Monday, November 13, 2006

art and perception: my alter ego


Rene Magritte, The False Mirror, 1928

For those of you who don't know, I've been leading something of a double blogging life. While trying to keep my Eyeball rolling, I've also been contributing sporadically but sometimes prolifically to Art and Perception. Now Karl Zipser, the blog's founder, has turned i
t into a group blog, with me as one of its contributors. While honored, I have some mixed feelings.

In both its old and new incarnations A & P has been good at generating discussion, much better than this blog. It has done so, I believe, by provoking controversy (sometimes heated) on general arts related topics. Is art school worthless? What is art? In my experience, these types of questions tend to draw more heat than discussions of specific artists, artworks or exhibitions. Zipser's blog has both post types, but the former seem increasingly to be drowning out latter. Even artwork centric posts generate sprawling conversations on unrelated topics. Edward Winkleman's blog is a better established version of this type. The way he regularly puts out some deep but muddled ideas and then gives a shrug seems to drive commenters wild.

Dealing with artwork in a more direct way has been my focus on the Eye. The work I feature is often obscure, either because the artist is little known or "emerging", or because they are established artists in upstate New York (the middle of nowhere, to many minds). Some times, the art is just strange. Very few people who read my blog seem to have broad familiarity with the artists I write about (or use as points of reference). And even if they do, they are not interested in arguing about the works' value or significance. The result is that I often feel like I'm talking to an audience of ghosts. Meanwhile, my taste (and talent, or so I would like to think) for more abstract discussions is relegated to places A & P (there are others too).

I would like to bring together both sides of my artwriting on this blog. It would make me feel less scattered as a writer. Equally important, it would bring more (needed and deserved) attention to this site and foster greater involvement. I will be writing my first A & P post for this coming Wednesday and will be re-posting it here. While this might seem to help, it seems to me like a further hindrance. Effectively, I'm still splitting my audience into two: a large one on A& P and a smaller one here. While I enjoy being part of Zipser's blog, it often seems that I would be better off focusing all my energy here. Any suggestions?

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19 Comments:

Anonymous Karl Zipser said...

"While I enjoy being part of Zipser's blog, it often seems that I would be better off focusing all my energy here."

Arthur, if I remember correctly, Art & Perception is just as much Whitman's blog as Zipser's blog.

Art & Perception is controlled by majority rule of voting contributors (this now seems to mean all posting contributors). Lisa and Rex have admin power, I don't.

So your post here on The Thinking Eye contains on some inaccurate statements.

As to my own blog (back at zipser.nl), things have gotten pretty quite there since Art & Perception moved. I don't have a problem with that. In fact, it gives me more of a feeling I can experiment and have freedom. Sometimes I cross post to A&P on my Monday slot.

I think what we are doing with Art & Perception in no way diminishes the value of our individual blogs. In fact, inspired by The Thinking Eye, I'm planning to start using zipser.nl to focus in depth about art in my area, Haarlem.

"Any suggestions?"

Yeah Arthur, just keep up the great work. And experiment.

1:25 AM  
Blogger arthur said...

Thanks for your remarks, Karl.

Art & Perception is just as much Whitman's blog as Zipser's blog.

I was speaking loosely in calling (the new) Art and Perception "Zipser's blog", mainly because I needed a third way of referring to it. Still, it seems fair to say that not only is the blog your offspring, you continue to exert an uneven amount of influence there--which is only to be expected. So I think your above statement is wrong, or more generously, the statement of an ideal rather than a reality.

As I've said, I think it is inaccurate to say that A & P is really a democracy. You, Lisa, and other current and former "admins" have more power and influence; its just the way these things work.

As for your own blog Karl, I only see two posts this month, one of them a repeat. Hardly the model I'm looking for.

By the way, I love the new Art & Perception and don't want to put it down in any way. However, I question its usefulness for me personally (selfish as that might be). I want to make it clear that my main blogging ambitions remain here. Someone on A & P used the phrase "satellite blog" or similar; I don't want to be anybody's satellite.

3:47 AM  
Blogger arthur said...

More to the point, what I was trying to ask in the post is: how do I integrate what I'm doing on A & P with what I'm doing already here? I find that I'm not good at getting these things going the way you or Ed are. Contributing to an ongoing discussion, I find much easier. "Experiment"? Well yes, of course, but how?

3:53 AM  
Anonymous Karl Zipser said...

Arthur,

I have a lot of material coming up on zipser.nl

4:02 AM  
Blogger arthur said...

Karl, this goes back to what you said earlier about "parallel blogs". You said that "writing parallel blogs makes you a multi-blogger, a super-blogger, a hyper-blogger". Further, you claimed that "parallel blogs are more than a sum of the parts (as a house is more than a collection of bricks)". This is some pretty heady and optimistic stuff, and it seems that you still think along these lines. My question, if I didn't ask it then, is why? Why spread it out over several blogs unless you have a set of subjects that you want to keep separate (for example if you wanted to write an art blog and a political blog).

4:10 AM  
Blogger Rex Crockett said...

Arthur,

I was making the rounds, and I came across this, and I thought, "Ah good! Arthur's put something up that's about something I have experience with. What a good time to comment."

Which goes directly to your main question. While I enjoy your subtle writing, and I enjoy seeing and hearing about the art scene in your area, I have never in my life been to your state, so I certainly do not know Ithaca, let alone the art scene there. Your blog has been my eye in the area. I have enjoyed it such. It is a window I can look through. I do not usually disagree with your assessment of the work you review to such an extent that I must protest; furthermore, not having seen the work for myself, nor having relationships with the particulars, I find I simply do not have much to say. I simply do not feel qualified to make cogent remarks.

Yet here, I can. So if it is comments you want, putting posts up that reach a larger audience is an honest suggestion, but how you could do that without breaking away from your dedication to reporting on the Ithaca art scene is a difficult question, and I cannot answer that. Perhaps you could try to answer the question, "Which aspects of this scene speak to universals?"

As to controversy being an effective generator of comments. No one who as observed these things can deny that; in fact, here you are!

To another point, in a comment, as to whether Art & Perception is really a democracy, well, You seem to assume that democracy means total equality, but such states only exist in the imagination, never in reality. Pointing out that Karl, a brilliant man with fantastic creative drive and an extraordinary productive capability, exerts undue influence is not, I am afraid, much of an observation. He has practically bound himself in chains to give others a chance to assert themselves, so you just come off rather petty when you say such things.

But I've got to hand it to you, calling it "Zipser's Blog" was a clever ploy. The statement is difficult to falsify. Thankfully, there is no need. Since it is you asserting that, it is you who is obligated to prove it.

Last, if you or anyone else wants want a stronger voice in Art & Perception, then assert it. No one is stopping you. Least of all Karl.

And lest you think I am being unduly harsh, Arthur? I am quite convinced that you too are a brilliant man with fantastic creative drives.

6:51 AM  
Blogger arthur said...

Rex,

I enjoy writing about local art, and I'm sure many outsiders find it a fascinating perspective. I'm glad you like it too. My intention in starting the Eye was never to focus exclusively on this (see some of my opening remarks here)
I have written about art in Boston and New York and plan to expand my geographic range as time and opportunity allow. I've also written from time to time on more general questions, which has been well-recieved. So breaking away from a rigid focus is not so much of a problem. The problem is integrating and expanding upon the kinds of things that I'm already doing.

My comments on democracy are in response to claims like this one by Karl: "Art & Perception is just as much Whitman's blog as Zipser's blog". Elsewhere on the new site, I have encountered similar rhetoric. Although it may be obvious, I don't believe that it is petty of me to let out a but of air. I wasn't trying to whine (although I realize it does come off this way). Rather, I was trying to help justify my efforts here, on my dictatorial soapbox. Karl, of course, has my utmost respect.

10:29 AM  
Blogger Rex Crockett said...

Regarding your last paragraph above, Arthur, very well, fair enough.

Re the first paragraph: I read the page you linked to, and thank you. You say,

Well, first of all, I believe that art is something that should be experienced directly (without excessive mediation) whenever possible.

First, I find I agree with you implicitly on that.

I find that the "broader field of contemporary art" often cannot measure up to direct experience. It must be wrapped in vast, expensive promotional grandstanding.

So just to keep a little edge of controversy going, an example of this is the ruthless and patently transparent ruses to drive the price of Warhols up. This says nothing about Warhols. It says a lot about the art world.

2:36 PM  
Blogger Candy Minx said...

Hi Arthur, I love catching up with all the art blogs mentioned. It is time consuming but I pop around a couple times a week.

Some advice for your dilemma?

Even when talking about specific art and writing a review...I feel all writers and artists are presenting an argument.

Thats what art and literature does, presents an argument...and a means to reflect or challenge the argument.

When you focus on a review and writing, take a stand, always. Why not? It must be true to your heart and your core moral beliefs but find the soul.

Find the human condition.

The rest of your challenges will follow that.

3:00 PM  
Blogger arthur said...

Thanks for stopping by Candy.

Even when talking about specific art and writing a review...I feel all writers and artists are presenting an argument.

Yes, but the type of argument is different. When writing about concrete objects or events, there is much more of an appeal to the senses. No matter what I say, a viewer's judgement is always going to go back to that. That makes it hard for me if my readers are not familiar with the art.


Karl,

Arthur, if I remember correctly, Art & Perception is just as much Whitman's blog as Zipser's blog.

And it is just as much my problem as it is yours.

5:52 PM  
Anonymous Karl Zipser said...

Arthur,

Blogs are the basic units we have to build with. Ordinary websites lack critical functionality. Megasites with software like Scoop are beyond the technical reach of most individuals.

With Blogger, it was handy to make new blogs for each different task or subject. With WordPress, which gives an easy way to have a long post with a small footprint on the front page (using the "more..." feature) it becomes easier to combine different types of blogging in one blog location. So for example, I started "Follow the painting" in order to have super-detailed discussion of pictures, stuff that might bore some readers to tears. But in WordPress, I can just show the picture and a couple of sentences on the front page. People interested in the details can click "more...", others can move on. In this sense, the difference between a mono-blogger and a multi-blogger had to do with limitations in software as much as anything.

With Art & Perception we are doing something conceptually more interesting than being "multi-bloggers" by having several personal blogs. Take for example, zipser.nl and thethinkingi.blogspot.com these are parallel blogs. A&P brings gives us a place for interaction. The building block metaphor breaks down here. A&P is not the same type of unit as our individual blogs. We have reached some new level of organization here, something without a standard name. It is quite interesting to think about where this could all lead to. I really have no idea. The one thing that was clear to me when things started getting exciting was to get A&P off of zipser.nl ASAP and get out of the way of it's progress. A&P could cause us to be more centralized. It could also disappear entirely, leaving a stronger linkage among our individual blogs. It's up to all of us to decide the future. Personally, I feel that it is inspiring my work on my personal blog, although the results are not yet there to see. I feel that my personal blog is more relevant, because it is also connected to the group blog.

6:28 PM  
Blogger arthur said...

Karl,

I'm fascinated by your comments on the interweaving of individual blogs into something larger and more complex. I can sense your own fascination as well, which is wonderful.

My comments, however, were not aimed at questions of form, but at questions of purpose, of "functionality", if you will. I can see that your purposes have driven you to create ever more elaborate blog structures. My question is what good does all this diversification do for me? I'm not saying that I want to stop participating in Art & Perception, but think I need to find a way do more within the space of The Thinking Eye.

Come to think of it, I've already started doing so with this comment. That wasn't so bad.

6:52 PM  
Blogger arthur said...

To elaborate on my position, let me briefly mention my reviews for The Ithaca Times and Big Red & Shiny. Both are better vehicles for reviews than this blog. Although the former comes out on paper, and the latter only online, they share at least a couple relevant characteristics. Both are edited and come out on a regular basis--weekly and bi-monthly respectively. The ideal for blogging is to post something every day. So you can see how they are more amenable to longer and/or more formal writings. (The Times also pays me money.)

I'm sure this will evolve, but right now, I don't see Art & Perception as having a distinct purpose that relates to its distinct form. The bringing together of different voices is of great value potentially. Still, I see that the contributors bring some very different concerns, tastes and beliefs; how these will come together without losing their individuality remains to be seen.

I also notice that the "conversation" participants are nearly all contributors. Something needs to be done to open the space up more.

7:06 PM  
Anonymous Karl Zipser said...

Arthur,

It is not an accident that the contributors are the main commenter writers, because these are the people I invited to join the blog when it was still back at zipser.nl

I have notice many interesting people coming by the new blog location and leaving a comment or two. In my former role of solo blogger, I would have encouraged these people to join the blog. I would have done this by actively engaging them in conversation, and acknowledging valuable comments in my posts. However, I have purposely refrained from this type of activity, inviting anyone new to the blog, because I felt I have done more than my share. I want the site to grow, but I really think that the rest of you should bring new people in, not me.

Art & Perception does not have a definite identity at this moment. That is by design. The idea is for us to create this identity together. We need to find the purpose together, if there is to be one. People have different ideas, so the concept must grow. But the site has a big impact. I see this with Hanneke. She is incredibly inspired in her artwork because of the interaction she has had on the site. That in itself makes it all worthwhile to me. I hope we can all share in this level of inspiration.

3:25 PM  
Blogger arthur said...

I have notice many interesting people coming by the new blog location and leaving a comment or two. In my former role of solo blogger, I would have encouraged these people to join the blog. I would have done this by actively engaging them in conversation, and acknowledging valuable comments in my posts. However, I have purposely refrained from this type of activity, inviting anyone new to the blog, because I felt I have done more than my share. I want the site to grow, but I really think that the rest of you should bring new people in, not me.

I don't understand your motivation here. It seems that we should all be doing more to bring in new people. Since the blog was your idea in the first place, why complain about having done more then your share?

11:59 AM  
Blogger arthur said...

Rex,

I find that the "broader field of contemporary art" often cannot measure up to direct experience. It must be wrapped in vast, expensive promotional grandstanding.

Well, it depends on the artist and the particular work of art in question. Certainly what you say is true (to greater or lesser extent) of a lot of work.

While I think that Warhol's best work stands on its own, he was also clearly playing around with the possibilities of extravegant self-promotion. So somehow, I don't feel too much pity if other people go on playing the same game with his work (barring behavior that is flat-out criminal).

In recommending a minimum of mediation, I of course didn't mean to suggest that we approach artworks as a blank slate. Promotion and media hype, like it or not, are part of life in a modern capitalist economy. While I think the fine arts should provide a haven from the worst excesses of this system, I also think that they are part of the modern world.

12:11 PM  
Blogger Rex Crockett said...

Arthur,

I did not see this comment. I would have said something earlier. The reason I brought up Warhol in particular was that I've been following the news about the collection. First, when Andy died, there were a huge number of unsold works, and the first news was his inheritors were not getting the prices they asked. Next, we started seeing public exhibitions -- state, county and city funded, all right? with the collection "generously" made available. Then came the new auctions, and hey, higher prices. Imagine that.

We could say, "Well, that's capitalism." We could also say, "Hmmm, since we're broke, let's use taxpayer money to increase the value of our collection."

It's odd how few people notice this sort of thing. Did the public benefit from the display of the Warhol's? Sure. But was it in a way commensurate with the cost of exhibiting them? In LA, they had banners on the lampposts for miles! In my opinion, no. The costs outweighed the public benefit. However, had some of those Warhols been auctioned and a percentage went to funds to support the arts, in the cities that so expensively promoted the exhibits, I'd be saying something else, like touché!

It seemed an example of an extreme form of excessive mediation. That's why I brought it up. I am very much interested in hearing of examples from you about that. I want to make sure I really understand you.

6:53 PM  
Blogger arthur said...

Rex,

The "excessive mediation" that I mentioned could take any number of forms. The kind of economic shenanigans that you talk about are a good example, although it isn't a subject that I know a enough about.

What I think I had more in mind in my original post is the way that writing and mechanical reproductions can serve to distance people from the act of looking directly at visual artworks. Obviously, I don't think these things are entirely bad; otherwise, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing.
But I do think their value should be subject to debate.

I'll give a concrete example. I just finished reading a book by philosopher George Dickie entitled Art and Value. It attempts to define what art is terms of social and institutional criteria and then gives an account of how people judge artistic value. The book is rigorously logical, dry but also interesting.

It also has almost nothing to do with the actual concerns of artists or critics. Specific works of art mentioned in this (114 page) book could probably be counted on one hand. With the (possible) exception of Marcel Duchamp's Fountain these examples appear to have been chosen more or less arbitrarily.

I read books of this sort fairly often, although I rarely mention them here. They're interesting, but I suspect they distract me from more important things (given that I'm not a philosopher). Granted, that was a pretty extreme example.

12:37 AM  
Blogger Rex Crockett said...

Ah. Thanks Arthur. That was indeed a concrete example.

6:45 AM  

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