Not an Artblog Comment, but Relevant to Contemporary Art Criticism

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In an enlightening article in the January 2006 Art in America Nancy Princenthal states the critic's case for art criticism's frequently-noted flaccidity. She lays part of the blame on the sheer mind-blowing diversity of contemporary art. I'd have to agree with her on that point and a number of others.

From the bottom left column of page 45:

...judgement is simply not the most important thing a critic does. The question of whom, and what, a categorical judgement serves has no clear answer...it tends to shut down fruitful discussion.
(Read the entire article, it's worth your time.)

I'm not sure what she means by fruitful discussion, but I've never seen discussion shut down by judgement. If anything, harsh judgement tends to provoke further discussion. And some work absolutely begs to be judged. Take the Damien Hirst show of realistic paintings from last year. There was discussion, to be sure, but forget any fruit.

Blinding diversity serves the market extremely well, which is one terrific reason to distrust it, and to spend a great deal of energy to cut through it and sort things out. It takes evaluation and judgement to do that. But with art critics essentially cutting and running in the face of all this diversity, to which other ostensibly disinterested third parties can we appeal?

This takes me back to my foundation thesis. I'd contend that the diversity that completely overwhelms us all is yet another feature of the change in art itself and its relationship to our culture. Most art critics are unable to cope with it because they're working with outdated paradigms of art criticism.

Ms. Princenthal writes concerning some of the formal issues art critics face, among them being the fact that art criticism as a form arose rather spontaneously and arbitrarily (I'm paraphrasing, obviously.) It's always in the course of being worked out.

Another instructive point, but it appears as though not much has been worked out these past five years or so in the world of art criticism. Perhaps a new paradigm needs to emerge.

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Bromirski Posts on a Group Show at VCU: no comment, but...

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He's a complicated guy; you get the sense of layers of complexity beneath the surface. Check his sense of what surface charge is about, within the context of a show called Surface Charge. I didn't have anything intelligent to contribute to his posting, but his coverage of the group show at VCU is interesting to me because it underscores my interest in real-time experiences.

Check how this work, while taking up an entire gallery end wall, really doesn't change appreciably as you move about the room. You can get up close on the far left side of it, but all you've really accomplished is to defeat any real viewing of the piece.

This piece, on the other hand, is never viewable in the sense of being able to study it closely from directly in front of it. You're forced to choose from a variety of unfavorable viewpoints, each providing some level of distortion due either to parallax or distance. Consequently, I'd consider it more of a real-time piece.

This piece frustrates your sense of physical being, in my opinion. It makes me want to get down near the floor with it. Its experience varies depending on your viewpoint, making it a real-time experience. Additionally, I associate it with the discomfort of getting down on the ground, crawling about, moving my head down near the ground, and all those cramptastic feelings of physically unnatural feats. This interests me a great deal.

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Winkleman Wonders about the Limitations of Ownership

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in a generous Open Thread. I put in my two bits about the loss of the museums, which I regard as another sign of unacknowledged changes in art.

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Winkleman replies to a preposterous proposition, and I reply to Winkleman

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Winkleman points to a blog entry by someone else with whom he apparently disagrees. The entry posits Mike Kelly and Richard Tuttle as today's bleeding edge. In agreeing with Mr. W regarding this preposterous proposition, I propound my own pronouncement.

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What? Why? Where?

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I started Artblog Comments to keep track of my comments on art blogs.

After about a year of participating in the art blog reading-and-commenting community, I'm left somewhat confused by the relevance some prominent others assign to specific issues of art.

Underlying this question of relevance for me is the nagging sense that art itself has undergone a fundamental change over the past ten years or so, a change that seems to go largely unacknowledged. The concerns I see being addressed in artblogs are, for the most part, related to oppositions and conflicts that have already been played out, sometimes decades ago. Reading artblogs for me is occasionally like stepping off the streets of Fallujah into a jammed movie theater showing The Sands of Iwo Jima.

Art conflicts once centered on issues of style, format, commodification, conflicts between movements and perceived establishments, aesthetics, politics, history, and other issues that don't occur to me right this moment.

The current issue that I don't see being addressed is a developing conflict between pre-packaged experiences and real-time experiences.

Pre-packaged experiences have a number of things in common: they're closed, they present specific, pre-ordered sequences, they often contain explicit narrative, they may present absurdity as an ostensible anti-content which nonetheless functions as content, they either fit into or comment upon a previous movement, and more. The hallmark of pre-packaged experiences is the sense that the artist has created a specific set or sequence of events, with little room for variation, and an interpretation that, for the most part, is determined by the artist. The artist may concede that the experience could be interpreted any number of ways, but the artist has a specific interpretation in mind that he wishes to address. Examples from the non-art world might be greeting cards, most popular movies, most novels, and most popular music. Visual artists whose body of work includes pre-packaged experiences might be Eric Fischl, Dana Schutz, Chuck Close, John Currin, Matthew Barney, Beatriz Milhazes, Roy Lichtenstein, Damien Hirst, Bill Viola, and Jenny Saville.

Real-time experiences have a number of things in common: they're open, they present non-specific sequences orderable, to some extent, by the experiencer, they contain suggested content sometimes with incomplete narrative fragments, and more. The hallmark of real-time experiences is that the experiencer shapes his own experience to a larger degree than in pre-packaged experiences. The interpretation of a real-time artwork is largely open to the experiencer, whose own body of remembered experience and behavioral responses is put into play. Examples from the non-art world might be national parks, amusement parks, certain video games, dreams, and oracular rituals such as the use of Tarot cards and I Ching. Examples of artists whose work includes real-time experiences might be Lynda Benglis, Mike Kelly, Richard Serra, Rachel Whiteread, Matthew Ritchie, and James Turrell.

My artblog comments tend to proceed, one way or another, from the point of view that this conflict is of growing relevance, even if I don't address it directly. My hope is that, in containing all these comments in one place, some sort of text will emerge that addresses this fundamental change in art with some degree of clarity.

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