Saturday, May 4, 2013

Just What Is It That Makes So Much Of Contemporary Art Boring?

Look No Further Than The Participants In Art.
You will Locate Answers There.

By: Kurt von Behrmann

Serious criticism is an engaged species. Precariously hanging onto the fringes of relevance, analysis of visual art of any depth is vanishing. The steady marginalization of any measure of critical success has devastated art. If the annihilation of commentary is not enough, the increasing separation of hierarchy from visual expression evaluation has done no one any favors.
The dominion of art has been divorced from the mainstream for years. The subsequent outcome has been visual art being perceived as an elite pursuit. Intimidation by gallery “sales people” turns everyone off, including patrons and pundits. Neophytes to art are not welcome to the exhibition arena.
Unless armed with cash, name recognition or sycophants, all of the aforementioned are appreciated. Everyone else is excluded. The conversation has become an insular discussion. There is an outside, and inside. There are more outside the tent that inside of it.
The range of what is acceptable is defined by gallery owners, directors, and artists. Each has varying degrees of influence. Each has vested interest in sales. The collusion that can take place turns into art by committee. This system can work. Solid work can be produce. This is all predicated on everyone having, visual, intelligence and very good “eyes.” Add just one person ignorant of art history or trends in art, and the whole thing results in sloppy inconsequential work.
Not unlike government, were any system can work as long as people with high moral standing are involved. Even a monarchy could be effective if you have a good King. The problem with politics is that absolute power absolutely corrupts. No one is immune to the aphrodisiac of power.
This is why systems of checks and balances are employed. They may not be successful. They can turn into a party of incest where everyone “greases” everyones’ willing palms. Degenerating into a fest of give and take that advances a few agendas, the public good is left to starve.
The same thing can, and often does, take place in the arena that is art. When artists, gallery owners and all others associated with setting the standard for art, both private and government funded get together too closely, there is no one to check and balance anyone. There is no one to point out the Emperor has no clothes.
There are few guarantees in life. The world can be a messy, awkward intimidating place. That is no excuse for creating more inequity. The argument that no system avoids problems is not far from being related to indifference to nagging problem. Giving into hopelessness and powerless is a guarantee for total and complete failure. Better to at least make the effort than walk away disgusted.
Art criticism provides an outside voice. Sure, art critics can be guilty of operating on agendas the follow with the rest of the art pack. That can happen. However if there is a solid voice that depends on high quality commentary, too much “sucking up” becomes counter productive. Readers need some degree of controversy, excitement. Abnegating the responsibility of unbiased criticism will result in a loss of readers, the death knell of writing. The only way to be effective is to be critical.
Criticism is not the same thing as complaining. Whining is not art commentary. When reviews turn into grandstanding, or paying back debts, the importance of writing about art is diminished. If done with responsibility and respect for art, readership will rise. Quality will determine success.
Usually art writing is considered of little value. As a result practitioners of the profession can be those with little background to do so. Just because you have eyes, that does not mean you have the prerequisite for evaluating art. It is using the same argument that if you have a wrench that makes you a plumber. No one takes a dilettante surgeon seriously. You either go to medical school and endure the grueling process of being a doctor, or you don’t. If you elect to pass on medical school and passing the boards, forget this profession. Visual art works the same way. The problem is that most simply feel that arts writing is not difficult. Anyone can do it.
Art can be seen the same way. Anyone can paint. The standards of art is so low, literally anyone with a paint brush can enter the party.
The reality tells a different story.
Since the rise of modernism to the contemporary, innovation has been the standard. Being original is necessary. To simply ape the past makes you a plagiarist. To make unusual connections, or possessing a distinct vision is being an artist. Anything else is delusional.
Labelling art as valuable and not so much so has fallen out of favor. Even the art publications prefer the innocuous title of “arts writer” to “art critic.” It is as if criticism becomes a sword that cuts through art with the intention of only destroying it. To make any defined stand on art is heresy.
How dare anyone feel they can comment on art. I
The idea that evaluation is impossible has roots in a society that likes social passing and views students in education as “consumers.” We do not want to murder anyone’s self esteem. Everyone is entitled to an “A.” To obtain a “B” amounts to failure. A “C” may as well be total failure.
Grade inflation,social passing and too much concern about student self esteem versus student achievement has given us a society increasingly hostile to intellectual endeavors. Learning for the sake of learning is going the way of dinosaur. Learning is about doing as little as possible to obtain a good grade. Armed with A’s instead of B’s means the difference between unemployment for a ticket to the middle class.
The joy of learning is just a useless sideline. Unless there is instantly perceivable benefit, long term goals and true learning are simply part of a different time and place.
Everyone takes a hit when education is reduced to grades and becoming little more than a crude trade school.
Evaluations, assessments and a slavish adherence to tests have killed thought. Teaching to the test have turned students in automatons. There dull eyes have been trained like Pavlov’s dogs to respond on cue. Information is given, expect to be returned and that is all that is expected. When manipulated into “test pass teaching’ information is reduced. As long as it is on the test, perfect. If it involves anything not on the test, it is omitted.
Test evaluations for high schools do not take “thinking” into the pat formula. College campuses are obsessed with assessments. Content is an after thought. As long as you access, keep the consumer/student happy, what you are teaching becomes less important than keeping numbers high in the favor of the institution. There could be reason why the words “mental institution and educational institution share the same word.
How does all of this connect? Easily, in some may ways. With an audience free original thinking and envisions learning as a dull process necessary to obtain a good grade, there is little room for much else. The narrowing of education has created as society hostile to “deeper’ thinking. That whole thought process has infected society.
Art pundits have become superficial purveyors of mediocrity. Sensationalism, previous sales records and gimmicks have replaced depth, innovation, imagination and technique. Skill is an after thought. Breaking ground deemed “too new” is now exiled. What is left? The middle ground that pretends to be “maverick.” Everyone wants to be a rebel. Everyone wants to buck the system. Giving it to the “man” is what it is all about. However, if you hit too hard, if you take too big a legitimate stand, be greeted with excommunication from the temple of culture. Individuality is tolerated as long as it fits the confines of acceptable ground breaking.
The real thing, the genuine have been cast aside. Orphaned to a cult act, a wider audience is denied to art that really does “push” the proverbial envelope.
Omitting anyone willing provide an objective eye and create criticism rather than description is what we need. Art is categorized. It happens the moment a show is curator.
Checks and balances are necessary. Achievement is hard work. Having an educated open minded audience is necessary. Enlightened support is essential. Making challenging art accessible to “everyone” should be something desired. Making art more exclusive does not diminish it. Popularity is not a devaluation of art. Obscurity does not need be the last resort of innovation. Money should never be the sole arbiter of quality.
Minus a voice that can dig through the detritus to get to the diamonds, what we are left with are many inferior jewels.

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