April 29, 2008

Better Than An Artist

by Jerome du Bois

An online art critic from Seattle misreads me badly. I'm not surprised, since she is impressed by the infrathin Josh Greene, and admires a creep like Jon Haddock. I don't know how Haddock got into her posting, but I won't be discussing either one of those two clowns in this piece. Instead, I'm taking issue with this critic's first sentence:

The Ralph Nader Award for Art Criticism goes to Jerome du Bois, who thinks Duchamp and everything that flows from him stinks.

Marcel Duchamp is one of my heroes. I've written about him several times, most recently in the second part of "Obsession and Wordplay," most completely in "Step Outside." I've admired him and the solid arc of his life for years.

This woman makes a mistake in thinking that Josh Greene is somehow an aesthetic descendant of Duchamp, which is ludicrous. Greene is a cringing weenie, completely dependent on public sufferance of his infantilism, his umbilical feeding off the art milieu. Duchamp was always a mensch, dependent on no one but himself, and completely separate from the art world. He preferred the real world. Calvin Tompkins said most of it in his excellent biography:

It has been argued that Duchamp's influence is almost entirely destructive. By opening the Pandora's box of his absolute iconoclasm and breaking down the barriers between art and life, his adversaries charge, Duchamp loosed the demons that have swept away every standard of esthetic quality and opened the door to unlimited self-indulgence, cynicism, and charlatanism in the visual arts. As with everything else that we tend say about Duchamp, there is some truth in this. What could be more subversive than the readymades, which undermined every previous definition of art, the artist, and the creative process? To call Duchamp destructive, however, is to miss the point. What he was interested in above all was freedom --complete personal and intellectual and artistic freedom-- and the manner in which he achieved all three was, in the opinion of his close friends, his most impressive and enduring work of art. Heavy-duty art critics who pounce on that claim as a cop-out, a tacit admission of his failure to become a great artist, don't have a clue to the new kind of artist that Duchamp became.

I'll add this much: Marcel Duchamp was better than an artist, because he recognized and refused early on the egotistical amorality and narcissistic ambition among his French contemporaries --"a basket of crabs," he told William Copley later in New York. Of course, America had its own crabs, too, and still does. Artists are taught that they are somehow special and different from other people --above, apart, exceptions to the rules, touched by some ray of power-- but it isn't true. Very few people are true artists, and very few true artists today come out of art schools. Still, a lot of fools buy the vamping of the new operators like Josh Greene. Duchamp saw through that bullshit and stepped outside. The world could use more like him these days --independent, curious and bien dan sa peau --at ease in their skin-- with no influence over each one but his or her own imagination.

Posted by Jerome at 12:00 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 26, 2008

Twenty-First-Century Courtly Follies

by Jerome du Bois

Time to polish the cliché of the ivory tower.

Hear the glory of the royal art scam through the thin tinny trumpet of K. Vanesian. This woman is a courtier of the inner circle of complacent sycophancy that is ASU's Herberger College of the Arts, a coterie of vanity, pride, and folly. ASU's President Michael Crow plays the distant king, John Spiak a prince or duke, the baton they pass around is called "community engagement," and visiting "artist" Josh Greene is the jester with two jobs to juggle.

The first is for Greene to endorse Crow's community engagement commitment with his silly and insulting "residency," which has checkmark reverberations which satisfy everybody's bureaucratic obligations; for example, the fourth-grade teacher who gets to use a visit to Greene's stupid scene to fulfill the district's requirement for an art outing (and he/she can double-dip and make it a "social studies" outing as well); the artist gets fifty-eight drawings from kids who are required to carry out an assignment no matter how they feel about it; Josh Greene gets all fifty-eight as a certificate, a palpable marker, a credential that he did his part in this daisy chain; the teacher's principal and the district bureaucrats are reminded that the tentacle of ASU/Crow's embrace --expanding yet tightening too-- is welcome, since they get to check off their own bureaucratic requirements --checkmarks up and down the line-- so that finally the legislature is satisfied, turns the spigot, and the money flows. The money must flow.

Josh Greene's second task is to glorify the role of the curator, John Spiak in particular, the role of what passes today as an avant-garde artist (himself), and the role of the art museum in a mutual admiration and legimization ritual as mannered as a medieval court --and just as rigidly separated by class. Vaneisan plays right along. This "Social Studies" rubric, no matter how boundary-breaking and democratic and outreaching and "socially interactive" and relationally aesthetic it styles itself as, is designed to showcase just how special, separate, wise, and superior the artists and curators are, compared to you, citizen, with your flat feet on the street, scratching your head and asking, But where is the art?

Don't let them scam you, citizen. Your eyes, your heart, your ears, your brain --they have not deceived you. You're right: There is no art there. Examine Josh Greene's website, and you'll see that he's simply an operator --he doesn't make anything-- and though he has an academic degree in sculpture, his goal is to empty the world of significance. And more: he wants to flatline the heartbeat of art.

For him, for curators like Spiak and Heather Lineberry and Marilyn Zeitlin, this whole art-and-curating gig is a folly, a shadow play of puppets in cardboard crowns, an aesthetic three-card monte dealt by five-sided comedians laying out the pattern in pleasing, familiar harlequin tessellation. It's fun for them, because they're all getting paid, and paid well, and often with taxpayer money. Why wouldn't they hire a jester? They know he's going to be a safe one, not the like the jesters of old who often ridiculed their own patrons, up to and including the king. Everybody's just having fun.

But it isn't amusing to the citizen on the street, who lives in a world at war, and who looks for signs that we can better ourselves, that we can rise above ourselves, when too many around us take the easy way out, turn to cruelty, or wallow as low as they can go.

By serendipity, I suppose, I've been rereading Christopher Fowler's fourth Bryant & May mystery, Ten-Second Staircase, which includes an impeccable skewering of British art twits who resemble Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, and Grayson Perry. The epigraph is by Alexander Pope (1688-1744), and it's sadly apt to today:

The wit of cheats, the courage of a whore,
Are what ten thousand envy and adore;
All, all look up, with reverential awe,
At crimes that 'scape, or triumph o'er the law:
While truth, worth, wisdom, daily they decry--
'Nothing is sacred now but villainy.'

There's more for the interested reader. Let's take a look at the list of Mr. Greene's "completed" projects.

* * * * *

Greene posted a list of fourteen completed projects on the ASU Art Museum's website. I'll take them one by one, with comments. Two "actions" that he had speculated on before do not appear on the list, but they give you an idea of his vibe: a pancake breakfast, and staring contests. Here we go:

Gallery Decoration As Suggested By My Wife

Aww, how sweet, although she has terrible taste, and the setup looks forlorn and pointless. And she's not really part of the Arizona community, is she? How is this "socially interactive"?

Jessie Smith’s Selections from the Permanent Collection (see YouTube Video)

Jessie Smith is a woman from Canada (?!) whom Greene snagged and dragged around because nothing else was going on, and she had suggested that he needed some art on the walls. I guess it hadn't occurred to him, even while "residing" in the middle of an art museum. So he made a big deal out of it.

Inequity No More -– public restroom intervention

I'll let Vanesian describe this brilliant move:

Reconfiguring other museum spaces has also been a major component of the artist's unorthodox art-making. When he discovered that the men's room in the museum didn't have a couch, as the women's room does, he "equalized" the two restrooms by moving the office couch of curator John Spiak into the men's room.

How did he "discover" that the women's room had a couch? As if I'm interested.

Conversation with a chimp about art ideas –-video to come

This shtick goes back to vaudeville and farther. It's got cobwebs on it and it's from hunger.

Mascot / Docent

I don't know. I'm guessing it has to do with dressing up in an animal costume, another dismaying staple of what Vanesian calls "participatory conceptual art."

Thursday afternoons with Legend

If this has to do with that half-pint jumped-up teenage "curator," I don't want to know more.

It’s Not You –-staff restroom intervention

This is icky. Vanesian again:

The private curatorial bathrooms are now equipped with CD players immortalizing the unmistakable sounds of bathroom activity, which one can ignore or choose to listen to.

Yes, you read that right. Eeeww. Let's move on.

Serving as an actor in other artist’s video productions –- video to come

He means students. So far, this residency sounds as serious as recess.

Museum staff audio recordings, their ideas of the Social Studies initiative

And I'm sure many of them spoke on the record that they thought the whole idea was inflated crap designed to please King Crow.

A small tribute to Jarbas Lopes

Lopes was the operator before Greene; he set up a bicycle-repair and customizing shop at the Museum. Green obediently polishes the community engagement baton with this reminder, and gives a thumbs-up to Spiak, too.

AZ 3TV anchor man Scott Passmore as depicted by 58 fourth graders --See Josh interviewed for 3TV’s Good Morning Arizona show

These are the drawings mentioned at the beginning of this post. Vanesian provides a revealing glimpse of art snobbism in her sadistic description of Scott Passmore and crew:

"I don't actually make things that often," Greene recently explained to a Channel 3 news crew that seemed completely baffled by Greene's work. "So, a lot of the projects are often inspired by various conversations with visitors to the museum."

News anchor Scott Pasmore was so flummoxed by the whole concept that he ended up nervously laughing and babbling incoherently on-camera.

I couldn't get the video to work, so I can't say if it happened as she describes. I will say that Vanesian seems to enjoy the plague of punking and gotcha we currently suffer in our culture.

ASU Art Museum Curator, John Spiak’s office --see YouTube Video

Vanesian again:

Recently, the artist was so impressed by the kinetic chaos of Spiak's office that he moved its entire contents to the gallery, painstakingly re-creating its visual bedlam from photos he took of Spiak's work space. Greene's 3-D vignette dutifully documents books and papers scattered on and under the curator's desk, strange stuff strewn about the floor, including a gigantic deflated bear costume, made-to-scale bookcases crammed precariously with hundreds of videotapes and exhibition catalogs, suspended "walls" plastered with assorted images and a video monitor stacked with crap. Spiak, in turn, posted a video of his new office location.

Here we see the jester paying tribute to the prince, and then, in true narcissistic royal style, the prince paying YouTube tribute to himself. Mirrors facing mirrors! I remember that office, by the way. Catherine and I sat in it back in the summer of 2002, and heard Spiak say that art exhibitions (we were proposing a 9/11 tribute) took at least three years to put in place. And then I read that this Josh Greene thing was ginned-up in three months. Of course, by now I'm not surprised by these people, just sadder and wiser.

An installation of the artwork of the Museum’s installation crew

How to win friends and flatter the hell out of people. And easy and safe as apple pie.

Scrapbook tribute by Ellen Medway, mother of artist, with accompanying audio recording

The Good Housekeeping seal of approval. My mother likes my work, okay? You gonna dis my mother? Perish the thought. What could I add anyway? That's number fourteen.

Now Josh Greene's gone --I wrote most of this on April 3rd-- but his ephemera remain until early May. A partial list of what you'll see includes reproduced emails and a bunch of drawings by children, some of the art you'd see anyway at Nelson Fine Arts Center, and a bunch of videos starring guess who.

The follies continue. The jester snickers while bending the knee, and the courtiers laugh out loud. Art suffers.

Posted by Jerome at 10:05 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 21, 2008

The Q In Question

by Jerome du Bois

I decided against continuing to field increasingly irrelevant grounders from Winkleman and Einspruch in the short comment thread to the last written posting. Besides being irrelevant they became irrational, ending up with Orwellspeak such as "wingnut" and "anti-gay." (Winkleman: "You defined yourself as such through your blogroll." Insanity.) Einspruch stopped sputtering "prove this, prove that" and avoided extending the discussion about "lazy arguments" to advance even more of his own.

And please notice, dear reader, that this lag in time of mine, this refusal to leap to respond like a Pavlovian dog to the latest comments, to keep some stupid stick in play, ought to put the kibosh on the notion that we seek as much traffic as we can get. Click click click. Have they said anything yet? What? No? What about now? Wearisome.

But to heck with all that because I got back on track, ruminating about questions, the origin of my first posting about ArtBloggers@. Back then, when I read Mattera's minutes--

We didn't get to the big questions-- Are we mainstream yet? Do we want to be? What is the future of art blogging?

--I dimissed those questions as sophomoric, because Catherine and I have been asking questions of the art world at both higher and deeper levels for five years on the blog. Even more disappointing, when we called out the panelists on their laziness, they claimed that we misunderstood the structure and function of the event. I don't think so; I think they failed themselves, and they're embarrassed. When I made a suggestion about generating questions in rounds by repeated emailings, I got back "you do it, we're too busy." Maybe they are. But I note that during that last comment buzz here both Winkleman and Einspruch got back to my posting lickety-split, even when I didn't notify either one about it. And a few days ago, over on Winkleman's blog, there was a very long comment thread on artists as writers (hereafter AAW), with repeated comments by Einspruch, Sharon [Somebody; I thought it was Butler, but I've been corrected, by Butler], Joanne Mattera (with an eye-opening elitist statement), and Winkleman throughout the day. How busy can they be?

But forget about it --except for that AAW thread; I've found it very useful for the present posting, and I'll be referring to it below. Anyway, I got to thinking about questions, and the Q that begins that word, because back in the Eighties, when I was doing graduate work in public administration, public sector ethics, and organizational behavior, I was required to understand and create the design of social-psychological instruments, mostly questionnaires. In these courses, which many considered a grind but I thought were fascinating, we spent a lot of time trying to create clean questions, questions gone over like a groom at a wedding, for every spare hair of prejudice, every crease of careless definition, so as not to skew the results. One must be so particular, for every word counts, and we're not trying to fool people here, we're trying to capture a faithful trace of the truths that people, millions of people, hold to be self-evident.

It was while taking these classes, and taking them seriously, in my independent research outside of class, that I came across a methodology that ran counter to the prevailing models -- under the general term R-methodology-- which were based on large questionnaire populations, stratified random samples, and hard-nugget, operationally-defined variables.

The alternative was called Q-methodology, which could get strong research results from small sample groups, not necessarily randomized, with vaguely defined variables. It had many attractions, including the possibility of clarifying the definitions of those very same vague variables, but in the prevailing academic environment at the time it was on the outs because it was inside-out. "You can't generalize from such small studies." But Q wasn't about generalizing or aggregates or percentages of populations; it was concerned with human subjectivity, the individual mental world, the commonly-shared mental world, how they're built, how they're connected, and operationalizing some of that rich structure. So I pursued it on my own, reading everything I could and designing my own studies on the side. Anyway, one of the advantages of Q over R-methodology is that the "Q-sorting technique," the core action which provides the raw data for factor analysis, is a subtle and flexible way to sift the relevant from the irrelevant questions in any area. Art, given its roots in subjectivity, is a rich field for Q-studies. I've been away from the research field for many years, but a quick internet scan doesn't bring up many Q-studies among or about arts professionals. Instead, as it was when it first took off in the mid-Sixties, Q is being used in mostly in market research, advertising, public relations, and political research, because that's where the money is.

I thought I knew a lot about William Stephenson, the polymath genius who promulgated and refined Q-methodology, but just yesterday, as I was catching up on him and Q, I ran across a new fact that I found quite charming: in the mid-Fifties, when Stephenson was working as an advertising consultant for the Ford Motor Company, he was the only person in the boardroom to stand up one special day and say that the new model, the Edsel, was a very bad idea. His Q-studies revealed it. He was overruled, and the Edsel rolled off the production line and right into oblivion.

I'll leave it to the reader to follow up on the fascinating William Stephenson (1902-1989). He should have been the communication prophet that his contemporary Marshall McLuhan turned out to be. McLuhan was flashy, and lots of people love aphorisms, but Stephenson had more precise, better-tested ideas. He had a real instrument, a powerful tool, the Q-sort, with its grounding in The Great Conversation. Though he was best-known as the author of The Play Theory of Mass Communication, and a professor of journalism, he was a philosopher, a psychologist, and a physicist, with PhDs in the latter two fields; and he made suggestive connections, in his later years, between the statistical structures of Q and those of quantum mechanics. He claimed they were anchored in the same probablistic domain. He was deep, that's for damn sure, and I'm glad this dustup with the ArtBloggers@ panelists reacquainted me with him.

I bring it all up because the Q-sorting technique, as I mentioned above, is an excellent way to generate productive questions. So I decided to sketch out how one would go about a hypothetical Q-sort experiment which would try to find the best questions generated by the question:

As art world professionals, what are the most important questions we should be asking ourselves?

But where do these questions come from? They come from the concourse.

* * * * *

Picture an airline terminal, with the long stem of its concourse branching out at intervals. The stream of passengers disperses itself in purposeful substreams depending on destination. By analogy, then, any discrete thing --concept, person, artwork, sentence, artifact; anything with clear boundaries, weight and duration-- can be one of these destinations, and the passengers are the statements that have clustered around the thing since it was introduced to the human conversation. It could be "quality," for example, as it relates to artworks, or a two Q-sort comparative study of "formalism" and "conceptualism." It could be "Marcel Duchamp." Or you could explore the hypothesis that the concepts "elitism" and "argument from ineffability" would cluster close together. And some of the statements for the words in quotes could be taken from that AAW thread I mentioned, since that discussion is well within the universe of discourse --the concourse-- from which the Q-sorter would want to draw their statements: the recorded thoughts of arts professionals. I'm not saying that what any of them wrote was profound, or that the thread taken as a whole tapped any wisdom whatsoever; it doesn't; but there were nuggets in there, such as George's repeated "What is at stake?" --a question worth refining.

Take the word "concourse" itself. Clustering around it in a constellation, but not identical with it, we can find Dawkins's memes, and Jung's collective unconscious, Julian Jaynes's bicameral metaphor, Tielhard's "noosphere," the Kabbalah's broken vessels, and Gaia; folk wisdom's "Great Conversation"; also Daniel Dennett's "outsourcing" and "offloading" metaphors in Kinds of Minds, which includes a brief discussion of Plato's metaphor of human memory as a huge cage of birds, another beautifully apt image. The constellation becomes a huge cloud as we include the thousands of commentaries, discussions, and writings which grew around each of the concepts above. In that cloud are all the things we know, and many we don't, individually anyway; but Q-method and factor analysis can tease out nuggets of distilled wisdom only dimly outlined in the collective cloud. These are the factors not predicted in any model; and these new factors show the value of Q. It is emergent research. After all, the purpose of all this inquiry is to learn something new and useful about ourselves, so we can better ourselves. Yes?

Stephenson once did a Q-study on Keats' "Ode On A Grecian Urn," which is a model of sensitivity, and it elicited a new, unanticipated scholarly interpretation of the poem. The concourse he drew from were all the references he could find to discussions of the poem, as well as relevant biographical facts about Keats. From these he culled 40 or fifty verbal statements, either verbatim or paraphrased, and printed them on individual cards. This is the deck --a distillation of the concourse of the poem-- for the Q-sort. His subjects were about a hundred English seniors at a university.

So what is a Q-sort, anyway? Picture a person sitting at a table or a computer screen, holding their Q-sort deck, facing this pattern:

qsort.jpg

The Condition of Instruction in this case will be our art world question:

As art world professionals, what are the most important questions we should be asking ourselves?

The Q-sort deck holds fifty of the best responses to that question that have been culled from dozens or hundreds of art-world professionals, in several rounds. These people represent the concourse, a big chunk of it anyway. (In the Eighties, we would have given our eyeteeth for effortless email. Waow.) Here's one question for consideration:

Is there a causal correlation between social justice dispositions --community engagement and service learning indoctrinations-- and the long-term aesthetic decisions of artists exposed to their influence?

The subject's task is to place this question card in one of the spaces provided in the quasi-normal, forced-choice distribution set before them. If they think the question is one of the least-important, a waste of professional time, they would place it to the extreme left, -4 or -5; if they were indifferent, somewhere in the middle.

Note well, please, that we're not trying to answer the question; we're putting it out there provisionally, to determine its social weight, and whether we should even bother with it at all. As the researchers sent out the call to the arts professionals, they would encourage as many questions as possible, but at least twenty. They could be personal, such as:

Why does the contemporary art world make me unhappy?

Or polemical:

Is a significant percentage of the contemporary art world decadent and depraved?

Again, we are not trying to answer the questions themselves; we're trying to find common themes in all the overlapping conversatiions, publications, and actions. Q is like a scythe to irrelevancy.

The question might even be politically incorrect:

What role, if any, has white guilt played in the success of artists of color in the last twenty years?

Again, if the subject has a negative reaction, they can place the card to the left somewhere, but notice that the extremes have fewer slots; one must soon begin to ruminate, reconsider, and refine, and shift cards around.

As I learned from my own experience, and as has been reported widely, people really enjoy doing Q-sorts. They aren't onerous, they aren't boring, and they respect the way people think --with several things in the air at once. Subjects like those crunchy decisions, too. And you get to change your mind right up until you're done, when each card is scored by its number and position, for factor analysis, after two dozen or so more Q-sorts. (Depending on the purpose of the experiment, one person may perfrom all the Q-sorts; or two dozen people may perform one Q-sort; or both.)

The factor analysis should reveal a few obvious clusters --concerns about money, success, being a follower, networking, global influences, the future of X kind of art-making. . . . In fact it better, otherwise we're not sampling reality, are we? These would be confirmations, then. But there should also be one or two or three new clusters --just a few questions in each, five or six, that hang together; and the experimenter's task is to summarize what these questions are converging on, somehow. And this involves the experimenter's judgment, which is sometimes used as a criticism of Q. I reply with a Heisenberg analogy. Paraphrasing, the physicist Werner Heisenberg provided evidence that at the quantum level, when a human steps into a quantum system, that action changes both the human and the system and any measurements therein. Here we say that at some point, to obtain objective results, one must study human subjectivity with some subjectivity.

Take another example I noted in passing above, about a link between elitism --it's in the news!-- and what I'm calling "the argument from ineffability." Let's start with the first. Here's Joanne Mattera on that AAW thread:

As for writing for the general public, what's the point? These are the folks who want your painting to match the sofa, whose five-year-old can make a better painting, and who don't have a clue about "what it means." They'd rather have a Thomas Kincaid or a Leroy Neiman any day.

That sound elitist to anyone? Myself, I've never met the general public, just individual, nonfungible persons. But I'd ask the reader to remember the phrase who don't have a clue about "what it means."

Also on that thread, Franklin Einspruch, who supervises the WD Bannard archive of writings, chose the following excerpt from a 1987 WDB lecture to post there:

Recently I gave a lecture at the Aibright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo called "Bad Art and Why We Have It." Part of it was given over to whacking the critics for their high-handed obscurantism, bad writing, and trendiness. Art critics are an easy, if deserving target; a mildly sardonic reading of some ripe bit of highfalutin critical bombast always tickles an audience, and I often take the liberty.

Afterwards a young man stood up and asked, "Where do these critics come from, anyway?" Where indeed? No one had asked me that before. From anywhere and everywhere it seems. They are reporters, academics, and literary people who fall into art criticism as much by circumstance as by inclination or design. They are seldom artists. Artists, for whatever reason, are usually terrible writers. Writers, on the other hand, don't understand art. They adopt an attitude of patronizing kinship, look at subject matter and other evident parts of a work, relate it to "real life" and find "symbolic meaning" and think that's all there is to it. . . .

Neatly, to me this is both elitist and commits a quasi-logical fallacy I call "the argument from ineffability." "Real life" has a lot more of what "there is to it" than any canvas hanging on any wall anywhere at any time.

When we first started this blog we ran across a local artist who dodged questions about her work's meaning by saying it was ineffable, humanly impossible (at least for her) to put into words, though she did note helpfully that she was exploring "the space between the artist and the surface of the work." Bannard is adopting a similar "experience is ineffable" pose in the above quote. More recently --this Thursday-- apropos this very AAW thread, he wrote on Einspruch's blog:

We musn't even allude to any correlation between definition and existence. Many intellectual/academic/art types wander in a world of words, and there is a nutty brain sickness among them that whispers "if a thing cannot be defined it doesn't exist."

Of course if you put this to them straight out they will say "that's ridiculous" but challenge them to "define" something like "good art" and they layer themselves frantically with conceptual armor and verbal chain mail and clank off into neverland, when all that is necessary is to say "I dunno, what I like, I suppose" or any other mildly evasive statement that implicitly acknowledges that the question is intrinsically unanswerable, as is any characteristic determined solely by individual judgement.

If you take their words away they are exposed, naked, to experience. For whatever reason, they find this unbearable.

Who knows, it very well may be unbearable to experience one of his canvases. Haven't had the pleasure or terror myself. But here and now, I myself hear the telltale crackling of many straw men marching in fascistic formation as they trample words, and any attempt to make great words, great sentences, to make any question at all "intrinsically unanswerable." How dare they! as they "wander in their world of words."

Message from reality to Mr. Bannard et al: you will fail to make us mute, or convince us that we should be mute, as we stand contemplating your paintings or anything else on Earth or anywhere. We will play our chin music until we figure out everything we can. To tell us that anything is ineffable is ignorant, arrogant, and elitist. Nothing is ineffable. Here I concur with Harold Bloom, who wrote in Omens of Millennium:

A transcendence that cannot somehow be expressed is an incoherence; authentic transcendence can be communicated by mastery of language, since metaphor is a transference, a carrying-across from one kind of experience to another.

Or, as my wife Catherine puts it more succinctly, "Words are worth a thousand pictures."

Now some readers may think I'm picking a fight with Einspruch and Bannard. No, they're just there as examples. We could tap the concourse until we had many many statements about so-called "ineffability." Anyway, I'm not going to notify anyone I've mentioned in this post. If they find it, they find it. If not, not.

What, you think elitist artists are unique? I brought these examples forth because they might provide grounds for fruitful investigation, instead of those of us outside their orbit having to take as weighty the hand-waving, peremptory judgments of an elite. A Q-sort is an effective democratizer, and often opens up entirely new conversations. The world of arts professionals could use some new ones.

Posted by Jerome at 09:16 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 14, 2008

Where Do These People Think They're Coming From?

[This post concludes (probably) our attempt to criticize some panelists and attendees from the ArtBloggers@ "conference" held in New York City at the end of March.]

by Jerome du Bois

For the past few days, from time to time, I have checked around the ArtBloggers@ panelists' websites to see if any of them slipped up and acknowledged that Catherine King and I are live persons from planet Earth who criticized them. Stonewall. They showed up here in the comments, all right, huffing and puffing, posing and losing, but you'd never know it from their own home bases. These people can't handle controversy. Like Bartleby but with less reason, they would prefer not to. Instead they hand flowers to one another in a daisy chain of happy links to whatever.

So while I was checking . . .

Those sophisticated New Yorkers Edward Winkleman and James Kalm ("The Guy On The Bike" --don't look at me, that's how he bills himself) are all atwitter about a feud between Tyler Green and Christian Viveros-Fauné that tries to swirl around the tired subjects of conflicts of interest and art criticism versus journalism. As if ordinary intelligent people cannot, by themselves, without help from experts, make these category distinctions. As if people were not natively street smart. As if people are not always keeping a sharp eye out for the angle. (Evolution is a reality. Some of Winkleman's commenters made these same points.) To me it's particularly pungently amusing because I have no illusions about the editorial integrity of Village Voice Editor Tony Ortega, who I have encountered once before. Not to mention his boss, Michael Lacey, another one of those sensitive rich men who lives in his own bubble world and believes it's a match with the real one. Then when he steps on his tongue at the wrong venue, he acts surprised.

Winkleman and Kalm are eating this up and opinionating like mad, with Franklin Einspruch, among others, commenting. Probably because it has nothing to do with them. Very brave when it isn't happening to you, eh wankers? But when Catherine and I questioned the seriousness, sincerity, and depth of the ArtBloggers@ Red Dot conference, all we got back was juking and jiving and insults. Then one of the bloggers, Sharon Butler, posted and then removed a link about our criticisms. Since then they're all mum, they've moved on to other things, shaddup already willya!

No. Not just yet. I'm going to hammer on their doors one more time, and also some of the attendees. In my first post, I emailed only the panelists and Einspruch. In the second post, I emailed nobody and received nothing. Then we received a comment from Einspruch, bloated, sonorous, and stentorian; all it lacked were the harrumphs at both ends. I could tear it up, but Catherine already said it all, so I'll just pick out one phrase: "lazy arguments." Does he mean like this one from his new bud Hrag: "Wow you are bitter"? (By the way, is that the new progressive buzzword this mynah bird was squawking?) Or like this one from his old bud Bannard: "If people can't immediately see what a dull, second-rate painter Jasper Johns is not much can be gained from talking to them. Not about art, anyway." Or this example from Olympia Lampert, worth quoting again in full because you can't make this stuff up:

If I slam you and say that your art is insipid and uninspiring, I will not be ashamed of saying so. If I think you're the bees knees and the next big thing, enjoy it for what it's worth-- for after all, what the hell do I know. But one thing can be promised. I will have an opinion always, and I will share it with you. There will be no holding back. I believe that is the job of a critic. I am not here to make friends, nor enemies. If one leans on the side of either, so be it. For every friend I make, I will have 5 enemies, and for every enemy I make, I will have 5 friends. So I can't do math, but what I can do is share what I feel is from my heart mixed with the knowledge from my brain.

Meanwhile Einspruch's own comment contains only assertions, no examples, and ends with ad hominems. And notice he won't go after his friends as he's gone after us.

Is this what becomes of the deconstructed? They get meaner as the years go by? Because we know it's not about "lazy arguments" at all. This is visceral. Einspruch seems to hate us, and he ought to honest about it, especially to himself. Better than pretending he's above such an emotion.

Edward Winkleman writes of the Tyler-Christian feud:

Just the other day I was complaining to someone that there are no great public battles in the art world anymore (nothing like the classics we still see among literary figures, such as the feud between Wolfe and Mailer). With no well-defined camps beating each other up in successive addendums to their manifestos, a casual observer would be forgiven for thinking the entire system took Rodney King's plea to heart and decide to just all get along.

The fact that this feud is about criticism and not art doesn't make it any less juicy to my mind. It's all very good food for thought and classic snarky writing. Knowing both men have much more pressing matters to attend to in their lives, I don't actually wish it to continue . . . . that is, unless they promise to keep it as fresh and funny. Just so long as no one puts an eye out.

Except when it comes to us, Mr. Winkleman. Then, we don't exist. We don't give a damn about a "great public battle." We don't give a damn about how many hits we get. What we care about is that when someone arrives on our site they find something worth reading, something with substance, supported by reason and soul and heart. And sometimes anger. But not bitterness. That implies ashes in the mouth, but our anger is as fresh as fire.

Posted by Jerome at 10:10 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

April 13, 2008

Little House/Big Graveyard

littlehousebigg.jpg
by Catherine King. Do not reproduce in any form.

Posted by Jerome at 08:19 PM | TrackBack

April 09, 2008

Sorry, Wrong Address

by Jerome du Bois

[The comments on the last post will be necessary background for this one.]

Judging by the comments we received (and a couple of emails) on "Not Art Bloggers @ All," we totally misunderstood the promotion of both the form and motivation of this . . . gathering. We thought they were serious, since they had announced a formal topic --"The Impact of Bloggers on the Art World"-- called themselves an organization, with a website and logo and four-year history, and announced a "conference" with a "panel" which was part of a series of other panels whose participants we assumed took their subjects seriously. But now we're told to lighten up, it was all about just getting together and schmoozing. Camaraderie and such. Stepping away from the screen for some face-to-face. Shaking hands and eating bananas and sketching. We just didn't get it. Everybody's cool --except for that sadistic stab by Hrag Vartanian (sounds "foreign," dudn't it, Sharon?), who seems to have exhausted his compassion on the Armenians.

Yes, we seemed to have touched several nerves. Yesterday Sharon Butler linked to my "Not @ All" piece from the ArtBloggers@ blog, quoting an early paragraph and using a variation of the word "cringe" for the third time in our contacts with her. ("Cringe" was one of Catherine's additions to the "Not @ All" post, suggested to me while we were editing it. Butler has picked up on the word, either because she suffers from echolalia or out of subconcious guilt over her ethnic faux pas, to which Catherine was referring.) She said we were "link-baiting," a practice Catherine had never heard of and I had only the outlines of. Catherine sent her a comment to say so.

Today, that entry is missing from the ArtBloggers@ website. Just gone. But the reader may pop up this Google screen capture to see that I'm not making this up. Butler's busted; she pulled the entry, probably because she realized that she was engaged in the same stinky-sounding practice she was accusing us of. Which we weren't. It occurs to me that if we were doing that, we would have hyperlinked the panelists' websites, and whoever else we could squeeze in --exactly the way Franklin Einspruch did in his micro-report on the conference which got me going on this crew in the first place. Again, I thought he was pointing to something serious in a limp-handed way, but now I see it was only, in the sillylingo he uses, a shout out to his peeps. Otherwise, nothing much to see here.

Butler again unconsciously reveals the obsession that she and her friends seem to have with traffic. How many hits do you get? Should we go mainstream? Who reads you? Eleventy-two ways to send your sitemeter soaring! So I imagine she's very familiar with "link-baiting."

But we aren't, and we've said it before, that we are witnessing, our blog is mainly for the record, and we're only interested in focusing the relevant eyes to the relevant posts. Which is why we only emailed the panel, and Franklin, who alerted me to the conference. We are not about generating loads of comments. Most comments we get go off-topic right away, the new topic usually being about the commenter and not the post. And that's what happened here as well, as these true lightweights --Franklin Einspruch, Ed Winkleman, Paddy Johnson, Joanne Mattera, Sharon Butler, and the evil imp HV-- ignored any Big Questions and any challenges to their trumped-up fauxthority to try to convince us that what we thought was scholarship was only a schmoozefest.

But it's easy to disprove that contention as well. On the ArtBloggers@ site, if you scroll down, you'll find an entry that says the thing at Red Dot will be casual, no program planned. The next most recent entry above that one announces that there will be a conference, with a panel, and a formal topic. So what does that tell you? Still no agenda, but it sure sounds like they shaped it up a lot. Would readers other than us be as misled as we were? or is there some invisible New York irony we're missing? I think not. These people seem too thick. Why didn't Sharon Butler reflect, reason, think twice, three times, before putting up her link-bait post? What, is she from the boondocks of Bumf*ck, Egypt?

I have a few more things to say about those comments on the last post.

* * * * *

The reader can decide if Franklin is lazy --though he sets the tone for the rest: "an informal chat among some writers." I'm going to take issue with his last paragraph:

I'll say this, though: One, your scenario of what could have happened, but didn't, presupposes opportunities that didn't exist and efforts that no one could have mustered given their circumstances. Two, your estimation of what these people want for themselves presupposes telepathy. And three, I apologize for misspelling "attendance," and absolutely nothing else.

One, it isn't difficult to read simple minds. Two, I didn't ask for an apology, nor imply it, so why bring it up? And three, my scenario of rounds of questions and topics for conferences happens all the time at serious universities, and was doing so long before email. "Mustering" implies last-minute scrambling, which sounds like the way Franklin and his friends think. Professors needing tenure make time for these research projects, and many other research models which presuppose long lead time and multiple passes, with minimal weekly and daily maintenance, to make the whole thing manageable, and then devoting more time as the project nears its end; but that's when the time is most productive, because all the chaff has been sifted off by then. Don't they learn this kind of stuff anymore? And these panel people are not in straitened circumstances, especially the academics among them.

Ed Winkleman jukes around with excuses:

The panelists and the folks who listened in and asked questions did so unpaid, early [10 AM?!] on a Sunday morning, only because they were interested in what might happen. Your critique might be more appropriate had the event been billed as more than just a chance "to step away from the computer," but it wasn't.

Yes it was. See above. But I am shocked to learn that they were unpaid. In this brave new world, which has such people in it?

. . . That was irony, Mr. Winkleman. I use it occasionally. He also says that nobody pays him to blog, and he's not a professional writer anyway, and anyway he has a business to run, and anyway . . . hey, whereya go-win, gimme a dollah . . .

He's not a blogger, he's a dilettante. The most extensive piece I've seen from him lately was about gallerinas.

Paddy Johnson, a woman, tries to correct the wrong person in her comment. First she quotes my post:

Paddy Johnson talked about the consequences of what she writes . . .

then notes

Actually, someone else on the panel discussed those issues not me. Please correct your post.

Okay, Ms. Johnson, stick close so you don't get lost. Go to my earlier posting and you'll see that I was quoting your fellow panelist and moderator, Joanne Mattera. It was she who made the mistake, and it's clearly written there, so why are you being so careless? You need to talk with her about it first. If I'm reporting a mistake, it's her mistake, and your correction is noted.

Ms. Johnson sent us an email as well. It contains lapses of syntax and spelling. I will reproduce most of it here, since it fits with my theme:

A correction: I never said it was one thing to write something negative on your blog, and another to run into the object of derision. I'm not sure what I said to make you think that, but it certainly wasn't something I meant to be interpreted that way. Carol Diehl complained about people not talking to her after she'd written negative reviews, and said the profession wasn't for everyone for that reason. I don't make any claims about anyone taking my "critique" of Red Dot seriously -- it certainly wasn't meant to be taken that way. I also never talk about those concerns in a public forum. To my mind panel discussions, are in part, a means of promote your professional activities, so you're really shooting yourself in the foot if you decide to use that form to complain the job. What's more, the fact that practice can be seen as a means of simply boasting your own self importance which is likely to be grating to people.

As I said before: PEOPLE WON'T LIKE YOU. The ultimate nightmare for these folks.

And this tell: I don't make any claims about anyone taking my "critique" of Red Dot seriously -- it certainly wasn't meant to be taken that way.

Then why the hell is she writing, anyway?

Most important to us, note also the context of her urge for clarification. I asked her a specific question: Do you have to go out into public strapped (armed) because of what you have written on your blog? She blithely and completely ignores the question, and exhibits absolutely no compassion or empathy for our position, our continuing predicament. Because it's crucial that we understand this trivial correction. That's cold. That's a cold heart there.

And she isn't alone. Not one of these commenters showed a trace of concern for our physical or psychic safety, or uttered a word of sympathy for our professional and personal plight. They couldn't wait to tell us they were lightweights, just friends chilling out, and most kept mum on their own blogs to hide any evidence that we ever said anything. (C-Monster has a one-liner. Butler tried to turn back time. Franklin and the rest are keeping their blogs shut about it.)

On my first post, I called these people lots of names. Let's add cowards to that list.

Finally, Joanne Mattera, who co-organized the thing in the first place.

You spent more time writing a response than we spent on the panel.

Remaking a point I made obvious in my first post. So?

Here's the thing, Jerome: We did the panel for enjoyment, to share information, and to reach out into a community that doesn't typically come together in real time and space. We had a great time.

Maybe that's because you have a steam-driven mind in an electronic world.

I'm responding only because you sent me an e-mail of your comments. I would not have known about your blog otherwise. I realize, after reading the posted comments, that you did so to create some interest in it.

You realize wrong. I notified you out of courtesy. Notice that I emailed you, all of you; I didn't hyperlink any of your blogs. (I don't know how Vartanian found out about it; one of you must have notified him.) None of you are interesting enough to pay much attention to, or to attract the attention of, and it appears, based on the intellectual level of the comments we've received, that our postings may be beyond you --your hearts, mostly, but your stunted minds as well.

You might ask yourself why you felt the need to respond to our camaraderie with such a degree of anger, bitterness and condescension. Hey, do you know Charlie Finch, by any chance?

I disagree with Charlie Finch about almost everything, but he loves his native city and he's got more chutzpah and heart than all of you clowns combined.

You might ask yourself why you feel the need to respond to our direct and cogent questions and challenges with evasion, excuses, and condescension. We won't be bullied. Hey, do you know Ward Churchill, by any chance? You act like him, but you're an empty turtleneck, just like him.

Well, I'm done with these bozos for now. Obviously we showed up at the wrong address. But we don't give up hope. Somewhere in the blogosphere, right now even, there may be a real conversation going on among genuine art bloggers. Maybe Catherine and I will find it, but these people won't, because they aren't even looking for it.

Posted by Jerome at 07:20 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 07, 2008

Not Art Bloggers @ All

by Jerome du Bois

On March 31st, Franklin Einspruch of artblog.net posted "Art Blogger Panel Discussion." Excerpt:

I have now either witnessed or participated in three panel discussions on art blogging in the last six years, and in all of them the conversation turned to remediation, answering questions like: how much time do you spend on your blog, are you an artist or a writer or a critic, how many hits do you get, do you know who reads you, and so on. The New Yorkers in attendence [sic] at Art Bloggers @ Red Dot asked the same questions as Miamians in 2004, from which I draw no inferences except that the medium still mystifies. The audience had around forty people in it, so folks are interested.

My first reaction was, Franklin sure has gotten lazy. "The medium still mystifies"? I used to think this guy was used to thinking by the inch --and he used to. And then: Forty people? in New York City? And finally: Franklin had three extended openings to change the course of the conversation, yet the same questions persist.

Then I moved on to other things, but I returned to Franklin's blog, as I do regularly --out of kindness, I suppose-- and below the conference posting I found a comment by one of the moderators of this conference that pissed me off to no end. Since then, I've been following the meager follow-ups on the various blogs of the moderators, panelists, and some participants. Catherine and I have watched both parts of James Kalm's video of the conference. Most of these people live in or around New York City, or the Eastern Seaboard. I spent some time examining these blogs -- and then more hours talking with Catherine --a hell of a lot longer than the Art Bloggers @ Red Dot conference itself-- and you know what we concluded?

Out here in Phoenix we sometimes talk about people from Bumf*ck, Egypt --blinkered unreflective hicks who do not engage the serious times we live in, or wrestle with the mortal stakes which should guide our lives and shiver our souls, even in art; people who think that life is but a joke, heads bobbing, smiley nodding, in a soothing communal tuning: let's be positive, let's be safe. And now whoa daddy, here's a whole gaggle of these gassing geese gathering in New York City itself, the so-called capital of ironic sophistication, and they call themselves art bloggers. I call these panelists pikers, small beer, imposters and pretenders, and if you're interested I'll give you my reasons.

* * * * *

The artblog.net comment that bothered me so much came from Joanne Mattera, one of the moderators of the conference. I'll fisk it:

The first question I tossed to the panelists was on journalistic standards with regard to research, writing, editing--Journalism 101, basically.

Well, what was the question? Not "was on," "with regard to" --what the hell was the question? I had to go to "the minutes," posted days later on Mattera's blog, for the actual question:

What is our responsibility personally to good writing and journalistic integrity in our own blogs and within the blogosphere in general?

Answer: Write the best, truest, and clearest you can, no matter how long it takes; maintain the highest standards for facts and honesty; and call others in the blogosphere on their bullshit, as I'm doing right now. But that's all basic, isn't it? It's a vapid question.

The title of the panel, the reader should know, was "The Impact of Bloggers on the Art World." These people are really up on themselves, and fooling themselves, when they know the answer is that there has been no impact and this panel didn't do much to help. I'll say more below, but for now consider the likelihood of this headline coming across the Bloomberg wire: "Blogger's Criticism Causes Hirst's Skull To Crash; George Michael Announces Emergency Concert Tour with Bono."

To continue:

Ed Winkleman had a great response, saying something to the effect--

Wait; if it was such a great response, why don't you remember it better? I know I'm nitpicking, but I tend to when I run across stale filler like "something to the effect" instead of what should have been there: a verbatim response taken from a transcript of the conference.

--that his readers were his editors, and if he makes a mistake, he's immediately called on it. We all agreed that the nature of the medium allows us to post changes immediately.

Why isn't Ed Winkleman his own editor, so his readers don't need to correct him? Why doesn't he bust his chops to get everything right to the best of his ability before he posts anything? And since this kind of correction between the publisher and the public is not at all unique to the "nature of the medium" --it's been going on since at least 1801; read American Aurora-- why is this piddling observation given first place in Mattera's first comment on this conference? This is Journalism 001.

But what really made me mad came next:

Paddy Johnson talked about the consequences of what she writes. I can't give you quotes as I was busy moderating, but the essence was that it's one thing to post a less-than-flattering comment and quite something else to have to run into the objects of your derision or scorn.

Catherine and I have been criticizing artists (local, national, and international), gallerists, curators, collectors, arts administrators, and institutions like Creative Capital, the city and state arts commissions, the art museums, the two newspapers, and Arizona State University for over five years now, and we have paid a very high price for it, professionally. We've slammed Thelma Golden and Kara Walker and Beverly McIver for making money off the mau-mau. We took Jeanne Greenberg-Rohatyn to the woodshed. Four years ago, as I declined a job offer at the Phoenix New Times, I skewered the guy who's now the editor of the Village Voice. We've ridiculed sacred guru James Turrell and pseudoscientist-artist Matthew Ritchie. I've pointed out the laziness and egotism of the public art of Dennis Oppenheim and Donald Lipski. After four years, my piece on Santiago Sierra is still the #11 on Google for that antihuman creep. There are many more examples. Heide Hesse. Jon Haddock. Sandow Birk. We are blackballed in this Valley and beyond because of our criticisms, and probably because of our pro-American politics as well. We can't get a venue anywhere. That's the culture we live in.

And talk about running into people? Lightweights. You'll get no sympathy from us. We have been assaulted because of what we have written and stood behind on The Tears Of Things. (But we've grown beyond it, forgiven our enemies, and turned the other cheek, as they say. What a liberating experience that is. You all ought to experience what it's like to have to turn the other cheek. We wouldn't want to keep the goodness all to ourselves.) Phoenix artist and amateur boxer Hector Ruiz has challenged me to go a few rounds with him because I criticized his hypocritical sellout soullessness. We get pseudonymous emails irregularly which threaten us with physical violence "if we show our faces in public." We never go out in public unarmed. How about you, Paddy Johnson? Do you have to go out strapped because of what you've written on your blog? I doubt it.

Last year a sleazy blogger who works for the local giveaway dirtrag which owns the Village Voice viciously attacked my wife in print, going on in awful detail, attacking her physical existence, her very being, in misogynistic, misanthropic vituperation. All because he saw us in public. Nobody bothered to object, and some even urged him on. That ever happen to you, Joanne Mattera, Sharon Butler, Paddy Johnson? I doubt it. And what would you do if Tony Ortega signed off on a smear job on you? After all, you've got a jewel of a piece about this new artist who sorts M&Ms by color, and VV would be perfect for that, yes?

So when I read Paddy Johnson's one-and-two sentence "criticisms," sweeping a whole show like Red Dot away with "it's mostly a wash"-- why should this carry any weight at all? Why should she feel any threat from anyone? Who would be afraid of anything she wrote? She didn't write anything.

Picture this: She's afraid she'll be at a party, talking to someone new, and say that Jeff Koons is an overblown hack. The other person asks her name, and then says that he's an assistant to an assistant to Jeff Koons. And Paddy Johnson leaves the party and walks the streets until dawn wondering if she has any future at all in The City anymore . . . Shit. The first thing I saw on her blog was a screen capture of a soap opera scene of the Koons show at the Broad in LA; she even reproduced some of the dialogue.

That's real deep, Ms. Johnson. When you write two thousand wise and unforgettable words about Damien Hirst's unignorable, sophomoric "School," and slam Aby Rosen for his awful judgment -- when you castigate Gavin Brown for backing the career of smirking nihilist Urs Fischer -- when you and your buddies move beyond the moribund target of foggy pomo writing from the Whitney "lessness" curators -- when you New York art bloggers mount a boycott of Chinese art and the Chinese Olympics -- then you might be worth paying attention to. Until then, you're not much to write about. You're living in a la-de-da world where someone like Dash Snow is important, where you'd give a lot for the cell-phone number of Banks Violette's tattooist.

Better yet, picture this: the person at the party guides you to a quiet corner, then raises their hands imploringly and, with eyes as crazy as sweat bees pressed up against glass, tells you that you can't talk that way because --"listen to me very carefully" --big breath-- "PEOPLE WON'T LIKE YOU."

That's the horror that haunts these people, and they ought to admit it. Who's going to tear up a MacArthur Fellow? Who's going to say Creative Capital sponsors crap? Who's going to risk going against the grain of granter$? Or department heads? Not these people. But we do.

Welcome to the New Wild West, panelists. This crew seems to live in the City of Lites, but life is mortally real out here, where rebarbarization sharpens its teeth daily, where the trajectory is to see how low, ugly, and skanky you can go. We fight it, while others wallow in it. We defend and promote human dignity, the human spirit, imagination, independence, reason, the individual, the religious drive, restraint, respect for women, expert handwork, excellence in craft . . . And these "art bloggers?" What are they about?

Someone named Olympia Lampert writes on her blog:

If I slam you and say that your art is insipid and uninspiring, I will not be ashamed of saying so. If I think you're the bees knees and the next big thing, enjoy it for what it's worth-- for after all, what the hell do I know. But one thing can be promised. I will have an opinion always, and I will share it with you. There will be no holding back. I believe that is the job of a critic. I am not here to make friends, nor enemies. If one leans on the side of either, so be it. For every friend I make, I will have 5 enemies, and for every enemy I make, I will have 5 friends. So I can't do math, but what I can do is share what I feel is from my heart mixed with the knowledge from my brain.

Empty huffing and puffing. And she wants to be taken seriously. (This person has a journalism background.)

On Joanne Mattera's blog she has as a description under her blog's name:

Guaranteed Biased, Myopic, Incomplete and Journalistically Suspect

And she wants to be taken seriously. Then I read on the meager, scattered comments post-conference, this:

In a post about the panel discussion at Red Dot, Harry reveals that his "favorite part was bloggers recounting their favorite big-traffic headlines. Who can top 'How to preserve a chocolate Santa b*tt pl*g?'"

And they all want to be taken seriously. Mattera's first comment ends this way:

We also talked about whether we were writing critically or reportorially--or doing something else altogether--and many on the panel lamented the diminishing amount and quality of print criticism.

A false distinction. First you report, then you criticize. You can't analyze what you haven't first described. As for the bitching, simple answer: write better; write so good they'll never miss print criticism. Write so good you'll revive print criticism.

By now, there is nothing unique about a blog, nothing new to say about its form, structure, or function. It's a magazine or a diary or a journal or a calendar or all of that. It's great, and I'm thankful for all the genius that went into it, and continues to do so. But the whole point of their enterprise is make the interface transparent and painless, so you're not looking at the finger, but the moon.

At least two of these panelists said elsewhere that they prefer not to read long essays on the screen. No good reason at all, except it's clear they're just lazy and unused to sustained concentration.

So much for my comments on the first comment, which are directed not just at Joanne Mattera and Paddy Johnson but all the members of the panel: Ed Winkleman, Carol Diehl, Carolina Miranda, and Sharon Butler.

There's so much more to say, but let's run it back to zero for a start.

Art bloggers. This handful of people think they represent art bloggers. In Kalm's video and Mattera's minutes we hear a string of irrelevant statistics about how many blogs are created every second, and even if art blogs are a tiny percentage of the total, the number is significant. But did Mattera et al reach out to any of these thousands of art blogs? As far as I can tell, and as the content of the conference reveals, no.

Here's what could have happened to make this conference more representative, but didn't. At least a month before the conference the core group sends out emails to everyone they know who runs or knows about an art blog, worldwide. They specifically ask, "Do you know of an art blog that we might have missed?" They compile a list. Then they sent out solicitations for questions. They compile the collected questions, omitting duplicates, and send out that list, which will generate more questions. (I'm sure topics like China would arise.) After a few rounds diminishing returns sets in, and a final, distilled list goes out so that people can prepare notes for the day of the conference.

Everyone gets to contribute. The panelists edit the contributions. On the day of the conference --which should be at least four hours, not an hour or two-- a detailed agenda goes out to all possible interested parties, so everybody will literally know what page they're on. You'd have podcasts and laptops and live feeds; you'd have people responding, in real time, from all over the place. They wouldn't have to be there. You'd have gatekeepers to control the information flow. None of this happened, even though at least four of these people are professional academics, who should know the stultifying sludge that clogs most of these kinds of meetings. But they did nothing to update, streamline, and liven up the process.

But all this is shouting into an empty hole. Watch Kalm's video (Part I). Most of it is wasted on self-introductions. (This was supposed to be preparation for the conference itself.) It's all about the wonder of these people, none of whom is spellbinding, that's for damn sure. I was reminded of an array of uncooked bread loaves ranged around that conference table, soft dough, soft voices, soft jobs, soft thinking . . .

And technically, it's as if Mr. Kalm doesn't know how to do a series of static screen capture head shots with the biographical information printed below each one, next, next, next, thirty seconds, now we know who we are, and now we're on to substantive things. Instead, we have to hear every little squib --"Oh, you're Franklin?"-- "I'm Franklin."-- as if they're trying to foreground this friendly, fuzzy, positive vibe.

It isn't working. It's insipid, smarmy, and a waste of time. But that's all these people have displayed, instead of ideas and imagination, instead of passion and anger and righteous indignation. So everything's fine in their art world.

There was also a shocking faux pas in the second part of the video --shocking to us, not to the people at the meeting-- which illustrated how rudely provincial and insensitive supposedly urban, educated folks can be. It was when Sharon Butler said that she once got someone's gender wrong, and then, as she passed the microphone, she pulled it back (to get a laugh?) and said, "It was a foreign name, I couldn't tell." And she did get a laugh; but we didn't laugh, we cringed. We reran that part to make sure we heard it right. First, she should never had referred to the person's gender until she was sure of it; Journalism 101. But in the global 21st Century, in the middle of a polyglot city, when you need a glossary just for the restaurant names, you'd think there would be more sensitivity, instead of this patronizing, neo-colonialist tone. Didn't she say she was a professor? Has she never encountered unusual student names? It was a cheap, ugly shot, and nobody called her on it. And people call us racist.

(This scene also reminded me of a meeting I had once with a roomful of art writers for the now-defunct shade magazine. One woman referred to "James Turrell's girlfriend." I interrupted to say, "Doesn't she have a name?" And she said yes, but it's hard to pronounce. And everyone but me laughed. This was five years ago.)

At the end of Mattera's minutes of the meeting, she writes:

We didn't get to the big questions-- Are we mainstream yet? Do we want to be? What is the future of art blogging?

So it becomes clear that the focus is on the blogging part, not the art part. After listening to the video and reading whatever I can about this conference, the only artwork mentioned was a Paul McCarthy obscenity.

It's very difficult for us to take these people seriously, if these are what they consider The Big Questions.

While they fantasize that they might have a choice about going "mainstream," they don't work on anything to get there. Instead, they go all swoony when Tyler Green mentions their two-paragraph posting, making sure all their friends will hyperlink it. Catherine and I have worked for weeks and months on pieces about snuff art, the use of animals in art, and the use of live people in art, only to set them aside because they're so emotionally taxing, so psychologically draining. But these people don't even try. They could have hosted the definitive symposium on "School," for example, and if they had any chops at all they would have flayed Hirst into strips --in retribution, for so has he done to so many helpless creatures. Someone should have compacted Martin Creed at Bard. But no, they're too busy squinting at their friend's 12x12 abstractions, or comparing early and late Eisenmann.

Aren't the embattled moral dimensions of art as it is practiced today more important to these people that how many hits they get, how much time they spend on their blog, or who reads them? Discuss. If you want to be read, to be important, to make any kind of difference in the wide world, you won't get there with skanky headlines and linky roundups and two-paragraph reviews. We aim high, and though our aim is true we haven't made a dent in this decadent culture in five years. But we aren't about to let art -- the quintessential human activity, evolution's conundrum -- get drowned in the abbatoir without a fight.

I know that Catherine and I work on the wrong side of history now, but the day ain't over yet: we believe that history has shape and meaning and purpose, and a need for balance, and that beyond the shallows of comic-book nihilism lay deep waters of significance. Sailing through the sea of stars, we look out for them.

Posted by Jerome at 09:00 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

April 03, 2008

Spring Swarm

swarm.jpg
Nature Photography by Jerome du Bois.

Two weekends ago, after I mowed the back yard, we were raking up when we realized we were hearing a growing buzzing around us. Looking up, we saw them --hundreds of bees circling the little tree, and us-- dropped our rakes, and ran inside the house. We watched them circling and circling like tiny crazy planets in sped-up orbits . . . A couple of hours later I went out and found the resting place of the travelling swarm. They were there for two days, seemingly motionless. Then they moved on, leaving a scar on the tree where they hung suspended. When I examined the scar, I noticed a couple of bees still moving around it. And right now, over two weeks later, just before I posted this photo, I checked again, and there's still one bee there, still alive, moving around the scar.

Posted by Jerome at 11:41 AM | TrackBack