The CRITIC and the Phony Artist: A Lesson for us all?

by Terry 27 Replies latest watchtower scandals

  • Hortensia

    Thanks Terry for the info - I didn't know a post could be edited after it was sent. Re the San Diego library, it was in pretty bad shape 20 years ago, but it had/has a small auditorium on the second or third floor and they had regular programs with visiting artists. I always enjoyed them, when I could go. Tuesday was bookstudy night, of course, but somehow I got to those performances now and then. I though the city had allocated money to build a new central library - maybe the internet has done away with anyone's desire to visit the library. I know I haven't felt the need for years, due to google and This doesn't really speak to the theme of this forum, so I'll sign off now.

  • under_believer

    A bit of history, here--I was raised a Witness. The average Witnesses' idea of culture is a Kingdom Song played by Sister Marge on the out-of-tune piano in the local Grange, or maybe Sister Freida's terrible poetry about the New Order. For this reason, and because my parents didn't give a fig for art or culture of any kind, I didn't become culturally aware until my mid-20's, after I was married to my wife. Most of my cultural knowledge has been subsequently self-taught.

    However, I've always had a critical bent. I was heavily involved in Drama in high school, and I learned the difference between good acting and bad, between a good play and a bad, between good directing and bad. I could spot bad writing, bad staging, and bad cinematography. For this reason my Witness friends referred to me as "The Critic." We'd come out of some horrible trash like that King Arther movie, First Knight, from 1995, and they'd all be gushing about it--wasn't it WONDERFUL? And they'd ask me what I thought. And I'd tell them that it was a ridiculous divergence from the original story, that Richard Gere couldn't act his way out of a brown paper bag, and that it wasted Sean Connery's not inconsiderable skills. Also the directing was rubbish. And real movies aren't written by three people. There'd be a silence, and my opinion would be written off as the ramblings of a boy who always hated all movies. (Not true, though.)

    Here is where the meat of my story comes in. My wife, if this is even possible, had less cultural exposure even than I did. Shallow rom-coms were pretty much the pinnacle of Western culture in her book. And after we were married, and without any kind of conscious thought or intent, I began to undermine her ideas. I'd make a comment here (Sandra Bullock stinks because...), or an observation there (why does Hugh Grant always play the same character?) And after awhile she had picked up on my sensibilities, which, by the way, were not subjective. I can always give a rational, objective reason for why I hold an opinion about a given movie or play or television show. And now she does too--and SHE HATES IT.

    She hates it. She misses her ignorance. She misses the simplicity of going and seeing a chick flick and liking it. She misses the days when there was good entertainment to be found everywhere, in bounty. Now, she might enjoy 1/10th of what she sees on TV and 1/5th of the movies we see. And her mind is always analyzing the content that it's being given--she notices things like writing, and pacing, and the emotions the score is deliberately trying to evoke. And our kids are already doing the same thing--"this commercial is so stupid" or "look how dumb Dora is". And she bemoans the fact that they're never going to have that innocence, the innocence I stripped from her. They will never even experience that wide-eyed credulity that she misses so much.

    So I guess it cuts both ways. Some people are happier with Friends and a Big Mac and Britney Spears and Titanic and "a good house red" and Hershey's Special Dark and Budweiser and Chevrolet and Old Navy and John Grisham and Cheddar cheese. And you take those things away, the enjoyment of those things, and they will resent you until the day they die.

  • tijkmo
    Some people are happier with Friends

    hey steady...dont you be knocking friends..i still watch it every night.

    interesting point about innocence tho...

    it ties in with why i am no longer interested in the sound production course i am at college for at the moment... see i like reading..i like writing and i like the eccentricity of the english language...but i hated english lessons in school..because it involved reading stories novels plays poems...and dissecting them....why...i didnt want to dissect them...i wanted to enjoy them

    i never watch 'the making of' dvds or tv programmes...i dont wish to know that titanic was filmed in big bath..or anything else that will take away from the magic that is on screen..i want to be enthralled when i go to the movies

    and i want to be entranced by music that i enjoy...i dont want to know where it is panned and what effects were used and what mics work best for a drum kit..i dont care..i dont even want to be overly involved in the recording of my own music. i would rather give the song to a producer who understands how i want it to sound and i can just play the acoustic guitar and sing the vocals and the producer can arrange all the other performances

    that way i will never be so sick of my songs that i dont want to listen to them

    tijkmo of the i'm a better songwriter than moses - even if i say so myself - a bit like he did - oh and john lennon class

  • Quentin

    Not much into cut and past, but thought this was interesting....

    FRED Columns

    The Hangmen of the Arts

    The Ways of Fraud

    January 14, 2007

    The arts, I say, constitute a brazen fraud—the arts at least as peddled in boutiques, sanctified in galleries, and rattled-on about by professors who ought to find productive jobs.

    To begin with, the poseurs who have awarded themselves charge of the arts wouldn’t recognize an art if they found it swimming in their soup. It is true. Start with literature. I have read several times over the years of wags who copied out three chapters of some classic—The Reavers, or Moby Dick ("Call me Fishmeal.")—and sent them, perhaps with the names changed, to publishing houses in New York. Invariably they were rejected. The professional judges of manuscripts recognized neither the books nor good writing. You would get better results having literature judged by a committee of taxi-drivers.

    I ask you this: Suppose I went pub-crawling in London and stumbled on an unknown play by Shakespeare, the equal of Lear and unquestionably genuine. Maybe Shakespeare had left his driver’s license with it. Suppose further that I sent it to New York, and to the English department at Harvard (which these days might or might not have heard of Shakespeare) and told them that it was my senior essay in creative writing at Texas A&M.

    Are you sufficiently hallucinatory to expect an explosion of appreciation? "My god, we’ve found genius in the outback!" or maybe, "Geez, this kid writes like he’d actually been there!"

    No. There would be condescension and polite silence. The perfessors don’t think old Bill is good because he is good, which they are not capable of ascertaining, but because he is Bill. You could show them a pizza order signed "Willybill S.,"on decayed parchment, tell them that it was found at Stratford, and they would wet themselves with emotion. Double cheese, anchovies.

    Fact is, most art isn’t. Let some cultural executioner hang anybody in a museum, and he becomes Art, sort of by appointment. The critics will then make a career of sitting around appreciating themselves for appreciating him. Criticism is about critics; the art is barely necessary.

    Or again, take The Bard, as we say more pompously than absolutely necessary—good phrase-maker, tired plots, low plausibility, but suitable for a quick buck with a mob audience. Twelve thousand PhD theses later and he’s had all manner of dreadful significance read into him that would never have occurred to the man.

    On television I saw the story of a rich woman in New York who had, she thought, and so did others, a genuine Somebody. You know, Renoir or Gauguin or what have you. She was no end proud, kept it in a thermally controlled room, and fed it nothing but exotic cheeses and designer water. Critics came to visit it. They said, "Ah! The light…" and "Oh! The masterly play of…" and "Only He could have…." Then it turned out that the paint had been made in 1947. The value dropped by several million dollars, the critics vanished, and the woman probably didn’t commit suicide but it would have been a good end to the story.

    Which shows that painting has nothing to do with beauty but only with sniffishness and social predation among the cerebrally understated with too much money. A Degas on the Upper West Side (I think that's a good address) is the equivalent of, in a sports bar, a baseball signed by Willy Mays. (If the ball were signed "Claude Monet," it would be in a temperature-controlled case on the Upper West Side.) Should a painting be adjudged of value for what it looked like, then you wouldn’t care who did it. But when the point of the game is name-dropping, then the only reliable art critic is a mass spectrometer.

    But if we rashly assume that art has something to do with beauty (it doesn’t), think about copies. In Italy a girlfriend and I once went to see Michelangelo’s David ("Old Marble Dick," she called him. Women have no respect.) Now, David’s a pretty good statue. I won’t deny it. He could hold a lantern on my lawn any day, though he might need pants. What if you took a laser scanner and made a copy of Dave accurate to within the radius of a marble atom (we’ll assume here that marble is atomic) and colored it perfectly? Let’s say that no critic yet born could tell it from the original. So why wouldn’t it be worth as much?

    Because art isn’t about Beauth or Trudy. It’s about staying ahead of the Hirschorns. It’s a scam. It’s a racket.

    You may now want to say, "Fred, you obviously think that there is no art. How can you be such a cultural Philippine? Can centuries of art critics all be wrong?" Sure. And, yes, I could think that there was no art. I am professionally perverse enough. Anyway, you can see the evidence in any museum.

    But in fact I don’t think it. Actually there is lots of art. Thing is, unless you build a museum around it, it doesn’t count.

    Look, there are three hundred million people in the United States, let alone everywhere else. Artistically this is probably equivalent to ten billion Frenchmen in 1890 because almost all Americans have the time and minor disposable income to paint or play the saxophone in a chamber group. Most don’t. But they could. Yes, the truth is that lots of those Impressionistic frogs were really damned good. But can you possibly imagine that America, or France for that matter, couldn’t find twenty times as many people as good today if we looked?

    It wouldn’t take much looking. In Washington D of C, there is the Corcoran Gallery, which annually has a contest in which (I think I have this right) every state sends paintings by a couple of its best high-school artists. This is an extraordinarily good idea, but they do it anyway. I know about this because my daughter Macon was in it for Virginia and ended up getting her stuff sent to New York somewhere to be hung for a while, like John Brown. (Talent skips generations. That’s why.)

    Anyway, I propose the following for any who are interested in art: Go to Washington when the Corcoran has the show. Start by spending several days at the National Gallery on the Mall. The collection is pretty good. In addition to the usual there are paintings by Thomas Cole, Cropsey, Durand, Church and suchlike that you don’t hear about because they aren’t European. (More fraud. See?) Of course there is the tiresome Early Christian stuff, all gold foil and grotesque misshapen babies, and overdone post-card painters like Redon. Never mind. A fair bit of it is tolerable.

    Don’t go in the usual state of intimidation expected of hayseeds in galleries: "Gee, I’m just a lowly pedestrian slug, and in the presence of genius, and don’t understand Art, and if it looks like this turkey can’t draw, there must be something wrong with me…." More likely, the turkey can’t draw.

    Then go to the Corcoran to see what the kids have done. You will find freshness, imagination, and unabashed talent. You can't call it that, though, without showing yourself to be a rube. If you told the critics it had been found in Cezanne's basement, or a tomb in Egypt, they would run for their swooning couches like a herd of enraptured bison, so great would be their appreciation. But if it's signed by Sally Tugwinkle of Broken Needle, Arkansas...naah, doesn't count.

    Ages ago when my younger daughter Emily, now a blues singer in San Francisco, was eight or nine, we went to the Hirschorn in DC. There we encountered a white canvas, about the size of a ping-pong table, blank except for a red circle, as large as a healthy orange, in one corner. It was Art. The museum said so. We dutifully appreciated at it. Later I asked her what she thought.

    The scorn would have curdled motor oil.

    "Big deal. A red dot. Gag me."

    Sound judgement, clarity of expression, no frou-frous. Now that’s criticism.

  • hillary_step


    Not much into cut and past, but thought this was interesting....


    He seems to have missed the basic concept that technique, learned and practiced in any art form, is the vehicle through which emotions focus.

    Just because feeling is involved does not make it good art/music etc. Just because good technique is involved does not do so either. When the two are married harmoniously, then Empires fall.


  • Quentin

    To keep the dialouge going...besides I'd like to make it to a 1000 posts some way, or the other..

    Pardon me if I appear to be flippant, not my's late and I'm somewhat bleary eyed...Old Fred, I think, has expressed what most people "feel" about "art", all surface, no's almost mid-night, don't want to turn into a pumkin, or is that bumpkin? Hope that answers the why...later old sport..

  • tijkmo
    In Washington D of C, there is the Corcoran Gallery, which annually has a contest in which (I think I have this right) every state sends paintings by a couple of its best high-school artists. This is an extraordinarily good idea, but they do it anyway.

    a bit like myspace for artists then (actually there are a lot of artists on myspace)

    there is a lot of not very good music on myspace...poorly played, recorded, sang etc

    but there is a lot of great music, tuneful, well played, professionally recorded....and completely ignored by the major record companies because the musicians are not considered trendy or relevant. or because record companies no longer have to take risks on bands anymore or nurture an artist because its so much easier to just sign an 'idol' winner

  • Terry
    i remember a painting astounding critics a few years was a stark watercolour picture of trees in winter..turns out it had been 'painted' by a 5 or 6 year old girl who had just splashed three blobs of paint on the paper and gone away to do something else and the paint had run

    To be fair about it, though, we all find images in certain situations which aren't really "there". When you lie on your back and gaze at clouds this happens.

    I use to work in an art gallery. Sometimes when it was slow I'd drip paint on some cardboard on the floor and then mat it and frame it in an expensive frame. I never once had one of these that didn't sell for a pretty nice price!

    Does this mean it wasn't something which another human SHOULD NOT like? How can we erect a barrier between SHOULD and OUGHT when it comes to this?

    My original post about art came from a desire to point out that we bring a lot of emotional baggage to this subject; anger even! We all need to sort through that before we can present ourselves as experts.

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