January 18, 2004

Art and "Art"

As a younger man, I used to care a lot about the distinction between art and craft. Based upon what I was taught I imagined that craftsmen had superb, finely honed skills, but lacked the imagination or intellectual underpinnings to turn their craft into art. This, of course, implies that all artists must be excellent craftsmen as well.

Somewhere along the line, I had a falling out with the art, and the artists, of the 20th century that continues to this day. I think it has to do with the fact that most artists no longer seem to have mastered any craft that I can discern. The emphasis has shifted entirely to what the artists, and the art critics, consider conceptual and intellectual, whereas the aesthetic appreciation of the craft of making fine art has been lost. Art become "art." I am speaking primarily of visual arts such as painting and sculpting, though I think the disease has spread into music and literature as well.

I suppose I could insert vast hordes of examples here to illustrate, but what's the point. You either understand and sympathize with this thesis by now, or you think that I just don't know what I'm talking about. When you enter a major museum, do you linger in the pre-20th century galleries or head straight for the "art" devoid of any intrinsic meaning other than what you bring to it. Art, for me, got sick in the late 19th century, suffered through a long illness, and finally died somewhere in the mid-20th century. I anxiously await its resurrection to restore my faith in art and rescue it from the seventh circle of Hell where it lies today, since art's death was essentially a suicide by those who lived as part of it.

I've been thinking about this for a long time, but what finally got me to post about it was this story about the vandalism of, using ironic quotes where they are entirely appropriate, "art."

Posted by Charles Austin at January 18, 2004 10:23 AM

The only post-19th-century art I can stand is Norman Rockwell. (Though some accuse him of being a mere "craftsman," I say give me craft over today's "art.")

Posted by: Andrea Harris at 10:37 AM

I love Picasso's early work, as well as a number of the early cubists. Then Dada came along with the stated intention of destroying "art." They succeeded, but found that the corpse could not be resuscitated. The only other 20th century artists I admire are Chagall and Dali.

Posted by: charles austin at 11:22 AM

I've always had a theory that you have to know and understand the rules before you can decide why they must be broken. Otherwise you're just shocking to produce a reaction at best.

Posted by: Rodya at 12:24 PM

Now there's an "art" critic I can admire!

Posted by: Jon at 02:43 PM

Maybe 20th century art would be more interesting to Mr. Austin and his ilk if he and they were only a little more cultured or perhaps better educated. That is my honest impression after landing here accidentally. Everyone's heart seems to be in the right place; but the intellectual posturing is embarasssing, the kind forgivable only in the very young. Perhaps it does indeed reflect a process of maturing. I hope so. I wish you all good luck. Goodbye.

Posted by: wrenfroo at 03:08 PM

That's almost funny, wrenfoo.

Posted by: charles austin at 03:54 PM

In an old Travis McGee novel the protagonist is speaking with a conceptual artist (oil on canvas mostly) who might be charitably described as getting by on pomo pretension, befuddlement and the gullibility of 'collectors' with too much money suffering poor advice. So McGee hands her a piece of paper and a pencil and says something to the effect of, "Draw that lamp." Which she, of course, cannot do. A delicious moment...

Posted by: Misanthropyst at 06:12 PM

"Wrenfroo"? I'm supposed to take seriously the comments of someone calling themselves "wrenfroo"? What the hell is that, the name of Eeyore and Roo's bastard child?

Posted by: Andrea Harris at 01:59 AM

For those who (like myself) share Charles' artistic tastes, I recommend a reading of Tom Wolfe's enjoyable little book, "The Painted Word." The money quote is as follows: "Modern Art has become completely literary: the paintings and other works exist only to illustrate the text" (of Modern Art Theory).

Posted by: Bruce Lagasse at 02:10 PM

May I humbly offer Bev Doolittle?

Posted by: Tanya at 11:45 AM

For people like 'wrenfroo' all art should be 'art', utterly devoid of any meaning save that which the viewer brings to it--unless it be hard and fast offensive 'political' 'art'--aimed right at the hearts of all those who most likely want art that can move the soul without a dissertation on phallocentric ideas as represented in a pseudo-menstrual deconstructionist paradigm(in oil).

There is still plenty of real talent out there, being ignored by galleries falling over themselves looking for the next 'Piss Christ'.

Look in tiny venues and online galleries

Posted by: jack at 01:47 PM