October 23, 2008

A Damn Tricky Balance: Aesthetics and Ethics (part 1)

Obviously, the main point that Bishop was trying to make was that in recent collaborative/communal art and intervention, aesthetics are often sacrificed in the name of the ethical, as if the two couldn't exist together. It seems she is arguing that in the effort to democratize and with the value placed on wide participation and consideration of all participants, the finished products are watered down aesthetically. Somehow there are potential layers of meaning and import stripped away. I can certainly see where this is often the case. Since ideas of the artist as genius have fallen out of fashion (not that I think we should return to them), it seems that some artists downplay their unique aesthetic impulses and intellects in some strange attempt to apologize for them. It seems that when making "socially engaged" art, especially when it involves participants/collaborators with no real experience or understanding of the art world, paws are velveted and there is a conscious attempt to not make anything too weird or to make sure there is no potential to offend any person or group. While this may result in smoother collaborations and a steadier guarantee for funding, does it also result in weaker art? Damn, this is tricky for me.

I like the example of "The Battle of Orgreave" by Deller, a piece I remember from a past class. In the end, this 2001 "re-enactment" was epic, complex, and may have even pointed to more of a gray area in group behaviors than the original event did. In this piece, Deller can be seen commenting on a number of issues including the role of historical re-enactment societies in shaping public memory and on issues of authorial control. Since many of the original "participants" were still alive at the time of the artwork, Deller incorporated several of them into the piece, often playing on opposite sides compared to the original skirmish (miners as policemen and police as miners). All this was allowed to play out as a sort of controlled chaos where I'm quite sure many of the participants were not privy to all of the aesthetic issues being discussed or to the "true" vision of the artist and his controlling partners. And yet, if I remember correctly, the overall response to this event was positive; possibly this was helped by the presences of beer tents set up for use by the participants. Deller's piece hovered in a strange place between an authored work and a collective one. The fact that he allowed that ambiguity as well as others that his piece brought up seems to stand in contrast to the kind of work that Bishop is referring to. Does socially engaged art have to be democratic? I don't believe so. I don't think it is unethical to use a body of people to execute personal ideas and aesthetics as long as they are willing to do so. And this is even if they don't fully understand the intricacies of those personal interests. I don't see what Deller did as some kind of trickery to get a bunch of people to execute one of his ideas.

I feel like I'm rambling and I still haven't gotten to the second part of the question, so I will continue this in a bit...

October 9, 2008

Against Interpretation

Wow. This reads to me (in broken pieces, as Jason points out) like another manifesto from those heady and exciting days when art was brought to it's natural conclusion in modernism. Sarcasm aside, I can understand why these viewpoints were reached by those living through such a significant time in art, but it's hard for me to agree now. Obviously, I'm an artist that cares about content as much as form, or maybe content as form, but more than that I've got the context of the postmodernist backlash, and we're probably in now whatever will be considered the beginning of the post-postmodern backlash, so what am I to make of this essay from the early sixties? This is not to say it's "antiquated" or obsolete, but even at the height of modernism content could never be removed from work. The content became the work and the history it stood on, or at least that could be considered a blanket interpretation that the concerns of many of the artists of the time fell under with their own investigations. Since then direct narrative, cultural narrative, social issues and global concerns have crept back into art, and I say all the better. If people's impulse to wrestle with interpretation could survive modernism, shouldn't that tell us that it is intrinsically human to do so? I just don't see it going away anytime soon and the idea that somehow art should be exempt from attempts at in-depth interpretation seems to go against the nature of those that make it and view it.

October 7, 2008


Question: Are there several pages missing from the Sontag essay, for some reason something felt out of place. For example on page four where the last paragraph ends with the word 'it' and continues on page five with 'interpretation'. Who knows, maybe its me the essay felt strange yet right on target.

The funny thing about this incident is how it resignates with the idea of interpretation. Sontag's essay whether legible or not address two important points: interpretation and meaning. I love when she refers to interpretation as "revenge of the intellect upon art." My opinion of the intellect is it always tries to make sense out of everything. This is not to say that the intellect is devilish, i am only saying that there are moments when the intellect disrupts, damages, disregards and kills something beautiful, artful, boring, etc. For me, if it does not make sense the better, i like challage by confusion, this is what keeps me coming back. Like Sontag i hope to approach meaning in a similar fashion. By forgetting what it means i allow myself the freedom to see, hear, touch, read, kick and feel what is in front of me. Meaning is important, this i cannot deny; however it is not the death of a work.


jason gaspar

PS Rashad you should write a paper on this subject.

Rashad - "Against Interpretation"

I found most of Sontag's piece pertinent to contemporary modes of perception and interpretation. Some of her positions I vehemently disagree with and others provoked question and skepticism. When she spoke of abstract painting as "the attempt to have, in the ordinary sense, no content" I found myself at a loss for words for what I read as a statement of blatant ignorance and a neglect in her own understanding of the nature of interpretation. This blindfolded statement was followed by "since there is no content, there can be no interpretation. If she is referring to the decorative arts, or non-representational/non-objective art, an obvious mistake has been made on her part. My definition of content "in the ordinary sense" is synonomous with purpose. Whatever the intent of the maker of the object is, whether it's a purely technical exercise or experimentation with formal elements, builds itself on a platform subject to interpretation. Susan Sontag also states "It doesn't matter whether artists intend, or don't intend for their works to be interpreted". Therefore their attempts "to have, in the ordinary sense, no content" are obselete. She also clearly points out that "to understand is to interpret". This leads me to believe that her contradictory view on content versus no content and inerpretation versus intent, as well as her belief that abstraction is the proverbial black hole of content, unveils her as unaware that she herself is incapable of interpreting abstract art. This is a bracket of art that she clearly does not understand because she feels it can't be interpreted? BS! I could go on and on. I should write a paper on this.

September 18, 2008

Nature and Time

Culturally i have grown to understand "nature" as the "great outdoors", is this what Grosz is referring to when she refrences "nature"?

Nature does provoke cultural evolution; however can culture generate evolution in "nature" ? Nature's wrath and passivity: storms, famine, droughts, sun, rain, animals, do cause change, here i agree with Grosz, but what about human intervention, pollution, farming, cloning, and building? I would like to borrow Micheal Pollan's thoughts and believe that nature may be evolving more than we think.

Because i care about the world and its state Grosz's questions should be considered. Most importantly her question regarding nature and its framework regarding cultural evolution. How important is it that we not separate the two?


September 12, 2008

josh w

It seems that quote is a hint of life as many artists or a people or people-artist-hybrid-persons might see it. It sounds like something to think about over breakfast. I like what Laura said about baggage. I should approach a crit. with the same blind freshness with which i approach a new piece of my own work.

September 8, 2008

purpose of the Readings

Selected readings will be posted periodically along with a description of the assignments for a written reflection related to each reading.

The selected readings will focus on:

- perception in general
- constructed modes of perception as they relate to the experience and critique of art
- examples of artist interviews
- insights into the origins and intentions of the studio critique.

An initial bibliography will be presented as a conceptual infra sturcture that the group will add to over the course of the semester.