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Author Topic: The Price of Modern Art
Catchfire
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posted 13 August 2008 12:11 AM      Profile for Catchfire   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
The value of modern art came up in this thread about recent arts funding cuts by the Conservatives. One example, that jester seemed quite upset about (mirroring the bluster from right-wing editorial pages when the piece was purchased) was Barnett Newman's Voice of Fire, purchased for $1.8 million in 1989. It is now worth quite a bit more.

I wonder if anyone criticizing the painting's simpleness has been to see it? Here's what the Tate Modern has to say about Newman's work:

quote:
Newman's paintings are impossible to grasp from reproductions. They require us to stand before them, close enough to experience all their nuances of colour and structure. So adamant was Newman about the way his art should be viewed that he once typed a statement and stuck it to the gallery wall instructing people to stand at only a 'short distance' from his canvases. Seen in proximity, Newman believed that his work could engender feelings of heightened self-awareness. 'I hope that my painting has the impact of giving someone, as it did me, the feeling of his own totality, of his own separateness, of his own individuality,' he said.

Or, from the National Gallery in Ottawa:

quote:
Three essential ideas shaped his thoughts and work. The first, derived from the writings of the Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin, was his belief in the responsibility of the individual to free himself from all dogma, whether of the right or the left. The second, inspired by the Kwakiutl art of the Northwest Coast, was his understanding that the abstract shape had its own reality and could convey ideas and feelings directly, without reference to the visual world. The third, occasioned by his reaction to Indian mounds seen on a visit to Ohio, and later deepened by his insight into the Jewish mystical concept of makom – the "place" where God is – was his desire to create a sense of place in his paintings that would have a similar mystery. This feeling of being located was, for Newman, the fundamental spiritual dimension of art; by his attention to place in his paintings he hoped to give the viewer a "feeling of his own totality, of his own separateness, of his own individuality, and at the same time, of his connection to others, who are also separate."

Obviously, Newman's work has resonated with millions of people, many of whom have never had an hour of "education" on the subject. Yet for some reason, there are still people like jester who think that they can reduce such engaging work to the question of "what is it worth?" Is this fair?

Also for your consideration:

My Kid Can Paint That.


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Cueball
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posted 13 August 2008 12:55 AM      Profile for Cueball   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Basically it is like this. 90% of all art is shit. Then another 9% is good. Then 1% is phenomenal or above. 100 years before his time, most people would have assessed Van Gogh's art as shit, on face value -- this was even more or less true in his time. They would be wrong, and were indeed wrong. Artist and audience develop in relationship to each other, through mutual understanding of conception. There is no objective way to devine who will produce what and what has true artistic value.

Really, arts and culture funding is basically a decision about how much art and culture you want, not the quality of it, since this can not be determined through an "objective" standard, as there is very few ways of making an objective assessment of the quality of the artist, especially when they are in development.

There is an old saying in advertising that says "half of the money you spend on advertising is wasted, the problem is that you don't know which half." Arts funding is based more or less on the same principle, except that wastage amount is far higher.

Therefore, arts funding is simple. The more money you spend the more shit you will produce. That said, 9% will still be good, and another 1% will be great in ratio to the amount you spend.

[ 13 August 2008: Message edited by: Cueball ]


From: Out from under the bridge and out for a stroll | Registered: Dec 2003  |  IP: Logged
Robespierre
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posted 13 August 2008 02:32 AM      Profile for Robespierre     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Catchfire:...Yet for some reason, there are still people like jester who think that they can reduce such engaging work to the question of "what is it worth?" Is this fair?[/QB]

Anyone or any institution that spends $1.8 million dollars on a painting had better fucking well come up with a fancy explanation for doing it.

Jester has lived up to his nom de forum a number of times but I don't think we should include his posting history as proof that he's wrong here.

I appreciate cueball's approach as stated above. I'm not sure that those percentages are correct but I'm comfortable in allowing them in order to make the point.

Last time I saw Barett Newman's work the security guard in the room of the museum exhibit warned me not to stand so close to the painting. It was ok, though, I'd seen what I needed to see. If I was given to delusional thinking I might agree with many of Barett's fans. Their opinions about art are valid as mine or yours, however, but I don't agree with them about the artist's paintings. His writings on art and philosophy do reject many conventions that I also reject, and I find them pleasing to read in the same way I like shapes and colors in other paintings by other artists.


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Catchfire
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posted 13 August 2008 02:41 AM      Profile for Catchfire   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Anyone or any institution that spends $1.8 million dollars on a painting had better fucking well come up with a fancy explanation for doing it.

Does this apply only to paintings? What would qualify as a 'fancy explanation'? Would you require the same 'fancy explanation' from someone who was examining a particular blood vessel phenomenon or cancer cell and was applying for grant money?

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Robespierre
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posted 13 August 2008 03:21 AM      Profile for Robespierre     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Catchfire:
Does this apply only to paintings? What would qualify as a 'fancy explanation'? Would you require the same 'fancy explanation' from someone who was examining a particular blood vessel phenomenon or cancer cell and was applying for grant money?

I'm being a smartass, catchfire. I'm suggesting that the intitutions you linked to did have fancy explanations, if not self-serving ones. Didn't the pompous tone of my last reply remind you of too many art critics you've read?

Also, Wednesdays suck as bad as Tuesdays, let's be real. Just putting that out there vis-a-vis nothing.


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Stargazer
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posted 13 August 2008 04:08 AM      Profile for Stargazer     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
You are a funny guy Robes

Catchfire, looks like it's me and you defending the arts and this choice of purchase. I remember when it all erupted years ago and the massive debate in the media about buying Newman's piece.


From: Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist. | Registered: Jun 2004  |  IP: Logged
bigcitygal
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posted 13 August 2008 04:14 AM      Profile for bigcitygal     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
No, I'm here and lurking.

$1.8 million, eh?

My argument would be: How much is spent on the military every year and why don't they ever have to justify their spending? Only a small few will "benefit" and I use that term snarkily. Plus, has anyone ever been killed by "friendly (voice of) fire"?


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Robespierre
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posted 13 August 2008 05:11 AM      Profile for Robespierre     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Stargazer:
You are a funny guy Robes

Catchfire, looks like it's me and you defending the arts and this choice of purchase. I remember when it all erupted years ago and the massive debate in the media about buying Newman's piece.


I think it's a good defense, Stargazer (and catchfire), a good purchase. Because Newman is renowned, his paintings fetch a lot of money on the open market, and if this one wasn't bought by the museum some private collector might have gotten hold of it. Most of them belong the vampire caste of capitalism, they do nothing to directly produce wealth in society, they are artless speculators. Not all collectors are like that, just like, 99%.

I also like how BCG asked a very reasonable question that never seems to be asked, eventhough it is totally valid and connected to "discussions" on public spending, especially ones that are led or fueled by pundits and fools, capitalism's reserve army of propagandists.


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Catchfire
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posted 13 August 2008 05:23 AM      Profile for Catchfire   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
As everyone knows, I deplore smartasses.

Don't get me wrong, I hate the idea of rich people buying art, reifying it and converting it to capital (the opposite, essentially, of what art should accomplish). In the film I linked to above, whose premise addresses the assumption that modern art is so stupid a kid could do it (Marla Olmsted), there is a scene where Marla's gallery host is trying to sell a painting to a rich couple, after a 60 Minutes II special has all but shown that Marla is kind of a fraud. The couple buys the piece for $7000. Why? Because there's an accompanying DVD.


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bigcitygal
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posted 13 August 2008 05:34 AM      Profile for bigcitygal     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Catchfire:
As everyone knows, I deplore smartasses.

Aw, and we've been getting along so well!

quote:
Don't get me wrong, I hate the idea of rich people buying art, reifying it and converting it to capital (the opposite, essentially, of what art should accomplish).

Now this is a huge topic, one that my artist friends banter about, and is more a discussion I'd be interested in having.

There's a fabulous book, it may be out of print, called "Thinking Class: Sketches from a Cultural Worker" by Joanna Kadi. The book is about tons of things, but relevant to this topic she talks about the class differences in how artistic expression contrasts between the West (where you have to study, be an expert and be "the best") and her background as a mixed race Lebanese woman, in which everyone participates, regardless of skill level. She uses the example of dance. She contrasts the difference between at a family gathering how everyone will dance to their ability, young and old, men and women, people who can't stand will dance in their seats. This compared with paying $100 a seat to see a ballet performance. Her book was brilliant.


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Robespierre
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posted 13 August 2008 05:46 AM      Profile for Robespierre     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Catchfire:
As everyone knows, I deplore smartasses.

Don't get me wrong, I hate the idea of rich people buying art, reifying it and converting it to capital (the opposite, essentially, of what art should accomplish). In the film I linked to above, whose premise addresses the assumption that modern art is so stupid a kid could do it (Marla Olmsted), there is a scene where Marla's gallery host is trying to sell a painting to a rich couple, after a 60 Minutes II special has all but shown that Marla is kind of a fraud. The couple buys the piece for $7000. Why? Because there's an accompanying DVD.


I did not know this. I just now sent a fax to the American people so that we will all know.

$7000 dollars?? Wow. It's sick and sad and funny all at once that the couple got hooked because of the accompying DVD.

I totally respect your principled position on art.

Once, about a million years ago, I sold a painting of mine---I painted it---for a few hundred dollars. At the time I thought I was so cool because I elected not to sign the painting, as if I was some sort of communist artist from the future. A year later, a friend told me she'd seen a painting for sale that that looked a lot like one I had sold, but someone else's name was on it.

I didn't want to know whether it was my painting or just looked like it. I'd given up painting by then for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that I had no talent. But, I just didn't need to know if I had been ripped off like that. lol


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Catchfire
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posted 13 August 2008 06:35 AM      Profile for Catchfire   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Here are some artists that challenge reification of art, using generosity as a medium:

Ted Purves - What We Want is Free

quote:
Examines the way recent artists have incorporated concepts of generosity into their work.

Through a variety of lenses, this book examines contemporary artists' use of the "gift"—the distribution of goods and services—as a medium for artistic production. Featuring a detailed survey of over fifty artists' projects from fifteen countries, What We Want Is Free explores how these artists use their projects to connect participants to tangible goods and services that they might need, enjoy, and benefit from. Samples of these various projects include the creation of free commuter bus lines and medicinal plant gardens; the distribution of such services as free housework or computer programming; and the production of community media projects such as free commuter newspapers and democratic low-wattage radio stations.


Apology Service

quote:
An apology is an act through which a person can express contrition or remorse for misdeeds or actions that may have had a negative effect on others. Regret is feeling sorry for such actions.

In our day-to-day lives, we often encounter situations where we experience feelings of regret to varying degrees. From minor instances where the impact of our actions is inconsequential, to situations in which our actions have short or even long-term results, the potential for feelings of regret is always present. These feelings can potentially interfere with our well-being and how we interact with others.

Apology Service is a free service with the sole intention of helping people deal with the many feelings of regret they encounter every day. By creating a free forum where anyone can make a public apology or take advantage of our apology drafting service, Apology Service is providing people with a tool that will enable them to manage their feelings of regret and move on with their lives.

Apology Service was created by Julio López.



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500_Apples
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posted 13 August 2008 07:08 AM      Profile for 500_Apples   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Catchfire:

Does this apply only to paintings? What would qualify as a 'fancy explanation'? Would you require the same 'fancy explanation' from someone who was examining a particular blood vessel phenomenon or cancer cell and was applying for grant money?

Such bad attempts at humour weaken your point.


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Catchfire
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posted 13 August 2008 07:08 AM      Profile for Catchfire   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Those were not attempts at humour. They were serious questions. Can you answer them?
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500_Apples
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posted 13 August 2008 07:11 AM      Profile for 500_Apples   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 

I'm open-minded to any rational explanation that the above is worth 2 million dollars. I'm not interested in nonsense analogies to medical research.


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500_Apples
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posted 13 August 2008 07:16 AM      Profile for 500_Apples   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Catchfire:
Those were not attempts at humour. They were serious questions. Can you answer them?

The value of scientific grants given to university researchers tends to be correlated with the cost of pursuing the specified research. Salary for graduate students, office space, cost of equipment, et cetera. Scientists make a good living but few go in there for the money... with such strong analytical skills and work ethics virtually all scientists could make more money working in law or on wall street.

That's the explanation for the price tags attached to scientific grants - the cost of research (labour and equipment).


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500_Apples
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posted 13 August 2008 07:19 AM      Profile for 500_Apples   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Btw just to be clear as I'm probably not, I'm all in favour of public funding for the arts with the decisions of how to allocate money being done by artists and not by politicians. Even if all my criticisms are correct which I doubt the public money spent on arts is peanuts so I doubt it matters much. I do worry that maybe lax standards might be setting a detrimental norm?

I'm merely exercising my liberty to be an armchair critic and am trying to see what's going on.


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Catchfire
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posted 13 August 2008 07:30 AM      Profile for Catchfire   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
How much money do you think artists are paid? Do you think they make even close the amount of money as a tenured professor, or lecturer, or lab assistant? Newman was long dead when his painting sold for that much money. My point was that even though most scientific research never bears 'practical' fruit--including research framed as 'cancer research'--it is never questioned. Neither is, as bcg aptly pointed out, military spending. Explain it away, if you like.

As for the rational explanation defending Barrett's work, did you read any of the posts above? Or are you simply exercising shotgun art criticism, blustering at how one of the most inventive abstract painters of the late-twentieth century just paints red stripes?


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500_Apples
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posted 13 August 2008 07:42 AM      Profile for 500_Apples   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Catchfire:
My point was that even though most scientific research never bears 'practical' fruit--including research framed as 'cancer research'--it is never questioned.

It's hard to take you seriously when you post nonsense like that.

Let me tell you something I was taught in... CEGEP-level chemistry. Even when you get a "null" result or your experiment fails, your experiment still has value, because then other people can know that that methodology didn't work. This is practical value.

Secondly, you're using an extremely restrictive meaning of "practical value". A meaning that might be consistent with your claim would be direct economic impact within 48 months of conception. Such a meaning would be misguided and incorrect which I'm sure you understand.

I think what's happening here is that you're so defensive about the value of art, that you're spouting irrational accusations at what is often the popular opposite to art, science.

Different countries will give different amounts of funding to arts, to sports, and to science. I think they're all essential, but I doubt that any one of them justifies the other two. And would that not be a disservice?

quote:
As for the rational explanation defending Barrett's work, did you read any of the posts above?

Use common sense - of course I read the above posts. Cueball had a very strong argument, which I think is sufficient.

You often tend to assume that if one does not accept your point then one did not read your point. You seem to seldom consider the possibility that people may have read your arguments, considered them, and found them insufficient and unsatisfactory on rational grounds. It's very pompous of you and very annoying.

[ 13 August 2008: Message edited by: 500_Apples ]


From: Montreal, Quebec | Registered: Jun 2006  |  IP: Logged
Catchfire
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posted 13 August 2008 07:52 AM      Profile for Catchfire   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Apples: I put 'practical' in quotation marks for effect. The point was of course science research is valuable, for exactly the reasons you cited (who's being defensive?) But it is not 'practical' in the same way people seem to expect art to be 'practical'.

And knock this off:

quote:
It's hard to take you seriously when you post nonsense like that...I think what's happening here is that you're so defensive about the value of art, that you're spouting irrational accusations at what is often the popular opposite to art, science.

I won't respond civilly to you again if you do.

The reason I asked if you had read the above posts is not because you disagree with me. In case you haven't noticed, we tend to do that a lot (although I never understand why you are so interested in threads about art and humanities). I asked because you asked the same question I had answered in the OP without addressing my response. You just ignored it. Would you prefer I assumed you were being deliberately obtuse or confrontational?


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500_Apples
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posted 13 August 2008 07:56 AM      Profile for 500_Apples   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Catchfire:
I won't respond civilly to you again if you do.
I'm not sure if you're genuinely oblivious to how incredibly condescending and antagonizing you tend to be, or if you're just playing dumb.

Try and explain the following ignorant (deceptively so?) expression of bewilderment:

quote:
I never understand why you are so interested in threads about art and humanities

Catchfire, it's generally bad form to expect more of others than you're willing to yield yourself.

[ 13 August 2008: Message edited by: 500_Apples ]


From: Montreal, Quebec | Registered: Jun 2006  |  IP: Logged
Catchfire
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posted 13 August 2008 07:58 AM      Profile for Catchfire   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
So, how about the rest of my post? Or would you prefer to continue to play along to whatever feud you have dreamed up that we share?

ETA: I would also encourage you to start at your first post in this thread and then reevaluate the tenor and dynamic of our 'disagreement'.

[ 13 August 2008: Message edited by: Catchfire ]


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500_Apples
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posted 13 August 2008 08:03 AM      Profile for 500_Apples   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Catchfire:
So, how about the rest of my post? Or would you prefer to continue to play along to whatever feud you have dreamed up that we share?

It's my genuine impression that you get very defensive whenever someone criticizes the contemporary arts and humanities, and that in your defensiveness you often slide into irrational arguments, arguments whose quality are as such much lower than those when you write a primary post.

ETA: So why are you so interested in the arts and humanities?

[ 13 August 2008: Message edited by: 500_Apples ]


From: Montreal, Quebec | Registered: Jun 2006  |  IP: Logged
Catchfire
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posted 13 August 2008 08:06 AM      Profile for Catchfire   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Apples. You have not posted anything of substance in this thread and began and ended every post of yours with antagonism because of some secret grudge you hold against me. You have displayed nothing but ignorance, in most cases, wilful, and our bickering is ruining a perfectly good thread. Consider this my last response to you.
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500_Apples
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posted 13 August 2008 08:17 AM      Profile for 500_Apples   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Catchfire:
Apples. You have not posted anything of substance in this thread and began and ended every post of yours with antagonism because of some secret grudge you hold against me. You have displayed nothing but ignorance, in most cases, wilful, and our bickering is ruining a perfectly good thread. Consider this my last response to you.

Unbelievable hypocrisy.

quote:
I never understand why you are so interested in threads about art and humanities
quote:
are you simply exercising shotgun art criticism,
quote:
Explain it away, if you like.
quote:
Consider this my last response to you.
quote:
You have displayed nothing but ignorance

You may in fact not realize it now, but you will realize one day how your condescension is incredibly antagonizing.

***

Btw, to answer your question, I participate in discussions of arts and humanities because I find them interesting. And that is self-evident. In my spare time I like to read pertinent books, go to related shows and discuss philosophy with friends, which is probably the same as everyone else on babble. Your question basically reduces to "why would YOU find these topics interesting?" which you don't see a problem with. Or maybe you do, and that's why you failed to answer it. However upon realizing your disgusting error you chose to ignore it, and to hide like a turtle behind a shell of hurt feelings.

[ 13 August 2008: Message edited by: 500_Apples ]


From: Montreal, Quebec | Registered: Jun 2006  |  IP: Logged
Catchfire
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posted 13 August 2008 08:26 AM      Profile for Catchfire   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Here is a review of Ted Purves' excellent book, linked to above, What We Want is Free:
quote:
Mary Jane Jacob’s essay, ‘Reciprocal Generosity’ deals with one of the most interesting projects discussed in the book, "Haha’s" Flood, which was, in essence, a storefront hydroponics garden. Its dependence on community participation and the delivery of its final product are what make the project interesting. Volunteers were able to contribute to the project, learn a skill, and take part in the creation of the art object of the project: the vegetables that were grown. Then these vegetables were given to a home for AIDS patients. The group also ran community education programs relating to hydroponics and safe sex. In this way Flood served many different roles: as a provider of goods, services, and education. This concept of service and integration of social responsibility into the process of creating art appears to be most successful when combined with a dependence on community participation. Community participation equals community feedback equals a semblance of community ownership and then without the community there is no product, no vegetables, no empowerment, no shared knowledge, and no art. “Thus generosity became the medium, or methodology, and the subject, or product, of this project.” (6)

In Kate Fowl and Lars Bang Larsen’s essay, ‘Lunch Hour’ the Copenhagen-based group N55 is discussed. Their project, LAND, was setup to begin to return surplus land back to the public and has received donations of land from countries including Norway, Denmark, and even the United States. “The legal rights to each piece are retained by the donor, who agrees to keep access and use completely unrestricted at all times, as a politically motivated liberation of land. The only requirements are that people respect the ways in which others wish to use the space, and that any acts do not detract from the potential for others to add to what happens in the location.” (24)
Just by existing it calls into questions which spaces are free for use and in what capacities people can use them. It also provides a sort of collective support for individuals interested in making their land free for use, while at the same time its structure points to a need for the organization of this type of land use.



From: On the heather | Registered: Apr 2003  |  IP: Logged
Robespierre
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posted 13 August 2008 10:56 AM      Profile for Robespierre     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Stations of the Tim Hortons

I made this one today and printed it on plain paper, carried it down to 57th Street and 5th Avenue, and sold it to wealthy Austrians for $14,000 (USD). I told them it embodied the soul of the Canadian nation, and also that it rejected Ayn Rand's view of individualism. I think they had an orgasm when I mentioned that last part, they pressed the cash right into my hand.

[ 13 August 2008: Message edited by: Robespierre ]

[ 13 August 2008: Message edited by: Robespierre ]


From: Raccoons at my door! | Registered: Jul 2008  |  IP: Logged
Catchfire
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posted 13 August 2008 11:23 AM      Profile for Catchfire   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Brilliant. I love how you confront space with receding perspective, and at the same time comment on the increasing commodification of our daily life, one double double at a time. Was it not Prufrock who said, 'For I have known them all already, known them all:— / Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, / I have measured out my life with coffee spoons'? Yet the bold indigo stripe promises hope, emancipation, deterritorialization of the flawed proportion that is our daily, impoverished corporeality. It promises, in short, desire.
From: On the heather | Registered: Apr 2003  |  IP: Logged
Robespierre
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posted 13 August 2008 12:29 PM      Profile for Robespierre     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Catchfire:
Brilliant. I love how you confront space with receding perspective, and at the same time comment on the increasing commodification of our daily life, one double double at a time. Was it not Prufrock who said, 'For I have known them all already, known them all:— / Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, / I have measured out my life with coffee spoons'? Yet the bold indigo stripe promises hope, emancipation, deterritorialization of the flawed proportion that is our daily, impoverished corporeality. It promises, in short, desire.


Damn, you're good at that! Wanna produce my next DVD??


From: Raccoons at my door! | Registered: Jul 2008  |  IP: Logged
Merowe
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posted 17 August 2008 06:13 AM      Profile for Merowe     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I first saw a Barnett Newman in Amsterdam as a teenager and I was utterly blown away, spent a long time completely entranced by a massive shimmering blue field interrupted by a scruffy white line. It would be ridiculous to deny the evidence of my senses and I rate the experience a profound one. I'm less enthusiastic about Voice of Fire, I just don't care that much for the colours in that one. Its been years since I saw it at the National Gallery but I remember also being disappointed by the installation, hung too high and too reverentially to approach it close enough to let it impact on the senses as it was intended to.
I've since had similar experiences with the work of James Turrell, whose ethereal light installations are otherworldly, something really fine and special.
So, i guess I 'get' this sort of art but I didn't come to it unprepared. I'd been a fan of abstraction since my early teens and my own work till my mid-twenties was abstract. The abstract expressionists were still gods when I was growing up and i wasn't immune. I've been a professional visual artist for twenty five years or so. So when I stood before the Newman in Amsterdam I knew all about how we'd gotten from the Impressionists through Tatlin and Malevich to Ab-Ex and what was to follow.
I think part of really 'seeing' art is conditioning the mind to be open, to shut off the constant stream of ratiocination from the left hemisphere and tune one's senses to the experience a work offers. I came to this naturally enough in my youth but I understand those less interested in art might not be so tuned, or trained, and knee-jerk critical commentary then appears, to cover the viewer's insecurity and nervousness that they might somehow be being made a fool of. (Try Duchamp/ R.Mutt for that!)
I think its probably the mandate of the National Gallery within its limited acquisitions budget to collect work that illustrates the timeline of modern – and historical – art and Newman is deservedly placed on such a line. Certainly his work and the period from which it emerges is not to everyone's taste and I don't think that's important. I gag at the mention of baseball, but forgive those friends of mine who fail to appreciate just what a spectacularly silly 'sport' it is. What matters is the work is there, to be found and perhaps appreciated when a given viewer is ready for it. It took me decades to really 'get' Van Gogh too; I knew I was SUPPOSED to. I'd seen hundreds over the years before one finally 'popped' into reality for me and once again, the experience was unforgettable...like when your stomach surges in a helicopter when it makes a sudden dip. Or when you're staring at one of these digitally scrambled images that your brain is able, with a trick, to reassemble into the original pre-scramble image. Now when i look at Van Goghs I bring this experience to my appreciation. They don't all 'pop' as the one did but I'm just that much more favorably inclined to his work since the personal revelation.
We all live in the real world but I dislike the obsession with cost and financial value that attaches to so much discussion around art. That speaks more of the culture we live in than the experiential content good art provides. Money is entirely irrelevant to the experience, utterly foreign. We see that 'news' these days includes how much athletes are paid or how much a film grosses at the box office. Another example of the ideology of the business classes seeping into territory it doesn't really belong.
But for those who worry, Cueball dealt with this at the top of the thread where he points out the work has considerably appreciated in value since it was acquired; even in redneck terms the money was well-spent. There are other conversations to be had about the commodification of art, or indeed making art under capitalism. I always liked Trotsky's comment that the artist is equal parts visionary and philistine; since they're obliged to sell their work to survive they must negotiate the unbridgeable gap between 'value' and....'value', as it were, and its never that comfortable. For me, at any rate.
Cueball also makes the good point that most art is shite. Thats just the way it is, I usually figure about a 90% failure rate when I tour the galleries. Some of that will be work that i don't get, some not to my taste, but a good part of it will simply be poorly done. Sometimes a micro-second's glance through the window will tell me all I need to know about a given artist's work. So in terms of public funding, it's like R and D: you fund a swathe of projects with the knowledge that many will come to not much; in this respect its no different from science or other fields of endeavor. In terms of cost to the taxpayer, its still laughably cheap, a pittance, the amount of public subsidy of the arts. We sure as shit aren't in it for the money!
Eh...so, I'd just urge those who are quick to judge, to do a little research around a given work that distresses them, place it in context; your experience will be the richer for it. If you still dismiss it, it will at least be an informed dismissal and fair enough.

From: Dresden, Germany | Registered: Apr 2003  |  IP: Logged

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