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February 28, 2007

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Franklin

...these were the primary trends: popular imagery as barbaric and to be avoided, or legitimate because handled in an ironic manner. Drucker sees the argument between these two options as outmoded and unreflective of the work of artists today.

Okay, this clarifies why I'm not running out to buy the book. She's absolutely correct that the dialectic no longer applies in most contemporary work. The problem, though, is that a field matures when distinctions can be made between kinds of work so that they can be isolated and enjoyed on their own merits. Podhoretz knew that "Making Whoopee" didn't supercede Mozart, but if you look at the way people handle contemporary art you see the equivalent assertions being made about it: we're challenging traditional notions, inverting hierarchies, or whatever and this is a highly sophisticated activity deserving of ultimate regard. So the incorporation of low culture goes from ironic to sincere, and it still stinks compared to several thousand years' worth of creative production that strove for good form and ageless expression. If she hates Beuys she must be making some kind of value judgment, but it's unclear how that fits into her outlook. I may be reading too much into your description, but the problem is neither with the song or the idea of art, but the notion that the tradition that produced Rembrandt is culminating in whoever's up at PS1 right now.

JL

I don't have the book handy, but from my recollection, talk of "inverting hierarchies" is not Drucker's way. It's more that, as art made today, by people inevitably engaged in this society, it takes part in our culture. She's pretty down on gotcha gamesmanship of all kinds, art that makes it's claim by allegedly violating some orthodoxy. She's more interested in moving beyond that kind of talk.

Although explicating, and not judging, art is the focus of her book, she doesn't stay away from showing her own estimation of particular artists--and it's one area that I'm sure you'd disagree with her strongly (I do, although with every example--once again, I find the book interesting as a valuable challenge than something I completely agree with, though I do appreciate the force of her arguments and her perspective.) Still, she's very unpredictable, and very smart (and a talented artist herself.) As for the tradition that produced Rembrandt, I think Drucker would say we were looking to the wrong antecedent: she'd argue that we're seeing the children of Gustave Moreau.

ahab

I don't think I've taken any particular issue with your review of Sweet Dreams, JL. Your summary reminds me that I haven't resolved for myself how it is that one can make a good thing (an artwork), without summarily negating its actual effect by building a defensible case for it. Rationalization is a crate and not an armature, I've decided.

The source of my confusion in the first quote is screwed-up syntax. I'm not a qualified grammarian, not by a long shot, but does Drucker possibly mean the opposite of what she has written? Here again we see that mass culture and media imagery cannot be construed as the barbarians at the gate of fine art. Or that only ironic and distanced work is critically self-conscious. Or that a politics of negation is the single and sole morally virtuous basis on which to engage as an artist with the diversity, pluralism, and richness of contemporary visual life?

And: I get the clear signal that Drucker is herself clever enough to know a straw man argument when she writes one. The protests and sputters of critics are practically audible in the background here--but painting is dead, painting is over, painting is painting after the end of painting, after its exhaustion and annihilation. Says who?" What she doesn't seem to be able to do is pull her punch. One problem with Drucker's critique of the critics is that exaggeration of the artworld's theoretical extremities exacerbates her own critical position.

I wrote in the linked comment that I especially appreciate actualities; more accurately, I seek to valuate the actual as accurately as I can. Yes, Moreau may be the more suitable figure to pin our neo-symbolist malaise upon, but malaise I nonetheless find it to be. The only reason I want to understand it better is so I can know where to shop for an antidote.

JL

Hi ahab,

I didn't think you were taking issue with what I had written in the last post--I just thought picking apart the three sentences you said you didn't understand would be a useful way to amplify on Drucker's argument.

In context, I found those three sentences quite clear, but I think I do see the problem to which you're pointing (or at least a problem.) Drucker frequently writes in sentence fragments for emphasis. To drive home a point. She's doing that in this passage. So the negative in the first sentence should be taken as applying to the second and third as well. Rewritten, it might be something like

"Mass culture and media imagery cannot be construed as the barbarians at the gate of fine art, nor is only ironic and distanced work critically self-conscious. A politics of negation is not the single and sole morally virtuous basis on which to engage as an artist with the diversity, pluralism and richness of contemporary visual life."

By leaving the negative in the first sentence, and then implicitly connecting the latter sentences to it by the repeated use of "Or", she did make it possible to confuse them with positive statements.

I really don't think she's making a straw man argument in context. I'm grabbing quotes which I find expressive of her argument, but believe me, she's ready to name names and quote quotes--there's plenty of specifics. If some of her attacks exacerbate her position, I don't think that's entirely unintentional or unwanted; she's doing a demo job, to some degree.

I've always rather liked Moreau--the Winthrop Collection at the Fogg has several of his oddball paintings. It's true that a number of the artists Drucker discusses have done work that doesn't appeal to me (though some others have, and there were a number I wasn't familiar with--she talks of a lot of different people.) But her book made me curious about what ends might be served other than those she has in mind while also giving a pretty sharp critique of current criticism and overview of some current modes of expression. If it's not for you, though, it's not for you--I can well imagine the book's not to everyone's taste. No need to bother with it then.

The question of whether knowledge of something depletes the pleasure we take in it is an old one. But in the end, I side with Robert Penn Warren: the end of man is to know.

ahab

I lean more towards Warren Penn Robert: to know is the end of man.

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