Monday, July 21, 2008

Air Sculpture and Plastic Cheeseburgers

I read this interesting article via Christopher Higgs's blog: "Is art running out of ideas? Artists forced to explain modern art"

Interesting questions about the simultaneous glut and absence of meaning in modern art, and the compulsion for pre-packaged meaning that is essentially fluff. I think maybe Giorgio Agamben approached this in his book The Man Without Content which is described this way:

In this book, one of Italy’s most important and original contemporary philosophers considers the status of art in the modern era. He takes seriously Hegel’s claim that art has exhausted its spiritual vocation, that it is no longer through art that Spirit principally comes to knowledge of itself. He argues, however, that Hegel by no means proclaimed the “death of art” (as many still imagine) but proclaimed rather the indefinite continuation of art in what Hegel called a “self-annulling” mode.

With astonishing breadth and originality, the author probes the meaning, aesthetics, and historical consequences of that self-annulment. In essence, he argues that the birth of modern aesthetics is the result of a series of schisms—between artist and spectator, genius and taste, and form and matter, for example—that are manifestations of the deeper, self-negating yet self-perpetuating movement of irony.

Through this concept of self-annulment, the author offers an imaginative reinterpretation of the history of aesthetic theory from Kant to Heidegger, and he opens up original perspectives on such phenomena as the rise of the modern museum, the link between art and terror, the natural affinity between “good taste” and its perversion, and kitsch as the inevitable destiny of art in the modern era. The final chapter offers a dazzling interpretation of Dürer’s Melancholia in the terms that the book has articulated as its own.

The Man Without Content will naturally interest those who already prize Agamben’s work, but it will also make his name relevant to a whole new audience—those involved with art, art history, the history of aesthetics, and popular culture.


And, who knows, maybe we left art behind long long ago. It isn't dead, it's still standing alongside the road where we left it. Maybe we've really been eating plastic cheeseburgers. Maybe worrying about art/the state of art/the death of art is a waste of time.

I'm going to start a new feature, inspired by the article above, where I will provide descriptions and meanings for art installations/exhibits.

An extravagant dining table and chairs with obviously expensive place settings. In the center of the table lay platters piled high with pyramids of plastic child's play food. A human skeleton sits in each chair with more plastic food piled in and spilling over the pelvis onto the floor.

[insert your very own personalized meaning here]

I don't know. Maybe this would be better:

A diner counter inside an art exhibition area. People working behind the counter are dressed in artist costumes. People dressed as art lovers sit on the stools and order from the menus. The artists set plates piled with plastic food in front of the customers. The customers chew on the plastic food. Through sour, confused faces, the customers nod and rave about the food.

Maybe that's not vague enough, though.

8 comments:

KEN BAUMANN said...

i like this post

KEN BAUMANN said...

i just went to the new wing of the Los Angeles county museum of art, and they have a new wing for contemp/modern art

i asked myself the same questions yesterday

definitely glut

abandon

but man it's good people are making things i guess

Josh Maday said...

thanks, ken. i'm torn about it too: seems like so much stuff is ridiculous (the runner or live statue "installations" from the article: those are mostly exercises in the art of organizational skills: get volunteers, find a venue, and you're on) but at the same time we can't just quit; must press on, redirect, whatever. yes, it is good that people are making things. amen to that.

Adam R. said...

I really liked that article. Thanks for posting it. It's something I think about a lot.

I don't think the problem is with art at all, just with people's need to have meaning made explicit.

Josh, if you write me artist descriptions of what a piece means, I will make the art. You write four descriptions, I'll make four arts, and then we'll choose which one should go with which. We can have this done by Christmas.

Josh Maday said...

i think you have a point about the need for spoon fed meaning, adam. sure, some of the art being created seems like a sham, but i suppose that's for the observer to decide. i think that was part of the thrust of the article: how this need to 'democritize' meaning (in scare quotes because i obviously don't believe it's democritizing as much as talking down by talking at all) and make it accessible to anyone who can read and is aware of the cultural buzzwords has helped produce this compulsion to write a McMeaning for everything. i think david lynch's films are an excellent example of an antidote for this kid-tested-mother-approved meaning machine, refusing to explain the meaning and stressing the importance of the viewer's intuition. so, yeah, i probably sound like a flip-flopper, but i try to see things in different ways; and maybe that makes me seem wishy-washy. oh well.

yes, adam, we can do this. i will write four artist descriptions. i'll stick closer to the McMeanings in the article rather than the things i wrote in this post. let's do it. will be fun. i'll start writing them today. it will be the McArt Value Menu. i'll take the number 3 with that spicy subversive sauce . . .

Adam R. said...

Yes. I like the value meal analogy.

Joseph Young said...

yeah, i agree with adam. if we want to attach all this unmeaningful meaning to art i don't think that's art's problem. besides, it doesn't make much sense to say 'contemporary art has no meaning' or 'has no content' or 'is ugly' or 'is spiritually exhausted' or anything else. my idea is, if you haven't found art you like in today's art world, you probably just haven't looked in the right place yet. how much art is being made, of all kinds, predilections? billions. silly, serious, pretty, ugly, someone's making it. just like writing.

Josh Maday said...

well stated, joseph. you're right, there is something out there to suit any aesthetic taste, and you're probably not looking hard enough if you can't find anything but what you don't like. yes, it's exactly like writing.

yes, adam, the McArt Value Menu is coming soon. there will be t-shirts and bumper stickers and other conspicuous things.