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Radical art has become the establishment

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Another piece from spiked (www.spiked-online.com)

They Shock Too Much

Not new thoughts, but well-expressed:

One of assumptions that underpins generally accepted thinking about art today is that each new generation of artists produces its own, radical art that challenges the establishment and is rejected by them. This seems to be an obvious truth.

There is, however, a fundamental difference between the handful of supporters (by no means all young) who actively sought out the obscure exhibitions and studios of the Impressionists in the 1870s and the line of young people queuing to see the Sensation exhibition in the hallowed halls of the Royal Academy just over a century later. The former had the strength of mind to look beyond accepted values, popular acclaim and financial success, while the latter were worshipping at exactly those shrines.

They were standing in line to see the most successful, highly promoted and priced new art of their day, just as people (by no means all old) had queued a century before to see the Salon art the Impressionists were fighting against. The so-called radical art is now the establishment.

True? Not? (There's more to the article, of course.)

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I wouldn't say radical art has become the establishment, but some of it does seem to have become part of the establishment. For example, Picasso and Monet enjoy as hallowed places as Titian and Vermeer, just as Balanchine is revered just as much as Petipa and Bournonville.

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The suggestion seems to be that while there is always a mainstream in the art world, the Impressionists' impact came from their ability to shock and alienate the establishment, whereas these days, if the artist fails to shock, s/he alienates the establishment. :clapping::):) Or something like that. That perhaps our standards (speaking most broadly) are superficial, while the early supporters of the Impressionists had a deeper understanding of art and what is genuinely, durably important beyond the hype. :blink: :gossip:

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Love your illustrated answer, carbro! Yes, that's how I read it, too. I think, too, that students are taught they should shock. I found that when I taught aesthetics at a local university one semester. That was their only option; that's what they had been taught that artists did. (Aristotle was a BIG shock to them!) When I was a student in an M.A. dance department here, some of my friends were in a dance composition class, and they were given assignments to recreate some of the very radical experiments done by the Judson Church movement people -- without learning the basics first. So what had once been a genuine reaction against something became something learned by rote. And that was 20 years ago.

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Modern art has entered the mainstream today to a greater extent than we have seen in previous generations, and certain premises – for example, that art is often difficult, obscure, or even outrageous – are generally accepted. The downside of this is that certain kinds of charlatanism flourish that might have found less fertile soil in an earlier time (which was itself hospitable to different kinds of charlatanism). I think it's possible to say these things without taking the tone this writer does. She has no way of knowing what "shrines" the young people standing in line are worshipping at, and it's rather presumptuous of her to say that she does, IMO. I'm not saying some of the points she makes can't be made – but she does not make them well.

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I love these discussions! :)

I agree.

It has become the norm, for example, that art - and by this I mainly mean visual art - has to be conceptual in nature.

Beuys rules. sort of. :rolleyes:

This has, at least in Germany, spilled over into other areas as well.

Theater art - acting, dancing - has become quite conceptual as well.

Sadly, other components sometimes get lost through the devotion to a "concept".

And, often times I get the impression that the entire distillation-process has not taken place; what I see is the first, rough-draft, or so it seems.

Be spontaneous! As if that in itself is enough. :(

This is what happens when one tries to emulate something without going through the stages, as was mentioned earlier.



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Alexandra, if you don't mind me asking, where did you teach aesthetics? In other words, how dismayed should we be? Pretty dismayed in any case, I'll guess, because, compared to their peers, people signing up for an aesthetics class would be relatively knowledgeable about art.

And one of these days I'd like to get your reading list. I'm currently reading Eco's Art and the Middle Ages, and a book on theology and aesthetics.

dirac, I don't really understand your criticism. Sensation-style shows are very popular, after all, and they don't just shock for the sake of shocking, they're very thin gruel aesthetically. This is my favorite line from the article -- But an artist is only successful in claiming something to be a work of art when, and if, a viewer responds to it as such. As LS Lowry remarked to a young artist who was complaining that no-one bought his pictures, 'Well, no-one asked you to paint them'." I had an art history prof who whined about artists not being given subsidy or very much respect. Then we saw her work, which I found interesting in a limited, try-to-see-what-she-sees way, and I had to wonder just what great contribution she thought she made to the community.

What do viewers get out of shock art? Do they respond with anything beyond disgust or bemusement? Do they stand and study the stuff? Does it engage them aesthetically or intellectually? And does it feed their imaginations and train and expand their taste so that they appreciate other art and comprehend it more deeply? I can't see that Eminiem prepares his listeners for encountering Monk, and I can't see that Hirst prepares his viewers for anybody not on his level.

Spalding also writes: "if artists didn't create art today there'd be no art to look at . . " But we'd have plenty to do exploring and re-exploring what we already have. Darn it, I'm so sorry I missed that Nadelman show.

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kfw, I shouldn't say where it was, but I can say it was NOT Georgetown :ermm: I'll PM you.

This was a required course for MFA students, all dance majors. Two were well-prepared for it. The other nine were not; they had no background whatsoever in history or culture. The course ended up being an advanced dance appreciation course. To be fair, I'd taught the same course two years before and, by luck of the draw, six of the nine students were well-prepared and it made a difference. (i.e., they knew, right off, that Romantic wasn't a valentine.)

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What do viewers get out of shock art? Do they respond with anything beyond disgust or bemusement? Do they stand and study the stuff? Does it engage them aesthetically or intellectually? And does it feed their imaginations and train and expand their taste so that they appreciate other art and comprehend it more deeply?

After the first few times Chris Burden shot himself in the name of Art, I became bored because he always missed his head. :ermm:

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That's an interesting question, diane -- I've often wondered about it. I believe in the Importance of the One, that a single artist is what sets the pendulum going in another direction. One example in dance is Taglioni. From the end of the 18th century to the beginning of the 19th was an age of virtuosity. Then she appeared, out of nowhere (as it would have seemed to her audience) and danced in what looked, to the new audience, in what was a totally different style. But older people in the audience said, "Ah! She is like Bigatoni!" (Not saying that Bigatoni was a Romantic, but that she was, apparently, a chaste and quiet dancer.)

So what we need is not someone coming out saying, "Stop the Shock!" but someone making something utterly unshocking and utterly brilliant, and then everyone will start imitating him/her.

That's my theory, and I'm sticking to it :)

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Diane, I sure couldn’t say, but I understand that beauty, which has been suspect for decades in some quarters of the art world, is making a comeback. Not that art should always be beautiful, and it sure doesn’t have to be pretty, but as ballet fans know, the world is still a beautiful in many ways. Pendulums do swing of course, and perhaps we’re seeing that already. I don’t think shock art much engages people aesthetically. A show like “Sensation” – OK, I didn’t see it – seems to be mostly just that, a prefab, psuedo-event “sensation.” But beauty will always engage us if we let it.

Let me add the blurb from a little 1999 book by Harvard professor Elaine Scarry, "On Beauty and Being Just" -- " . . Scarry not only defends beauty from recent political arguments against it, but argues that beauty continually renews our search for truth and presses us towards a greater concern for justice. Taking inspiration from writers and thinkers as diverse as Homer, Plato, Marcel Proust, Simone Weill and Iris Murdoch as well as her own experiences, Scarry writes an elegant, passionate manifesto for the revival of beauty in our intellectual work as well as in our homes, museums, and classrooms."

That's an argument that goes right to the political roots of so much rejection of beauty. And the New York Reviews of Books adds its praise. So I think we have cause for hope.

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kfw, I agree -- I think there are signs of a return to beauty. I've read that there's a group of young architects who are interested in neoclassical architecture, as an example.

Although I'm fond of the pendulum theory -- not that the pendulum ever swings back, really, at least, not back in a straight line; it swings in another direction, back-ish -- more and more I think that all elements exist in all times. There are always people with romantic sensibilities, classical sensibilities, always rebels, always rule-followers, always people who build and those who tear down (I don't mean in a destructive sense), and always people who make their best work when they're totally free and those who need to be told "I need a painting that's 3 x 5 using only blue" or "I want a four-and-a-half minute variation for a Blue Bird that follows this story."

I think (and this is a big "I think") what happens is that during each era one of these sensibilities becomes dominant -- there's one artist who captures the spirit of the age -- but the others are still there, lurking along the sidelines, and creating art in the image of the Dominant one, but in his/her own way.

In ballet, you definitely see the tension between technique and expression, or form and expression, form and content. I think it's especially visible in British ballet -- the fight between neo-expressionists and neo-classicism that is exemplified in the post-War era -- "Adam Zero" vs. "Symphonic Variations" There were always Adam Zero people and always Symphonic V people, and one or the other dominates at different times.

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Thank you for those thoughtful responses.

I would welcome a "return to beauty", for sure.

That book which kyw mentioned ("a little 1999 book by Harvard professor Elaine Scarry, "On Beauty and Being Just" ") sounds intriguing.

I shall see about finding it.


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