Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Ethics of Art

I found this wonderfully pithy essay by Robert Fulford over at the National Post that muses on his ideas of the ethics of art and those who appreciate it (he calls it his religion). Instead of a didactic treatise that devolves into a gobblygook stream of art-speaked laced adjectives, it’s a rather light treatment of the topic.

Fulford even writes, “we also can't claim that immersion in the arts will create a lively mind. Art education has produced armies of learned bores […] As for those who create art, we get it all wrong if we imagine their work makes them admirable in private life. Rebecca West, a great journalist of the last century, remarked (rather like Antonio Salieri discussing Mozart in Amadeus) that "the power to create a work of art, like a good complexion, is frequently bestowed on the undeserving."

The essay is lively and funny and as I mentioned, it eschews the trope of artspeak for straightforward dialogue. Avoiding the trap of boglike art rhetoric is an idea increasingly gaining purchase. Close to home that idea is embraced over at Urban Art Warfare’s Artist Vs. Artist editorial. Though I tend to like the idea, especially where UAW promises: “there will be no cheesy artsy bullshit questions in any interview conducted on our site. And to answer the question your probably already asking yourself…why are both artists doing the interviews? Because the questions at hand can often be as informative as the answers that follow.” I must make the caveat that the proliferation of often seemingly ridiculous or ripped-off terms in art writing is an attempt to be specific in a diaphanous field; to give form and substance to new ideas. Plus, words like fluxism and onotological are fun to write.

Embracing the un-specific or the seemingly ridiculous also seems to be the provenance of Jacksonville-based artist Brian Gray. Gray recently launched his own site: theouterbox.com, “a central location on the web where the outsider artist, urban art, graffiti, tagging, bombing, and illustrative artist can share their work with the public and inform/educate the masses about what we do.”

From my perspective, I always like to see what he finds on etsy.

*note: the pictured image is from Gray's submission to the Jacksonville Mural project over at the Art Center. Yes, his is the most accomplished piece in the effort.

** if you are interested in the entire Fulford essay (don't worry, it is short) click on the title link.


B.Gray said...

Madeline. I love this article. "Art speak" can sometimes be so crazy and just hard to understand. I guess it comes with the teritory. Levi, over at urbanartwarfare.com, has prety much inspired me to do my blog, do it right, and cut out all the B.S. art speak. Not everyone needs to be educated in art history to enjoy a piece of art work. I am gonna look up Robert Fulford...he sounds prety interesting. Im really glad to be doing the best of etsy again too. LOL...thanks for the support!-B.

Mark Creegan said...

I agree "artspeak" can be overdone, but one can use clear language and still deal with complex ideas. Once one repeatedly reads/uses certain words they become clearer. I suppose I am putting on my professor's hat here but I believe to have a complete anti-artspeak agenda is to shut out a whole heaping helping of knowledge. I am very egalitarian when it comes to the accumulation of ideas. They can come from Brittney Spears (through behavior?)as easily as they can come from Foucault. The question is what you do with those concepts, how they weave into your own critical thinking.

I have provided this example many times before but, I came across this youtube video of Swoon presenting her art at the MOMA in NY. She explains how one of her influences is Gordan Matta Clark, the patron saint of scrappy conceptualism. Even if she didn't name an art historical influence, she certainly explains some wonderfully complex and thoughtful concepts.

Communicating is extremely difficult and imprecise (more so for peeps like me, less so for peeps like Madeleine). But also fun as hell as Madeleine points out. I agree with Brian that one should look at language with skepticism
, but one has to actually LOOK AT that language to develop a critical eye.

B.Gray said...

very well said mark. The example of Swoon was really good. Its "art speak" with some sort of explanation so everyone understands the influence of her work. Art speak is necesary but like ya said...it can sometimes be overdone. I like "clear language that still deals with complex ideas"-Perfect! LOL :)

Mark Creegan said...

Yes, And much of what seems dense now becomes more easily understandable later. Case in point: when I was a wee lad (around 21 i guess) I heard about this confusing word "post-modernism". I asked around to find out what it meant (this was before google) but still didnt get a clear understanding.

Finally, I went to the bookstore (Barnes and Noble had just opened up) and purchased a book called "The Postmodern Condition" by Jean-Francois Lyotard (had to look up the spelling just now). Well, what a dense fricking brick THAT was! I barely got thru the first chapter before I realized it was futile to even continue reading. It me feel like a Leo-Tard ( i am a leo see, stoopid joke)

BUT, I was still curious about that "post-modern" thing and so I went back to the bookstore and purchased "Postmodernism for Dummies" or something like that. Well, after leafing thru that a couple of times and a couple of years worth of reading art magazines (and learning what Modernisim was) I was able to pick up that old Lyotard text and I had no problem with it at all because I had experience with similar concepts and was able to contextualize his ideas with my own experience and knowledge. So, all one needs to develop an understanding of something is curiosity.

madeleine said...

Absolutely, I am not in anyway embracing a sort of anti-artspeak agenda...however, I believe that language can be used to either energize a conversation or utterly denude it. I've read too many treatises that are written in a in high art speak, that ultimately serves no other purpose (I believe) than to create an exclusionary atmosphere.

By that same token though, I think that certain words, phrases, and descriptors are hugely important in creating specificity around an idea. I guess my ultimate point is that criticism/commentary in any field does not need to devolve into slang, nor stretch itself into the uppermost spheres of linguistic acrobatics. There is room for clarity, specificity, and humor in artspeak and writing. To communicate exciting ideas, I believe the language used should incite curiousity, or ignite an ideological flame.

Besides, I always mistrust an artist that takes her/himself too seriously.

And Mark, you are correct, one need not be able to understand more complex ideas at first pass, nor do I think that every essay written should be uber-accessible to the masses, that would be like suggesting we must all continue reading the books we were reading in 4th grade.

But contrarian that I am, I also like the idea of someone pointing the scene's foibles...that includes my own.

Mark Creegan said...

But contrarian that I am, I also like the idea of someone pointing the scene's foibles...that includes my own.

Yes! I couldnt agree more. I feel a Jaxcal post comin on...

madeleine said...

do it