Tuesday, November 24, 2009

From a letter -of mine- a couple of months ago. I like the way it lays things out:

Fried and Krauss, and Clark, all see the avant-garde as predictive or prescriptive. All I see is the current generation's desperate attempt to describe a world that didn't exist 20 years earlier: a continuing generation gap. And in the 19th century there's the problem that more and more artists seem less and less able to represent the world, so that over time all thats left for them to do -and they come to this over the course of decades- is to make not interesting depictions of things, but only interesting things; to the point that modern art only represents the world in the -general- sense that modern buildings do. But then popular art becomes the central forum for mimesis. And when abstraction is returned to the world it's returned to the world as authoritarianism. It were ever thus.

Reading Art and Objecthood first when I was about 20 was a bizarre experience for me. I recognized objects becoming figures, the beginnings of theatricality the end of idealism and the rest. I saw Smithson and baroque architecture. I didn't see the best art in the world but I saw the attempt of fine artists to make objects or non-objects that felt appropriate.
In the same way that artists found a way to make theater that they could call "performance art" This gets perverse pretty quickly and you end up studying minor practitioners of different fields who can be appropriated as artists. Studying Vertov for example in art school because he was a formalist but not Eisenstein, because what... he was popular?
Eisenstein thought Vertov sucked. He had a point.

Anyway Fried came off to me like the father who still thought it was 1948. but the world had changed. Art describes the world, no more no less. But the teleology of progress was so universal in intellectual circles, various versions of the avant-garde -esthetically philosophically, politically- that it was imagined we could or should put the cart before the horse.
Art is empiricism- the most honest empiricism that we have. It documents the struggle of ideas against preference: the brilliant cafe revolutionary, who's loyal to the conservative form (art) used to describe the radical idea. But there are no ideas outside form. As Kunstler said: "I'm not a radical. Radicals don't believe in the justice system. I'm a lawyer who defends radicals. That's not the same thing." The history of art over the last 200 years is the struggle between the conservative and the reactionary. Art is always conservative. It tries to conserve. The founder of the Penna ACLU said the same thing about his organization.

There are varieties of kitsch: the kitsch of desperation- of early Cezanne, bad Manet, and early Pollock; pompous laziness - god-awful Courbet! and Jules Olitski, and hypocrisy- The Paris Salon, fascist kitsch. Kitsch is very wishful thinking. And Modernism and modernity is full of that.

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