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Lesson Plans

Re: Romanticising art

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
henry (taylorh)
Mon, 03 Jun 1996 11:14:40 -0700 (MST)

On Sat, 1 Jun 1996, EILEEN PRINCE wrote:

> How to "explain" to students about the prices of various artworks,
> especially Minimalist and Conceptual pieces. (This is definitely an area
> in which I would benefit from input by this group.)

1) different "artworlds" may have differing interests, differing
criteria, and differing values. They could be imagined as if they were
related in an ecology of a sort just as the differing biomes are.

2) looking at Minimalism or Conceptualism can you imagine what kind of
cultural "biome" or "ecology" would produce and value that kind of
work? How might that "artworld" differ from the one you appear to inhabit?

3) no one has yet divided up the worlds of art into cultural "biomes" or
"ecologies". If it was your job to do such a thing, how would you go
about it? What might be the significant criteria by which these worlds
could be distinguished and compared?

4) Are there any other ways you can imagine to describe and explain the
differing ways in which people experience and define "art"? What ways?

Theory is a way to try and understand difficult things. we propose
theories not in order to be "right" but to try and explain things that we
are interested in. We can all theorize, but no theory is likely to work for
everyone. If we are lucky we can come up with theorys that we do have
SOME agreement on, They are not necessarily the RIGHT answer but they
may do until something better comes along. Sometimes things may be so
complex that it takes almost forever to understand exactly what is going
on. In those cases especially theory or "as-if" lets us get about our
interests, get along with exploring the things we are interested in and
find answers that are useful if only for the moment.

The Sixty Minutes episode is the one with the pile of candy isn't it?
Drives my seventh grade soon to be eighth grade son crazy everytime he
sees it! ;-) Does the Murphy episode deal with the same thing?

> unit, (usually the year before, when I introduce Malevitch's "White on
> White") the students begin to question why certain works are so expensive.
> (Lively discussions can be had on the difference between "expensive" and
> "valuable".) It's interesting that the questions rarely start before the
> introduction of 20th Century art, which leads me to the point I would like
> to add to this discussion. I think it is very important to look at things -
> values, civil rights, the state of the art world, etc. - in historical
> terms. It may not solve a problem or right a wrong, but it can frequently
> make us a little more optomistic when we see how far (in some cases) we have
> come.

It has been often noted that history is writ by "the winners" which are
judged by our culture to be those gaining the most economically or
politically from an encounter; which MAY or MAY NOT be accurate. It's OUR
bias at work isn't it?

Nevertheless, history (or herstory if you are of a binaristic and punnish
bent) IS a good anchor and starting place especially if its limitations
are recalled.

(you might consider anthropological viewpoints, by the way, relative to
historically earlier work. Anthropologists can be VERY loath to say that
something IS art, especially in comparison to what is on display at MOMA
or the Louvre. Cave paintings and sculpture, markings on stones or bones
don't appear to have the same *function* as the things in museums and
galleries; SO, is it accurate then to call them "art"? By the same token,
how would we need to go about the processes of art in order for an
anthropologist to agree that they were much the same things as those

> The American art scene which Joanne describes, if indeed it is an
> accurate description, is no different than any other time in history. Before
> the middle of the last century, we would not have even had this discussion.
> Of course, there were disgruntled artists who were not accepted by their
> various academies, but there would have been far more general agreement
> about what constituted "art". The idea of "art for art's sake" is
> incredibly modern.

> Art has ALWAYS been commercial - IT SERVED THE PURPOSES

If we avoid the anthropologists problem, there has always been art which
served the purposes of a patron, but there has also always been art that
did not. IS serving the purposes of the patron commercial (economic?) or
is it political? Both sides have been argued and perhaps other views
might be as well. Maybe it is enough for the moment to say that there has
always been art engaged in serving a patron.

> in earliest times, the clan elders used it to help
> enculturate the young and appease the spirits; later, it glorified the ruler
> or helped his/her subjects achieve an afterlife; it made visible the ethos
> of the state or its belief system; it was a labor of religeous dedication;
> it recorded history as the "winners" wanted it remembered; it created
> prestige for those wealthy enough to afford it.

Can anyone recommend a history book that covers the above? The best I've
found so far is Lindsey's _Short History of Culture_ and Pfieffer's
_Creative Explosion_. Jaquetta Hawkes has the maps, timelines, and
pictures in her _Atlas of Early Man_ but the intrest in in archeology. If
you smushed the three of 'em together you'd have something REALLY useful!
(Theresa, hmmmmmm?)

> In many cultures - Ancient Egypt, China, Japan, certain African tribes,
> Medieval Europe - too much innovation was undesirable and actively
> discouraged.

Culture acts as balance to the individual, tradition acts to restrain
innovation. Do we have TOO MUCH innovation? (ever move up to new
technology before you had gotten "full value" from the technology it
replaced? a new program or computer while the old one was still effective
and useful?)

> Throughout history,
> with the exception of certain Tribal and Folk arts, the artist's
> self-expression generally took second place to the patron's wishes and even
> in those exceptions, cultural styles dominated.

And Even in tribal circumstances an artist could be summoned and restrained
until the demanded work was complete. (see Richard Anderson's Art in Small
Scall Societies_) By the same token I recall a possibly apochrophal story
of WWI where a young bohemian objected with somethink like "I am the culture
the other boys are fighting to protect"

> Only very recently in the
> vast history of art do we have the image of an artist such as Van Gogh:
> committed to a totally unsalable artform. If earlier artists failed, it was
> because they were generally perceived as being inferior, not avant-garde.
> And as for women artists, while there were several prominent females in the
> past, I'll definitely take being a woman artist in the USA in the 90's over
> virtually any other time or place in history.

Well said!

> While I will agree that our culture is extremely commercial, it is also
> willing to accept virtually ANYTHING as art. That could be a result of a
> wish to make a canny investment; but it may also be an "Emperor's New
> Clothes" syndrome: no one wants to appear artistically illiterate or
> parochial. (Also, the terms "discipline" and "judgement" have unfortunately
> taken on distinctly negative connotations in recent years.) I see
> absolutely nothing wrong with a gallery rejecting work that is unlikely to
> sell. Most art galleries are businesses.

Most galleries are conservative like the people they sell to. it is not so
much tha 'I don't know much about art but I know what I like' as it is "I
don't know much about art but I LIKE WHAT I KNOW!" Like the customer,
galleries like what they know (will sell) and that is what they take on.
They don't know about my stuff ("its great but we've never sold anything
like THAT before, have you tried so-and-so's gallery?") or if it will
sell. ANd so, it is not worth the risk for them... "Catch-22" strikes

> Personally, I think we've come a long way - after all, in Medieval
> times, an "artist" was a guy who helped a woman with her make-up.

Sad but true, not so medieval tho. On the Aesthetics lists recently
several inquireys were circulated about work for aestheticians (read
beauticians) and the mechanics of skin treatments.