As it happens, when I saw the announcement of the MIT conference a few days ago I was in the midst of trying to put together a post in mild defense of all that (no-longer-so) newfangled academic theorizin' in the arts that so often bugs people. Obviously, in light of the posts I did write, it bugs me, too, or it can. On the other hand, this is the sort of stuff I cut my teeth on in various graduate seminars in continental philosophy (most aesthetics and political theory) back in the day. So at times I get a little protective of it, which can lead me to defend or criticize a particular instance, as the case may be.
All of this was rolling around in my mind due to a recent article from the Guardianattacking the new Art Since 1900 textbook from Rosalind Krauss and company. I have no trouble at all believing the book irritating and heavy-handed, especially to an already-knowledgable reader. It is meant, after all, as a pedagogical tool, and it will undoubtedly chafe those not in need of instruction. Philip Larkin, according to his biographer, after completing his version of The Oxford Book of Twentieth-Century Verse and hearing a rumor that Kingsley Amis might be asked to do a companion of light verse, remarked, "We shall have stamped our taste on the age between us in the end." Krauss and company have the same aim, just in a different field, and minus the artistry.
Jonathan Jones, the author of the Guardian's article, makes a number of solid points about art criticism. That its validity rests upon illuminating something in the work - so that we understand and, knowing, say "I see" - is certainly true. That all too often contemporary "theoretical" approaches rely on implicit arguments from authority also has been widely noticed and rightly deplored. It's this fact that always bothered me about appropriations of continental philosophy in other disciplines, generally under the rubric of "theory." For there was no "theory", there were theories, not all of which were consistent with each other, and the point was to decide which, if any of them, were true (or at least accurate.)
If there's a single flaw I can point to in Jones' assault, it's his rhetorical reliance upon empiricism as a point from which to criticize the book. British empiricism is a fine and noble thing, but in the arts it does not have the happiest history. Far too often it has been a cudgel with which to beat any artist who fails to paint horses that look like horses. All glory to those who do, but we don't want to stop there. Jones connects the style and arguments of Art Since 1900 to Bruce Naumann's exhibit at the Tate. The latter may be unbearable, I have no idea. But as much as I love the happy little aesthetic rut I've dug for myself, I get uncomfortable when I see more experimental work simply ruled out. If it's bad, fine; but Jones' empiricism, for all its emphasis on the work, doesn't seem capable of coming to grips with that particular one. Chris was getting at a similar point the other day, I think, when in disappointment with MIT's Black Sabbath tribute "Regarding Evil" conference he remarked that more experimental intellectual work is "at its finest when it allows us to reflect on the limits of
knowledge, of language, of method and to use this insight in production
On a different note, I got the link for the Guardian from Tyler, who when posting it referred back to his own account of a conference on Dan Flavin held at the National Gallery during last year's exhibit there. He did not have a lot positive to say at that time, and again, I have no reason to doubt the event was as fatuous as he makes it sound. It's disappointing, too, for as he notes, there were some good, smart people there. I think I do disagree with him on the relationship between academics and contemporary art, at least to some degree, but that's another post. I just want to point out that, like some of those speaking at the time, I've been known to invoke "the dialectic" from time to time. I find it useful and, in fact, at times unavoidable. Ideas and art wrap around one another quite often, and a fair amount of the mumbo-jumbo spouted by eggheads finds fruitful ground in artistic practice. And sometimes, it doesn't. To cease this long-winded yet still vague post (or should I say discourse?), let me once again emphasize that tact is among the most important yet least considered aspects of interpretation, historical or aesthetic. That, and anyone in or with access to New York is sick of theorizing and wants some serious sensuality in art, go here now. I haven't been (it takes a lot to get me out of New England), but she'll be having a show at Holy Cross later this year and I can't wait.
Modern Art Notes already raked over the New York Times over for its article on the Boston MFA and the Bellagio the other day. But there's more. In that piece, the Times reported that, not surprisingly, the casino would like to pursue other deals with the museum. The newspaper explores some of the problems with the arrangement, but ends with this quote:
But to [Bellagio Gallery marketing director Mathew] Hileman, if the Las Vegas deal is singled out for criticism,
it is because Las Vegas is viewed by some as lowbrow, while Boston is
seen as a bastion of high culture. "People think a Boston museum is
pandering when it does something like this," he said. "Las Vegas is
such an easy target."
No doubt true, to some extent, even if it's not the core reason many people have criticized the MFA. But to the extent that it is true, where could anyone get such as idea? From the Globe (scroll down to the second item):
Think the Museum of Fine Arts regrets renting its Monets to a Las Vegas
casino? Think again. PaceWildenstein, the New York gallery that runs
the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art -- home to the MFA's Monets since Jan.
30, 2004 -- is working on a deal to bring even more of the museum's art
to the Las Vegas strip. (The Monet show closes May 30.) ''We're hoping
to do another Impressionist show," says Matthew Hileman,
the Bellagio Gallery's marketing director. ''Impressionism is such a
part of our brand. The limousines are named after Impressionist
artists. The ballrooms are named after Impressionist artists."
Sorry for the lack of posts over the past day or two. We've just been having too much fun over here at MK. What kind of fun? I'm talking busiest work week of the year and locking your keys in the car kind of fun! Whoa yeah - I saw you step back! It's just too much around here, I'm telling ya. While we've been away, I hope you've all enjoyed listening to the two songs below. It's been a pleasure providing them, and I trust that if there were any problems accessing the files, someone would have told me, right? Right. We may do this again - it struck me after I wrote that post that perhaps I should have started with this site's theme song. Perhaps soon.
I also want to extend a particular welcome to all the people from MIT who've been crawling around here lately. Sorry I think your conference stinks. Don't take it personally. If you're really upset, take comfort from knowing I'm the sort of person who locks his keys in his car. I imagine that knowledge is enough to renew a warm feeling of superiority in anyone from MIT.
Anyway, I have a few posts in differing stages of completion and I don't think they're entirely worthless, so you should see some new stuff soon. I hope.
I don't mean to harp on the topic of the MIT conference mentioned below, but I can't help but add that it's not the self-congratulatory "boldness" that galls, nor the tortured prose. Both are routine for these sorts of events, after all. Even if one doesn't care for them, they hardly seem remarkable. Far more bothersome is the sense one gets from the materials that at least some of those involved find the topic of evil to be just another topos to be exploited or toyed with rather than the profound subject that it is. That, combined with an aesthetic sensibility that seems to take Motley Crue for the Minima Moralia. That's the real problem.
Many of you probably saw the e-Flux email announcement of this that went out this morning, but for those who did not, read it and weep:
A one-day summit at MIT
Sunday, April 3, 2005
Reception to follow
Free and open to the public
A one-day symposium in which internationally-recognized artists and
scholars will participate in a bold assessment of Evil, it's aesthetic
lure, pervasiveness in political rhetoric, and the spectacle of war. The
event will commence with a global "Sounding of the Trumps," simulcast from
INTERLOCUTOR: Ross Cisneros, artist, conceiver and organizer of the event will realize
the global collaboration for the summit and present "ETHICS BORE ME TO
Matthew Barney, multimedia artist, has contributed his film "DE LAMA
LAMINA" (2004) 35mm screening
Jodi Dean, political theorist, will present a critical survey of
rhetorical strategies that polarize nations into the Good and the Evil in
her presentation "EVIL'S POLITICAL HABITATS"
Beau Friedlander, author of poems, essays, and translations will describe
his lengthy relationship with Ted Kaczynski, the acquisition of his
memoirs, and a psychological insight into the Unabomber in his
presentation "TED AND ME"
Ronald Jones, artist and critic, has investigated the role that both
artist and designer play in proliferating and manifesting an immoral
universe in his presentation "LET'S BE OUTRAGEOUS, LET'S MISBEHAVE"
Julian LaVerdiere, artist and co-creator of the "Tribute in Light" World
Trade Center memorial, will unfold the performative history in the
destruction of monuments and cultural signifiers. Julian will expand upon
how this phenomenon relates to his art practice in his presentation
Boyd Rice, author, musician, and outspoken Satanist, will speak of his
relationship with Anton LeVay and the Church of Satan, his long
correspondence with Charles Manson, and the sado-masochistic lure of Nazi
aesthetic in his presentation "IDEOLOGUES OF THE REJECTED". A special
performance will follow.
I especially like the "Reception to follow" note. <Satan voice>There will be little sandwiches!</Satan voice>. Oh jeez . . . check out the website for more. I hate to come off as some sort of anti-academic, theory-hating type. As I'm trying to write in another post, I like that sort of thing. And no one would deny that evil is a topic for the most serious, wide-ranging thought and expression. Perhaps that's the problem - I don't like to judge something I haven't heard, but a conference on evil that features a talk entitled "Let's Be Outrageous, Let's Misbehave" doesn't sound to me like it's going to give Augustine a run for his money. LaVerdiere's presentation sounds like it could be something interesting and worthwhile, and one can imagine Dean's and Friendlander's (even given the latter's subject matter) as not unworthy fare. But the rest simply make me wonder why those involved aren't ashamed of themselves.
For those who have been bored by all of the music talk over the past few days, rest assured: a variety of posts are in the works on our more usual art fare. But in the meantime we're going to try something new here at MK. New for us, that is - as usual, we're trying to hop on a train that has long since left the station. Below are two songs relevant to recent posts here, the majestic title track to Bobby "Blue" Bland's Two Steps from the Blues and, representing the girl groups, Thee Headcoatees' sui generis "My Boyfriend's Learning Karate". Sure, the cliched lyrics of most of the former aren't a match for the stately music - but feel your breath catch at the conclusion. As for the latter, I'm not sure words are enough. Billy Childish sure can play guitar, though.
These will both be here for the next week or so, then will disappear. And remember: while I imagine that Bland eventually decent money in his career, I don't think any of the artists involved in these records have their own Starbucks in their home. So if you like, why not buy? Check 'em out:
Yes, more music. The anecdote below about an evening at the Boston Music Awards reminds me of seeing Jonathan on Conan O'Brien's show in the mid-'90's. I know tv audiences are prompted to be enthusiastic about everything, but it was always entertaining to see JoJo come out before a group that had no idea who he was. There would be a certain moment when the crowd's perfunctory, fake acceptance would shift into real enjoyment. By the end of his performance, they'd be hollering. And who wouldn't, when seeing something like this:
This was the second year in a row that the New Kids on the Block were prominently featured at the awards. Just as in the previous year the audience was split into two groups: the usual Boston rock crowd and a flock of 13 year-old teenie boppers who screamed their heads off whenever the NKOTB were mentioned or appeared onstage. The "usual suspects" were disgruntled at their ceremony being usurped by a prefab music biz creation like NKOTB. Before long whenever the teenies screamed the other half of the room would hiss. It was getting ugly. The rock acts that played left the New Kids crowd silent, and the mood was not pleasant. Then Jonathan came out and did his thing. True to plan he was playing "Fender Stratocaster" on my red Telecaster. Also true to form, he placed the guitar down on the stage after a verse or two and did most of the rest of the tune using only his voice accompanied by "drums" made from pounding his fists on his chest. He was doing his little Jonathan dance, a joyous Jewish Jackie Wilson sort of affair, replete with hip thrusting and pelvic rotations. And...to my utter amazement...the teenie boppers went wild!!! They started screaming like it was Shaun Cassidy circa 1976. This was the only time at that awards show that both halves of the room grooved to the same act. So nothing really surprises me anymore where Jonathan is concerned.
Nope. And while it may not be great writing, a "Jewish Jackie Wilson" is a really fun description of Jonathan getting down.
I know I can count the number of readers who care about music posts here on one hand. But looked at another way, that's a respectable percentage of total traffic! Anyway, for those so inclined: the Gore Gore Girls' version of The Crystals' "All Grown Up" is available for free download here. Phil would be proud.