Rant: Why Are My Views Anathema to the Art World?

“I must confess that the other mods and I find ourselves strongly disagreeing with you in almost all cases…” ~ Head Moderator of the Art-History subreddit.

I received the above message some months ago after the Art History subreddit censored an article of mine I shared which was critical of Banksy’s stunt in which one of his prints, selling for a cool million, self-destructed at Sotheby’s. I’ll touch on that briefly, but the most important thing here is the statement that the mods, together, strongly disagree with me in almost all cases regarding art and art history. Now, why might that be?

What they think, to judge by some of the arguments the head moderator made, is that I have a comparatively inferior understanding of art history, and have wrong-headed (because unethical or immoral) conclusions. I guess they see me as a sort of basement, wannabe Alex Jones of the art and art history world. I assume they think I don’t know my art history and am just shooting from the hip, from an alt-right perspective.

How did I come to have such an abysmal and offensive understanding of art and art history? Part of it must be my lack of advanced education on the topic. If you look at my undergrad transcript from UCLA, below, you’ll notice I did only get a B+ in my 19th Century European Art course.

Yeah, that was a rather rigorous one, and I was more dedicated to my art-making classes. But, it was a serious class at UCLA, and my professor didn’t think my views at the time were egregious.

I did better in my more contemporary art history course:

Whew, I aced the Art & Artists – History and Theory class, even made the Dean’s Honors list that term. You might also notice a smattering of Literature classes, and all my art classes. The lowest grade I got in any course was a B+.

In grad school you just got a 4.0 and no grade in every class, so that’s not really worth sharing. Suffice it that I graduated and took a slew of art theory classes and passed them all. Also had the obligatory year of art history in community college, starting with the cave paintings at Lascaux, moving up through Giglamesh and the pyramids… all the way to Jackson Pollock and Jenny Holzer. Also aced it.

The point of all the educational blather is that I am not unfamiliar with the model of art history the mods at the Art History subreddit subscribe to. I learned all that, and proved I mastered it, in higher education.

So, how am I so ignorant now?

I think I might have got this line of argument from “Institutionalized” by Suicidal Tencencies:

What are you trying to say, I’m crazy?!
When I went to Your schools
I went to Your churches
I went to Your institutional learning facilities!
So how can you say I’m crazy?!

I’m not. I’ve gone beyond the college level of art and art history, and beyond the paradigm of 25 years ago, where these people are still stuck. I’ve evolved, they haven’t. They are still believers, I’m not. My arguments are more reasonable, and more ethical, not less so. As evidence I’ll give you some arguments this head moderator leveled against my Banksy article.

You seem to be more focused on a personal, emotional attack than anything intelligently conducive to discussion.

This is a mere assertion, and thus can be countered with another contrary assertion. The article was a dispassionate analysis. Merely characterizing it with a stock criticism is disingenuous.

But you seem too caught up with charging Banksy with… being too successful?

His success within the blue-chip art world is entirely relevant when he presents himself as an outsider fighting up against an institution, in which his gallery is selling 750 “limited edition” prints of the same image for $50,000 each. That’s over $37,000,000 for one original stencil. His success for selling prints for millions of dollars in the gallery system questions his protest against his art being sold in the gallery system for millions of dollars. That’s not an emotional argument, but rather quite simple logic.

Aside from smart-Alec gripes about the subject’s gesture and anatomy (shall I remind you that Ingres butchered his anatomy far more?), the whole argument boils down to a complaint that Banksy makes too much money.

I did mention that Banksy’s Balloon Girl has rather botched anatomy if you look closely. Look at her ear, below:

[If you want to deflate Banksy’s art, just imagine that his politics were conservative. Say, the same exact style and placement of his art in the public, but instead of a little girl with a balloon, it was a woman with an aborted baby floating away on a string. All of a sudden the art would be panned as utter shit. If the value of art is wholly dependent on the correct political stance, that’s a problem, and an enormous one. The best art succeeds in spite, or irrespective of political allegiance.]

Sure, Banksy’s girl’s anatomy is simplified because it’s a stencil, but her ear looks deformed if you bother to ponder it for a few seconds, and it’s also too high, small, and far back on the head.  Now let’s compare this to Ingres’ far worse butcheries of anatomy:

If you look carefully at Jupiter and Thetis, above, the woman’s ear is also too small, high up, and far back. The pinky of her left hand is oddly long and thin. The difference is that these are deliberate, highly elaborate, stylistic changes executed by a technical virtuoso (and her ear doesn’t look like an abomination on closer inspection). The idea that Banksy can better render anatomy than Ingres is a joke.

In your mind, does someone paying a million dollars for a work symbolize the acceptance of the work by the “establishment?

If the work is being auctioned at Southeby’s, the artist is tied for the most famous living artist, and the artist sells hundreds of other works in the gallery system for tens of thousands each, yes.

Consider that, if the Mona Lisa was dented, it would lose much of its value. But that bares absolutely no effect on the importance and quality of the work.

The argument here is that if the Mona Lisa is a masterpiece, and would still be one if it were damaged and its monetary value were compromised, than the value in dollars placed upon a work is not synonymous with its art historical value.

This is a strawman argument. It’s asserting that my perspective on art is bankrupt because I equate the price tag on art with the quality of the art. This presumes that somewhere, anywhere, I ever argued that the more an art work sells for the better it is. In reality, I’ve argued the opposite, and in spades.

In one of my very first posts on this blog, from 2013 — Buying Barnett Newman’s Art on Faith — my subtitle was, “Today’s elite art buyers deluded into investing tens of millions on the Emperor’s new canvas.”

In another of my first articles, also from 2013 — Koons’ “Balloon Dog (Orange)” isn’t art, it’s a decorative lawn ornament — I clearly establish in the opening paragraph that there’s no relationship between selling price and intrinsic artistic merit:

“Jeff Koons’ “Balloon Dog (Orange)” just sold for $58,405,000 at Christie’s, on November the 12th. If you are fabulously wealthy and missed out, fear not, there are four more copies in four more primary colors. And If one is on a tighter budget, near identical copies could undoubtedly be made for a fraction of the cost, and yet they’d be worthless without the Koons brand-name.”

Something that sells for over fifty million is worthless.

I hope that illustrates for you that there is a difference between the economics of a work and actual, substantial merit.

I guess he showed me, boy howdy! Next he’ll teach me my ABCs.

My article was censored, and all the mods strongly disagree with me on pretty much anything and everything I write, and yet his three main points were bogus: a characterization; a bizarre elevation of Banksy’s ability to render anatomy above that of Ingres; and a strawman argument.

True, I wrote my article on Banksy’s stunt somewhat hastily, as I wanted to get it out fast, and establish my own take before everyone else. Most the initial responses were merely stating what happened, and critical opinion came later. Now that the dust has settled, a lot of other people who the esteemed gatekeepers of the Art-History subreddit probably respect have brought up some of the same issues that I did.

Similar to the strong disagreement I get from the Art History community on reddit, anything I submitted to the Art Theory reddit (note my solid A in my Art Theory class at UCLA) is voted down into oblivion.

Anyone who’s tried to debate me has used the same sort of tactics of projection, straw man arguments, and the like, as the “head moderator” above.

But, again, the main point here, that I’m struck by, is that my views and my art are hated by the art community. What is so bad about what I say and what I produce visually? Am I saying something ridiculous, and is my art just ghastly bad?

When I pan back, it seems my arguments are rather obvious and sensible. I tend to look for truth in the compromise and balance, and rather than rejecting the past and clamoring for a radical new revolution, I believe we need to build on and learn from what has worked in the past, add our own innovations and improvements. But today’s orthodoxy is the rejection of the past, the demonization of Western art history (and culture), and assuming that the more radical a stance is, the more important and relevant it is (assuming it’s radically on the left). I see radical art and ideas on par with a radical diet. Might be good for a day or two, but, ultimately, it leads to self-destruction.

Let me give an example. While I consider post-modernism to be an addendum to modernism, pointing out some of its omissions and shortcomings, contemporary art theory sees post-modernism as replacing modernism, and everything that went before. Last century was big on radical — this is the year zero — type revolutions, and while we look back in horror at what happened in the political sphere when people went too far out on a limb with radical new ideas, we praise the most ridiculous in the art world as the most important. The lunatic fringe is the norm. If you pan back and say, God forbid, that Marcel Duchamp was NOT the best artist of the last century, but a comparatively minor artist prankster, who made some witty artifacts attacking the art world, and then forsook art in order to play Chess, than you are a hopeless reactionary. In the end a urinal, exhibited as a prank, is heralded as the best artistic achievement of the last century, and that’s orthodoxy [just imagine a flushing toilet as the greatest musical achievement, or a printed ad as the highest literature]. I say it’s a minor prank of some curiosity. I must be stupid.

And that’s just my impression this morning, over a cup of coffee. If you’ve read some of my more philosophical musings, you know that I consider all opinion necessarily narrow and a projection upon boundless reality. I’m happy to be wrong, even if it’s embarrassing, because once I discover I was wrong, I am no longer wrong, and I have a broader or deeper understanding, which I seek. It’s like being trapped in a maze, with the Minotaur fast approaching, and someone showing me the way out.

But even if I were mistaken about some things, I’m not the one who censored the other person, and I’m not the one saying that a group of people, including me, unanimously agree that you are shit. I’m the guy who’s being censored, voted down into oblivion, and shit on. Perhaps it is a bit bold for me to reject that paradigm which accrues so much authority to itself, but, even though I’m not looking for radical revolution as the only solution, I’m not at all persuaded by mere authority, wherever it comes from. I’ll stick to my own viewpoint for now, until I find something better.

[Feel free to point out typos and grammar errors… I consider it free editing.]

~ Ends

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8 thoughts on “Rant: Why Are My Views Anathema to the Art World?

  1. Couldn’t agree with you more. This idealization of pure garbage as being pure art makes me nauseous and livid. Even worse are the sheeple (such as these ridiculously arrogant ‘mods’) that lack any ability to form original opinions for themselves. They exhibit the cognitive abilities of ants or bees, a shared hive mind with absolutely no individuality or self-awareness. They do nothing more than strive to strangle true creativity in fear that their little self-made bubbles might ‘pop’. They represent a void of intellect, black holes from which no truly creative thought or endeavor could ever escape. I disdain to imagine how derivative and esthetically baseless every aspect of their lives must be. What flaccid, placid, boring lovers they must be.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It sounds like you might be arguing with a 16 year old who thinks they know everything, and if you don’t see it their way your an idiot.

    It seems obvious to me that running any work of art through a paper shredder doesn’t, on its own make the work better. In this case the girl letting the ballon goes is maybe losing her innocence or her dreams. Then being shredded on top of that I guess seems a bit redundant. Maybe he should also do a bit of a controlled burn on the corners as well. These guys would obviously think that’s pure genius.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. From the way the guy writes — his vocab and grammar — and that he’s the head moderator of Art History, I’d say he’s definitely an adult, and someone who has been educated into a certain paradigm: the dominant paradigm. That’s the thing, a lot of art is about belief (the less you use your eyes and the more it’s about ideas, the more it’s about belief), and a big thing with belief is believing what everyone else believes.

      We may overestimate our independence of thought because if we completely disagree with what is commonly held as true, we become isolated from civilization. That is more threatening and alienating than it sounds.

      So, we instinctively try to find common ground to anchor our reality to, and our reality is mostly dictated be what others think (consider everything needs to be processed through our agreed-upon spoken languages). We need to agree on the meanings of words, even if those most in need of agreement are busy re-defining them.

      So, it takes a bit of courage and confidence to go against what everyone else believes, and for the true believer, to do so is heretical, threatening, and counter-intuitive.

      Especially now that belief in the dominant paradigm or narrative is also tied with social justice (even if it’s not just), to believe is to be a good person, and to not believe is to be a vile cretin.

      It’s really social pressure. Just think of how Hillary did a 180 on gay marriage. She was completely against it, and made her arguments against it, and then she became completely for it, and made arguments for it. Well, that’s just social pressure. The herd is heading in a certain direction, and so you need to believe whatever the herd believes and master the arguments for it, whether it’s Communists are bad or Communism is the way to go…

      If you don’t agree with Banksy, than you are also guilty of not supporting his politics, which are also fighting against the evil oppressors. You must then be a terrible person. You uphold oppression, and probably state sponsored terror, and genocide against indigenous peoples!!!

      There’s really a lot of pressure in the art world to conform, ironically enough.

      Someone else mentioned people not being able to think for themselves. Ha, ha ,ha. He’s showing his age, which is probably in the ball park with mine. Thinking for yourself is old school. Using logic, looking for self-contradiction, researching before coming to a conclusion, feeling compelled to wrestle with counter-arguments….. That’s not taught so much anymore.

      You have to come to the correct (and I mean politically correct) conclusions, or else you’re the bad guy. This itself strangles independent thought. It used to be that if you wanted to get at the truth you suspended having a conclusion, and did the research and experimentation as objectively as possible. But now you need to believe certain things, or else.

      And I would as soon believe those things as believe again in Santa Claus.

      Like

  3. Eric,
    Great points on being ostracized from the herd if you don’t go along with everything they believe in. I sometimes wonder who’s doing the decision making for the lemmings. I have a bunch of friends who I’ve known for 30 years or more who are part of the herd and recently I’m finding out that my opinions are not welcome any more. I haven’t changed, still try to make decisions through research and actual facts, but if I even throw out a hypothetical question about climate change, even if it’s just-is their more contributing factor to climate change? I’m immediately labeled a climate change denier and my opinion on just about everything is now null and void. This immediate discrediting of people has the effect of making anyone with a differing opinion than the accepted ones just keep their mouths shut. At some point will we be living in a silent world because everyone is to scared to speak. That actually sounds kind of nice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “recently I’m finding out that my opinions are not welcome any more.” This made me laugh out loud.

      There’s also the thing where people in America are being separated into two, hostile, opposing camps, each in their own confirmation bias, echo chamber. Neither can tolerate the views of the other, in which case the other side is seen as absolutely wrong about everything.

      I think you are right that we need to be more accepting of people who have different views, and not automatically ostracize them or think they are wrong about everything.

      I’m a little bad about his myself. As you probably know, I was for Bernie Sanders. Nevertheless, when people post a bunch of anti-Trump stuff on FB or Instagram, I will un-follow them. They annoy me.

      But why un-follow them? I wasn’t for Trump, either. And so what if they picked a different candidate, or think Hillary Clinton was the most qualified presidential candidate who ever lived?

      I need to be more tolerant of other people’s views I don’t agree with. People go through phases, and I used to post really a lot of political stuff on FB before I became intolerant of anyone, including myself, doing so.

      People’s opinions and beliefs change.

      I wonder, are your old friends and acquaintances disregarding your opinions on certain matters over the internet, or in person. Like road rage, it’s much easier to disavow other people when one isn’t dealing with the real person, right in front of you. It’s always easier to hate an abstraction from a distance.

      I’m guessing a lot of people live with family that has different opinions, and they just shelve them in order to coexist.

      Like

  4. Eric,

    I’m not in social media, other than IG. I do most of my conversing with my friends the old way. So when we’re talking about anything political at all it usually happens when we’re having a couple drinks( not the best time to talk politics, but I find people to be very true to their feelings then. Lately I’ve been thrown onto the Trump team and am now being treated a bit different. It may be a slow boot from the pack. They are giving me a chance to just keep my mouth shut and I can stay type of thing. If I say let’s play devils advocate on abortion ( I am pro choice by the way) and that’s obviously helps me with the herd. But I’ll say I take the pro choice side and you take the pro life side, I get this “theirs no point, their idiots and should just die.” I’m smart enough to take the side they like and try to get them to think differently, if I took the opposing side I would just get yelled at.
    An interesting question is how did we get to the point that all of our thinking has been done for us. The decisions have been made for us, and you just need to choose your side and stick to that agenda?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “An interesting question is how did we get to the point that all of our thinking has been done for us. The decisions have been made for us, and you just need to choose your side and stick to that agenda?”

      I think you really hit something there.

      A little bit of a difference is going to be that you’re an (old school) artist. OK, contemporary artists are often super ideologues, but generally, artists at least used to try to be open-minded and not be too judgemental.

      Creative people generally want to be a bit more receptive, and have a vested interest in not slamming their minds shut.

      There’s something about this quandary that’s really weird, which is that people can separate themselves completely from each other because of ideological differences. And I’m not saying I’m above this, myself. I’m sure I was as anti-Bush as any of the younger anti-Trump crew.

      some of the issues are rather big, like climate change, because, if the scientists are right, well, we can royally fuck ourselves over as a species. But in general conversation, disagreements about ideas and conclusions among average folk aren’t much more than that.

      Relate to this, the controversial and maligned figure, Jordan Peterson (who I rather like), quotes Carl Jung as saying, “People don’t have ideas; ideas have people”. I can’t get THAT idea out of my head, because it really hits on some core truth. People subscribe to ideas that exist outside of themselves.

      It’s the rare individual who really tries to have his or her own ideas, and the rarer one who succeeds. Mostly I think we reinvent the wheel and just spontaneously have thoughts that are already very predictable given the already established narratives, and all that.

      It’s quite something to think that the enemy is someone who has a different conclusion than oneself about a particular issue, when ones own, and the other person’s conclusions are borrowed, second-had, entirely derivative. We are pawns in an intellectual game of Chess.

      As we get older it might be even harder to stay open minded, though, if we genuinely learn from experience we may make up for that in accumulated wisdom.

      I think art is an area where you and I can cultivate and manifest our own visions, a bit more free from falling into merely regurgitating popular ideas.

      Cheers,

      Eric

      Like

  5. There are too many greats and much historical evidence that praises the individual thinker. Unfortunately, gatekeepers like to assert their AUTHORITY and be dismissive because they hold the keys. It’s harder to think about what someone is saying, take the time to have a conversation, etc.especially in this day and age of social media echo chambers and saturation of information.

    Liked by 1 person

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