Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Yokelism update: Dangers of Provincialism

This essay is fourth part of the conversation I've been having with Boston Globe critic Sebastian Smee about covarage of living local artists. Read previous editions: one, two and three.
The chief danger of provincialism in New England today is that low self-esteem causes us to buy into an art world status quo that says we don’t, won’t ever matter. Is the art produced here as good as that made in, say, New York? Some of it, certainly. But on the whole no one debates that the scene could be stronger. So how does an art scene get better? Certainly local artists have to get better. But after that what are the roles of local curators, critics, etc. in this?

One could argue that a critic’s role is primarily to give consumer reports to the audience/readers. But I think there’s also the critic’s traditional role in shaping things. I don’t mean proscribing where art could go, as some argue Clement Greenberg did. But every review shapes things. It may not be telling people what to do outright but it is broadcasting a model of what the critic prefers. My question is how best to use that power, even while questioning the influence of any critic today.

The models I look to are Greenberg in the ‘40s (before and around AbEx hit circa 1947) and Christopher Knight in LA in the ‘70s and ‘80s. They championed the local good stuff and gave a kick in the pants to the rest of the scene. They had ambitions for their communities. So they paid attention to what art was being made in their communities, compared it to great stuff happening elsewhere, and challenged their communities to compete. This is what critics always do on an individual by individual basis. They just applied it to the community as a whole as well.

I wish more of the powers that be here shared that ambition for art made here, but I’ve not been asking for that in this particular conversation. We’re at an earlier more basic point where we still need to get local tastemakers to simply pay attention to art created in New England today.

What museums and newspapers decide to pay attention to is a statement of what they deem important. So if we’re interested in making the scene more interesting, we can encourage local art just by giving more space in our museums and newspapers to art made here today, and so signal that it’s important enough to deserve that space. I’m not calling for the press or museums to artificially inflate grades or to tell artists what sort of art to make (besides to keep pushing for better work). I’m not suggesting how to write about locals. I’ve made no comments on, say, the quality of coverage. I’m just asking for greater volume of coverage of locals. Because I have ambition for the New England scene, and it begins with people at all levels simply being more involved with art made here now.

The actions of many powerful art folks here demonstrate that they believe that New England artists aren’t good enough to merit that newspaper and institutional space. They’re mistaken. There are easily enough good artists in New England to fill an occasional spot in, say, the ICA’s Momentum program without any loss in the program’s quality. And there are a number of local artists of international stature who deserve retrospectives (see Nicholas Nixon), but most likely these exhibitions will be put together by museums elsewhere and may not even get shown here (see Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons).

People underestimate the importance of institutional (museums, press, etc.) attention in the careers of artists who become stars. Look at how NYC or LA showcases its homegrown talents, and how that helps incubate the artists’ art and careers, how it challenges artists to rise to a higher level, and then the institutions blossom as well. And compare that to the relationships between artists, museums and the press in New England.

I think my position may be a bit unclear because of the model of my New England Journal of Aesthetic Research. I don’t mean NEJAR to represent what all other publications should do. I’m not sure what the right balance is between coverage of local artists versus imports. (Or the right balance for museums to exhibit). Maybe half? Maybe 40 percent. These are just ballpark guesses. Suggestions?

Two-thirds of New Yorker writer Calvin Tomkins’ “Best Museum Shows of 2009” list is New York events. Is that a good model: 2/3 local (i.e. New York) venues. Also 2/3 dead artists. And three of his four picks involving living artists feature mainly local (New York) artists. Is he so focused on New York because it’s the best, or because he’s provincial?

Certainly I’m guilty of playing up Krzysztof Wodiczko’s localness. Though that’s the primary reason the ICA and all the local press are paying attention to what he’s doing. And if one teaches here (at MIT) for nearly two decades I think that does give one some local ties. But I’m surely overreaching somewhat.

For me, some overreaching is a risk inherent in making an argument by presenting examples of the potential of the New England scene. One distinguishing characteristic of the Boston art scene is the transience of many of its artists. So sometimes I overreach in claiming people partly to provide evidence of what the scene could be if it was better at retaining the many talents who pass through here—mostly to study or teach—and then move on. Or, at least, better at taking advantage of what they bring to the scene while they’re here.

That said, NEJAR’s relentlessly, obsessively, gloriously narrow New England scope is admittedly partly an overreaction to the limited focus by others on art being made here.

I don’t think I miss much of the big international issues, because also I cover most major shows hereabouts and the institutional programming here is so cosmopolitan and generally top notch. But I don’t worry much about missing them because there’s already plenty of coverage elsewhere of the usual suspects roster of folks on the Circuit of auctions, fairs, biennials and New York.

Frankly I’m bored by the same old discussions about Damien Hirst or the money carnival in Miami that consume the mainstream media as well as the blogosphere. So I look for fresh stuff off the beaten path – here.

Yokelist Manifesto Number 1: Boston lacks alternative spaces?
Yokelism at the 2008 Boston Art Awards.
Yokelist Manifesto Number 2: Montreal case study.
Yokelist Manifesto Number 3: Hire locally.
Yokelist Manifesto Number 4: We need coverage of our living artists.
Yokelist Manifesto Number 5: We need local retrospectives.
Yokelism update: Coverage of our living artists: Sebastian Smee responds.
Yokelism update: Dangers of Provincialism.


Blogger Donald Frazell said...

Greenberg was a huckster, more into promoting sales than art. And we fell for it. While many were excellent painters, though all shortlived as the promotions that pushed them, they were not as good as the concurrent school of Paris painters, who had much longer careers, except for de Stael's who ended in suicide. Soulages lasted, though art brut did not.

But the Americans, being now the most powerful nation on the planet, and American ego not being able to assume a second position in anything, especially commerce and sales, we got over glorfied hucksters like Greenberg to feed their self importance. Whose writings were all about making money, not illuminating by presenting artists as all previous critics had done, but explaining them, so buyers could actually Own the artists themselves, When visual creative art is its own language, and words can only diminish it. And when tied to words, like contempt art is, Castrate it, so it lacks all power.

Critics had been fellow artists, just in different fields, who merely presented the artists and their thoughts, not long academic treatise on what it meant and why. Which is beyond mere words, they are meant to be felt, of mind body and soul, not mere descriptive and limiting symbols such as words. It cuts right to the chase, to the brain, emotions, and spirit directly, or not at all. Words are but sales tools, and distract from its purpose. To control, for those who wish to build profitable and training academies and so control the message, or more precisely, defang and neuter it.

Even though a few well meaning critics like Robert Huhghes tried to enhance creative art, they actually distracted people from its power. Artists had no desire to shock, they sought truth, if that bothered a few so be it. All were fairly conservative, except the fools on the wings who went along for the ride like parasties, as almsot all contempt artists today are, having lost sight of arts Purpose within humanity.

All wanted to make a living to focus on their work, for make no mistake, artists are workers, but had truths to pursue, no matter the cost. Some made it eventually like Monet, others didnt, like van Gogh, or barely, like Gauguin who made a decent living in cheap, primitive confines. Certainly nothing by todays standards, where fools reign, the jesters of the rich meant to entertain with their witticism anc cleverness, not power and truth.

December 26, 2009 at 6:11 PM  
Blogger Donald Frazell said...

Words are distractions in art, which is always musical and or poetic, never prosaic. The literary is of craftsmen for limited purpose of the patrons, great artists like Michelangelo overcame those strictures, their truth undeniable, even when going against their patrons strict order. Todays wont allow that, and so, creative art is practically unknwon, perhaps Anselm Kiefer they only big name among them, if he can be considered such with clowns like Koons and Hirst around. You dont think the rich on the night of capitalisms most recent implosion were actually looking to question things when they spent $200 mil in one weekend do you? no, it was validation of their lifestyles, a happening, too important not to be seen and then storing the absuridities in some party house never attended except for such decadent bacchanals.

And what has CK ever done for art here in LA? the only great artists were those like Diebenkorn and Francis, and a few minor like Carlos Almaraz and Robert Graham, what did he ever do for them? I was at an opening for a prototypical LA artiste a year or so ago, it was laughable. Laddie John dill had a group of identically sized and prepared board/canvases, all asphalt like in very even texture, with silly over all stenciled geometric shapes with cartoon like bodies in the middle, like those on truckers mudflaps, with a sprinkling of color from air brushes like candy on doughnuts, being applauded by a group of pseudo intelletctual admirers, him standing there rather dumb looking, and simply amazed he was making a living off such drivle. He looked rather naive, and rather simple, not much going on in there, or on what he had "made", which were mostly like factory done by helpers.

CK may have promoted locally, but created a culture of mediocrity, that may be impossible to overcome. Critics are NOT important, shut the hell up plesae, and say as little as possible. Simply present art for the viewer to judge.

If the art needs explanations, then it is not creative art, but illustrations of silly academic ideas. Art is purely visual, it must convey its emotions as such, for if not passionate art doesnt exist. And contempt art has avoided the spiritual, the emotional, the powerful at all costs for it is in the service of their masters, those who patronize their lifestyle. Artistes are not important, even less so critics, but Art is. Art has Purpose within humanity, a role it has forsaken in search of career and profit.

art collegia delenda est
Save the Watts Towers, the only creative and spiritual monument in Los Angeles, tear down the Ivories.

December 26, 2009 at 6:12 PM  
Blogger Donald Frazell said...

LOL!!! That reveiw of CK is just hilarious! Must have been written by him. He has completley sidetracked art form its purpose, and made himself th4e center of attention, and validating teh academic ways of brainwahsed ltieralism. its horse pucky, adn completley wihtout substance. It has nothing to do with the lives of those who actually workd and life who crate, who ahve families, and are of humanity. Its academic self involved drivel. Coem one now, think independently, not how you ahve been "trained' to think, which is outside of mankind, and of the Ivory towered egghead, effeminate, emasculated set, lacking sex, physicality, spirituality, and passion.

Attack. Accept nothing less than Truth is acceptable. this is the mouthpiece of theh status quo, it defangs art, and cuts off humanity from it. So the wealthy have nothing more to fear from it. Its time to attack, not be complacent wannabes, looking for career, which isi ALWAYS funded by arts enemies, those of themselves, who wish to control, and not live life balanced, in harmony, withmankind, of it, for it. the Pharisees have taken the temple, and all must be torn down, to unfortuantely be rebuilt again someday, but for awhile, we can live in freedom, and be a part of humanity, not apart from it.

I shoot down his idioicies everyday on culturemonster, william does too,and many more are sick of it, but dont have the time or patience to deal with stupidities. He is weak, and speaks for his masters. The Patrons of the arts, who financed our lateswt economic meltodwn at their own profit. They control the arts through conceptual sidetracks adn theories, which are what art works fROM, not towards, arts now are just illsutrations of irrelevant ideas. Toothless, vapid, soft, and so, not a threat. Bit the hand that feeds you, and be free.

art collegia delenda est

December 27, 2009 at 12:51 PM  

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