I am still alive.
April 10, 2006 11:55 AM   Subscribe

I am still alive. Japanese conceptual artist On Kawara sent these telegrams to friends throughout the 70s. He's most famous for his date paintings, in which he paints the day's date on canvas before midnight. His book series I Met is a 12 volume list of the people he met in the '60s and '70s. His ten volume One Million Years (Past and Future) comprises books with every one of 1,000,000 years (998,031 BC-1969 AD (past) and 1980-1,001,980 AD (future) listed. Reading One Million Years is a series of installations of readings from the books. One was placed in Trafalgar Square, and in a further wrinkle in time, this guy caught it with his pinhole camera. Here is a short essay about Kawara's existentialism, and here's a longer essay (Google cache) about Kawara's art's ontology. (PDF)
posted by OmieWise (51 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Okay, while I admire his persistence and the "I am still alive" touches on a nerve, I can imagine few things more dull and uninspiring than a gallery full of pictures of arbitrary dates. It's a waste of goddamn wall space.

His theme may be universal, but it's also lacking any kind of unique perspective, which is what I expect of any good art, existentialist or otherwise.
posted by Parannoyed at 12:31 PM on April 10, 2006


i like.
posted by adrien at 12:41 PM on April 10, 2006


I saw one of his works at Dia Beacon gallery (cool space, definitely worth seeing). It was a series of paintings that had been made over 30 years or so, and were nothing more than the time and date that he had painted them. Also, if he had painted it in, for instance, Europe, it would have the date in the European form Day/Month/Year, or if in a country that used Kanji to write dates, he would do that too.

I really didn't think much of it. It didn't seem to take much skill, nor did I find it especially creative or innovative.
posted by banishedimmortal at 12:48 PM on April 10, 2006


banished, I'm surprised that anyone willing to make the trek up to Beacon wouldn't have gotten more out of the work.

I really didn't think much of it. It didn't seem to take much skill, nor did I find it especially creative or innovative. - well, hell, you could say the same thing about Agnes Martin, or Sol LeWitt, or many of minimalism's mainstays.

Perhaps, I might humbly suggest, in this case it's not *necessarily* about painterly craft, creativity or (ahem) "innovation," but process, discipline, and continuity?

(For the record, I find this work awe-inspiring. Great post, OmieWise.)
posted by adamgreenfield at 12:52 PM on April 10, 2006


I fall on the "this impressed me" side of the thread.
posted by yeolcoatl at 12:58 PM on April 10, 2006


I too think this sounds fantastic. I think that while one "can imagine few things more dull and uninspiring than a gallery full of pictures of arbitrary dates," that misses the point - it's thousands of pictures of dates displayed over the course of weeks, or a million years read aloud from a ten-volume book. The sheer scale redeems any lack in complexity of individual elements of these works, I think.
posted by jrb223 at 1:03 PM on April 10, 2006


adamgreenfield, there were many works up at Beacon that I really enjoyed. Kawara's just wasn't one of them.
posted by banishedimmortal at 1:07 PM on April 10, 2006


>>"I can imagine few things more dull and uninspiring than a gallery full of pictures of arbitrary dates. It's a waste of goddamn wall space."

&

<<"I really didn't think much of it. It didn't seem to take much skill, nor did I find it especially creative or innovative."

Good lord. you clearly have no capacity of the persistance of memory, and really these are sad statements conveying your ignorance of Kawara's commemoration of Japan, Asia, and general South Asia turmoil, especially that of the 20th century (WWII and Vietnam). On Kawara understood the importance of bearing witness and displaying the passage of the memory of Asia's uneasy past, and that is just one of the themes behind his Today Series. You can have your opinions, but better to base them on something quantifiable rather than saying, "It was lame".

Anyway...having *tried* to work with the artist in the past (his existental and meticulous nature makes him extremely hesitant to align his work within any organizations), I have nothing but respect for Kawara and his work. Good post on a very important artist of the 20th/21st century.
posted by naxosaxur at 1:09 PM on April 10, 2006


'Most days, he makes none.' Thats a great line, and a great concept in the 'Reading One Million Years' link.

I understand and appreciate that there is some art that I will niether understand nor appreciate, I've tried to find the 'process, discipline, and continuity' 'awe-inpiring' here, but have failed. To me, its uninspiring, yet pretentious...I need to spend seven days exercising my brain, I guess.
posted by sfts2 at 1:13 PM on April 10, 2006


me like.
posted by tkchrist at 1:14 PM on April 10, 2006


Parannoyed writes "Okay, while I admire his persistence and the 'I am still alive' touches on a nerve, I can imagine few things more dull and uninspiring than a gallery full of pictures of arbitrary dates."

I'm sure his date paintings aren't for everyone, and, to tell you the truth, although I like them and the Million Years books, the things of his that really floor me are the "I am still alive" telegrams and the I Met books. Unfortunately those are underrepresented on the web, so I had a hard time putting in more links to that stuff. To me there is something really compelling about the relentless cataloguing that goes into his projects, and while the subject matter may seem banal, as others have said, the whole exceeds each of the individual parts. I find it astonishing that someone takes, even a moment, to consciously link there day with every other day that they've lived.

I feel a similar sense of awe in the face of people who run every day for years and years on end.
posted by OmieWise at 1:20 PM on April 10, 2006


The sheer scale redeems any lack in complexity of individual elements of these works, I think.

So if somebody does something pointless and stupid for long enough, that makes it valuable? I have to say that I enjoy psychotic artistic behavior as much as the next person, and I'll go along with the 'I am alive' telegrams and all the people he met, but the date paintings, to quote Parannoyed, really are dull and uninspiring. An idiotic idea.

Not uplifting at all, like, say, Jonathan Borofsky's work with numbers, including his notion to write out the numbers from 1 to 3227146 on a stack of paper.
posted by LeLiLo at 1:21 PM on April 10, 2006


I'm sure he's talented but I find the date series pretty ridiculous. The motivation behind preserving history is decent enough, but outside of that it fails to make any connections for me when I have viewed them. What is different in the end display of these pieces than from any automated process? His touch, his specific strokes and physical relationship to the object - nothing more. There's a dissonance there that was always nagging me, and I wouldn't know what else to call it except pretentious.

On Kawara understood the importance of bearing witness and displaying the passage of the memory of Asia's uneasy past, and that is just one of the themes behind his Today Series. You can have your opinions, but better to base them on something quantifiable rather than saying, "It was lame".

How many people who walk by those date series have the capacity to make those historical connections and do so automatically based on the visual material alone? That's where I see the fundamental disconnect between the idea and the execution, aside from the fact that I'd consider his representation of any date versus that of a single box in any calendar absolutely equivalent.
posted by prostyle at 1:30 PM on April 10, 2006


Remind me never to have you over for a few beers, huh, lelilo? What on earth is up with the "your favorite band sucks" going on here?

Not to say that there aren't valid critiques that could be leveled at Kawara - but I'm afraid you'll have to do better than "pointless," "stupid," "idiotic," and so forth.

Especially since I'm willing to bet you haven't actually seen these paintings, your criticism combines the diagnostic acuity of a Bill Frist with an almost Hiltonian appreciation of understatement. I doff my Kevlar to you.
posted by adamgreenfield at 1:31 PM on April 10, 2006


Hey, Borofsky looks pretty cool. I hadn't seen that stuff before, and it's neat how influenced he clearly was by Kawara. I guess you can see a point to it all after all.
posted by OmieWise at 1:35 PM on April 10, 2006


While I can see there's going to be no changing of minds in this discussion, I will say that, with a work of this scope and existential dimensions, there doesn't seem to much of a point in seeing it in person. My imagination is quite capable of accurately envisioning how hearing somebody verbalize a string of years for an hour might be like.

Anyway, I'll agree; Borofsky seems cool. I wonder how he chose the numbers he works with?
posted by Parannoyed at 1:49 PM on April 10, 2006


I will say that...there doesn't seem to much of a point in seeing it in person.

!
posted by adamgreenfield at 1:50 PM on April 10, 2006


I don't care much for his date series (perhaps because I have seen too many of them in art shows and museums), but I remember seeing his One Million Years in a show 15 years ago and being extremely impressed. Browsing the pages was a moving and humbling experience: there was this large room and all these big volumes : our civilisation just took the last pages and my lifetime just a few lines. Thinking about the concept is not enough: one has to be there and physically experience it, touch the paper, turn the pages, read the lines. This piece really made me fall in love with contemporary art and of its uncanny ability to express the most powerful feelings or ideas through the most unexpected means.
posted by elgilito at 1:58 PM on April 10, 2006 [1 favorite]


Perhaps, I might humbly suggest, in this case it's not *necessarily* about painterly craft, creativity or (ahem) "innovation," but process, discipline, and continuity?

My fear is that this value system slants the odds towards the mentally ill. As anyone who watches the excelllent Devil and Daniel Johnston can attest, there's nothing like a constant psychosis for producing process, discipline, and continuity.
posted by illovich at 2:24 PM on April 10, 2006


I just want to explain my dismay, which will otherwise surely come off as snarky: the Date series consists of actual paintings of the given date, executed before the midnight in question.

If all he was doing was running a bunch of sheets off of a LaserJet that said APRIL 26th 1973 and so on...well, that would still have value, in my mind, but I could see where someone might conclude that it was a pointless sort of exercise with a little more justification.

But to muster the control necessary to produce paintings of this degree of precision, and to do so inside a 24-hour window? Admitedly, they're not large canvases, but color *me* impressed.

And that's a big part of why I think you *do* need to be able to actually see these things if you're going to write them off. At least do so from a defensible position.
posted by adamgreenfield at 2:28 PM on April 10, 2006


Oh, and illovich: I hear what you're saying, utterly. (Thus the emphasis on "necessarily.")

I'd also be inclined to problematize the notion that the fruit of a disease process can legitimately be called "discipline," but that is a slippery, slippery slope. ; . )
posted by adamgreenfield at 2:30 PM on April 10, 2006


I really don't mean this comment as a moderation of my post, I think people should have whatever reaction to On Kawara that they want to, but I've been thinking about my reaction to a couple of the posts here and wanted to comment in the spirit of discussion. I hope my desire is clear.

It's one thing to look at these links and to decide that Kawara is not your cup of tea. I can even envision a congent and convincing argument for why his art should be considered idiotic or (at least) insipid, and why conceptual art is itself flawed. (Although I think such a critique would do well to avoid praising conceptual artists as influenced by Kawara as Jonathan Borofsky is.) However, equating personal likes with quality seems like a shoddy and too easy reaction to something you don't like. Especially without seeing the work in person, which, despite what might seem like common sense, has a very different impact in person. elgilito sums up the depth of that impact, and I think that even the date paintings are very different when seen hanging on a wall than they are as a concept. Many people dislike Ulysses. as well, but few make the mistake of dismissing it because it's "only about one day."

The charges of pretentiousness and historical obscurity are equally difficult to support. Pretention suggests a showiness for its own sake, while the overriding charge levelled against him here is exactly the opposite, namely that he's so boring as to leave the viewer cold. The sustained nature of all of these projects alone would argue against the artificially assumed stance which the charge of pretention implies, except insofar as all art is by definition an artificially assumed stance, is by definition pretense. But as an actual criticism of the work, as a term with which to critique it, it's difficult to imagine an oeuvre less open to the charge. Kawara isn't some MFA student who thought this might be cool for a little while, he's made a life out of recording moments.

And what does it matter if the bulk of viewers don't bring to bear the history which might inform his work? We surely do not require that the terms of a work of art be transparently available to the consumer. Even if we agree that context is important to understanding and evaluation we don't allow people wholly ignorant of the context of a work of art to be the final arbiters of the art's quality, do we? This would be like insisting that even if an author is French, and even if their work hasn't been translated and we cannot read French, our opinion about their novel is adequately formed and should be respected. It's an absurd premise which at its best speaks to a radical narrowing of curiosity and rigor, and at its worst calls for artists to only make things which are transparent to everyone.

What I'm saying is that one's lack of excitement for, or dislike of, Kawara's art needs more than that to become a critical judgement.
posted by OmieWise at 2:45 PM on April 10, 2006


Metafilter: Any notion of the simple transmission and reception of messages between individuals is undermined by the over-reliance of language on an overrated logic.



/nifty post man.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:50 PM on April 10, 2006


So if somebody does something pointless and stupid for long enough, that makes it valuable? As long as it coheres as a whole, sure, why not. I also don't think the goal of the dates paintings were to uplift at all -- if anything they remind me of my utter insignificance.
posted by jrb223 at 3:00 PM on April 10, 2006


Bravo, OmieWise, and beautifully put.
posted by adamgreenfield at 3:01 PM on April 10, 2006


"Kawara isn't some MFA student who thought this might be cool for a little while, he's made a life out of recording moments."

Yes, but he's just writing the date. Surely there is more to recording a moment than just painting a number. A moment is more than a date.

For me, at least, I find his work devoid of content. It doesn't speak to me, which, ultimately is what art should do - speak to the viewer, and make them see things a little different than they did before.

I feel art ought to have content, that it should be about something.

I feel that if you take away the highfalutin' explanations, the work ITSELF ought to touch the viewer. The Mona Lisa still moves people because there's something in the emotional content of the painting that touches the viewer. Even if someone knew nothing about who painted it or why, the work itself inspires.

I feel that much the post-Duchamp "conceptual art" that relies on explanations outside of the work itself is mostly lazy and a copout.

But, like many things, it's all just Pepsi Blue.
posted by MythMaker at 3:37 PM on April 10, 2006


But, like many things, it's all just Pepsi Blue.

I'm sorry, are you saying "all" art is just Pepsi Blue?

"A moment is more than a date." might work for you, but for him, how do you know that "date" doesn't contain elements of the moment/day? There are font/color/size/spacing changes in a lot of his paintings.

I think it just comes down to taste, I get much more out of a Rothko (seen live can make me cry) than I do a Raphael. You don't have to answer, but what artists inspire you. I don't ask that snarkily at all, I'm genuinely curious.
posted by Bear at 3:54 PM on April 10, 2006


"An unexamined life is not worth living."

Good post.
posted by Haruspex at 4:10 PM on April 10, 2006


Omniwise,

With all due respect to for the artist and your post, I can think of little that embodies 'pretentiousness' more than assuming that someone wants to look at various dates on paper just because you painted them. I called it pretentious, and said nothing about being bored, so I am not sure where you are coming up with your response. The essense of art is vision/creativity coupled with technique and mastery of a medium. If we assume that the work is creative, then where is the technique? Can someone articulate the deeper meaning behind these works? (probably in some of the links, but I cannot muster enough interest.) Does 'good' art need to be explained? I am not an art critic, but do enjoy many styles...just not this one.

Just as I do not think that those that enjoy the work are 'stupid' or 'insipid', those that do not are not so either. I tend to agree with MythMaker's points as well.

If an artist creates a work that requires some 'special insight' to inform him, they need to inure themselves to the fact that those that don't will call it 'crap.'
posted by sfts2 at 4:56 PM on April 10, 2006


Definitely, sfts2.

I think pretentious is the perfect word for the date paintings (using the definition "Claiming or demanding a position of distinction or merit, especially when unjustified." The "claim" is made by exhibiting the paintings)

The exhibit is so terribly uninspired and outragoues that it's hard to come up with a criticism. I believe the onus is on the fans of this art to explain why it's not as awful as it appears.

This is the type of "art" that turns people away from abstract art that actually is inspired and worthwhile. I'd call it crap, but I literally believe a painting of crap would have more artistic merit.
posted by null terminated at 5:08 PM on April 10, 2006


Then I'm afraid that you have no idea what "pretentious" means, sfts2.

Kawara isn't exactly shouting from the rooftops, asking for recognition or acclaim or notoriety or any of the things which would justify an epithet like that. He's not making a spectacle of himself; he's not asking you to admire him or dress like him or wear his cologne. He's damn near reclusive, in fact.

So I'd ask you to examine why the mere idea of his work seems to make you uncomfortable - so uncomfortable that you feel the need to insult it. I would wager that it has a lot to do with the fact that you are both - by your own admission, and like a great many other people - lazy and ignorant.

If you can believe it, too, I'm not trying to insult you. I'm just trying to point out that art appreciation is hard work, that you might not have done the work necessary to understand this particular artist's output, and that by your own testimony you are disinclined to even try.

It's not that Kawara's art requires some "special insight" to understand it, it's that it rewards fearless and determined inquiry over time, which is something that we no longer teach in schools. But if there's a problem here, I would argue that it resides in the many like you and not in what's hanging up in Beacon.
posted by adamgreenfield at 5:12 PM on April 10, 2006


adamgreenfield: so to clarify, if you don't find a painting of a date fascinating, you're "lazy and ignorant" and afraid to exhibit "fearless and determined inquiry over time"?

There's good art and there's unique art. I think a blank canvas is kind'of cool. I can see it's place in a gallery and the meaning behind that. It's unique and possibly even interesting, but not great art.

Let's say I created paintings that were simply an integer on canvas. I might start a gallery with numbers like "2342" and "19935" and "21353434" and "65178". Would you walk in and stroke your chin and say how deep and artistic they were and look down on anyone who didn't appreciate them? Probably.
posted by null terminated at 5:23 PM on April 10, 2006


great post
posted by farishta at 5:26 PM on April 10, 2006


No, null terminated, I wouldn't - not unless you had literally devoted your entire life on this earth to the practice of executing those paintings, delicately and with extraordinary humility. Then I might think there was something special in them, sure - because there would be.

Look, I need to get out of this conversation, because I'm obviously way too close to it, and I'm clearly not expressing myself very well. Anything I might want to say, OmieWise has already said better and with more patience and tact than I've been able to muster.

But I would like to ask those of you who are intent on reducing Kawara's work (or those of us who appreciate it) to a caricature of chinstroking, avant-garde pomposity to consider the idea that *just maybe* there is something going on in these paintings that conveys itself to those who are willing to go see them and stand in front of them and listen to what they are trying to say. I hope that's not too much to ask, and ask your indulgence of my inarticulate flailings upthread.
posted by adamgreenfield at 5:33 PM on April 10, 2006


But I would like to ask those of you who are intent on reducing Kawara's work (or those of us who appreciate it) to a caricature of chinstroking, avant-garde pomposity to consider the idea that *just maybe* there is something going on in these paintings that conveys itself to those who are willing to go see them and stand in front of them and listen to what they are trying to say.

That's very fair. My apologies for being flippant.
posted by null terminated at 5:36 PM on April 10, 2006


I just don't see the pretentiousness unless its simply a term to be applied to anything that someone does for public consumption which you don't like. I'm serious. If you don't like it you're likely to think that it takes too much upon itself, that it thrusts itself forward, and if it's made for consumption, then that makes it pretentious. There's really no counter for the charge, which either makes it simply a matter of taste or obviates it, you have to take your pick. What I can say again is that the level of commitment Kawara has brought to his work seems to militate against dismissing it with such a haphazard phrase.

The notion that this art is without content, that simply blows me away. It's so clearly about how to mark and define a life, how to handle and assess the passing of time and of mortality, how to attempt to communicate with other people about the terms of existence, among many other things. It isn't abstract, it's conceptual, and the concept seems fairly straightforward to me.

By contrast, what's the Mona Lisa about? Seriously, what's it about. It need not be about anything, I'm using content to talk about it because the lack of content in Kawara's art was raised. What it isn't is simply beautiful. All art requires context. Art isn't nature, even photographs live or die by framing. The beauty of the Mona Lisa is an artifice, it's a construct, it's an artifact of particular movements in Western European art history. The fact that we see beauty in it is not beside the point, but neither can it be used as an a priori justification for the art, since part of making art is producing the terms by which it is understood. If this were not the case then realism would have been the form of art from the beginning of recorded history. Clever use of computer tools, like Illustrator and Photoshop would be the evident apotheosis of art. But neither of these things are true, realism is a particular historical development (and in no way a teleological culmination) in the way we think about art and the world, and Illustrator and Photoshop produce far more dreck than they do art.

Again, think what you want about Kawara, he may well make shitty art, but in order to really criticize him I think you have to go beyond simply asserting that currently accepted artistic conventions are in some way sacrosanct and natural.
posted by OmieWise at 7:41 PM on April 10, 2006 [1 favorite]


This would be like insisting that even if an author is French, and even if their work hasn't been translated and we cannot read French, our opinion about their novel is adequately formed and should be respected. It's an absurd premise which at its best speaks to a radical narrowing of curiosity and rigor, and at its worst calls for artists to only make things which are transparent to everyone.

Conversely, everyone has their own experiences on their own timelines, and history means something different to everyone. The language analogy falls flat for me because a tribal society still has some measure of time and its subsequent passing and they celebrate things in their own way that we will never, ever be able to relate to.

It's so clearly about how to mark and define a life, how to handle and assess the passing of time and of mortality, how to attempt to communicate with other people about the terms of existence, among many other things. It isn't abstract, it's conceptual, and the concept seems fairly straightforward to me.

Yeah, great. I'm surrounded by its effects every day. I respect your opinions and I greatly respect the authors work, I simply find this series devoid. It doesn't need to be defended, it just is.
posted by prostyle at 7:52 PM on April 10, 2006


The sheer scale redeems any lack in complexity of individual elements of these works, I think.

Or, you know, it doesn't. Here's my latest piece, it's a list of the minutes it would take to write a perl script whose output is any of his works of art:

1
2
3
4
5
posted by odinsdream at 8:04 PM on April 10, 2006


Perl can make paintings? Wow.
posted by fake at 8:53 PM on April 10, 2006


Great post, OmieWise, and a great follow-up comment.

The essense of art is vision/creativity coupled with technique and mastery of a medium.

God, that's a depressingly narrow view of art.
posted by jack_mo at 10:44 PM on April 10, 2006


Interesting thread.

My two bits: all human activity is art, or none of it is.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:11 PM on April 10, 2006


Oh, man. I was going to post earlier on about how terrible this is, but I refrained. No longer...

This art is utterly meritless, in my opinion. The very idea that people consider this garbage art pains me in my very soul. Furthermore, I will not allow anyone to consider (on my part) this pain evidence of the power of this "art," because I feel this pain on behalf of thousands, millions of people who mistakenly consider it worthwhile. This guy represents everything I hate about contemporary art. There is nothing communicated - nothing. South Asia turmoil? It's entirely in your head, I'm very sorry to say, but there is no connection between the date of said turmoil and the painting he has made, other than that they were made on the same day, which to me is completely inconsequential.

Forget "currently accepted artistic conventions," this is trash - less than worthless because it sucks meaning from other contemporary art by association.

IMHO.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 12:13 AM on April 11, 2006


The very idea that people consider this garbage art pains me in my very soul.

Wow, you must be incredibly sensitive that this pains you so much. Seriously. When I see art I don't like/enjoy/"get", I usually just utter, "meh". But I have yet to see a piece that is so awful that it pains me in my very soul.

Also, there's nothing humble about your opinion, it actually seems rather arrogant.
posted by Bear at 1:24 AM on April 11, 2006


What this guy has created is empty - it's not art, or anything really as far as I'm concerned and it isn't what causes the pain. What hurts me is that so many people consider it important.

And you're probably right about my opinion... when it comes to contemporary art I don't think I'm very pleasant (or humble) at all, which is why I try not to pay attention to it. But when it's right in front of me like this on a site I frequent, being wowed over, I have to voice my objections.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 2:45 AM on April 11, 2006


It's entirely in your head

Well of course it is. Where exactly does your appreciation and understanding of the sort of art you like happen? I mean, when you look at a painting of a traditional kind (for want of a better term, you get what I mean) you have to bring as much to it as a viewer of a piece by Karawa does. In fact, probably more: I often think that work that is, eg., representative, technically accomplished, etc. is harder to really get to grips with than something conceptual because it appears at first glance to be 'understandable'.

Dunno why I'm trying vaguely to change your mind (maybe because your username tells me you must like some relatively out there contemporary music, so there's hope) but folk who dismiss contemporary art annoy me as much as contemporary art annoys you! Mostly because I think they, and you, are missing out on one of the great pleasures in life.
posted by jack_mo at 5:43 AM on April 11, 2006


All of these wonderful qualities may exist in these pieces (The Date Series only), and the artist may be an extremely innovative and dedicated and all of the other qualities that have been mentioned. I can certainly salute his these qualities and appreciate and admire them.

"It's so clearly about how to mark and define a life, how to handle and assess the passing of time and of mortality, how to attempt to communicate with other people about the terms of existence, among many other things. It isn't abstract, it's conceptual, and the concept seems fairly straightforward to me."

However, the work, in and of itself does nothing to convey any of these qualities. If it does, perhaps its just my igonorance or laziness.

Its just a little disturbing that folks need to resort to personal insults to 'defend' the work. Speaking only for myself, I appreciate Omniwise bringing the art and artist to my attention.

As far as my definition of art being " a depressingly narrow view of art."

"The essense of art is vision/creativity coupled with technique and mastery of a medium."

I guess its easy to criticize without offering an alternative definition, and perhaps it would make sense for you to exercise some of adamgreenfields's 'fearless and determined inquiry' to determine how you would define art and share it.

Lastly, just a couple of random points.

The Mona Lisa differs from this work because it is beautiful, in and of itself. Its stands on its own, not needing an essay or chin-stroker to explain what it means or how the viewer should interpret it. Thats why its good art and has stood the test of time. Will people be viewing these paintings in 500 years? Time will tell.

Again, speaking only for myself, my choice of the word 'pretentious' was not haphazard, regardless of how it differs from your opinion, it was considered, I understand exactly what it means, and in my opinion, it conveys exactly what I meant it to. There is plenty of art that I do not like that I would not call 'pretentious', in fact the vast majority. I do however think that pretentiousness is in fact a core quality of a significant portion of contemporary art, particularly minimalist.
posted by sfts2 at 7:57 AM on April 11, 2006


I guess its easy to criticize without offering an alternative definition, and perhaps it would make sense for you to exercise some of adamgreenfields's 'fearless and determined inquiry' to determine how you would define art and share it.

Fair point, and sorry for seeming to insult you, that wasn't my intention at all (was just exasperated as I spend a silly amount of time defending contemporary art to my more cynical friends).

For what it's worth, I've thought a lot about how one might properly define art, and written about it a fair bit too (studied aesthetics/the philosophy of art at university, my job is writing about art), and that's why I didn't bother with a definition - just assumed you'd know we art lovers are happy to define absolutely anything as art!

Really, the only possible definition for me is something inclusive along the lines of 'Art is that which an artist does/makes/says/thinks and positions in certain contexts'. Then you have to define 'artist'. As someone who makes art. I'm joking a little, but I don't think this is necessarily as useless a way of thinking about art as it may appear, nor does effectively defining anything/everything as art make the term meaningless.
posted by jack_mo at 10:20 AM on April 11, 2006


I do however think that pretentiousness is in fact a core quality of a significant portion of contemporary art, particularly minimalist.

Heh, I'd've thought minimalism was among the least pretentious strands in art. But then I just reviewed a show which pastiched the visual language of the Berlin/Cologne New Painting movement (Kippenberger et al) to undermine the idea of the heroic male painter while simultaneously cocking a snook at the sort of militant feminism that would wish to undermine the idea of the heroic male painter. There were also country and western songs involved. The minimalists I love - Fred Sandback, Lawrence Weiner, etc. - don't seem to be even faintly pretentious compared to that sort of arched eyebrow "Look at me!" bibble.
posted by jack_mo at 10:30 AM on April 11, 2006


This is all a difficult discussion because, it seems to me, there are two entirely different views of art here, and two takes on what makes good art.

The view that I share is that art should touch the viewer. If I come across a piece of art out of context, how does it affect me? If it moves me, then it has achieved something very hard to do. I believe the human reaction to art should be visceral, emotional and aesthetic. A song should make me feel - a novel should open my eyes, a painting should make me re-examine.

The problem is that, in the 20th century, IMHO, starting with Duchamp, but continuing on with a whole host of other artists, the content of the art itself got separated from the intention of the artist. And while it's interesting to me to know what the artist's intention was when producing a work of art, ultimately the work itself must be able to stand on its own and have meaning and content on its own, separate from the artist's intention.

That's why the Sistine Chapel ceiling is still beautiful, aside from whatever historic moment produced it, or why Grecian statues are beautiful to people who know nothing of the history of the culture that produced them.

The opposing view, shared by those who like this artist's work, is that the conceptual is all and that the actual content of the work is much less important, as long as the artist was intending something great.

Well, to me, it's great to have intention, but the work itself is most important - and I just don't get very excited by paintings of dates.

That's what I meant when I said it's all Pepsi Blue - some people are drawn to the content of a work, and some people are satisfied with an interesting intention on the part of the artist.
posted by MythMaker at 10:38 AM on April 11, 2006


MythMaker-That's a cogent summary of some of the issues involved, but I think you're too sweeping in your painting of these two positions as mutually exclusive. That should come as no surprise. To me these aren't mutally exclusive positions. I think you naturalize the beauty that you see in the Sistine Chapel, seeing as intrinsic something that's by definition mediated by artistic production, at the same time that you insist that the content of context is much more extrinsic to much of conceptual art than it necessarily is. See elgigito's comment above about the experience of seeing some of this work in person.

I'm glad that conceptual art exists, just as I'm glad that Renaissance art exists. The former serves, for me, to make more explicit the things about the latter which we could too easily take for granted. Ben Marcus has recently written a really good justification for "experimental fiction", part of which is online at the Harper's site, which addresses some of these issues.

Thanks for the discussion.
posted by OmieWise at 10:49 AM on April 11, 2006


Thanks again for the post...
posted by sfts2 at 1:26 PM on April 11, 2006


« Older A hate crime in Harlem?   |   Holy Racist Athletic Gear, Batman! Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments