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.