Language, the Mind, and the East vs. the West

Are we, in the West, overly consumed with creating validity through language? In other words, by naming something do we legitimize (or at least think we legitimize) something ie., eliminate the possibility of debate? 

I’m overly obsessed with language and the question of how it affects the way our mind functions analytically, so I was intrigued by Perry Link’s recent New York Review of Books blog post pondering the possibility that Western languages’ preference for nouns in contrast to Eastern languages’ preference for verbs, might lead Westerners to think something exists simply because a noun (label) for it exists. 

Continue reading “Language, the Mind, and the East vs. the West”

On our absurd art

Image Caption: The Atlas Group – Walid Raad, Notebook volume 72: Missing Lebanese wars, 1989. Attributed to: Dr. Fadl Fakhouri. ©Photo: Walid Raad. Repro: Haupt & Binder.

Contemporary art is at odds. On the one hand it is interested in temporality and the dissolution of the individual as its practitioners attempt to extricate themselves and their work from the grips of the art industrial complex.  On the other hand it is consumed with creating information about art events, thereby preserving it (if you haven’t stopped to look around, much of our art is documentation in one form or another). It seems that, try as we might, despite a million desires and predictions to the contrary, we cannot allow the art object to die.

Continue reading “On our absurd art”

Ramblings on why we love minimalism so much

It seems to me it’s rather easy to say something along the lines of “transformation by reduction” when referring to the wave of minimalism that engulfed the culture in the 1970’s and forever changed our definitions of art, music, and even beauty itself. In fact I summarize minimalism’s power in those simplistic terms often.

It seems to me it’s rather easy to say something along the lines of “transformation by reduction” when referring to the wave of minimalism that engulfed the culture in the 1970’s and forever changed our definitions of art, music, and even beauty itself. In fact I summarize minimalism’s power in those simplistic terms often.

It is, however, singularly more difficult to explain what that really means, and how it is that simplicity and repetition can affect our brains and emotions in such powerful ways.

Lately I’ve been rereading what is one of my favorite treatises on modern art, a sort of modern art apologetics if you will, Pictures of Nothing, an AW Mellon Lectures volume, compiled from talks given by Kirk Varnedoe at the National Gallery of Art in Washington in 2003.

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It’s a defense, in a way, of modern, abstract art since the time of Pollock, and Varnedoe treads waist-deep into the incredibly difficult terrain of defending modern artists and their “pictures of nothing.” It’s a lucid, wholly unpretentious accounting of the artists and their motivations, which have come to compose our modern art history, and Varnedoe is one of those arts world people who invites people in, instead of locking them out.

But I digress.

Varnedoe’s arguments pushed me back towards the place in my head from which I initially determined I would write about art, in which I would refuse to let the traditional critical dialogues be sufficient and would instead, strive always for an analysis, or an argument, which would make the most sense, to the most people, when writing about a subject. In other words, I would eschew dense art-speak and write for more than the .005 percent of the population who can (or want to) decipher it.

The old, transformation by reduction line, in defense of highly simplistic shapes or repetitive notes in music, is a great example.

The idea, in a very general sense, is that by cutting away all excess, anything that could be construed as a distraction from the essence, an artist can create for his viewers or listeners, an environment in which they can rediscover the beauty inherent in, for example, a square, or, if we’re using the music metaphor, an F-sharp, in a way that is impossible when the note is surrounded by hundreds of others.

In the words of Jeremy Gilbert Rolfe, writing for ArtForum in 1974, artists, sculptors specifically but the same applies across medium, in this new minimal vein, (I want to say he was referring to the work of Carl André but the subject escapes me, regardless its applicable in a broader way) sought a “phenomenological reduction of the experience of sculpture to its essential condition.”

The assertion being that silence in music, or space in art, allows the mind to more easily process a visual or auditory moment.

But that doesn’t explain, really, how it is an art object or piece of music that is seemingly so simple, can affect our brain in such powerful ways.

A couple of ramblings on why I think that might be the case now follow.

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Part of it is, for me, the intimate connection we feel to the music or art as the artistic representation of our time. For me, it has always seemed like the music of Phillip Glass or Steve Reich, for example, was my music. Not mine in the sense of me personally, but mine in the sense of my generation’s. Now part of that is certainly indebted to the fact that I grew up with the music. It wasn’t shocking as it may have been to those who knew life before it. The same could be said for Carl Andre’s floor pieces.

But the fact remains that a minimalistic bent in art and music, makes sense to me (us), it seems to be the art of the present. Our present. And as such, we feel a powerful connection to it. Historical forms of art, or music, are exactly that, historical, and despite the fact that many of them incontestably maintain some of the same intensity and inner energy they must have possessed when they were created, the connection we have to our music is necessarily different.

There are two ways you can take this, first of all, it could be a chicken vs. egg thing. Do we feel a connection to the music simply because it is our contemporary and it is inherent to human nature to feel connected to something you associate with certain aspects of your life, or do we feel a connection to the music for a deeper reason? For the latter, in other words, do we feel a connection to this new kind of art because the language it is speaking, is directly related to our language, our internal language or philosophy, specifically?

Of course, really, you could postulate even further, concerning whether the art’s language defined our cultural language as a whole, or whether it was influenced by cultural history. Everything is a factor of everything else and I’m not a philosopher so won’t make an attempt at answering the question. Not quite ready for that.

Suffice to say, I posit modern music/art’s appeal is directly related to its contemporaneity with us as its audience.

Varnedoe, in another possible defense, writes of the art of the minimalists, take Robert Ryman for an example, and makes the not immediately obvious observation that “you can’t hang them next to anything else.” Like I said, not immediately obvious, but allow me to explain.

Picture yourself in a room with six paintings by Picasso, or Francisco Goya and hanging in the midst of the exquisite paintings of either master, is a Robert Ryman. A white canvas which reveals nothing more than white until it is examined closer. Upon which painting does your eye rest?

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Robert Ryman

Everything else is destroyed in the wake of the work of Judd, or Ryman, or the music of Glass, or Adams.

It almost seems like, for a beginner, it would be so much easier to understand the power of minimal art, if that very thing happened. If instead of walking into a room, like I recently did for Carl André’s retrospective at Dia:Beacon, and encountering work after work on the floor, one were to walk into a room full of figurative paintings and one André floor piece. The powerful statement of the work would make more sense wouldn’t it?

Of course art exhibitions aren’t designed for entry-level arts enthusiasts, but that’s a conversation for another day.

The work, in the rather uncommon context I described above, would make you stop and think. You’d ask yourself why, and, unless you’re an incurably, uncurious person, you’d wonder why it’s there, how it got to be there and what it means.

It’s involvement with you as the spectator would be “immediate” in the words of Varnedoe. In other words, you wouldn’t have to get up close and personal with the work to see what it included. It’s right there, all laid out for you. In this case, your gut reaction, of surprise, or immediacy, would be correct. In all honesty, you don’t really have to engage with it any further. You’ve already grasped its meaning.

And there-in lies its power.

I believe one of the stumbling blocks for audiences listening to a Cage piece, or examining a Judd sculpture, is the ignorance many have of the “artist’s” intention. The artists and musicians of minimalism weren’t really interested in art in the traditional sense, which makes it hard (impossible for some) to relate to their work in an artistic way. In the traditional way. They didn’t really want you to. Many artists of the period, Judd and André for example, were pretty vocal about not wanting to be a part of art. André’s “idea of art was related to some kind of abstraction, from something outside of art.”

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André, Judd, Cage, Reich, they all wanted their viewers or listeners to examine the idea of experience. They saw their work as an experimental departure, which is why context, in art, is often key, much of the work on view at spaces and museums of canonical artists like Judd and André, was never intended to be seen. We value it now from an art historical standpoint as we tell the story of how an important artist becomes an important artist. But even apart from that, much of André’s work, even the completed work, was still simply an experiment.

I could go on forever. Part of the appeal for me, specifically as it concerns visual art, is the minimalist’s penchant for creating useful art, entailing a strong belief in the power of design and simplicity, to better our lives. Something I believe in wholeheartedly, and another aspect of this movement that is worth exploring in more detail. It’s easy to say good design betters lives, much harder to actually explain how/why in an empirical sense.

I’ve got to stop there though. In summation? Art of one’s time is powerful. The most powerful. And minimalism’s power lies in its simplicity, especially when confronted in the context of traditional, historical art. You can’t look at anything else. And that’s all that needs to be said.

Thoughts while listening to Gabriel Kahane’s “The Ambassador”

How much are we influenced by memory, experience and location when writing, or listening, to music?

The composer Gabriel Kahane, I believe, would say the influence is inextricable. In The Ambassador, his most recent song cycle, Kahane uses the titles of his songs to literally inform the listener of the song’s spatial and/or artistic influences, essentially telling the listener what to see or think about while listening.

For the cycle’s subject he took Los Angeles, a city which is host to a mythology constructed from our cultural portrayals of its residents and environs over the greater part of the last century. My guess is that unless you have been living in a cultural vacuum, there are a set of feelings and images the city’s name conjures, even if you’ve never visited.

Kahane, I’m sure, was quite aware of that fact, and in The Ambassador, he utilizes both film and other image sources, as well as books he’s read and his own personal history, to inspire an illustration and recreation, through music, of the intoxicating atmosphere of Los Angeles as he has experienced and remembered it. It’s beautiful, cacophonous, occasionally mathy and occasionally simple, but the power Kahane wields by telling us his subject, is what I found particularly interesting.

To what extend does music derive its meaning and effect from the realm of the visual world? And/or, do you lose or gain something in its experience by having a musician literally explain the atmosphere he would like his music to conjure?

I think it’s safe to say composers are undoubtedly influenced by various sources, both from first-hand and learned experience, when writing music. Whether you lose, or gain something in experience with the knowledge of those influences, is another question.

Listening to someone like Kahane explain his music, which is all I can do not, as of yet, having had the opportunity to see him perform it, my mind immediately wandered towards a contemplation of what the gesamtkunstwerk looks like, or could look like, in the 21st century.

It’s not a term we discuss much anymore, Wagner having co-opted the term and destroyed it with suffocating elitist idealism. I’m using it here to refer more to the idea of a perfect work, not any actual piece. It’s an abstract idea, in my mind, which could more or less assert that the visual or aural component of a piece of art is not the entirety of the work. In which, maybe, we acknowledge that all (or at least most) art, is a synthesis of various influences internal to the work’s creator and, therefore, inseparable to the result. Here’s what I mean.

I’m not referring here to an art exhibit or installation which incorporates multiple forms of media from various artists, with a vague philosophy attempting to connect everything. I’m talking one artist, who, since we value ideas over results much of the time anyways, offers the whole of his art, the real whole, to experience. Can we honestly, in a post-structuralist world, assert a work of art is complete without its influences? Just as the art visual, and even musical artists create, becomes less and less “art” in its classical definition.

In other words, the 21st century gesamtkunstwerk is less an artist utilizing various media to create various components of an experience or exhibition, but an artist whose influences which are necessarily varied, are overtly on display.

The history we’re in the process of making seems like it might be pointing us in this general direction.

Opera, the great and historical art form which does combine disparate forms of art into one work, seems to be enjoying a popular resurgence, in so much as opera ever can. And artists of all types are disrupting the boundaries between their form of art and another, creating art that is difficult to classify.

Maybe this trend towards cross-pollination acknowledges that perhaps we have failed to engage with art and music in the correct way (in so much as there is a correct way which of course there’s not, one of those wonderful contradictions we are meant to embrace). Perhaps somewhere along the way, we lost track of how to present it (art) and our perpetual need to explain or disclose artistic influences would seem to attest to our fascination, interest, need, pick your word, for a context.

What if we could experience that context at the same time as we experience the art? Maybe that’s what we’re attempting to recreate in all of our “installations” and “performances.” A real complete story, not an opera, play or film that attempts to fictitiously recreate, what each of us already has inside of us.

I’m not advocating screening shots of Austrian landscapes behind the music of Mozart. Not exactly. The presentation would be less a disparate weaving together of art forms, and more, as in the work of Kahane, the offering of clues, and the creation of an environment through which we are meant to experience an individual’s art; essentially recreating the environment he/she experienced while creating it in the first place. I’m not entirely sure what it would look like really.

We’re fully aware artists don’t create art in a vacuum, why should we have to experience it in one?

This dovetails into, as all my lines of thinking usually do, the future, and the art world’s mounting fear of losing its audiences.

It’s interesting to think about the idea of multisensory stimulation and a more comprehensive experience of art, like the music of Kahane, in the context of film, something he, unsurprisingly, cites as an influence for much of his music. Great film artistically incorporates a bit of everything; dialogue, visual and aural content, and, while we fail to bring new audiences into other art forms, film (yes, thanks in large part to its facility of distribution, but I’d posit more than that), is thriving.

Perhaps there is a key to art’s future somewhere in this rambling. Perhaps it lies in, as many artists seem to already be exploring, a better experience. Not for the sake of experience, and not because we can’t appreciate the art without it, but instead, because we’re meant to know where the art is coming from in the first place.

Let’s Talk About the Inaccessibility of Modern Art

There’s a certain segment of the population that seems to perpetually bemoan the lack of curious consumers.

We sit around at bars discussing the lack of an audience for theater, music or art, and host panels seeking to discover how we build the new audience for art, theater or classical music.

Why are there so few people interested in stepping out of their comfort zone and experiencing something new?

In the theoretical once upon a time, and probably the actual one, everyone (or at least most) read about art. Everyone went to the theater. Everyone knew the composer of the day. Everyone discussed the arts and everyone loved them.

Then the 20th century happened. In the words of composer and critic Theodor Adorno, “New music has taken upon itself all of the darkness and guilt of the world.” Sure he was referring to music but the assertion could just as easily be broadened to include the entire world of art.

European and American artists and composers and writers in the early 20th century saw violence like the world hadn’t seen for hundreds of years. The manifold amount of changes wrought by technology and innovation in fin de siècle Europe and America meant nothing about life before would ever be the same. Then World War One and World War Two turned the world completely upside down. How could we go back to the way the world was before? The answer was that we couldn’t.

Modernism was here.

This sense of unease and uncertainty about the future and growing economic disparity, complicated by death on an unforeseen scale, inevitably made its way into the art world with dramatic results.

“Everything purely aesthetic has no cultural value,” philosopher Otto Weininger once said, more or less capturing the zeitgeist of art in the early 20th century.

The bourgeois worship of art, in the words of Alex Ross, turned modern artists away from aesthetics at the same time as it “made possible the extremes of modern art.”

Artists were infallible, as they had been for many years, but all of a sudden artists began increasingly isolating themselves. Adamantly rejecting the tastes of the masses, their creations became more and more difficult, almost impossible for most people to understand, but we were more or less forced to accept them. The incomprehensibility of life demanded nothing less.

The history of 20th century art is a study in revolution and counter-revolution; a continuous struggle on the part of artists to move further and further away from public taste and approval into an insulated world of other artists and the like-minded that could appreciate their complex, physical art and music. Familiarity was totally rejected.

In the words of Schoenberg, “If it is art, it is not for all, and if it is for all, it is not art.”

Arnold Schonberg
Arnold Schonberg

Artists and musicians didn’t need or want the public, something brought to a culmination with composer Milton Babbitt’s admonishment to isolation, “Who cares if you listen?”

Who cares indeed.

Which brings me to my point. I’m edging closer and closer to the conclusion (and for those of you who reached it years ago, don’t hate), that contemporary artists, musicians, etc., don’t want you to like their work. When art became conceptual, cerebral and philosophical, it forced artists into a world of art education in which technique matters, but only in relation to the idea, which is paramount. Naturally the ability to elucidate the idea takes practice, often years of it, practice which is aided by arts institutions who have commodified centuries of art into these ideas, offering classes in critical theory and performance studies.

When an artist spend as much time thinking as they do creating, it’s little wonder they emerge with a rather stilted way of talking to and interacting with those who haven’t devoted years of their life to academics.

That of course translates to their art, and well, we’re left with Babbitt.

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Rauschenberg with White Painting. Yes, it’s art. But mostly it’s an idea.

I say all of this not to villainize the over-educated artist. I understand. If I too could throw around Wittgenstein’s ideas like I was discussing something that happened yesterday, I’m sure I’d have a hard time not feeling like my art was above most people’s level of comprehension.

I say all of this as well, knowing full well that there are numerous artists making work that is easily accessible by large swathes of the population and does not suffer critical revulsion in spite of its lack of academicism, (although typically there is a very academic explanation for even an apparently unacademic work of art).

I say it simply because it is. And it’s a massive shift in the way art has historically been approached and created. AND it’s a transformation in thought that doesn’t get a whole lot of discussion.

I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. I personally enjoy digging into the research behind the work, learning more about the theorist who or personal history that informs a work. But I understand that many people don’t and/or don’t realize that that is now part of the artist/audience contract.

Schoenberg was one of the first to express the ideology behind the new art that was defined by its inaccessibility rather than vice versa, but he helped to launch a revolution in the ways we do or don’t approach art. It is what it is. But lets stop pretending like it isn’t.

the complicated nature of art and criticism in the contemporary world

People that truly appreciate art and architecture often appreciate most of all an artist’s ability to create something new. To force us to think about something in an entirely new way, to invoke surprising feelings or to stimulate curiosity and possibility.

But that appreciation is often based on nothing more than vague, ethereal reactions we may have towards a visual or auditory object and our experience of it.

Can the value of art really be summarized in such vague, emotive and all too relative judgements? And if so, why is our society’s engagement with art steadily shrinking?

Once upon a time, 150-200 years ago, art was beautiful. Not that it isn’t now. But once upon a time, we had one definition of beauty.

A lot has happened in those 150 years. In our headstrong rush towards a pervasive relativism, art, naturally, got complicated.

It was inevitable. We have lived through more life-altering evolutionary churning in the past century than many before us combined, technology being perhaps the main contributing factor in the change.

Existence is no longer simple. We’re used to that.

But despite the manifold amount of change, for some reason, the cultural dialogue surrounding art is much the same as it was 150 years ago.

Certainly we’ve adjusted for the conceptual nature of the art object and the philosophical nature brought along with a redefinition of art. But despite the relativistic society in which we live, a community in which anything goes, and I dare not press my religion, cultural ideology, style, taste in music, etc. on you, the art world still functions as it did before. An exclusive cadre of ‘critics’ and ‘academics’ determines who enters into the halls of the fine art world and that same club of art experts determines how we should talk about them.

The nature of today’s artists too has exacerbated the exclusivity of the art world. It is no longer enough to have a knack for painting or sculpture, in fact, you’re almost better off if you don’t. Today’s artists aren’t artists in the 19th century sense of the word, today’s artists are philosophers.

Artists have always been thinkers, I know this. It would be impossible to create even the simple beauty of Rembrandt or Van Eyck without a deep understanding of humanity, the world and religion, an understanding only possible through years of thought and meditation.

But today’s artists don’t stop there. They don’t meditate on just the world and humanity, allowing their understanding derived therein to inform their art. No. Relativism and the steady decline of our interest in, and ability to decipher, traditional philosophical writing, have combined to make today’s artists into today’s philosophers. Partly out of necessity and partly out of the complicated nature of beauty and taste in today’s world. An understanding of life today, after all, is inextricably tied to much more than religion and nature thanks to the suffocating grip of technology.

And if today’s art also functions as a stand-in for today’s philosophy, then art critics more or less, function as philosophers in their own right.

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Raphael Rubinstein writes in a recent review of MoMA’s Sigmar Polke Retrospective on the “mania for explanation,” wondering when it became such an imperative that artist’s explain their work to their audience.

“It’s as if their works never go out into the world without the company of their voices, which come to us via interviews, artist statements, video documentaries, panel discussions and artist talks,” he says.

Rubinstein’s arrogant bewilderment on this matter is an excellent illustration of the art world’s obliviousness to its own insularity.  When art is philosophy the artist statement and generally intimate knowledge of the artist’s worldview is imperative to an understanding of the art. Certainly once you’ve had the years of experience of a Rubinstein or otherwise, you may be able to deduce an artist’s objective without background. The rest of us, however, remain lost.

He then transitions into Sigmar Polke’s apparent refusal to explain his work. The few times Polke did speak in public almost always consisted of less than sincere responses to interview questions and art-world parody.

I don’t pretend to know why Polke refused to explain his own work but I would postulate it has much to do with a conscious rejection of what the art world was becoming.

Despite the rejection of Rubinstein, and I’m sure others, we started down the path of lengthy explanation when we began appreciating art less for its beauty and more for its originality in regards to the artist’s intention.

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It’s elitist to expect the casually interested art lovers to understand why Joseph Beuys locking himself in a room with a coyote for several days is worthy of our attention and respect without written and verbal explanation from Beuys himself, and the critics who support him, of the philosophical underpinnings which prompted the exhibition.

If Beuys wanted to be taken seriously, and even have a gallery willing to support the performance in the first place, he needed a damn good reason. And that proposal and artist statement had to be good enough to impress the critics and thereby the public.

The writing is necessary.

And here’s the rub. I’ll go with Rubinstein to the natural conclusion of all of this, the need for explanation has given rise to too much explanation. Too much explanation at the expense of emotional response.

Once upon a time, when beauty was simple and writing wasn’t vital to our understanding of a work of art, we were allowed to emotionally react to a painting or sculpture, although the range of emotions we allowed ourselves was almost certainly smaller 150 years ago.

The philosophy of today’s art is a double-edged sword.

On one hand, art as the expression of a philosophical construct or ideological deconstruction allows the possibility to engage with a piece of art on a deeper level and to experience one of today’s most influential expressions of philosophical thought, on the other, when our discussion of art seems to imply that is the only way to respond to a piece of art, we’re excluding the audience who would choose to engage with art on a more feelings-based, reactionary level.

And that’s where the art world has acted against the public in its perpetuation of a form of art writing that doesn’t allow for individual taste and the possibility that art can be appreciated in its own right in the context of our visual and emotional responses.

Where does that leave us?

With an insular art world that refuses the rest of us the experience of our own “possibility” with art, as Jeff Koons puts it.

We’re left with a public who insist they “don’t understand it” and therefore cannot, and do not, meaningfully engage.

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We spend so much time writing and thinking about how important art is, and performing academic studies on how our “brains are wired to appreciate art” and how art uplifts us, feeds our spirit and on and on and on. But most of us cannot appreciate art because we’re still trapped in the endless cycle of self-perpetuated ignorance, a cycle in which the art world is complicit and unsympathetic.

Koons puts it simply. “I create art to inspire feelings,” Milton Glaser puts it another way when he says “The deepest role of art is creating an alternate reality.”

Put in my words? Art can very much be about sensation and emotional response and for many artists that create, that’s all that it is.

Therefore, it should be about learning what you like, not what the critics like, and not what is (necessarily) in museums.

The catch?

You have to expend the effort to discover what you like. That means curiosity, discovery and engagement.

Yes, art will still remain complicated and contemporary art will always be something of a mystery, even to many of the critics who engage with it daily. But maybe it doesn’t have to live only in the realm of academia, maybe art can continue to evolve and our appreciation of it, flourish yet again. Maybe fine art can once again be a part of the popular culture conversation.

What happens when alternative culture is co-opted by the mainstream?

David Foster Wallace may have been one of the most outspoken cultural critics to point out that although at one point irony was a powerful weapon of artistic response, especially in the 60’s and 70’s when trust in establishments such as the government seemed especially misplaced, irony has since become so mainstream it is now necessary in the creation of art simply in order to achieve acceptance. To imply your cultural complicity.

Sukhdev Sandhu, another cultural critic, refers to the same in an essay on music in which he describes the trajectory of critically acceptable music. The sentimentality and ‘schmaltz’ of earlier musical periods has been replaced in the recent past with the idea that music’s value is defined more by its ‘realness’ and ‘truth.’ Scholarly writing on music today looks for neophilia, an illustration of the musician’s subcultural awareness, or, as in Wallace’s take on irony, resistance towards the mainstream. Emotion, ‘yearning,’ as Sandhu says, is rejected, critical acceptance being reserved for the alternative.

The problem?

The alternative has now become the mainstream.

We’ve reached a point in Western culture at which everything we once viewed as revolutionary or anti-establishment has become the establishment.

Sure irony was once a culture’s useful critique, a tool to “Lay waste to corruption and hypocrisy,” to respond to the vapidity of US culture. Certainly, the emergence of ‘alternative’ music in the late 20th century; the anarchic sound of the Sex Pistols or the vocalization of a marginalized subculture in early West-coast rap, served as a much needed dose of reality in a world whose popular music had for too long been dominated by the majority.

But imitating the revolutionary work of a Thomas Pynchon or a Robert Rauschenberg or recreating the sound of 2Pac or the Ramones isn’t, in and of itself, grounds for artistic acceptance. A groundbreaking new way of making art is groundbreaking in its novelty. When the work is recreated, the revolution is over, and, well, you get where I’m going.

Robert Rauschenberg - Untitled, 1963
Robert Rauschenberg – Untitled, 1963

When Mike Will Made It produces Miley Cyrus’s albums. When LA’s Hammer Museum produces a show of artists who practice institutional critique. When upper middle-class teenagers wear GG Allin t-shirts….

The ‘alternative’ has lost its definition.

David Foster Wallace:

And herein lies the oppressiveness of institutionalized irony, the too-successful rebel: the ability to interdict the question without attending to its subject is, when exercised, tyranny. It [uses] the very tool that exposed its enemy to insulate itself.

Whether its irony or some other form of cultural critique in art or music, when something becomes what is expected, we stop trying. When artists, I’ve heard the example of Richard Phillips, can create insincere art contributing nothing new to the conversation, and we are more or less asked accept it at face value ‘because it’s ironic,’ we’ve begun the gradual destruction of an intelligent culture. We’ve stopped asking questions and we’ve stopped having to explain ourselves, assuming, because we are perpetuating cultural norms, our work is self-evident and valid in its own right.

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And irony (insert other culturally acceptable means of expression here) means safety.

So what’s next?

In short, the risk of failure. The risk inherent in creating art that is different and perhaps in direct contrast to what the art world has been trained to accept. Risk being labeled sentimental or ‘full of conviction.’ And perhaps the idea of good art can move past irony into sincerity into an art that can ‘open possibilities for the future’ instead of wallowing in its own nihilism and irony. After all, being right is the opposite of being original. You can’t be both.

The move in music criticism towards acceptance and the well-argued and well-defended justification of divergent musical styles once considered inauthentic, naive or simplistic, is a start. When other art forms, visual art in particular, can begin to ask the same of its critics, perhaps a new kind of artist will again grace the spotlight and the age of an absolute which requests the ironic or the rebellious before originality and authenticity can be granted, will be over.