior to and more skilled than the material art of Benedict Carpenter. Modernist philosophy applies to sculpture, architecture and even music as much as it applies to painting. And when presented with these ideas, I find myself siding against modern art every time.

Edited by Persiflage

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There are so many terms and concepts flying around this thread that it would almost be better to take one at a time and devote a thread to each.

Not that we're going to do that....

Let me just take one term and then I'll probably bow out since I've made the points I wanted to make.

The term is "objective." As in "objective standards" and -- presumably -- the "objective" standing in opposition to "self-expression."

In my early 20s I was very enamored of this word.

If I am not so enamored of it now it is not because I've become a card carrying relativist, but because I know just how hard it is to avoid abusing the term.

One way to abuse the word is to say that art should depict "objective reality" and mean by that merely what the human eye perceives. Several of us have already made a pretty good case that objective reality contains a lot more than just what a camera can record.

I strongly believe that there are standards by which art may be evaluated, but nowadays I get nervous when someone says they know which standards are "objective." I am most comfortable with the notion that art has certain organic standards of excellence in terms of craft and form.

Finally, let me just say what I always tell my writing students: "Writing is not about self-expression; it's about doing justice to the world. In the process of doing justice to the world your 'self' -- your individuality -- will emerge as part of that world and part of what people love about your writing."

There are many terrible examples of self-expression and a large percentage of them are from the modern era. But I can point out many pre-modern works that seem to scream "look at me and what I can do" just as obnoxiously as anything by Jeff Koons.

To repeat: in general, the dividing lines are not historical -- Then = Good, Now = Bad. The lines run through every time and place.

OK. Thanks for engaging my points. Over and out.

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Modernist philosophy applies to sculpture, architecture and even music as much as it applies to painting. And when presented with these ideas, I find myself siding against modern art every time.

The first sentence is true enough. However, not all who employed modernist techniques and processes were adherents of Modernist philosophies. What I do like about almost all of the abstract artists is the explicitness that there is more than the material. This more difficult to overcome in realist artists, IMHO, because they start to become obsessed with technique and level of realism. Not all. The ones who don't get bogged down with that do understand there is more to the flower they are painting than the flower they are painting.

As for "Thus, I’d suggest that Picasso’s 1938 Mother and Son took significantly less skill to paint than his 1896 Artist’s Mother." To focus on skill I think is what is missing the point in your posits and the material you quote. Musicians can have an immense amount of skill, but couldn't move a weeping willow to cry. Same with visual artists. Skill is not _the_ measure of art. It can and often is -a_ measure, but to think it is the sole measure is more steeped in Modernism than the Modernist philosophies you are railing against. You are saying only material quantification is important to measure the value of art. The NEA often makes the same mistake when they try to frame the value of art in strict economic or educational terms.

I'm less concerned with the effects of philosophy on art than I am how those philosophies become some unnecessary measure of value. The art that results is simply one trying to come to a deeper understanding (either for himself or the viewers) of why some art works and some art doesn't. We are all seeking to understand something. That is something I can sympathize with and in which I can find inherent value.

Joe

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Joe - I forgot to say that I think the material/immaterial (or whatever you want to call it) dichotomy actually goes back to ancient times - Plato, and likely before him. And seeing that certain Platonist and neo-Platonist ideas got pretty well-embedded in the thought of the Western church, well... I think K comes from a very different milieu than the French, Germans and Austrians of his day, though he certainly was very much aware of cultural trends in Western Europe and all that. 9it would be hard not to, living in Vienna, etc.)

...

btw, do you know about "The Yellow Sound"? (K's draft for a theatre piece?) It would likely never have been stageable back in the teens, but some of the ideas are pretty intriguing!

I remember coming across "The Yellow Sound" in my readings, that's about all I can remember.

Plato was all about those universals actually existing somewhere. I don't think his view of material/immaterial coincides entirely with modern ideas. That is the point my friend was making. I think he is pretty spot on.

I have not applied to any grad school. Life keeps getting in the way! I was touring with Pilobolus for four years, getting my daughter through college (she's out now) but now working on what she "wants to do with her life". I just dropped her off at the airport this morning to go off to NYC for an ADF winter dance intensive. She wants to dance. Go figure. I send her to Ga Tech to get an applied math degree and she wants to dance. This is what I have to put up with!

Joe

P.S. I love Sister Wendy.

JF

There are so many terms and concepts flying around this thread that it would almost be better to take one at a time and devote a thread to each.

Not that we're going to do that....

...

I thought the exact same thing. And came to the same conclusion!

Great point about objectivity/objective standards.

Ooo! and just saw this:

"But I can point out many pre-modern works that seem to scream "look at me and what I can do" just as obnoxiously as anything by Jeff Koons."

i won't mention the Dallas art collector I recently met...

Joe

Edited by jfutral

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I think I've been left behind in this particular discussion (and am more than happy to sit back and let the artists geek out at each other. :P ) but I want to squeeze in a couple more comments anyway....

I'd say you're taking that analogy a little far. You'd say something was weak, vague, unclear, etc. in the context of the purpose of goal involved. Christ's parables had a particular purpose other than art. Paintings have a particular purpose - and that's to reflect objective reality in some way, whether it's ideas, truths, feelings or emotions about outside reality. Skilled artists are successful in this. Unskilled or pretend artists are less successful, and THUS their attempts at art are more "prone to misinterpretation."

See, I'm not so sure about this for two reasons. First, Christ's parables had a particular purpose other than art, but they didn't have a purpose other than parable. That is, they could be explained to a certain point, but their power and effect arose from their form, not their explanations. They were metaphorical communications, and so existed only in the moment of interaction, just as a work of art only really "exists" when it is observed (a painting in an attic doesn't really "mean" anything). Meaning arises from contact with the story, not from its explanation. And, I would argue, it's the same with art--which is why going on and on about "objective" meaning or complaining that a work is "prone to misinterpretation" or what have you is misguided at best. "Meaning" arises in contact with the work, not from some encoded message. Second, there's a lot of skill that goes into various modern arts--I recall somewhere (perhaps in the thread for "My Kid Could Paint That") that the key to some of the more seeming-chaotic works (Pollock's splatter-paintings, for instance) is as much knowing when to stop as anything else. It may not be the kind of skill you can graph or chart or point to, but it's a skill that comes from the gut, from intuition, and that gut-feeling is as essential as drawing a straight line.

I can understand the argument that art can express emotion, not just ideas. But I don't think the point of ARC is trying to argue against art being able to express emotions. [snip] There are obviously different styles on how to do this (realism, academicism, impressionism, etc.) but all these styles work within a set of rules and lines and limits. The philosophy of modern art was essentially to do away with all those rules, lines, and limits - and thus essentially, do away with art itself.

I think you're reading ARC too generously. They don't think that "there are obviously different styles," otherwise they would be perfectly happy to say "modern art can communicate what it communicates, and so can we, even if in different ways." No, they're pretty clearly wanting to discredit a whole mass of works because they don't fit a particular style. It's less about art and more about deciding who can join the club--setting up a counter-authority to discredit the supposed academic authority. Their beef isn't with control, it's with the fact that they aren't calling the shots. This is problematic. Seriously, so what if a certain artist decides to do away with "rules and lines and limits"? The only criterion, in the end,should be this: "Does it work--in the moment, while viewed with a patient attentiveness, does it create impact?" The fact that rule-breaking modern works take a bit more attentiveness to understand what they're about is in no way proof that they fail.

Thus the argument goes that, this, this, or this is easily said to be much BETTER art requiring more skill than this, this, or this.

The "skill" argument has been addressed above by someone who is (unlike me) actually an artist, so I'll just say--what?! You put "Nude Descending a Staircase" with the supposed goats? The mind boggles--it does portray objective reality (motion), it obviously took skill--look at the way the eye naturally flows with the motion of the figure--and it portrays beauty in creation (again, the beauty of motion). By all your criteria, it should be with the sheep. It's already been pointed out that the equation of "better" with "more skillful" is problematic. More than that, there's simply no need to pit Rembrandt against Picasso or any other modern artists by measuring "skill" levels; Rembrandt was obviously good at what he did (although I personally don't care for his stylings--I find "The Nightwatch" in particular too gauzy for my taste--but that's not a statement of quality) and Picasso and Duchamp were obviously good at that they did. They weren't trying for the same effect as Rembrandt, and it's not useful to fault them for failing to achieve what they were never going after.

All of that said, I'm finding the posts by everyone in this thread fascinating and look forward to reading more.

Edited by NBooth

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Ah. I think I lumped "studied" art in with "artist" in the sense of having an understanding of the art world generally more informed than mine. Galloping impreciseness on my part. It's a faulty assumption, but, I hope, at least somewhat understandable. ::blushing::

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[About your daughter, GA Tech and dance: hee! These daggoned artistic tendencies have a way of coming back to bite us, now don't they?! ;) Of course, I seriously doubt that your work with Pilobolus has had any influence on her... ;)

Or her mother's twenty+ years as a dancer. I really stacked the deck against me, here.

Joe

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I fund this little talk by Suzi Gablik. Worth a listen to if you have the time. The talk itself is about 45 minutes and there are about 45 minutes of Q&A afterward that is decent enough if you can ascertain the question. One quote from her I like is actually her quoting Warhol:

"With its one sided emphasis on individualism, modernism had managed to destroy the social self. Conditioned to live in their own world, artists often found themselves, as Andy Warhol once put it, making things for people they don't need".

Joe

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i still need to formulate some thoughts around this discussion, but it seems that a key point is the lack of discussion around the social context of the work they support and the work they don't. our ideas of art and the artist are socially (and economically, politically, philosophically, etc) shaped and shifted. "culture" moves. barry shiner's art: a cultural history does a very nice and thorough job of exploring some of those complexities...

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i still need to formulate some thoughts around this discussion, but it seems that a key point is the lack of discussion around the social context of the work they support and the work they don't. our ideas of art and the artist are socially (and economically, politically, philosophically, etc) shaped and shifted. "culture" moves. barry shiner's art: a cultural history does a very nice and thorough job of exploring some of those complexities...

go for it, techne! :D

oh, and - is this the book you meant?

41GT3PV2DQL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_.jpg

oops! yes. yes, it is.

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There are so many terms and concepts flying around this thread that it would almost be better to take one at a time and devote a thread to each.

Not that we're going to do that....

Well, it keeps running around my brain so I think I'll take a stab at it all the same.

There really are several issues that, while they do affect each other, aren't necessarily exclusive to each other and conflating them doesn't really help.

There is the Art economic machine, which from a NYC perspective where it originated and is still deeply entrenched, does attempt to hold sway. The most grievous aspect that many in the art world share with the OP's referenced website is it's huge focus on money and money as the focus of success. The only problem with complaining about this is that it is about 20 years too late. Just as the RIAA is having to deal with losing their control, so to is the NY Arts scene. Still important, to be sure, but less the central capital it once was. There are many other Art centers in the US, the Midwest is a great example. New Mexico in particular has a tremendous art scene. And then there is the NW, like Seattle and Portland.

Then there is Modernism as a philosophy and its influence on Modern Art. That many artists, visual and architectural being the most prominent, have adopted this philosophy as the basis of their art is hardly in dispute. I would echo others that there are many things that have influenced their expression. But just because there are wildly diverse expressions of Modernism, does not mean there are not common elements that exist in the undercurrents. And Modernism does span a large swath of time, so there will be varying ideas of Modernism.

There is the Modern Art aesthetic that many artists employ, yet without adhering at all or only partially to modern philosophy. Several have already been mentioned. And there are many artists today that employ what are easily seen as modern styles, but I would be hard pressed to say they embrace Modernity. Fujimura comes to mind since that discussion is current in another thread.

There is this idea, maybe it is uniquely evangelical in nature, that says something along the lines of "evil only begets evil". And if Modernism is evil, then any art that derives from that can only be evil. That sentence alone has several elements that can and should be deconstructed.

There is the presupposition that visual Realism is the only valid visual form (never mind needing to answer the question "What is real?"). It is the only way to depict what is Truly real. But this is as steeped in Modernism as any of the Modern Artists. Especially if one takes the statement from the OP at face value when he (she?) says "'Modernist' art is the rejection of all creeds, forms, rules and limits..." and the "... rejection of traditionalism, experimentation, a tendency toward abstraction, etc." (I think I summarized that without butchering anything). Yet this is the same sort of ideologies that stoked other movements like the Renaissance, the reformation, and Francis Bacon. Realism was a HUGE departure from the accepted "tradition" (reference the article I linked to about Medieval art). So if Modern Art and artists are being held to this measure, then I hope you are at least Roman Catholic, if not Orthodox, and not Protestant. Or maybe part of the neo-monasticists movement. If you are like me and place Modernity as part of the natural heritage of the Renaissance, reformation, Enlightenment and the likes of Francis Bacon, Realism is actually more "Modern" than Modern Art. Philosophically that is. Realism is just focusing on the material fork of Modernism rather than the immaterial focus of Modern Art.

Then there is the whole issue of "skill". But, as has been pointed out, the question is "skill at what?" And why is one skill set more valid than another? I don't think anyone on this board would argue the necessity of respecting one's art by understanding and practicing the craft involved. But there is more to skill than simply technique. But then the Impressionists faced the same derisive critiques. So I imagine the OP and website feels the same way about Impressionism?

That's my assessment of the issues. I have no doubt I missed some nuance or even obvious element. This is just what I was thinking over the last hour or so.

I still like Fujimura's down and dirty lineage of artistic questions. My paraphrase: "Pre-modern art asks 'How do you paint a flower?' Modern art asks 'What is a flower?' Postmodern art asks 'Is there a flower?'" Views of Mako and over simplifications of referenced ages of art aside, I think this is a good sequence of questions.

Joe

Edited by jfutral

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I would also suggest that studying this from a strictly visual art history perspective is only part of the story. Architecture is another area where the philosophical debates and battles rage on. Just ask Eisenman and Krier.

I did miss the issue of representational art in my attempt at a summary of issues, although it is implied. As I mentioned earlier, I don't understand why the proponents of representational forms seem to have no issue with music. Or maybe they do and just don't talk about it.

As I alluded to earlier, I also think some of the discussion bleeds into or from the problem of universals. But maybe that broadens the discussion too much.

And, as Greg rightly points out, the revolving issue of "objectivity".

Joe

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I need to re-read What is Art?, because i found it monumentally confusing and not very cohesive when last i looked (again, quite a while ago). I think I had to read it for that Kandinsky seminar.

A link to some excerpts from Tolstoy's What is Art? for anyone interested in sampling.

Joe

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Am thinking that it's every bit as much a strangely cranky, highly contradictory book for me now as it was back in the 1980s.

fwiw, the excerpts Joe has linked to are devoid of any references to Tolstoy's emphatic likes and dislikes, among other things. :) I'm not sure why the prof. who posted them in the 1st place has edited them...

What? An artist that's contradictory? That's unheard of! :)

I imagine the prof, thinking probably exactly like you, (if I were him or her) pulled out the only parts worth keeping? Maybe? How do the chapters read that were excerpted?

Joe

Edited by jfutral

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