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May 30, 2005 12:00 AM   Subscribe

Guerilla Girls... behaving badly? “I don’t know whether this is the kind of thing that happens with any kind of group as time passes. All I know is that people are very upset and sad.”
posted by semmi (34 comments total)

 
In their latest literary action, Bitches, Bimbos and Ballbreakers, the girls have turned their hairy heads.

Fall 2003

Time passes. I'm so saturated with funny quirky cultural satire.
posted by longsleeves at 12:18 AM on May 30, 2005


The Guerilla Girls gave a presentation at my university (Michigan) a few years ago. On the one hand, what they did and do is important, and perhaps it was an aid to the rise in involvement of women in the contemporary art world. Certainly, catalogues of shows like the Whitney Biennial include nearly 50% women (maybe more).

However, in my opinion when your work is given over to such overt, practical content, it tends to become, in my view, not so interesting. A bit of a catch-22 in their case, as it does seem like their work had an effect.
posted by Slothrop at 7:04 AM on May 30, 2005


[pulled the dworkin comments, feel free to re-add them if they relate at all to the post]
posted by jessamyn at 9:00 AM on May 30, 2005


"Feminist artists." If that means "artists who happen to be feminists" that's fine, but if they mean "producing 'art' intended to further a particular political point of view" then to hell with 'em -- that's propaganda, not art. I know a Postmodernist or a Socialist Realist will say there's no difference, but that's what's wrong with them.
posted by davy at 9:04 AM on May 30, 2005


Can propaganda be artistic, davy?
posted by odinsdream at 9:27 AM on May 30, 2005


odinsdream : "Can propaganda be artistic, davy?"

Good question, and I know where you're going with it, but keep in mind that one possible objection is that something being "artistic" is not necessarily the same as it being "art".
posted by Bugbread at 9:36 AM on May 30, 2005


Some would say that art is the personal propaganda of each artist, respectively.
posted by Jon-o at 10:01 AM on May 30, 2005


Jon-o : "Some would say that art is the personal propaganda of each artist, respectively."

Sure...some would say that...It seems like it would frequently be wrong, though.

If I draw a picture of interlocking squares, what propaganda have I produced? Or if I draw my hand? Or a guy in a space suit hula-hooping? If I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything, it's not propaganda.
posted by Bugbread at 10:12 AM on May 30, 2005


Some would say that art is the personal propaganda of each artist, respectively.

I think this is true in modern times. Previously, the history of art was marketing (propaganda) for pharaohs, Kings, religion, the monied bourgeois, nations, political movements, etc., until it became self aggrandizing of the artist.
posted by semmi at 10:18 AM on May 30, 2005


If I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything, it's not propaganda.

Nor is it art. Art is a creative endeavor that aims to communicate something to you. Art does not exist without an audience. Without getting into semantics, it is as much about convincing someone to see the world through your eyes as a work of propaganda does on behalf of the abstract notion of fasces or body politic or whatever. The line between Art and Propaganda is divided only along who its benefactor happens to be.
posted by AlexReynolds at 10:29 AM on May 30, 2005


bugbread and davy
It's as simple as:
If you're not trying to be convincing, then you're not working on your art hard enough.

What's the point of making art that's not assertive?

(I'm using "propaganda" loosely, in a non-political sense. It's more of "My art is propaganda for me and my point of view.")

But ultimately, this is the difficult thing about art. It inherently means something different to everyone. The lines and limits are really blurry.

And the Guerilla Girls were propagating a major equal rights issue in the arts. Women are seriously underrepresented in major museums and galleries. Men still dominate the canon of modernism and these women (the Guerilla Girls) were trying to get everyone's attention for long enough to point that out.
posted by Jon-o at 10:36 AM on May 30, 2005


I second AlexReynolds
posted by Jon-o at 10:42 AM on May 30, 2005


AlexReynolds : "Art is a creative endeavor that aims to communicate something to you."

It is a creative effort that can aim to communicate something to you. Or it can just exist as it is, as an ornamental/decorative/aesthetic creation. If you consider that also "communicating", then we're just reducing the word to meaninglessness, as one could also argue that a rock is an object that endeavors to communicate something to you, that being "I am a rock". It also makes everything propaganda, and, again, isn't as such a useful definition, so I hope it's not the direction you're moving with this.

AlexReynolds : "Art does not exist without an audience"

I have a drawer full of art that says otherwise.

Jon-o : "If you're not trying to be convincing, then you're not working on your art hard enough."

This may explain the divorce that regular people feel from the art world. Art is now considered to be about Message, about Statement. Personally, I love art, but I can't stand Art. I just ordered the Art of Adrian Smith, in fact. Largely black and white photorealistic surreal drawings of characters and stories from Warhammer 40K (a game). I find it appealing, aesthetically enthralling, technically brilliant, and moving. It doesn't try to convince me of anything, though, except that "Nurgle is an ugly god" and "The space marines are pretty damn grim".

Jon-o : "What's the point of making art that's not assertive?"

To make an object of beauty or aesthetic appeal?
posted by Bugbread at 11:28 AM on May 30, 2005


I have a drawer full of art that says otherwise.

Art is conversation. That's why we put sculptures outside, paintings on the wall, and avant garde improv bands in performance spaces. Even ornaments are artistic, e.g., gargoyles on cathedral bracestones. Art doesn't mean much if it isn't there for us to take in. I'd argue your overlapping squares are doodles but not art. Knowing something is art is not as subjective as people claim.

To make an object of beauty or aesthetic appeal?

I'd suggest that deciding what is beauty and aesthetic is a collaborative, ever-developing process. No one has managed to develop concepts of beauty out of a hermetic vacuum. Taste does not exist in a vacuum.

Sorry to derail. I'll shut up now.
posted by AlexReynolds at 11:40 AM on May 30, 2005


AlexReynolds : "Art doesn't mean much if it isn't there for us to take in."

True. Art is more meaningful to more people if more people know of it. But that doesn't mean that it ceases to be art if it is unknown. If, for example, someone digs up a tomb decorated with exquisite sculpture and paintings, would we say that it was art when created, ceased to be art when forgotten, and became art again when rediscovered?

AlexReynolds : "I'd argue your overlapping squares are doodles but not art."

What, then, of Jackson Pollock? Was it his theorization that made his paintings into art? If he'd produced the exact same pieces, but not had an underlying theory or philosophy, would the exact same creation not have been art?

AlexReynolds : "Knowing something is art is not as subjective as people claim."

There, I sort of agree. I'd modify it to be "Knowing something is not art is not as subjective as people claim." Too often I see people throw around phrases like "that's not art". That's why I'm objecting so strenuously here; y'all seem to be taking the position of saying "that's not art" for things without meaning.

For example:



I consider that to be art, not a doodle. Not fine art, just something I randomly stumbled across that I figure is art. I don't know what the meaning is. For all I know, there is absolutely no meaning to it. The artist may or may not be trying to convince me of anything. However, I figure it's still art.

I guess my rule of thumb is: If you think it's art, it's probably art. But if you think it isn't art, it may still be art. Ascribing additional factors to the definition of art in order to limit it just makes you more likely to be wrong when determining something isn't art.
posted by Bugbread at 12:22 PM on May 30, 2005


Then there's Henry Darger, whose work was discovered only after he died, and was done--apparently--without ever being intended to be seen by anyone but Darger himself. It's still art, isn't it?

Of course it is. Art doesn't require an audience; some people make art simply for their own enjoyment, or as personal therapy.
posted by interrobang at 12:29 PM on May 30, 2005


It's still art, isn't it?

Was it called art before or after it was found? Are things their names? Can things have names before we know them? It's an interesting question. Helpings of Heidegger and Te Tao Ching all around. As an atheist, my take on it is that things do not have meaningful existence until we conceptualize or name them. Existence only has meaning where we apply meaning. What is meaningful comes about from the living, ongoing conversation we have about it. Darger's work would otherwise be an evolutionary dead-end. Its significance would otherwise have been born and died with him. It might be art but who would know?
posted by AlexReynolds at 12:36 PM on May 30, 2005


I've seen it speculated that Darger's work was more compulsion than art, but I believe that it was art even before anyone else was around to see it. I make plenty of things for my own enjoyment, work that I never display to the public. I sometimes make art that is just for the wall behind my computer.

Maybe if I have people over, it suddenly becomes art because other people have seen it?
posted by interrobang at 12:40 PM on May 30, 2005


My personal definition of art:
Work that helps me reflect on the world and my place in it. Reflect on the inner world too. The maker sees it: it is art.

I don't think propaganda (or marketing) would meet this definition of art. Guerilla Girls probably do. Pretty pictures? "Christy's world" by Wyeth definitely. That landscape above my sister-in-law's couch no way. If bisley's painting above provokes you then I vote it's art. Otherwise the man is employing the techniques of art to decorate.

for me the most compelling art is sensed as an almost tidal pull on the subtle bodies (emotions,.), the brain is left to make up stories after the fact.

martin puryear blows my mind

posted by pointilist at 12:55 PM on May 30, 2005


Maybe if I have people over, it suddenly becomes art because other people have seen it?

If you create something beautiful, but no one sees it, it could be art, but who would know but yourself? When you die, is it still art? Meaning is meaningful is only when we're around to ascribe it to things. If we're dead, it's just stuff.
posted by AlexReynolds at 12:57 PM on May 30, 2005


Or to say, if we're dead, it may as well just be stuff. Who would know?
posted by AlexReynolds at 1:01 PM on May 30, 2005


Yeah, but it's just stuff to begin with. All aesthetics are completely subjective, anyway. What if someone were to make something that they considered art, only to display it and to have the overall consensus be that it "wasn't art"? Would it then cease to be art? Or was it never art to begin with?

I think the discussion of what is versus what isn't art is largely a moot one, especially since most of the decisions that art is not art are made by politically-motivated people hoping that an image they don't like would just go away.
posted by interrobang at 1:03 PM on May 30, 2005


Then there's Henry Darger, whose work was discovered only after he died, and was done--apparently--without ever being intended to be seen by anyone but Darger himself. It's still art, isn't it?

Michael Bonesteel's Darger anthology contains some references from Darger's work that are addressed to an outside audience, indicating that Darger considered his work to be for publication (or at least fantasized about it).

Richard Foreman, on the other hand, has said in interviews that his art is something he creates expressly for himself. He considers the audience a necessary evil that he would dispense with if he could.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 1:38 PM on May 30, 2005


AlexReynolds : "Was it called art before or after it was found? Are things their names? Can things have names before we know them?"

1) After
2) No
3) No, but we can name them retroactively. For example, I can say that a treasure chest I found buried in my back yard today was a treasure chest yesterday as well, even though I wasn't aware of it at the time.

Perhaps I'm just a utilitarian, but while I find the concept of concepts being dependent entirely on human interaction to be true, I find it in most cases to be useless. A similar comparison is the concept of solid matter: there is none. Matter is just energy which repels other energy. I fall through the floor not because it's a solid object, but because its electrons repel my electrons. But, again, while I know this is eminently true, I still refer to my table as a solid, water as a liquid, and the helium in a balloon as a gas.

So, in a certain sense, I entirely agree with you. However, I think that maintaining that degree of specifity clouds the issue more than it helps, even though it's true.

So, art is something that we assign. It does not "exist" in its own right. And completely unknown art, by that token, could be said to be "not art yet". However, by the same token, art is a concept that can be assigned to theoreticals. The fact that art is not "real" applies equally well when talking about discovered art. Darger's art was art before anyone found it, and would be art even if we had never found it. It would be unknown art. Just like a 5 foot tall ant, wandering around in a desert somewhere, only to fall into a crevice and die, would be a large ant, whether we knew of it or not.

So, as you can probably guess, I believe that Darger's art was art, whether or not anyone ever found out about it. And, following from that, I don't believe an audience is essential to define art. Which leads me to conclude that an artist does not have to be trying to convery anything to anyone for their art to be art. Therefore I don't think that art must have a message (though it's certainly welcome to do so...though I must confess that I think a message in art is often just a way of covering up deficiencies in artistic ability)
posted by Bugbread at 2:28 PM on May 30, 2005


/puts on gorilla mask & jumps up and down, yelling "hey, why are all the artists cited in this thread male? Where are references to the women artists?"
posted by madamjujujive at 2:34 PM on May 30, 2005


madamjujujive : "hey, why are all the artists cited in this thread male? Where are references to the women artists?"

Apparently, and quite unfortunately, in my experience they're busy painting pictures I don't particularly care for.
posted by Bugbread at 2:46 PM on May 30, 2005


Jon-o : "What's the point of making art that's not assertive?"

To make an object of beauty or aesthetic appeal?

Beauty asserts itself. So does aesthetics.
posted by Jon-o at 3:34 PM on May 30, 2005


Jon-o : "Beauty asserts itself. So does aesthetics."

I'm totally losing you...what do you believe propaganda is?
posted by Bugbread at 3:44 PM on May 30, 2005


In my experience, art doesn't need a dialogue to exist but it does need the audience to become alive.
I mean, my favorite kind of experience is discovering new art, seeing good work that I haven't seen before. Second to that is to reexamine familiar work with a new perspective.
Of course artists make their work to satisfy themselves. I know I do. But I'm also fully aware that there will inevitably be an audience for it. However, being aware of an audience is not the same as catering to them. Since half of my love for art comes from being an audience and from the joy of discovery, it comes across in my work in such a way that I hope to transmit the joy of discovery.



Therefore I don't think that art must have a message (though it's certainly welcome to do so...though I must confess that I think a message in art is often just a way of covering up deficiencies in artistic ability)


Don't you realize that denying a message IS ITSELF a message? Art inevitably communicates. If you're not trying to read it, then you're not meeting the artist halfway.
posted by Jon-o at 3:48 PM on May 30, 2005


Jon-o : "Don't you realize that denying a message IS ITSELF a message?"

No. First, I never mentioned "denying". Second, if denying a message is a message, it is ipso facto impossible to deny a message. So denying a message, by definition, cannot be a message.

But, again, more important is that I'm not talking about "denying a message", I'm talking about "not having one".

And, again, if the idea is that "aesthetics which attempt to convince are propaganda", and your foundation is "all aesthetics try to convince", then by the same meterstick, my doodles on paper are propaganda, as they are not trying to convince anyone of anything, and therefore, by your standard, are trying to convince people of something. Which means "propaganda" is a pretty useless term; it appears to mean "anything resulting from human interaction". My fingernail clippings are propaganda.
posted by Bugbread at 4:25 PM on May 30, 2005


Apparently, and quite unfortunately, in my experience they're busy painting pictures I don't particularly care for.

/sends a Gorilla Girl squad to picket bugbread's house.
posted by madamjujujive at 7:35 PM on May 30, 2005


Bugbread

Your doodles are aesthetic propaganda only if you say that they're Art.

Art does two things (but not exclusively, by any means).
It:
a) Corroborates existing notions of aesthetics.
b) Asserts new notions.

If I make paintings like Thomas Kinkade, I'm sending a message (and the propaganda) that reinforces his aesthetic notions. I'm subscribing to his philosophy and propagating it.

If I make paintings that are deliberately opposed to his, then I'm asserting my own aesthetic propaganda.

My fingernail clippings are propaganda.
Yeah, they can be. Look up Tim Hawkinson. He made a sculpture out of his nail clippings.

But, again, more important is that I'm not talking about "denying a message", I'm talking about "not having one".

By having no message beyond the formal appearance of the artwork, you're sending a message. You're asserting a specific philosophy of art. It's absolutely impossible to have message-free art.

If you're making automatic doodles about nothing or anything and then claiming that they're art (which is totally legitimate), then you've got to know that there's a school of Surrealism that relies heavily on unconscious action and automatic drawing. By putting your doodles into the world, even if they have no specific meaning, you're having a dialogue with movements like Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism whether you like it or not. People will read that in your work.

If you're consciously making idealized, classical, academic paintings of nude figures only for their technical accuracy and surface quality, then you're asserting an aesthetic philosophy. Whether you like it or not, you're reacting for or against something that already exists.

The nature of Art is to have meaning.
I'll agree with you that some artists substitute obfuscation, opacity, and vagueness for genuine content. But the truth is, most don't. And while it's fine to appreciate works of art simply for their surface appearance (many people do), you've got to assume that a work of art is telling you something.
As an artists who talks with artists, we're generally concerned with how convincing our work is. The "strength" of a work lies in its execution and its content working together. When it all comes together, the artwork is not only asserting an aesthetic philosophy, it's also transmitting specific, personal content from the artist to the viewer. This assertion is a kind of propaganda (but not in a negative way).
posted by Jon-o at 9:57 PM on May 30, 2005


madamjujujive : "/sends a Gorilla Girl squad to picket bugbread's house."

Don't get me wrong, my comment is in no way meant to be disparaging female artists. In fact, there's the distinct possibility that, as the Guerilla Girls are fighting, female artists are underexposed, so I haven't seen many female artists I like due to lack of exposure.

Jon-o : "it's also transmitting specific, personal content from the artist to the viewer. This assertion is a kind of propaganda (but not in a negative way)."

I guess that's where the disagreement lies. Perhaps my issue isn't so much with the definition of art (especially as it's come to be reflected through the course of the discussion; I strongly disagree with some of the initial statements, but the later followup is much more acceptable to me), but of propaganda, which I think is something which tries to convince the viewer (not just communicate to the viewer) about something besides the art itself.
posted by Bugbread at 8:30 AM on May 31, 2005


The Guerilla Girls are one the Billboard Liberation Front's Strategic Partners. They have a long and humorous history in Culture Jamming the AdSpace™. The BLF has a policy of not addressing political issues because we don't care about politics, but we applaud any group that can pull it off with humor and pizzazz no matter how oblique or asinine the message. It's not what you say, but how you say it, or have you never watched television?

ps. we improved a McDee's billboard this weekend, swing on by the site and check it out.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 2:04 PM on May 31, 2005


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