Sunday, April 22, 2018

Is it because it’s no longer any good?

'Hermann Broch was obsessed by this in the 1930s. He said: ‘Painting has become a totally esoteric matter relevant only to the world of museums; there is no longer a general interest in it or its problems; it is virtually a relic of the past.’
Broch, the great innovator of the novel, the defender of Picasso and Joyce, did not wish to attack modern painting for its modernity. He had merely (with a distinct sense of melancholy) defined its situation. His words were surprising at the time; they are no longer surprising. In the past few years I’ve conducted a little poll and innocently asked people I meet who is their favourite contemporary painter. I’ve noticed that no one has a favourite contemporary painter and that most people can’t even name one.
Such a situation would have been unthinkable thirty years ago at the time of Matisse and Picasso. Since then painting has lost the weight of its authority; it has become a marginal activity. Is it because it’s no longer any good? Or because we’ve lost the taste or the feeling for it? In every case it now seems that the art that forged the style of each era, accompanying Europe through the centuries, is abandoning us – or, we are abandoning it.'
Milan Kundera

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Where are we going with this?

You shall know us by our noses!

I love Mira Schor's writing and I really enjoyed her recent essay, Reviewing the reviews of “Songs for Sabotage,” with some help from Leon Golub. Especially her honesty about inter-generational cattiness, or jealousy of the young.
But what really stuck with me was her mention of ‘Trite Tropes’ where she seems to be talking about a particular kind of painting. She describes it like this;

In such paintings, figurative and narrative, many of which emerge from BFA and some MFA painting programs in the US, in direct contradistinction to what one feels is straining for individualism, for some reason everyone always seems to look alike, people even all having the same nose, from artist to artist.”

Later she describes seeing an image that has just such a nose.  This particular painting also has,

 “… a highly established faux naive outsider artist style of representation.”

 She describes how she and her colleagues always cull such art from slide juries. Interestingly, she indicates that this kind of art would have some value;

“… if markers of redeeming self-criticality and meta-stylistic content were present. “

On the one hand, I think I know what she means (Is it an Alex-Katz-style nose?). On the other, I’m quite attracted to this kind of painting. It may even be possible, I'm slightly ashamed to admit it,  that this is the kind of painting I do. I certainly don’t have any redeeming self-criticality or meta-stylistic content. Also, my mediocre drawing skills often result in a faux naïve outsider artist style of representation. But then I’m also not making any claims that my paintings have any value as such. Well, they have value to me, but not to anyone else, and certainly not in an Art Establishment context.

Friday, March 2, 2018


“When Wallace Stevens said “Money is a kind of poetry,” he could have applied it to certain precincts of the art world, where it is a kind of criticism. Those who believe that the cream always rises to the top, and that success in the marketplace is a reliable measure of an artist’s ambition, tend to be white male critics.”
John Yau

All art history is a narrow, partisan, curated reading of a particular fraction of a particular cultural moment.
The biggest complaint of successful artists presently seems to be that there is too much ‘product’. It’s not just that there are more artists than ever before, but that they are, because of the internet, more visible than ever before.

It’s now impossible to talk about a zeitgeist, or to suggest that artists are predominantly interested in some particular formal issue such as abstraction, figuration, etc. This isn’t because we live in a post-modernist, post-historical time when lots of contradictory ideas, styles co-exist. It’s because it’s plain to see that there is a massive variety of different stuff happening at the same time. But, this has always been the case. It’s just harder to ignore with the internet. You can’t really make a case for a narrow art movement now. We can’t really say that there is a post-post-modernism because there was never really post-modernism or modernism. Not in the great, over-arching way that these movements are talked about. They were never the only game in town. They were never actually the Law. Or, we could say that there were lots of competing modernisms.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Oh my god, we'll all be dead soon!. Thoughts on turning 50.

Alan Hollinghurst recently said that, “…novels are really about young people; they are about how people find themselves and become themselves”
I don’t believe this, but there is some truth in it and it got me thinking that perhaps this is why so many people I know have disengaged with fiction and story as they’ve gotten older. If the narratives that are being focused on are those of young people, why would they (the oldsters) be interested?. Also, is it true that being older means being in a static, stationary position of having ‘found’ and ‘become’ yourself. Surely this isn’t true. And yet it does feel true to say that the narratives/images that might be meaningful for a young person would be different to those that would be significant for an old person.
Does Joseph Campbell’s or Dan Harmon’s Hero’s Journey still apply at 50? I remember the painter Ken Kiff saying that as he got older he became more interested in the images of the desert fathers, the hermits and saints who took themselves into isolation. They seemed to him like a reversed,mirror image of the young Hero leaving home at the start of his/her adventure. If this image is resonant for older people, does it mean that old age is, in a sense, a withdrawal from the world? A disengagement? If so, what stories and images cluster around this? I think it has to do with a kind of bereavement. A bereavement for one’s own death. If being young is about finding and becoming yourself, is being old about dissolving, becoming un-whole? No, that can’t be it.  When I was young, I thought about death a lot (I’ve always been a fun guy). It was something that was going to happen to me. As an old person, I think about death just as much, but differently. As something which is happening to me. The process is happening. Of course, this isn’t exactly true, but that’s how I feel. I think it’s to do with this sense of coming to terms with one’s own death. Like bereaving before someone has died. Do you remember when the the 75 year old broadcaster David Dimbleby got a tattoo? I remember seeing that and thinking, That’s a tattoo on a corpse. Ofcourse, Dimbleby is just as alive as myself, but it was an action that was a distinct missing-the-point. Like all those bucket lists that old codgers tick off ( I speak as an old codger myself). I’ve met plenty of old people who delight in saying that they’re going to grow old disgracefully and there always seems to be something slightly hysterical in their attitude. However I can see that they’re rejecting the image of the wise old person. That’s not fruitful. Stasis and stability is not fruitful. Crazy old codgers are better. But there should be something grave and somber about growing old, shouldn’t there? Look, I don’t want to be on a moral high horse, I think that distraction is a fine technique, and as good a way of dealing with death as any other. But the bucket list model of ageing is different to Yeats’ “Old men should be explorers.” The Desert Fathers were explorers.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Dream is the only genre.

It occurred to me while watching Intimidation how all film, all art, is dream. Dream is the only genre.
Then I thought how realism and it's corollary, world-building, are anti-dream. In the same way that atheism is anti-religion. It seeks to oppose something by first redefining it as something that it isn't.
When I watch a film, or read a book and say dismissively, "That isn't plausible!" or "That would never happen in real life!", well, that's beside the point. I wouldn't say that about a dream. It's power doesn't lie in how close it is to reality.
The opposite of this is the modernist art-for-arts sake idea that we reveal the flatness of the painting's surface as an anti-realist, or anti-illusion, anti-mimetic technique. But this doesn't use the grammar of dream. It's not a dream language. The dream isn't entirely and only about the fact that it's not reality.
Surrealism sometimes gets close, but too often relies on stylistic techniques, e.g., placing random, unlikely objects next to each other. This happens in dream, but for a purpose.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Unvaluing cultural production.

Read this in an article by Alex Petridis;
"Nevertheless, there are certainly areas that cloak themselves in a kind of wilful obscurity. As Marcus Mustafa – owner of London’s solitary specialist heavy metal record shop Crypt of the Wizard – puts it: “Bands want to maintain themselves as small. They’re like, ‘Don’t listen to this record, don’t talk about us.’”
He and Crypt of the Wizard’s manager Charlie Wooley reel off examples – the legendary French black metal bands of the Légions Noires collective, who refused to release any albums or play live, preferring to circulate demos in tiny numbers among their friends, which eventually leaked on to the internet; labels such as California’s Rhinocervus, which released albums and EPs without titles, artist names or track listings; festivals that decline to inform fans who’s actually playing, “so it’s like, ‘Are you strong enough to come anyway?’”
It’s an extreme ethos partly founded in a rejection of commerciality. “I think it’s a bit like if you can’t make money doing something,” says Charlie"
Thinking about this, it connects with a couple of other things;
1. Is this a manifestation of the Long Tail economic model of cultural production? Eg, It's simply a result of the fact that there is so much more product, and that means everything  becomes "devalued' or "unvalued" or "revalued". I seem to constantly come across articles/interviews where various artists/writers/whatever are bemoaning the fact that it's impossible to make a living from their art anymore. The root cause of this isn't just the increased platform for 'content', it's the the massive proliferation of content, (Two slightly different things) which has resulted in commercial value plummeting. This partly because value in the art world was always maintained by means of a scam. A coterie of artistic aristocracy (critics, gallery owners, etc) who could maintain an illusion of unquestionable, non-subjective value. A canon.
2. Is this one version of the future? In a world where, we are told, technology will make work unnecessary and where citizens will need to be given a universal wage to keep us functioning as consumers in a capitalist society? Will we all become producers of capital product? All making our death metal albums, paintings, poems, etc? 
3.Will we return to a model of production/consumption more resembling the early modernists? Short print runs for friends ?

4.I'm excited and anxious about all this. It's like Beuy's model of art-for-all. Only brought about by malign market forces rather than social political momentum.