The Dinner Party
March 22, 2012 8:57 AM   Subscribe

Feminist banquet or confrontational gynocentrism? You decide. From 1974 to 1979 Judy Chicago orchestrated the creation of The Dinner Party, a collaboration with hundreds of artists, craftspeople and volunteers. Now permanently installed at the Brooklyn Museum, this project has sparked controversy, analysis and discussion, and was considered quite shocking when initially unveiled.

Originally conceived as "twenty-five women who were eaten alive," the project symbolically presents 39 women, arranged in three groups of 13, as place settings created individually for each. You are invited to browse the individual place settings here.

A personal note: I viewed this with my family during its initial tour. My father, who was easily embarrassed, could not leave the gallery fast enough.
posted by kinnakeet (97 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Maude Lebowski: My art has been commended as being strongly vaginal which bothers some men. The word itself makes some men uncomfortable.

Vagina.
posted by Madamina at 9:05 AM on March 22, 2012 [12 favorites]


As a kid I went to the showing in Calgary (I think it was Calgary, I remember being on the road too long for it to just be Edmonton), and my main memory is of being confused how you'd use the plates, with my mom looking bemused when I asked.
posted by aramaic at 9:07 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is "confrontational gynocentrism" necessarily a bad thing in a work of art? Every work of art is one voice in a great big conversation, and I don't see why it would be a big deal for one of those voices to be "confrontational gynocentrism," especially given how many of the other voices in the dialogue are androcentric, and that there are not a few that are explicitly misogynistic.

For myself, I'm sort of "meh" about The Dinner Party because I think the technical mastery isn't at the level of the concept (if I were a curator, I would not have used Faith Ringgold as a comparison, because Ringgold's technical skill is dazzling) though I do think the piece does have tremendous impact as a whole when seen in person.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:07 AM on March 22, 2012 [8 favorites]


I think The Dinner Party is kitsch. Sort of conversation-provoking, but it's closer to Precious Memories made at camp than actual art.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:13 AM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


I saw this as a kid, and I've never forgotten about it.

It may seem like kitsch to some of you now, but to a whole lot of us who grew up female in the late 60s and 70s, it was anything but. It was confrontation, it was acknowledgment, it was very cool ceramic work, it was homage to O'Keefe and many other women artists and craftspeople.
posted by rtha at 9:18 AM on March 22, 2012 [10 favorites]


Confrontational gynocentrism should happen more often. We see confrontational dick-centrism everytime we look at a city skyline or anything, so why not?
posted by Jon_Evil at 9:20 AM on March 22, 2012 [11 favorites]


Oh sorry, was I supposed to be embarassed by the Washington Monument?
posted by girlhacker at 9:21 AM on March 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


In the context of patriarchy, I can see that this might be considered confrontational for being gynocentric. I think that's a fine thing.
posted by clockzero at 9:23 AM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Vagina.

"...whatever it is, it is round like a dish. Therefore, you must wash dishes."

From performance art featured in Judy Chicago & the California Girls a documentary about the first all-woman art program at Fresno State College.
posted by Kabanos at 9:25 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've never seen it in person, but the sheer amount of effort put into it alone raises it above the level of kitsch for me. Thinking about the colors and shapes, how to represent so many women in different ways while both honoring their individuality AND making everything look like yonis isn't easy.

It might not be everyone's cup of tea, but I'd imagine that when it first came onto the scene it was notable for putting that large of a spotlight on women, women, women.

So, yeah, gynocentrism schmynocentrism. Floralcentrism. Christcentrism. Do people fuss so much about the themes of other major works of art? It's kind of like Black History Month -- why does there have to be feminist art in the first place, when we should recognize the accomplishments of women and woman artists every day? We still have to make sure that people "notice" them. Blecch.
posted by Madamina at 9:25 AM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


"confrontational gynocentrism?"

WAT?
posted by clvrmnky at 9:27 AM on March 22, 2012


We see confrontational dick-centrism everytime we look at a city skyline or anything

You know stacking floors vertically also happens to be a pretty good use of limited space, especially if the alternative is modelling buildings after vaginas.
posted by Hoopo at 9:32 AM on March 22, 2012 [9 favorites]


...why does there have to be feminist art in the first place, when we should recognize the accomplishments of women and woman artists every day?

I think you have that exactly backwards. There needs to be feminist art because, on the whole, we don't recognize the accomplishments of women every day.
posted by griphus at 9:34 AM on March 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


That's my point, griphus.
posted by Madamina at 9:35 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


And no refernce to Judy Chicago and "The Dinner Party" can go without mentioning "Maria Manhattan" and "The Box Lunch"—the parody that served as snarky conjoined twin.
posted by the sobsister at 9:36 AM on March 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


Modeling buildings after vaginas or penises inevitably has them ending up next door to assholes.
posted by jonmc at 9:36 AM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


We see confrontational dick-centrism everytime we look at a city skyline or anything, so why not?

He can't help it. He has an edifice complex.
posted by jonp72 at 9:37 AM on March 22, 2012 [9 favorites]


Confrontational gynocentrism should happen more often. We see confrontational dick-centrism everytime we look at a city skyline or anything, so why not?

This reminds me of a drunken discussion I once had with a group of friends. I apologize if what I say sounds convoluted.

Has anyone done a comparitive study of nature/man-made structures and their predisposition towards being phalic-shaped?

Skyscrapers, monuments, buildings, etc. Do we impose our own cultural/societal obsessions with the phalic object onto these structures? Or are these structures made this way (either by man or by nature) because they are inherently better lasting/safer than something that is round and flat or nippled shaped?

I'm not being clear but I think you get what I'm talking about.
posted by Fizz at 9:38 AM on March 22, 2012


Has anyone done a comparitive study of nature/man-made structures and their predisposition towards being phalic-shaped?


What's the alternative? Life in caves?
posted by MangyCarface at 9:44 AM on March 22, 2012


I remember back as an art student our Art History teacher was very enamoured of Judy Chicago. We spent a good half the semester talking about Dinner Party and its significance and even watched a video about it with interviews with Judy Chicago. Over time, my opinion shifted from "Hey that's awesome" to "Oh Please!"

I can see how important this work is, but at the same time it always irritated the piss out of me. In a number of interviews, Chicago always seem to be implying that without her great artistic vision all these pathetic women who spent decades learning such a feminine art like embroidary or needlework would be voiceless. Now granted, the voice they had on their own wasn't as loud as it is together, which is a valid argument; but to imply that women who excelled at traditional women's art were voiceless because Judy Chicago hadn't given them a voice yet, rubs me the wrong way.

Also, Chicago was yet another artist who had vision and not the skills to put the vision out there. It bothered me, and still does, that someone who comes up with the idea for beauty is percieved as more important that the people who can actually make the beauty exist. And the fact that the contributors panel is not displayed at the permenant exhibit only shows that this is still the case.
posted by teleri025 at 9:45 AM on March 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


Note to self: check this installation out the next time I visit New York. I was a little too young to be aware of it the first time around, but the plates alone make me want to see it (Precious Moments or not).
posted by immlass at 9:51 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Last year, my best friend from Ireland was over for a visit, and while we were at the Brooklyn Museum I brought her in to see this. She was wildly offended.

However, what she was offended by was "how could they have left out Marie Curie as one of the people at the table?????"

The gynosymbolism is one thing; my biggest complaint about it (and, clearly, my friend's) is that it seems some of the choices for who got honored with A Place At The Table seems fraught with a weird gender-politics aftertaste; Chicago wasn't trying to honor Women Who Achieved, she was trying to honor Women Who Achieved And Deliberately Worked To Advance Other Women Exclusively. I get that that was probably an approach that was sort of Of Its Time; but....I also didn't really grok that particular line of thought to begin with. Yes, it's important for women to be advancing the rights of other women; but can't a woman who's a Nobel-prize-winning physicist be honored for that, rather than also expecting her to be A Woman's Right's Advocate at the same time?

So yeah, I understand why Chicago left Marie Curie off the invite list, but I agree with my friend that it's kind of stupid.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:53 AM on March 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


Also, Chicago was yet another artist who had vision and not the skills to put the vision out there.

One of the pleasures of the recent Pacific Standard Time shows in Southern California was seeing a bunch of Judy Chicago's pre-"Judy Chicago" works, many of which were hauntingly lovely and were produced, so far as I know, by her own hand. I wouldn't write off her skills simply because she drew on the skills of others in much of her later work.

In any case, it's a rather odd grudge to hold. Is an architect irrelevant because s/he doesn't personally build the building s/he designed? Is a film director irrelevant because a film can't get made without a host of skilled technicians who aren't the director? There will always be room for creative visionaries who rely on other people's skills to bring their visions to life.
posted by yoink at 9:53 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


when we should recognize the accomplishments of women and woman artists every day

Yeah, I mean. I recognize the unfortunate need to draw special attention to the accomplishments of women and minorities, but that doesn't mean I can't wish this wasn't necessary, or that I can't be pissed that the standard state of affairs otherwise is that these things are by default overlooked.
posted by elizardbits at 9:55 AM on March 22, 2012


Skyscrapers, monuments, buildings, etc. Do we impose our own cultural/societal obsessions with the phalic object onto these structures? Or are these structures made this way (either by man or by nature) because they are inherently better lasting/safer than something that is round and flat or nippled shaped?

If our society were a matriarchy, we'd go on and on about the "obvious" boob-shape of the Capitol--the symbol of the gynocratic tyranny that is Congress. We'd probably convince ourselves that it actually played some part in the fact that so few men managed to get elected to Congress relative to women. And no doubt there'd be an art installation somewhere by Jude Chicago where every place setting had a big gaudily painted peppermill at it.

And we'd still have big tall buildings and we'd still have big high monuments because the first make economic sense and the second are eyecatching--which you want a monument to be.
posted by yoink at 10:01 AM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Everything I heard about "The Dinner Party" made me hate it---it was everything that's laughably easy to parody about 70s feminist art, including gender essentialism, mean-girl selective solidarity, artwork as a mere vehicle for message... Ugh. And then I actually saw it in The Brooklyn Museum, and damned if the thing isn't overwhelmingly impressive. Huge, lovely, and endlessly detailed, it's like a Bosch painting---I could just spend a whole day examining different aspects of it. There's certainly lots to dispute about its politics (and a work that's so *about* its politics invites those disputes), but as a sculpture, it's really impressive.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:02 AM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


I was reading about this piece for a few hours just a few weeks ago. It just occurred toe that even though I read so much about it I only have a vague idea what it looks like.

That so much ink can be spilled on a visual work speaks to how compelling that work is, whether you like the piece or not.
posted by munchingzombie at 10:06 AM on March 22, 2012


And then I actually saw it in The Brooklyn Museum, and damned if the thing isn't overwhelmingly impressive.

Oh, I agree. Yeah, I have my opinions about the "guest" selection, but damned if I don't still give it an appreciative wander each and every time I go to the Brooklyn Museum (which, actually, is a lot).

One time I went, in fact, was at one of the First Saturday evening whoop-las they have, so the crowd was bigger than usual; and I ended up getting into a conversation with three other women, all of us from completely different backgrounds, and all of us were in an animated conversation about how "you know, why DON'T we hear about any of these women's achievements more often?"

I may quibble over the exact name list, but you gotta admit, that's a good question.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:08 AM on March 22, 2012


Modeling buildings after vaginas or penises inevitably has them ending up next door to assholes.

The hemaphroditic skyline of Toronto.
posted by Kabanos at 10:13 AM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


And then I actually saw it in The Brooklyn Museum, and damned if the thing isn't overwhelmingly impressive.

Yeah, I'd always had a slightly negative, "oh how quaint" feeling about it, that it was so much of it's time that it didn't age well. And then I saw it and was shocked by how much I liked it. It's definitely worth seeing in person if you're in NYC.
posted by Mavri at 10:26 AM on March 22, 2012


Also, Chicago was yet another artist who had vision and not the skills to put the vision out there.

Meeting people and convincing them to work with you, judging their ability, acquiring and using funding...these are all skills.

I mean, it took her five years to do it. She wasn't doing eating bon-bons and watching soap operas (not that there's anything wrong with that).
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:35 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


In any case, it's a rather odd grudge to hold. Is an architect irrelevant because s/he doesn't personally build the building s/he designed? Is a film director irrelevant because a film can't get made without a host of skilled technicians who aren't the director? There will always be room for creative visionaries who rely on other people's skills to bring their visions to life.
It is. And it came from a place where I was, at the time exploring more traditionally feminine art forms like embroidery and quilting. I do firmly think that many, many times architects and directors get far, far more credit for their vision than they should. I have often thought that more attention should go to the contractors, the bricklayers, the lighting guys, the writers, and the PAs that make all that stuff possible. I don't see her as irrelevant, merely over-emphasized at the expense of the artisans who made her piece possible.

There was a specific interview where Chicago flippantly says something like "I'm giving these women a voice that they could never have." and then goes on to talk about how is she were to attempt to learn to do what they can do, she'd never have the time to make her art. It rubbed me the wrong way and a lot of it goes to where I was with my art and trying to prove to art school professors that textiles and quilting and those "girly things" were a valid form of expression. I desperately wanted to like the Dinner Party and Chicago's work, but I could never fully embrace it because of those issues.
posted by teleri025 at 10:41 AM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


What's the alternative? Life in caves?

Hobbit holes, duh.
posted by emjaybee at 10:43 AM on March 22, 2012


Yeah, I have basically no opinion on the feminist aspects of The Dinner Party, but when I saw it, I enjoyed it, mostly because the place-settings contained copious in-jokes that would only be understood by someone who knew something about the woman who would be sitting there. So I would say that it was witty and generally worth my time.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:44 AM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


we should recognize the accomplishments of women and woman artists every day?

I feel art ought to stand on its own two feet, as it were; a good piece of art should grab you independently of who made it or what semantic content it has. In fact, I'd say the definition of art is that it speaks to the viewer/listener/whatever directly, without inter mediation or explanation. For example, I fell in love with Georgia O'Keefe's work because I just happened to see some of it, rather than because she was presented to me as an Important Artist or even as an Important Woman Artist.

Meeting people and convincing them to work with you, judging their ability, acquiring and using funding...these are all skills.

Yes, but not especially artistic ones.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:01 AM on March 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


Looking at the website, the plates (and the layout) look stunning. Why are people saying that she lacked skill - are they worse in person?
posted by jb at 11:09 AM on March 22, 2012


anigbrowl: I feel art ought to stand on its own two feet, as it were; a good piece of art should grab you independently of who made it or what semantic content it has. In fact, I'd say the definition of art is that it speaks to the viewer/listener/whatever directly, without inter mediation or explanation.

I think all of this (whether or not art grabs you) depends on your cultural context as a viewer. Our interaction with art does not happen in a cultural vacuum; it's influenced by the time, place, social surroundings. It's interesting, therefore, to read how reactions to Judy Chicago's Dinner Party have changed over time. I think it says a lot about us as viewers and the context in which we exist.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:12 AM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


I feel art ought to stand on its own two feet, as it were; a good piece of art should grab you independently of who made it or what semantic content it has.

I agree. But for me, the Dinner Table does that - grabs me aesthetically before I even understand it semantically.
posted by jb at 11:13 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I feel art ought to stand on its own two feet, as it were; a good piece of art should grab you independently of who made it or what semantic content it has.

This is an incredibly subjective thing, though. What serendipitously grabs you will not automatically grab someone else.

There aren't tons of women artists. Their work is not so ubiquitous that you can just kind of fall over it. It's fine that you, personally, find the "This is important! Look!" thing off-putting, and I do too, sometimes. But "Look! This is important!" doesn't actually make the work not important or not worth looking at. Sometimes our reactions to being told to do something (by not doing it because someone told us we should) are irrational.
posted by rtha at 11:14 AM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


jb, I just don't think the execution lives up to the idea. The textiles don't work as well as the plate here, for instance. I don't think the banners are well-executed, either. And the fault isn't with the fabricators--for me, don't find most of Chicago's 2-D designs compelling, and her handwriting is such a dominant design element that I think unbalances the visual harmony of the piece.

Again, I love the idea, and the work as a whole has a tremendous impact. But I don't love the execution, except for the ceramics.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:28 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think all of this (whether or not art grabs you) depends on your cultural context as a viewer. Our interaction with art does not happen in a cultural vacuum; it's influenced by the time, place, social surroundings.

Once you're aware of that you can tune it out. Reactions to art are personal as much as cultural; if you're high, or hung over, or have just fallen in love or just been through a breakup, you're going to react to art differently. These factors are, I suspect, a lot more important than one's cultural context.

There aren't tons of women artists. Their work is not so ubiquitous that you can just kind of fall over it.

I disagree. This is not to say it shouldn't be promoted, but I much prefer that it be promoted as 'awesome new art!' rather than 'awesome new women's art!' If I ruled the world, I'd have a rule that no art could be signed until a year after it was exhibited in public (protip: hyperbole). I really do not like having context created for me and go out of my way to avoid critical commentary as a medium of introduction - that is, I prefer to engage with the art first and criticism afterwards. For example, I avoid movie reviews of films I haven't seen, if I go to the opera I avoid reading the programme until after the performance and so on.

The dinner party is not really my cup of tea, but it's interesting. It's OK to work with other artists to create elements of a large work, but it's not OK to only have your own name on it just because it was your concept. The contributors should get billing as well, and if that ends up looking like movie credits then so be it. To claim all the credit for the work of many is asshole behavior, regardless of how many artists have done that in the past.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:46 AM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


The contributors should get billing as well, and if that ends up looking like movie credits then so be it.

One of the features of the exhibit is something called "The Acknowledgments Panel" which features photos and bios of all the artists and craftspeople involved in the project. Which isn't something I see at Jeff Koons shows, for instance.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:48 AM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


But someone said that panel is not on display at the permanent exhibit? Although in that case the curator sounds more to blame than the artist. I sort of like Jeff Koons' art, but that lack of acknowledgement is also off putting for me. He and Dame in Hurst are to some extent reducing art to a branding exercise, although that could be seen as a meta-commentary on our culture, in much the same fashion as Banksy's work. As you can tell, I have a rather low opinion of post-modernism.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:53 AM on March 22, 2012


Damien Hirst. Fucking autocorrect.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:54 AM on March 22, 2012


But someone said that panel is not on display at the permanent exhibit?

It may be in the room with the "heritage panels". Which not everyone notices.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:55 AM on March 22, 2012


I disagree.

I disagree with your disagreement, because, hey, I like context! Not everytime everywhere everywhen regardless, but I like it more often than not. I don't personally feel like the art or other thing I'm looking at is somehow less "pure", or that my reaction to it is, because I know the artist's name or where they're from or when it was created etc.
posted by rtha at 12:06 PM on March 22, 2012


The hemaphroditic skyline of Toronto.

Skydome: home of the Toronto Blue Va-Jay-Jays
posted by Hoopo at 12:12 PM on March 22, 2012


I was disagreeing with your assertion that one can't just fall over women's art (or that of any other culturally disadvantaged group). My basic view is that Great Art is engaging whether or not you are familiar with its context at the outset.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:18 PM on March 22, 2012


Me: I think all of this (whether or not art grabs you) depends on your cultural context as a viewer. Our interaction with art does not happen in a cultural vacuum; it's influenced by the time, place, social surroundings.

anigbrowl: Once you're aware of that you can tune it out. Reactions to art are personal as much as cultural; if you're high, or hung over, or have just fallen in love or just been through a breakup, you're going to react to art differently. These factors are, I suspect, a lot more important than one's cultural context.

I don't think you can tune out your own cultural context any more than you can tune out your personal context. Personal factors are no less important, but a viewer's cultural context is just as important and difficult to set aside.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:23 PM on March 22, 2012


Damien Hirst. Fucking autocorrect.

I think that may be my favourite bit of art criticism ever. Whatever it means.
posted by Grangousier at 12:29 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was disagreeing with your assertion that one can't just fall over women's art

Then I guess I don't understand what you're disagreeing with. It's basic fact that there are many, many fewer works of art by women on display in major museums and galleries, and non-major museums and galleries. There's not none, but in the first two minutes in, say, the Smithsonian's National Gallery, I could see (if I tried to fall over them I'd probably get arrested) manymanymany works by men, and very few by women.

However, if I'm wrong, and there's somewhere I could go and swing a cat and nearly always hit a work of art by a woman, I'd be interested in hearing about it. The Women's Museum doesn't count, btw.
posted by rtha at 12:32 PM on March 22, 2012


One time I went, in fact, was at one of the First Saturday evening whoop-las they have, so the crowd was bigger than usual; and I ended up getting into a conversation with three other women, all of us from completely different backgrounds, and all of us were in an animated conversation about how "you know, why DON'T we hear about any of these women's achievements more often?"

I may quibble over the exact name list, but you gotta admit, that's a good question.


It's kind of an Up To A Point sort of question, though. I saw an interview with Ms Chicago when the thing first came out and one of the interviewers raised the issue of the Hypatia setting, asking why had she, the interviewer, never heard of this woman.

Well, Hypatia's fame derives from her being a teacher of mathematics and a pagan martyr. It happens we have no written record of her work. Not the sort of resume that makes for a high Q rating outside of academia, and not universally even there. Ever hear of Diocles, or Bion of Abdera, or Raud the Strong or Olvir of Egg? Not everyone gets off the D list.

No big cover up here, and indeed, in the case of Hypatia, the 19th century was well aware of who and what she was. My guess is, they had more time to read back then. Did better on Jeopardy too, I'll bet.

(Fun irony! "[Hypatia] seems to have been determinedly celibate, indeed repelling one ardent suitor by confronting him with one of her used menstrual pads and lecturing him on the shameful and unclean nature of what he thought beautiful (the vagina)." Did Ms Chicago know this at the time? I have to hope yes.)
posted by IndigoJones at 12:32 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is a film director irrelevant because a film can't get made without a host of skilled technicians who aren't the director?

Key word here is "skilled". Poor construction and execution of a film would get the director fired.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:50 PM on March 22, 2012


I think that the Dinner Party is more of an illustrated political text than a visual art object, and that, as a text, it essentializes all the famous women it names for its own purpose without either accuracy or deeper meaning.
posted by knoyers at 1:05 PM on March 22, 2012


> I may quibble over the exact name list, but you gotta admit, that's a good question.

It's kind of an Up To A Point sort of question, though.


I agree, actually. I may set the edge of the gray area in a different place from you ("you say that Hypatia doesn't have "a high Q rating outside of academia," and part of me wonders, "well, isn't that kind of the problem the problem we're talking about right there,") but I would actually also feel a bit pandered-to if something I done was promoted into some kind of Canon "because you are a woman and we have no women's work included so here you go", which is how some of the drives to Promote Women Artists sometimes feel to me.

If a woman's done significant work, then hell yes they should be talked about outside of academia. However, the calibre of their work should be the deciding factor, rather than their gender. (And the opposite of that is, their work should be the deciding factor, rather than whether they also did enough to advance their own gender - yeah, I agree about the Marie Curie omission.)

It's a tightrope we're all still feeling out, though.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:08 PM on March 22, 2012


It's basic fact that there are many, many fewer works of art by women on display in major museums and galleries, and non-major museums and galleries.

If gender is a problem in getting exhibited then use a pseudonym. Like I say above, art does better when it's anonymous. Artist's statements and curator's cultural condescension does more to keep women and minorities in an art ghetto than anything else. I don't want to see women's art or gay art or _____American art, I want to see engaging art; the less people know about the source of the art the less their prejudice can preempt their aesthetic judgement. Obviously that's going to be problematic for some kinds of art, like a series of vaginas, but then a series of phallic studies would be inherently off putting to many as well.

When I want art, I go to museum or gallery or studio and get/make some. If I want an artist, I'll go to an opening or a dive bar or wherever artists like to hang out in a particular locality. But I don't think of art contemplation/collection/curation as a vote for the artist or the group of which the artist identifies as a member. To me that's advertising rather than art. I prefer art that speaks to me without an introduction. I don't need to understand it or even like it, but I think it should evoke a response of some sort by itself first.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:14 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


If gender is a problem in getting exhibited then use a pseudonym.

Oh for the love of pete. Do you have any idea how much social connections, having gone to certain schools with certain teachers, etc. has to do with an artists's success? They very seldom get famous by sitting in a garrett with a hood over their heads and sending out paintings by messenger; they have to get out there and hustle like everyone else. Which makes gender hiding somewhat challenging, especially in the age of internet non-anonymity.

What you're asking is near impossible, if not completely impossible, and if women can only succeed by overcoming impossibilities, then we should indeed be talking about the sexism inherent in the system. A sexism that expresses itself by who gets calls, who gets selected for shows, who gets into galleries, and who gets considered "important" by the art community.

Castigating women for offending you by being upfront about both their gender and how it affects them as artists illustrates how profoundly you Do Not Get It.
posted by emjaybee at 1:23 PM on March 22, 2012 [13 favorites]


If gender is a problem in getting exhibited then use a pseudonym.

....Erm, I actualy think I'd prefer if the state of affairs that requires a woman to use a pseudonym were done away with.

Like I say above, art does better when it's anonymous. Artist's statements and curator's cultural condescension does more to keep women and minorities in an art ghetto than anything else. I don't want to see women's art or gay art or _____American art, I want to see engaging art; the less people know about the source of the art the less their prejudice can preempt their aesthetic judgement.

But....the fact that it's a woman's name on the art doesn't neccessarily make it "women's art". Mary Cassat's work isn't anything like Judy Chicago's -- would you still categorize them both as "women's art"?

I mean, I hear you on the "the quality should speak for itself," but....I get the sense you're writing off all art done by women as "women's art," and frankly, that is also keeping women in an art ghetto.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:25 PM on March 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's a tightrope we're all still feeling out, though.

Ten four on that. I mean, I consider Jane Austen the best English novelist, period. Qualifying her in any way would be an insult to women and to novelists. And so forth across the board. (On preview, ditto figurative artists)

Hypatia, well, let's face it - change her sex and her lurid death and she would have had no interest for anyone whatsoever. For her (modest) fame to hang on her ill use is an unfortunate commentary. How to take it, then?

Which gets back to your comment, of course. As the father of a rising girl child, I have to wonder how best to frame the role model elements (well loved math professor) without ignoring (or overemphasizing) the injustice elements (killed by religious fanatics), and still have her maintain a sense of humor.

A tight rope indeed. I expect, however, she will kick arse, whatever direction she chooses.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:49 PM on March 22, 2012


Do you have any idea how much social connections, having gone to certain schools with certain teachers, etc. has to do with an artists's success?

Yes, this is part of the problem. There's no objective way to create a fair degree of representation for any particular group because such measures resist quantification, so the best alternative is to let the work speak for itself. This is, happily, easier and cheaper than ever. I don't think women do need to use pseudonyms, but if one is feeling excluded or overlooked by the art establishment then that is one time-honored method of circumventing the usual channels.

Castigating women for offending you by being upfront about both their gender and how it affects them as artists illustrates how profoundly you Do Not Get It.

Totally not what I said.

I get the sense you're writing off all art done by women as "women's art,"

I don't know where you're getting that from. I've said repeatedly that I want to be engaged by the art, rather than by the artist. The gender or identity of the artist is distinctly secondary to me for much the same reason that jokes are better when they don't need to be explained.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:07 PM on March 22, 2012


I have a feeling that this explanation won't make a difference, but:

There's no way to separate art from its creator. It doesn't matter if you can tell or not; the work is created out of the artist's own experiences.

It's like (gross exaggeration here) Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink: people may make seemingly remarkable split-second decisions, but only because of their long history of training or experience.

Now, of course, there are schools of criticism in all areas of art that say that you should evaluate the work solely for what's in front of you, just as there are others that say you should know absolutely everything about the artist. But if you agree that there are reasons why a particular work of art is made -- whether it's because of a trifling mood, a lifelong obsession, whatever -- you're saying that it comes out of some facet of the artist's own experience.

So I get what you're saying about not having to explain a joke, and there are tons of works of art that are objectively great to many people. But to negate the reasons why they were created in the first place doesn't cheapen them at all.
posted by Madamina at 2:34 PM on March 22, 2012


If gender is a problem in getting exhibited then use a pseudonym.

What's happening is that instead of doing that, artists making overtly feminist art are working to fix the fucking problem.
posted by griphus at 2:38 PM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


The "whoever smelt it, dealt it" approach doesn't work for sexism any better than it works for racism.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:48 PM on March 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


"I feel art ought to stand on its own two feet, as it were; a good piece of art should grab you independently of who made it or what semantic content it has. In fact, I'd say the definition of art is that it speaks to the viewer/listener/whatever directly, without inter mediation or explanation. For example, I fell in love with Georgia O'Keefe's work because I just happened to see some of it, rather than because she was presented to me as an Important Artist or even as an Important Woman Artist. "

This is pretty much nonsense, I'm sorry to say. There's a great deal of great work that requires context to understand, whether visual or any other discipline. You're arguing for a definition of aesthetics that privileges sensual experience over every other consideration, and that's a rather ignorant — even willfully ignorant — point of view to take.

Artists work within media and within traditions, and much of art is conversations within those traditions. That means that yes, identity can be very important to a piece of work, especially once you start to get into the explosion of art that happened in the '60s and '70s. Joseph Bueys made a great many pieces where the object itself isn't nearly as important as the process, and the reference to his personal history.

Frankly, arguing that work is great or not sans context is like arguing that only home runs are important in baseball — why, in a perfectly pitched game, nothing even happens! It's an inane position to hold, and it disappoints me to see you defend it so vociferously.

"If gender is a problem in getting exhibited then use a pseudonym. Like I say above, art does better when it's anonymous. Artist's statements and curator's cultural condescension does more to keep women and minorities in an art ghetto than anything else. I don't want to see women's art or gay art or _____American art, I want to see engaging art; the less people know about the source of the art the less their prejudice can preempt their aesthetic judgement. Obviously that's going to be problematic for some kinds of art, like a series of vaginas, but then a series of phallic studies would be inherently off putting to many as well. "

I know that you rebel against the language of privilege being applied, but can you understand how to an outsider, your statement there is incredibly privileged? Great art should be only what reflects your aesthetic, with no need to challenge the normative assumptions of your gender, race, orientation or anything. Further, it need not contain any ideas, nor should those ideas be at all difficult to grasp — no more Raushenbergs, for example. And what's the deal with Jasper Johns? Anyone can paint a flag or a number!

Please leave off with your defense of the noble idiot, and take a moment to engage with art on the artists' terms. It'll make you more fun at cocktail parties and sound less like the stereotypical old white man bitching about kids on his lawn.
posted by klangklangston at 3:00 PM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Our interaction with art does not happen in a cultural vacuum; it's influenced by the time, place, social surroundings.
Once you're aware of that you can tune it out

Nope.

You seem to believe that there's some kind of line separating the personal from the cultural. It ain't so; these words we're using to communicate, for instance, have a long, rich history and tradition behind them. You can't do anything without using your cultural perspective somehow or other. Whether the particulars of your cultural perspective make a difference compared to any other cultural perspective--that varies. Perhaps you can correct for some particular aspect of it when you need to, but that's not at all equivalent to tuning out the time, place, and social surroundings.
posted by LogicalDash at 3:01 PM on March 22, 2012


"I don't know where you're getting that from. I've said repeatedly that I want to be engaged by the art, rather than by the artist. The gender or identity of the artist is distinctly secondary to me for much the same reason that jokes are better when they don't need to be explained."

The reason why jokes don't need to be explained is because you already have the context to find them funny. There are certainly jokes that you find funny that relate to your particular subfield which would not be funny to an outsider, or would require too much explanation. Ergo, you're demanding that art already pander to the context you have, rather than challenge it.
posted by klangklangston at 3:03 PM on March 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


(For a more developed view similar to what you're taking, Anigbrowl, look to Tolstoy's What Is Art? — though I can't vouch for that particular translation. In it, he argues that simplicity and directness in recreating an emotional state, more than beauty or truth, is the high point of aesthetics, a similar argument to what you want to make here — Tolstoy would also argue that the identities of both artist and audience are irrelevant.

But frankly, you're fighting a battle that was lost over 100 years ago — the very birth of Modernism with Manet also birthed Post-Modernism with Manet. You might have to retreat all the way to Joshua Reynolds for a coherent Ideal/Sensate philosophy, though John Locke beat up on that neo-Platonism pretty hard.)
posted by klangklangston at 3:10 PM on March 22, 2012


The thing is, anigbrowl, that the sexism (and racism, and classism, and selective xenophobia) happens on the way to the museum. Pretending that there's a level playing field and that all artists have equal opportunities to get their work up there so that you can tune out contexts and enjoy it isn't a very useful strategy for the artists themselves.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:22 PM on March 22, 2012


I don't know where you're getting that from. I've said repeatedly that I want to be engaged by the art, rather than by the artist.

And the reason you GAVE for that is because "I don't want to be looking at 'women's art,' I just want to be looking at art." What I want to know is, though, what makes "women's art" "women's art" to you? Is your definition of "women's art" "any art that was done by a woman"?

Because if you do, then that's just as "ghettoizing". And if that's NOT what you mean -- than what the hell difference does it make whether you do or don't know a woman painted the painting you're looking at?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:15 PM on March 22, 2012


This is pretty much nonsense, I'm sorry to say. There's a great deal of great work that requires context to understand, whether visual or any other discipline. You're arguing for a definition of aesthetics that privileges sensual experience over every other consideration, and that's a rather ignorant — even willfully ignorant — point of view to take.

It's wilfully taken, but not ignorantly.

Artists work within media and within traditions, and much of art is conversations within those traditions. That means that yes, identity can be very important to a piece of work, especially once you start to get into the explosion of art that happened in the '60s and '70s. Joseph Bueys made a great many pieces where the object itself isn't nearly as important as the process, and the reference to his personal history.
[...]
I know that you rebel against the language of privilege being applied, but can you understand how to an outsider, your statement there is incredibly privileged? Great art should be only what reflects your aesthetic, with no need to challenge the normative assumptions of your gender, race, orientation or anything. Further, it need not contain any ideas, nor should those ideas be at all difficult to grasp — no more Raushenbergs, for example. And what's the deal with Jasper Johns? Anyone can paint a flag or a number!

So, some art can't be appreciated or evaluated without a thorough understanding of art history and its contemporary mores, and I'm the one with the privileged viewpoint? And how do you get the idea that I don't want the assumptions of my gender, race, or orientation challenged? Did I not say above that I don't necessarily need to like a given piece of art to admire it or engage with it?

I have read Tolstoy's essay, like it, and find no shortage of modernist, abstract, and non-representational art to be interested by.

Please leave off with your defense of the noble idiot, and take a moment to engage with art on the artists' terms. It'll make you more fun at cocktail parties and sound less like the stereotypical old white man bitching about kids on his lawn.

This is the aesthetic that I pursue in my own art: does it stand alone without any support from me via a statement or someone's personal friendliness towards me? If not, then I consider it No Good and am disappointed. If it does, then I do not really care whether other people get it or not - the latter is more common by far. This is not a glorification of idiocy, it's a glorification of independence. It's not possible to ensure people will engage with art a particular way, so the ability of art to engage independently of the context in which the audience encounters it carries a great deal of weight for me.

Why do you assume I've never picked up a brush or a musical instrument or a camera or any other artistic tool? I have as much right to my aesthetic preferences as anyone else, and I am not suggesting that art must confine itself to a particular canonical style to be worthy of appreciation.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:22 PM on March 22, 2012


the less people know about the source of the art the less their prejudice can preempt their aesthetic judgement.

Sorry, this is a subjective opinion that is true for you. To speak as if This Is How Art Works Best For Everyone is complete nonsense.
posted by rtha at 4:27 PM on March 22, 2012


And the reason you GAVE for that is because "I don't want to be looking at 'women's art,' I just want to be looking at art." What I want to know is, though, what makes "women's art" "women's art" to you? Is your definition of "women's art" "any art that was done by a woman"?

No, I did not say that. I said that I would prefer not to have art promoted to me as women's art, the reason being that I would like to engage with the work on its own merit first, as if I had encountered it anonymously. If the artist does want to say something about who s/he is, then s/he can create some form of self-portrait. Me times such a choice of subject is obvious, sometimes not. My point is that I like to evaluate a work in isolation first, before learning more about its creator. I assume that the creator of an artwork has good reasons for the degree to which the work serves to inform me about the artist's identity.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:39 PM on March 22, 2012


"So, some art can't be appreciated or evaluated without a thorough understanding of art history and its contemporary mores, and I'm the one with the privileged viewpoint? And how do you get the idea that I don't want the assumptions of my gender, race, or orientation challenged? Did I not say above that I don't necessarily need to like a given piece of art to admire it or engage with it? "

As for your first question, yes. Because you're refusing to engage the work on its own terms while pretending to do exactly that. Ai Weiwei's Sunflower Seeds needs context to understand the intent of the art. How do I get to the idea that you don't want your assumptions challenged? By refusing to consider the identities of other artists and how that impacts their work. I'm not sure why you think admiring or engaging with art is separate from liking it or from considering it good or bad art, or why you feel that your engagement is the alpha and omega; it's a radically subjective point of view in a rather unsupportable fashion.

"I have read Tolstoy's essay, like it, and find no shortage of modernist, abstract, and non-representational art to be interested by. "

It's provocative, but fundamentally flawed in its narrow view of both form and function of art.

"This is the aesthetic that I pursue in my own art: does it stand alone without any support from me via a statement or someone's personal friendliness towards me? If not, then I consider it No Good and am disappointed. If it does, then I do not really care whether other people get it or not - the latter is more common by far. This is not a glorification of idiocy, it's a glorification of independence. It's not possible to ensure people will engage with art a particular way, so the ability of art to engage independently of the context in which the audience encounters it carries a great deal of weight for me. "

That's fine for your work, though incredibly limited and, again, based on many unspoken and unsupportable assumptions. But if you show your work to anyone else, it follows that you want an audience (otherwise, you'd keep your work sequestered). If you want an audience, you have to understand that the audience comes with assumptions and contexts. The very idea that you can make something that is independent of all art prior and post, or independent of any statement save your intent, is a moment of archaic delusion.

Look, generally, I understand and sympathize with your point. However, you're over-generalizing and making sweeping statements that pretty quickly both devolve into the absurd and belittle other equally valid aesthetic philosophies. It really does seem like you're not familiar with a lot of these ongoing aesthetic disputes within art criticism, and are staking out a position as easily dismissed as the proverbial "My kid could do that," when dealing with abstract expressionism.

"Why do you assume I've never picked up a brush or a musical instrument or a camera or any other artistic tool? I have as much right to my aesthetic preferences as anyone else, and I am not suggesting that art must confine itself to a particular canonical style to be worthy of appreciation."

Billy Childish has made a lot of music that I enjoy, however his stated philosophy of painting is moronic and leads to crappy art.

Further, this ties into a fundamental, and large, disagreement on how identity shapes experience — one recent example was the flack Sotomayor took over her "wise Latina" remark.

"My point is that I like to evaluate a work in isolation first, before learning more about its creator."

Our point is that it's impossible to evaluate work in isolation, and the idea that you can do this competently is a lie that you tell yourself.
posted by klangklangston at 4:50 PM on March 22, 2012


I have never presented my view as anything other than a subjective opinion. That's why my first comment on the subject began with the words 'I feel....', before a bunch of you piled on to tell me that my preference for considering the work first and the signature last was the result of old white male privilege. I don't show my own art in any sort of organized way because I can't stand talking about it, but I do like it when someone takes an interest in it without knowing I made it. Shoot me.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:56 PM on March 22, 2012


but I do like it when someone takes an interest in it without knowing I made it. Shoot me.

That means they are reacting to it in a different context than the one you made it in. This is quite different from "considering the artwork on its own terms"; they're considering it on their terms.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:23 PM on March 22, 2012


I don't want you to feel like I'm attacking you. I want to point out a couple of things:

First off, I tend to think that the best explication of "privilege" is that it's a cognitive bias. It's not an attack to be told that you have privilege any more than it's an attack to say that you suffer from fundamental attribution biases or hindsight biases. I don't think that you're an idiot; I do think that your arguments here amount to a defense of a certain form of idiocy.

Second off, let's take a piece that's part of the canon and made by an old white male: Gerhard Richter's Uncle Rudy. Without context, it's a blurred photo-realistic painting of a man in a Nazi uniform. Only by knowing Richter's personal context (that's his uncle, painted from a family photograph), and the contemporary context ('60s Germany first beginning to openly explore the implications of Nazism as a nation) does the work become anything but a mildly blurred shot. There's simply no way to evaluate that work honestly without knowing at least some of its context.

Third, the overwhelming history of art has been male and hetero-normative. Even while there have been famous gay and female figures, they're a minority and their identity as gay or female has been subsumed instead of acknowledged while traditional heterosexual masculinity has been venerated, pretty much since Christendom took over. The only reason why we've been able to change that in the last 100 years or so is because of explicit efforts on the part of minority artists to have their experiences and identities considered equally valid. Langston Hughes is a great writer, and it absolutely does not diminish him to say that he was also a great Black writer. Georgia O'Keefe is both a great artist and a great woman artist — it's even worth noting that you could divide her career into a solid, stolid modernist period and then an explicit embrace of the feminine, and it's fair to say that her identity as a woman does matter explicitly in her vulvic works — they are works which would have a different meaning if a man created them.

So, while what you have is a subjective opinion, that doesn't mean that it's valid or beyond criticism, as much as the old "Rap isn't music, it's just talking" is a subjective opinion that's also wrong and foolish.
posted by klangklangston at 5:27 PM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


By refusing to consider the identities of other artists and how that impacts their work.

I do not refuse to do so. I do refuse to have a critic tell me how to process the work in advance, because I would like to have the experience of encountering the work without any prior conceptions of what it might be like.

I'm not sure why you think admiring or engaging with art is separate from liking it or from considering it good or bad art,

Because there is lots of art that I find fascinating or compelling without enjoying it. Some of Francis Bacon's paintings strike me as horrible and make me feel almost physically I'll, and it is their ability to evoke such intensely unpleasant reactions that gives them such great aesthetic power.

Billy Childish has made a lot of music that I enjoy, however his stated philosophy of painting is moronic and leads to crappy art.

For someone who's castigating my supposed hostility to art, you seem astonishingly willing to just piss on anything you don't like. I said above that the Dinner Party 'wasn't my cup of tea'; I do find it interesting visually and semantically, but am not too fond of polemic, or text in visual media - so I might like it better if it didn't require literacy in English to the same degree. You, on the other hand, are writing off what you disagree with as ignorant, idiotic, moronic and crappy; you're being far more dismissive to whatever fails to meet your critical standards than I am of what fails to excite my aesthetic sensibilities.

Our point is that it's impossible to evaluate work in isolation, and the idea that you can do this competently is a lie that you tell yourself.

'Competently'? Sorry, am I applying for a job as a curator or tour guide or funding administrator? No, I'm having my own aesthetic experience and don't need to satisfy some pre-aesthetic study criteria. I encountered Francis Bacon by seeing Three Studies for Figures at the Base of. Crucifixion and was fascinated by the images themselves. I spent a good hour engaged with them before looking at the title or name of the artist. I'm not pretending to be able to make definitive pronouncements about the meaning or significance of a work, I'm asserting my right and preference to approach the art without necessarily needing to know anything about in advance.

Your position amounts to the contention that if someone encounters a piece of art in a random context - say, as a print lying in the middle of the street - that any aesthetic reaction the person might have to the work is without value because it lacks the necessary critical framework. You are, it seems to me, adopting a hierophantic position and saying that all aesthetic interactions must be positioned within such a framework.
posted by anigbrowl at 5:51 PM on March 22, 2012


I don't think "rap is talking not music" is even wrong. It's meaningless. OK, now you've categorized rap as poetry that has beats in. Are you going to actually say anything about it now?

Likewise: when you dismiss whatever context an artwork is set in, it's on you to supply another one. This is a perfectly sensible thing to do, and art critics do it on purpose all the time. If you don't supply any other context, you'll end up with one, like it or not--you don't get to separate the artwork from the laws of physics, the optics of your sense of sight, the unconscious associations you have with the imagery... or, I guess you could try to separate it from these, but supposing you succeeded, you would end up with no reaction at all to the artwork.

Aesthetic reactions can only happen in the context of somebody's sense of aesthetics.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:51 PM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


The embroidered place settings are really cool. I saw an interesting documentary about them on TV ages ago...
posted by ovvl at 6:31 PM on March 22, 2012


That means they are reacting to it in a different context than the one you made it in. This is quite different from "considering the artwork on its own terms"; they're considering it on their terms.

Yes...which is fine.

Second off, let's take a piece that's part of the canon and made by an old white male: Gerhard Richter's Uncle Rudy. Without context, it's a blurred photo-realistic painting of a man in a Nazi uniform. Only by knowing Richter's personal context (that's his uncle, painted from a family photograph), and the contemporary context ('60s Germany first beginning to openly explore the implications of Nazism as a nation) does the work become anything but a mildly blurred shot. There's simply no way to evaluate that work honestly without knowing at least some of its context.

'Honestly'? I reject the idea that art has to be truthful. Maybe I would like yo speculate for a while about why the artist has chosen to make a blurry painting and what he is trying to say by doing so, before being required to digest all the facts that would extend my understanding of the painting. What I loathe about critical theorists is the contempt they show for everyone else's aesthetic process; it's like someone who insists on telling you The Butler Did It before the opening credits are done rolling. It robs the viewer/listener of the experience and challenges of discovery; it's the aesthetic equivalent of being force-fed high-fructose corn syrup.

I started by mentioning that I stumbled across a Georgia O'Keeffe picture,liked it, and developed a taste for her work. I have spent many hours and hours looking at her work. I know little about Georgia O'Keefe the person, do not pretend to such knowledge, and am in no hurry to acquire it because I am still savoring the visual pleasures of her paintings. I may or may not get around to learning more about her and will no doubt gain fresh perspectives on her work when I get around to it, if I get around to it. It is not dishonest or disrespectful of an artist to consider their work in isolation. From my own artistic perspective, the last thing I want to do is to defend my choice of subject or medium to a critic. If I create an image or a piece of music I do so because I am pleased by the results of my exploratory process. It's not necessarily code for something else, and the question of 'what does it mean?' is often one to which I am neither willing nor able to supply an answer.
posted by anigbrowl at 6:41 PM on March 22, 2012


No, I did not say that. I said that I would prefer not to have art promoted to me as women's art, the reason being that I would like to engage with the work on its own merit first, as if I had encountered it anonymously.

But how is something being "promoted to you as women's art" if all you know is the artist's name?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:07 PM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


I was unexpectedly brought to the exhibition a month or so ago by a friend, and came away saying that it should be the first sight any girl-child should see upon focusing her eyes for the first time. I am a rather poor feminist and apologetic cis-female (my handle notwithstanding), but the overall presentation of that room made me feel like I was in a war room for superheroines. The lighting, the religious overtones of the embroidery, the great care lavished on every item there... it really did communicate the message that being female was special, and made you part of a powerful group (whether or not you had babies, always a queasy point for me about woo-woo wombery). It takes a lot to bring me around to being excited about vagina imagery, but I'm gonna recommend this exhibit to anyone.
posted by gusandrews at 7:51 PM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


"because I would like to have the experience of encountering the work without any prior conceptions of what it might be like."

…but given that encountering work without any prior conceptions is impossible, you recognize that this is a silly thing to base an aesthetic on.

"Because there is lots of art that I find fascinating or compelling without enjoying it. Some of Francis Bacon's paintings strike me as horrible and make me feel almost physically I'll, and it is their ability to evoke such intensely unpleasant reactions that gives them such great aesthetic power. "

If finding work compelling or fascinating without enjoying it leads you to label it as "bad art," you may have a fundamentally flawed definition of what makes good or bad art.

"For someone who's castigating my supposed hostility to art, you seem astonishingly willing to just piss on anything you don't like."

I'm not castigating your hostility — I'm pointing out that your aesthetic is incoherent. As an aside, Stuckism, Chidlish's philosophy, is a reactionary aesthetic based on fundamentally flawed assumptions (like that authenticity is available, important and primary in art). It's a moronic philosophy.

"You, on the other hand, are writing off what you disagree with as ignorant, idiotic, moronic and crappy; you're being far more dismissive to whatever fails to meet your critical standards than I am of what fails to excite my aesthetic sensibilities."

The comments about ignorance are specific: You don't want outside information about the art prior to seeing it. I'm sorry you're butthurt about having rejecting knowledge called ignorance, but that's exactly what it is. Likewise, complaining that I called Childish's work crappy is a non-starter; you may prefer the bloodless term "bad," but tone complaints aren't arguments.

"'Competently'? Sorry, am I applying for a job as a curator or tour guide or funding administrator? No, I'm having my own aesthetic experience and don't need to satisfy some pre-aesthetic study criteria."

Right on, argument from ignorance! Way to go! Who would want to understand things like intent or technique or even catch allusions? And of course, caring about context and identity is only something that curators and tour guides need.

"I'm not pretending to be able to make definitive pronouncements about the meaning or significance of a work, I'm asserting my right and preference to approach the art without necessarily needing to know anything about in advance. "

That's your right and preference, sure, but I'm unclear on why you're asserting it. It sounds like, again, an argument from ignorance, and a way to make sure that your opinions on art can't cross over from the purely subjective experiences of any given piece and into being able to make coherent statements about art in general.

"Your position amounts to the contention that if someone encounters a piece of art in a random context - say, as a print lying in the middle of the street - that any aesthetic reaction the person might have to the work is without value because it lacks the necessary critical framework. You are, it seems to me, adopting a hierophantic position and saying that all aesthetic interactions must be positioned within such a framework."

Well, no. But thanks for going for the straw man. My position amounts to if someone saw a print lying in the street, that their reactions would be different than seeing it in a museum or gallery, and that their opinions on the art would generally be worth less attention than someone who did know what the art was or why it was in the street.

And your repeated attempts to position a critical framework as if it's something alien and inaccessible while arguing that it also includes the name of the artist are silly. Whether you acknowledge it or not, you come to every piece with prejudices and preconceptions, and saying that those prejudices and preconceptions may not be valid for the work you're regarding, and that having more information about the work can change your interpretation for the better is not "hierophantic" any more than saying that jokes require context to be funny is.

"'Honestly'? I reject the idea that art has to be truthful."

I wasn't saying that the art had to be truthful.

"Maybe I would like yo speculate for a while about why the artist has chosen to make a blurry painting and what he is trying to say by doing so, before being required to digest all the facts that would extend my understanding of the painting."

Sure, that's fine. But you do realize that Richter did that for a pretty specific reason, and that the work really does require a larger context to have all of his aesthetic decisions make sense, right? Likewise, say, Joseph Beuys' sled.

"What I loathe about critical theorists is the contempt they show for everyone else's aesthetic process; it's like someone who insists on telling you The Butler Did It before the opening credits are done rolling."

This is something that you've imagined into the larger argument. My contempt is for silly arguments — like saying that some unknown gangster killed Ratchett on the Orient Express and refusing to read the ending where Poirot explains the murder, because your aesthetic experience of the murder is more important.

"It robs the viewer/listener of the experience and challenges of discovery; it's the aesthetic equivalent of being force-fed high-fructose corn syrup."

You're inventing this — being told that the Dinner Party is an important feminist work is not being force-fed anything.

Further, I'll note that while going off on your jeremiad against these big mean critics forcing things down your throat, you ignored the rest of my points — to what? Behave defensively and complain about being piled on? To make another series of arguments from ignorance? To create an imaginary aesthetic devoid of all outside influence?
posted by klangklangston at 7:54 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also? Spoiler? And I know that I'm totally not contributing to the big serious art and sociopolitical discussion?

The vaginas are like crawling off the plates by the end of the timeline. That in and of itself is awesome. LABIA HAVE AGENCY
posted by gusandrews at 8:01 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Billy Childish has made a lot of music that I enjoy, however his stated philosophy of painting is moronic and leads to crappy art.

Aw, see that's not cool. I like Billy Childish's paintings
posted by Hoopo at 8:06 PM on March 22, 2012


> So yeah, I understand why Chicago left Marie Curie off the invite list, but I agree with my friend that it's kind of stupid.

I get the temptation for this, it's the nature of any sort of 'best of' list, but it still seems a little odd to me to be actually offended by the particulars of the artist's choices. Like getting cranky that Degas didn't paint some older ballet dancers or (for a more political example) that Guernica didn't depict more male figures.

(No offense meant, of course, the whole point of the art is to have opinions about it.)
posted by desuetude at 8:24 PM on March 22, 2012


I get the temptation for this, it's the nature of any sort of 'best of' list, but it still seems a little odd to me to be actually offended by the particulars of the artist's choices.

My friend studied physics and teaches science, and so Marie Curie is one of her personal heroes. So there may have been a bit of fangirling going on....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:25 AM on March 23, 2012


I like the banners and other textiles as well.
posted by jb at 7:28 AM on March 23, 2012


But how is something being "promoted to you as women's art" if all you know is the artist's name?

Yet again, not what I said. You could just review what I wrote earlier instead of reinterpreting references to it.

…but given that encountering work without any prior conceptions is impossible, you recognize that this is a silly thing to base an aesthetic on.

No. There's a difference between having prior conceptions about the world and its concept, and having preconceptions about a specific piece of art because I read reviews of it, studied the artist's bio, etc.

If finding work compelling or fascinating without enjoying it leads you to label it as "bad art," you may have a fundamentally flawed definition of what makes good or bad art.

And where have I done anything like this? I gave the specific example above of finding much of Francis Bacon's worth loathsome and repellent. I still think it is great art even though some of it makes me feel I'll. I think it's great partly because it makes me feel ill. But you just ignored that.

The comments about ignorance are specific: You don't want outside information about the art prior to seeing it. I'm sorry you're butthurt about having rejecting knowledge called ignorance, but that's exactly what it is.

No it isn't. I'm entirely alive to the existence of contextual information and it's potential significance to the art, but I like to process the work first and then gather additional information. I gave the simple example of preferring to watch movies without reading reviews first; I enjoy knowing nothing about the characters or plot before I begin watching, and consider critics' interpretation of the film's merits a distraction from the work of the filmmakers. To compare this with refusing to watch the end of a detective story where Poirot explains his theory is to claim that the (external) critic stands on the same footing as an (internal) element of the work, viz. one of the fictional characters in a story.

Likewise, complaining that I called Childish's work crappy is a non-starter; you may prefer the bloodless term "bad," but tone complaints aren't arguments.

I've been making a point of not dismissing art that I dislike with pseudo-objective classifications into good & bad, and now you're accusing me of using a tone argument? Bullshit.

As for your repeated harping on Billy Childish, I am not a stuckist but I would rather be stuck, stuck, stuck in a plunging elevator with a collection of velvet Elvis paintings than be subjected to any more of this egomaniac dialectic. You dismiss the stuckists because "authenticity is not available" without considering the possibility that what an artist wants is attention to the art work, not the recreation of his or her own aesthetic experience. It doesn't matter who, where, or why a painting is viewed or a composition listened to, but that it exerts an attraction in the first place. For myself, I don't make art for the purpose of being understood or to explain myself. I like the fact that I can never understand how it is perceived by a third party or even the subject, if it is figurative. There is nothing I wish to "say" with it. It exists and has some identity because it has some kind of internal coherence, not for its documentary or any other value. If it ended up in a landfill but caught someone's eye enough to make them pick it up that would be far more aesthetically successful than any contextual reconstruction of its creation.
posted by anigbrowl at 10:34 AM on March 23, 2012


Yet again, not what I said. You could just review what I wrote earlier instead of reinterpreting references to it.

Okay, then YOU tell me how I should interpret "If gender is a problem in getting exhibited then use a pseudonym. Like I say above, art does better when it's anonymous"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:46 AM on March 23, 2012


"The Dinner Party presupposes 'woman' as a catch-all, a category that automatically includes anyone who has a vagina and the ability to reproduce"

Wait... does it not?
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 12:26 PM on March 23, 2012


Okay, then YOU tell me how I should interpret "If gender is a problem in getting exhibited then use a pseudonym. Like I say above, art does better when it's anonymous"?

Ah, substituting one quote of mine for another now, eh?

When I referred art "promoted...as women's art" I gave the specific example of "important new women's art!" compared to "important new art!".

As for the quote above, anonymity does not merely exclude gender. If I am known for abstract expressionism but secretly long to paint like Norman Rockwell, maybe my efforts may be better attended to if they are not carrying the baggage of my existing oeuvre.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:04 PM on March 23, 2012


"Yet again, not what I said. You could just review what I wrote earlier instead of reinterpreting references to it."

You said, "Like I say above, art does better when it's anonymous. Artist's statements and curator's cultural condescension does more to keep women and minorities in an art ghetto than anything else. I don't want to see women's art or gay art or _____American art…"

You start out by privileging your interpretation over the artists, over anyone else's, and that you have only an interest in tautologically "engaging" art, rather than art made by anyone, well, not you, it seems.

"No. There's a difference between having prior conceptions about the world and its concept, and having preconceptions about a specific piece of art because I read reviews of it, studied the artist's bio, etc."

And your prior conceptions are going to take your experience as normative, and you don't want those challenged by having to come to the work on the artists' terms. I do have to say that I'm not quite sure where you manage to find art without knowing anything about its context, aside from the aforementioned middle of the street. Museums tend to be organized by period, by affinity, by theme… Likewise galleries. "Strange Fruit" sung in the '20s is different than if the song had been written today.

"And where have I done anything like this? I gave the specific example above of finding much of Francis Bacon's worth loathsome and repellent. I still think it is great art even though some of it makes me feel I'll. I think it's great partly because it makes me feel ill. But you just ignored that."

Fair enough. When you said, "I feel art ought to stand on its own two feet, as it were; a good piece of art should grab you independently of who made it or what semantic content it has. In fact, I'd say the definition of art is that it speaks to the viewer/listener/whatever directly, without inter mediation or explanation. For example, I fell in love with Georgia O'Keefe's work because I just happened to see some of it, rather than because she was presented to me as an Important Artist or even as an Important Woman Artist," you don't think that implies that bad art requires context to be able to affect you?

And as long as we're talking about ignoring points — you've managed to repeatedly ignore and misrepresent mine in your fit of pique.

"No it isn't. I'm entirely alive to the existence of contextual information and it's potential significance to the art, but I like to process the work first and then gather additional information. I gave the simple example of preferring to watch movies without reading reviews first; I enjoy knowing nothing about the characters or plot before I begin watching, and consider critics' interpretation of the film's merits a distraction from the work of the filmmakers. To compare this with refusing to watch the end of a detective story where Poirot explains his theory is to claim that the (external) critic stands on the same footing as an (internal) element of the work, viz. one of the fictional characters in a story."

The problem is that there's frequently visual art where the non-visual portions are integral to the work itself. Richard Long's walking lines don't look like much at all when displayed. In fact, pretty much all conceptual or performance art would have to be written off to conform to your standards, which would cut out a major section of 20th century art based on your arbitrary preferences.

Further, an artists' identity is often integral to the work, and that's what you started out by arguing against. That's, again, an argument from privilege ("I only like work that stands on its own; identity is irrelevant") that works to exclude and ghettoize much more than noting identity. You just don't care because it's not excluding something you consider important, because again, you're privileged.

"I've been making a point of not dismissing art that I dislike with pseudo-objective classifications into good & bad, and now you're accusing me of using a tone argument? Bullshit."

Wait, so your "art that does better" doesn't imply good and bad art? Or are you just not feeling particularly honest about that today?

"As for your repeated harping on Billy Childish, I am not a stuckist but I would rather be stuck, stuck, stuck in a plunging elevator with a collection of velvet Elvis paintings than be subjected to any more of this egomaniac dialectic."

I mentioned him, what, twice? And it's egomaniacal to say that no one can honestly engage with art without considering the context in which it's made? Also, I think you mistake what a dialectic is — you should be careful about that, lest you be reassigned to a Hegelian reeducation camp.

"You dismiss the stuckists because "authenticity is not available" without considering the possibility that what an artist wants is attention to the art work, not the recreation of his or her own aesthetic experience."

I don't understand what you mean by this. It doesn't seem to follow from anything, and doesn't seem to be a coherent statement.

"It doesn't matter who, where, or why a painting is viewed or a composition listened to, but that it exerts an attraction in the first place."

That's shock-art nonsense, and contradicts your nonsense about how better art doesn't need statements or context — if statements or context draw a viewer in, that would be exerting an attraction. But yes, it does matter who views a painting, where the painting is viewed, and why a painting is viewed. You're over-estimating the ability of sense experience to be independent from context. This is really well-known in audio circles, debunking claims of audiophiles. Hell, people will like a song more if they think more people have already listened to it, and they will defend that preference as independent and integral to their experience.
posted by klangklangston at 2:24 PM on March 23, 2012


Ah, substituting one quote of mine for another now, eh?

No, I'm referring you to the quote of yours that I've been talking about all along. If YOU claim a different quote of yours has a fuller opinion or something, you tell ME which of the gazillion things you've said in here you'd prefer I respond to.

When I referred art "promoted...as women's art" I gave the specific example of "important new women's art!" compared to "important new art!".

But this whole FPP hasn't been about "new" art, has it? It's been about a 40-year-old piece.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:17 PM on March 23, 2012


You're both being obtuse to the point of dishonesty. I have no more time for this bullshit.
posted by anigbrowl at 6:08 PM on March 23, 2012


Oh, bullshit. You made some comments that over-stated your opinion, got called on it, doubled down, ignored opportunities for graceful outs, and are now getting pouty and blaming your interlocutors.
posted by klangklangston at 6:38 PM on March 23, 2012


I love this piece too and feel lucky to be able to see it often - and sometimes still get chills when I do. I imagine the women coming in and sitting down, chatting to each other, talking, laughing, getting down to business.

I understand some of the criticisms of Judy Chicago's approach, and have my own personal quibbles about the actual set of women chosen, but I think ultimately the best critique AND respect to her is more audacious creative work from more women representing more perspectives.

I also love and recommend the Heritage Hall (and reread the posters hoping that more will stick). And then the whole feminist art gallery, the Brooklyn Museum in general, the fountain in front, and the sweet little Statue of Liberty in back.
posted by Salamandrous at 3:27 PM on March 27, 2012


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