Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Good Art vs. Bad Art?

"Is there such a thing as Bad Art?" That we continually hear this question asked, and by so many people, is an indication of the doldrums the artistic community presently finds itself in. It would have been unthinkable to ponder such a question only a few decades ago, as the answer would have been self-evident.

Can we recognize a distinction between superior and dreadful acting? Are there excellent and appalling films, plays, musical productions? Are there poorly written novels as opposed to brilliantly written ones? What’s the difference between a magnificently choreographed dance performance and an utterly miserable one, or a fantastic music concert over an awful one? Most people reading this would not sit through a play or a movie that made use of dull, talentless actors, nor would they waste their time reading a book written by someone who possessed little or no innate ability as a writer.

Yet, how do we discern the good from the bad? Surely everyone reading this understands the question as one of subjective opinion - but how do we arrive at such opinion? We use standards as part of our criteria. For creative types, distinctions are made through shared experience with colleagues and mentors - based on education, ability, love of craft, practice, mastery of skills and an accepted set of standards. Every guitarist can recognize a good player over a bad one, every drummer can differentiate the poseur from the proficient. One never hears the question asked, "Is there such a thing as Bad Music?" It’s a query not open to discussion as everyone already knows the answer. Of course there is bad music, and most recognize and avoid it.

But when it comes to the so-called "fine arts," suddenly everyone looses the ability to judge! Only in the rarified, ivory tower fine art world will you hear the question, "Is there such a thing as Bad Art?" The same question is never asked in the art departments of major advertising design firms and agencies, because there is a keenly honed objective at stake - communicating with an audience. Bad design and illustration are anathema in that industry, where skill and craft are highly prized and engaging a mass audience is the primary goal. Fine artists will always avoid the compromises that commercial artists have to make when bowing to the whims and aims of their clients, but to tell the truth - it’s today’s money hungry "blue-chip" art stars who have shamelessly abandoned art for commerce.

How on earth have we come to the point where professional artists have been reduced to babbling over whether there is such a thing as bad art? Have we really sunk so low that we can no longer make such distinctions? We understand the concept of good and bad food, fashion, car mechanics and doctors - but when it comes to art we are suddenly clueless. Fine art is contemplative and by necessity appeals to the individual or small groups of people, but just when did contemporary artists develop such a bristling contempt for public opinion - when did we give up on communicating with a mass audience?

Postmodernism has eradicated all standards and criteria, leveling differences between skilled and unskilled, demolishing the walls between visionary and vacuous, proclaiming craft and skill to be outmoded things and declaring everything and anything as art… an unmade bed, a pile of bricks, being shot before a live audience, or canning and selling one’s own excrement. In such a context it’s a bit difficult to talk about "good" versus "bad." Moreover, we’ve been bullied into accepting it all by legions of postmodernist critics, curators, art institutions, academics, and droves of oh-so-hip sycophantic artists.

Not art
[ A pile of bricks. If found in a gallery or museum, some might identify this as "art" - but it’s still just a pile of bricks. ]

But the postmodern view is not written in stone as a universal truth, quit the opposite - since it denies the very existence of verifiably truths. There are actual historic and material reasons for artists having arrived at the morass we find ourselves in; and Remodernists insist that the way forward for today’s artist is to unravel the past, not so as to relive it, but to better chart a course for the future of art.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Pornographer John Currin

A few people have written to us, asking our opinion of contemporary painter, John Currin. While Remodernists promote and extol "new figurative painting with ideas," - there is painting and then there is painting. Despite the fact that Currin is a figurative painter, he is decidedly in the postmodern camp. His mockish works are laden with gimmickry, sarcasm, an unvarnished disdain for humanity, and an open hatred of women. That his mediocre abilities are celebrated at all is an indication of just how far art world standards have fallen in recent decades.

Painting by John Currin
[ The Bra Shop - John Currin Oil on canvas 1997. Misogyny on display. ]

Writing for artcritical.com, David Cohen reviewed Currin’s 2006 exhibit at Gagosian Gallery in New York. That review was also published in the New York Sun under the title of, "A Bit Nasty to Women, But Respectful to Dishware." Currin’s show was a mix of still lifes depicting porcelain dinning ware, and a number of paintings showing people engaged in sexual activity. The later were devoid of even an inkling of eroticism, but instead were imbued with Currin’s usual contempt for people. Making a comparison between Norman Rockwell and Currin, Cohen wrote in his review; "They both rely on received skills and traditional-looking techniques that impress by familiarity. While each strikes out with inventive, genuinely memorable images, Rockwell's appeal was to humanism, Mr. Currin's, to a low-octane sadism."

Painting by John Currin
[ Twisting Girl - John Currin Oil on canvas 1996. With a palette knife, Currin applied a heavy impasto of paint on the girls face, but that’s not what’s meant to draw your attention. The artist’s visage of woman - ridiculous, inferior, sexually available. ]

While Currin admitted in an 2006 interview with New York Magazine, that for source material he’s "pulled some things off the Internet, old Danish porn," his admitting to this fact in no way diminishes the scandal. Many artists use photos for reference - that is not our objection. What is reprehensible about Currin’s use of such photos is his total failure to reinterpret the image for artistic purposes - he merely made direct copies of 1970’s pornographic images - and he did so poorly.

Painting by John Currin
[ The image on the left comes from a 1970’s Danish pornography magazine. Currin’s painting on the right is an almost exact copy, save for the repositioned and clumsily painted hand. The images shown here are edited details. To view the images in their entirety - careful, not for children - visit Chris Rywalt’s NYC Art blog, where you can read more about Currin’s use of porn. ]

Currin didn’t even have the talent or vision to photograph models to base his erotic works upon, instead he turned to an ignoble source. But for an artist who places so much importance on irony, there is no biting wit to be found in these porn inspired paintings; Currin has simply revealed his weakness, he may have technical ability as a painter - but he is devoid of the heart necessary to offer us anything worth knowing. There are undoubtedly those who will find some type of profundity in Currin’s attempt at reshaping pornography into high art - but all we see is empty, soulless, anti-humanist postmodern nonsense.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Scream of the Butterfly

Art lovers in the know are yawing over the news that postmodern art superstar, Damien Hirst, will exhibit his latest "paintings" at the Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills, California, starting this February 22nd. Hirst will not be showing his usual menagerie of pickled animals in formaldehyde, or paint by numbers photorealist paintings created by his assistants - he’s moved on to loftier expressions. These days he pays a workforce to construct geometric pictorial designs composed entirely out of butterfly wings - an endeavor that would otherwise be considered a hobbyist’s passion, save for the fact that it’s directed by one of the richest and most influential artists in the world. Hirst does not of course do any of the actual work involved in assembling the paintings, he just takes all the credit - and most of the money.

Superstition is the title of Hirst’s collection of butterfly wing craftwork. The Gagosian Gallery press release states that the artist "expands on the iconic motif of the butterfly as a symbol of the beauty and inherent fragility of life, reaching new heights of complexity, refined detail and radiance.(….) Hirst creates paintings whose classical shapes and compositions take their inspiration from stained glass church windows." That’s an impressive public relations pitch - especially for objects that are not paintings. Hopeless followers of fashion who are easily wowed, like the gaggle of voguish trendies over at L.A.’s SuperTouch web log, burble effusively over the arrival of Hirst, "Assembled by Hirst and a team of tireless assistants, the works are truly a wonder to behold & certain to distress animal lovers everywhere (expect PETA to attend)." Aside from the obvious fact that art reviews should not be written by those who think butterflies are animals, let’s not kid ourselves about the taste of those who promote, or see worth in, the utterly inane, vacant, and exploitative works of a quack like Hirst.

Butterfly wing art from Hirst
[ ABOVE - Detail of a Hirst Butterfly wing collage at Gagosian Gallery. These types of works from Hirst have previously sold at prices ranging from $700,000 to $1,000,000. But if you are really interested in a nice, affordable, framed butterfly wing "painting" to hang above the living room couch, why not consider the craftworks from butterfly-gifts.com (BELOW), their designs are superior and at only $1,500 per painting, you can build a collection to rival that of any art snob. ]
Butterfly wing art from butterfly-gifts.com

In an article published in the New Republic and titled, What money is doing to art, or how the art world lost its mind: Laissez-Faire Aesthetics, art critic Jed Perl put his finger on the problem regarding the likes of Hirst and Gagosian Gallery, when he wrote:
"A great shift has occurred. This has deep and complex origins; but when you come right down to it, the attitude is almost astonishingly easy to grasp. We have entered the age of laissez-faire aesthetics. The people who are buying and selling the most highly priced contemporary art right now - think of them as the laissez-faire aesthetes - believe that any experience that anyone can have with a work of art is equal to any other. (….) The big galleries don't do shows anymore, they do coronations and requiems. Larry Gagosian has perfected this style. (….) - the corruption is almost unbearable."

Seeing as how the average Hirst butterfly wing collage has a starting price of around half a million dollars, most art collectors not in the billionaires club may become a little discouraged, but don’t worry - you can still afford your own butterfly wing painting! By cutting out the middleman - the useless good-for-nothing otherwise known as the "blue-chip artist" - you can purchase, for only $1,500, a beautiful framed piece directly from the craftpersons who constructed it. The good people at www.butterfly-gifts.com, construct butterfly wing paintings in abstract geometric shapes, and in sizes up to 48 by 32 inches - and all of the wings come from "non-endangered butterflies that are raised on Butterfly Farms in rainforest areas of South and Central America" - a guarantee not being made by Hirst and Gagosian Gallery.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Crapture: No Influence

Some Influence is an exhibit of objects created by Deborah Fisher, showing at the Dangerous Curve experimental exhibition space in downtown Los Angeles from February 3 to March 10, 2007. Remodernists can’t even contemptuously refer to Fisher’s random sculptures as "crap," since the artist herself refers to her sculptural approach as "crapture." One is hard pressed to refer to what Fisher does as sculpture, since her goal is to "lose control over the form and allow the material to organize itself." That is somewhat analogous to lighting a candle and then proclaiming the subsequent pools of melted wax to be a work of art. If you think our criticism of Ms. Fisher too harsh, then perhaps her own words will properly describe her aesthetics:

"Craft is about right and wrong, preserving tradition, not reinventing the wheel. The teaching of craft in art school tends to create artist-technicians who so clearly know what is right and what is wrong that they will never do it the really fucked up/interesting/revolutionary way. Craft dulls the potential MakerThinker. It creates false security and throws up barriers to understanding. Craft is conservative."

Let us for a moment apply Fisher’s immature notion of craft to other artistic disciplines - writing, dance, music composition, and then try to imagine the results. Writers would possesses no understanding of language structure, Choreographers wouldn’t know a single sequence of classical dance steps and musicians would simply be unable to play their instruments. Even untrained amateurs possesses a notion of craft and they strive to refine and deepen it. The idea of craft is ever present in the actions of a working artist, it is in part what guides and directs the artist’s hand. While art making is an intellectual process, eliminating skill and craft from the practice doesn’t leave you with much - which in large part is precisely what is wrong with the type of art produced by postmodernists.

[ Crapture - "Craft is conservative." Deborah Fisher allows sculptural materials to "organize themselves." ]

While this article has focused upon Ms. Fisher’s exhibit, it is not meant to be disparaging of her work per se. Fisher’s art is indicative of what is continually shown at Dangerous Curve, an "experimental" art space we’ve had our eyes on for some time now. The good people who work and exhibit there will no doubt be pleased to hear that despite our scrutiny, we’ve found little proof of craft or skill being evident in the gallery’s past exhibits. Dangerous Curve promotes itself as a venue for "risky and intelligent work that’s ahead of the curve," which sounds like a reasonable enough mission statement - and easier to advance than "trendy, elitist and incomprehensible." The art space also offers "museum-quality" framing and archival printing, but we are left wondering - are these services also totally bereft of craft?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Interview with L.A. Stuckist group

The myartspace.com web log has published an extensive interview with the L.A. Stuckist group. Myartspace is a "fresh new community-based website for established artists, emerging artists, aspiring artists, photographers and members of the art world - teachers, collectors, museums, galleries, art buyers." The following is an excerpt from the interview:

"Examples of Remodernist art can be found everywhere in Los Angeles, it’s just that people have not thus far identified or recognized these works as belonging to a particular school or genre of art. There are many artists in L.A. who are in reality, Stuckists - they just don’t know it yet. In essence, anyone who defies the fashions of the postmodern academy to paint, draw, or sculpt in a realistic manner - is on the road to becoming a practicing Remodernist. We sincerely mean this, and would include amateurs as well as professional artists in this category.

Amateur painters have not been tainted by the terminal careerism and deadly pessimism of the professional strata, and amateurs are quite passionate about art and its role in society. Those who are educated and manicured by the postmodernist art establishment are by and large not capable of affecting revolutionary change." [ Click here to read the full myartspace.com interview. ]

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Huxley's Stuckist Island

Aldous Huxley is a writer well known for his insights into the human condition. First published in 1932, his cautionary novel, Brave New World, warned of a futuristic society that seems much like the one we now find ourselves wrapped up in. In Island, his 1962 tale of a flourishing Pacific island utopia, Huxley wrote a scene where one character offers the following criticism of another’s paintings - a critique that could have been written by a modern day Stuckist:

"The worst feature of your nonrepresentational art is its systematic two-dimensionality, its refusal to take account of the universal experience of distance. As a colored object, a piece of abstract expressionism can be very handsome. It can also serve as a kind of glorified Rorschach inkblot. Everybody can find in it a symbolic expression of his own fears, lusts, hatreds, and daydreams. But can one ever find in it those more than human ( or should one say those other than all too human) facts that one discovers in oneself when the mind is confronted by the outer distances of nature, or by the simultaneously inner and outer distances of a painted landscape like this one we’re looking at? All I know is that in your abstractions I don’t find the realities that reveal themselves here, and I doubt if anyone else can. Which is why this fashionable abstract nonobjective expressionism of yours is so fundamentally irreligious - and also, I may add, why even the best of it is so profoundly boring, so bottomlessly trivial."

Monday, January 15, 2007

100 Years of Modernist Painting

Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon
[ Les Demoiselles d'Avignon - Pablo Picasso 1907. ]

Pablo Picasso started his painting, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, in the winter of 1907, and so you could say that Modernism in painting is now 100 years old. Writing for The Guardian, art critic Jonathan Jones proclaims, "So - a centenary. If you care about modern art, this is its centenary. Works of art settle down eventually, become respectable. But, 100 years on, Picasso's is still so new, so troubling, it would be an insult to call it a masterpiece." Read Jones’ article about Picasso’s painting and the centenary of Modernism, here.