Thursday, December 08, 2005

A Mouthful of Art

I hate when art critics write about art in a way that it seems like a second language. I squint my eyes and slowly try and grasp the run on word jerk off description. I understand art terminology and slang but how can the average person get into art reviews when the people reviewing it are acting "too smart" for their own good? I had to read this opening sentence twice to get it all in:

"Whether you call it the New Cacophony or the Old Cacophony, Agglomerationism, Disorientationism, the Anti Dia or just a raging bile duct, the practice of mounting sprawling, often infinitely organized, jam-packed carnivalesque installations is making more and more galleries and museums feel like department stores, junkyards, and disaster films. It is an architecture of no architecture, a gesamtkunstwerk or "total artwork," whose roots are in opera, Dada, the Merzbau and the madhouse..." Artnet, Jerry Saltz

Although the article did draw me in with the title: CLUSTERFUCK ESTHETICS, go figure?

20 Comments:

Anonymous Nolan Simon said...

That is a lot to take in...but I don't know if I agree that everyone should be able to absorb art reviews easily. Contemporary art can be extremely complex and sometimes it requires lengthy and equaly complex assessments to give the work an aura of verisimilitude (How's that for a word - http://dictionary.reference.com/search?r=2&q=verisimilitude). Anyway, whatever Saltz has to say, that Sarah Sze installation at Marianne Boesky's was jaw droppingly gorgeous. Nuf said.

-Nolan

12:40 PM  
Blogger ann said...

Come on...what good is art criticism when it is only read by a small percentage of art enthusiasts? Yes, big words are fine, but why is the writing so dry and typically descriptive? I know a lot of people who subscribe to Art in America - for the pictures! Don't you ever get bored of reviews?

2:23 PM  
Blogger ann said...

...I think that artists want to isolate themselves and create an image of being "deep" -"intellectual" because they have to constantly defend what they do. Artists get snobby b/c they are sick of explaining themselves...yet complain when no one understands.

2:30 PM  
Anonymous jef said...

jerry saltz sucks the big one!
always has, always will!

7:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jerry Saltz is about the best art critic writing. Don't always agree nor always think him lucid, but still top notch.
Most people are not artists nor interested very much beyond what looks good and what has good resale value(nothing wrong with that.)
So, artspeak or not, it really is just for other artists and art professionals.

2:59 PM  
Anonymous jef said...

how can you sometimes be "lucid" and still be top notch?!

besides, i was responding personally: the guy's a total butt-wipe!

3:16 PM  
Blogger ann said...

wow, "butt-wipe" ...now that's a good one!! hahahah!

4:37 PM  
Anonymous Nolan Simon said...

OK...first of all...there is no reason to subscribe to AIA except for the pictures. There hasn't been a scrap of art criticism on those pages for decades. Coming from the perspective of an art enthusiast, I have no problem reading Saltz's articles. The vast majority of what he writes is basic college level boilerplate. Occasionally, when he seems to be feeling a particular need to impress, does he get mired in art-savvy locutions. Criticism today is part poetry; it's experimental in it's use of metaphor in order to attempt to capture the energy of the work it's discussing. What would you rather him say?? Do you want him to talk down to the lowest common denominator in the audience?

Q. "What good is art criticism when it is only read by a small percentage of art enthusiasts?"

A. It might, even just for a moment, peel back the layers of a work to find in it something unique, and frankly, worth the trouble.

By the way, I agree with the Anon poster. Saltz may not be perfect, but he's the best we've got! (Peter Schjeldahl is good too.)

1:40 AM  
Anonymous Nolan Simon said...

Ann - "I understand art terminology and slang but how can the average person get into art reviews when the people reviewing it are acting "too smart" for their own good? "

The average person will never read an art review in their life. The average person, if he's heard of art doesn't like it; if he/she has heard of Andy Warhol, he/she thinks he designed the Campbell's Soup can; he/she can not name a single artist alive today.

You and I look at, read about, travel for, think about and make art every day of our lives...all day! We can recognize more artists by name and work than we can name movie stars or musicians. Not to mention, we would shit if we saw Matthew Barney or Jenny Saville on the street, but wouldn't bat an eyelash if George Clooney or Lindsay Lohan somehow sullied their Prada on Woodward. We have fucked up priorities as far as the average person is concerned, and we are fine with that. So, it's OK for some of the art reviewers out there (a very small minority of them, if I may add) to speak directly to us. Not to mention, we're not talking about Fredrick Jameson, Michael Fried, or, worst of all, Kant. Working through their writings on art is what I imagine crossing the Amazon with a breadknife would be like.

Art is a necessary and essential component of modern society. I find no problem with people treating it with the level of intellectual and critical respect it deserves. Granted, it doesn't always deserve, need or even want it. But, if and when it does, it's out there.

I really need a hobby or something...not Chess!

-Nolan

2:04 AM  
Anonymous jef said...

Nolan wrote: The average person will never read an art review in their life. The average person, if he's heard of art doesn't like it; if he/she has heard of Andy Warhol, he/she thinks he designed the Campbell's Soup can; he/she can not name a single artist alive today.

Jef says: au contraire, mon frere! the average person does and has read art reviews. they used to read them regularly in two local papers here, the free press and the news. not no more it seems. but continue to be written in the alternative press, which is read by a younger demographic -- but still pretty broad i imagine.

jerry saltz writes for the village voice (which by the way has really cut back on its art criticism in the past years) and which, why very liberal, is read by a lot of average joes in nyc and about. it's not an art's journal. it spends a lot more space on politics and film and music.

the tate modern had 4 million visitors last year. when duchamp's nude descending a staircase showed at the art institute of chicago in 1915 -- 200,000 people rushed to see it. 100,000 at the Armory Show in 1913. "It was discussed over dinners, at dances, in editorials. It caused more disputes than politics. It was reproduced in newspapers in every city in the United States." (Vanity Fair, 1915)

a hundred years apart, and all these people at all these venues weren't just artists or related to, but a shitload of average joes who had read papers and magazines that wrote up the work on view. if you hide away the work in "art" journals then you do insulate it from the general public and polarize them from the evolving "thingie" art has become since the armory show.

damien hirst and tracey emin are household names in England. super-stars. because of the general press. not AIA. nor Frieze. nor modern painters.

there are more poetry journals now than at any other time in modern history. yet, they are only read by other poets. while poetry is dead for the masses.

i remember when it was still vibrant and alive. sitting with thousands of people and listening to ginsberg read HOWL. average people all around.

yeah, and where's the new contemporary music to be heard: we don't have any classical stations in detroit anymore. how can anyone's ear adjust to schnittke, let alone cage or adams or reich or the younger composers while driving your car? The DSO certainly won't play them.

be those few who wait until midnight for brave new waves?

it's access. you can't bring along any audience without it.

i just came across an old art review, 1997 (the british journal), from just before tony blair got into power, and he of all people (a politician) says "art is not elitist. don't blame art. change society... the real problem at the moment is not that we don't have a tremendously vibrant culture, but that general access to it is too often restricted."

it seems saltz was going for a heavy diatribe against the long and current trend of installation art. he's old school and longs for simpler times. by using complex words he avoids sounding stupid when talking about an art world that he no longer comprehends.

and a writer never has to talk down to his audience. he just has to connect and engage. his enthusiasm for art, or his disdain for it, will come through no matter.

saltz joins ranks now with hughes (at time magazine) who believes art stopped in 1960. for saltz it stopped in 1990.

3:33 AM  
Anonymous Nolan Simon said...

I went and saw Saltz talk at Cranbrook last year, and at no point did I feel like he was behind the times or out moded. To the contrary, I've always read Saltz's negative articles as a reaction to developing trends. I didn't read "Clusterfuck Esthetic" as a bad review from someone who doesn't get it. I read it as an acknowledgment that that type of installation has caught on like wildfire and that he feels a need to point out that even Mike Kelley has jumped on the wagon. He seems to think that any and all trends are suspect, and deserve greater criticism the bigger they get. And I say why not? I still don't feel like his writing is too far out there for the average reader. If you're a non-artist reading up on art reviews and you don't know DIA, don't you think it's time you were exposed to it? Does the "average" reader not know what a "Cacophony" is, or can't he/she figure out what "Agglomeration - ism" and "Disorientation - ism" might mean. I don't see where the problem is in wanting the reader to do a little mental work...especially when we expect it from them when they see the work itself.

And, Jef, you know as well as anyone my commitment to bringing art to a non-art audience. Our work on the Artcore project, my writing for Metrotimes and my work at DAM and DC, I think, is testament to that. I just have trouble with the idea that all art writing should be directed to the largest audience. I think that would cause tremendous problems for anyone trying to make the leap from Metrotimes to Art Forum to Derrida. There needs to be degrees in between.

I'm neglecting breakfast to write this...PBJ calls.

- Nolan

11:20 AM  
Blogger wanwan said...

ha ha butwiper light, less filling, satisfying for those art criticism 1010 dropouts....

2:17 PM  
Blogger wanwan said...

and what about that didi-huberman book, confronting images? huh? take a gander, and get yer random house out... ooop? oxford? thesaurus... damn

2:42 PM  
Anonymous jef said...

Nolan, I wasn't commenting on your hard work connecting the dots in Detroit, but your statement: "The average person will never read an art review in their life. The average person, if he's heard of art doesn't like it."

I simply don't agree. I've met too many average people - janitors, electricians, meter readers, bible thumpers, city lawyers, mothers - who've been deeply moved by contemporary art. And without having to read an art review or article to understand what they were experiencing or feeling.

Contemporary art,the best of it, is just that -- contemporary, now,immediate. And it doesn't need intermediaries like the prickless wonder Jerry Saltz to bring anyone to some nirvana.

2:13 AM  
Blogger michaelmarion said...

The problems plaguing arts criticism are the same problems with much "intellectual" writing. It is written in code. Amazing that the very people who moan and complain that arts and letters are so marginalized are the same people who write, publish and defend euphuistic, arcane and often unintelligible rubbish like Ann's example. I share this frustration. Thanks for the example, Ann.

11:22 AM  
Blogger michaelmarion said...

The problems plaguing arts criticism are the same problems with much "intellectual" writing. It is written in code. Amazing that the very people who moan and complain that arts and letters are so marginalized are the same people who write, publish and defend euphuistic, arcane and often unintelligible rubbish like Ann's example. I share this frustration. Thanks for the example, Ann.

11:22 AM  
Anonymous John Tusa said...

The arts matter because they are local and relevant to the needs and wishes of local people. They help citizens to express their needs and to clothe them in memorable forms. They offer a way of expressing ideas and wishes that ordinary politics do not allow. The arts regenerate the rundown and rehabilitate the neglected. Arts buildings lift the spirits, create symbols that people identify with, and give identity to places that may not have one. Where the arts start, jobs follow.

Anywhere that neglects the arts shortchanges its people.

1:00 AM  
Anonymous Nolan Simon said...

Michael and John both raise interesting points. I agree with John’s sentiment that the arts are an integral part of the community. You only have to look to Pittsburgh to see the impact artists have on local economies (hat tip to Jef). But, I tend to think it’s precisely the level of respect and critical value given to art by critics, curators and theorists that make its relevance more, not less universal. Take the example of Henry Darger. His work’s impact would have been relegated to North Chicago had the press and ultimately curators and critics not picked up on its potential relevance on a broader scale. Critical writing on his work has helped to elevate it beyond the majority of “outsider art.” Thoughtful and intelligent writing on art can help to put the work in context and give it a history.

OK...so granted that a lot of critical writing is dense. I find that that makes weeding through it more challenging and ultimately more satisfying. For example, in Michael’s post, I had to look up “euphuistic.” I don’t see how my having to look this up made his post less valuable. In fact it made it more valuable, in a sense, in its secondary function — broadening the scope of my vocabulary. Look at the medical field. Over the past few thousand years or so (give or take) the language surrounding the body and medicine has become increasingly complex owing to the nature of illness and the greater need for specialization. I wouldn’t want my doctor telling me he’s prescribing me two things of purple stuff to help excise the devils causing me anguish just as I don’t expect art writers to tackle the intricacy of contemporary art with a limited vocabulary. There are nuances within much of that type of language that would be lost.

I’ve been waiting for someone else to pop up on my side and point out that Saltz’s first sentence in the article in question — "Whether you call it the New Cacophony or the Old Cacophony, Agglomerationism, Disorientationism, the Anti Dia or just a raging bile duct, the practice of mounting sprawling, often infinitely organized, jam-packed carnivalesque installations is making more and more galleries and museums feel like department stores, junkyards, and disaster films.” – accomplishes exactly what everyone in this thread seems to be looking for. He’s saying that you can call junk by fancy names (New Cacophony, Agglomerationism, Disorientationism, etc.) and it can still be junk, or as he put it, a raging bile duct. He then goes on to compare the work to familiar/everyday/popular messy and disorganized areas (department stores, junkyards, and disaster films). Saltz is agreeing with you...which if I can just add as an asside, is just the bit of irony I need to start the day. I happen to disagree with Saltz’s assessment (I enjoy Mike Kelley and Sarah Sze and think their installations are beautiful), though I see his point. I think Saltz’s writing is a nice middle grey between the black of critical theory and the write of the local press. All it takes is a little mental calisthenics.

-Nolan

9:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nolan's analogy to the language of medicine is interesting but I don't think it's the same as artspeak. Medical terminolgy is actually a combination of root words with suffixes and prefixes. One community college class is enough to make one proficient in interpreting the code.

Artspeak, on the other hand, seems too often to me to be a bunch of words that say nothing. I have some art education, but my eyes just glaze over when confronted with some scholarly treatise about the merit of some artist or another. For me, if the art doesn't speak to me there's no use in talking about it. My reactions are visceral or emotional (sorry, medical terms there), not intellectual. As far as I'm concerned, the art world's dependence on univertisities and publishing just weakens it for me.

1:59 AM  
Anonymous fredo said...

just had to break the 20th comment barrier!!!

saltz's article isn't so heavy. go try to read parakeet for christ's sake!! but he's been around long enough to know that installation art ain't going anywhere!! anyone remember fluxus?!! talk about clusterfuck!!!

i remember a big nyc gallery that let an artist in the 80's simply recarpet the entire space with orange shag rug. that was it!!!

think that commercial galleries are doing this now cause they're stable financially -- all the other "traditional" art is selling to allow for the occasional whacky!!! more power to 'em!!! vive l'art!!!

2:18 PM  

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