Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Gifts from the Whitney Biennial, continued

"Anonymous" comments about the video that spoofs Biennialist artist Fritz Haeg in my last post: "Oh, it's actually a response to this video... now tell me this is not funny... THIS IS THE REAL ONE!"



Anonymous is so right, it's almost word-for-word. But you have to grit your teeth to watch it.

And "Spatula", commenting on Haeg's Animal Estates admittedly treads on the “dangerous terrain of discourse” in wondering how it can be construed as art, but I will take it on. My definition of “art”—since Duchamp made sure that it can be anything, which to my mind, was a necessary step—is something where execution and idea merge so completely that we’re unaware of either and taken to a place beyond words. That’s what music does for me (thank you, Jose Gonzalez, who I saw at the Iron Horse in Northampton last night) and that’s what I want art to do. That’s what I get from Olafur Eliasson’s endeavors: a place of new experience. Indescribable. Therefore, when I see something that sends my thought processes away from the piece at hand, when instead of being immersed in it I'm congratulating myself for having been so precocious as to realize—even in Mrs. Egbert's first grade— that it was stupid to go around in a group pretending to be squirrels, then it’s not art.

6 comments:

Pretty Lady said...

something where execution and idea merge so completely that we’re unaware of either and taken to a place beyond words.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Ken Wilber says something similar: "Bad art copies, good art creates, great art transcends, in that it causes the viewer to transcend the subject-object duality.' It sweeps you out of your ordinary range of perceptions, and momentarily causes you to merge with something greater.

That's why I get so interminably frustrated with people who assume I'm being closed-minded when I turn away from, say, the contents of the Whitney Biennial in disgust. It's because I am open to new experience, and have been for a long time, that I reject most of this junk. It's a crying shame that so many people in the 'high art' scene never seem to have been to the Natural History Museum, or the Botanical Gardens, or the zoo, for Christ's sake; there are much, much, much more interesting, engaging, informative and fully-realized projects of this nature being done in those places.

Doing a lame natural-history education project in an art museum and going on and on about how you're 'elevating it to a sculptural level' is the very definition of egoism. It's making the assumption that your own attention is all that is needed to make something 'high art,' even though thousands of people have already taken that attention to a much higher level than you have, and received no special attention for it, except possibly a research grant or a teaching job.

I really think that a lot of this can be directly traced to the failures of our elementary and secondary education system in this country. People are graduating from high school and getting advanced degrees in BS, without ever having been taught basic English grammar, math, science, and cultural literacy. Then, after being fed a diet of pretentious rhetoric on a base of absolutely nothing, they turn around and discover that there's a world out there, and are beside themselves with excitement.

Martha Miller said...

Whew, well said!!!

Here's a great little video entitled "What is Art?"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDo_vs3Aip4

Spatula said...

"My definition of “art” is something where execution and idea merge so completely that we’re unaware of either and taken to a place beyond words."

See, this is how I would define *good* art, art that succeeds. But how do we define what is and isn't visual art?

"Duchamp made sure that it can be anything, which to my mind, was a necessary step"

I have a very strong gut feeling that we have gone too far in deconstruction, and that ultimately, any art form is not about that, it's about the opposite - construction. Too much deconstruction, and you have something that no longer holds together enough to work its mojo.

My gut insists that we need to go back to a world where not anything is art. That in order for art to develop, instead of devolving into kindergarten projects, we need a working definition of what it is and is not, in the same way that we can tell when someone is or is not doing math, or singing, or driving a taxi. It's only when we can agree whether someone is, for instance, playing chess or not that we can proceed to "are they playing well?"

I contend that planting vegetable gardens on people's lawns, for example, is not art. It's activism and it's also gardening. Putting the fact of this activity into an art biennale is silly.

I wonder if my Soviet upbringing is why I do not relate to the Duchamp-derived practices of the art scene. He just didn't rate particularly highly in my educational system, and whenever he comes up as a subject of conversation, most of me just sits back and marvels at an entire culture in awe of a toilet.

Spatula said...

Pretty Lady sez:
"...the very definition of egoism. It's making the assumption that your own attention is all that is needed to make something 'high art'."

Thank you! You just articulated my unease with the type of art project in which the mere fact of an artist contemplating something constitutes art. I personally feel that you have to *create* something as a result of your contemplation, in order to have art at all, let alone good art, or great art.

"I really think that a lot of this can be directly traced to the failures of our elementary and secondary education system in this country."

I've been reading a child-rearing advice book that talks about peer cultures comprising immature people who fail to train each other out of destructive and childish habits. A lot of peer culture characteristics reminded me of the art scene. I'm planning to do an essay about it on my blog... I worry about spending too much time on it, lest I become one of those people who talks about art instead of making it, though.

summer said...

whaaa???? where did it go?

CAP said...

It’s a little misleading to say just that ‘anything can be art'. The kinds of objects Duchamp chose and the special conditions and circumstances of how he presented them are actually no less discerning than other kinds of sculpture. He doesn’t choose just anything, he doesn’t present it in just any old way. The kinds of objects that appealed to him were everyday manufactured machinery and tools and what appealed about them were formal qualities of shape, colour and surface, quite removed from their functions – and obviously provocatively so. So to display these he had to invert or remove them from usual contexts, find ways to literally approach them from a new angle. He certainly was not interested in taking just any old thing and looking at it differently – it depended entirely upon the context of early 20th abstraction and sculpture, of items available then, of his private inclinations.

And not everything works equally well! The snow shovel is not as successful as the bicycle wheel and urinal.

So when later artists do things like offer vegetable gardens as works, the proper criteria is in what way has the artist found ways to distinguish this from its usual function? In what way does the work REFER to some of its aspects or qualities rather than simply instantiate (or possess) them?

I think it can be argued quite forcefully that in Haeg’s case many of his gardens do not draw attention to overlooked or interesting qualities, that they are gardens first and foremost – works of art or reference, only secondly and poorly.

This is not to say vegetation cannot be used as art, only that as ‘ready-mades’ continue to develop, the expectations or criteria for their acceptance grow more sophisticated and discerning. It actually gets harder to take ‘anything’ and make it art.