Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Am I an Art Bigot?

Below is an article I wrote for emptyeasel.com 
Since they edited (which I half expected) about a quarter of it out, added to the title and re-worded some bits, they have inadvertently diminished my main point (which I repeated for effect, and they repeatedly removed!), which focused on being able to ignore something (or, more to the point, not being allowed to ignore something) over the objectionable thing itself.

Without that as my main point strongly accented throughout the copy, I fear on their website it may just read as a whine about stuff I don't like!

Anyhow, see what you think, below is how I sent it, unedited.
Some of the parts emptyeasel subsequently either removed or altered that are key to my point are shown here in red...(in case you read their altered version on their website first).
If you didn't, and this is your first look, that's better!
There's a link to their version at the end.

Am I an art bigot?

Why do I hate so much 20th Century visual art with such a passion?
I'm not that way with music.
I have everything from Mozart to the Sex Pistols on my iPod, and if I hear some awful music, I don't rail against it, I just ignore it.

But I really do hate so much 20th Century art. I mean of course the really ridiculous stuff that gets thrust in your face but can only leave you scratching your head.

Why does it get under my skin so much?
Every time I ponder that question I see the implication that I must be an art bigot or snob of some kind, while at the same time being a pleasantly open minded music appreciator.

Why am I not consistently open minded, or consistently vehemently apposed, in both cases?

I believe I know the answer.
It's because the musical equivalent of the modern/post modern pretend art is really nowhere to be heard, and is easily ignored.
Actually it exists, but one listen is all it takes to turn you off it for good.

It's called atonal music and it simply gets ignored.

This dawned on me thanks to having read THIS ARTICLE (definitely worth a read).

In it, Spengler points out that the reason atonal music is not often played to audiences is because you are stuck once it starts and in for an aurally painful experience, and you can't pretend to like it with a token 10 second listen and then quickly wander off.

Which you can of course, with things hanging around in a gallery, no matter how bad they are.

And so the visual art equivalent of atonal music, far from getting ignored, keeps getting pushed in our faces.

Since we've been mired in this for so long, it might be easier to describe a scenario where the situation that exists for visual art - but doesn't for music, were reversed…

An Alternative Reality.

I imagine right now everything in your music collection appeals to your emotions on some level.
And it all follows some musical laws.
The melodies and rhythms might not be to everyone else's taste, but there are melodies and rhythms none the less for you to enjoy.

I'm guessing you don't listen to any atonal music.

That's the stuff carefully conceived to sound awful: You'll find no identifiable rhythm, harmony, or tune.
In essence it bears no resemblance to anything harmonious, and won't illicit any foot tapping at all.

And so you just ignore it.
You might never have even heard of it before, it's that unbearable on the ears.

But now let's pretend something for a minute:
Let's say that music museums exist where you can go and somehow enjoy live performances of any musical experience the museum sees fit to exhibit, even if the performers, conductors and composers are all long dead.
Somehow (unlike watching a DVD) it would be just like being there for real.
True virtual reality.

Who would you want to see first?

Let's say it costs a fortune for the museums to acquire the exhibits, and your tax money is often used to buy them.
And they insist on buying loads and loads of the atonal stuff, and give you lengthy explanations of its genius, and how you must basically be a moron if you don't want to come and experience it.

Mind you, these curators and critics can't play a note of anything themselves, you just have to take their word for it that they know more about serious music than you do.
Even if you're a musician.
No, make that especially if you're a musician.

And if you kick up a stink, well what are you? Stupid?

They might throw in some token performances of actual music, but really, if you're serious about enjoying music, this atonal stuff is what you should really be focused on.

If all that was true, then you couldn't ignore it at museums.
And let's also imagine it keeps getting played on TV anytime serious music is discussed.

Let's say the atonal authors are getting paid enormous amounts for their cacophony.
And of course museums and collectors keep popping up in the news since they are paying such absurd sums to acquire it.

Of course it still wouldn't live in your music collection, at least not on any playlists you actually listen to, but it would be getting shoved in your ears all the time.

What would actually competent musicians and bands and orchestras make of that, once they were marginalized and diminished in value in favor of the more supposedly meaningful atonal stuff?

What if their rare gifts and wonderful performances were pushed aside and belittled, while a person dropping some pots and pans on a mattress at random intervals was glorified and hailed a genius?
Even though it was obvious the genius couldn't play a note on any instrument?

And your tax money was making them a fortune.

It doesn't bother anyone that atonal music exists because it's not regularly hailed as genius and shoved in our ears.

So if that alternative scenario was true: would the usurped and outraged musicians, along with those who appreciate their music become music bigots?

I think it would make perfectly good sense if they did.


Emptyeasel's re-worked version HERE

Click these links to visit my website... SteveWorthingtonArt.com - Sculpture that loves you back
or my Etsy store, CritterVille


Anonymous said...

I do not think that you are art bigot. A shark in formaldehyde may communicate something . It certainly does stick in ones craw doesn't it? I would not equate the "'post modern" conceptual idea oriented "art" as seen in some big name art magazines with the entire sum total of abstract art.
It does not matter if one paints in a realistic or abstract style. A lousy painting is a lousy painting period. Unfortunately it seems that during the last few decades the notion of beauty has become disparaged. The emphasis it seems is on the execution of the idea . We live in an environment in which nearly every image has to be almost instantly available.
People do not take the time to sit and let a painting unfold. I have seen people walk up to a realistic painting in a museum & give it a quick glance . They spend more time reading the wall card. Since an abstract painting deals with the elements of texture, color and shape it takes even more time to allow for this to happen.
I think that a really good painting has to keep inviting me back for more. Each time that I spend letting it unfold the painting reveals different facets. One "type" is not better than the other. When painting for example a still-life I have found
that I have at least a reference point before me. Of course I could approach the painting from memory as Bonnard did . When painting an abstract though I have to find a reference point. It is easy to get so lost in painting abstracts that one can really spin their wheels aimlessly.
I would hope that the schism between abstract and realist painting is far behind us. Those that drove that train are now long gone. The responsibility is for the artist to decide what it is they want to paint and be responsible for their choice. For myself there are certain periods of modern art that I do not care for. I have learned about that art but I chosen not to take from it . The last century was truly ugly in many areas. I can leave atonal music behind. I prefer the Romantics. Those musicians were at such a level with their art that it transcends the time in which they live and worked. I never become bored listening for example to Mozart or Bach.
I paint both landscape and abstract paintings. I enjoy translating the beauty of nature to canvas. Sometimes there is nothing better than spending time outdoors just drawing. Yet I enjoy the challenge of painting abstracts. The abstract artist, Paul Burlin,
stated that, "In the process of making a painting in an abstract way, the painter is in search of a reality. Not one of realistic objects, but of the complete end result. The painting is experienced as a whole, and must evoke in the painter the absolute conviction that this is how it should be and no other way. Then a picture has existence; when it has it full meaningful expression, that is its reality". This for me is the challenge. I enjoy the pleasure of working with color, shape and texture in pursuit of this. There is within both camps a vehicle for personal expression that is valid.


Anonymous said...

Careful, you are not only whining, but showing your ignorance as well. Shame on you for lumping all 20th century art into the realm of the ridiculous. I'm scratching my head over your poorly written and poorly researched article on EE.

Steve sculpts critters said...

Thanks for your thoughts Mr/Mrs Anonymous x2.
Oh, to the second Anonymous...

I'd agree with you if I'd actually written, as you read it, the article on EE.
They changed the title, some of the copy, erased a bunch, along with my point.

If you could erase their re-worked article from your mind (they didn't offer to let me see their 'improvements' to my article before they posted it) and read what I actually submitted to them (see this post), I think you'd appreciate what I was actually driving at.

To re-state, it's not 'if I don't like most 20thC art'. I never wrote that, they made it up and added it all by themselves.

Where did they add it?
To the title.
Completely re-framing how you'd read it.

I wrote the article in a way that would have let my actual point unfold.

The title was supposed to be a leading question.

Where it was leading was less about the actual art, more about how it's relentlessly pushed, but they up front stated in the title what they would rather my point had been (but wasn't) and continued on their mission from there.

But there you go. When you submit an article it says on their submission page they reserve the right to alter/edit change it before publishing (I thought presumably for typo's, bad grammar and what not).

So you live and learn.

Yevgenia Watts said...

Good post and I agree with the analogy between bad art and bad music. My only comment is more directed at Spengler's article you refer to and the danger of using "post-modern art" and "abstract art" interchangeably. They are most certainly not the same thing.

Steve sculpts critters said...


I was just contemplating a musical analogy for abstract art.
It might be the equivalent of instrumental music, in that they both can evoke a powerful emotional connection.

Representational art might be the addition of lyrics to the instrumentation, in that it adds a concrete context or narrative under which the harmonies and structure operate.

Of course the success of good representational art relies heavily on the quality of its linear, tonal and color design (abstract underpinnings) as well as the skillful handling of the medium and execution of subject matter, and of course the appropriateness of the design to the subject.

Much like some good creepy lyrics would go well with some good creepy sounding music.