Monday, July 28, 2008
Baker responds to critics; Chihuly redux
In Sunday's paper, Kenneth Baker replied to critics of his negative review of Chihuly and made some good points: (Baker's article indicated by italics..). I agreed with some of his original review but his rebuttals (while containing some good points) smacks too much of a thin skinned critic who has never been challenged.
Many of the letters commented on how they didn't need a critic to tell them what to like. I agree to some extent, but it's a sad commentary on today's lack of art education and connection to the wider public. Also, a role, which Baker - unlike his predecessor Thomas Albright – has not done well. If the newspaper reading public is ignorant of how to judge art, Mr. Baker should count himself among those who share the blame. The following comment is fair enough but how do you approach educating the public in an era of celebrity-obsessed mass media? If anybody read my previous post on this subject, you will know that I agree with Baker's assessment of Chilhuly but also felt that his review raised wider issues which he never addressed. Now that newspapers are on the net and have comments sections, the public - formerly silenced - can now be heard.
In today's culture, people need not merely critics to tell them what art is, but also artists, curators, art historians, art dealers, collectors - and the viewers' own education and sensibility.
The critic owes his readers not reassurance or even judgment, but a point of view, and thus, an example of how a point of view forms.
Hence, my practice of comparing one artist's works with those made by others. Art is made of connections - connections available to any informed observer - not just of materials and good intentions.
One reader seemed to speak unawares for many others when she asked: "If Duchamp's urinal can be art, how can you discount Chihuly?"
Political philosopher Hannah Arendt defined artworks as "thought things," that is, things that materialize thought, things to be thought about and, in rare cases, things to help us think.
Marcel Duchamp's notorious "Fountain" (1917), a mass-produced plumbing fixture turned on its back, signed with a pseudonym and presented as sculpture, proclaimed a fissure between the concept of art and its unambiguous embodiment in objects.
If Duchamp's gesture had found no resonance in the wider situation of culture, his prank would have been forgotten long ago. But the peculiar cultural condition that he diagnosed persists: We still seldom see thought and thing brought together seamlessly outside the realm of mechanical engineering. Artists' struggles with this problem continue to produce bizarre and fantastically various results, some provocative, illuminating and pleasing, most not.
Does the art public need critics, specialists, to help it sort these struggles out? Yes. It truly is a full-time job. Bloggers cannot - at any rate, do not - get it done.
Ah - now we come to another article of faith in mainstream journalism. Bloggers are just not good enough. We ain't got the chops, the skills, the eye, the whatever. Of course, he's not the first "paid" journalist to be threatened by the rise of Internet blogging. Many chefs, celebrity and otherwise, are extremely angry at food bloggers and never lose an opportunity to put them down. Others, being wiser, solicit their opinions and listen when the opinion is given. His dismissal of art bloggers negates all of the links on my page and dozens more. It also tries to continue the tradition of elitist art, in which the critic, the artist and maybe a few NY galleries decide whose is in and who is out and the rest of us are supposed to just look up with silent and reverential awe.
In The Reenchantment of Art Gabrick made a passionate plea for artists to rethink the thought and practice of a century of modernism. The thesis is not original. ``Since the Enlightenment,'' she maintains, ``our view of what is real has been organized around the hegemony of a technological and materialist world view...we no longer have any sense of having a soul.'' Spirituality and ritual have been the first casualties of this attitude, but the most profound reordering, Gablick says, has “occurred in the area of social relations,” as the spread of individualistic philosophies has weakened or destroyed the cohesion of traditional communal structures--leading to the modern artist understanding his or her vocation in terms of the objects created rather than the audience addressed. If the artist has any awareness of the audience at all, it is usually seen as a hostile force to be either ignored or shocked. She points out, quite eloquently, the limits of the alienation of the artist from community but, unfortunately, hasn't come up with any solutions. Well, neither has Baker and his put-down of art bloggers – who do try to connect with the wider community and are also often artists themselves – is part of the old, elitist establishment that has helped create this schism.
I know that some of the artists that we revere today were ignored or slammed by the critics when they first showed their work. From Van Gogh onwards, artists in the vanguard have been slammed by critics. In time, critics will realize art criticism has moved beyond their control and their ability to describe it. The future will decide what is art, what survives and what remains of value. As for art in the now - I'm glad for the controversy because it makes people think and I'm sorry for us in the Bay Area because we deserve better newspapers with reporting on all issues.