Posts tagged "art"

My favorite painting in the Capitol’s high school art competition (bottom row, second from right). The pictures are displayed in the tunnel between the Capitol and the Cannon House Office Building. There is one picture for each Congressional district.

My favorite painting in the Capitol’s high school art competition (bottom row, second from right). The pictures are displayed in the tunnel between the Capitol and the Cannon House Office Building. There is one picture for each Congressional district.


douglasmartini said: IT WAS INCREDIBLE. Did you go?

Answering an old Douglas Martin question; the it in question is the Kurt Cobain exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum that closed last month.

I did go, and I cautiously approved. Music is a tough thing to historicize, because the subject of the history is either the sounds themselves — which you don’t need to go to a publicly-funded institution to hear — or people’s responses to the sounds. The latter is a better approach for a museum or an art exhibition to take (I’m calling the exhibition a history because though the history may be a creative one, it’s still an historical exercise), but it’s difficult nonetheless; people have a lot of personal and conflicting responses to music, and it’s difficult to curate a collection of something so personal and idiosyncratic without being banal or trivial.

Compounding the problem with Kurt Cobain is the way he has become such an iconic, bluntly drawn figure in pop culture since his death. His suicide has overwhelmed so many of the nuances and imperfections he had in life, when he was creating the material that was the reason for which the SAM held an exhibition. And an artistic response to Kurt can’t ignore that image of Cobain; it must either respond to it or embrace it, a dicey proposition either way. How do you choose between fetishizing the misery that led to his death, or celebrating who he was and ignoring why he isn’t still around being that man today?

So there were pieces in the exhibition that treated Kurt Cobain as an icon, and these felt impersonal, and had nothing to say about Cobain nor anything about how people feel about him and his music. But there were also works that captured something more intangible and exciting; the excitement, the way Cobain became absorbed into pop culture and seemed everywhere, but as a creative presence, not an obituary. I don’t mean to say that Kurt’s death isn’t a part of his story, and part of the exhibition did approach that aspect of it. But parts of it also captured some of his humor and irreverence, which was important. There could have been a larger proportion devoted to these more idiosyncratic elements of the Kurt Cobain story, and the exhibition would have been stronger if there had been. But it had enough complexity to offer a better rounded overview of Kurt Cobain than the conception of him that endures in the popular consciousness.

What I liked a lot were the audio installations, particularly one piece that overlaid simultaneously-played recordings of Nirvana, the Rolling Stones, and Neil Young, played on repeat, each synching in different ways and creating a fresh, Zaireeka-like cacophony each time. It seemed right, as I discussed with one of the guards who asked me what I thought of it, that an exhibition inspired by Kurt Cobain should be noisy.

In this vein, I wonder how the newly announced Nirvana exhibition at EMP will turn out. (News of the announcement was above the fold on the front page of the Seattle Times today, if anyone is wondering what the city thought of it.) I’m not a huge fan of the EMP; I spent some time wandering around it when the EMP Pop Conference was held earlier this year, and though it has some neat stuff, it’s too dominated by rock’n’roll artifacts: ephemeral flotsam linked with well known figures in music history that actually has nothing to do with what made their music so necessary and exciting. My favorite part of EMP is actually the interactive bit upstairs, and the most fun I had in the museum was the ten minutes I spent in a sound proof booth playing one of their guitars. That, to me, said more about pop music than old lyric sheets or archival photographs.


The problem is that art is not like most of the public goods that liberals want government to subsidize. Art is not a giant project like a highway or a national park, something so big that individuals have neither the incentive nor the means to build it on their own. Nor is art a good that ought to be universally enjoyed as a matter of entitlement, like education or health care. (Even if your goal is universal access to art, you don’t want the NEA, you want art vouchers for the needy. But that would put the government in the cruelly paternalistic position of requiring the poor to spend money on a symphony instead of food.) Rather, art bears a strong resemblance to the sort of goods that liberals are content to leave to the market, like clothing and entertainment. Art can be produced and consumed by small groups or individuals who are willing to pay for it. People are also willing to subsidize it through their own charitable donations.

Jonathan Chait in “'Hide/Seek' And The Problem With Funding Controversial Art,” The New Republic, February 10, 2011

I’ve tried to puzzle out the same thing, and I come to the same conclusion Chait does: the government really has no business funding art. Even more indefensible, however, is the art the government chooses to subsidize: art consumed mostly by rich and educated folks. There is no real reason why the government should fund, say, opera rather than OFWGKTA[1], except that the people who like OFWGKTA are comparatively powerless[2] compared to opera fans, and that OFWGKTA can produce and fund their work without asking the government for a handout[3]. Perversely, opera is rewarded precisely because it is unpopular.

This isn’t a novel observation. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the idea that we separate high art from popular and folk art because high art is the domain of the rich and powerful and is accordingly awarded credibility on that basis.

Opera is an easy whipping boy for me because I don’t care for it. As such, let’s consider art galleries. I enjoy art galleries, and I like when governments subsidize them because that makes them cheaper or improves their collections. But few people patronize art museums when compared to the number who watch “American Idol.” If the government decides it should fund art, then wouldn’t it make more sense for it to fund American Idol? After all, my fondness for art galleries is rather like an insistence that American Idol viewers subsidize my looking at paintings. Who am I to say that the pictures I like are better art than that dude with his pants on the ground?

The answer is that, despite — or even because of — the uncomfortable reasons we have for calling high art high art, we consider the production and archival of such work to be one of the hallmarks of a respectable city or state. So we agree that our governments should fund this art, so that we can be certain it will exist. I like that; it means I get to see pretty pictures, and, y’know, I’m glad Sydney has the Opera House. But then again, I’m a white dude with a couple degrees; of course I like being subsidized.

——

1. I have few concrete opinions on OFWGKTA, but could you imagine if Congress discovered it was funding Bastard?

2. “People who like OFWGKTA” = music critics. Music critics are totally powerless.

2. As Marc Hogan has talked about, some countries do provide government support to pop and folk art. I dislike this for reasons better explicated in another post. 


A kinder way of looking at art subsidies.

What the government is really funding, which Chait touched on, is access to art. Chait dislikes this because it would be more efficient to provide “art vouchers,” the ugly paternalism of which should be evident. The flaw even in that, however, is in thinking that the government should choose which art should be easily accessible to the general population, and which should be subject to the dictates of the market. Again, it’s the high art bias behind this decision; we think people are bettered by access to paintings, sculptures, theater, ballet and opera. I agree, but I also think people are bettered to just as great an extent by hearing Jawbreaker’s 24 Hour Revenge Therapy.

Finally, the kindest way of looking at it is that, on the basis that a respectable city or state should have a rich collection of art to its name, governments might not be subsidizing high art, but subsidizing artistic diversity. We can argue whether that diversity would vanish without government involvement, but as far as efforts in national pride go, exhibiting a bunch of Picassos is better than owning more tanks than necessary.



Homer: Pretty soon, every boy and girl in Springfield Elementary School is going to come and see this thing.
Marge: Really? Why?
Homer: They’re forcing ‘em!

jonathanbogart replied to your post: A kinder way of looking at art subsidies.
I definitely disagree that art has any intrinsic moral value: whether someone is “bettered” (what does that mean?) by opera, art galleries, or Jawbreaker has more to do with the person than with what they’re consuming. Exhibit One: the Bible.

What I mean by “bettered” is what Homer and Marge are referring to. The nebulous, kind of alchemical idea that people benefit in non-specified ways from exposure to certain kinds of art. The impetus behind dragging school kids along to see Michaelangelo’s David on its tour of New York, Springfield, and (if they have time) Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles. 
Does this idea withstand scrutiny? Probably not! As you say, betterment has more to do with the person than the art. Even so, we shouldn’t come to the conclusion art is meaningless. Art that is made meaningful by the viewer is still meaningful.

Homer: Pretty soon, every boy and girl in Springfield Elementary School is going to come and see this thing.

Marge: Really? Why?

Homer: They’re forcing ‘em!

  1. jonathanbogart replied to your post: A kinder way of looking at art subsidies.
    I definitely disagree that art has any intrinsic moral value: whether someone is “bettered” (what does that mean?) by opera, art galleries, or Jawbreaker has more to do with the person than with what they’re consuming. Exhibit One: the Bible.

What I mean by “bettered” is what Homer and Marge are referring to. The nebulous, kind of alchemical idea that people benefit in non-specified ways from exposure to certain kinds of art. The impetus behind dragging school kids along to see Michaelangelo’s David on its tour of New York, Springfield, and (if they have time) Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles. 

Does this idea withstand scrutiny? Probably not! As you say, betterment has more to do with the person than the art. Even so, we shouldn’t come to the conclusion art is meaningless. Art that is made meaningful by the viewer is still meaningful.



Here is Grandpar Simpsons. He plays Homers dad in The Simpsons. He is always asking everyone where his glove is and he can never find it. I love the Grandpa episode where he gets shot in the arm by Apu and Apu panics and trys to strangle him but Grandpa manages to escape but still nearly dies. He is really easy to draw because his hair is the same colour as his skin.

I feel the internets have been responsible for some top-quality trolling in 2011. There are many, many more of these here.

Here is Grandpar Simpsons. He plays Homers dad in The Simpsons. He is always asking everyone where his glove is and he can never find it. I love the Grandpa episode where he gets shot in the arm by Apu and Apu panics and trys to strangle him but Grandpa manages to escape but still nearly dies. He is really easy to draw because his hair is the same colour as his skin.

I feel the internets have been responsible for some top-quality trolling in 2011. There are many, many more of these here.


fromme-toyou:

Showtime. 

Remember “cinemagraphs”? They were a whole two months ago, which is, I know, forever in Internet time. There seemed to be two common reactions: the standard media narrative declaring them to be a fascinating new art form, and the internet geek’s disbelieving “LOL it’s just an animated gif.”
Neither was completely accurate. The animated gif is not a new art form, but  Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg’s images have a quality of static tranquility that contrasts distinctly with the hyperactive repetition characterizing the standard animated gif. What really sets them apart, however, is that their subject matter is the refined, the elite, the urbane, and the conventionally attractive. The images are stuffed with signifiers of wealth, class, and vintage good taste. They premium a vacant aesthetic of gentility empty of meaning or emotion. The claim to art is made by what the images are not: they are not pop-cultural, intertextual, amateur, abrasive, or created anonymously. 
And this is why they fail. If these images had a non-digital counterpart, it wouldn’t be anything found in a gallery — the pop art of actual animated gifs has a better claim to that — it would be upmarket advertising. These are lifestyle gifs, suited for selling expensive watches and perfume.
All of which I say to point out that maybe Beck and Burg are on to something. The animated gif might have more potential than its current valuable use of allowing message board users to communicate emotion with reference to common pop cultural reference points. The cinemagraph, however, is currently just an animated gif that focuses on the beautiful lives of leisure led by the rich. Maybe it could be something more.

fromme-toyou:

Showtime. 

Remember “cinemagraphs”? They were a whole two months ago, which is, I know, forever in Internet time. There seemed to be two common reactions: the standard media narrative declaring them to be a fascinating new art form, and the internet geek’s disbelieving “LOL it’s just an animated gif.”

Neither was completely accurate. The animated gif is not a new art form, but  Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg’s images have a quality of static tranquility that contrasts distinctly with the hyperactive repetition characterizing the standard animated gif. What really sets them apart, however, is that their subject matter is the refined, the elite, the urbane, and the conventionally attractive. The images are stuffed with signifiers of wealth, class, and vintage good taste. They premium a vacant aesthetic of gentility empty of meaning or emotion. The claim to art is made by what the images are not: they are not pop-cultural, intertextual, amateur, abrasive, or created anonymously. 

And this is why they fail. If these images had a non-digital counterpart, it wouldn’t be anything found in a gallery — the pop art of actual animated gifs has a better claim to that — it would be upmarket advertising. These are lifestyle gifs, suited for selling expensive watches and perfume.

All of which I say to point out that maybe Beck and Burg are on to something. The animated gif might have more potential than its current valuable use of allowing message board users to communicate emotion with reference to common pop cultural reference points. The cinemagraph, however, is currently just an animated gif that focuses on the beautiful lives of leisure led by the rich. Maybe it could be something more.


(my photo)
John Seery, “American Gothic,” The Huffington Post, July 4, 2006:

The term gothic holds both reverential and horrifying connotations. Speaking very generally, I would say that Americans have viewed American Gothic only or largely in the former regard (namely, as a painting that celebrates Work, Family, and Religion), whereas I’ve maintained that Grant Wood’s artistic — and political — genius is revealed in his ability to depict a demonic side to that famous couple right alongside his apparently appreciative rendering.
In his book Achieving Our Country, philosopher Richard Rorty advocates that the progressive/political left in the United States ought to portray themselves as steadfastly pro-American rather than publicly “gothicizing” our national shortcomings. Grant Wood’s painting, however, would suggest that Rorty’s stark separation between affirmation and critique presents a false alternative.

(my photo)

John Seery, “American Gothic,” The Huffington Post, July 4, 2006:

The term gothic holds both reverential and horrifying connotations. Speaking very generally, I would say that Americans have viewed American Gothic only or largely in the former regard (namely, as a painting that celebrates Work, Family, and Religion), whereas I’ve maintained that Grant Wood’s artistic — and political — genius is revealed in his ability to depict a demonic side to that famous couple right alongside his apparently appreciative rendering.

In his book Achieving Our Country, philosopher Richard Rorty advocates that the progressive/political left in the United States ought to portray themselves as steadfastly pro-American rather than publicly “gothicizing” our national shortcomings. Grant Wood’s painting, however, would suggest that Rorty’s stark separation between affirmation and critique presents a false alternative.


I went to the art gallery today pretty much on a whim, and though I don’t usually take photos in galleries (I think the pleasure of a gallery visit is experiential, not transactional) I saw this thing sitting against the wall out of the corner of my eye and thought it was a real girl. And then I noticed the hair…

It’s by Patricia Piccinini, and is called The comforter. You can see photographs of it not taken with a cellphone camera here

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Nov 05

Lucie & Simon, “Columbus Circle, C Print,” Silent World (2009)
The Atlantic Cities:

Lucie & Simon create these vacuumed-up cityscapes by using a neutral density filter that allows for extra-long exposures, which removes moving objects like people and cars. The fact that the filter is “normally used by NASA for analyzing stars,” according to art professor Klaus Honnef, ramps up the alien vibes of “Silent World.”

Lucie & Simon, “Columbus Circle, C Print,” Silent World (2009)

The Atlantic Cities:

Lucie & Simon create these vacuumed-up cityscapes by using a neutral density filter that allows for extra-long exposures, which removes moving objects like people and cars. The fact that the filter is “normally used by NASA for analyzing stars,” according to art professor Klaus Honnef, ramps up the alien vibes of “Silent World.”



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