AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


Leave a comment

NARROWING THE FIELD: THE FATE OF GENIUS IN THE AGE OF THE READYMADE

Philosopher John Rapko reviews recently published Art in the Making: Artists and their Materials from the Studio to Crowdsourcing by Glenn Adamson and Julia Bryan-Wilson


A peculiar characteristic of contemporary art is that it is accompanied by an enormous amount of talk from artists, curators, and academics about its distinctive features, both what they are and what they should be. A widely shared assumption of such talk is that contemporary art is marked by the acceptance of Marcel Duchamp’s invention of the readymade as an art-making strategy. A readymade is not so much made as chosen: the artist starts with an idea or concept, and then chooses some object to which the idea is attached. The artist’s creative activity is focused on articulating the idea and scanning the world for a suitable vehicle. How, then, could such a narrow conception of artistic activity give rise to the great range of practices in contemporary art?

In order to indicate the scope of artistic making in contemporary art, the authors introduce the term ‘production’. For them the term is extraordinarily capacious; it comprises what is traditionally called the ‘creative process’ (a phrase that does not occur in the book) of conceiving, designing, and fabricating a work, as well as any relevant social processes, such as seeking funding. The authors cite Karl Marx’s early characterization of production as “weaving, spinning, drilling, turning, building, shoveling, stone breaking” to show the level at which basic activities of ‘production’ occur, and to signal explicitly their “commitment to materialist approaches” (p.16). Most of the book is devoted to short descriptions of and reflections upon recent art works. The ten chapters range from ‘Painting’ through ‘Performance’ to the most recently emergent topics of ‘Digitizing’ and ‘Crowdsourcing’. The authors regularly note the points at which a work responds to the contemporary ‘expanded’ condition of the arts. For example, they claim that a characteristic of performance is ‘support’, the ways in which any isolated action of a single agent actually relies upon broad intersecting social networks (p.95).In Art in the Making, Glen Adamson and Julia Bryan-Wilson argue that the readymade is the fundamental model in contemporary art. However, recent developments, particularly the widespread acceptance of collective art-making, have stressed the model to a near breaking-point. Much prominent contemporary art is ‘fabricated:’ one or more artists detail how the work should be made, and artisans and fabricators make the artifacts that comprise the material dimension of the work. Why should such collective authorship stress the model of the readymade? Adams and Bryan-Wilson point to conceptual and social factors that undermine its intelligibility. First, the acceptance of the readymade implies that ‘anybody is/can be an artist’, for after all who can’t point at an object and say ‘I hereby declare thee a work of art’? The problem with this, the authors suggest, is that the readymade is a late outgrowth of the Romantic-modern conception of the artist as a ‘genius’. The social function of the genius model is to secure the conception of the artist as the primary source of a work’s meaning, value, and significance. The social factor is that contemporary works of art are now part of what Rosalind Krauss termed an ‘expanded field’, which the authors also alternatively refer to as ‘the broader environment’ (p.73) or ‘wider cultural matters’ (p.94).

The authors seem to have in mind such ‘material’ networks and practices as food production and distribution, cleaning, maintenance, and transportation. Once artworks are made in ways that acknowledge the contemporary ‘expanded’ condition, unnoticed or marginalized aspects of the work’s making can and sometimes do enter into the work’s content. The authors claim that there is a broad “problematic relationship between art and value” (p.15). Three kinds of value are explicitly noted. First, there is ‘material value’, the buying and selling price of the materials incorporated into a work. Material value has arisen as an issue due to the recent use of spectacularly expensive materials, most notoriously in Damien Hirst’s diamond-blanketed skull. Second there is the market price of the finished work, a value ultimately determined by the degree of social recognition of the artist’s alleged genius (p.141). The first two kinds of value are simply aspects of price, and so are conceptually distinct from a third kind that would usually be referred to as ‘artistic value’ (a phrase that does not occur in the book). The authors’ reference to this third kind are so brief and obscure that it’s unclear what conception of artistic value they hold, but some indications are given: it’s what gives a painting its potential to subvert the practice of painting conceived in terms of medium-specificity (p.34); it makes some works ‘compelling’ (p.208); when it is embodied in a work, the work becomes ‘potent’ (p.217).

Glenn Adamson

Glenn Adamson

The argument of the book, then, seems to be this: Contemporary art is constituted in part by the broad acceptance of the strategy of the readymade as the core model of art-making. This model is bound to the continued acceptance of the artist as genius, that it is social recognition of the imaginative powers of a particular individual that gives that individual’s works whatever meaning, value, and significance they have. The recent and growing prominence of multiple authorship, fabrication, and crowdsourcing serves to undermine the appeal to individual genius. So artistic value in contemporary art is uncertain, at least in orienting our understanding of multiply authored works and those that are seemingly individually authored (since individual authorship is in any case an illusion).

This summary of the argument is distant from the experience of reading the book which is dominated, as noted above, by brief discussions of individual works. Since the authors aim to present “the full spectrum of sites of production” in contemporary art, these discussions of particular works are necessarily so brief (usually a couple of paragraphs, and rarely more than three or four) that the accounts seem arbitrary. For example, in the two short paragraphs on the work of Josephine Meckseper, they note that some critics have characterized her works as “mind-numbingly obvious”. They immediately counter with the suggestion that “the mind-numbing effects of hyper-commodification are precisely what concern her.” No further evidence or argument is given in support of their interpretation other than noting that she does indeed recycle “the cliché [sic] tropes of luxury display” and that this somehow “strikes right at the heart of artistic authorship” (p.148). Perhaps the nadir of the book is their discussion of Robert Smithson’s ‘Spiral Jetty’. They ignore the volumes of literature on the piece, as well as Smithson’s own conceptualization of the work, to simply assert that despite the work’s great complexity, it “was at the most basic level a deployment of equipment normally used to clear a lot and lay a foundation” (p.74) It would be tedious to clarify the various conceptual obscurities here. The occasional citations of authors ranging from Karl Marx (p.16) to the anthropologist of art Alfred Gell (p.37) to the contemporary art historian Rosalind Krauss (p.12) are wholly perfunctory and at best play no role in the larger argument. This is particularly frustrating with regard to Gell, who had advanced a sophisticated and controversial anthropological account of art involving the consideration of networks of makers and users in his book Art and Agency (1998). In their concluding chapter the authors suddenly claim that the subject of ‘distributed authorship’ has been present throughout their book, and that this condition is pervasive in contemporary art (p.223); but, though they have earlier cited Gell, they do not so much as mention his attempt to demonstrate that this subject is also pervasive in, among other things, the arts of the Trobriand Islanders kula, famously studied by Bronislaw Malinowski. Is this condition, then, only pervasive in contemporary art?

Aside from hoping to gain a superficial familiarity with a broad range of recent art, one might read the book as a stimulus for reflection on the remaining force, if any, of the Duchampian model of the readymade in contemporary art. It seems to me, though, that the authors bungle this possibility because they lack any articulate conception of what one might call ‘the appreciative focus’, or what artists are offering for participation, perception, and/or reflection. A distinction of contemporary ‘visual’ art could be that the focus of appreciation is given less through a viewer’s visual perception and more through participation in tasks set by artists. Perhaps contemporary visual art is connecting with ‘wider cultural frames’ by becoming integrated or re-integrated with architecture, dance, and participatory spectacles.

Lacking anything equivalent to the notion of an appreciative focus, the authors cannot resolve the issues they set forth. A particularly damaging consequence of this is their inability to say what the content of a work is. Since on their account it is a consequence of the model of the readymade that the ‘pre-artistic’ processes out of which the artifact arises are part of the content of the work, they have no principled reason for not including in a painting the making of its frame, the cutting of the tree, the making of the saw to cut the tree, and so on infinitely. Put bluntly, the authors need to go back to school to learn the relevant basic conceptual points. But since they themselves are among the most sophisticated writers on contemporary art, and one is a prominent and high-level academic, who shall educate these educators?

Glenn Adamson and Julia Bryan-Wilson: Art in the Making: Artists and their Materials from Studio to Crowdsourcing. (London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2016. 256 pp. ISBN 9780500239339. $39.95)


Original review published 4/14/17 at artcritical.com: http://www.artcritical.com/2017/04/14/john-rapko-on-art-in-the-making/


2 Comments

GUEST POST: MARY-BETH WILLARD REVISITS FEARLESS GIRL STATUE

Mary-Beth Willard is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Weber State University. She works in metaphysics and aesthetics, and writes about street art, including an objectively absurd amount of time spent on the story of this little statue.

When I last wrote about Fearless Girl, I observed that the meaning of the little Bull-challenging statue will lie in its interaction with the public, who for the moment has claimed it as an icon of feminism, capturing the vivacity of little girls at that tender age where they still dare to dream.

fearless

Fearless Girl reportedly now has a permit through 2018, and this has angered none other than the creator of Charging Bull, Arturo di Modica, who has asked for Fearless Girl to be relocated, because it’s making his Bull into a villain.

Here’s a quick version of an argument on behalf of di Modica. Fearless Girl might have been intended by the artist and firm who commissioned her (It? She. Has to be “she.”) as a stunt aimed at promoting the hiring and retention of women in the financial industry, but that’s not how people reacted. She opposes the bull – she’s not riding it, after all – and the public has decided that they’re on her side. If she represents the power of girls, then the bull is now a beast that tramples them.  This substantially changes the meaning of Charging Bull, and the artist, who supports gender equality, does not want that. Given that both pieces are works of public art, he cannot simply declare that Charging Bull is not anti-feminist, because his declaration will mean nothing to the swarms of visitors who see the tableau. Thus, to preserve the meaning of Charging Bull, the Fearless Girl must stand down.

The ethos of street art, according to one influential account, commits artists implicitly to accept its ephemerality; once in the street, the artist should expect to have no say over what happens to it, because historically many works of street art were illicit, and would be removed.  The relevant contrast is supposed to be with sanctioned public art, which by way of having sought official approval, is historically afforded a degree of civic protection. Charging Bull has permission, and in the past has been protected from the threat of physical damage by civic authorities, so one question raised by this case is whether the implicit expectation of civic protection extends to the meaning of the work.

There’s also an ethical discussion occurring between the artworks, which arguably affects how we should view di Modica’s request. Curiously, both Charging Bull and Fearless Girl were presented as if they were street art: installed at night, under the cover of darkness. Charging Bull was even hauled off by the authorities before being rehomed two blocks south; there’s a case for it to be properly considered as street art that owes its permanence to its unexpected welcome reception. (Fearless Girl, the result of an ad campaign, had a permit.) In both cases, the intended meaning of the works were overwritten by the reaction of the public. The street decided that Charging Bull was a symbol of the financial district, and that Fearless Girl symbolized everything opposed to it.

In asking for the city to remove Fearless Girl, however, di Modica is saying that in this case, the street does not get to decide the meaning of his artwork. But can he succeed?  There is a limit to what an artist’s intention can establish – there’s no way to preserve Charging Bull as long as Fearless Girl stares it down. He might sue.

(So far, the mayor is telling di Modica to pound salt.)

But if Fearless Girl is so threatening that she must be removed, might she already have won the battle over the meaning of Charging Bull? Imagine the stories: The Charging Bull is so thoroughly identified with capitalism that the power of the state is called in to save it from a tiny ponytailed girl. We were here first, little lady. It was fine when we did it. Don’t you go trying to change the way things are done around here. Don’t take up space.

Will the bull become a bully?


Leave a comment

JERRY SALTZ: BAD ART CANNOT BECOME GOOD IN NEW CONTEXTS

tumblr_ojsimoSkhh1qzdpsuo1_1280.jpg

photo of Longo’s sculpture on Whitney’s Tumblr account

Another entry in philosophy-meets-the-artworld:
Famous art critic Jerry Saltz weighs in on Vulture about Robert Longo’s All You Zombies: Truth Before God, which was recently installed at the Whitney.

Saltz writes of ‘badness’ as a “metaphysical constant”:

Can older bad art be made good by changing political times? The short answer, I think, is “No.” Really bad art may be a metaphysical constant, and in the case of rediscovered, long overlooked masterpieces I tend to believe the work was always good and we just weren’t capable of seeing it yet.

But says that, really, it might not be that important:

But when thinking about how times change works of art, we probably need to get away from using words like good and bad. Let’s focus instead on values that make art useful: surprise, energy, redefinitions of skill, a willingness to fail flamboyantly, originality in pursuit of different ideas of beauty, ugliness, urgency, the shedding of biography, or 1,000 other things. Look through these lenses and older art will often look very different in newer times. Any image of black face or lynching reverberates horribly today, as it should.

So what exactly does Saltz think of Longo’s sculpture? Check out the full article at Vulture.


2 Comments

CAN #SELFIES BE ART? SAATCHI SAYS YES

rembrandt.jpg

I’m going to go ahead and say Saatchi isn’t really that cutting edge on this one. People have been doing self-portraits for a long-ass time. Maybe those don’t count as “selfies” though?

In any event, the famous Saatchi Gallery will host a show this spring called “From Selfie to Self-Expression”. This is funded together with the enormous Chinese telecom company Huawei. (Hm, I wonder why they’d be interested in selfies.)

Maybe most exciting is for those artistic sorts who read the blog: You can enter your own selfie for a chance to be shown at Saatchi!

They’re currently holding a selfie competition (entry rules here), open until March 12, 2017. You have to submit images via their website interface. For whatever reason, you can’t just post an Instagram with the #SaatchiSelfie hashtag and be entered. Although they do want you to use that hashtag on Twitter, Instagram, etc.

Or you can just scope out the current entries.

From the website: “Winners will receive Huawei’s latest smartphone and have their selfies showcased at the Saatchi Gallery as part of Selfie to Self-Expression.” Even if you weren’t jonesing for the newest line of Huawei phones, being part of a Saatchi show would be pretty cool.

The show will run from March 31, 2017 – May 30, 2017.

Image: Rembrandt, Self-Portrait (1660), courtesy of The Met Collection


Leave a comment

YouGov SURVEY ANSWERS PERENNIAL QUESTION: CAN VIDEO GAMES BE ART?

quick_art_of_video_games

Survey says… No. 😥

But tattoos can be, and many other things.

Internet-based market research company YouGov asked over 1500 Brits whether they thought various mediums could be art.

Their results:

art20forms-01

Unsurprisingly, results varied a lot across age groups, and some across class. Take a look at YouGov’s write-up of these surveys, and their detailed survey results. This updates some older results they got in 2014.

Well, I guess we can shut things down around here. Thanks to everyone for playing!

p.s. But seriously, stay tuned for the next JAAC x AFB Discussion on this beloved non-art-form. We’ll be discussing Grant Tavinor’s JAAC paper “What’s My Motivation? Video Games and Interpretive Performance”.

Photo credit: Ryan Quick, The Art of Video Games via Flickr


1 Comment

VENGEANCE IN BRIGHT PINK

You might think that you can’t, like, own a color, man.

But you’d be wrong. (And actually you’d have been wrong for a while. See Yves Klein Blue.)

Context: Maybe you remember the dustup earlier this year when superstar artist Anish Kapoor acquired the exclusive rights to (artistic) use of Vantablack, the blackest black in the world. Check it out:

vantablack_01

you can totally see through your screen that it’s the blackest black in existence, right?

Snarky remarks aside, it seems to make the aluminum look downright velvety. Artists were (reasonably) pissed about not being able to use this.

One such artist took revenge. Stuart Semple has developed the pinkest pink in existence. Check it out:

4web_pink-1_large

it’s definitely pinker than this image can depict

And he’s making it available to everybody except Kapoor. Even you* can go grab a jar for £3.99.

*Unless you’re Anish, in which case, wow! We’re super flattered. Click-like-share this blog with your friends!

He’s also developed the glitteriest glitter, which is about twice the price of the pinkest pink, and also available to anybody except Kapoor.

diamond_dust_web-22_large

so why is everybody just talking about the pink?

Real questions: Are these really the pinkest pink and glitteriest glitter? On what sort of scale? Is this just a publicity stunt? Was what Kapoor did just a publicity stunt? Does any of that matter? And is it a problem for the future of art, now that you can actually own certain colors? Or is it no big deal?

Read more:

Images credits: (1) via Wikimedia Commons; (2) and (3) via CultureHustle, Stuart Semple’s website


Leave a comment

ARTIST INTERVIEW: LAUREN KALMAN

kalman_bio

Artist Lauren Kalman interviewed by Alex King for AFB

Lauren Kalman is a visual artist based in Detroit and an assistant professor at Wayne State University. Her practice is invested in contemporary craft, video, photography and performance. Kalman’s work has been featured in exhibitions at the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Museum of Contemporary Craft, Cranbrook Art Museum, Contemporary Art Museum Houston, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Mint Museum, and the World Art Museum in Beijing, among others. Her work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, and the Detroit Institute of Art. She currently has a solo show at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City, running through March 15, 2017, as part of their MAD POV series; as well as an installation at the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh, PA, running through February 12, 2017.

[Ed. warning: this interview contains some nudity, may be NSFW]

Continue reading


Leave a comment

A THANKSGIVING ANNOUNCEMENT FROM AFB

scorched

Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, Scorched Earth, Clear Cut Logging on Native Sovereign Lands, Shaman Coming to Fix (1991) (via Yuxweluptun’s website)

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in America, and while there are many things to be thankful for (though also many things to be dissatisfied with, to put it mildly), we at AFB would like to take a moment to recognize and celebrate Native American art and people.

Please remember that the conventional Thanksgiving narrative is at best naively and misleadingly incomplete and at worst grossly, perniciously, and irretrievably wrong.

And be aware that Native Americans still fight for recognition, respect, and rights. Be aware of the current Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) situation (see how you can help here). Be aware that while you may be sitting down tomorrow to a meal with family and friends, others will be protesting at the National Day of Mourning in Coles Hill Plymouth, MA and at the Indigenous Peoples’ Sunrise Gathering on Alcatraz Island, CA.

Pueblo_Feast_Day.jpg

David Bradley, Pueblo Feast Day (1997) (via Wikimedia Commons)

The influence of indigenous cultures on contemporary American culture is immeasurable. So we would like to say thank you, and we stand with you.

If you’d like to get more informed, below the fold are a few links to recent developments in Native American art and the artworld.
Continue reading


Leave a comment

ARTISTS RESPOND TO THE 2016 ELECTION RESULTS + AUDEN POEM

Follow these links for some great coverage on how artists are responding to the 2016 election results. Please feel free to share any information about how artists are responding to the election results in the comments below.

For your viewing pleasure, here is the cold open from Saturday Night Live this past weekend. A response to the 2016 election results and Leonard Cohen’s death from the obviously multi-talented artist and comedian, Kate McKinnon:


In conclusion, an Auden poem:

September 1, 1939 | W. H. Auden, 19071973

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright 
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can 
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return. 

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire 
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
“I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.