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May 26, 2005

Comments

sarah

Oh, snap!

Kriston

OK, well, fine, JL, I'm not contesting that this is an exceedingly tiny goldfish bowl we're discussing or that any discussion of its tiny waves are of import to the larger public. I think that's in my post, beyond the line you've snipped. So, granting that, I have this impression that there used to be a vague cultural consensus that visual art was a very high, very worthwhile pursuit that one ought to have some idea about, if for cocktail party conversation alone. Sure it was an elite who put more effort toward art than that. But the data show that far fewer newspapers publish art criticism today than they did in the past. I don't think the ratio of elite to nonelite has changed wildly, so my explanation is that fewer nonelite vaguely believe they ought to know something about art, while more elite put their efforts into film.

So in response to the data I wager that art criticism (in newspaper print) has suffered to some extent from changing consensus about what comprises the highest or most desirable pursuits in society. Sure, it'll rebound in other forms. I agree that it's not worth a lot of handwringing. But it is an interesting media phenemenon and it is worthwhile to consider. Just not the way the newspapers have been writing it, I think.

JL

Thanks for the comment, Kriston. I should say first that I'm not entirely happy with the tone of the post above, which makes it sound like I'm engaging more directly (and in criticism of) your post than I intended. I was just too lazy to go over all of the responses to the LA Times article and yours seemed to me the most interesting and viable jumping off point.

I believe you're on your way out of town, so I'm not going to start going on about all the above now. But I think focusing on newspaper criticism moves the question away from one of elites and toward the idea of the collapse of middlebrow culture. In that way, the decline of art critism and the need of educated people to know something (anything) about art goes along with similar declines in classical music. The elites are probably still there, as you say (I don't know what else to call the buyers at auctions, after all.) But the broader middle looking for edification and enlightenment are not, at least not in the same numbers or for newer art. But of course, a lot of new art doesn't want that kind of role, anyway.

On the other hand, I think more people are engaged by contemporary art than the amount newspaper coverage reflects. Just not enough for newspapers to get a significant financial boost from increasing their coverage. Many of those people, after all, are the educated sort who will read the newspaper anyway; and the others probably have already turning to other sources for more arts coverage and don't look to a newspaper for it.

A new slogan for the visual arts: we're still more important than ballet!

Dick Puddings

Have you read George Steiner's "Real Presences"? He gives secondary criticism a good spanking in the first couple chapters.

JL

I'm sorry to say I've never read anything by Steiner, though I've long meant to. Perhaps I should start with that one.

Todd

Middlebrow social consensus is a good thing? And what's up with "relatively cheap urban living"? Dude, turn off the sitcom re-runs for a while. And have you looked at the price of Manhattan real estate in the last 15 years?

JL

And have you looked at the price of Manhattan real estate in the last 15 years?

It's my own fault for not being clearer, but I wasn't referring to anything in the last fifteen years in that passage. I was thinking more along the lines of 60 years ago, give or take (I'd also underline the "relatively".) Nor is the price of real estate the same as cost of living, for that matter.

Middlebrow social consensus is (or was) a good thing, not necessarily all the time or as the highest good, but definitely in this context. Middlebrow was an aspirational culture, one that admitted high art to the party along with the sports idol and movie starlet. The idea of art as something a person should know a thing or two about, if only, as Kriston says, for social purposes, is essentially a middlebrow one. It did set a certain limit on what was possible, at least before the broader public, which is part of why many find it intolerable; but it did so with an ultimately civilizing aim. The "brows" are an outmoded way of discussing culture, if they were ever truly useful, so to mix metaphors, I'd say there's something to be said for middlebrow as opposed to our a la carte culture that so often, as Kriston complains, leaves art off the menu. I'll be picking this up in a post sometime in the next couple days . . .

Vvoi

"But the broader middle looking for edification and enlightenment are not, at least not in the same numbers or for newer art. But of course, a lot of new art doesn't want that kind of role, anyway."

well, 2 things:
1) the word "enlightenment" sounds scary. makes me think of foucault and his critique of language as power. this seems to be (?) extremely hierarchical thinking, with high and low art, the worthy and the unworthy. i believe the contemporary art philosopher richard shusterman has an answer or two to this sort of perspective.
2) indeed, a lot of new art doesn't want that kind of a role, maybe because it's extremely heavy, doesn't allow for a real space of dialogue, there is space for the enlightened ones and the others, who have to "understand" in order to be "enlightened", which is very undialogical, so to speak (though i could have come up with a prettier word).
it seems to me the question of access and accessibility is different today than it was, say, 50 years ago. i've written on my blog about the podcasted guided tours of the moma. it often appears to be more about reaching the spectator than about portraying/analyzing/introducing the work in a "authoritative" or "competent" way. yes, maybe it's the moving away from the discourse of competence?

new-art.blogspot.com

JL

Thanks for your comment. As I said above, I'm trying to put together another post on this topic, so I'll wait to try and adequately address your remarks there (I don't have time to do so right now.) But one small point in regards to this:

the word "enlightenment" sounds scary. makes me think of foucault and his critique of language as power. this seems to be (?) extremely hierarchical thinking, with high and low art, the worthy and the unworthy.

While I'm happy to talk about Foucault, the Enlightment, etc., I'd have to say that in this case, I wasn't really thinking of all that, though I suppose it's part of the subtext whenever one uses the term. In fact, my use of it was more or less unthought, and my main emphasis was really on the related-but-not-the-same concept of edification as it has played out in this country in an overly earnest, perhaps slightly naive and very American kind of Bildung. Which may be equally objectionable, of course, but just to clarify.

Dick Puddings

Another great read is James Elkins' "What Happened to Art Criticism?"

JL

James Elkins' "What Happened to Art Criticism?"

Oh yes - I read that last year, shortly after starting this site. There was quite a bit of discussion of it here and elsewhere (at Iconoduel, and other sites, if I remember correctly) back then - I'll try to gather some links when I can. I had some criticisms, but then, it is a brief part of a work in progress. And while I don't agree with everything Elkins writes, he's an interesting guy and refreshing in the way he seeks out new topics and remains open to wide range of views.

Dick Puddings

Got it. Thanks.

http://modernkicks.typepad.com/modern_kicks/2004/08/elkins_again.html

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